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The Story of the Man She Loved - by Siro

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  05:25:17  14 March 2010
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Siro
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On forum: 03/02/2005
 

Message edited by:
Siro
03/14/2010 8:22:12
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The Story of the Man She Loved - by Siro

Decided to re-make the thread and put all of the pre-existing parts together to make it easy to read and go over and edit any errors within the story (still may have missed some). Also fixed some major plot-holes to keep with the story. Nothing big, but of course significant. Like the fact that a GSh-18 doesn't have a safety.

Feedback, is of course, appreciated, so don't hesitate to post. Thank you very much.

So without further ado, the story.


Part 1

The Story of the Man She Loved

How many years has it been? Just how many rainy, gray days have passed since that day?

The day that Vasiliy made the transition into what was the real world in his mind. The day that he left the aritificial, entangled world he has lived within all his life and entered reality. He had already lost count of the days, weeks, months, and even years. Seasons rushed by unnoticed to him.

The years leading up to Vasiliy entering the Zone seemed like unpalpable memories, dusty, faded pictures worn down with age to the point that nothing was left recognizable. As he walked down along the side of the road purely due to habit, for there was no danger of being run-over by a vehicle in the 30km Exclusion Zone around the Chernobyl Power Plant, he could only recollect faint shadows of his years growing up in Kharkov. When he was a child, everything seemed so simple. The Ukrainian city he called his birthplace was clean, happy, bright. People were not run down like they are now. Everyone greeted each other on the streets. The neighbors were always willing to let the local children watch dubbed Disney movies on their colour television, the only one in the five-story Khrushovka-style tenement.

There was never a danger of children being abducted by bad men while playing in the playgrounds in the middle of each street encircled by apartment buildings. There was hunger, there always was, but never to the degree that many in the West had claimed. No crime, no prostitusion, no fear. Only happiness and gratefulness for being alive. The only crime was not having democracy.

With the fall of the empire that built so many lives later on in order to atone for those destroyed in the darker years of the 50's, the world stopped seeming so simple. Vasiliy, as he remembered this, felt his anger rising. Of everything turning toward the chaos that envelopes the world now. His footsteps along the cracked asphalt were reaching an almost melodical rhythm, reminding him of his heartbeat, getting faster and faster.

Still, he kept on reflecting. With the crime and chaos that forced him to abandon his parents and move to Russia from the Ukraine back then, Vasiliy felt a constant uneasiness creep over him. A fear of never being able to escape. No solitude, no privacy, no freedom. Brothers turned on brothers, Ukraine, Russia, Estonia, and Georgia quibbling amongst one another for meaningless things. The world fell under the fist of an empire who could care less about others' lives but was gifted with the persuasion and charm many could only dream of. Politics.

As soon as he was old enough to understand the meaning of the term, Vasiliy was disguisted as to what it could drive human beings to do. Even before the fall of the Soviet Union. Before Yelstin. Before his own country turned its back on its little brother, Russia. Before so-called leaders would deliver cries for democracy and freedom from the pockets of their masters. He was disguisted with all of them. Yesltin, Medvedev, Yuschenko, Bush, Clinton, McCain, Obama, Saakashvili, and all who came after them. At first, he made a futile effort to get involved, to genuinelly attempt to change the world. A man against a mountain. A man working for change.

Everything failed.

There was no stopping human nature and all the corruption it entailed.

Worst of all, there was no refuge. Nowhere to escape to. The world was in the middle of this grab-fight between men in suits. Instead of working for a common goal, there was bloodshed.

2006 was the year that that Vasiliy made his choice in his mind, after the second explosion at Chernobyl.

It was in 2010 that Vasiliy's plan came to fruition. He entered the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone at 33 years old. He heard the news coming from this forbidden Zone, was frightened at first, but the fear evaporated after the first few days within Her. This was nature as it was supposed to be. Politics were conducted under the pretense of natural selection. The weak were not held up the by arms of contradictory regulations or unwilling slaves. They perished. The strong prevailed. Those with the means, strength, and motivation survived and preservered.

This was truly a world detached from all the politics of the outside.

Vasiliy could choose if he wanted to interact with others. He could choose whether he wanted to enter one of the large S.T.A.L.K.E.R. settlements to purchase provisions. Vasiliy was the one who decided whether it was right or wrong to kill someone. The men who entered this Zone, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s as they were called, lived under an unwritten constitution, one that Vasiliy adopted as his own. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s, an acronym that had a deeper meaning. The Russian word "stalkivatsia," to collide with, becoming a noun. Stalker. A man who collided with danger.

As his pace along the road quickened, Vasiliy felt a pleasant breeze coming from the open field to his right, which was quite peculiar. The Zone was not a pleasant place, and the wind within Her, Her breath, was far from pleasant. It was the icy breath of some precense, one that was unnatural, one that screamed this is wrong in the heads of all those that felt it. The Zone, She was not just a place. She was her own being. All that set foot on Her soil shall be judged, Vasiliy remembered being told by a veteran. Perhaps, this meant that he was being accepted. His years of seeking refuge from the unimaginably dangerous environment of 2010, fighting within the faction wars of 2011, and now, surprisingly, making a stable life within this chaotic place sharpened him beyond the standards of any soldier. He did not exceed warriors of other states in combat, no. It was his ability to live within the Zone, alone, in solitude, in this chaos. Unlike the chaos of the outside world, the chaos within the Zone was strangely comforting.

Vasiliy reached a hill overlooking a river down far below in a deep ravine going under the road along which he walked. The thick trees surrounding the river gave it an almost comforting appearance. The sun continued to descend, giving the sky a golden orange streak near the horizon and a brilliant, seductive dark-blue above it. Crickets started to chirp in the surrounding knee-high grass, and small specks of light from glowing insects flying around in the field appeared in the advancing darkness.

It all seemed so peaceful, so beautiful. Vasiliy almost forgot that he was in this dangerous Zone and was only a few steps away from what could have been Her deadly embrace. An anomaly.

Vasiliy did not need a detector anymore. The truly skilled could point out these dangerous spots of anomalous energy in which the laws of physics were renendered useless just from sight with no need for bolts.

Vasiliy adjusted the ankles of the pants of his worn Spetsnaz PSZ-9 military armour, and scratched his moustache. He began a slow descent down into the abandoned mill by the river. He reached for an LD cigarette in his pocket and flicked on his scratched silver lighter with a satisfying, metallic click. This lighter was a gift from a major in the Zone security forces for saving his squad from a heard of dogs and a pseudogiant in 2010 during a Blowout. Blowouts...Vasiliy shuddered at the memory of these giant explosions of anomalous energy. A regular occurence within the Zone, they were the biggest threat any Stalker faced.

It was that same major who gave him his nickname. Vasia, Hoziayin Prirodi. Vasia, the keeper of the nature. Many would agree with this name, for he was told he almost became a mythical figure within the Zone. A man among few who had attained a mastery for the Zone.

The smoke felt good entering his lungs before he exhaled. No one around Vasiliy to lecture him on the hazards of smoking, no one around to tell him why they favored right-wing ideology instead of left-wing, no one screaming in his ear to embrace NATO and condemn Russia.

This was the Zone.

Vasiliy thought once more. The Zone seemed more and more of a home for him, not as dangerous as before. Surely, She still hungers for his soul? These years may not be the trial-by-fire of 2010, but there surely had to be some challenge for Vasiliy?

No matter, the challenges of life within the Zone only built him up towards this, the highest point. He may not have a billion rubles, an exoskeleton, and an F-2000 assault rifle, but he was happy. He lived within the Zone. That was his highest point. Many so-called MASTER Stalkers aren't masters at all, but weak shells of human beings hiding within their armoured exoskeletons from the wrath of the Zone that they dare to defy.

With such a turn of thoughts, Vasiliy began thinking about something that came to him before. Maybe the Zone did accept him. Maybe it did even in the very beginning. He was a kind and generous person, but did not go out of his way to search for other people, for just like in the outside world, people were unpredictable. Some traitorous, some insane, some bloodthirsty, and others very pleasant to accompany. Despite this, the majority of instances in which Vasiliy had to interact with others were not pleasant. Either he was insulted, robbed, abducted, cheated, or recruited for some faction. There were many instances in which he had to be rescued by Lora, his worn and trusty AK-104. Yes, she was a weapon he truly treasured, one given to him by that same major that he rescued. Along with Slava, the GSh-18 handgun Vasiliy found in a broken-down Moskvitch sedan inside Limansk's city center, Vasiliy felt safe. He did not have much experience with firearms, but these two he had for more than three years and had learned every trick there is to them. He even had himself a hefty 15,000 ruble prize from the marksmanship contest in the Arena of Rostock factory.

Vasiliy inhaled the smoke from his cigarette deeply with each drag. He slowly moved down the stairs into the small abandoned mill he called home. The metal door he installed himself from one of the larger apartments in Chernobyl, the furniture he either built himself or found, and the food he bought, for living off the land was not possible with the radiation within the Zone. Vasiliy may be at peace with Her, but eating anything that came from Zone's depths would either make him a mutant or give him cancer. It was a charming home, very comfortable for the life Vasiliy lead. A home that made him forget of all the dangers outside. The occasional explosions of anomalous energy throughout the Zone, called Blowouts, would never touch his fort. The cellar held most of his supplies, such as ammunition and food. Nobody would have expected such a home to be possible in the Zone. Strange that the Stalkers fantasized about the lives they wanted, a home on a sunny hill with a hammock, curling up with a good book in the breeze. Vasiliy lived that same life, spending his time writing stories and reading the books he looted from the Limansk library. All classics.

It suddenly came to him. Now it became apparent to him as to what might lie behind the main reason of his acceptance in the Zone.

He had lost his faith in humanity.

To be continued...
  05:34:11  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 2

Morning came to Vasiliy unexpectedly. After all of these years, life seemed like a dream. The boundary between reality and fiction had all but dissolved. Each morning brought confusion. Was he waking up, was this the beginning of a dream, or was he even alive anymore? The constant peace and solitude would have driven other men to madness, to the point of seeking out any sentient being within earshot for a conversation. Not for Vasiliy. This was comfort for him, the life he wanted. An escape.

As some were too afraid to sleep inside the Zone due to the horrific nightmares brought about by her influence, Vasiliy was undeterred. He never dreamed anymore. Each morning he awoke rested and alive, almost to the point of the world seeming surreal. He did not need protection, he did not wear a bucket or a helmet like most Stalkers within the Zone. Maybe he got used to it...or maybe the Zone was beginning to accept Vasiliy after all. Maybe Vasiliy was the fly that she got tired of swatting at, the one Stalker she could not judge. Or maybe there was another reason.

Vasiliy got up from the small bed he slept in and put on the vest of his Spetsnaz suit. The pouches were filled with magazines for his weapons, all in comfortable angles for him to reach. Vasiliy disregarded the helmet from the same suit hanging on a hook by the door and walked across the small dwelling to his "kitchen." An ancient gas stove sat in the corner by cabinets in which Vasiliy kept various supplies. Next to it was a pot-bellied stove, one that was fueled by firewood. It provided warmth and a means by which to cook.

Vasiliy poured some water into a teapot and hung it above the fire. As he walked over to a bookshelf, Vasiliy put on the long, green hooded trenchcoat worn by Soviet chemical-troops, one that became almost a fashion trend among Stalkers. The coat was warm and protected him from the rain. It also made it difficult to guage his size in dimly lit areas, making opponents fire into the flowing shadows the coat created.

A shuffling sound outside alerted Vasiliy to a precense outside. He grabbed Slava in his left hand and slowly moved toward the door, crouched so as not to be seen through the metal-barred windows. Vasiliy listened to branches snapping underneath someone's boots and guessed approximately as to where the sounds were coming from.

Vasiliy held the doorknob, ready to twist it open. The door flew to the left and Vasiliy erupted from it, pointing his sidearm at a lone man standing by the wall of his house, looking into the window. The newcomer was about to grab hold of the pistol-grip of the rifle he had slung under his arm, but Vasiliy quickly dissuaded him by chambereing a round in Slava with a loud click.

He stood there sideways so as to make a smaller target of himself, pointing his gun with one hand at the intruder. He said nothing, waiting for the intruder to reveal the reason behind his sneaking.

The intruder, a man with his face blocked by the hood of his standard green Stalker suit common around the Zone, lifted his arms into the air and slowly started turning toward Vasiliy. His face showed that he had lived many decades, been through quite a few battles. The scarred face of an aging warrior. His weapon revealed this much about him as well. It was a scarred Afghan-Era AK-74 with wooden furniture and a skeleton stock. Ugly, but reliable and marvelously efficient. The weapon of a true Stalker, for it did not possess the aesthetics and "fashionability" of the more modern Western guns flooding the Zone nowadays. Weapons that had no place on her soil. Weapons carried only by the young, rich, and foolish who had not a care as to whether their weapons were effective or reliable as long as they looked fearsome and new.

The man looked into Vasiliy's eyes, and from the look of his face, saw nothing there.

"Listen, I'm sorry for alarming you. I saw a well-kept house, smoke coming from a chimney. Naturally I was curious."

Vasiliy regarded the unshaven warrior, looked over his wrinkled and scarred face. He saw no sympathy or good will.

"To see if some Chernobyl survivors lived in here so you could rob or harass them, am I correct?" Vasiliy's voice sounded so unfamiliar to him, a deep, rough voice that sounded like it belonged on a priest. When he spoke, he felt like he had to literally force the words out of him due to being so unused to speaking.

The intruder was visibly offended by such a question.

"Of course not. I've been wandering over here for several hours, my feet are wet and tired, I thought I could have a rest here. Signs of civilization in a place like this are all too rare, naturally my curiosity was aroused.

"Curiosity is a sure way to get killed."

Vasiliy did not mean to sound so blunt and harsh. All of these years of avoiding others and living in solitude made him forget how to interact with others.

"Pardon me, I didn't mean to come off so harsh," Vasiliy said, his tone of voice remaining the same, almost monotonous.

"You have nothing to fear from me, brother. If you will me to leave, I will leave," the intruder said as he turned to leave.

"Wait, please. I can make you some tea. You are welcome to rest here as long as you have no secret intentions lying in your head."

"Oh, heavens no," the man replied in his pleasant, gravelly voice. "I'm not going to try to rob you, fella. Why would I rob the Keeper of the Zone?"

"The Keeper of the Zone?"

"That is what everyone calls you. The Keeper of Nature, The Keeper of the Zone, Vasia Keeper, or just the Keeper. I've heard of you. I recognized that tanned face, those sunken cheeks, and cossack-style moustache I heard about." the Stalker replied.

Vasiliy nodded and stepped out of the way, gesturing for his guest to enter with his handgun. As the man entered, Vasiliy holstered his polymer-metal handgun. The silver-coloured slide with "Slava" engraved into it peeked out from his holster. As a precaution, he picked up his shortened AK-103 variant, Lora, unfolded the stock, put the fire selector on automatic, and slung it under his arm. He pulled a chair from the desk by his bed and put it by the stove, in his view while he poured the tea.

"Sit down."

The man walked over and sat down on the chair with a loud creak, the old chair used to Vasiliy's slim build protested the weight of this larger person.

"That's a mighty fine barrel you got there, that's an AK-104, isn't it? I can tell by the shorter barrel and AKM metal magazine."

"Yes." Vasiliy replied simply.

The man was apparently expecting more in return from Vasiliy in this conversation, but upheld it anyway.

"I like your home. Right next to a river, hidden by the high hills and trees, reminds me of the swamphouses in the forests near Smolensk. I never thought a place like this would be here."

"I like my home, too. I made it inhabitable again since the accident in '86." Vasiliy attempted to participate in the conversation, his decline in social matters made him feel pathetic. "The water in the river is also clean. I measured it with a geiger-counter and took samples to the ecologists. Makes it very good to live here."

Vasiliy took two clear-glass cups from the cupboard, put them inside two silver, intricately engraved Soviet-era cupholders and poured the amber-colored liquid inside. He handed one to the man.

"I apologize for not introducing myself. My name is Kolya. The others nicknamed me "the Miner" because I was stupid enough to go climbing in the catacombs, looking for artifacts during my days as a rookie. I was so stupid back then, I never knew the danger of what I was really doing. It is only now that I look back, as an experienced Stalker, that I see my stupidity. I could have been eaten by some disguisting freak born in this hellhole or swallowed up by this wretched place altogether." Kolya started to laugh softly.

Vasiliy suddenly felt a small pang of anger. He called the Zone a wretched place? A hellhole? She did not deserve such insults. A harsh place she may be, but those with the right attitude and mindset survived. Vasiliy was living proof.

He sat down on his bed across from Kolya, bringing his tan, gaunt face level with his visitor. "You should not speak like that. This is the Zone, She is a fickle being. Are you religious?"

Kolya took a long sip of his tea and chuckled softly, not at the conversation, but out of pure interest. "Why, yes, I am Orthodox like everyone else."

"What would happen if you insulted God?" Vasiliy drank half of his tea in one gulp.

"God would know and punish me somehow."

"The Zone, She knows. She hears. She sees." Almost as if to punctuate his statement, a bright flash of lightning illuminated the dwelling and loud bangs of thunder so loud that the floor vibrated slightly sounded seconds later. Vasiliy finished his tea with one last loud gulp.

Kolya clapped his hands together in good humour and laughed. "Wow, this is so mystical. I heard about such a thing from others. The Zone, She judges all of us, is that not true?" Vasiliy nodded in response as Kolya sipped his tea once more.

"The way I see it, if some poor sap steps into a pool of fruit punch and loses a leg, that's his fault. He did not see it, hence he had to suffer. It is purely due to his own ineptitude."

"I agree to a certain degree," Vasiliy said. "but you must never forget that that is partly due to the Zone's will."

"The Zone is not alive. I know you are an experienced Stalker, a true master, even, but I never expected you to fall for that garbage. You sound like a Monolithian, except you're praising a mythical figure in the sky."

"Don't we all?"

Kolya let out a good-hearted laugh. "Oh, I see where you're going. There is a God."

"Yes, there is a God, but...maybe...God shares his power with someone else? Maybe...the term God-forsaken rings true here? Maybe when you crossed the border to the Zone, you exited God's kingdom, and entered the domain of another all-powerful being?"

"That is dangerous talk, Vasia." Kolya wagged a finger in good humor. "God is all-powerful and all-knowing. He would never share power because he shouldn't. Well, maybe...yes, it could be that this place is controlled by-"

"The Devil?" Vasia interrupted.

"Precisely."

"No. She is not controlled or influenced by the Devil. This is not Hell. The Zone cannot be Hell, for Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. We refer to God as a man. The Zone is Medea, if you think about it. An independent spirit broken free from God."

"You are quite the philosopher, my friend..."

Friend, the word felt so unnatural being applied to Vasiliy.

"But such talk really is blasphemy."

Vasiliy felt something in the air, something emanating from this man across him.

"What is wrong? Why are you sniffing the air?"

Vasiliy paused and reflected on how he should explain what he felt he sensed from Kolya. He found no alternative.

"I smell death on you."

To be continued...
  05:43:28  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 3

Kolya sat up straight in surprise.

"Buddy, I thought we were having a polite conversation," Kolya said as her reached for his weapon. Vasiliy did not do a thing in response, knowing that his companion would not fire unless he made any threatening gestures.

"You are foolish to take that as a threat. I was simply stating what I sense." Vasiliy said in order to calm down his visitor.

"Brother, I heard the stories, I know that you've been living in solitude, but...I didn't expect you to be so inept at a simple conversation. You scared the living bones out of me." Kolya said as he slowly lowered his weapon.

He apparently was unnerved at Vasiliy's behavior, he had no idea what to expect from this man as he seemed to be slightly crazy to him.

Vasiliy stood up and walked toward the kitchen, reached for the teapot again and poured himself another cup of tea. He then opened a cupboard and took out two small sandwiches with diet sausage and bread he wrapped in newpaper. Vasiliy sat down and handed one to Kolya, who managed to mutter a muffled thanks.

"I did not mean to frighten you. Perhaps I was mistaken, but what I felt was the mark of death. I am surprised as well, I never felt that before."

"Well, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. All of us are destined to die sooner or later. After all of the wars I've been in in the VDV Airborne, the time needs to come, hehe." Kolya chuckled slightly.

"That is beside the point now, I see that I should not have said that. I apologize for my ineptitude at conversation. It seems all my manners and tact have evaporated after these years. Just forget I said that."

"Kinda hard, to be honest." Kolya said with a hint of anger.

"I know you think I am insane. Maybe I am, but I came here to escape. I am happy the way I live. As you may know, I do not get many visitors." Vasiliy tried calming down Kolya.

"Yeah, well, if you weren't so experienced in dealing with the Zone, and such a good combatant, I would already have left, no offense to you. Some people wouldn't have my open-mindedness." Kolya smiled and held out his hand. Vasiliy looked at it with confusion. He remembered what the gesture symbolized, but did not understand the reason. Kolya lowered his hand, remembering he forgot to explain what his proposition was, dismissing it as a symptom of old age.

"Now that I found you, I came here with a proposition. Lately, there were rumours of people being able to cross into Pripyat, the city near the Chernobyl power-plant. The Limansk route to the Centre has been blocked off, I remember. I heard that those few who ventured there somehow got past that bloody Brain-Scorcher and came back with all the artifacts they could carry. Ripe, untouched artifact fields. Besides that, there is the Wish Granter. I'm sure you've heard of it, the Monolith inside the sarophagus, a big rock said to be from space that grants wishes."

Vasiliy nodded as he heard this. He had no interest in artifacts, for he knew where to find the rare ones and had a steady income from them at little to no effort of searching. The trick was finding the right anomaly within the right conditions, and waiting for the Zone to grant him a gift. She always did.

"I understand that you have little use for artifacts, Vasia," Kolya continued, "but I think that you are interested in going North, to the Wish Granter."

Vasiliy, truth be told, did not have a strong desire to go North, he did not have any wishes in his mind. Still, a small fraction of his mind was yelling at him to go North. Perhaps, the Zone was calling to him. The sensation was not as strong as before, now it felt like it was reaching its peak. The North was where the Zone's influence was strongest. It was the place from which She originated. Her birthplace. The Zone's Corinth.

Now it dawned upon Vasiliy. He must see the Wish Granter.

"Yes." Vasiliy replied.

"Great, then. I'm putting together a group of people. We will earn up some cash, get the right gear, and head North. It's the prime time to do it. I hear alot of buzz around this nowadays. It wasn't like this last year with the Strelok fiasco, the false alarm. Now there's really a chance. Some Stalker found a way to pass through the Scorcher untouched, Barkeep even said that it's a sure thing, not a myth! He will turn off the scorcher and open the path for all of us."

"Good." Vasiliy remembered what Kolya referred to. There were rumours that the Brain Scorcher was ineffective, that a small group referred to as the Strelok faction were able to pass through it and go further into Pripyat, then all the way to the center of the Zone. That was the cause of the emission in 2011 that changed everything, or so he heard. Naturally, there were a few foolish souls who attempted to walk right by the Brain Scorcher, thinking they would be unnoticed by the Monolith patrols there. Those men were successful at avoiding the patrols, but not the Scorcher. Their brains were boiled and souls claimed by the Zone with bodies still wandering, alive and confused, searching for a purpose in their wretched existence until picked up the the Monolith Clan, protectors of the center of the Zone.

"I could use a shooter like you. Not to mention you'll be useful as a guide. We will all pitch in, buy the gear, go to the center, grab some artifacts on the way, and take turns making our wishes. Sound good?" Kolya reached out his hand one more time.

Vasiliy thought about it one last time. Gear? He had all the gear he needed. Still, the Wish-Granter is said to reside within the sarcophagus. Massive doses of radiation shall befall those without protection. Vasiliy's gas-mask would be rendered useless against an environment with such high contamination. His weapons, though, he will die before he parts with them. Slava and Lora brought him through all of these years and shall serve him until death.

Now, the Monolith, that is an interesting story. A rock that grants wishes? One that is worshipped by its followers, the Monolith Faction. Could the Zone really have produced it? Medea has no children, for she slaughtered them all. Perhaps the Zone differs from her. Maybe she has a larger plan in store for her offspring, the Monolith and his followers. Perhaps, Vasiliy is meant to meet this Monolith. Whatever the purpose, Vasiliy felt that it shall be revealed to him soon. He was going to confront the Zone's son, whether it be for a wish that will be revealed to him by his soul, or to be Medea's sword and slaughter him and his brothers. The latter would be difficult, for his companions would not stand idly by like the Chorus, watching Medea's children get slaughtered. If they want to make their wishes first, he will let them. Whatever the purpose, he will confront him.

The smell of death was still coalescing around Kolya, but he gave it no importance. Perhaps Kolya was meant to die sometime later. It was not too important at the moment.

Vasiliy reached out his hand and firmly shook Kolya's.

"Good to have you on board, Vasia. We leave for the bar a little later, we'll meet the rest of the group there and recruit some other members. I think the next few days will be spent doing some small jobs. After that, we should have enough cash to pay for the gear necessary to go North. Right now, let's eat. I'm starving." Kolya took a large bite of his open-faced sandwich and chewed, sipping from his cup of tea occasionally.

Vasiliy thought as he slowly ate his sandwhich. He had just been recruited. How he detested such a thing. No matter who he meets, it is always the same. Either he gets insulted, robbed, recruited, or worse. All people are the same, they just come in different wrappings. Vasiliy felt a little angry at the fact that he was recruited, but he agreed himself, didn't he? He decided to accept. It wasn't a choice he was forced to make against his will. This calmed him slightly. After all, this was the best opportunity for him to head North. Kolya also brought about some valid points. Vasiliy never thought about the Wish Granter. It was a great opportunity for him, to see if he should keep living, to thank what he thought his benefactor for giving him a life he enjoyed.

Vasiliy sipped his tea, feeling the warm liquid go down his throat and leaving a pleasant sensation in his stomach. The taste of his simple sandwich gave him energy and woke him. It tasted good, one of the few luxuries inside the Zone, besides the relative peace and solitude he enjoyed.

Kolya also seemed to be enjoying his food. He raised a thumb to Vasiliy. Vasiliy was slightly confused. All he did was cut a few slices of sausage onto a slice from a loaf of bread he baked himself. Ah, yes. Now it came to Vasiliy. His bread tasted better than the kind they sold at the Bar. He just got used to the taste of his bread, so he stopped noticing the difference in quality.

"Man, you should sell this stuff. I'd pay 300 rubles for a good, hearty bread like this. It's like the kind they sold in my hometown, freshly-baked and everything."

Vasiliy had no use for the money, he had far more than enough saved up from all the artifacts he sold. He could sell the bread, it was an idea, but for much cheaper than 300. It would bring happiness and raise the moods of many within the Zone, so why not? As secluded as Vasiliy was, doing good things for others brought him happiness, a feeling he seldom enjoyed outside of his home and his books, and even then it was watered down slightly from years of monotony. As much as he tried to deny it, Vasiliy was human. This excursion would bring him up-to-date on what he missed, let him remember new sensations, and reveal what he wanted to know about the Zone.

Vasiliy and Kolya finished their breakfast and got up from their seats. Vasiliy took Kolya's cup and put it onto the stove. He would wash it when he got back later.

"We should leave now. Where are we right now...a kilometer West of Cordon, some distance from the swamps, it should take us until dusk to get to the bar from here. We can cut through Agroprom, but that area's full of anomalies. Maybe if you can use that talent of yours to find a safe path?"

"Yes. I will help." Vasiliy did not like the thought of being used, but remembered that he was now a member of a group. What good he did for the group was also good for him. Maybe they would help him in return, as well. You could never know for sure, Vasiliy thought. "If the Zone wills us to pass, we shall."

Her son shall reveal much about his mother to him, why the Zone seems to make all feel her wrath, but neglect to judge Vasiliy. That would be a great opportunity to thank Her, to thank Her for accepting him if she did, to thank Her for being the only person other than one who accepted him in this life.

The only person to love him besides Anzhelika.

To be continued...
  05:55:40  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
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On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 4

Vasiliy already had all he needed. The PSZ-9 Spetsnaz suit he wore with a long chem-coat over it, all the ammunition he could carry for both firearms, several suasages and loaves of bread in his already-loaded pack, assorted medicine, antirads, and his home-brewed vodka. Vasiliy stuffed a few more loaves of his bread into his pack and pulled on his rubber gas-mask, as did Kolya.

"The PDA forecast predicts corrosive fog heading this way." Vasiliy replaced his standard Stalker PDA into its pouch. He never used it for anything other than mapping anomalies each week and posting the data on public Stalker forums within the Zone, searching for stashes, and checking the Zone forecasts.

"So, you know how to get through Eastern Agroprom?" Kolya asked as he pulled his hood over the mask.

"Yes, but it will be difficult." Vasiliy said as he adjusted his pack.

Kolya made his way to the door. Vasiliy stood in the middle of his dwelling, looking at the comfortable bed, his books. He could not help but feel that this would be the last time he would see them.

"What's wrong, brother? Are we going yet?" There was a hint of impatience in Kolya's voice.

"Wait for me." As he said this, Vasiliy made his way to his table. He grabbed a thick folder of papers, the manuscripts for the books he wanted to get published, and a stained photograph. Vasiliy took his rucksack of his back and opened it, putting the folder inside. Kolya could not help but notice the photograph in Vasiliy's hand. Vasiliy put the bag back on his back and put the photo into a pocket next to his handgun holster.

"I am ready."

Kolya went outside first, followed by Vasiliy, who locked the door after him. Both men started climbing the stairs up the hill, with the larger Kolya in front of Vasiliy, casting a shadow on him.

"I'd really like a smoke right now," Kolya muttered, his mask muffling his voice. He checked his surroundings and started lifting his mask.

"Take off the mask, and you will dissolve in a few minutes," Vasiliy warned, his older, lighter mask giving his voice a muffled and slightly metallic-sounding quality. "Corrosive fog always appears unexpectedly. It is most wise to wait until the sky is blue again."

"Wait, you heard that? Hm, quite a set of ears you have on you. Wait, blue? What do you mean?" Kolya looked into the air and saw nothing. "I don't know what you're talking about, brother."

Vasiliy looked at the direction the fog was supposed to come from. A part of the sky in the East looked slightly reddish-brown, almost as if it was a cloud. The cloud travelled at noticable speed, swirling like mist. "What are you talking about? You don't see that?"

Kolya was bewildered. "No, Vasia, I don't see it."

"Corrosive fog is always reddish-brown and appears as a fast-moving cloud."

"I have no idea what you are talking about, Vasia. The fog is almost never seen until it's right on top of you, that's why you need forecasts."

Now Vasia was bewildered. "Kolya, I use the forecasts so as not to be caught by surprise by it. I can see it before it reaches deadly proximity."

"I don't know if this is your idea of a joke, but you can't see the fog, buddy. No one can."

Kolya and Vasiliy reached the top of the stairs and stood atop the hill overlooking the road and the river. "I see it. Right there."

Vasiliy pointed at the cloud.

"I don't see it, brother." Kolya narrowed his eyes behind his mask, trying to find what Vasiliy was pointing at.

"It's about to hit us," Vasiliy said calmly as he lowered his arm.

A gust of wind suddenly hit the two men. Vasiliy stood calmly, facing the direction the wind was coming from, and Kolya was frantically checking his suit for holes. Vasia had nothing to worry about, he knew he sealed his suit perfectly.

What sounded like swirling sand filled both mens' ears and the air turned so thick that it was impossible to see anything. To Vasiliy it looked like reddish-brown fog. To Kolya, it was gray smoke.

"Vasia! Where are you?" Vasiliy heard Kolya's miffled voice. "Just a few more seconds. Please stand still or you will roll down the hill into the river," Vasia warned.

A half-minute later, the fog dissipated. "Are you serious that it looks reddish-brown to you?"

Vasia turned around and saw Kolya getting up from the ground.

"Yes. That is how I always saw it."

Kolya shook his head. "Are you sure your vision is alright? Or can you just see things us normal people can't?"

Normal people. Vasiliy sensed his anger rise slightly. What makes Kolya and other like him so normal? Vasiliy remembered from life outside of the Zone that anything not normal was an outcast, bad, unknown. Being called "not normal" was an insult. Vasiliy repressed his anger.

"What is the benefit of being normal, anyway? I just saved your life."

"Hey, I was only joking, brother. There's nothing good about being normal, hehe. Well, there are benefits, but problems as well. It's better to be unique, I'd say." Kolya turned his head and checked his surroundings one more time. He looked as Vasiliy, who nodded in return. Kolya removed his mask and put a cigarette in his mouth. "Especially in this case. Thanks."

"You are welcome." Vasiliy waved for Kolya to follow and started walking toward the road. Kolya caught up and started walking beside him. Both Stalkers walked along the road, behind the trees planted next to the road to shield it from view in the air during WWII, as with most country roads in Russia and Ukraine.

Vasiliy started noticing changes in the landscape after some distance. The generally flat fields used for farming before the first accident in Chernobyl turned to more radically sloping hills and small clumps of thick trees. Vasiliy and Kolya occasionally stopped to rest, taking turns smoking while the other stood watch.

Vasiliy insisted he always walk ahead to save Kolya the trouble of throwing bolts. While Vasia could see the anomalies immediately, Kolya would not notice them until he got close, sometimes almost too close. Beads of sweat started to roll down Kolya's face while Vasia was still pacing ahead, feeling fine, and wearing his gas-mask, no less. He didn't want to expose his face too often unless in the company of people he didn't know, that way he wasn't branded an outcast immediately, although such efforts are futile on his part.

"So, Vasia. I noticed you took a picture with you. Do you mind if I have a look?"

Vasiliy felt a little protective of his most prized momento but gave it to Kolya anyway. On the picture was a smiling woman of about twenty-three years of age. Her long, dark brown hair was over her left shoulder. Her bright green eyes were made more apparent with the dark contrast of her hair. Her skin was slightly dark, tan, as if she spent a long time in the sun, which is the case. Kolya could make out the famous beach of Svetlogorsk in Kaliningrad in the background. Her thin lips were curled in a sublte, almost dirty smile. Her thin white T-shirt was shining in the summer sun.

Kolya looked at Vasiliy, at the picture, then back at Vasiliy.

Kolya felt the right side of the picture and noticed that it was covered with tape. Upon closer inspection, Kolya noticed that half of the picture was actually ripped off.

"Hey, Vasia, half of the picture's missing." Kolya looked at Vasiliy, who was walking ahead of him.

"Yes," Vasiliy replied in his deep, raspy, muffled, metallic voice behind from the mask.

Kolya did not get the explanation he expected.

"Do you know what was on the other half?"

"Me."

Kolya felt uneasy once again.

"And why did you rip yourself out of the picture?"

"To forget who I was. I was only ruining the picture. It is better with only her."

"I take it you really loved her, huh?" Kolya was growing more and more interested. Who did this man use to be? What is his backstory? He heard how difficult it was to coax any information from The Keeper. He felt lucky.

Vasiliy genuinelly trusted this man.

"Yes. Very much. You understand, not because of sex. There were a few girls in my childhood, like everyone. She was someone I wanted to live my life with, unlike the others," Vasiliy continued, his voice showing no emotion. His pace seemed to quicken, as if he was trying to run away from Kolya.

"What's her name?"

"Anzhelika. They called her Azhelika."

"And what happened to her, if you don't mind me asking?" Kolya returned the picture to Vasiliy.

"She is up there, in the sky. In Jason's kingdom."

"Who's kingdom, pardon me?"

"Jason. He left Medea for a new beloved. He is the reason Medea left him and killed her children."

"Again with the ancient Roman biblical crap," Kolya muttered quietly.

Vasiliy gasped and stopped dead. Suddenly, he whirled around, handgun drawn, and levelled it with Kolya's torso.

Kolya stopped dead in his tracks, shocked and unable to reach a decision in time. Vasiliy pulled the trigger once, twice.

Kolya finally snapped back into reality and dived to the right, straight into the ravine going along the road. He heard more shots ring out, but felt nothing. Kolya finally managed to untangle his AK-74 from his shoulder and unfolded the stock with a satisfying snap. Kolya Miner looked through the sights of his AK-74, centering Vasiliy, who was firing, but not at him.

Vasiliy was aiming with both hands at something Kolya could not see from the bottom of the ravine. Three more shots rang out and Kolya heard a hissing noise. Almost immediately, a hunched figure in military camoflauge and an ancient army-green gas-mask with a long hose attached to it leapt into the ravine and landed on all fours. Vasiliy adjusted his aim and fired four more times. All four rounds hit the monster in its back with little effect.

The mask-covered face gazed into Kolya's direction. The monster's face moved upwards for a last look at Vasiliy before a strong jump at Kolya. Kolya saw that the bottom of the mask was torn so the monster's lipless mouth could be seen. Its face moved back toward's Kolya, the sharp teeth of the monster gnashing in hunger. It leapt into the air, heading for Kolya. Vasiliy did not fire for fear of hitting him. Kolya finally brought his rifle to bear and pulled the trigger as hard as he could. He fired for as long as he could before the monster landed on top of him. He expended almost half of his magazine.

Vasiliy leapt down into the ravine and grabbed the monster by the neck. He put his handgun against the back of its skull and pulled the trigger. Kolya was amazed at how quickly Vasiliy did this, less than a second. He rolled out from under the monster's limp body and brushed off the mess from his suit, breathing heavily.

Vasiliy still stood over the dead mutant's body, his left leg on the rise of the ravine, bent at the knee, and the other over the mutant on the rise on the other side, his gun still trained on the corpse.

"Snorks aren't usually this silent when they spot prey," Vasiliy observed.

Kolya took out a can of aerosol spray, a special solvent which removes the smell of blood from armored suits, and sprayed the stained areas. The last thing he needed were dogs and wolves smelling the blood. He had enough surprises for one day.

"I thought you were going to kill me, brother. Scared me almost to death, buddy." Kolya was still shaking slightly. He had gotten slow. His time in the airborne VDV of the Red Army trained him up to be one of the most effective soldiers in the Soviet army. He served in Afghanistan, an old-school VDV man, now it seems that age has taken its toll.

The fact that he did not hear that Snork worried him. Vasiliy was right, Snorks were generally noisy.

"That one was strangely silent, though," Kolya added.

"Yes. I would have discovered him earlier. He would not have gotten that close. They must be learning or they still have their memories."

That was an interesting thought, Snorks still retaining some signs of their former selves? Lost soldiers who became feral Zone-dwellers, animals searching for their next meal. Each one Vasiliy ever engaged in combat was different in some way. One of them even used a knife. What they all have in common is shyness. They all hide their faces behind masks, never fighting without one, retreating to find a new one if they lose it.

They bear a slight similarity to me that way, Vasiliy thought.

"You are lucky you dived a meter to your left, Kolya. There is a springboard right next to you. I apologize for startling you."

Kolya had no idea what to answer.

"Listen, I'm pretty tired, let's keep going to Agroprom, okay? Man, I never had this much pressure on my nerves in one day."

"Then you are not a real Staker, Kolya," Vasiliy answered.

"Ergh, I'm not a Stalker. I'm a soldier at heart. I'd rather be running through minefields amid enemy fire with a PKM on my back than dealing with the horrors of this place. My God, anomalies, mutants, I've been here for two years, most say that's enough to become accustomed to everything the Zone throws at you. I'm not. Every day I see something new, the Zone, She always find a way to surprise me, dammit. I was told at first that I only need to follow the one basic guideline of Stalking, "don't hurry and be observant," and I'd be a master of Stalking by the end of the year. Man, I'd love to punch out the guy who told me that."

"Why are you here?" Vasiliy grew curious.

"I came here for the money. To find the cash for my famly. Now artifacts lost their value and I'm just about ready to try any desperate measure I know of. I have a wife and daughter, I promised them I'd be back by now, dammit. Now all that's left for me is to go to the Wish Granter."

"Yes, like the others..." Vasiliy muttered under his breath. "I would say it is better for you to leave now. See what you can do in the outside world, go the legitimate way."

"I am a soldier, that's my only skill, Vasia. What kind of job can I get? A taxi driver? Plus, why did you come here? One of the main reasons?"

"The death of Anzhelika," Vasiliy said as he walked, his voice a muffled buzz behind his mask.

"No, I think I heard something else before."

"To escape the politics and corruption of the outside."

"You think you're the only one, Vasia?" Kolya chuckled and patted Vasiliy on the shoulder.

The landscape became even more radically misshapen, the mark of an anomalous area. A tall three-story building surrounded by thick concrete walls stood in the midle of several tall hills. They had finally reached Agroprom. The road disappeared into the ground, overgrown and cracked. Vasia and Kolya were approaching an area with several tall trees.

The entire area seemed to be cordoned off with barbed wire, with an older, broken perimeter visible behind the new one. The two men were nearing a gate in the barbed wire fence.

"Listen, Vasia, I forgot to ask you, what happened to Anzhelika, if you don't mind?"

Vasia stopped and sighed deeply, feeling tears welling up inside, supressing them with all of his might.

"I killed her."

To be continued...
  06:18:21  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 5

Kolya stood there, absorbing what he just heard.

"You killed her?"

It didn't make sense. He could tell that he loved her. After all, how could anyone not love someone so beautiful? He killed her, how could that be? Kolya knew that there was a reason behind this.

"Why?" Kolya looked at Vasiliy, his back turned toward the former airborne soldier. Vasiliy said nothing.

"The sun is setting. We need to get to the main Agroprom factory." Kolya could sense the sadness in Vasiliy's voice. He was disappointed with this lack of an answer, the suspense was too much.

Vasiliy walked up to the gate to enter the Agroprom region and made for the lock, his movements hurried.

"I suggest you put on your mask. This particular spot is contaminated."

Vasiliy opened the gate with a loud creak after forcing off the lock the nearby soldiers put on the gate. Vasiliy squeezed through the opening and sprinted to a safe distance. Kolya pulled his mask over his face and cleared his lungs with a powerful scream.

Vasiliy turned and looked at Kolya, waiting for him to follow.

Kolya sprinted through and hopped through the opening, feeling a loose wire from the fence scrape heavily against his suit. Kolya felt a tiny ping of panic but kept running. After stopping next to Vasiliy, Kolya frantically checked his suit for tears where the wire scraped him. Thankfully, he found a small mark from the wire on his suit's right upper arm. Satisfied, Kolya pulled off his mask and took an antirad pill.

"The syringes are more effective than those outdated pills," Vasiliy informed Kolya.

"I'm not a narkoman, I avoid needles," Kolya looked behind him at the gate he went through.

"Shouldn't we close that?"

"No. The soldiers in the base a kilometer away check it regularly. They will close it and lock the door again. People always use this gate to get through." As he said this, Vasiliy started walking.

"Stay quiet, there are patrols here along with anomalies. Do not rush," Vasiliy said as he removed his mask and inhaled the night air.

They walked until the road was in sight. Vasiliy motioned with his left arm for Kolya to keep low and did so himself. The two men neared the road, closing in on the carcass of an old UAZ microbus, an old model that resembled a metal loaf of bread. Vasiliy pressed up against the UAZ, his geiger counter silent, indicating that the vehicle was not contaminated. Kolya took position right next to him. He was about to leave cover before Vasiliy grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

"I hear someone coming," Vasiliy warned.

Kolya heard footsteps a few moments later. He peered through the gaping hole where the door of the vehicle used to be and saw a flashlight through the window on the other side. Someone dressed in camoflauge was coming toward them.

Kolya tensed up, gently cycling the safety of his ancient rifle down to automatic, trying hard not to make an audible click. Vasiliy already had his rifle ready. The person kept getting closer and closer to the car until the shuffling of his suit was audible and the rays of light from his headlamp illuminated the entire vehicle.

"Goddamn arsholes. Sergeant, what a dick!"

The soldier's speech was slurred and his boots shuffled against the weathered concrete with each step. It was apparent that he had quite a bit to drink. The soldier kept talking to someone, either himself, something else, or no one in particular.

"Damn third day I'm patrolling this bloody road. At night! At bleeding night! All alone. Why? Am I a bad person? Why do I get so punished? Two years, they told me. Two freaking years. No problem, right? Well, it's a freaking problem for me, freaking problem. You hate me, don't you? You hate me! First you get me sent here, now this abuse. You want me to die, right? Bloody bloodsuckers spotted in this place and they send me out alone. I have no friends because of you! Only this bottle and the Kalash."

Vasiliy heard the click of the soldier turning off his headlamp. He heard a bump on metal, the soldier falling with his back against the truck and sliding down into a sitting position on the other side of the car. A swish of liquid in a bottle sounded from the other side and three loud gulps. The soldier exhaled loudly.

"At least I'll die with a freaking smile. Come get me, you abominations!" No sounds other than crickets in the night answered his call. "They already have one missing guy, one missing guy already. And they still send me here. The shitters. If I was a kontraktnik, then I'd at least get paid, damn it all."

Kolya and Vasiliy sat there, listening and waiting for the soldier to leave. The click of a lighter sounded from the other side along with the soldier inhaling something deeply. A strong grass-like smell entered the nostrils of both men. Kolya tried breathing with his mouth, but the smoke made his throat itch. Vasiliy was trying with all of his might to avoid coughing. Kolya started feeling somewhat dizzy. His limbs felt slightly heavier, all he wanted was to sit down.

"Freedom, haha. They tell me to kill them. Probably want to keep all the stuff to themselves. Damn egoists."

More smoke travelled with the wind to the other side of the vehicle. Kolya's mouth began to feel dry and cold with his throat becoming more and more itchy. He could not suppress the urge any longer.

Kolya coughed deeply three times, three high-pitched coughs.

It was obvious that the soldier on the other side froze in surprise.

Vasiliy quietly got up and entered the UAZ with his rifle pointed ahead of him.

"Who's there...are you monsters?"

Vasiliy put the barrel of his AK-104 to the metal door on the other side of the car with an audible clank, where the soldier was sitting.

"We have nothing against you, you will not die." Vasiliy indeed did not smell the smell of death on him. He knew that he would have felt it if he was destined to kill this man. "Just stay quiet, and enjoy the night. We will make our way and leave quietly. We sympathize with you, do not worry. Life is harsh. Be happy you have somewhere to return to."

Vasiliy carefully stepped outside of the vehicle, his rifle still trained on the soldier's position on the other side.

"Kolya, cross the road quickly and dive into the bushes at the foot of the hill."

Kolya did as he was told.

"We are leaving now. Have a nice night, soldier."

"Wait, guy," Vasiliy stopped as he was about to leave. "Listen...thanks for not doing it. And...I feel like an arsehole asking this...but you got any food? They don't feed us at post." The soldier waited for an answer.

Vasiliy carefully pulled out a loaf of his bread from a satchel at his waist and threw it through the car's window. He heard it land in the soldier's lap.

"I heard nothing, I saw nothing. Good luck, guy." The soldier wished a final farewell.

Vasiliy sprinted over to Kolya and motioned for him to climb the hill. When Vasiliy reached the top of it, he noticed almost the entire top covered with whirligigs, powerful graviational anomalies that spin whatever is caught in them until it flies apart into pieces. There was only a small path through them. Vasiliy took Kolya by the arm.

"Follow me exactly to the step."

Vasiliy lead Kolya through the narrow path. He turned left and went a few steps, then to the right, then forward while facing sideways for quite some distance.

Kolya heard gunfire in the distance, it sounded far away so he disregarded it, continuing along the path. The last short distance to the slope facing the Agroprom factory followed a sharp zig-zag path. Kolya would not be able to make it even with Vasiliy's help.

"Listen. This part is the most difficult. I will ease forward, I can see the path. You cannot, which is why you need to sprint through. The anomalies will activate and start trying to suck you in. Be fast and you will survive."

Kolya felt fear rise up in his gut. How will he make it? He will get sucked in for sure.

"You will make it. The smell of death on you is not that strong. You have a long time left to live. This is not your time."

Vasiliy felt bad lying to Kolya. He knew that now was not going to result in Vasiliy's death, the Zone did not wish it yet, but she had something in store for him. Something that will take his life much sooner than Vasiliy made evident.

He moved along the path and slid down the hill, moving out of the way for Kolya to leap down and escape the ensuing tornado he was about to activate.

Sure enough, an impossibly loud, continuous gust of wind sounded. It was almost deafening. Kolya leaped from the edge of the hill...but did not travel down to the ground. He was being pulled back mid-air. He closed his eyes and reached out, expecting the pain of his bones getting crushed to come over him in a few moments. Vasiliy leaped with speed impossible even for him and grabbed at Kolya's hand. He felt Kolya's hands on his arm and pulled with all of his might. Suddenly, Kolya's weight pulled Vasiliy down the hill and they both rolled down.

Kolya got up and dusted himself off, visibly shaking in the moonlight. Vasiliy expected a remark from Kolya along the lines of "I thought I was a goner" or something similar, but Kolya stayed silent. Good enough for Vasia.

He waved Kolya to follow him and both made their way to the wall of the Agroprom factory, passing by a set of stairs blocked up by debris leading underground. Vasia and Kolya made their way to the hole in the concrete wall of the factory facing the place where bandits usually made camp under the trees. There was a single manhole cover there, surrounded by tracksuit-clad corpses piled on top of each other.

The men entered the grounds of the factory, making their way past one of the monolithic factory buildings to a smaller one connected to it by a hallway-like bridge. An extremely tall smokestack protruded from the roof of the smaller building. There was a fire-escape on the side of the building leading up to the second floor. Vasiliy and Kolya climbed the stairs, holstering their weapons. Vasiliy heard shuffling inside and knocked on the door.

"We are friendly," he said loud enough for those inside to hear. He opened the door slowly and entered the lit room with Kolya behind him. There were men sleeping on the couch of the lounge-like room of the Agroprom institute, one was on the stairs leading to the hallway-like bridge Kolya and Vasiliy saw outside, his rifle aimed at the doorway. Two more were standing by the windows, aiming at the door Vasiliy and Kolya just entered.

As soon as they saw that normal people entered, the Stalkers put their weapons down.

"Welcome," one of the men said in a whisper so as not to wake the sleepers.

He and other looked shellshocked and jumpy, as if they didn't sleep the whole night.

"Jesus, you scared us. We had at least three bloodsuckers come for us tonight. One of them actually knocked on the bloody door. One of the rookies opened it and it took him." The Stalker slumped down, his back against a column. He lowered his head to his green Stalker Suit's chestplate. "Bloody hell, man. It knocked. Add to that, bloody pseudodogs have been howling all night. They only stopped now. Wait...you didn't bring them with you, I hope?"

Kolya looked at Vasiliy with realized fear. Vasiliy shook his head.

"No, I avoided their marked territory."

Kolya and the other man gave an audible sigh of relief.

"We were thinking of turning the lights off. We cleaned off the blood and still the damn suckers kept coming. I think they're attracted by the lights in the window. We came here recently, this is the whole group's first time here."

"I'll get on it," Kolya said, moving down into the basement. He was familiar with the layout of this complex, so he made his way to the switchboard. Kolya thought about this area and the dangers that constantly made this resting stop as dangerous as a night in Pripyat. Constant military and bandit sweeps by day, pseudodogs and blood suckers by night. Bloodsuckers, horrible creatures. They were apparently former humans, mutants with muscular body-structure and arms with sharp talons. They were covered in hair, reminding men who were lucky enough to see them and survive of abominable snowmen from the movies. Their mouths, or lack thereof, were their most horrifying characteristics. They had at least four jaws, or tentacles, spread out to suck the blood of their victims. Their eyes constantly glowed a brilliant white, visible anywhere. The eyes gave them away when they used their natural camoflauge to turn nearly invisible. Their speed and ferocity was unmatched by anything in the Zone. Horrible creatures.

Kolya opened the switchboard and looked for the switch to the lights in the building. He found it, connected to three other sockets, each for one of the three floors.

Kolya sensed some movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked to his right. Nothing. A trick of his mind. After the horror of his near-death experience in the anomaly field, he was still shaking, his mind racing. That was probably the reason, he thought.

Kolya flipped the switch and the building was plunged into pitch-blackness with a loud, reverberating thump. Kolya blinked his eyes to adjust to the darknes.

He looked to his right once more, his mind not allowing him to relax. He looked and saw two white eyes closing in on him slowly.

He instantly recognized them. Kolya noisily racked the slide of his rifle, chambering a round and let out a loud scream of horror to warn the others. He held the gun, his arms stiff, getting ready for the recoil of his rifle when the trigger is pulled.

The monster let out a loud, liquid-sounding snarl of anger and ran. Kolya pulled the trigger and lead the rifle after the fast-moving eyes, the muzzle-flash momentarily illuminating the basement. The rounds impacted against the walls of the basement with cracking noises echoing in the large room. The monster realized that it was hopeless to run at prey which already spotted it and ran up the stairs with inhuman speed.

Kolya heard screams from the upper floor and hurried upstairs. A loud, heavy chattering filled the building. 10 shots later, silence.

Kolya reached the top and saw Vasia, illuminated by the other Stalkers' headlamps, smoke coming from his rifle's barrel. Kolya pulled out a flashlight and switched it on, angling the beam at the monster's corpse. Ten holes. Only ten 7.62mm rounds were enough to kill it.

Vasiliy did not even need a headlamp to see in the dark. His senses were heightened beyond anything Kolya has ever seen.

The acrid smoke of burnt gunpowder filled the dark room. The man that Kolya talked to earlier took the corpse by the leg and dragged it to the window, leaving a trail of blood as he dragged it. Another man got up with an aerosol spraycan and a rag to wipe the blood as the first man tossed the corpse out of the empty window. Vasiliy took some candles from a crate by the couch as the men who slept on it laid back down, trying to catch a few more hours of sleep. He lit the candles with his lighter and placed them around the room, filling it with soft, flickering orange light. Kolya turned around to look at the stairs leading down to the basement.

And saw another pair of eyes.

He brought his rifle to bear and aimed at the figure running toward him. He pulled the trigger and let loose with three five-round bursts, all impacting the bloodsucker's torso. It stumbled backwards, but kept standing. Kolya pulled out a Fort-12 9x18mm handgun and fired three shots at it. The monster fell to the ground. Kolya removed the empty magazine from his rifle, replaced it into a pouch on his suit and insterted a full magazine into his rifle, then racked the slide.

"How the hell do they get in here?!" Kolya was becoming agitated. At this rate, nobody will be able to rest.

"Five suckers. FIVE BLOODY SUCKERS!" The first man exclaimed. "In one bloody night! There's a large gate downstairs. I locked it with a damn metal rod, how'd it get open?

Kolya and the man went downstairs, sure enough, the bar was on the ground and the door was open.

"They were able to remove it by sticking a claw through the crack between the door. Bastards are getting smart. Here, help me with this."

Kolya and the man picked up a large, metal beam, their arms shaking with exertion. They pressed it up to the door, putting several boxes, pipes, shelves, and crates on top for good measure.

"Jesus, and to think that a locked door used to be enough protection from them. Smart bastards."

Kolya nodded and went upstairs with the man following close behind, dragging the corpse with him once again.

"Oi, Apparatchik, blood downstairs. Wipe it down," the man said as he tossed the bloodsucker out of the window on top of the old one.

The younger Stalker got up with an annoyed sigh.

"You can sleep. We will keep watch for two hours," Vasiliy said to the men who were not sleeping.

"Really? Remember, we trust you." With that, the others laid down and went to sleep in a few minutes.

"Kolya, you wanted to know what happened with Anzhelika," Vasiliy reminded Kolya in a whisper. Put his hood down, his face an eerie, moustached mask in the canldelight.

"Yes, I do."

Vasiliy took a bottle of sweet, red Kagor wine used in religious rituals in Orthodox churches out of his pack and uncorked the bottle. He unwrapped a sandwich from its newspaper and handed half to Kolya after filling a tin cup with wine. Kolya took the food and the cup, leaving Kolya with the bottle.

"The story is a tragic one, I have to warn you." Vasiliy took a swig of the wine, feeling its pleasant taste in his mouth, and swallowed. The warmth and slight dizziness he felt made him feel slightly better.

Kolya nodded. He was ready to hear, he heard some horrible stories and even witnessed them himself. He was prepared.

"To shorten the time, I will start a year after I met her. I was into politics at the time. I was elected to the city's council, part of the mayor's administration. I worked for change, to rid the place of criminality, clean up the streets. Return them to the way they used to be before the collapse. I was hoping to move up from that to governor, then hopefully to president and have an opportunity to stop this NATO business breaking apart our brothers. Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, Russia, and many more. We used to be brothers, and now we quibble for nothing. One side provokes, the other answers. A never-ending cycle."

Vasiliy took a large bite of his sandwich, chased it with the wine, and swallowed.

"I was forced to do some things I was not proud of. I had to carry a gun. Many of the local criminal tribes were after me because I and a few others threatened their power. My friends who had the same ideals as me were gunned down, one by one, until I took matters into my own hands. I bought a Kalashnikov, model 74 on the black side from a local military base. I found out who was responsible and gunned them down. Berkut wouldn't help me, the police wouldn't help me. They were connected with both, the criminals and the government. They didn't want to pick sides, so I and my colleagues were left to fend for ourselves."

Kolya took a drink of his wine, swirling it in his mouth, enjoying the taste, and took a bite of the tasty sadnwich.

"I killed countless people, in fact, I got so focused on killing that I lost control. I ended up murdering the entire family that controlled the region. How I managed to do that, I have no idea. It was rage. Pure rage that filled me. It was because of this rage that I realized I am better off escaping from the politics and corruption of the outside later on. Anzhelika was the catalyst."

Vasia felt tears coming up again, but supressed them. It took alot of effort to keep his voice from shaking.

"I left the government and tried to lead a life seperate from it. It was too tempting, I was dying inside watching the skirmishes and rhetoric. Anzhelika took my mind off that. I was going to marry her before my past caught up to me. An oligarch responsible for some village outside of Kiev found me. Apparently, I killed his son in my bloody, insane crusade. It took him no effort to find me and find out who I am. It took no effort to find out about Anzhelika. I come home to find my door broken and a videotape on my bed. I don't want to remember what is on the tape, but it was horrific. Bloody torture. She was also violated in several ways. I went back to Kharkov, to that garage under which I buried my Makarov in a box and dug it up. I found where they were. Through sheer determination I found the place where they were hiding from my wrath. A newly-constructed hotel, one that was scheduled to open in a week. I knew Anzhelika had no future from what I saw on that tape. I was going to go with her, guns blazing."

Vasia sipped from the bottle, the red liquid going down his throat like blood down a drain.

"The Kalashnikov I sold. Only that one handgun was left. I donned the same long coat I am wearing now. Needless to say, they were terrified of my silhouette when they saw it in the window. I blacked out when the shooting started. Glass was flying, casing were ringing on the floor, weapons were firing. A brilliant lightshow of different-sized muzzle-flashes is all I remember. When I came back to my body, I was standing in the middle of five bodies. Three rounds left in my handgun. I knew so because each corpse had exactly one hole in the forehead. I was afraid of myself, that I was capable of this. And not a scratch on me."

Vasiliy was feeling the effects of the wine on him. The bottle was empty now, only a few drops left the neck of the bottle, falling to the ground and blossoming like his blood when the first burst of gunfire impacted his body.

"I saw a car outside and took one of the rifles from the fallen men. I unloaded into it until the engine started smoking and the driver was slumped back in his seat. I heard a voice behind me from behind the check-in counter. It asked me how much I wanted to leave him alive. I said that I won't take money, that his soul was the only payment I was willing to accept for his crime against my blood. The bastard stood up. He was holding my poor, defiled love. Her delicated form marred by scars and congealed blood. She was barely holding on. Her eyes...they were gone and her hair was burned off. This triggered such a rage in me that I lost control of my body. The bastard held a gun to her. She would not leave this world on any will other than my own. I did not want her to suffer a single, additional second. I raised my gun and fired once. The round ended her pain. It entered her forehead and left her with peace. The oligarch was confused, shocked that I would do something like that. He apparently had never heard of true kindness in his life."

Vasiliy looked at his hands one last time, seeing blood that was not there. He was beginning to fear that he was on the verge of another black-out. An outbreak of such violence that rivalled a blowout in the Zone with its ferocity.

"He raised his gun after a few moments and shot me. He had some automatic thing, a submachine gun or something. I felt three bullets enter my left shoulder. Another burst in my abdomen. And another in my chest. I felt the pain, but it did not hurt. I felt I deserved it, a punishment for my sins before the God that I abandoned by seeking refuge in his free-spirited lover's embrace. I was and am the child of Medea, for Jason did not give me the love I needed. I felt it was my own fault, but I knew that I was pushed to this. It was God's fault for allowing this to happen. With those bullets in my body, I felt good. I saw the blood falling on the ground, but I was unfazed. I aimed and let loose with the last two rounds of my gun. When it clicked empty, I dropped it. I hit the ground at the same time as my loyal weapon. They found me and took me away. I was dead at the time. Dead and unmoving. No pulse, no life in this body. I returned to my body in the morgue. I left this world. Not to the other light, but to another kingdom. To the Zone."

Vasiliy looked at the amazed look on Kolya's face.

"I wish I was making this up. I also wish I were insane. Maybe I am, but this is what my mind says. I know what happened, and only the Gods are my witnesses. You wanted to know, and I told you. You are the only one other than me and the Gods to know this story. Do not spread it, please."

Kolya was dumbfounded, attempting to digest all that he heard. The whispered story, the candelight, and the wine made him believe that this was all a dream. A bad dream. He looked at Vasiliy's face once more.

No, not a dream. Vasiliy opened his mouth to continue and Kolya looked into his empty, glazed eyes.

"It is now that I realize that I am not fated to die by any other hand other than by Medea's. I am her offspring, along with the Monolith, and only she can put an end to my life."

To be continued...
  06:36:48  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
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On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 6

Kolya could not sleep after hearing Vasiliy's story. He did not know what to believe. He could not tell what was true, what was a lie, or if the entire story was a product of the mind of a truly disturbed man. Needless to say, it was unsettling. A person in the government with little to no knowledge of firearms taking down an entire criminal organization, a gunfight that the story teller does not even remember all the details of, nine bullets in a human body, and coming back from death. There had to be an explanation.

Kolya rolled over to his side, the mattress he was lying on creaking softly under him. He opened his eyes and looked at the large room he shared with a group of other Stalkers. Crates, tools, and assorted furniture were placed in some corners of the room, giving it the appearance that it was a permanent camp with its own workshop. Kolya knew it was not the case. The old Agroprom institute changed hands almost daily. A few years earlier it was a neutral Stalker camp, constantly under siege by bandits and mutants. Nowadays, it stands abandoned, with Stalkers of different allegiances camping out within its walls occasionally. Kolya's experience in the VDV airborne troops earned him alot of money assisting the local Stalkers in defending their camp. Back then he did not feel as rusty.

Vasiliy and the others, save for two Stalkers who took over the night shift, were sleeping soundly, with an occasional snore sounding throughout the room. The two guards were sitting on crates, smoking cigarettes and playing cards under the light of a weak kerosene lamp. It seemed so peaceful even with the dog howls that were sometimes heard through the long, open window that covered two walls on the opposite side of the room. The wind and rustling leaves played a soft, continuous song outside, almost similar to waves on a beach. The seaside was a dream of every Stalker who spent a long time in the Zone. Many constantly reminisced or talked about how they would love to return and make a nice home on the shore with their women. Like the Mercenaries in the Zone said, "what all men dream of is the sea, the waves splashing off the side of a boat, a glass of expensive, vintage wine, and a slice of filet mignon as beautiful as their lover."

Even with such pleasant thoughts Kolya still could not fall asleep. His brush with death yesterday, strange demeanor of his partner, the famed Zonekeeper, his stories, and calm manner he demonstrated despite such a past, if it was even true, awakened a primal fear inside him that he tried to suppress. He was trying to convince himself that there was no danger of remaining within close proximity of Vasiliy. Strange as he may be, the man was generally good-natured.

Vasiliy stirred slightly in his sleep, making a quiet, almost unnoticable moan. Probably a bad dream, Kolya thought. He closed his eyes one more time and tightened the strings around the hood of his Stalker suit to warm up his freezing face. He was used to the cold, but the Zone wind, the unwelcoming wind that only Vasiliy and others like him found pleasant was licking exposed parts of Kolya's flesh. He curled up into a ball and adjusted the hat made of metallic wire that allowed him to sleep without having potentially life-threatening nightmares. All of his worries were unfounded. He had nothing anymore but the riches, adventure, and as Vasiliy said, death, that waited for him on the path ahead.

Vasiliy was already sitting with his back against the wall when Kolya sat up, the initial weakness of sleep wearing away. Vasia inhaled the air with his nostrils, feeling the stench of cigarette smoke, and pulled out his own pack. Kolya opened a can of energy drink and drank it. The sweet, fizzy liquid eliminated the dryness he felt in his throat and woke him up even more. Vasiliy lit his cigarette with a flick of his silver lighter and flicked the ash from the tip with his thumb. Three men from the group of Stalkers who spent the night were already gone, probably searching for artifacts or heading to their own business.

Kolya looked at Vasiliy and asked a question that had been plaguing him all night.

"So tell me, do you know how you got into the Zone? You just woke up in a morgue and left?"

Vasiliy kept looking at the wall opposite from where he was sitting, blew smoke out of his nostrils, and answered.

"I honestly do not know. The thing I did not tell you, the reason I was vague in my stories is that I honestly do not remember all of it. My past is still there, but fragments are missing. I remember my early life in the Soviet Union, my family and how I left on a journey to manhood, a fragment of the time I spent in the government, and that is it. I do not remember all details of my life before I met Anzhelika, when I was on my futile crusade, and how I got here. Maybe I repressed the memories, I heard Spetsnaz are trained to do that. Maybe I lost my memory, but I am not sure as to what may have caused that. What I do remember is blacking out from rage, which happened before on multiple occasions, lashing out with violence I had no idea I was capable of, and dying a little inside. I was evaluated and diagnosed with some sort of rare personality disorder, I do not remember what it was, exactly. After those bullets hit me, I know I died. I woke with but a glimpse of a morgue, then I awoke in the Zone shortly after. That is all I remember. Maybe someone helped me, but who? I do not allow those questions to bother me anymore. I want to forget all that bothered me before I came here and live the life I want and answer the questions plaguing me now."

Kolya was not sure what to think, but he took pity on this man before him. A hard, strong individual who endured tragedies and problems many cannot imagine coping with. He thought about helping Vasiliy answer some questions about his past, but had no idea where he could start. He had no leads, and frankly, he had no idea if any good would come out of that. Vasia wanted to help for reasons known only to him, and that satisfied Kolya. To each his own.

"If there's something you want me to help with, brother, I will. Just ask. Right now we need to get moving. I know a path from Agroprom to the Bar. That's our first destination and will be our new home. There are folks waiting for us there already, so we should get on it before they think we died."

Vasiliy stood up with his cigarette in his mouth, picked up his Kalashnikov model 104 and nodded. Kolya suddenly felt his PDA vibrate. An incoming audio transmission. He pulled the device out of its pouch and pressed a button to allow audio messages to play out, which was an important feature many Stalkers forgot to use. There is no guarantee that you won't suddenly intercept a military transmission on your PDA while sneaking up on a Snork lair.

Kolya put the PDA to his ear and listened, trying to make out what was being said.

"Attention, Kvartet on the line, priome," one voice said.

"Baza on the line, Kvartet. Go ahead, priome," an older, authoritative-sounding voice responded.

"I see an unidentified armored personnel carrier of BTR series heading West into the Agroprom area at speed along the abandoned pipeline in the Garbage running along the Northwest of the area. I see no markings. I spot at least eight heavily armed men on the top, no insignia or distinguishable markings. Possible Monolith. They might be a threat to the Agoprom factory base of operations. We have enough ammunition and fuel to allow us to deviate from our course to Outpost 1. Permission to engage, priome."

"This is Baza. Stand down, Kvartet. They are one of ours. Do not engage. I repeat, do not engage. Target is not a threat, destination is Agroprom institute under search and kill orders. Further details are classified, priome."

"Understood, Baza. Priome."

The voices stopped. Kolya absorbed what he just heard. There was an infamous Mi-24 helicopter strike team in the Zone code named Kvartet. Many Stalkers knew about it and many brothers met their deaths from its raids. Judging by the overheard transmission, Kvartet was on its way South, to the Cordon outpost. Probably returning from a raid on innocent Stalker brethren. Bastards. Gone were the days that Stalkers and Military coexisted more or less peacefully. It began with decepetion on the military's part and ended with kidnapping of a high-ranking military officer.

Unmarked BTR, no insignia, and a confirmation that the target was military. Spetsnaz. Not just any spetsnaz, unmarked spetsnaz were always something to fear. These guys were obviously on a serious mission, ready to rain some death upon the heads of whoever they were persuing. It would be wise to get out of the area. Kolya looked around and saw that he wasn't the only one who overheard the military conversation. Just in case, he decided to warn the others.

"Guys, unmarked Spetsnaz are coming to this area to search and kill someone. It would be wise for us not to be caught in the middle. I've dealt with these guys before and know what they are capable of. They are chasing someone. Whoever it is, I don't know. We need to get out of here immediately. Pack your things and disappear, everyone. Unless someone has a deathwish."

All of the Stalkers in the room nodded except for Vasiliy and hastily started packing their things. One Stalker with a stitched scar on his right cheek and unshaved face immediately moved to the door. Vasiliy noticed him and thought he looked familiar. Vasiliy had the pleasure of meeting the Swamp Doctor several times, a man rumored to be able to revive Stalkers even from Death itself. He remembered seeing a man who looked alot like the one who just left in one of the wards in the makeshift hospital the Doctor lived in. He refused to say anything about him, but payed generously for the artifact he ordered. An artifact that was very effective at absorbing psi-signals like the ones emitted in the Brain Scorcher and Yantar. Could it be possible that the man was the famed Strelok? Impossible. Strelok perished last year in the massive raid on the NPP. When Vasiliy last saw him, he was in the Doctor's care a year before the events that changed the Zone for the worse. Vasiliy was unsure what caused it, but from what he heard, someone was responsible for aggravating the Zone. Some said it was the famed Strelok, but Vasiliy had no idea and stayed away from the matter, prefering not to get involved.

Vasiliy put his suspicions aside for now and waited for Kolya to get ready.

"Everyone, we should scatter. Wherever you need to go, go there. Staying in a group can be dangerous. If you need to go North, go there. South, go there. Large groups are targets, so spread out and hurry."

Kolya looked at Vasiliy and nodded. Vasia nodded back and made for the door. Both men started descending the stairs of the fire escape and made for the hole in the cement wall by the rail road station in the North of the institute complex. Kolya looked back and saw a Stalker on the roof looking through binoculars at the area from which everyone expected the vehicle to enter the Agroprom area. The man suddenly ducked down and made for the fire escape. Most likely he spotted the vehicle.

Many Stalkers ran out of the building and scattered as Kolya instructed, each heading in his own direction. One Stalker, his destination apparently similar to Kolya and Vasia's passed by not too far from them. Kolya started running after Vasia, who was moving very quickly for a man with the amount of gear he was carrying, seeing his long coat swirling in the wind, getting smaller and smaller. Vasia occasionally stopped, waiting for Kolya to catch up. Kolya looked to his left and saw the Stalker that was running by them not so long ago.

"So what do you think these guys want?" Kolya yelled at him.

"I heard the guy they're after wasted the entire military base by here all by himself and stole something valuable. They probably picked up his PDA signal when he returned to the area and decided to seek justice and retrieve what they lost."

Kolya waved back in thanks, then a question popped up in his mind as surprisingly loud gunfire erupted from the institute. Kolya resisted the urge to look back and continued the conversation.

"Who wasted the base, you know?"

"The guy hunting Strelok nowadays!" the Stalker answered.

"Scar? I thought he died!"

"No, Marked One, silly."

Ah yes. Kolya remembered hearing the news. Sidorovich asked him if he knew anything about Strelok when he last saw him. Kolya knew nothing more than others, only the stories about his exploits and the surprising exploits of some of those hunting him. Such as the aforementioned Scar, a mysterious faction he never heard about which disappeared along with him in the tragic NPP siege last year, and the recent Marked One. Wasting an entire military and bandit base, especially considering he was born from a Death Truck, trucks heading from the centre of the Zone, laden with dead bodies and most often ending up smoking and abandoned on the roadside, is impressive. Maybe that is how Vasiliy got into the Zone, via Death Truck. Then again, those corpse-carrying trucks, a Zone legend on their own, only came from the North, travelling to the South to God-Knows-Where. Maybe he was a Monolith deserter. Then again, no one ever escaped the Monolith. Kolya would have to ask Vasiliy about that.

Kolya's PDA vibrated again and a distressed voice on a local public channel started speaking.

"Guys, whoever can hear me, help! These scumbags are slaughtering our brother Stalkers!" and then the transmission ended abruptly.

The three Stalkers kept running up and down hills until the walls of the bar were visible in the distance. The old Soviet factory buildings stood tall, beckoning them with the sound of sweet music echoing off their walls. The Bar. They were almost there. One more step forward.

The second step out of twelve toward a tragedy Kolya and those he would take with him could never have predicted.

To be continued...
  06:50:03  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 7

Kolya and Vasiliy calmy approached the checkpoint behind the long trench dug up in front of the factory complex that is referred to as The Bar. They were not alone, several other Stalkers were keen on seeking refuge in the same place. Some Kolya recognized from Agroprom, others he had never seen before.

Soldiers from the Duty faction stood by the sandbags while their supervisor looked over those seeking entrance. Judging by the rank boards on the shoulders of his black uniform, the Dutyer was a low-ranking sergeant. Kolya walked up to Vasiliy, who was sitting on one of the piles of sand making up the spike-studded trench, smoking, and sat down. He pulled out a cigarette of his own, a cheap, filterless Belomor, and lit it with his plastic lighter.

"It'll take a while for this crowd to get smaller," Kolya said as he looked at the grey cloud approaching from the Garbage dump in the South.

Vasiliy said nothing and exhaled a plume of smoke from his mouth. He pulled the hood of his long coat over his head in anticipation of the rain that was sure to start pouring soon. Sudden shouts drew Vasiliy's attention. He turned around and looked at the checkpoint. A man in a blue-camoflauged suit, one that was commonly worn by many out-of-Zone mercenaries, was in a heated argument with the guards.

"I'm not a mercenary, damn you! I told you, I spat on my employers long ago when they left me here to die! I was here three days ago, your buddies let me in!" The man's voice was rising.

"I don't give a flying fuck, you can say what you want, you're not getting in. I have the final say, and I say no." The Duty sergeant replied quietly, his voice full of menace. "Once a mercenary, always a mercenary. Your kind are friendly with Freedom, how do I know you're not a spy?"

"Freedom, Duty, Monolith, Clear Sky, I don't give a shit! The actual base you use on this territory is heavily guarded and sealed, what the hell can one man do? I don't even have any suspicious equipment, no explosives, just this crappy German G-3 rifle, ammunition, and a knife! I need to buy some provisions and spend the night, brother." The guards were beginning to get nervous and were slowly bringing their new Russian rifles to their shoulders. "Put those Abakans down, I'm not even threatening you people. Hell, I'm not even offering to pay because I have no money."

"Last warning, get out of here or we start shooting."

"Fine, maybe I'll go visit Freedom. They're more welcoming, even if they are stoned anarchist pissants. This kind of attitude is driving people away from supporting your faction."

A sudden spike in Vasiliy's senses forced him to leap up from the mound of sand and to the man who was arguing with the Duty faction soldiers. He ran up and kicked the back of the man's knees, forcing him to fall over backwards just as a burst of gunfire sailed over his body.

The Duty sergeant walked up to the Dutyer that opened fire without command and gave him a hard punch to the face. "It is morons like you that give our faction a bad name! Three hours on watch tomorrow in no order."

Vasiliy helped the man stand up. "Thank you, brother, you saved my life. I'd pay my debt in typical Zone fashion, but I'd be lying to you. Information is also worth money, so stop by the Freedom base in the Pig Farm. They set up camp South of what used to be their compound in the Dark Valley before they moved out. I owe you a drink."

The man in the Merc suit brushed off his legs, spat on the ground in front of the checkpoint, and started on his way down the road leading South to the huge industrial dump referred to as the Garbage by Stalkers, which connected to the area dubbed the Dark Valley.

The members of the Freedom faction were known by some to have conducted research on the origins of a select few of individuals who have received certain abilities that no one else in the Zone has been able to replicate, abilities no mere device can grant. Vasiliy remembered the years leading up to the Faction Wars of 2011, when the Zone and the society of people within its borders were dramatically different. At that time, these people were abundant. Almost to the degree of a barrel overflowing with foam. These individuals overflowed from the tip of the barrel, discarded and left to die from the stigma that the Zone gave them with Her gifts. Akin to God, the Zone giveth, and the Zone taketh away in a perverse version of God’s own actions. Madness, insanity, schizophrenia, and other complications arising from the Zone’s touch on the human mind left the ripe, untouched populace of the Zone fearful of these individuals.

After the Great Push, a massive war in which the human forces of the Bundeswehr, Ukrainian MVS, Russian peacekeepers, normal Stalkers, many inter-Zone factions, and other forces from the nations in the Big Land outside of the Zone fought to contain her offspring and prevent them from breaking through Her borders, these individuals, touched by the Zone, became more or less accepted by the untouched. Vasiliy was one of these such “touched” individuals. Among Her gifts, the Zone granted 6th senses to anomalies, ignorance of the local wildlife to the gifted, a mastery for control or influence over the Zone’s offspring, an insight into Her very being, miraculous healing powers, or other such gifts to these individuals. Most made their living as Guides, invaluable men within the Zone. Others became hermits, used their gifts to help the population of Stalkers, made money, or died. It was during the Great Push that Vasiliy felt the emergence of his gifts, when he first rescued the stranded Russian peacekeepers, when he first heard about the Freedom faction’s research on those such as him.

He spent the majority of the past few years since the Faction Wars of 2011 in solitude, preferring to stay away from the Zone’s human population and its problems. Now, something drove him to uncovering his origins, the origin of the Zone, the origin of her offspring, the Monolith, and to fulfill the meaning given to him by the Zone. It was this drive that pushed him onwards, not his desire for a better life. In his very being, now Vasiliy felt that such a desire within the Zone was foolhardy.

“Thank you,” Vasiliy replied to the man’s proposal as he lifted the mask from his head.

“Good, brother. I will see you there someday, hopefully. May the Zone be kind to you.” With that, the man in the Mercenary suit was on his way.

Kolya waved Vasiliy over to the checkpoint and began speaking with the commander.

“It’s just us two. We have people waiting in there for us. I am Kolya Miner and my partner is Vasiliy Zonekeeper.”

The commander looked both of them over, his brow furrowing. After scanning both Stalkers with his eyes, he adjusted the red breast armour of his black leather Duty uniform and tilted his head up, his eyes looked down over his nose at Kolya.

“You I remember, but I refuse to let the second one in. He has the mark of the Zone on him.”

Vasiliy clenched his fist quietly under his long coat, bringing it close to the holster that held Slava. He sensed death nearby, waiting to spring from the rooftops.

“What are you talking about? So what if he would make a good Guide? You guys have a good number of them helping out in your outfit.”

“Those we can trust, but we don’t trust others. If he’s not a spy for Freedom, then how do we know he won’t summon a herd of boars on our outpost? Or conjure poltergeists from a bag full of souls? That swamp dweller, Max, did such a thing before. The entire Zone knows about that already, if you didn’t hear. He’s not getting in.”

“He doesn’t have those kinds of abilities, I’m sure you have a file on the Zonekeeper,” Kolya said as his anger slowly rose.

“We do, but Guides are as unstable as the Zone itself. New abilities arise constantly.” The commander was becoming visibly agitated, his hands moving to his rifle.

“Then why don’t you fear your own?”

“I will not answer any more questions, you brain-fucker! We don’t and that’s that!”

“Not even if I show you my documents?”

“No sum of paper inside a passport will buy the trust of Duty. We fight the Zone’s perversions of nature, and do so with no compromise.”

“Would you call using Guides, something bestowed upon men, for your own purposes a compromise?”

The commander signaled for his men to raise their rifles and did so himself. The clacking of Abakans being cocked sounded almost in unison. Kolya unfolded the stock on his old Kalashnikov, but Vasiliy pulled him away.

“They will all be on the Other Light in a few days’ time.” Vasiliy calmly stated. He then directed Kolya towards the South, in the direction of the Garbage, a territory that led to the Dark Valley in which the old Pig-Farm Freedom outpost and last refuge of the Bandits at the old institute were situated.

“That guy pissed me off. On the other hand, a visit to the territory near X-18 will bring back memories. Hell, we can even go down into the lab, Stalker forum says someone cleared it out by now."

Vasiliy nodded. “We can then go North from the Valley through the Zoners and Loners bar and further North to the main Freedom base in the Military Warehouses. Tell your associates to meet us in that general vicinity, near the old farm not far from the old downed helicopter in about a day.”

“The one North of the Bloodsucker Village?”

“That is what I was referring to. Yes.”

“Good plan, brother,” Kolya said as he folded the stock back on his old Kalashnikov 74.

Now reflecting on events in his life in the Zone, Vasiliy began to comprehend something very important about his very existence. His past life in the Big Land did not matter. It was a tangle of useless memories that felt like they belonged to someone else. Pieces were missing, entire chunks ripped out from his memory. He almost felt as if his mind was not his at all, filled in by someone else’s memories. A brick wall whose missing pieces were cemented shut.

Now Vasiliy could see who he really was. The pieces began to connect. He was not the Zone’s son. That could not be, the story did not make sense that way, for he still lived while the Monolith and the Zone’s children survived on. He was separated from the Zone’s children, his siblings were not as welcoming to him as they are to each other. That made sense in Vasiliy’s mind. He could feel the Zone ordering him, using him. He could not be the Zone’s son, for he was not birthed from the Zone, he is her tool, her weapon. He is the sword of Medea.

To be continued...
  07:03:21  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 8

It has been quite a while since Vasiliy left the area in which his home was situated. He forgot about how other Stalkers reacted to him, his appearance, and even reputation. As Vasiliy walked beside Kolya towards the checkpoint at the border between Duty's Bar and the giant industrial wasteland known as Garbage, he could not help but feel unease at the stares, hushed whispering, and looks of fear that Stalkers passing by on their way to the bar gave him. Guides were connected to the Zone, some more than others, yet why they were assimilated into mainstream Stalker society stems only from the fact that the Zone's influence is not as strong or apparent on them. Stalkers feared the Zone and Her deception, Her interpretation of the way the world, its laws of physics, and life were unfamiliar, frightening, and in most cases, deadly.

Vasiliy understood, yet still felt the familiar pang of anger welling up in his stomach. The Stalkers at Agroprom, they did not get a good look at him in the dark, at his skin, his face, his eyes. In the morning, they were too busy running away from a squad of military punishers following a fugitive that hid amoung the Stalkers in the building. They did not see, did not notice anything out of the ordinary, hence why they let him in. Vasiliy knew he was an exile, like other men touched, and even borne of the Zone. Like the Swamp Doctor, the Cartographer, and Monolith faction officers.

The Doctor was said to be able to heal any wound, no matter how serious, be it cancer or amputation. His curse to counteract this gift was the inability to distinguish man from beast. There was a myriad of tales circulating the Zone about the Doctor, such as him curing a Stalker wounded by a bloodsucker, and healing the bloodsucker the Stalker crippled with his gunfire. The Cartographer was a mystical figure, able to travel large distances in some mysterious way. One particular rumour that circulated around the Zone was that he had been to many territories considered to be lost, cut off by anomalies and space distortions. Tall tales of a group of Stalkers in the Cordon area near the Southern Zone border seeing the Cartographer, and another group farther North in the ecologist camp by the abandoned Soviet factory dubbed Yantar spotting him within minutes of his last appearance in Cordon came in many variations. This mysterious man was driven by only one desire, and that was to map out the entire Zone. A task almost impossible to complete. And the monolith faction, a complete mystery. They started out as a group of Zone-worshipping fanatics, dissappeared, then reappeared in the centre of the Zone, the Chernobyl NPP, driving off anyone foolish enough to attempt to break through their defensive lines. They were said not to be men anymore, but puppets, as if the Zone controlled them Herself. Amazing stories of survival by Monolith soldiers of intense radiation doses that would make a normal man glow like a full moon on a summer night, anomalies, and even dozens of directly-impacting rounds in their bodies only add to the fear normal Stalkers have of them. There has been a rising paranoia of people like Vasiliy due to the Monolith faction's re-emergence from the unknown, rumours of Monolith agents amoung the Stalker population. Something definitely happened to startle the faction into becoming so active all of a sudden.

Thanks to the archive he kept in his home, one that he hopes to turn into an instructional book some day, Vasiliy had knowledge of almost every major event of the Zone and of close to all of its nuances. Almost. In this chaotic kingdom of the Zone, secrets are numerous and no one man can know them all. What set Vasiliy apart from normal men is that he had a deep connection into Her mind. He was coming very close to understanding Her. Information came from Vasiliy's own observations, generous ecologists that were not as tight-lipped as the government wanted them to be, as well as the stories and ramblings of Stalkers he met on the way. Access to the mass Stalker online community through the PDA helped, too. Oh, the stories, some of them are worthy of their own novels, which Vasiliy had begun to write, but never finished. His love for writing and intellectual persuits was being counteracted by something else, not allowed to fully express itself by a conflicting factor Vasiliy could not explain.

With his mind occupied with his thoughts, Vasiliy walked on behind Kolya, ignoring his surroundings. He did not notice that they were almost at the checkpoint. Kolya motioned for Vasiliy to stop, reaching for his beeping, yellow anomaly detector afterwards.

"I seriously don't remember any anomalies here, then again I haven't been here for a long time," Kolya sighed.

He looked at the swirling, slightly distorted air that resembled heat swirls, except these had leaves circling them in random directions despite the cold wind blowing in the opposite direction. Vasiliy saw them differently, as brightly glowing pockets of energy stemming up from the ground, pulsating angrily. Kolya threw a bolt into one of the anomalies. The metallic object flew in the air until it entered the edge of the anomaly. It suddenly changed trajectory and flew slightly up and to the left, entering another anomaly right by it. When the bolt entered that one, it suddenly flew down into the pavement, cracking it on impact. Kolya could see that the metal itself was deformed, flattened.

These were gravitational anomalies. Finding a path through them would be perilous. Vasiliy even had trouble calculating one.

"How are we going to get through this?" Kolya asked with a hint of frustration. "Damn, I never knew I'd be happy if it was just a minefield, no, I was naive back in Afghan. Never knew there could be something worse."

"I think I see a path. Follow me carefully," Vasiliy said as he took Kolya by the arm. The path Vasiliy followed went off the road and into the brush, almost reaching the incredibly steep hill at the very edge of the path that the road to the Bar was paved along. Finally, they were through.

Kolya sighed a sigh of relief, thanked Vasiliy, and spat into one of the anomalies. He watched his saliva spiral upwards slowly, as if gravity was nonexistant in that small plot of land.

Before the two Stalkers was the checkpoint that led to the Garbage. It was comprised of a single gate made up of two plates in the middle of a high chain-link fence. A green train car, converted into a bungalow by the original owners of the checkpoint, stood to the left.

Duty soldiers stood guard with their black leather armour with red chest plates, holding their short-barelled AKS-74U rifles proudly. Kolya approached the locked gates and knocked twice.

"Who?" yelled a voice from the other side.

"We're Stalkers coming from the Bar! We want to enter this area," Kolya yelled in response.

The metal plates of the gate started sliding along the rails with deafening screaks of rusted metal rubbing against metal.

A Duty soldier wearing the same uniform as the others, save for a black balaclava that revealed only his dark eyes stopped in front of the opening in the gate, keeping his rifle slightly pointed to the ground, but ready to be shouldered and fired at the peculiar pair before him in a fraction of a second.

"Weapons out of hands. Walk forward slowly," said the Dutyer with detectable unease. As Vasiliy walked by, he felt the soldier tense up, readying himself for any unexpected actions on Vasiliy's part.

Duty soldiers kept watch all around the checkpoint, standing behind sandbags and concrete blocks places all around in a semi-circle, not turning around to look at the newcomers. Professionals through and through. The guard next to the gate regarded the two men with suspicion, his eyes scanning Vasiliy.

"How'd he get into the bar? We don't allow his kind on our territory," the guard said.

"We came around through Agroprom before the Army squad arrived, they didn't let us in and now we're headed over to the Dark Valley," Kolya replied.

"Good. If they let him in, I would have left this faction. Giving artifacts to ecologists? Cease-fire with Freedom? We're getting soft. Now go about your way and don't expect us to let you through again."

Kolya nodded and motioned for Vasiliy to follow him. Before them was the vast dumping ground used by the Soviet government back in the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986 dubbed the Garbage. If the Zone were refferred to as a wasteland, this particular zone went beyond the term. Vast piles of concrete, steel cables, support columns, cisterns, containers, vehicles, and other industrial refuse dotted the landscape. Trees and other growth sprouted in rare clumps along the edges of the hilly terrain. A small swamp behind a half-standing pumping station was filled with parts of the collapsed building, now covered in constricting vines. Huge cisterns stood just South of the partially collapsed structure, once used to hold oil, now filled with radioactive sludge mixed with sand.

Vasiliy pointed to the East, just behind the husk of the building, where trees grew and a small path led into the adjacent territory dubbed the Dark Valley. Signs warning of radiation dotted the border between the two territories.

"We will need to make a run through radiation again," said Vasiliy as he scanned the path for potential Bandit ambushes. Satisfied that the usual checkpoint where the Bandits occupying the territory used to collect payments to enter was deserted, Vasiliy pocketed his binoculars and pulled on his mask. "It is best we get ready. Being out in the open here is sure to attract attention."

Kolya was slightly irritated that Vasiliy was warning him of such obvious dangers, for he was no green rookie, but an experienced Stalker. The trainyard where the Bandits usually made camp was nowhere near them, he saw no need to worry. Kolya grunted in acknowledgement and prepared to make the run.

After an uneventful journey South through the expansive fields of the Dark Valley, the pig farm finally came into view. The grey brick wall surrounding the old Soviet complex was partially collapsed in the middle, revealing the activity inside. Stalkers in green camoflauge uniforms wearing black chestplates with green leather segments stood watch over the gap in the fence as many more moved around behind them. Lights hung on strings between the two long buildings in which the swine used to be housed back when the farm was operational. It looked almost festive, far different from a few weeks before when a gang of swindlers occupied the complex.

"Hey, peoples! Holster the guns and come forward slowly. This place's a no-fire Zone. We're all happy here," one of the Freedom faction guards yelled toward the newcomers.

The two men did as they were told and approached the complex.
"So what brings you weary travellers to our little corner of this dark, desolate hell?"

Vasiliy came closer to the guard to ask him a few questions out of earshot of his partner.

"We just came here to rest for the night and have a few drinks. We'll be on our way tomorrow to the Army Warehouses. Is Chekhov here? Anyone who participated in the study on Zoners?"

The guard was taken aback at Vasiliy's question. A stranger knowing such close-guarded secrets of Freedom's studies was not a common phenomenon.

"No, Chekhov died in the Bandit siege when we evacuated our old base up North before the big Blowout at the end of 2011. We're here to move back in, as someone has cleared out the entire complex where our base used to be of Bandits. Even finished off Borov, the back-stabbing bastard that killed Yoga and broke our truce. We have a few higher-ups and scientists here with us to study the X-18 lab under the factory nearby, you can talk to them later. When they can see you, give me your guns, and I'll take you to them. Don't talk too loudly about this business, and if I catch any funny business, the two of you shall be swimming in the radioactive lake not far from here with the Fleshes."

"Understood, you will see no problems on my part. This business is particularly...close to me," Vasiliy assured the Freedomer.

"I can gather why. Now go inside, raggedy man, and help yourself and your friend to a hard drink or a soft smoke. You two look like you need it," with that, the guard waved them in.

To be continued...
  07:35:11  14 March 2010
profilee-mailreply Message URLTo the Top
Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 9

Vasiliy and Kolya approached the rightmost building of the pig-farm, passing the supply shed and tall water tower behind the partially collapsed brick wall where Freedom faction guards stood watch for any approaching dangers. Now and then, one of them would shout a warning and fire a burst to ward off any approaching Zone wildlife. Kolya winced at the unexpected bangs of gunfire and turned to see an adolescent, large, gray boar turn into the opposite direction from the camp and run off, snorting dissaprovingly.

The lights hung between the buildings swung gently in the breeze as the looming blue darkness of the sky rolled in to see away the last yellow blot of sunlight. Lightning echoed behind the hills to the West, signifying the storm that began in the Garbage after Vasiliy and Kolya left the area. With every thunderstrike, Kolya shuddered, as it reminded him of one of the worst cataclysms that regularly befell each area of the Zone, the Blowouts. The clouds to the West were a heavy blue, and rain never fell during a Blowout. Nevertheless, it was unnvering to everyone. Even if one was occuring several kilometers away, any wise Stalker would seek shelter and hunker down until it ended, as these explosions of the Zone's energy were unpredictable, destructive, and shifted location with no warning.

Vasiliy noticed large crates and other paraphernalia arranged between the two buildings in the complex under the lights, makeshift tables, repair stations, trader posts, and normal Stalkers mingling with Freedom personnel, playing poker, dominos, eating, and exchanging drinks. Campfires dotted the area with Stalkers exchanging stories with wild gestures and some playing quietly on acoustic guitars. Kolya pointed towards one of the crates occupied by a Freedom member.

"I'll head on over and see what he's selling. You're coming with me?"

Vasiliy had some time before his meeting and nodded.

"Yes. I need to purchase some provisions as well," he replied.

"Great, maybe we can win some cash, have some drinks, and have a nice meal for once."

Kolya walked over to crate that was converted into a booth with Vasiliy following him closely. Cans of food, a myriad of bottled drinks, liquor, and cigarettes were arranged neatly on shelves inside the crate, akin to a typical Eastern European lariok, or kiosk, as it was referred to in the West. The trader manning the booth sat inside on a stool, his scarred, worn Swiss Sig-series rifle stood leaning against the back wall, barrel up. He looked up at his potential customers from the newspaper he was reading and then buried his face back behind the paper nochalantly. Just like back in the city, Kolya thought. Such a sight of the activities in the compound almost brought a sense of normality, as if this was any other little village in Russia, Belarus, or Ukraine. Almost. Any other little village inhabited entirely by big burly men in armored suits, each carrying an arsenal equal to the loadout of a military squad on high alert.

Kolya decided what he needed, as did Vasiliy.

"Give me two packs of LM's, a bottle of cola, a carton of orange juice, and a can of the beef in picante sauce," Kolya told the seller.

The Freedom member, a small, lanky man, put the newspaper down on the table and got up from his chair. He took the requested items down from the shelves and handed them to Kolya.

"Three eighty-five," he said in a high voice. Although he was mostly hidden under his green camoflauged Freedom suit, judging by his face, voice, and size, Vasiliy concluded that he was no more than nineteen years old.

Kolya took a piece of newspaper from one of the pouches on his belt and removed four one-hundred ruble bills. He gestured towards the newspaper on the table.

"Hot press I see. Anything interesting?"

The seller chuckled.

"Get this, Ukraine's former president is accusing Russia of staging the second Chernobyl disaster to derail its entry into NATO. I just think he should move on. No one wants that, we're friends with the Russians now, let it be, jeez."

Vasiliy shivered at the mention of the politics he sought to escape.

"Politics is a dirty business. Hate is sown by those who prosper from it," Vasiliy remarked.

"Yeah, at least it's dying down now. You know, I'm kind of thankful for this disaster for bringing the world together in friendship, more or less," the seller said. "And for giving me an excuse to run around with a gun and not being in the army!" the seller laughed.

Vasiliy felt a huge, hulking figure approach him from behind.

"Hate is indeed sown by those who prosper from it. Hate breeds fear. Fear breeds obedience. Obedience breeds power. Only when a larger threat looms over humanity, do we seek to discard our differences and unite to combat it," Vasiliy heard the muffled voice say from behind.

He turned around and saw the huge form of a green-gray camoflauged army exo-skeleton prototype that only the richest Stalkers in the Zone could afford. Vasiliy hated the things. The pipes, pneumatic servos, and actuators that ran along each limb protruded grossly, the matte-painted metal plates that covered the wearer's limbs were unneeded and only provided mental security, as only handgun rounds could be stopped by them. The bulging kevlar torso armour looked uncomfortable and bulky, the dual-filtered gas-mask made it hard to aim a weapon, and all of this wonder was finished off by a totally out-of-place rounded helmet. At least it was all sealed, provided good protection, enhanced strength, and made the user a walking tank at the sacrifice of agility and speed. That is, until the lightly-armored servos or the engine mounted on the wearer's back were damaged, rendering it immobile and inoperable, trapping the wearer inside. No wonder the army is selling off all of its old prototypes.

In Vasiliy's mind, only those who were afraid of the outside could trap themselves inside a case, like the protagonist of a classic tale Vasiliy adored. Chekhov's The Man in the Case.

Kolya turned around and his face lit up.

"Arkadiy! The hell're you doing here?" Kolya exclaimed.

"Well, since you guys were taking so long, I decided to dislocate myself down here and have a drink. I left the others at the meeting place. I was going to take the same convoy that took me down here back up to the Warehouse area where we were supposed to meet at noon tomorrow. Speaking of which, you should ask to get on it, too. They'll take a shipment of supplies up to the Freedom base at the former Army warehouses up there and drop us off."

"Good man, good man. So have you got some experience in the Zone already? I see you've already bought yourself a tank-suit. Jeez, you don't even have a Stalker-name yet and you already carry the gear reserved for master Stalkers. Compensating for still being a rookie, eh?" Kolya asked with a smile on his unshaven face.

"You bastard. It's so easy to die in this place, I decided to even out the odds. This one's even air-conditioned. If only my colleagues in London could see me now. I bet they're sitting there, exiles refusing to return to their country of origin, still pondering the meaning of the Zone and its secrets, well, I'll unlock them for the smug bastards. They all pitched in and I was able to afford this sweet gear." Arkady explained.

"So where'd you buy this stuff? Last I saw you, you were in the Cordon, pissing your pants, afraid to leave the village." Kolya laughed again.

"I decided to man up and go North in the company of like-minded individuals. Sidorovich's new shipment helped, too."

"I knew you were a rich little rookie, but what the hell? I thought you knew not to get that gear from Sidorovich. You can get everything twice as cheap up North. Sid keeps that stuff there to attract foolish rookies like you just that way. That Enfield he's selling for forty-five thousand is fifteen at the Bar, and that fancy new Kalashnikov with the black plastic you were eyeing for twenty thousand is just ten at the Zoners and Loners."

Arkady just waved his hand dissmissively at Kolya and adjusted the gargantuan PKM machine gun hanging on a sling on his back.

"How much'd you pay?" Kolya asked with a mischievous look.

"Three-hundred forty-thousand. I'm broke now."

Kolya collapsed on the ground, holding his gut, laughing uncontrollably. Arkadiy just spread his arms in bewilderment.

"That shit is worth one-hundred eighty-thousand at Siro's." Kolya managed to gasp.

A few passersby looked at the display as they walked, and a few Stalkers sat at their tables looked up from their business at the commotion.

"Ah, screw it, I need a drink," Kolya said as he got up and dusted himself off.

"And I need some sleep," Arkadiy said in response.

"While I'm gone, you meet our partner, our key for the business we'll embark on. Be nice to each other, I'll go inside to the bar. If I remember right, the armory and gear trader is behind us, we'll go all together in the morning to buy what we need. Except you, Arkashka," with that, Kolya shoved the bought items from the booth's table into his bag as the seller gave him an annoyed look from behind his newpaper, and walked off, laughing to himself. He almost tripped over three Freedom members smoking from a hookah-style kalyan pipe behind a tree at the corner of the building.

Arkadiy turned to Vasiliy and held out a giant, gloved hand.

"Arkady Pav-"

"Do not tell me your name. In the Zone, first names and Zone names are all that matter. Forget your last name and the name of your father. You go by only two now. Your others you do not reveal inside the Zone, for they do not matter." Vasiliy decided it was his job to teach this armoured rookie if no one else was going to.

Arkadiy stumbled for a moment, silent.

"What would you suggest?" he asked.

"It is not for me to decide. I may sound insane, but it is the Zone that decides for all. It is Her will that gives us our names. Kolya is the Miner, for example."

"So I have to wait until I get one from others?"

"No, Arkadiy. They come to you on their own. Names change in the Zone, too. I can see from your attire and your demeanor what kind of person you are, and I suspect I know what name the Zone has given to you."

"What is it, then?" Arkadiy asked, his unease growing.

"Belicoff."

"The man in the case?"

"Precisely." Vasiliy said, his tone neither hostile, nor friendly. Emotionless.

"Makes sense, I suppose. Belicoff. Intellectual, political analyst, and former director of Russian studies at Plekhanov institute," Belicoff held out his hand again. Vasiliy did not take it, only looked at him with dark eyes. Belicoff was still confused as to what he did wrong, looking for some answer in Vasiliy's tan, scarred, unshaven, moustachioed face. Vasiliy knew that Belicoff was not going to understand without his instruction as to what Zone etiquette is and obliged.

"Your past is not a concern of anyone. Keep it hidden. Do not reveal to anyone but the closest people or those you trust. In your case, no one at the moment. I can feel and tell what kind of a person someone is, but it is not as easy for you. Your past is your secret. Your past matters not until you leave beyond the Zone borders and out of Her kingdom." Vasiliy recalled the night he revealed his troubling secrets to Kolya.

He did so because he trusted him. He did so because he sensed he was a good man at heart. He did so because no one else knew but him. He did so out of loneliness. Vasiliy was troubled by such a thought. After so many years in solitude, now he gets such feelings. Human contact is changing him, making him softer, Vasiliy feared. Or was it something else that was affecting him? Something reaching into his mind and awakening him from his mental hibernation inside the house by the river in which he lived? Yes, that was the case. He was planted there by the Zone. He was the sword of Medea, after all. Events were unfolding, and the Zone needed him to slay her children. What brought him to this, though? He was a man, just a man, one that entered the Zone like everyone else.

...or was he?

His memories were fuzzy, reduced to fragments, some felt like they were invaded, erased, and altered. He felt like he was conflicting inside of himself, but how? He had been activated, that much was clear. Kolya's arrival was fate, the hand picking up the sword. Just as God, the abandoned Jason, manipulated events in the outside world, the Zone, Medea breaking free of him and retaliating at his betrayal, did so in her way. Everyone was a tool of the Zone, some more than others. They were all in her influence, they just did not realize it.

Belicoff was taken aback at Vasiliy's words, but decided to keep them in mind. Zone folk were insane. The Zone was just a giant crazy-house, Belicoff thought. Still, this man was experienced and heeding his words was only going to strengthen his chances at evading a gruesome death. What he did not know was that the stench of death was long upon him, and Vasiliy felt it.

"I am Belicoff," he said.

"I am Zonekeeper, but you can call me Vasiliy, as you are part of our group," Vasiliy answered. "I also found your observation quite accurate earlier, one the state of politics and human nature. Why did you leave Plekhanov institute for London, our of curiosity?"

"Charmed. Well, I left because of the abominable state of the Russian Federation and its policies. I found the West to be much more accomodating. They have adopted democracy, moved so much further than my country of origin. They are cultured and modern, unlike the Russians and other Easterners. Well, I have to sleep now, we will discuss this later. I am not one for physical activity, and even in this suit, I get tired easily. Good night," Belicoff strode off for the building with the armoury, his armour whirring quietly with each movement.

How disappointing, Vasiliy thought. Such an intelligent man, yet so ignorant and misguided.

"Are you gonna buy something or not, dammit?" the seller in the booth snapped. "Jesus, I've been waiting for you two to finish blowing each other and get back to business."

Vasiliy glared with his dark eyes at the man and pointed to the items he wanted wordlessly. The seller put a pack of Parliament cigarettes, bottle of local vodka, three cans of energy drinks, and an unopened bowl of mushroom-flavoured potato-mash on the table.

"You can find hot water in the bar behind me. Two-hundred seventy. Have a nice night, dude," the seller said as he sat back down on the stool and reopened his newpaper under the lonely lightbulb hanging on top of the crate.

Vasiliy put the money on the counter and walked toward the door of the bar, passing by a Stalker and Freedom member playing battleship with pieces of paper and pencils on a table with a diamond-shaped glowing rock between them. Vasiliy recognized it as a Night-Star artifact. Valuable, gives the user strength in exchange for a small dose of radiation if in contact with the skin, and shines brightly, making it a good source of light.

Before he could reach for the knob and open the door, Vasiliy felt a hand on his shoulder. He barely suppressed the reflex to twist it in a popular sambo-style disarming move used by the army. Again, he felt surprised at this, as Vasiliy never learned such techniques, nor does he recall ever having such a reflex.

The hand disappeared and Vasiliy turned around to see the Freedom guard he talked to earlier.

"I was looking for you, dude. Couldn't figure out where you were, thought you flew away from us like the leaves off that tree. Hehe, well, the higher-ups in charge of the research say they're anxious to see you now. Keep it quick, keep your distance, and no funny stuff. I'm easy to amuse, I'll laugh so hard I might pull the trigger and blow a load of lead everywhere in my tirade of laughter, so be careful. And do not dare to pull no voodoo in there! We've got our own voodoo specialist, he can turn you inside out if you do something."

Vasiliy was intrigued by the last statement.

"You have a Guide who can turn people inside out?"

"Nah, not really, but he can sense when people be trying to do some voodoo, like mind-reading, mutant-baiting and the like, so don't do that, because we'll know!"

"I don't have those abilities anyway," Vasiliy assured him.

"Well, I can't know that for sure. Hand me your shooters and let's go. Nice mask, by the way, been a long time since I've seen anyone actually using ancient GP-5's."

Vasiliy nodded and handed the Freedomer Slava and his AK-104. He adjusted his GP-5 gas-mask, tucking the the snout-like tube of the mask into his belt and securing the mask on its hook near his right breast.

The guard led him toward the building with the armoury, to a back door instead of the main entrance. He held a green LR-300 prototype, a further developement of the stoner-action AR-type rifle. The guard opened the door and gestured for Vasiliy to enter. He found himself inside a small room apparently behind the armory vendor on the other side of a wooden barrier with a door in the middle. Various suits were neatly stacked along the adjacent wall, crates and boxes of ammunition lined the wooden barrier that seperated the room from the main building's interior, firearms of different makes were carefully placed on notches just above them. A couch sat to Vasiliy's right against the building's rear wall and a single lightbulb illuminated the room with several candles on small shelves lining the walls. On the couch sat three men, one holding a folder full of documents, his left arm resting on a locked safe next to the couch and his face covered by a half-mask popular with Stalkers. A somewhat muscular man with a pale complexion and tired-looking, narrow eyes that suggested Uzbek, Kyrgyz, or Kazakh descent, sat in the middle, also wearing a half-mask, and to his right sat a balding man with glasses and an aging yet handsome face. All wore Guardian of Freedom suits favoured amoung the Freedom faction. The middle man's eyes followed Vasiliy as he moved to sit down on a lone chair in front of the stacks of ammunition. Vasiliy noticed his eyes were completely black.

"You said you know about our research," the balding man asked.

"Yes. I know you did research on individuals like me and came close to uncovering our origins. Either way, you know more than I do, and I would like to know."

"You do realize I cannot just release information like that," the baldingman said.

Vasiliy pulled out four one-thousand ruble bills and handed them to the man by the safe, who took them and nodded.

"Okay, but if we find out you're with Duty, or pass this on to anyone you know isn't friendly to us, we will get you. We have connections, and we will make sure to make death a journey. I assure you that it will be long and hard."

The guard by the door started giggling uncontrollably, much to the dislike of the man by the safe.

"You will not look back lightly on your transgression. You will feel the weight of your mistake pressing down on you hard," the old man added.

"Hard up your ass," the guard by the door added and broke into a fit of laughter.

"Be mature, you moron," he said with a low voice that spoke of years of smoking.

Vasiliy could not help but chuckle on the inside at such a charade. Here these men were, acting so serious and threatening, and the guard by the door just made everything come crashing down.

"You know, screw it," the old man got up suddenly.

"You know we're not like that, relax, brother," the guard by the door said as he laughed.

The man by the safe got up and gave the guard a friendly slap upside the head, then sat down.

"Why don't we have some tea?" the man with the dark eyes asked, his voice fluid, every word pronounced correctly down to the last syllable, the way announcers spoke on the radio during the Soviet times.

The old man picked up a thermos Vasiliy didn't notice had been standing by the couch the whole time and poured the contents into five plastic cups and handed them out. Vasiliy took a sniff of the tea and realized he had forgotten how even cheap store-bought tea had been a pleasure to drink.

"We have no cookies, so I apologize," the man by the safe said.

"Okay, so here's what we can tell you, young man," the old man began, "under Chekhov's command, God give his soul peace, we noticed that there were some Stalkers that had abilities others didn't. Strange Stalkers, some of which walked the Zone without a detector, some that walked with no weapon. Yes, sounds far-fetched, but they did so, we even have names to back it up. These Stalkers were connected to the Zone, as native as you can get without being a mutant."

The man by the safe took over, reading from the papers he held as he talked, "some subjects were able to see anomalies, others were not a target for mutants. The latter were human, no Zone mutation, yet the creatures did not approach. Others, such as the infamous Swamp-Dweller, could control mutants. Doctor could heal any injuries, the Cartographer could travel great distances in a short time. Anyway, blah-blah, blah, you know about the abilities yourself. Point is, some of them were discovered dead...yet they were alive. Don't give me that look, this is documented. I mean in the sense that Stalker A was seen shredded to pieces by a Bloodsucker B, and then Stalker A returned to camp. These returns varied, some were without memory, others had no gear, some were completely insane, others were akin to the zombies wondering Yantar, but it was always the same. They had abilities when they returned, and they were shaken, different. That is, those who could still speak or weren't feral. We tried an experiment once, we took one of those who returned and went to their grave and dug it up. Needless to say, the person in front of us was alive and completely identical to the deceased individual, but there was a corpse inside the grave. So how could the person who died be standing by us, looking at their corpse in the dug-up grave? All of them were shocked to see that they were dead, so they did not know anything about that. Some Guides that returned even told us of meeting themselves, and killing themselves! Imagine meeting someone identical to you, what would you think? A trick of the damn Zone, so that reaction is natural. We also looked at the Zone animals, such as the Flesh and Bloodsucker. Alot of them are vary in species, in traits, genetics, but we have found cases of some being completely identical! Genetically! And we did the tests on the human subjects, too. Genes and gametes were identical to one-hundred percent, so that leaves only one hypothesis..."

Vasiliy sipped his tea as he listened, fascinated, and almost burnt his tongue.

"Copies," the bald man interjected. "The Zone, or whoever is controlling it, makes copies. Needless to say that some mutants have very useful traits, such as regenerating eye-lenses, ability to see in the dark, cloaking, but they are all disfigured and bear their own flaws. All Guides have been documented to be flawed, too. It was only after 2010 that Guides that were not feral, insane, and were overall capable of existing amoung the general Stalker population, appeared. We hypothesize that the Zone is attempting to recreate organic beings, improving on them, yet failing due to some instability or mistake. Why the Zone is attempting to improve on its inhabitants is uknown. Our guess is that it might be trying to recreate the world and improve on it, but cannot do so due to its own instability. Look at the anomalies, for instance. They are physical mistakes. Blots of twisted physics in this world. Gravitational, atmospheric, you name it. The Zone is a different world, some even say a dimension different from ours, but I need proof to confirm that. To this day, the Zone has yet to replicate anything perfectly. Animals are twisted, humans are either mindless or feral, at least that's how it used to be. You need to understand that each person capable of being a Guide that appears in the Zone is a very rare occurence, that is why they are so valued. The population is less than 55, we estimate. Even today, we have yet to see any new Guides since 2010. Any other copies of humans that appeared since were no better than the zombified souls in Yantar. Anyway, that's all we know," the old man finished.

"In short, we found that the Zone occasionally creates copies, copied humans have abilities, that the Zone is recreating living things and attempting to improve on them, and that the copies usually appear after a Blowout, that is all." The man by the safe folded the papers and put them back into the folder, which subsequently went into the safe.

Everyone finished their tea and threw the cups into a bucket. The door guard lead Vasiliy out and returned his weapons to him. It was dark now, with only the lights and campfires providing the light outside.

Yes, Vasiliy thought, that is some revelation. He unwrapped his newly-bought pack of cigarettes and took one out, putting it in his mouth and lighting it with a flick of his silver lighter. He recalled what he just heard as he took a long drag. Copies...was he a copy himself? Of course he was. Then where was his real self? Dead? No wonder the memories seemed clouded. But what was the internal conflict going on inside of him?

Vasiliy took out his bottle of vodka and uncapped it. He sniffed to make sure it did not smell like gasoline and took a short swallow of the burning liquid. He started walking toward the main entrance of the bar-building, past the booths and Stalkers sat behind tables. He started feeling light-headed and took another swig, followed by a drag of his cigarette.

Copies. He is a copy, not human. That is why he is how he is. That is why he is how he is. That is why he is what he is...

Vasiliy stumbled on a small branch concealed by tall grass and fell down, keeping his vodka aloft and unspilled with one raised hand, and his cigarette in the other. He looked down at the grass. No wonder he felt such distance from everyone else. No wonder he became a recluse. It all makes sense. Vasiliy felt no emotion about this, however. To him it was just a simple revelation, that is what shocked him. Well, life goes on, Vasiliy thought as he got up. The thought of his beloved came to his mind. He never loved her. If that was true, why was he longing for her all of a sudden? Why did he feel so alone and abandoned? Now there was nothing left but to follow Kolya and his group to the center of the Zone. Vasiliy realized that his emotionlessness frightened him. He was not human, that explained it.

Another hard swallow from the bottle and Vasiliy returned to the matter at hand. He pulled the door to the bar open and light spilled outside. The same small lights were hanging from the back of the bar to the door Vasiliy stepped through. A long wooden table stretched from the bar at the rear to just a meter before the door. At this hour, very few sat behind the table, talking quietly. The lights were dimmed to create an artificial darkness, but provided some slight illumination as well. Benches and chairs were against the walls, some old Soviet propaganda posters hung on the walls. Vasiliy spotted his two favorite ones, one with a black man breaking free from chains with a caption that read "Africa is fighting, and Africa will prevail!" and one with a painted picture of a mug of beer with a phrase written in bright letters that said "dear customer, demand the mug to be filled with beer all the way to the mark of 0.5 liters!"

The noise of the kitchen was drowned out by music playing out of a small radio. Vasiliy closed the door behind him and a momentary lapse in the sound of running water and clanging silverware allowed him to hear the music. It hit him like a hammer. He recognized the song. How many years has it been since he heard the honey-sweet sounds of music enter his ears?

He saw Anzhelika sitting behind a grand piano, the surroundings a blur. He sat next to her as she played a melody that made his heart soar. Even though it was a recreation of a pop song spun on the radio constantly, hearing her play it was magical. She started singing the words of the song written by Julia Savicheva, Korabli, Ships, a song about magnificent, elegant ships on the sea parting to let the two of them return home. Vasiliy joined in and their chorus almost brought tears to both their eyes in its beauty. Never could he imagine that such a simple, almost stupid piece of modern pop culture could be reincarnated into such a beautiful form. Anzhelika's words were like silk as she sang.

Galleons,
Part your ways and let us return,
For we both have been gone,
For so long from our home,
And for its comfort we all yearn,
To finish all that has been begun,
So let us go home,
Even on water we all burn,
With our strong desire,
Galleons,
In your magnificence we stand,
Humbled down to our core,
And all we ask is for you to,
Part your ways and let us return,
For we both have been gone.

She fell silent and played the melody out on the piano.

Vasiliy was thrown back into his body so hard he fell forward. He felt moisture on his face, tears. At least he could still cry and experience sadness and yearning like a human being, he thought. He pulled the bottle to his lips again as he stood, wiping away the tears. The barman walked up the the counter and eyed Vasiliy approvingly. The Stalkers at the table sat, one of them pointed in Vasiliy's direction and nodded with a look of respect as if to say "look, this man is drunk. He's having a good time. He's drinking from the bottle like a man. He's not letting the Zone come down on him and keep him depressed."

Vasiliy saw a figure on the left side of the table, sprawled on the bench. He saw a glint of faded green and recognized it as a Stalker suit. Whoever was wearing it fell off the bench and stood up with difficulty and lurched from side to side like a tree in a hurricane. Vasiliy recognized the stubble on the face that was developing into a beard, the manly features, the muscular build. It was Kolya, and he was drunk out of his mind. Kolya smiled and grabbed Vasiliy by the shoulders, burying his face under Vasiliy's cloak and weeping something incoherent. Vasiliy helped him sit down. Kolya refused and walked over to the bar and gestured at the shirtless barman. The young barman was young, muscular, clean, with tattoos on his back signifying a former airborne member and handed another half-liter bottle of vodka to Kolya, who took it hungrily and sat down. Vasiliy took a sip of his own and reached for some money to pay off the barman, as Kolya seemed to have forgotten. The barman brushed crumbs off of his Freedom-pattern camoflauged pants and waved the money away.

"Comrades from the VDV get drinks on the house," he said with a smile.

Vasiliy nodded. Suddenly, he felt a hand grab him and forcibly pull him down onto the benches behind the table in the center of the bar. He turned and saw it was Kolya, who managed to pull himself up and raise himself closer to Vasiliy so he could hear him talk.

"Vasyok," Kolya slurred, barely understandable, "I'm off ze fucking wagon, come help meh. I-I-I neet an eah, I knaw you don' give a fug 'bout me, but dis's been eatin' at mah soul for years, an' you ze on'y one I can call a frien'. Give me an eah, please listen with your ear. I need someone, please."

Vasiliy nodded and told Kolya he'd be back in a second. He sensed that this was going to be long and felt he needed more. He drained the last of the bottle and placed it on the counter. He walked over, put three hundred rubles down on the counter and asked for two half-liter bottles of vodka, a bottle of baikal cola, and a bottle of beer. The barman handed the items to Vasiliy, who placed the items on the table, sat across from Kolya, and listened.

"I have nobuddy, brothah. I-I went to Afghan, I told you. I went tah serve meh country," Kolya took a sip of vodka and chased it with cola. Vasiliy did the same from his bottle and drank a sip from his beer, which was surprisingly cold. He hadn't enjoyed a beer in so many years.

"I lost comrades, lost respect, lost sanity, and what did I get? Fuggin' what? My wife disappeared, no home when I get back, nuthin'. I come back to a country that is gone, it disappeared because some faggots in office screwed it up. They did, friggin' did. An' what was left for meh? To go beggin' on teh streets like all them limbless, poor vetrans no one gives a fuck 'bout? What became of us, we were great, but why? God is sick, why did he do such a thin'? Not just me, my hardships are nuthin' compared to others, hell, you had tah shoot yer own fiancee! Jesus effing Kah-rist! I fought for nuthin'. And people call Afghan an invasion, fuggin' russophobes. You, you're a Khokhol, Ukrainian, and yet you're a swell guy, I know many Ukrainies that're nice people, jus' their govanment, just like ours, bringing us 'part!» Kolya drank again. So did Vasiliy, nodding as he listened. Kolya wept and wiped tears off of his face, not realizing how futile that was.

"I don' wanna brag, just tellin' ya this. No one in Zone knows 'bout me. Not even my wife, effing bitch. Disappeared in '89, probably with some goddamn pretty-boy capitalist. Good thin' we had no childrens. Would have fel' bad if I had me boy or girl growing up with no fathah, like me. Wanted to make good life, sorry I lied to you, man," Kolya swayed in his seat. Vasiliy was starting to, as well. He started draining his bottle and Kolya tried to keep up, suddenly choking and spilling a little. Vasiliy stood up, worried. Kolya waved him down, saying it was all right. "I have no one anymore, Vasiliy, but you. In Zone, you're not supposed to tell 'bout your out-Zone life, which is why you surprised me, 'tis not Zone etiquette. But you trusted meh. I may be strong physically and good at fight, but I am weak inside. I don't want to be forgotten, 'tis my greatest fear. I remembah a phrase, a good one, I liked. "Too my left, is Faith, to my right is the Banner, yet I got forward, ignoring them both." I went to the fuggin' right. Should've went straight ahead, if I knew things were gonna go like this..."

An hour passed and the bar became empty. The drinks were finished, the ash-tray by Kolya and Vasiliy was filled with ashes, and not a sound penetrated the night's silence. It almost seemed as if they weren't in the Zone anymore. Kolya was hunched down, sleeping. Vasiliy stood up, lurching and stumbling, carefully took Kolya's AK-74 for safekeeping and limped over to the barman.

"Take care of him. Will you? I need sleep. I compensate for yer trubble."

The barman put up a hand and shook his head to say no.

"I take care of comrades for free. Go sleep, brother. Beds are in the armory building on the right wall. No charge for you, think of it as taking your friend's place," he smiled.

Vasiliy exhaled what felt like a burning cloud of alcohol and walked to the building with the armory. He exited outside and felt the cool night air on his skin. He crossed the yard, waving to the guards at the brick wall, who waved back with cheerful smiles on their faces, and entered the armory. It was dark, Vasiliy felt for an unlocked booth with a bed along the right wall. He opened the thin wooden door with a creak, pushed the primitive metal latch to lock the door, and hung his pack, weapons and cloak on the hooks on the wall at the foot of the bed. He threw the bullet-proof vest and his webbing onto the floor, put Kolya's rifle stock-down against the wall, and crashed down on the bed. Vasiliy had no need for a foil-lined hood or helmet most Stalkers wore as he did not experience nightmares in the Zone when sleeping unprotected. He closed his eyes and everything went black.

Vasiliy woke up in what felt like a few hours, nauseous, weak, but with no headache. It was still not light, but the moonlight spilled in through the small slit window above the bed, giving some illumination. Vasiliy saw someone standing at the foot of his bed and squinted. It was a female figure, fit, attractive, beautiful hips. She looked twenty-three. Her long, dark brown hair was was over her left shoulder. Her bright green eyes were made more apparent by the dark contrast of her hair and shone in the moonlight. Her skin was slightly dark, tan, as if she spent a long time in the sun, which was the case. Her thin white T-shirt revealed the outline of a bra and was cut just above her hips. She wore denim jeans that were rolled up to her knees.

The woman was Anzhelika.

Vasiliy screamed.

To be continued...
  07:44:09  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 10

There she stood, her form immaculate in the moonlight. Vasiliy's terror at her presence was unlike he had ever experienced. Even his first encounter with the Zone did not strike such fear into his heart. How could it be? The Zone was an unpredictable mistress, yet this occurrence was unprecedented.

Vasiliy broke out into a cold sweat and sat up on his bed. He managed to grab Slava from his holster, but before he could aim, a soft hand took his wrist and gently moved his arm to the side. She was not just an illusion. She was there. A person long dead had come to him.

Vasiliy could not muster the strength to do anything else, he felt like something was pushing him down, holding him. Like a sheet tightly wrapped around him, it constrained his movements.

It can only be a dream, Vasiliy thought. Only a dream. But how could he have nightmares? He was one of a few people inside the entire Zone that did not need any protection to sleep and avoid potentially deadly nightmares. Were his abilities leaving him? How could this be?

A loud knocking beyond the walls of Vasiliy's sleeping area echoed within the enclosed space.

“Stop screaming, put on your damn bucket or whatever you're wearing and the nightmares will stop, you rookie,” said an annoyed voice from outside. Vasiliy bit his hand so hard that he drew blood. He felt the pain and the warmness of the blood trickling down his arm. This was no dream.

“Vasia,” Anzhelika said in a voice that seemed so distant. “ Promise me that you'll go North.”

Vasiliy did not know what to say.

“Promise me. Please come to the North. People need your help. I need your help.”

Vasiliy managed to muster the strength to speak.

“Why is it I whose assistance is required?” His voice came in a weak croak.

“Please go North,” were Anzhelika's words before she disappeared into the shadows.

Vasiliy put his head down on the pillow and pondered what had just happened. Uncontrollable shivers seized his body. He was not sure what to make of this occurrence. Was it a trick of the Zone, or was it something much more significant? Before he could finish his thoughts, he realized he had fallen asleep. The morning light spilled through the small window, alerting him that it was time to leave.

Vasiliy packed all of his possessions and opened the door to leave the small room he had slept in. It was quiet, with only the cackling of crows ruining the perfect silence. Everyone seemed to be asleep.

Vasiliy walked outside into the compound and inhaled a lungful of morning Zone air. It tasted metallic, with a hint of humidity, an icy sensation inside his lungs. The sun had not yet fully risen, its only presence were the few beams puncturing through thick blue clouds in the sky.

Vasiliy looked to the right, where the metallic gate with Soviet stars stood open in the brick wall surrounding the compound. There was a tumult of activity just outside them around a large army-green ZIL truck. Freedomers were preparing the truck to head North. Vasiliy saw the huge armoured form of Belicoff already in the back of the truck, peering through an opening in the tent draped over the truckbed. He waved for Vasiliy to get in. Vasiliy raised one finger in response, asking for one minute. He started off toward the bar in the compound, lighting a cigarette as he went. Kolya was probably still asleep where he left him. Vasiliy opened the double-doors to the bar and saw Kolya sitting at a table, drinking the orange juice Vasiliy bought last night and holding his head. Kolya saw Vasiliy's silhouette in the doorway and nodded, getting up from his place.

“I shouldn't have drank this much. Once I start, I can't stop, you have to keep an eye on me, brother.”

Vasiliy remembered last night's conversation with Kolya.

“Yes, I shall keep that in mind from now on. We need to get in the truck before it leaves. Take some painkillers and you will feel better,” Vasiliy said.

“I feel like I'm gonna puke at any moment. I'll be there in a second, save me a place at the back so I can vomit over the side just in case.”

Vasiliy nodded, made his way over to the truck, and climbed into the back. Belicoff greeted him with a friendly hello.

“So how was last night? Fun, I presume.”

Vasiliy just stared off into space.

“Yes. It was...fun. You could say that,” Vasiliy said as he remembered the visit from his dead love.

“Well, where's Kolya? We have to get moving. Did you lose him?” Belicoff chuckled.

“He will be here soon,” Vasiliy said as he flicked his spent cigarette onto the cracked pavement on which the truck was going to travel on its way North to the main Freedom outpost just under the Barrier where the untouched territory began.

The truck roared to life as the last of the Freedom crew got inside.

“Everyone here?” one of the higher-ranking members asked.

Kolya ran over to the truck and climbed in.

“Yeah, we're here,” and with that, he slumped over, clutching his head. The Freedom officer nodded and knocked twice on the truck's cabin.

“Take it slow and use the detectors, we've got passengers and getting caught in some filth won't do us any good,” the officer yelled through the open back window to the driver.

The truck lurched forward and began picking up speed. Vasiliy stared out at the countryside swimming by him. He looked closely at a tree that they were approaching and saw someone standing nearby. He recognized the figure. It was Anzhelika.

Vasiliy shook his head and closed his eyes. When he opened them, she was gone.

“Excuse me, sir, how long until we arrive?” Vasiliy asked the Freedom officer.

The officer put his long SIG-pattern rifle on his lap and pulled on his respirator.

“If conditions are in our favour, about an hour and a half.”

As he said that, soft impacts of raindrops on the tent covering the truckbed began increasing in frequency.

Go North, she said. What is North? The Monolith? The Chernobyl plant? What could be North? Vasiliy closed his eyes again as he began to hear a faint echo. It kept repeating and repeating until he could finally make out the words. It was a voice he recognized, a female one. She sounded distressed.

She was asking him to free her.

To be continued...
  07:49:42  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 11

His love for her was one that meant unquestionable dedication and loyalty. If she asked for a place to stay, he would give her his home. If she asked for a drink, he would bring her his entire collection of liquor. If she asked for a meal, he would prepare a feast to rival the Royal Court. If she asked for new clothes, he would buy the entire shop. If she wanted someone to leave her alone, he was ready to kill. If she wanted to be loved, he would give her himself. If she wanted the sun, he would give her the whole damn universe.

Or so he thought...

Never before had he met someone that made him feel this way. Never before was he ready to sacrifice himself for the good of just one person rather than a thousand. Never before had someone given as much love back to him as he gave to her.

If only it were not all gone now...

If only it were real...

Now it turns out that he never entered the Zone. He never lived a life outside of Her kingdom, never loved. He was just another of the Zone's children. A child with no memories of its own. A child of the Zone, to be slaughtered soon by the hand of his own mother. The climax was coming. Medea shall soon take up the sword in her hands. He felt it.

Maybe it would have been better had he not found out, Vasiliy pondered. Maybe he could have kept on existing with the fragments of memories from a person long dead...

No.

He had to go North. Despite the inner drive of an unseen force within him calling him there, he was asked to go by a person that was long dead. A person he never loved in reality. Still, if he never loved her, how could she know it was him? Why did she come to him? How did she know? The memories were not his own, yet he still felt love for this person despite the circumstances. He only knew her through inherited memories. That was good enough for him. He owed the soul of this person, regardless whether her visit to him was a vision, a trick of the Zone, or a visit from the Other Light of beyond. He could not resist. If she wanted North, he would give it to her. The entire Northern hemisphere would be hers. He would do it.

For her.

The country landscape kept swimming by Vasiliy as he looked out over the right side of the truck through a gap in the tarp that covered the bed of the truck, lost in his thoughts. The constant hum of the engine of the large Soviet-built truck made conversation impossible, even when it quieted down as the truck slowed to skirt around an anomaly on the road. Kolya sat across from Vasiliy between several Freedom foot-soldiers, making for an amusing spectacle whenever he suddenly convulsed and leaned over the side of the truck to vomit. The Freedomers beside him either jumped out of his way to safety, or grabbed on to his legs to keep him from falling over the side of the truck.

Arkadiy, or Belicoff as he was now known, was standing in the gap between the cabin and truckbed with his machine-gun on the roof of the cab, keeping watch for hostiles. Soon the truck passed the derelict gas station and the pavement ended. The ride became much more bumpy as the truck made its North way over the debris-ridden field behind the gas station, expanding a big trench in the soft mud of the grassy field that was apparently made by other vehicles going along the same route before.

What makes us who we are? Vasiliy thought back to what he discovered from the Freedom researchers. A copy? A copy of someone else. What makes us the person we think to be? Is it our appearance? Our memories? Our general attitude in life? Our loves, our hates, or how differently we percieve the world from others? A copy is a copy, not the original. Despite the memories being fragmented, how did Vasiliy know he was a copy? How did he know that the Zone spared him such a fate? When was he even copied? How did he know? A corpse was never found. Vasiliy never met anyone that looked like him. Vasiliy never heard about anyone resembling him. How do we know that we are the people we think to be? The Zone again threw a wrench into the gears of life. Now there is the whole notion of copies that bring doubt to the very notion of individuality and existence. Some would damn Her for this, Vasiliy percieved it as a new discovery to the workings of a new physical world that he resided in, to the workings of this kingdom over which Medea presided, damn her...or was it not Medea? True, Medea was a stranger in her lover's own land, even banished by the king, Creon, to exile. Did this chapter of the tragedy happen yet, or was Medea yet to be exiled?

Someone needs help up North, someone needs to be freed...perhaps...perhaps Medea requires Vasiliy's assistance to be freed from king Creon's rule? Perhaps the Zone was not free to do as she wished, perhaps She has been shackled by someone else? Who, then? Who controls the Zone...?

The truck suddenly lurched to one side and a gust of wind made the tarp flap violently. Belicoff grabbed onto the hand-hold on top of the truck cabin.

"Gas it, you fool, gas it! Whirligig to 3 o'clock! Turn left!," Vasiliy heard someone yell.

The ancient truck's engine roared even louder as it tried to free itself from the anomaly. A small whirlwind was sucking in debris just to the right. It kept building up until the center was full, then a large clap sounded as the anomaly discharged, compressing everything that was caught in its gravitational pull. The driver took the 3 seconds the anomaly was inactive and pulled the truck out of peril.

"Too close, you sod!" Belicoff hammered on the top of the cabin once to express his anger.

Eventually the white walls of the army warehouses became visible on the horizon as the terrain became much more hilly and elevated.

"We're almost there, brother," Kolya told Vasiliy. "Our friends are waiting very close to the base, in the old farm just Northwest."

"Who is waiting for us, Kolyan?" Vasiliy asked.

"Two people I know, I went on raids with them before, you can trust them. They have their...err, issues, but they're dependable. We'll do jobs and earn up some money."

"Will we then go North after we acquire the necessary provisions?" Vasiliy asked.

"We'll make like mercs, do some jobs, and after that brain-melter is switched off, we'll be in a good position to make a break North," Kolya answered excitedly.

"What jobs, and how much will they pay?"

"Already got some lined up, and if all goes to plan, with this kind of payday you could buy a goddamn BTR."

Vasiliy nodded and began to collect his gear for the dismount. When he was done, there were still a few minutes left as the vehicle made its way inside the outpost gates past the towering sniper nests. He still could not shake the thoughts that kept gnawing on his soul.

What makes us who we are? Can a copy be an original? Or is a copy different enough from its original that it can be considered a new person? What is it that makes a person unique? Goals in life? Pursuits? Desire? Attitude? Morals? Memories? Copy or not, the memories, inherited or not, were Vasiliy's. He had them. They were now his own with the absence of his former self. What makes us ourselves? What makes us living beings? Not everything lives for desire, not everything lives for a greater goal. Even organisms with the sole purpose of consuming and breeding to pass on their genetic seed exist with such a seemingly meaningless purpose. Perhaps the answer was much simpler. Perhaps it was in front of everyone all along. The meaning of life, the purpose, is not a complex theory or a complete unknown. No.

To feel, to experience, and to retain what knowledge is gained. Is that not what makes us unique? How we retain it and to what use we put it. How we live, what we live for.

That is what makes us unique.

To be continued...
  07:57:55  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
 

Message edited by:
Siro
03/14/2010 7:58:19
Messages: 7378
Part 12

Vasiliy and Kolya jumped out from the truckbed as it slowly rolled to a stop in front of the headquarters building in the abandoned army base that the Freedom faction claimed as its primary outpost. Belicoff followed them, landing with a loud thud and whirring of servo-motors from his massive exoskeleton armour.

“Thank you for the ride,” Vasiliy said to the driver in his deep, gravelly voice.

Vasiliy took a moment to look at his surroundings. The base lay within a small valley of hills surrounded by white concrete walls. Barrack buildings and antennae towers, converted into sniper nests, dotted the interior of the base's perimeter. Kolya began walking toward the main gate, with Vasiliy jogging up to catch up to him and Belicoff struggling to keep up with the weight of his massive PKM machine-gun weighing him down.

“Where are the rest of the team waiting for us, Kolyan?” Vasiliy asked.

“A kilometre West, just follow me, I'll take you there,” Kolya replied.

“Sheep follow their kin, not realizing they're being lead to a slaughter,” Belicoff added.

“Fine, fine, take out your PDA and look at the map. It's the old farm West of the Barrier Freedom set up to keep the Monolith and other evil things from crossing over into the main Zone from the Brain Scorcher.”

“That's all I needed,” Belicoff said contently.

“Intellectual wannabe, pfft,” Kolya said under his breath.

“Is it not faster to cut through the large village straight to the farm instead of circling around on the road?”

“Yes it is, Vasia, but read the Stalker net. That place became a bloodsucker nest. Only fools would go there,” Kolya answered. As if to prove his point, a loud, liquid-sounding roar came from the village. Kolya shuddered.

Vailiy shrugged. The gates were right across the bridge built over the long unused railroad tacks in the base and were growing closer before Vasiliy noticed Belicoff was not behind him. Vasiliy whistled for Kolya to wait. Vasiliy walked over to Belicoff, who was looking at the tunnel the tracks disappeared in.

“Anything wrong?”

“What is that flashing going on in there?” Belicoff pointed to the tunnel.

“Electra anomalies. Large pockets of built up static energy. Do not ever get caught caught in one, for the the extra metal of your suit will conduct the energy with great efficiency and your servos will short-circuit. You will be trapped in the middle of the anomaly before you are fried to death. A most horrible fate.”

Belicoff looked at Vasiliy.

“Indeed it is, brother.” Belicoff said and continued walking toward the gate with Vasiliy.

Vasiliy's dark eyes narrowed slightly.

“That is why I do not use the exoskeleton you are fond of.”

“Small price to pay for the extra protection, I'll just avoid anomalies, nothing serious. Why such contempt, friend?”

“That is ignorance. Armour is not necessarily the best protection within the Zone. She punishes such ignorance. Sometimes it is best not to enclose oneself within a sarcophagus in order to survive. Movement, open eyes, and good judgement are the best protection within Her kingdom. As for avoiding anomalies, your detector will not be enough. You will see yourself. It is one thing to know an anomaly is nearby. What will save you from a cruel fate is judging where and what the anomaly is, not relying on technology. Think logically, where would the anomaly be? Where would the Zone set Her traps? On the clean, paved path, in a tunnel, or a path less known in the grass? She knows, She sees, She judges. It is difficult to explain.”

“Do you think I'll ever be able to achieve the same level of courage as other successful Stalkers?” Belicoff looked at Vasiliy through the lenses of his mask.

“It depends. What do you fear?” Vasiliy asked.

“Death.”

“That is the what differentiates successful legends from the rookies rotting in oblivion. Fear of death leads us to do things. Things that the Zone expects us to do. It takes away rationality, it causes rash decisions, such as you deciding to wear that suit. And eventually that fear of death will lead exactly back to just that, death.” Vasiliy shielded his eyes from the sun peering from between the clouds, which seemed to be dissipating, allowing the bright blue ocean of the sky to shine through.

“I'm not ready to take off the suit just yet. I need more confidence and experience,” Belicoff said defensively.

“May the Zone grant you the time you need,” Vasiliy looked at Belicoff and lit a cigarette, withholding the fact that the stench of death was long upon him.

The three Stalkers reached a fork in the road with a sign between the two paths. One arrow pointed to the right had “barrier” spraypainted on it, the one pointing to the left was blank. Kolya signalled the group to follow him left.

“What's at the barrier?” Belicoff asked Kolya.

“That's the border between the civilized Zone and the Centre,” Kolya replied gruffly.

“Isn't the entire Zone uncivilized, unknown, dangerous territory? What is across that border?”

“That, my friend, is the Brain scorcher. Anyone caught in it gets his personality erased and becomes a zombie. The approaches to Pripyat and the Chernobyl reactor are also under blockaded by Monolith fanatics who worship some supposed wish-granting rock in reactor 4. That is why Stalkers have yet to explore those areas and see if the claims are true. That answer all your questions?”

Belicoff wagged a finger to show that he had one more question.

“What about the famed Oasis that is said to cure any disease?” Belicoff asked. Vasiliy turned his head sideways in order to listen in on the conversation at the mention of the Oasis.

“It's somewhere in the centre, no one knows where it is. You do know that the legend started after some crackpot half-zombified Stalker wandered into the 100 Rads bar in Rostock? Oasis, Monolith, Wish-Granter, all of that could well not be true. For all we know it's a crock of shit, for God's sake.”

“So what's your point? That even if it exists, it can't cure just any disease if he's still insane?”

Kolya shook his head.

“No, I meant that it was started by someone who was not even in his right mind.”

“Didn't that gentleman have terminally fatal cancer before he returned?” Vasiliy interjected.

“I heard that, yes, but that's no proof. Legends become twisted and warped over time, for all we know he didn't. There are no medical facilities in the Zone to prove or disprove that claim.” Kolya answered, his frustration visibly growing.

Vasiliy thought back to what he could remember of his past and the fact that he was a copy of a person that was already dead.

“Do you think it could cure death, Kolya?”

“I don't freakin' know! Alright? It's just rumours. Why are you even interested in that, Arkadiy?”

“It's Belicoff now, Kolya. Anyway, imagine what contribution I could make to the scientific community if I discovered it.”

Kolya waved Belicoff's naïve statement away.

“Everyone comes to the Zone with their own dreams. Most of those get shattered like glass on a storefront from a flying brick.” As he finished his statement, Kolya gestured at what Vasiliy assumed was their destination. “There it is, the farm. That'll be our base while we're earning up some money for our push to the North.”

Vasiliy could see two farm buildings enclosed by a small waist-high wooden fence. An L-shaped residential building stood at the farthest corner of the farm, while an L-shaped barn stood opposite. Large cliffs loomed over the farm just behind a small patch of woodland just behind the farm. Two stacks of concrete panels, most likely meant for construction of apartment blocks were on the road in front of the small farm complex, with the cabins of Kamaz trucks and Moskvitch sedans littering the hills nearby.

Suddenly, a shot sounded and Vasiliy saw a muzzle-flash from the small patch of elevated woodlands North of the farm. Vasiliy grabbed Kolya and Belicoff, and threw them to the ground.

“There is a sniper.”

The shot hit the road about a meter away from the group. The cocking of a weapon sounded behind one of the stacks and a man wearing Adidas track pants, a leather coat under a basic militia bullet-proof vest, and a balaclava over his face jumped out from behind a stack of concrete panels, pointing his Aks-74U assault rifle at the three men.

“Stay down! Who are you?” He yelled.

“Same side, same side, Zek! It's Kolya!”

The man waved at the trees behind him and lowered his weapon.

“Well shit, you scared us, you know?” the man said as he walked up.

“Why're you guys so tense?” Kolya said as he helped Belicoff up off the ground.

“When we first came here, we found shell casings all over the ground, the body of one Freedom guy, and about five mercenaries in blue uniforms. They've got an outpost nearby, they think we're responsible.”

“Are you?” Kolya asked.

“Well shit, no. It was already like that when we got here, dammit.” the man answered.

“Was it really, Zek?” Kolya added in a humorous tone.

“Well shit, stop joking. This is serious. We've already got dogs in the forest up North behind us, barking, shit, keeping us up, and now, shit, mercenaries out for our heads nearby. We have no fortifications here to keep us safe, just recently, shit, we had to shoot off a bunch of pigs that wandered in here. Malysh, shit, didn't say nuthing, Hamzad was nowhere to be seen, shit as usual, and Sapsan fell in the well, shit, while trying to reach the fucking shitty bucket to get a drink. Overall, shit, it's been a real shitty fun time.”

“Optimistic as usual. Happy to see you're still your dirty-mouthed self, you criminal bastard,” Kolya laughed.

“Those days are behind me, shut the hell up, Miner.”

“Take a joke, Zek. This charming gentleman dressed like a walking shadow is the Zonekeeper, and the walking tank you know,” Kolya gestured at Belicoff and Vasiliy.

Zek pulled off his balaclava to reveal a graying head of hair, weathered face, gray stubble on his chin, and a mouthful of golden teeth.

“Pleasure,” Zek said, spat on the ground, turned around, and started walking back to the farm.

“By the way, Hamzad's aim is off. Is he losing his touch?” Kolya asked.

Before Kolya could take a step, a small pile of rags with a pair legs sticking out from under it ran out from behind one of the stacked panels.

“Say that louder! If you're going to insult someone, don't do it behind their backs. I wasn't even aiming for you. It was a warning shot. My rifle is tuned to precision.”

Vasiliy took a step back, his hand on the holster of Slava. Kolya saw this and put out a hand in front of him to tell Vasiliy it was okay.

“Calm down, it's Hamzad.”

The pile of rags stood up straight so Vasiliy could see it was not a pile, but more of a long trenchcoat with a myriad of green rags sewn onto it to make himself easily concealable under foliage. Outside of cover, he looked like a homeless drifter from the city. The short man under the rags pulled back his hood to reveal a set of narrow eyes, typical of someone born southeast of Russia, the rest of his face hidden under a bandana covering the lower half of his face.

“Good to meet you, I am Hamzad, sniper by profession. I've got Grozny and Ossetia under my belt, experience is not an issue,” Hamzad said as he outstretched his arm to shake Vasiliy's hand.

“The feeling is mutual, friend,” Vasiliy replied as he shook Hamzad's hand. He had an accent. In conjunction with his facial features and the fact that he was a sniper, it was most likely that he was from Kazakhstan, as the Russian army usually picked out individuals from the Southeast to become snipers. The reasoning behind that was the fact that hunting was necessary for survival in those regions.

“Shall we go into our humble base?” Hamzad gestured at the farm.

Vasiliy nodded.

Kolya, Zek, Belicoff and Sapsan were standing by the well in the centre of the farm complex, discussing something, with Sapsan gesturing angrily at the well. Hamzad and Vasiliy walked up to them.

“We have an exoskeleton here, we have concrete panels just outside of our base and all over the surrounding area left behind from some construction project that they never even started here, not to mention a myriad of abandoned cars, so why don't we get all of that crap together and fortify the place?” Vasiliy heard Kolya say.

Everyone nodded.

“Right, so we'll prop up the panels to make a fortified concrete wall about where the wooden fences are, that would be a good perimeter, and the metal from the cars we can use to cover the holes on the outside of the barn and the windows in the residential house so nothing small can get in,” Kolya laid out his plans.

“How will we chop the cars up?” Hamzad asked.

“The old fashioned way. We have no power tools, but the past residents were kind enough to leave axes behind. That'll have to do until we can find better tools.”

“I'll get started on the cars,” the man Vasiliy assumed to be Sapsan said as he walked away. He wore green tiger-stripe camouflage typical of Russian special forces, a heavy-looking 6B3 afghan-era armoured vest, solid-green spherical helmet Vasiliy recognized as a Sphera model, and a white PBF gas-mask covered his face.

Vasiliy felt something familiar about Sapsan.

“Hey, idle hands are the devil's work. Help Belicoff get the concrete plates in place,” Hamzad said passing by, the hood of a Moskvitch sedan held out in front of him.

Vasiliy looked at Sapsan climbing a hill, axe held in hand. He walked up to an abandoned Kamaz truck, took the axe, and began hacking the rusted metal apart. Vasiliy could have sworn he saw similar technique when using an axe before, but he had no idea where. Sapsan paused for a moment, unknowing that Vasiliy was watching him. He took off his gas-mask and wiped his brow. Before he pulled a balaclava over his face, Vasiliy could see it.

There was no doubt. Vasiliy nodded at Belicoff to lift from the other side as he pushed the concrete panel with all his might into Belicoff's arms.

There was absolutely no doubt, Vasiliy thought.

He knew Sapsan from before.

To be continued...
  08:07:33  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
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On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 13

Night had already fallen by the time the last concrete slab had been planted into the ground around the compound. Belicoff grunted with relief as he straightened up.

“Goddamn that was hard work. You people will work an old man to death,” Belicoff wagged a finger at Kolya, who was finishing shovelling soil to seal the small holes at the base of the slab.

“Work, old man, work. For a bright Communist future all over the world!” Kolya laughed.

Vasiliy put the last crate that the group was going to use for storage into the barn and locked the doors as he exited. He saw the rest of the group sitting down by the campfire in the centre of the farm and joined them. Hamzad, still in his ragged coat, placed several skewers of meat onto a spit above the fire.

“What is that stuff?” Sapsan asked with his quiet, but strong, voice.

“Wouldn't dare use the meat from local wildlife. Used the canned beef and onions I bought at the 100 Rads bar. Fresh non-radded onions don't come cheap here, so enjoy,” Hamzad answered.

“Why beef? We have a crate-full of pork tushenka in the barn,” Kolya asked.

Vasiliy looked inside the barn as he poured boiling water from the kettle into his bowl of potato-mash and saw a waist-high crate overflowing with cans.

“Why don't you just ask me to eat dog-shit? Pig is a dirty animal, you shit-eater.”

“Muslims can't eat pork,” Sapsan explained.

“How do you know? You a Muslim or something?”

“You served in Afghan, Kolya. You should know they don't.”

“Savages,” Kolya answered.

“I'm going to take my rifle and shoot you if you don't silence yourself now, Miner,” Hamzad growled.

“Your little fart-shooter isn't here, so you'll half to fight me like the man you aren't.”

“You bastard! What did you do to my rifle? Where is it?!” Hamzad yelled.

“Calm down, Hamzad. He didn't mean he did anything, you left it in the house,” Zek interrupted.

“Don't you dare insult my rifle! Where is it? Where is my rifle?!” Hamzad's voice started cracking.

“Woah, I didn't mean anything by that. Boyish banter, was all, man. It's in the house, Hamzad. Calm down,” Kolya put his hands out in front of him.

Hamzad ran off after his rifle, reaching full panic at that point. Vasiliy noticed a younger Stalker in the circle, wearing a black Stalker suit, similar to a Duty faction uniform, except the chest-plates were painted green. He had blonde hair and young boyish features. He looked about twenty-four years of age.

“Hello. I did not meet you yet. Who are you, brother?”

The boy just looked at him, smiled, and let out an unintelligible moan.
Vasiliy furrowed his brows in confusion.

“He can't talk,” Zek explained.

“What do you mean?”

“Eh...he just can't. Obviously he's not in his right mind.”

“You mean disabled? Down syndrome? No, his eyes look normal,” Vasiliy mused.

Hamzad came back, rifle in hand, and sat back down around the fire.

“That's Malysh. Forgot his real name. Duty sent us into the brain-scorcher in 2011 when some faction managed to break through, thought they went that route. He was my spotter, and still is, to a degree. Bastards, they didn't even warn us. I had good psy-protection in my helmet, so I grabbed him and ran off as soon as the storm-group came under fire from the Monolithians and my vision started turning fuzzy. He wasn't lucky, the Brain Scorcher left its mark on him. At least he's still alive and isn't a full-fledged zombie. I haven't returned to Duty since. They can all go instinct for doing that to us,” Hamzad said, embracing his rifle firmly. Vasiliy noticed his bowl of food was empty as he listened and discarded it.

“Well isn't this nice. We're all sat around here, telling stories,” Kolya said happily.

“Why don't we all talk about why we're going to the centre of the Zone and what we'll do,” Sapsan suggested.

“Well, I'll wish for riches. Maybe become governor of a small region, buy a mansion, nice car. Find a nice girl, and get married,” Kolya said dreamily.

"Such shallow dreams. Obviously the mark of someone hurt in his life. Who hurt you, Miner?" Zek asked.

"Wife. Fallen empire. Government. World," Kolya pulled a bottle of vodka from the pack next to him and drained the bottle to the half-way mark before turning away and exhaling forcibly to drive his point home. He turned his head to Zek.

“Meh, I want to get rid of my past. I want to wish for forgiveness. If God won't forgive me, then there is some way to get the dreams away. Lord, shit, I'm not proud of what I did, shit, that's why I left the shitty bandits. Wasn't like them, I actually have regret for what I did, shit. Rape, drugs, armed robbery, it all took a toll on me. I want to, shit, finally become a normal member of society! Before I did everything for a rush, for money, for pleasure, now, shit, I want to make a difference. I want to find a new life. The life I always dream of,” Zek said with a grave look on his face, the flames reflecting in his tired eyes.

“Zek, that is an interesting nickname. I take it you did time in a colony?” Sapsan asked Zek, which is short for “Zakluchenniy,” which means “convict” in Russian.

“Yes. I don't want to talk about it,” Zek answered.

“I want to find what is in the centre of the Zone. But the real breakthrough that shall change the face of human science is the discovery of Oasis,” Belicoff interjected.

“I sense a deeper reasoning for that,” Sapsan said with a hint of curiosity.

“Well...fine. I have terminal cancer and HIV to boot. Clinical trials are doing nothing even in well-equipped labs in West, the shoddy state of Native medicine here in Eastern Europe is laughable, so there's no hope. If I find Oasis and it cures me, that will be one of the biggest discoveries for medical science in our existence.”

“I feel you're trying to escape death,” Vasiliy said, his head bowed down and hidden under his hood.

“Shut up about that already. Sure, fine, I am! I am terrified! There is so much I have yet to accomplish! I made a new start in Britain, and now it's all being taken away from me!”

“Now you are being honest to yourself. That is one of the first steps, brother,” Vasiliy added.

“I want to find out what the hell is going on in the centre of the Zone. Duty aren't even close to killing it. Maybe I can at least find a way to control it, make it stable,” Hamzad gestured at Belicoff, “God knows how many discoveries can be made in this place to benefit mankind.”

“What about you, Sapsan? Come on, fast bird, tell us. You want to become faster? Ain't nothing faster than a sapsan.” Kolya laughed.

“Well, you know what every mercenary dreams of? A boat rocking on the quiet waves of the tropics. A painted dark blue sky with a hint of red in the West where the sun sets, a woman you love in your left arm, and a glass of expensive, good cognac in the right. But most importantly...for the killing to stop.”

“The killing can never stop, you said yourself, man. You tried a peaceful life, turned to religion, to sport, but it was always the same. Your place was on the battlefield, you realized. Now why don't you stop bullshitting these nice people and say the truth, eh?” Hamzad said to Sapsan quietly.

“You know why they call me Sapsan?”

Silence was the only answer.

“Sure, I am fast, but you know why? Like some, I am running away from something. Some kind of goddamn...ugh...evil is stalking me! It started following me since...since...the collapse of the Soviet Union. I didn't notice it at first, but through my service in various agencies as a private contractor and then operative of the FSB, I could see something following me on the battlefield. Something or someone cursed me! Some otherworldy force! Maybe it came from here, maybe from...the Other Light of Beyond, but I have no idea! I want to wish it away. Or at least go where it can't follow me. I can always hear it. Always nearby...the same sound. The same footsteps, the same rattling of chains, the same cries of “you will pay for what you did to us!” And no! It's not the people I killed in war. It's something else, dammit! Something else!” Sapsan was getting wound up and stopped when he realized what he was saying.

“Eh, you people sure know how to start a lovely damn conversation. Let's just listen to the mastery of Vysotsky on the guitar and eat some food, eh?” Sapsan added as Zek unsheathed a guitar from its case.

“Not in the mood for Vysotsky. How about Valdimirskiy Central by Rosenbaum?” Zek protested.

“Dammit, you and your prison-music. Shanson grates on my ears. I'll go inside and take a nap. Call me when the food's ready.

Sapsan got up and walked over to the residential building. The rest of the group shrugged and went about their business. Vasiliy stood up and went after Sapsan after lighting a cigarette. He looked over the compound one last time to see the fruits of their labour. The fences have been replaced by towering walls of concrete, the parts of both buildings that were facing outside were plastered with metal sheets, held strongly together by railroad spikes Zek looted from Freedom's base with their permission. It was secure. Even makeshift metal gates stood securely shut at the south side of the compound. He walked inside the residential building, past the large oven, which was now used to hold the group's weapons and ammunition, all neatly laid out with needed tools locked in a wooden box at the very end. He entered the main room of the building and whistled in amazement at how clean the interior was. Several bunk-beds, courtesy of the Freedom base, stood neatly in a row. There was a table with two chairs and a bottle of vodka neatly arranged in the corner, the bedding was clean, a primitive sink and water-tank with an upwards push-handle was nailed to the farthest wall, and Hamzad even managed to get a hold of a Persian rug to hang on the wall.

Vasiliy saw Sapsan lying down on a cot.

“Sapsan. We need to talk.”

“Yeah, sure, it's Zonekeeper, right?”

“If you prefer, or you can call me Vasiliy.”

“So what brought you here, anyway? How did Kolya convince you to come along?”

Vasiliy sat on a chair opposite of Sapsan.

“He made some good points, and there are events unfolding. Certain events that I need to be a part of. That is why I am talking to you. I recognize you. From where I don't understand or remember.”

“Heh, many people say that. I'm that kind of mercenary that everyone's seen me once or twice,” Sapsan laughed.

“No. That is part of the problem. I am...a copy. Of someone. You know how sometimes people or mutants are copied during blowouts? It happened to me.”

Sapsan sat up, tense, obviously threatened.

“You came after me, didn't you?”

“No. I just want you to tell me what happened to me, who I was, who I am a copy of.”

“Lift up your hood and show me who you are.”

Vasiliy did as he was told. Sapsan's eyes widened in terror.

“It's you! You are dead! That blowout took you! Now you have manifested into material existence again and have been sent by the evil to get me! Begone, foul demon!”

Sapsan rolled off of the bed and unholstered a worn, silver Mauser C96. Vasiliy dropped his half-finished cigarette.

“No!”

Before he could fire, Vasiliy sprung up and with a swift motion, pushed the slide of the Mauser back and held it there so Sapsan could not fire. Sapsan lifted Vasiliy off his feet with surprising strength using his left leg and kicked him off with his right. The slide of his handgun snapped forward and he stood up. Vasiliy got onto a knee, and sweeped with his left leg, hitting the back of Sapsan's knees and simultaneously pushing him backwards with his left arm, dropping Sapsan onto the ground. Sapsan was about to snap the barrel of his Mauser into Vasiliy's face before a Gsh-18 appeared in front of his forehead.

“Demons know Sambo better than me.”

“Listen! I am not here for you. Tell me who I am. You obviously recognized me.”

“So you are not here for me?”

“I would have fired if I was,” Vasiliy answered.

“Fine, fine. I guess it is possible what you said. The Zone is a strange place.”

Vasiliy glanced out of the window to make sure nobody outside heard the struggle.

“I could tell you, but it would be best with proof, as you won't believe me without it,” Sapsan got up and brushed himself off. “But not a word to anyone. When we take jobs tomorrow, we go to the Yantar factory. There is a science lab not far from there. I used to do security for that place before someone cheaper got the contract,” Sapsan lit a cigarette and handed one to Vasiliy, who took it with a nod.

“Let's go outside and eat some food. We'll go to sleep and search for contracts near Yantar in the morning. When we're done, we will meet Sakharov at the mobile lab, surely you remember him. He will tell you what you need to know, Pasha.”

“Sakharov sounds familiar. And why did you call me Pasha?”

“What, you don't know? I thought Vasiliy was a pseudonym. You are Major Pavel Yurevich Kochevnikov. Don't you rem...wait, you don't.”


To be continued...
  08:09:46  14 March 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378

---QUOTATION---
this is out of the blue, are you typing this or are you just uploading it?
by the way your stories great, hasnt gotten boring yet.

Zug
---END QUOTATION---



Thanks. I'm just re-uploading it, but I am working on new material as we speak. This will continue until I reach the end...or maybe I won't reach an end, who knows?
  15:49:34  14 March 2010
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Zugbarrh
Veteran
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 11/01/2009
Messages: 883

---QUOTATION---
this is out of the blue, are you typing this or are you just uploading it?
by the way your stories great, hasnt gotten boring yet.

Zug

Thanks. I'm just re-uploading it, but I am working on new material as we speak. This will continue until I reach the end...or maybe I won't reach an end, who knows?
---END QUOTATION---



you know that you posted this twice right?, or did you delete the other one.
  18:00:04  14 March 2010
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Molecule
The Artist
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 06/13/2007
Messages: 12122
The story is starting to look really good and interesting Siro. Keep it up while I wait for more.
  01:57:11  23 March 2010
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-=Grunt=-
Cake Muncher
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 01/08/2009
Messages: 4114
I just re-read the story again, good stuff Siro.

Can't wait for the next chapter.
  01:56:16  28 March 2010
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EnragedOtter
(Senior)
 
On forum: 12/12/2009
Messages: 76
Awesome story, given me inspiration to continue mine.

Is there more to come? If so I cant wait.
  16:00:18  17 April 2010
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100RadsBar
100RadsBar - Formerly known as LoboTheMan
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 06/03/2009
Messages: 1634
Any T.O.A regarding the next chapter.?

Very good story, can't wait for the next chapter
  10:15:10  26 April 2010
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Sniperspec
(Novice)
 
On forum: 04/26/2010
Messages: 9
Nice work

Keep it up brother, I hope the zone don't get you...
  16:19:28  26 April 2010
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Thrashdude
Senior Resident
 

 
On forum: 01/15/2010
Messages: 3940
He is siro,he gets the Zone.
  20:06:45  13 May 2010
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100RadsBar
100RadsBar - Formerly known as LoboTheMan
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 06/03/2009
Messages: 1634
Just bumping the thread here...again

Siro, I hope that all is well....any idea on when the story is continued?
  08:30:35  14 May 2010
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Sniperspec
(Novice)
 
On forum: 04/26/2010
 

Message edited by:
Sniperspec
05/14/2010 10:20:54
Messages: 9
Siro, don't stop now

best of luck
  02:47:43  7 August 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
 

Message edited by:
Siro
08/07/2010 3:47:44
Messages: 7378
I apologize for my absence.

Things are pretty rough recently...

Anyway, I did not disappear. The Zone did not get me. Vasiliy did not slit my throat in my sleep.

Siro is alive and kicking.

This story dies when I die, as I feel it's too great to abandon.

This will continue.

Even through the fiery inferno under Moscow's red, glowing sun, in the smoke, the next part will be posted.

I thank everyone for their patience. I am not gone, only neglecting the "submit" button.
  03:01:37  7 August 2010
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Maiman
Guess Who.
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 01/22/2008
Messages: 3536
SIRO!!! Your alive!!! Well I can't wait to see progress, too many good stories mysteriously died.
  03:04:06  7 August 2010
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Teh Soul Eater
I didn't do it.
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 03/21/2010
 

Message edited by:
Teh Soul Eater
08/07/2010 3:04:35
Messages: 1667
Awesome. I remember starting on this story but never finished reading what you had posted. I guess i'll finish reading it one of these days. (Soon, very soon.)
  00:38:56  13 August 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Next part is 45% finished, and I hope you find it as epic reading it as I did writing it.
  06:41:40  15 August 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
 

Message edited by:
Siro
08/15/2010 6:58:19
Messages: 7378
Part 14

Survival of the fittest. That is what the biosphere of the world orients itself around. Those who are too weak are struck out of the gene-pool. Eventually entire species die out and go extinct, consumed by the hordes of far more superior organisms who are able to survive the ever changing conditions of the planet.

Even in the Zone, this holds truth. Man continues to rule the world outside of Medea’s kingdom through sheer numbers and superior intelligence, as his own hubris makes him think. Man has conquered the world, expanding his cities to hive-like proportions, reproducing to several times of the world’s sustainability. With fire, lead, and steel, Man has climbed to the top of the food-chain.

In the Zone, Man is not the master of his fate. The Zone judges who is fit to survive. Naturally, a mother favours her own children. Man has been knocked from the top of his pedestal by creatures of an unnatural origin. The mutants within the Zone evolve, they mutate, they change. What normally takes several thousands of years to develope in an organism takes a single blowout to catapult the Zone’s children forward in terms of evolution. Man is no longer the master of his own fate in this kingdom.

Kill everyone and be left alone, Vasiliy thought, summing up the basic idea of superiority.

As Man has proven, even the most minute of organisms has one single instinct. To survive. Even a superior intelligence cannot hold back pure, untamed instinct. Man continues to kill Man, creature, and abomination alike. To survive means to be superior, to be the one that is left. That is what everything comes down to: the fight is really only over when there is one left standing.

Rats are the perfect example...

Rats. They have no life-span, able to live as long as they survive. They constantly adapt to new environments, never standing still. They consume everything in their path if their numbers allow. The Zone is not a challenge for them, depsite the alien environment. An obstacle appears, they change their approach. Those that live the longest, rat wolves, are the alpha in each colony, consuming or destroying even their own kin. Superior. The only thing that kept rats from living forever is cancer. In the later stages of life, rats develope cancer and die as a result, regulating their life-spans in vain.

In this radiated environment, cancer is not a factor anymore. They live, grow, and kill in the name victory, in the name of superiority. They have changed, no longer striving to flood the world in their numbers. Rat wolves aim to be the ones left on top. To stop their own kind, to be the one left alone is the aim of this new player in the game of dominance. A free-for-all is what this game has become. The end result, an image of a giant, bloated, blood-soaked half-man, half-rat stood atop the world, atop the skulls of its enemies. Alone. Superior. The victor.

I was born of the Zone.

Three times, the recoil hit his shoulder. Three bright flashes in a pitch-black chamber. Three cracks of lightning echoed in the room.

I am not Man.

The three rounds impacted a glistening, furry torso, draining the life out of its owner through three crimson holes.

I am the next step.

The 7.62x39 casings rang as they hit the floor, audible even through the ringing in Vasiliy’s ears.

I evolved.

A low, thunderous report of a shotgun alerted Vasiliy that adversaries were advancing from the rear corridor as well.

I’ll kill them all!

Vasiliy turned back to the front, lowered his AK-104 to his hip, strengthened his grip, lined it up down the corridor, and held the trigger down.

Then I will be alone!

The large bodies, each the size of a Great Dane, stopped moving. The buckteeth and whiskers shined brightly, reflecting the light of Vasiliy’s headlamp. The rifle stopped firing with a click. The lenses of Vasiliy’s gas-mask began fogging at the bottom from his increased breath rate and warmth of his breath in comparison to the cold air of the underground lab.

I am superior to you!

Vasiliy felt something grab his shoulder. He swiftly spun around, drawing his Gsh-18 in one fluid motion, and stopped with is back to the threat, his head turned, and his left arm pointing the handgun straight behind him into Sapsan’s gas-mask covered face.

I’ll kill everyone and will be left alone!

Sapsan let out a muffled scream at the sight of Vasiliy’s handgun being pointed right at him, in addition to Vasiliy’s widely open, empty eyes brimming with momentary insanity in the lenses behind his mask.

«Friendly!» Sapsan yelled in terror before Vasiliy's finger tightened around the trigger of his handgun.

Vasiliy immediately raised his pistol into the air, away from Sapsan, and slouched, violently shaking his head in order to clear his mind.
«What in the name of God happened to you just now?!» Still hysterical, Sapsan yelled behind his mask.

«I apologize, it happens on occasion,» Vasiliy answered.

Another sound, a report from a smaller-caliber rifle rang down the corridor, spoiling the silence.

«Holy shit, control yourself!» Sapsan added.

The single reports from down the corridor turned into a continuous stream.

«Kruglov has contacts, we have to grab him and come back with the proper tools!»

Vasiliy nodded in response. As Sapsan attempted to control his breathing, Vasiliy pulled an orange 7.62mm magazine from a pouch of his military suit, pushed the magazine already in his rifle out with the one in his hand, inserted the new one, and racked the bolt with his right hand. The spent magazine clattered onto the floor.

Vasiliy looked over to Sapsan, whose chest was visibly moving up and down even under his heavy vest.

«Can’t breathe...» Sapsan said as he undid the buckle of his helmet and pulled the mask off of his face.

He immediately dropped the dual-filtered PBF mask out of his hand and started choking. He fell on all fours to the ground, overcome by the stench of carrion. The same stench that attracted all of these rats from the abandoned drainage tunnels under the lab once the psi-field that was keeping them back was deactivated. Sapsan’s helmet fell off of his head and rolled into the lap of a half-eaten corpse of a military Stalker slumped by the wall. Vasiliy grabbed Sapsan’s mask, lifted the poor man, and forcibly pulled the mask over his head.

«We both need to control ourselves, brother.» Vasiliy said as he looked into Sapsan’s eyes behind the lenses, his hands on Sapsan’s shoulders. He reassuringly tapped the side of Sapsan’s mask and tossed the helmet over to his partner as he made his way up the stairs toward where they left professor Kruglov in a defensible position.

The two men made their way down the dark corridors of green tile, typical of Soviet-era labs. The layout of this secret complex was simple enough, making getting lost quite a remarkable achievement.

Sapsan’s boots rattled the chain-link panel that covered the pipes just under the floor. Vasiliy’s however, made no noise whatsoever. He ran at a steady pace, compensating for his movements, not allowing his body any verticle movement, reducing the noise he made.

Vasiliy raised his left hand, signalling Sapsan to stop behind him, and entered past a small barred gate into a large chamber lined with cages and shelves. Several large rats and Stalker corpses were strewn around the room. Vasiliy cautiously raised his weapon and moved around the corner to the right. He jumped back behind the corner as soon as gunshots sounded.

Vasiliy turned off his headlamp as several bullets shattered the tiles on the adjacent wall.

Sapsan covered the light attached to his weapon, shouldered his shotgun, and started moving towards the corner. Vasiliy crouched down and pulled on Sapsan’s vest. Sapsan looked back at Vasiliy, slowly, trying not to make a sound. Their eyes met and Vasiliy turned his head left to right. Sapsan understood and moved back to where he was. The only sound now was their breathing.

With a rustle, Vasiliy reached into his long coat, and felt for the leather sheathe he attached to his military vest. Satisfied, he took the wooden handle of his knife and quietly unsheathed it. He held it horizontally and slowly moved it around the corner. The steel blade was polished to the point that it reflected everything.

Vasiliy looked at the blade intently. So far all that looked back at him through the blade was the endless black abyss around him.

Please, Kruglov. Let us know it is you, Vasiliy said in his thoughts.
Vasiliy angled the knife differently, attempting to see who exactly fired at him. For all he knew, it was another mindless husk of one of the poor souls who entered the lab before the signals that erased minds stopped emanating from the complex.

We should have taken you with us. Chances of survivability of a weaker individual increase tenfold in the company of others.

Vasiliy felt anger at himself for succumbing to the fear that Kruglov would not survive another encounter with the rats. The small ones came in swarms, but were easy to eliminate with the concussive force of an RGD-5 grenade. The bigger ones, on the other hand, required far heavier projectiles than 9mm or 5.56mm rounds, and grenade shrapnel isn’t lethal to them, either. Only the concussive force is enough to kill one or two large ones in a small radius. The matted, thick fur formed into an almost armour-like thickness, stopping small rounds from penetrating lethal distances into their bodies, which is bad enough. When your weapon jams frequently, and if you’re not a good shot with a rifle to begin with, an encounter with the rat wolves would be a death sentence.

Vasiliy twisted the knife again. Finally, he saw something. The familiar form of a bubble-headed, yellow radiation suit designed for scientists was clearly visible even in the dull light of a small fire burning a metre to the right. Kruglov sat crouched behind a stack of dust-covered crates in a small dead end in the chamber. He held a German handgun with both shaking hands, pointing it at in Vasiliy’s general direction. Apparently his rifle jammed again.

«We are friendly,» Vasiliy said loud enough for the scientist to hear.

«And who is friendly, might I ask?» Came the response, muffled by the thick glass visor of Kruglov's protective suit..

«Sapsan with Vasiliy.» Sapsan responded.

«And just who is Sapsan and Vasiliy?»

Sapsan let out an exasperated sigh and groaned loudly. He fell silent as soon as he heard rustling and the clicking of claws on concrete in the darkness down the stairs behind them.

«We are the men you hired in this ill-guided attempt to survey a newly accessible laboratory complex,» Vasiliy yelled calmly, «And I would appreciate it if you hurry, brother, as there are more rats coming.»
«Alright, get over here!» Kruglov answered, «and I apologize for firing at you.» Kruglov seemed calm, but his voice was shaking. Yes, who would not be terrified, considering the things the group experienced after entering this crypt?

Vasiliy motioned for Sapsan to go ahead of him. Before Vasiliy could even turn his head to his left, a heavy mass landed right on top of him and made him lose his balance. Vasiliy stabbed at the unseen mass on top of him in the dark and to his dismay, felt his knife bounce off of the thick fur of his adversary. The struggle was producing almost no noise, no way to alert his comrades that he was in trouble.

Vasiliy attempted to scream for help, but the heavy rat on top of him was preventing his lungs from expanding when Vasiliy attemped to inhale. He stabbed again, and his knife only slid on top of the fur when it was supposed to penetrate into the animal. The animal snapped at Vasiliy's neck in vain, for Vasiliy grabbed it by the neck in both hands and squeezed as hard as he could.

Sapsan leaped over the front row of crates that Kruglov was taking cover behind and landed with a hard thud. He looked over at Kruglov. He seemed fine, no visible wounds. He couldn't stop shaking, though. Seeing two lab-hands get mauled in this dungeon would do that to a man, Sapsan thought. The first, Semenov, was pulled to the ground and overcome by the swarm when the first rats suddenly erupted from the vents, the second was incinerated by the intense flames of a burner anomaly that nobody in the group expected to appear underground. Once again, another reason to expect the unexpected in this most deadly of environments.

Sapsan immediately turned his body to where he came from and rested his arms, shotgun in hand, on the crates in front of him. He felt that something was wrong in his gut a few seconds later. Vasiliy was nowhere to be seen, he didn't appear next to Sapsan suddenly how he usually did. He was quiet, deadly, frighteningly so. What happened to Pavel, now Vasiliy? Sapsan asked himself, not expecting an answer.
Sapsan waited a few more moments, Vasiliy was still nowhere to be seen. Sapsan stood up and began climbing over the crates to find his lost comrade, but a sudden burst of gunfire made him duck back behind cover. Kruglov yelled out in surprise.

Sapsan heard shuffling and popped quickly out from behind the crates, shotgun drawn. Even in the light of his torch, the darkness was so thick that nothing could be seen beyond a few metres. Another gunshot sounded and Sapsan felt something impact his chest, knocking the wind out of him. He ducked back behind the crates and looked at where the round hit his chest. He felt it over, no blood, good. The old Afghan-era vest stopped the small round that hit him, thankfully. On the other side of the crates, the shuffling got louder.

Kruglov peeked over the crates and immediately brought his handgun to bear. Sapsan turned and looked over as well. Then he saw it. A tall, man-sized figured walked into the weak light. Its coat hung in shreds on its body, the camouflaged pants were torn in places, blood was caked on the tears. Its hood was up, concealing the top half of its face, which Sapsan was thankful for. The bottom half was a red, blood-covered jaw with rows of white teeth shining in a perverse smile at the two men. It was one of the unfortunate souls who lost their minds, becoming walking corpses. This one was apparently chewed on by the rats, unable to fight back until something frightened them off.

The corpse raised its Russian Yarygin handgun again and fired twice, both shots going over Sapsan's head. It stumbled forward clumsily before Kruglov stood up behind the crates, the slide of his P-99 handgun reflecting the flames of the fire near them.

«Hit them! Hit them! Die, abomination!» Kruglov yelled.

The corpse awkwardly turned toward Kruglov, who fired as fast as the slide could cycle. The corpse grunted as the rounds impacted its body. Kruglov fired one last time before his slide locked back. Thankfully, the creature was collapsed to the ground. Kruglov spun his handgun on one finger, stopped, ejected the spent magazine, spun the handgun again in the opposite direction, and inserted a fresh magazine before hitting the slide release with his thumb to chamber the first round.

Freaking cowboy, Sapsan thought.

The moment of victory was short-lived, however, as more gunshots sounded and a myriad of muzzle-flashes lit up the room. More corpses were drawn to the noise during the gunfight.

«Lie down on the ground!!» Sapsan heard from the darkness, and immediately grabbed Kruglov, pushing him to the floor before falling down himself.

Something clattered to the floor. A few seconds later, an inferno way too intense to be a simple grenade consumed the entire room in flames. A second later, the flames disappeared.

His ears still ringing, Sapsan stood up, stumbling, dazed from the explosion. His vision was blurred, but he could see the forms of the dead rats and human corpses burning on the ground. In the corner of his eye, Sapsan noticed movement. A flaming figure stumbled toward him, madly swinging its arms in an attempt to put out the fire that engulfed it.

Sapsan thought it was another zombified Stalker and walked over to it, shotgun drawn to end its misery.

A black, short-barreled AK-pattern rifle clattered to the floor under the zombie, its sling still on fire.

Sapsan's eyes widened in panic and he immediately ran over to the figure to pull the flaming coat off of Vasiliy.

To be continued...
  06:51:58  15 August 2010
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BobBQ
2007-2017
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 07/30/2007
Messages: 3336
It was worth the wait.
  18:44:30  15 August 2010
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Next part is already in the works.
  14:30:28  19 August 2010
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100RadsBar
100RadsBar - Formerly known as LoboTheMan
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 06/03/2009
Messages: 1634

---QUOTATION---
Next part is already in the works.
---END QUOTATION---



Hurray, Siro is back

Good chapter.
  11:15:03  12 November 2010
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100RadsBar
100RadsBar - Formerly known as LoboTheMan
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 06/03/2009
Messages: 1634
been awfully quiet....any news, or is the story buried
  14:09:56  12 November 2010
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Molecule
The Artist
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 06/13/2007
Messages: 12122
Not buried, just on hold, Siro is very busy in real life now.
  19:32:51  10 August 2011
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Dia
(Novice)
 
On forum: 07/29/2011
Messages: 27

---QUOTATION---
Not buried, just on hold, Siro is very busy in real life now.
---END QUOTATION---



I've just read Siro's story and find myself wishing he weren't so busy! I'd love to read the rest of this novella; great stuff! Siro is an excellent storyteller and I want more.

Please?
  04:20:12  12 August 2011
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D_Money
(Senior)
 
On forum: 05/07/2008
Messages: 144
How did you manage that??

My God Siro, master!

It's a masterpiece and I'm hanging to see more.

Now there's 3 awesome stories that are killing me to wait for:

- "Snorkbait"
- "The Zone: Rebirth"
- and now yours Siro "The Story of the Man She Loved"

Brilliant, captivating story!
  07:09:27  26 February 2012
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
 

Message edited by:
Siro
02/26/2012 10:30:24
Messages: 7378
This is now re-booted. I will stop being a lazy bastard and make room for this in my hectic schedule. The notes are not lost and this story will continue until its resolution.

EDIT: Notes updated for next part. Is currently in progress. I have a timeline now.
  13:40:32  26 February 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1805
Great news
  14:55:05  6 April 2012
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
No, I didn't forget. I already have a draft and an outline I finished a few weeks ago.

I'm just having a lot of deadlines and work on my plate at the moment, so it'll be out eventually.
  01:35:35  1 August 2012
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Siro
Local Law-Enforcement
(Moderator)

 

 
On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Latest part was in fact in progress, but got corrupted.

Friend said he can recover it. It's coming soon. Sorry for the delay.
 
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