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Speaker for the Zone

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  20:40:31  21 August 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
 

Message edited by:
Hauuu
08/21/2012 20:45:03
Messages: 97
Speaker for the Zone

So with GSC in shambles, and Stalker 2 off the immediate menu, we come to a turning point. I have no doubt that the Stalker IP as we knew it in the games will turn up again at some point, but it could be a long time before it does. Three games is still a good run, and despite their plentiful flaws, they certainly did make an impression. This story, which bridges the gap between Dirge Danorum and Speaker for the Zone, is the metaphor for me pouring out a few measures of the good stuff in memory of the good times. Shoutouts to GSC and stalker.


MEMORIES


“Caught in a landslide…”
“No escape from – oh, we’re here.”

Sagaris and I emerged from the trees, cresting the ridge that overlooked the valley. Below lay Freedom HQ, as impressive as ever. A mere three months since Freedom’s resurrection, and already the valley at Yantar was as fortified and populous as Rostov. Maybe not Rostov in its glory days, before the Incursion, but still. Impressive. Though not as impressive as listening to Sagaris sing classic rock in his heavy accent. The Canadian-Ukrainian duet. Beautiful.

“What if that was our password?”
“To identify us as friendlies to the guards?”
“Yes.”

I grinned. “Duty wouldn’t have it. Besides, we don’t need a password. Everybody here knows us.” We both launched into ‘Where Everybody Knows Your Name’ as we climbed down. The guards at the gate waved us in without question. There’s something to be said for knowing everybody.

There was Jester in the canteen, though it was only late afternoon, pounding glass after glass and telling jokes that had the stalkers around him roaring with laughter.

Venge and the Merc were there too, a large rifle lying disassembled on the table between them as they conversed in low tones, examining it.

Exile and some others were on the raised platform by the canteen, where the musicians usually played. There was a large television up there, and they were working doggedly on a big antenna. Sagaris waved and broke away to join Jester and the others for a drink and a bite to eat. There wasn’t any good reason he couldn’t make the report, but it looked like it was going to be my job.

Russett emerged from the lab, looking preoccupied, but she spotted me right away. I dropped my rifle and caught her by the waist to lift her up and spin her around. She screamed in surprise at first, but then put out her hands and laughed. Several rookies had to dodge to avoid being knocked flying. I set her down. “Any luck?”

“They’re still on it,” she said, nodding toward Exile and the others. “You?”
“Nothing cool going on out there.”
“Good.”

At that moment Velvet came jogging past, a mob of exhausted rookies behind her. “Five minutes,” she called to me, and disappeared around the side of the barracks. When was she going to learn not to try to train rookies in a tank top? Did she not notice how it made it impossible for anyone in the compound to concentrate on anything?

“How is she so smart, and so dumb?” Russett asked, shaking her head.
“Carefully.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Always.”

We went inside, and I got to eat before Velvet came in, skin shining with sweat. It wasn’t often she came outside to frolic around with the rookies personally; she was usually too busy. But it was an important thing for her to do once in a while. She sat down with us and helped herself to some of my food. “Well?”

I cleared my throat. “I think it is what it looks like. The second chopper’s gone. If it was coming back, it would be here by now.”
“Where, though?”

“I think Duty’s feeling serious cash flow problems.” I shrugged. “Maybe it was repossessed. You haven’t just hit them in their PR, you’ve hit them in the wallet. Duty’s lost the loner vote; the only money they bring in is with their own people, and the governments that fund them from the outside. I think it must be getting heated in there.”

She nodded, looking disturbed, but not surprised. As far as Duty was concerned, there were more variables than even Velvet could account for. The dice were still tumbling, and we tumbled with them until they came to rest.

“Fair enough. One down, one to go.”
“I can disable the chopper they’ve got left.”
She shook her head. “No. We can’t give them an excuse. We can’t give them anything. We’re here to be friends.”

“Works for me.” Evening was coming on. Velvet probably wouldn’t send me out again tonight; she was a slave driver, but she wasn’t a monster. She wanted me to have a night at HQ from time to time almost as much as I did. But I wasn’t kidding myself. In the morning I’d be off again.

My usual job was patrolling the road between HQ and Rostov. I was developing a reputation, and knowing that I traveled that road was a powerful deterrent to the bandits that wanted to prey on loners bringing artifacts to Freedom to sell. At Rostov, I could touch base with Slayer and Dixon, who were stationed there. They were clueless, but they were my friends, and through them, I could vaguely feel the vibrations in the Duty web. There wasn’t much to feel, though.

Sometimes I wondered if that connection had been made, and someone was using it deliberately. But that was peripheral; my main function at Rostov was to pick up drops from Velvet’s many spies.

I put a flash drive on the table, and Velvet took it. I’d just come back from Rostov, so Velvet would probably send me somewhere else tomorrow. Probably to take a message to someone. The Biker was no longer Velvet’s go-to courier; now he was more like her second in command. A job that probably could’ve been mine if I’d wanted it – in fact, I think the Biker very much would have liked to switch places with me. Well, maybe not. This way he got to spend a lot more time around Velvet.

Grigor came to drag Russett back to the lab, leaving me alone with Velvet.
“Holding up?”
“Of course.”

Of course. She still didn’t know what had really happened to us in the anomalous ring around the valley. She didn’t know that I’d been inside her mind, and she’d been inside mine. She thought she still had secrets from me, but she didn’t.

It wasn’t a big lie. She was holding up pretty well. I didn’t need to worry about her, not yet. I’d never given her enough credit. Velvet was clueless about some things, yes, but inhumanly sharp about others. It hadn’t taken her long to realize I hadn’t simply left her for Russett; she knew perfectly well what I was doing, and why. The Twilight Shower had taken one weight from her, just so she could pick up another. There was only so much I could do for her.

I smiled. “You’ll miss this place when you’re gone.”
She groaned and worked her neck and shoulders. “Maybe.”
Exile appeared in the doorway, looking tired, but pleased. “We’re in business,” he said, and vanished.

“I didn’t think they could do it,” I said.
“They had it working before.”
“Yeah, before it got struck by lightning. It’s the last night, isn’t it?”
Velvet sighed and nodded.
“Shall we?”

She shook her head. “I have things to do.” That was not a lie. I left her with a little time to herself before she got to work. Outside, the crowd at the canteen was huge. The sun was down, and the night air was filled with sparks from torches and fireflies.

Of course the Olympics were on the television. I joined Exile and the Biker at the officers’ table. “Holy smokes. Did you invite the whole Zone?”

“Pretty much. No signal at Rostov, and Duty’s making everybody nervous. Where else can they go?”

Yes, the Olympics. Nationalism is an interesting subject in the Zone. By coming here, we’ve all renounced our home countries in a way, except for those who’ve come in their name. Exile, for example. He claims he’s no longer on her majesty’s payroll, but we all know it isn’t true. In fact, just about everybody’s got a man in the Zone. The Russians and the Americans have quite a few between them.

But a lot of people wouldn’t call those men stalkers. No matter what we are now, we all came from somewhere, and we never forget, even if some of us want to. There’s a Freedom sniper from Nigeria that can shoot almost as well as the Merc, who’s Russian. We’ve got a pair of French brothers who’ve managed to stay alive in the Zone for almost as long as Velvet has. Exile isn’t our only Englishman, and I’m not even the only Asian. There’s a Japanese guy who used to be with Duty, though he doesn’t speak much English or Russian. We’ve got a man from Montenegro, and an Indian who’s even better at wrangling rookies than Velvet is. We have a flamboyantly gay Italian who’s always getting into fights with our flamboyantly homophobic Serbian quartermaster. There’s a Danish pilot, and a Libyan cook.

I was born in Hong Kong, I hold Canadian citizenship, and I’ve spent my entire life in America. Velvet’s from Norway, though when she’s sober, she never talks about home. The Merc and the Biker are both about as Russian as people can possibly be, and despite the way he talks, Grigor is amazingly un-Russian. We’ve got Jester, our Scottish Freedom mascot, and over a dozen Americans, from deserters to PMC types to idiots like Venge, and of course, Russett.

Tonight, everybody was here. The Russian athletes got the loudest cheers, of course, by virtue of greater numbers. Nationalism put aside to come here was easily remembered when their countrymen were performing.

Russett appeared out of the dark to join us at the table, (“He was trying to teach me to clamp arteries,”) and Grigor showed up a little while later. We could smell Russian beer, and spiced chicken skewers on the grill. The crowd laughed at an advertisement.

You couldn’t blame the Russians; their country had never been an easy place to live; it had been plagued with every conceivable misfortune, and yet in the arts, sciences, and athletics, its people continued to excel. Of course they were proud.

There was plenty of betting going on, of course.

Exile held up his rifle. “I’ll meet that wager. Weatherby Mark Five. Finest rifle ever made.”
“This is finest rifle,” a Russian said, holding up a Kalashnikov.
“Rem 700,” some American called out.
“Well, not the 700 – but the militarized version, like the M24…” Venge was saying, but no one was listening to him.
“Winchester Model 70!”
“10/30!” And so on.

The Englishman took the gold, and Exile found himself with an extra rifle. He immediately began to use it as a walking stick, affecting an obnoxiously aristocratic drawl. “Hmm, old sport? Oh, yes. Indubitably. Capital.” Someone threw a bottle at him, and he swung the rifle like a cricket bat. “Oh, edge.”

The cheering and noise did their work; Velvet couldn’t stay away. Not even she could distract the troops from the action onscreen, though. The female beach volleyball and gymnastic events were particularly popular, though I couldn’t help but notice how none of the Russians made any comments about the sculpted bodies of the Russian competitors, though they didn’t hesitate to mercilessly objectify women of all other nationalities. We should have watched fencing or something, not this – but the men weren’t thinking straight. You can’t be a stalker without being a bit of a masochist first.

There was a Ukrainian weightlifter who was apparently a former stalker. The ignorant and vapid remarks from the commentators on the subject of the Zone brought various sounds of derision from the crowd, but the marks on the man’s legs where he must have been scoured by a drinker’s tendrils confirmed his background. He ended up with silver, and everyone cheered for him, not just the Ukrainians.

Grigor told us a fascinating story about the 1960 Winter Games, where because of the state of the Cold War, it had been hotly debated whether or not certain countries could attend. This led to a unique and lengthy discussion at our table of the cold war that involved two former spies, two former socialites, a retired physicist, and one still-practicing assassin. Unsurprisingly, Grigor seemed to know the most. Then it came around to his memories of the 1952 Games, which we were all amazed he’d been alive for.

Exile convinced Velvet to talk about the 1994 Games, which she had attended as a girl with her family, including the infamous climactic shootout between Canada and Sweden. The Merc finally confessed that he had won a spot on Russia’s Olympic weightlifting team for the Games in Sydney, but had been unable to go because of his commitment to GRU at the time. He sounded quite morose about it.

I had my arm around Russett, who was being a bit subdued. She would later tell me how she and Tyrian, along with their parents had been avid spectators in Atlanta in 1996. She had come a long way in the three months since her sister’s murder, but there was still a long way to go.

Velvet, quite tipsy by now, bemoaned the classless barbarism of the summer games, assuring us all that it wasn’t that Norway couldn’t be dominant, but Norway just couldn’t be bothered. More important things to do, and all that. When questioned about what those things were, she just pounded more vodka.

Exile told us how he and a special NATO counterintelligence team had prevented several bombings in Beijing during the summer games, recalling that the Chinese government had been very upset afterward. Despite the fact that their own intelligence services had been completely oblivious to the threat, they were aghast that they had not been allowed to deal with their own problems. Or in this case, get blown up, along with dozens of international athletes in an incident that would’ve made the Munich massacre look like a trifling scuffle.

Speaking of scuffles, I got up to kick the chair from underneath a guy getting to his feet to throw a punch, short-circuiting the fight before it could get going. I sat back down and had another drink, knowing full well I couldn’t stop every fight that could break out in this melee of suddenly nationalistic stalkers. Grigor and the Merc discussed the charms of a place called Sochi, and Velvet and the Biker argued about someone called Bjorn Daehlie, who unless I was mistaken, Velvet must have at one time fancied.

For a while I worried this could turn into quite the brawl, but I was wrong. It wouldn’t. If anything, this was more unity than we usually saw. It wasn’t just that we all wanted to watch the games; of course we did, but there was more to it. This was the world stage; everything we saw, the rest of the world saw as well. Just for tonight, we were like everybody else. We weren’t just connected with each other, we were connected with the outside. Just for now, the people here didn’t have to be loners and rejects and outcasts.

It reminded us of who we used to be, and what it felt like to be normal. Stalkers aren’t all solitary, but we are all isolated, not from each other, but from the rest of the species. Not tonight, though. I think that played a big part in minimizing the bloodshed.

A rookie punched someone he’d been arguing with, and looked very proud of himself until he saw Velvet standing there, quite pink in the face. It looked like she was about to blow off his head, or at least his eardrums. Velvet’s singing voice was legendary, but so was her talent for raw volume. In the words of one American rookie: “Man, that blonde chick’s got some pipes.”

Instead of shouting, she gave a small hiccup, tripped backward, and fell into the Biker’s lap. The rookie fled. The Merc looked at the Biker as though he’d planned this. Velvet looked at the rookie that had been knocked down; he was only stunned. She sniffled, then burst into tears.

At least there was no danger of her remembering any of this, though the Biker would. The tears stopped as abruptly as they’d started, and she absently pulled the Biker’s arms around herself for warmth before going back to watching, the rookies forgotten completely. I wasn’t worried; Velvet can handle at least as much drink as a grown man. I think it’s her Viking heritage.

The Biker wasn’t worried about the look on the Merc’s face; he was more concerned with the way Velvet was wiggling around his lap, trying to get comfortable. I hoped she wouldn’t do something like blow her nose on his sleeve. Fortunately, no one was paying the officers’ table the slightest bit of attention, and Velvet’s highly unprofessional behavior and the Biker’s new status as an armchair were going largely unnoticed.

I didn’t begrudge Velvet any of it; she worked harder than anyone in the Zone, and carried enough weight for ten people. If she wanted to take the night off and get smashed, I was all for it. The Merc moved away to find a drink. Brave man.

Events came and went; medals were won and lost. The crowd cheered and groaned. It was fascinating to watch who they would support when there were no Russians involved. I felt like I was getting the inside track on the national prejudices of another culture.

Stalkers are as eclectic and diverse as anything in this world, but there are also common factors that tie us all together. No one just wakes up in the morning and decides it’s time to go to the Zone. We all came here for a reason. Some of them are noble, like Exile – he came here because it was his duty. Some reasons are stupid, like mine – I came because I had something to prove. True, I found a real reason to stay – but that doesn’t change anything.

I think most of the reasons boil down to cowardice. The Zone is a frontier. It’s a Mecca for many things, but above all, it’s a haven from accountability. We’re all running from something. By coming here to prove something to myself, I admitted that I couldn’t face life as it was. I had to try to master the Zone because I couldn’t master myself. And what about Velvet and the Biker? They had both come here hoping to die. Ironic, because neither would die here.

Many stalkers are running toward something, but every real stalker is running away from something. Here, tonight, watching the Olympics, which brought us all closer together, and closer to the outside, we couldn’t help but be reminded that the world was still out there.

Stalkers are keenly aware of what the Zone offers, and its ability to tantalize is beyond question. But every stalker also knows that the things that really matter aren’t in here, they’re out there, with the rest of our species. It is precisely the Zone’s nature as a place not intended for us that draws us in, and lets so few of us go – and it can’t be said that coming here is always a mistake.

Without their experiences here to strengthen and shape them, Velvet and the Biker wouldn’t have had a prayer in the crises that waited for them after their time here was up.

Yet with this powerful connection to the outside, none of us could help but be reminded that yes, it was still out there, and yes, ultimately we could either die, or face it again. You don’t meet a lot of old timers in the Zone. Velvet was an old timer, and she wasn’t even thirty. Having spent nearly a decade here, she had far outlasted even the most optimistic estimates for a woman in this part of the world.

A stalker can stay and die, or he can go back outside, and face down whatever chased him here in the first place. With this in front of us, no one could forget it. I know some of us tried.

Adrien and Alain hugged and cheered as a Frenchman took a gold medal. The Merc picked Venge up by the scruff of his neck and held him out of reach of two Russians he’d offended. Velvet snuggled closer to the Biker, who wore an expression more like contentment than anything I’d ever seen on him. Russett snickered into my shoulder so no one would see.

Outsiders are always asking stalkers what could possibly compel them to come to a place like the Zone, but that’s a waste of time. A better question would be what could possibly compel them to leave. But there’s no point explaining these things to outsiders; they never understand.

I felt a little sad when the final event came around. Of course the night couldn’t go on forever, but that wouldn’t stop us from wishing it could. In the morning there would be a cold fog. There would be no warmth, no firelight, none of this. Some of us would have to leave these walls, and not all of us would come back. Even the hardest stalker has an appreciation for safety and warmth, and just for tonight, that was everyone. Tomorrow, eventually the hangovers would go away – but the memories wouldn’t.

Perhaps inevitably, it came down to Russia, Norway, and China. China hadn’t gotten a very warm reception from the people of Freedom. I thought maybe I should be offended by that, but I wasn’t. Obviously everyone but Velvet was holding their breath for Russia, and it might’ve been just me, but they were less worried about seeing Russia lose than the possibility of seeing China win.

Freedom HQ was quieter than I’d ever heard it. Even a small measure of focus had returned to Velvet, and she gazed keenly at the screen. Duty could have attacked right then and no one would have noticed.

“If they don’t get this,” Russett whispered. “We’ll have a hundred men dead of liver failure before morning.”

“Shh. Don’t ruin the moment.”

She snorted. I grinned. Exile continued to drum his fingers on the stock of his new rifle. With Velvet on his lap the Biker wouldn’t have noticed a nuclear explosion five feet away, much less a television screen. But apart from them, everyone else was rapt.

Norway took it. The Russians erupted with cheers, not because they’d gotten silver, but because China hadn’t. Velvet whipped around to straddle the Biker and kissed him. You could have heard the roar of the crowd from the Valley to the Cordon. The Biker is the perfect soldier; he knows how to seize the moment. So he seized Velvet and pulled her to him, and she didn’t let him go until he was a heartbeat away from passing out from lack of air.

The broadcast went off, and the band started to play one of my favorite songs. Venge ducked under a table and disappeared into the crowd to avoid the angry Serbian, to whom I was pretty sure he’d just lost a bet. Jester was leading a toast with big mugs of beer, and Exile was getting to his feet with his two rifles, looking tired. Russett was finishing her beer, and I was hoping the Merc wouldn’t happen to see Velvet passed out in the Biker’s lap.

The band continued to play. Russett and I decided to do the right thing, and frankly, the Biker looked relieved. We took Velvet inside, put her to bed, and went back outside. I hoped I wasn’t around when this thing between the Biker and the Merc came to a head; neither one of them was noted for taking prisoners, and I liked them both, so I didn’t see how it could end well. It was good that Velvet hadn’t noticed; the knowledge couldn’t possibly make her life easier. The longer she stayed oblivious, the better. It was a race now, but I was probably the only one that knew it.

The party wasn’t even close to winding down. Freedom never closes, but I had a feeling that tonight we’d stay especially open. Hand in hand, Russett and I walked the perimeter. I figured someone ought to keep an eye on the guards; this couldn’t be an easy night to stay focused.

The lights on the walls could only light the valley so far. It was dead black out there, except for where we could see the faint flashes on the horizon, perpetual lightning forever marking Chernobyl’s location.

I was getting well traveled in my old age. The Zone is big, and bigger now, since we’ve lost satellite coverage. I still haven’t seen half of it, but in three months you can walk a lot of roads.

The road to Chernobyl hadn’t been one of them. I needed no reminding; there was an inevitability here, too. Everything else could change, but the Center never would. No matter what happened out here, Chernobyl would stay the same. I wasn’t kidding anyone. I wouldn’t be able to stay away forever. I knew with absolute certainty. Chernoby was where all of this had begun, and that was where it was going to end. There would always be one more long walk. Even the Dane couldn’t change that.

“Everything’s so different here.”

I thought about the way every man in camp had rallied in outrage when a Korean fencer had been robbed of a medal. “Maybe not quite as different as you think.”

“I don’t ever want to leave,” Russett sighed.


End

(of course the story picks back up in Chapter 181 - I'll post at least the first few chapters of Speaker in here) Also, the Freedom thread already turned into the Freedom and Dirge thread, so let's let it go to bed.
  11:01:27  23 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Nice bridge

Busy reading Harbinger.
Find the US$3 I paid was too little, I would gladly have paid the double.
  01:20:11  24 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Diet cola? You like diet cola?? Uff, I can't stand the chemical taste of that stuff.
  22:20:58  24 August 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
 

Message edited by:
Hauuu
08/24/2012 22:21:40
Messages: 97
Glad you liked it; the Atrophy books tend to be short, so I like the low prices, but I don't have any control over them anyway, that's all on the publisher's end.

Anyway, it's friday, so Speaker's starting up. And the obligatory link to the blog:

http://pseudozone.blogspot.com/

Speaker for the Zone
Chapter 1


An especially loud raindrop struck the metal side of Freedom HQ at Yantar. That didn’t bother me; I wasn’t going anywhere today. The rain would just make it easier to go back to sleep, not that it would have been difficult. Russet was warm and soft in my arms, and her quiet, regular breathing was better than any lullaby.

Another raindrop hit the side, except this one left a hole that let in a beam of pale light, and a tendril of fog. I dragged Russet off the cot and covered her with my body as another half-dozen shots perforated my wall, and the real shooting started, all at once on both sides. It was deafening.

“Stay down,” I said into Russet’s ear, and I don’t think there was any danger of her getting up. She sensibly covered her head with both hands. I got up and stumbled into the corridor, snatching up Lunch Box as I did so.

The passage was abruptly packed with people, rushing in both directions. There was nothing to hear in the chaos. Bullets slammed through the metal walls, sending showers of sparks off the walls, and shrapnel flying.

I swung onto the main ladder and climbed to the roof. It was just a dull roar until I opened the hatch, letting in the real noise.

Velvet was there, and so were the others. I wore only loose fatigue trousers, but I didn’t even feel the pre-dawn cold.

Duty was here. It had taken them more months than anyone had predicted, but they had finally come.

A round snapped past my head, and I dropped down behind the sandbags with Velvet, who was shouting into a radio. There were snipers on the ridge, pinning down the entire compound as Duty crossed the bogs, an impossible – truly impossible number of them – all laying down suppressing fire as they advanced. They were only hazily visible, but their numbers were unmistakable.

Velvet risked a glance over the sandbags. “Now,” she said.

The ridge exploded as over a hundred pounds of C4 charges detonated in sequence, sending out a shower of earth and dust and enveloped the Duty force, even as it threw them to the ground. There would be nothing left of the snipers, but the landslide would only slow the main force down, not stop them.

“Go,” she said into the radio, and Freedom emerged. This was supposed to be the decisive counterattack, but I’d seen the size of the force out there.

“Who are they?” I shouted to Velvet, whose eyes were wide. Not fearful, but she had seen as well. She didn’t know. And there was no time for talking.

I vaulted over the sandbags, dropped the five meters to the ground, and ran for the nearest gate. There was Exile, waving the men forward. People were deploying smoke grenades now; redundant in the morning mist – but now we wouldn’t even have the dark outlines to go by. It would be close combat to the last man; we had to play to our strengths. Exile threw down his Weatherby and drew his Beretta.

I passed him as though he wasn’t moving at all, plunging into the tall grass.

An exoskeleton loomed out of nowhere, wielding a Browning M2. I jumped on the barrel, forcing it down, and pressed Lunch Box to his face mask before he could react. I pulled the trigger, and the booming shot was like a firecracker in the midst of the battle. More men came streaming out of the fog.

The blast of a grenade knocked me off my feet, and the shadows of men on either side surged past in both directions. A strong hand closed on my arm and pulled me up; the Biker, one arm extended, firing his Pernach on full auto into a cluster of Duty Men.

I was seeing double. I awkwardly pushed Lunch Box into his free hand, and pulled the knife off his vest before staggering off into the fray.

Jester’s back was exposed, but I managed to throw the knife into the wrist of the man about to shoot him. The scot turned and shot him three times before disappearing into the haze.

A Duty man blundered into me, and I snapped his neck before he could do anything, hooking his rifle and pulling it up to fire from the hip. The exoskeleton advancing on me soaked it up like paintballs. I dropped the empty rifle as the exoskeleton raised a weapon, but an indistinct figure leapt onto its back, and brown tendrils tore through the light armor over his throat. No surprise; of course they would be drawn to this bloodshed. I scooped up a fallen pistol and staggered forward.

Another one went down to a second drinker, but I had to shoot the third, which was making for a small figure that could only be Venge. My pistol went empty. There was the Merc, the RPK in his arms looking like a toy as he emotionlessly gunned down Duty foot soldiers by the dozen. At his side was the Biker, who fired my Desert Eagle and his own Pernach with such precision that it wasn’t clear which of the two men was the more devastating.

They weren’t just Duty men. I had seen that much from the roof. There were mercenaries mixed in, and not the local kind. They had to be PMCs brought in from the outside.

There was a familiar thin stalker wandering the battle, trailed by the same phantom I’d seen so many times. Here and gone in the blink of an eye, maybe not there at all. A contractor’s neck broke audibly under my arm, and I dropped the body. There was no end to them.

Velvet appeared with her rookie fire team, shouting, of course, and laying waste to anything that crossed the path of her formation. I’d barely picked up a Kalashnikov when it was blown apart by a shotgun blast from a contractor, who was in turn gunned down by Grigor, who met my gaze for only a moment as he reloaded his Tokarev before disappearing.

Velvet flung her empty rifle into the face of a Duty officer that surprised her, and drew her pistol to shoot him in the chest. The Biker relieved a merc of his combat hatchet and flung it into the spine of another enemy before breaking the first man’s back over his knee. Exile was hit, but doggedly fired his Beretta as Jester tried to drag him back toward the walls. I saw the Merc appear again, bleeding from a dozen wounds, looking no more bothered than if they were mosquito bites.

The sky overhead darkened substantially; as it became increasingly overcast, visibility worsened. The fog showed no signs of clearing off. As the body count rose, so did the number of drinkers that came to enjoy it. Two mercs got the drop on me, only to be taken by two shapes they couldn’t even see.

Venge slammed a fresh magazine into his MP7, only to be knocked aside by a passing exoskeleton that hadn’t even noticed him.

A bullet whizzed past me to kill a man who had been about to shoot me down. Sagaris materialized from the fog, bloody, but mobile.

“They’re pushing!” he shouted, throwing me one of his pistols. I scrambled out of the tall grass to join him, slipping into the mud. I fired from the ground, bringing down another merc. Sagaris pulled me up.

“We can’t win this!”

“I know,” I said.

“Where do we go?”

“Where can we go?”

We stood back to back, knee deep in the center of it all. The fog swirled around us, and the battle came and went. Duty bodies were all around us, like a dark green carpet on the floor of the valley.

But it couldn’t go on. Duty’s force was swelled by the PMCs, and no matter how bravely Freeom fought, our numbers couldn’t win. Velvet’s battle plan had been brilliant, but she could never have planned for an onslaught of this magnitude. She had been ready, but not ready enough. There was only one way for this to end; it was only a question of how long it would take. Three minutes had already passed since the first round punched through my wall.

I was down to one bullet. I could still feel Sagaris as my back.

“Go back to the gate,” I told him.

“What?” He fired four shots into a dark form in the fog, then turned back to me.

“Don’t make it easy.” Protect Russett. He understood.

“What about you?”

I looked down at my pistol. One bullet. “I’ll break through,” I said. “I’ll find their leader.”

Sagaris stared at me for a moment, then nodded. He turned and took off without looking. A Duty man with a shotgun was there. I flung out my arm and fired; my bullet took Slayer through the throat. He reeled back, clutching at the wound, which gushed like a fountain. His eyes met mine for a moment before he went down.

Then the shooting stopped.
  23:20:41  24 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
08/25/2012 0:09:26
Messages: 1886
Looks like the Drinkers are dutifully* selecting their targets No wonder with the way Duty behaves in the Zone.

*Yes, I'm trying to make a pun but am likely failing miserably
  10:43:03  25 August 2012
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belizarius
Strelok Holmes
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/02/2009
 

Message edited by:
belizarius
08/25/2012 10:43:29
Messages: 222
Hmm...Freedom get attacked, by surprize, when they have spies over at Duty ? Those spies failed to announce Freedom that some sort of mercs are helping Duty ?

I like a twist in the story, but this one seems a little forced... :-\
  11:49:04  25 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
I find it a bit strange too that Freedom didn't get any warning even if the attack is coming from the West (The bog/tiny lake is to the West of the bunker in the game). Hopefully it's just one of those Zone nightmares.
  02:49:53  26 August 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
 

Message edited by:
Hauuu
08/26/2012 6:54:06
Messages: 97
Ah, but everything happens for a reason, and there is always an explanation. At first glance here, my mind might drift toward...

Betrayal!

edit: don't apologize, Dania. Never apologize. Nobody talks back to the Dane.
  03:29:28  26 August 2012
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D_Money
(Senior)
 
On forum: 05/07/2008
Messages: 144
Hauuu are you Wish?
  03:31:27  26 August 2012
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D_Money
(Senior)
 
On forum: 05/07/2008
Messages: 144

---QUOTATION---
Looks like the Drinkers are dutifully* selecting their targets No wonder with the way Duty behaves in the Zone.

*Yes, I'm trying to make a pun but am likely failing miserably
---END QUOTATION---



OMG Dania is the Dane! Take him out he killed Tyrian!!
  12:10:00  26 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
08/26/2012 15:39:46
Messages: 1886
*Starts trimming my nails using a straight razor*

Yes, Hauuu is Wish.

Btw, are you sure you are not suffering from delirium because of radiation sickness or worse? You are looking pretty pale, maybe you should go see the local doc before it's too late.

*Study nails*

Hmm, I really should remember to trim my nails more often.

*Razor dissapears like thin air*
  13:57:30  27 August 2012
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D_Money
(Senior)
 
On forum: 05/07/2008
Messages: 144
*Thumbs the safety off of his P90...*

Na man....just the weather I think...thanks for the pro tip...heh.
  23:59:28  27 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Careful you don't shoot yourself in the foot. No fun being in the zone missing a foot.
  00:00:45  28 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Nice ending on Thin Ice. Wonders how her return to the hospital worked out...
  06:14:36  29 August 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Glad you liked it. I'm sure she was very meek when she went back.

New Zone should be Thursday instead of Friday this week, I'll be travelling.
  11:00:27  29 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
08/29/2012 11:01:05
Messages: 1886
Yes, she will be meek but will they tie her to the bed or something? I'm pretty sure they will be talking in all caps.
  18:43:41  30 August 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
And we're back a day early; I'm back in town (and back to the internet) on Tuesday, Sep. 4 - in the meantime; the Zone!



Speaker for the Zone
Chapter 2

It couldn’t have ended any other way. The fog cleared, and the sun came out. The lab was still burning, the thick pillar of acrid black smoke trailing off to the east, high above. The Duty man with his knee jammed in my spine, and his sidearm pressed to my head didn’t say anything. In fact, there wasn’t much to hear except for the helicopters, and the sounds of the wounded. Duty was only treating its own, naturally. They weren’t executing Freedom’s wounded, but leaving them to bleed wasn’t much better.

A Duty officer struck a match and lit the pile of Freedom dead. Soon there were two pillars of smoke.

There were barely enough Duty and mercs left alive to keep us all under control – but there were enough. I didn’t struggle; there wasn’t any strength left to struggle with. It had all left me the moment Slayer’s body hit the ground.

The valley stank of blood and death, and there was no wind to carry it away. A Freedom man snarled something at one of the guards, who executed him without hesitation.

There was only one way this could have worked. Velvet’s plans had been airtight. She hadn’t planned for these numbers, but our perimeter security had been breached like it wasn’t even there. Someone had turned. Duty couldn’t have gotten the intel they needed to mount this operation without eyes on the inside.

And to bring in outsiders to do it for them… Velvet had never dreamed they would risk such shame – but they had, and apparently gladly. There had been a time when Duty had been a pure and noble ideal. Then there had been a time when it had still been noble, but misguided. Now it was just a tool for men who wanted the Zone to themselves, plain and simple. Duty was gone; now there was just this dictatorship instead.

Freedom was gone too. I could smell it burning behind me. Duty hadn’t killed us yet, but they would. If they hadn’t hesitated to do any of this, they couldn’t leave us alive.

We had known this was a changing Zone, a whole new world. None of us ever thought it would be a world without factions. There had been nothing wrong with Velvet’s plan; she had simply been too late to turn the tide.

As the past six months turned to ash behind us, I watched the Duty officers deliberating over Russett. They didn’t know who she was, or what to make of her. Dressed in Freedom fatigues, she was clearly no stalker. Her refusal to leave the Zone had surprised no one. If they killed her, it was my fault. I should have left with her then, after Tyrian’s death. But I couldn’t leave, and it no longer had anything to do with my promise to Velvet. I’d begun to see how meaningless that had been.

But this had not been inevitable. I’d had a choice, and I’d made the wrong one. The officer pointed, and the soldier knelt her beside some of the disarmed rookies. It wouldn’t be any better even if they didn’t kill her. This wasn’t the same Duty that had once been out to protect people from the evil of the Zone.

Another officer led Grigor out and forced him to his knees. The old man was gray and bloody. Crows circled overhead, and in the distance there was another helicopter approaching.

“When I killed your brother, I never imagined I’d be killing you too,” the Colonel said. He took out his Makarov, pressed it to Grigor’s head, and shot him. His body slumped over in the mud as the shot echoed around the valley.

He put the pistol away and motioned forward the two men holding Velvet. “The same for you,” he said. “I never imagined you would be this foolish.”

“I never imagined it would take you this long to work up the nerve,” she replied, meeting his eyes. The man behind her struck her with the stock of his rifle, and she fell. The Colonel kicked her savagely until she vomited blood and lay motionless. No, not motionless. She wanted her postcard, which had fallen to the ground, and lay out of reach. The Colonel slammed his boot down on her hand.

“You should have run when you had the chance,” he said, pressing down and twisting. Everyone in the valley could hear the bones in her hand breaking.

The Biker was passed out from blood loss. Sagaris had been tied up. Six men were holding down the Merc. I couldn’t see anyone else.

“This doesn’t hurt,” Velvet said, coughing up more blood. “This doesn’t hurt at all.”

“Enough.” He drew his Makarov again, but had to put up his arm against the sudden wind from the chopper overhead. It sank down, and a familiar figure in white leapt out, though Ever’s fatigues weren’t nearly as white as his face. The chopper lifted off, but Ever didn’t move. His eyes slipped from Grigor’s body to Velvet, to the prisoners, to the mound of burning dead, to the bonfires that represented our tents, buildings, and fortifications, lovingly built from the ground up over the last six months.

“Oh, what are you doing here?” The Colonel didn’t sound pleased.

Ever didn’t say anything, he just stared.

“Your plan worked,” the Colonel added. Ever looked over so sharply that the older man actually flinched.

“I warned you,” Ever said.

The Colonel’s face hardened. “You don’t warn me,” he said.

“No,” Ever said quietly, eyes distant. “Evidently not.” The Colonel didn’t seem to pick up on it. No surprise. He held out the Makarov.

“You want to do it?”

“May as well. It’s not my first time.” Ever took it and shot him in the face.

For a moment, no one knew what to do. The Colonel’s body crashed to the ground. Another officer started to shout something, but Ever kicked him onto the burning pile of bodies, and shot him when he tried get off it. The third officer wisely didn’t say anything, but that didn’t stop a foolish Duty soldier from shooting Ever in the back.

He didn’t even seem to feel it. He touched his chest where the round had punched through, looked at the blood on his fingers, and turned to give the Duty man a flat look. That was it. Until that moment, anything could have happened.

Very calmly, Ever made a few suggestions to the remaining officer, who wasted no time passing them on. Things started to move fast. Ever was doing a good job holding it together for a guy who’d just been shot in the chest, but it wouldn’t last. It obviously wasn’t a mortal wound, but Ever isn’t the machine he wants people to think he is.

“Let me up,” I said to the man holding me down. His focus was gone; I could’ve taken him out in a heartbeat if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to. Reluctantly, he got off, and I went to Velvet. She was hurt worse than I thought.

The mercs cleared off right away. Without them, the remains of the Duty assault force were even more pitiful. At Ever’s extremely frightening request, they left behind what supplies they could. But before the wounded could be treated, there was a general scramble to keep people from doing anything stupid. Freedom didn’t want to let Duty walk, but they didn’t see that it was the only way. A lot of Duty people weren’t buying that they should walk away from what was clearly a victory, especially one so costly. And there were a lot of Freedom people that wanted to snatch up a gun with Ever in mind. We’d all heard what the Colonel said.

Many of the wounded died. We were in the open, without even tents, much less supplies. Ever had pushed his luck just to back Duty off; there would be no asking them for help.

Ever collapsed. Velvet lost consciousness, leaving only myself and Sagaris to take charge. We did our best, and with the Merc’s incredible calm, somehow, we saved most of the wounded that could be saved. With Grigor gone, Russett was now the most experienced medic, and today justified the time she’d spent learning from him.

The Morton stalker and the stalker that had been accompanying him lately were there, but I had never been less interested.

Even the mutants knew to keep away from the valley now. In fact, I suspected it would stay clear for a very long time. Eventually, the fires went out.
  21:41:13  30 August 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Ever made the plan.... that was surprise. I can't wait for the explanation behind all this.
  01:59:20  6 September 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Speaker for the Zone
Chapter 3

Word traveled quickly.

By nightfall, there were enough loners at the ruins of Freedom HQ to make Duty’s horde look like a little mob. Even Clear Sky coughed up some medics and sent them over. The whole Zone had mobilized to help Freedom in its time of need.

That couldn’t change the fact that Velvet’s numbers had been decimated. She probably had nothing to fear from Duty anymore. In fact, nobody did. Duty was finished, now. They would be even more vilified than Bandits. Duty would regroup, and grow strong again – but they no longer had a future. The smart ones would leave the Zone or change sides. Another similar organization would probably turn up, but Duty was through. It was now only a matter of time.

Ever had deliberately stayed behind when the Duty men pulled out. That was his way of saying that it was time for him and his faction to part ways. His plan, the Colonel had said. Not exactly.

Ever had known that Duty would never allow Freedom to grow unchallenged. His first plan had been to delay the attack, to give Velvet time to dig in and gain strength, in the hopes that when he could stall them no longer, Duty would see that such a fight would be ill-advised.

That plan had failed. Ever had underestimated the hatred for Freedom harbored by Duty’s top men. He’d also overestimated their intelligence and moral fiber. “The last time I ever give anyone the benefit of the doubt,” he groaned, when he came around in the medical tent as men from Clear Sky pulled bits of lead from his chest.

No, Duty was dead set on driving Freedom out. And Ever hadn’t seen a way to stop it – but he had seen a way to prevent bloodshed. Freedom was richer than it had ever been, but it would still never match Duty’s resources, because a good business plan just wasn’t as good as being backed by numerous governments. Ever proposed a show of overwhelming force. Even if he overestimated Duty’s men, he knew Velvet was no fool. If Ever showed her a losing battle, she would have no choice but to fold.

He didn’t want to see Freedom die, but it was better than having the bloodiest showdown since the battle for Chernobyl. But that was exactly what we’d gotten. If they were going to go to the trouble to hire a few hundred mercs, why not use them?

Ever wasn’t as bad off as he should’ve been. Russett wouldn’t let him walk around, but he was calm and lucid as soon as he came around. I don’t know how it happened, but with Velvet out of commission, he was suddenly in charge. Not in any official capacity, but the Biker listened to him, and the Biker was Velvet’s second in command.

Before even a day had passed since the battle, he was already trying to figure out what Freedom was going to do. They had all the help they needed to get back on their feet, but Yantar was no longer such a desirable piece of real estate. They were going to have to find somewhere to go, and a way to move the wounded.

Yantar was just a graveyard now. Already some of the able-bodied well wishers were digging graves. Few of the burned corpses were recognizable, but at the very least they could have their own graves and markers, even if there were no names. A small forest of wooden crosses had already gone up, and the job was only half-done.

The Biker shouldn’t have been on his feet, but someone had to be the executor of Ever’s decisions. Sagaris did his best to back him up.

It was a mess. None of us would ever be able to get rid of the stench of burned flesh. They were trying to get people fed after dark when I found myself a little way off, looking at the stars. Russett found me. We hadn’t spoken all day; we’d both been too busy. She’d brought me a shirt; I don’t know where she got it. I pulled it on.

She looked tired, and a little blank. Our generators had all been destroyed; there was nothing but firelight for us now. Russett and I were well outside it, standing in shadow, apart from the others. She smelled vaguely of the alcohol wipes she’d used to clean her hands, though her fatigues were still sodden with the blood of the people she’d been trying to help.

“How’s Velvet?”

“She’ll live.”

“And the Biker?”

“Not if he doesn’t slow down. Between him and that English guy, they seem to have it under control.”

“He’s German,” I said absently, putting my arm around her.

“I saw that guy.”

“I wish I had.”

“It was him or Sagaris. You aren’t coming back this time, are you?” She found my right hand and rubbed it gently.

“I’m not making the script here.”

“I guess not. What’s going to happen?”

“One way or another, they’ll rebuild. They have to. If they don’t, there’ll be a vacuum, and Duty will capitalize on it, and this will have been for nothing. Ever knows it. Even if Velvet doesn’t…”

“Pull through?”

I nodded. “He’ll still do it. And the Biker will back him up. He won’t let Duty win. And the Merc will stay with Velvet.”

“That big guy isn’t very upfront with his feelings, is he?” It was not at all strange that we were talking like this after the events of the day. What were we supposed to talk about? The slaughter?

“He’s complicated,” I said.

“Good thing him and the Biker haven’t figured each other out yet. There’ll be trouble when they do. Sagaris found this.” She held out Lunch Box. It was muddy, but still in one piece. A good cleaning and it would probably be all right. It took it and hefted it. The gun felt depressingly heavy. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I handed it back. She looked vaguely surprised. Neither one of us had enough left after the day to muster up much more than this.

“I don’t plan to do any more shooting anytime soon,” I said. “I’ve had enough.”

“Me too.”

“Should we go?”

“You serious?”

“I guess.”

“You can’t, though.”

“I think I can. Now.”

“But you shouldn’t.”

“Maybe not.”

“I want to stay with Velvet.” Russett really did. Anything was better than facing the outside world without her sister, even the Zone. What was actually best for her – well, I’d stopped having opinions on things like that quite a few bodies ago. There was always work for a good medic in the Zone. Keeping busy helping people kept Russett going. I understood that. I also understood she wouldn’t be any safer anywhere else. The Dane was still out there, and he’d been paid for two sisters, not one.

“I’m sorry.”

“Next few weeks,” she said, looking over her shoulder at the makeshift camp. “There wasn’t going to be much time for us anyway.”

She was right about that. If it was a mess now, that was nothing compared to what it would be tomorrow, and the day after. Would Bandits show up with funny ideas? Would Duty try to pull something together to finish the job, and Ever with it? Was there a way for the local mercs to benefit from this situation? The military? Any outside governments?

The actual body count was nothing compared to the battle for Chernobyl, but it was still too high. The stalker population still hadn’t gotten back to normal, and now Duty, which did most of the heavy lifting in terms of keeping the Zone in check, would be down to a skeleton crew.

Things would get worse before they got better. The battle for Chernobyl had strengthened the Zone, and so had the recent changes. I was ready to bet the rate of expansion had doubled in the last twenty four hours.

“Do you at least know where you’re going this time?”

“No idea.”

“Figures.” I pulled her a little closer. It was cold out, and she was warm. For all I knew, the last warmth I was going to feel for a long time. “You remember how mad Velvet was last time? This time it’s going to be a lot worse.”

“No helping it.”

“I guess not.” At least there was someone who understood. That was worth something to me.

“Wait a minute,” she said, pulling away. “You aren’t – you mean you’re going now?”

“I think so.”

“You’re not even going to take a gun?”

“What for?”

She sighed and hugged me. “Then this is it.”

“You can come if you like.”

“Velvet needs me more than you do.”

“I guess.”

“How long have we been here?”

She meant the Ukraine.

A few minutes ago I’d have been able to tell her. Months or years, it didn’t matter. Time was different in the Zone. “I don’t remember.”

It was tempting to let the hug just go on and on. Letting go is the hardest part, but I did it. This was not a tearful parting. We both understood the situation, in our own ways. I was very grateful for that, and I expect Russett was too.
  12:18:05  8 September 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
So it's splitting up time. Am pretty curious about what happens to Mist.
  22:10:21  8 September 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Speaker for the Zone
Chapter 4

“Don’t mention it. Just go south, and around the bog, don’t go in it, even though you can see across. If you go in there, you won’t come out. Just take the long way over the rocks. If you see any caves or crevices, stay away from them.”

“Got it.” The two stalkers supported a third, bandaged, but alive.

I saluted them with the ration bar they’d given me in exchange for directions.

It’s not easy to walk the Zone with nothing but the clothes on your back and a canteen.

They headed off south, and I sat down on a rock to rest and think about my next move.

It was a beautiful day. A deep blue sky, bright sun, fluffy clouds. I was at low elevation, so the darkness of Chernobyl wasn’t looming on the horizon to kill the buzz. Even the crows, if there were any around, had decided to shut up for a bit. You could almost think this was just a national park somewhere.

I decided to keep going, through the trees, down the hill, and into the ravine. There was some water there, maybe from an underground spring, or maybe just pooled rainwater from the storm two nights ago.

It had been over a week since what everyone was now calling the Massacre at Yantar. That was a little misleading; Duty and its adjuncts had sustained far more grievous losses than Freedom, taken in proportion.

But the Zone was outraged, and what I did pick up from the stalkers I encountered on the road was encouraging. It sounded like Velvet, though still unable to walk, was at least able to shout, though from what I heard, it pained her, which just made her shout more. Whatever she was doing, with the support of Ever and the Biker, it was working.

Freedom couldn’t just bounce back, but it could very easily have choked and died in the aftermath of that bloody battle. It hadn’t. Velvet wouldn’t let it. Not before her year was up. I smiled at the thought and crouched by the water to take a drink. There was a cavern on the other side of the clear pool, which I eyed warily for a moment.

Duty was having great difficulty. As time passed, more damning information was coming to light. The Colonel’s actions had cost many Duty lives, and even more Duty personnel, disgusted by the affair, had quit. Some had even defected to Freedom to make amends. If what I heard was true, at the moment, Duty only had about double the manpower that Freedom did – the smallest margin in memory.

Of course, it wouldn’t last. Duty’s backers would pour more money into them, and memory of this ugly chapter in the Zone’s history would fade. People seemed to remember the Battle at Chernobyl clearly enough, but that had been much bigger; it had probably involved one out of every three stalkers in the Zone. Of course they remembered. This had been a trifling little scuffle by comparison. But people would still remember.

They’d remember that Duty had been so scared of a woman that it brought all its friends and still lost.
Not a killing blow for an organization with as much money to throw around as Duty, but at least they got to bleed a little.

I got up and moved on into the gully. It was overhung with trees, and soon I was walking in very pleasant shade. I’d never been here before; in fact, I’d never been anywhere near this place – and I’d done some traveling during my six months with Freedom. There could be anything in a forgotten corner of the Zone like this; who would know?

The night before I’d found signs of cultists in the area. I wasn’t exactly looking for them, per say, but if I found them, I could at least warn other stalkers. That wasn’t what I was out here for, though. I had come for something else.

Velvet had known something like Duty’s assault was possible. In fact, despite what the Morton Stalker had done for her, I think a part of her expected it. I knew about the events that had shaped her worldview, and I knew she always expected the worst. And she’d gotten it. But she shouldn’t have.

We could say that she gambled and lost – but would that be true? That was what I’d left Freedom to find out. And I’d stumbled over all sorts of interesting things along the way. There were plenty of stalkers who needed help out of tight spots, and plenty of sights to see in the Zone. The place never runs out of things to show you. I’d found a hidden vale south of the plateau that was quite breathtaking, and some bizarre rock formations that I seriously doubted had natural origins.

I’d witnessed a drinker mixing it up with a boar twice his size, and winning. There had been a blowout that changed the landscape right in front of my eyes as I walked through it.

I hadn’t seen the Morton Stalker since Yantar. Chernobyl was darkening steadily on the horizon.
Bandits were out in force, now that both Duty and Freedom were substantially weakened, and loners were traveling in pairs and groups to counter them. Every day I found another body, or clear signs of a brief, but brutal shootout or ambush.

I found a stash beneath the rickety planks bridging a small creek, packed with candy bars. I only took one. Later I gave a lost rookie directions to the rookie camp, and realizing he couldn’t get there on his own, escorted him. The fat trader there fed me an excellent meal, and a local trainer tried to recruit me to drive some bandits from a nearby establishment. I declined. It wasn’t my place to get involved in petty conflicts anymore.

I found the PDA of a stalker who was, after listening to some of his audio logs, clearly quite mad. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of any good therapists in the Zone, and the man was probably dead by now anyway. It didn’t seem fair. Life in the Zone was hard enough for sane people, but then again, what were sane people doing here in the first place?

I didn’t have to worry about Freedom or Russett worrying about me; I was encountering enough people that word had to be getting around that I was still up and about. News about Freedom was too easy to get. The same couldn’t be said of Duty, but that was no surprise. In their humiliation, of course they were playing things close to the chest.

As for Russett, well, sooner or later my meandering course would take me close to wherever Freedom decided to set up shop – so far I hadn’t heard anything to indicate they’d moved yet, and that made sense. They wouldn’t move until the wounded were fit to travel, and it was still too soon for that. There was plenty of prime real estate – much of it more desirable than Yantar. We’d only been there for Grigor. Though I’d have preferred to have Grigor alive and be stuck at Yantar to the current situation.

I bet Velvet was chafing to get away from Yantar. It wouldn’t be long before she mobilized and moved the operation; the sooner they moved, the sooner real rebuilding could take place.

As an outsider, I would have thought that in light of recent events, the Zone would be a dark and ugly place in times like these, with stalkers at an all time low, and everything else coming out of the woodwork. No one could navigate anymore without the satellite maps. That was a stroke of luck for Freedom, because stalkers were actively seeking other places where stalkers gathered to pool their information.

I stopped and folded my arms, looking up into the dark trees.

“I know you’re not real, but it doesn’t bother me if you want to come along,” I said honestly. It really didn’t. I knew he was up there – the stalker in black.

“Where are we going?” he called down.

“We find out when we get there,” I replied. “Why don’t you come down? It’s weird to have you following like I can’t see you.”

“Most people can’t.”

That, I believed. “Come on, what do you have to be afraid of? People will think I’m talking to myself. Not a good sign, talking to yourself. Especially not for someone with my reputation,” I added.

“Afraid? I’m just shy.”

Indeed, this stalker did have a bit of a reedy voice, and the glimpses I’d gotten of him hadn’t made him out to be very big. But at least he wasn’t a total shrimp, like Venge, who had, despite his small size, somehow managed to come through the battle alive.

“Are you doing a funny voice on purpose?” I called up.

“That’s not very nice!” the stalker called back from the shadowed boughs.

“I didn’t mean anything by it.”

There was a ruffled silence. Then very suddenly, a dark figure landed beside me without a sound. It was the first time I’d seen the specter up close. The bloodstains on his black fatigues looked fresh, but ghosts don’t bleed. Neither do hallucinations. But they do, now that I looked a little closer, have remarkably slender and girlish physiques. I realized I’d made a faulty assumption.

“You’re not a guy,” I said stupidly.

“Hmm?”

“Nothing.”

“Shall we go?”

“You got a name?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Have it your way, Stranger.”

“I will, thank you. What now?”

“It’s a big Zone out there.” I turned east and shaded my eyes against the sun. “And we’ve got a little time yet. Let’s go exploring.”



---

Big newspost on the blog, too much to link here - might want to check it out.
http://pseudozone.blogspot.com/
  17:06:42  14 September 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Aargh, how am I going to survive without my weekly story fixes?
  21:17:30  17 September 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Well, it's at least *possible* that the Atrophy ebook will be released while I'm gone, so you can keep an eye out for that. In any case, thanks for sticking with the stories.

Zone should start up again in 9-10 weeks. That's not so long.

But I leave today! It'll be interesting to see how I write about all these military people once I've actually *had* some military training...

Take care, everyone.
  22:42:23  17 September 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Take care yourself, try not to damage any tanks

9-10 weeks... If Atrophy is released within that time frame I sure know what to do. If not, well, at least it looks like I've got some beta testing to do while waiting.
  14:05:54  19 November 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
I'm back. Story's back on this week. Training was fun. I think Atrophy's scheduled for the 26th.
  14:34:55  19 November 2012
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belizarius
Strelok Holmes
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On forum: 09/02/2009
 

Message edited by:
belizarius
11/19/2012 14:35:07
Messages: 222

---QUOTATION---
I'm back. Story's back on this week. Training was fun. I think Atrophy's scheduled for the 26th.
---END QUOTATION---


Welcome back, recruit
  20:34:01  23 November 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Thanks. I'll be shooting for new Zone chapters on Saturdays. (Maybe not this Saturday, since I just posted a new one yesterday, but you get the idea.)
  21:56:07  23 November 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
I see your writing skills have not suffered while you have been away.
Welcome back
  03:49:21  22 December 2012
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Thanks. Happy holidays, internet. Gonna be a few new chapters between now and the new year.
  13:48:56  22 December 2012
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
12/22/2012 13:49:29
Messages: 1886
Merry Christmas.

I've brought you a gift:

Wrapping

Wrapping

Wrapping

Wrapping

Wrapping

Wrapping

Wrapping

Wrapping

Bought both your books at amazon (Kindle versions).
  21:19:19  31 December 2012
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Hauuu
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On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Thanks! I'll see if we can't manage a happy new year chapter tomorrow before we go back to regular schedule.
  14:16:17  6 January 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
As far as I can tell, your absense have not had a negative effect on your writing.
  23:57:45  2 February 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Aannnd, Westmoreland arrived on the scene. Great reading
  03:42:25  5 February 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
 

Message edited by:
Hauuu
02/05/2013 3:42:44
Messages: 97
Glad you like it. Coming up on 200! Kinda blows my mind.
  10:52:50  5 February 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Great, then you are almost halfway to the 500
  02:07:03  26 March 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
That's actually not impossible.
  11:03:40  26 March 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Sounds great

In other news, I bought your latest book at amazon a few days ago.
  02:25:09  28 March 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Thanks. Did it turn out all right? Once I'm comfortable with the process, I'll try to release something actually new. (Eva and God Morgen are just basically re-issues.)
  13:11:29  28 March 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Must admit I haven't read it yet as I'm saving it for reading during Easter. I'm pretty confident though that you will not let your readers down.
  01:03:30  31 March 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Have just read Evangeline - Kindle version.

First time I've read the story in one go and I really enjoyed it. There is just one thing I don't understand. It's when Harry and Sides are in Harry's motel room drawing a map over the surroundings and trying to figure out where the real stuff is hidden. It goes like this, the part I don't understand is in bold:

--------------------------------
“I like her. I mean, she’s obviously insane to try to stand up to the cartel – but she’s still alive, so what does that tell you? She must know what she’s doing. You don’t think the Prospect would lose his cool over a woman?”

“I can’t see it. Unless it’s the one Riles was talking about. I've never seen him that pissed before.”

“You know anything about that?”

“Nope. And I’m not asking.”
--------------------------------

I don't remember Riles being talking about any specific woman while being pissed. My guess is it's related to the scene where Frank uses Riles's head to break a table though I'm not sure.
  00:48:25  12 April 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.

Yes, Harry was talking about what Riles said just before Frank KO'd him. Riles was talking about Velvet; he doesn't know her name, but she's seen him drag Frank home from Megachat after passing out drinking, so that's what he meant when he called her a pack mule. Because she basically has to carry Frank around.
  13:18:56  13 April 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
That was Velvet Riles was pissed about? Really didn't get that one as Velvet is not mentioned anywhere in Evangeline (The first time I read Evangeline I thought Evangeline was Velvet using an alias but then Velvet has an accent and Evangeline doesn't).

Actually I thought Riles was saying something really bad about Franks mother which as far as I know is close to being the same as writing ones own death sentence when among bikers.
  19:56:47  13 April 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Oh - when Harry says he's never seen him so pissed, he means Frank. It's the first time he's seen him lose his temper. I don't think Frank would bite on jabs at her mother from an American.
  20:40:08  13 April 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Oh, it's Frank he means.... If Frank would bite on jabs at his mother, only you know.

Nice chapter 207, looks like things are to speed up a bit. You are forgiven for delaying chapter 206
  14:07:11  20 April 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
You have taken down the pseudoatrophy site at blogspot?
  16:48:30  20 April 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Ha! Can't believe anybody noticed that. Not down, just relocated and improved. I'll talk about it when I post today's chapter. Sorry!
  17:47:24  20 April 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
04/20/2013 21:18:20
Messages: 1886
I've been checking it almost daily in the faint hope of a new short story popping up

Nice appetizer for Biome.

Poulain et al are nuts! Unfortunately there are noone to tell them and even if there were, I'm sure they wouldn't listen.
  04:38:13  30 April 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97

---QUOTATION---
I've been checking it almost daily in the faint hope of a new short story popping up
---END QUOTATION---



Got you covered, sir.
  22:25:53  30 April 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Yes, I noticed, and looks like a promising cover if you keep up the quality - even if you lied.
  21:27:56  7 May 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
05/07/2013 21:28:39
Messages: 1886
Looks like you know how to creep out most people: supersized insects and arachnids
  17:29:13  12 May 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Yeah, I'm kind of a one trick pony that way - but I don't do well with bugs, so they're always an effective creature feature against me.
  20:06:33  12 May 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
05/12/2013 20:09:54
Messages: 1886
I'll remember that

[bad pun]So you really dislikes when people are bugging you? [/bad pun]

To be honest I wouldn't like having a dinnerplate sized spider on the loose where I live. Same goes for some of the creepy crawlies you can find in damp places. It's not that I have any fobi, I just get some kind of getting the creeps having them crawling on me, uff.
  22:20:42  13 May 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Just read 'Rush' chp 1 . Old 'playmates' at it again I assume? Interesting way of starting the story.
  21:24:45  14 May 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Just read chp 2. My gut says Frank got off too easily.
  17:07:01  26 May 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
It's looking like Rush will be on Wednesdays.
  19:42:16  26 May 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
"Rush" on Wednesdays and "Speaker for the Zone" in the Weekends, works for me. Will be interesting if those nasty guys in "Rush" will find out forcing Frank to play in their nasty game will place them between a rock and a hard place.
  13:21:30  2 June 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
You write in Rush chapter 5 that the Les Baer H.C. 40 Pistol magazine holds 17 rounds. According to this site:

http://www.americanrifleman.org/ArticlePage.aspx?id=1714&cid=19

it holds 18 rounds.

Besides that: Keep up the good work
  00:59:36  9 June 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Can't wait to hear how Velvet et al got out of that hole in the ground.
  04:07:59  14 June 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Good eye. I'll correct that when I collect the serial into book form.

I don't know how it happened, but the Dane's gone from being a throwaway/mcguffin type character to becoming an actual part of the supporting cast. Please don't be offended by anything she says or does; I only borrowed your nationality for her title; her personality evolved on its own, and she's turned into something completely different from what I originally intended.
  11:05:33  14 June 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
06/14/2013 11:07:48
Messages: 1886
If I ever see him/her in a Stalker game I will kill him/her very slow, that is unless you find some way to redeem him/her.

Honestly I don't like reading what she/he does but I also feel a bit honored I'm indirectly in your book. It is your books and your stories and it's up to you what happens and what does not.

Double on your writing.
  02:20:49  15 June 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Thanks. Just keep in mind it's not you. She just happens to be called the Dane. (She might not even be Danish.) If you'd been Estonian, she'd have been The Estonian, but she'd still be the same person.

*I'm* honored there are people who've stuck with the story this long. If not for the guys like you that hang with it, I'd have moved on to other projects long ago.

Incidentally, I saw my first ever Danish movie pretty recently. 'Adam's Apples' with Mads Mikkelson (love that guy). Movie impressed the hell out of me. Shoutouts to Denmark.
  13:19:23  15 June 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
I know it's not "me" being The Dane. But keep in mind how the The Dane got the name . As I prefer playing "good guy" in games I feel it's okay to want to kill her/him if I ever see "The Dane" in a Stalker game.

Thanks for the kind words about "Adam's Apples" and Mads Mikkelsen. I've never seen that movie but I've seen a few with Mads Mikkelsen and also finds he's a great actor.
  19:28:11  1 August 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
 

Message edited by:
PCDania
08/01/2013 19:29:46
Messages: 1886
Rush Chapter 014

Did Frank have two lists in his pocket?

>>
Frank leaned down and hauled him to his feet, then rammed him against the wall. "Seriously. Shut up. We wouldn't be in this situation if you had a little goddamn sense." Frank took a list from his pocket. "I'm going to the Butterfly. I'm going to find out what I can."

"I'm coming too."

He'd been drinking. They'd all been drinking. That was a very poor way to cope with a crisis. Dale, Kick, and Harry were supposed to be the three sensible Revelators. And here they were, moping and taking out their frustration on Frank. Shady Springs had rattled Harry more than Frank realized.

The old man was soft, but he was a competent leader. Or at least, he had been. Had the business with Eli finished him off? That was the another day's problem.

"You're going to go sober up." Frank took a list from his pocket and held it up. "Then you're going to get me this stuff. You're going to have it for me by the time I get back. You know damn well there isn't much we can do for him at this point, but I'm going to do it. You understand?"

Kick swallowed. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the bricks, then nodded. He took the list, and Frank let him go.
<<

Looks a little strange to me but could just be me being non-English native speaking.
  01:52:51  2 August 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
No, that's just an oversight on my part. Sorry! I'll fix it. (And thanks.)
  22:12:07  8 August 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Rush chapter 015:
Teeth grinding, we went back to the Valkyrie and got on.

Should be: Teeth grinding, he went back to the Valkyrie and got on.

Though a powerful act of will, he took his hand off the 1911 in his belt.

I think this should be:

Through a powerful act of will, he took his hand off the 1911 in his belt.

Sorry for the nit picking. Keep up the good work
  01:41:00  9 August 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
You're killing me, man. (Thanks.)
  11:03:16  9 August 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Sorry if I'm bothering you.
Thought you would like to know about the errors I find so they are easier to find when proofreading before you publish the story.
  04:18:22  11 August 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
No, you're definitely helping me. It's just a reminder that I need to QC better. I appreciate it.
  14:10:25  5 October 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Checks link.... *Next Chapter Soon* arrrrgh the waiting time. Reminds myself that "haste makes waste".
  17:19:08  11 October 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
At least the story is not hit by the US government shutdown.
  12:53:00  24 October 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Nice piece

Hoping they find some shoes or boots pretty soon. No fun running around barefooted in the dark.
  19:51:42  2 November 2013
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
I'm sorry, releases are really irregular right now. Things will get back to the reliable (mostly) new chapter every week schedule.
  14:49:00  10 November 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Good read, though there is a 'y' too many
  18:31:11  30 December 2013
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CCR
(Senior)
 
On forum: 02/22/2011
Messages: 51
Hi

to all STALKERS

i'm big fan of stalker game i think it's major better to all other shoot em up game

If yuo want to make some real/good visit to the zone of prypiat
i just read on the web that there some way to visit the city of Kiew in UKRAINE AND ALSO MAKE A GUIDATE/VISIT near Prypiat

some know about the cost for the visit/tour?
  19:59:06  30 December 2013
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Hi CCR

I'm afraid you are asking in the wrong forum. This forum is for posting Stalker stories. Try make a thread regarding this in the General forum at the top of the main forum page.
  20:44:45  11 January 2014
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PCDania
The Dane
(Resident)

 

 
On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Welcome back and happy new year Hauuu

Nice seing you are still a capable writer.

Not for nagging you but:

Chapter 225 it says:
"People who wanted to the bust the myth."
Guess that should say "People who wanted to bust the myth."

"He’d already ready taught her to pick locks"
Guess that should be: "He’d already taught her to pick locks"

Don't know if I overlooked anything.

And something else. What about people (like me) who don't use Twitter?
  02:33:01  16 January 2014
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Hauuu
(Senior)
 
On forum: 09/02/2011
Messages: 97
Right, as always. Thanks.

You don't have to have a twitter account to read a feed.
  19:20:35  15 February 2014
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Good reading as always . Can't wait to get to know a little more about The Protectorate though I fear for the outcome of an eventual meeting with their henchmen and goons.

Found one case of a missing 'c' in arctic. You might like to proofread from chapter 226. Your military training has a negative effect on the time and energy you have for proofreading.
  22:04:12  15 July 2014
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
Still reading. Can't believe you are still getting better. Looks like you are under pressure while writing, not because the uploads are delayed, but minor errors you have overlooked while proof reading.
  19:49:24  27 July 2014
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PCDania
The Dane
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On forum: 09/22/2007
Messages: 1886
It's a trap!!
 
Each word should be at least 3 characters long.
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Forum Index » S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Forum » Stalker stories
 

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