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The Loss of Innocence by Ben Goldman

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The Loss of Innocence by Ben Goldman

In the 20th century, there lived a man named Darwin. His idea of scientific Darwinism stated that only the strongest survived. Originally, Darwin only spoke of animals, plants, simple creatures without evolved minds. It is known that this set off a spark in the entire religious world as this theory disproved god and disproved the absurdity of organized religion. Darwin was accused of being a heretic, the anti-Christ, a demon and all the other names set aside for a man who defied religion, even though Darwin never touched the topic of human instinct, only animal instinct. However, we now know that it doesn’t matter if Darwin was talking about animals, plants, humans, molecules, whatever, because the line between animal and human has since been erased. If Darwin was right about animal instinct, it includes human instinct. And as I look down the barrel of this gun, I wonder if I’m one of the strong. I’ve come all this way, killed more "things" than I can count, and yet I am so weak. Why is this? Why, after all the power I have taken away from others, I still feel powerless? In the end it won’t matter. If Darwin disproved god, if everyone else was wrong, in the end I will stop being. There won’t be a heaven or a hell. There won’t be anything waiting for me and I will have lived my life in vain, because if I had died an infant, than I wouldn’t have made any more of a difference once dead then I will now. But what if there is God? Will I be meeting all these figures I killed in heaven or hell? Of course they say we’re fighting for a good cause. "You’ll serve your country," they used to say. Who gives a crap about serving their country? Someone who can be persuaded into dying for a country don’t fear god because it isn’t people that make up the entire spectrum of good and bad, it’s the divine. I’ve never been able to tell why it is someone can be able to feel happy or sad, good or evil, etc. As far as I know, neither have any scientists, doctors, historians and philosophers. Some scientists say that it is a coping mechanism, but I think that’s a load of crap. The only explanation seems to be that god does exist. But how can that be if that goes against everything that has made sense up to now? Why the hell can’t we just die without these thoughts? If it was a coping mechanism, maybe we should die happy. If it was god, maybe he should make us happy when we die. None of this makes any god-damned sense. So maybe that’s just it. Maybe life doesn’t make any sense. Maybe there’s no order, reason, theory, science, anything. It’s all random. In the end, that theory seems to makes the most sense.
Ever since the Zone went up into the sky and unexplainable phenomena’s started to occur, it got the religious nutcases even more radical. "It’s Satan’s passage onto Earth," some of them cry referring to the Zone. Well they don’t know shit because they haven’t been there. They don’t realize what the Zone is. It isn’t some passage or fiery pit – it’s a loss of innocence. Once you walk into the Zone you better be prepared to do things you would never imagine doing before. In all the old mob movies, everyone ends up dead because someone stabbed someone else in the back. Well, the government isn’t much better. All they are is just larger and "follow" a constitution, though "follow" is being used loosely here. And that’s how I got into this situation. Apparently there are a couple corporations and small government agencies that are looking for some very important object in the Zone. Because the only way to get in is through the CZA (Commission of Zone Access) which takes months to obtain a grant to get in, certain divisions of the government are buying out towns, communities and other small residential areas near the Zone and giving them protection while at the same time illegally smuggling groups of trained soldiers in through checkpoints at night. Then there are the large corporations that simply bribe their way through the checkpoints. At first, this doesn’t even seem all too bad. It makes sense that the more people helping the Zone and searching the wastes will only help to one day be able to regulate the entire Zone and because of the radiation, new species of plants have evolved and it could even create an entirely new field of agriculture one day. However, there are two problems: the first problem is the resistance coming from mutants. The second problem is the resistance when these organizations collide. Sometimes one group will just capture the others but most of the time it will end in a bloodbath. While it would make sense to join forces, because of the animosity between the rivaling organizations to find this "unknown" (and probably inexistent) object, these encounters almost always end in someone else dying. And why doesn’t anyone do anything about it? Because the outside world can’t know they were there to begin with. Only granted organizations can be caught inside or else their entire operation outside of the Zone may be shut down and their chance of finding the "holy grail" will be diminished entirely.

Like I said before, I’m looking down the barrel of a gun now. I’m sure he is thinking something similar to what I’m thinking as my gun is in his face too. We’re not much different him and I and the astronomical occurrences that somehow led us both to this situation boggles my mind. It is only possible through some outside force that could lead friends to threatening each other with life. Right now, I am god. So is he. We’re both gods waiting to cast our finger on each other. We have equal strength and are afraid to use it because the outcome of when gods collide is definite and unchangeable. However, no matter how godlike the situation may be- we still are here because of human reasons.

Earlier today two organizations collided in some kind of old prison. However, this particular prison wasn’t abandoned. Two organizations had been led there following the belief that some group of armed marauders was hiding out there and that they actually knew where this thing we were all looking for was. Though the information was good, someone had gotten there before the other two groups did and massacred every person in the prison. I was part of a Stalker armed division and when we got there, we saw hundreds dead. We were all horrified and many began vomiting and bawling over the site. After about an hour of being there and searching the prison, we noticed another division heading towards the building. Frantic that it may be the same army that massacred all these men, we took positions in the windows and as the army came over the hill, some of the men must have spotted us as they began opening fire. We quickly returned fire as we ducked with the muzzles of our guns blaring out the window with the loud cacophony of gunshots. It was about an hour into the battle when the enemy troops began to die down. As always, someone had to be sent out to check on the enemy and me being one of the heads, I took a group of soldiers out there to check if they were all dead. As we made our ways to the hill, the first body appeared. Cautiously, we crawled over to it and as I checked the corpse that had been depressingly curled into the fetal position, a sense of panic crept over me as I found out that these troops were US Military personnel whose job before this had solely been to defend the borders. And these guys were obviously new at the game. They donned clean clothes, new weapons and plenty of ammo. Some had pictures of family with them, others had CD players and some even had cameras. If they had been in the Zone long enough, they would have known that there is nothing they want to remember about being here. When you tag an enemy troop, you may leave the Zone to find out he was your next door neighbor working for some small government organization. It was horrifying and if people outside knew what went on in here; revolution would ring once again as the national anthem. Instead the Government has gotten some pretty decent propaganda up all over preaching about mutant armies and monsters – trying to scare us all up. Sure on our trips we encounter mutants and crap and even though 95% of the time our gunfire goes to the beasts, those other 5% goes to the man. And this time, we got more than just man. We got military. The ones trying so hard to defend our country we just mowed down with the merciless prejudice of our bullets. And it was when I found this out that I needed no more information – they were all dead. So as I ran back to the prison to consult with the other heads, all I could think of is how we must get out of here.

When I burst inside the prison, the heads recognized something was wrong. Out of breath, I panted to them three words; "They’re US military." As I said this, the realization hit me that these heads were conflicted and all at once they burst their thoughts.

"We can’t let this stop us! We have to continue," said the fourth head. "No, if the military is out here whatever they’re looking for they will find. We need to go back," said the second head. But it was the third of four heads that brought about this situation. "We take their supplies, their gear, and their weapons and continue." At the sound of those words being released from his mouth, a sense of panic overcame me as I knew that it is what was going to happen. It was as if he knew all along what to do and had been planning. "No… No we can’t do this," said the second head. "You have no say. It is decided that that is the best course of action to take and no matter whom they are, they’re just human," replied the third. It was then that the second head lost it. "I won’t let you do this!" he shouted. "I’m getting out of here. We came here to find something. What it is we don’t have a damn clue! All we know is a few small facts how to identify it and now you are telling us finding this piece of non-extant crap allows us to fight our own government-" it was then that the third head held his gun out to the second head causing a reaction of guns to be drawn on the third head. The third then said to the second "You’re not doing anything. You are coming with us or I will fire into your skull this second. You won’t make it back alive if you leave on your own, anyway." The second head then stopped and looked at the third head. "You know that you will be killed if you fire on me," said the second head. "So be it," the third man said in response. "Fine," said the second head. "Have it your way. But don’t think you’ll get very far." The third head then lowered his gun and smiled. "Wise decision."

After that, we left. There was an entirely different attitude we all had after that. We were holding military rifles from slain soldiers, we wore whatever vests that was unharmed, and we drank from military canteens and ate military food. It was as though the Zone had been perverted with the innocence of military men. Before this, it had been as though anyone who had entered the Zone entered it with the knowledge that they would have to do things outside of the law of the outside world. They would have to kill men not associated with a foreign country – but men associated from within their country. But now that military was here, they brought along with them rules, standards and the dreadful "constitution" that seemed not to apply within the Zone. It was as though everything the Zone stood for would be "pacified" by the military. Death and destruction occurred within the Zone and though the madness could drive a man insane, without the radiation, the mutants, the warring groups, the hazardous conditions, without all the madness, the Zone would just be another tourist attraction similar to the Alamo. Nobody wanted that. We knew what needed to be done and we did it. Without the freedom from the law, nothing could be done. But even though we all knew this, nobody wanted to kill military. The only thing we wanted was to know was what in the hell were they doing here.

When night fell, we stopped by in an old warehouse to camp for the night. Star light glittered through the bullet-hole littered roof of the warehouse. We had about two dozen troops left and they were all already making up stories and rumors concerning the military encounter earlier. As we all settled into the warehouse, us four heads decided to meet again to chart how we are going to make it to our next target. We gathered in a separate building right outside of the warehouse. Piling into the room, we all looked exhausted and beat. The fourth head said "Well, which route do you think we’ll take tomorrow?"

For the next half an hour we had discussed which route would be best to take. In the end, the decision to take a route on an abandoned highway was agreed upon and we decided to resign for the night. As we all walked out, the third head whispered carefully to me, "Meet me here in an hour." At first, this rather unexpected request seemed strange but as my mind rationalized, I came to believe he was probably going to apologize for earlier or some crap. I walked back into the warehouse and took out a book and flashlight I had taken as the only leisure I would ever receive on this trip.

When I had settled down a soldier walked over to me and asked which book I was reading. "Dr Faustus," I replied. The soldier looked at me and made a gesture as if he knew which book it was though he clearly didn’t.

"Who’s it by?" he said as if knowing the author would have made the slightest difference on the recollection of the book.

"Thomas Mann," I responded irritated.

"Ah, haven’t read it," he assured me as if I hadn’t figured it out before.

"Why don’t you get some rest? We have a damn long journey tomorrow," I said hastening. It was only ten minutes before I had to meet the third head.

"Alright, cap’n. I’ll see yah tomorrow."

I then got up and made my way to the outside meeting room where I found the third head already waiting there for me.

"Sorry, I thought it was-" I started before he interrupted me.

"No, no. You’re right on time. I’m just a bit early."

"So what’s this about?" I asked.

"Do you mind if I call you by your name?"

"If you’d like."

"Al, you are the only guy I trust with this. We share similar ideologies. We’re friends wouldn’t you say?"

"Sure, John, sure we’re friends."

"Were you troubled by what I pulled earlier?"

"Well, I thought you were acting a bit rash but considering it probably worked out the best for everyone –especially the second head-" then John interrupted me.

"Please, we’re not officers right now. Call him by his name."

"Alright. It ended out the best for Bill because you were right, he probably would have died if he had gone out. You did frighten us all but I think you knew what you were doing."

"Exactly." He said rather arrogantly.

"However, that’s not what you called me out here for is it?"

"No, no. Al, I know what it is we’re looking for."

"What? You- you know what it-"

"Yes, I know what it is. Al, it’s a god-damn bomb. It’s a bomb, Al. A big one also. I found this out before we entered the Zone."

"Oh, Christ. We’ve been looking for a bomb all this time?"

"Yeah, Al. It was what they were working on when Chernobyl blew. When the first Stalkers were sent in, they found some scientists that had the plans but not the core. Of course those scientists are dead now, but the core is somewhere in the Zone and that’s why everyone is looking for it. It’s a god-damn Apocalypse bomb. And I know where it is. Everything to now has lead to the place we’re arriving tomorrow at."

And then bam- my heart sunk. When I found out that all we have ever been looking for – all the killing – was for a bomb to kill even more, I couldn’t take it. "Jesus, John, all this has been for a bomb? That’s why the military all of a sudden got involved, isn’t it?"

"Obviously."

"We can’t let them find it, John. The world could be devastated. We can’t let anyone find it."

"No. Not if America finds it. They’d know what to do. I suggest we give the military all the leads and let them get it. Otherwise another country may find it and then we’d be really screwed."

"John, you don’t under-"

"No, Al, we aren’t capable of dealing with the bomb ours-"

"John, listen to me. I haven’t shed this much blood so that more will be shed. We have got to find it."

"Damn it, Al, we’re not finding a damn thing. We’re turning the hell around. We need to-" And then it was my turn to interrupt him. All of the people I’ve ever killed were all for the sake of finding a bomb? A bomb to destroy more life? It made sense – fit all the holes but I couldn’t let it happen. The core needed to be destroyed. Life is so valueless to so many people, but not to me. And that is why I drew my gun and he drew his - Politics. Once again its politics that leads to war. Both of us are fighting for the betterment of humankind but the question, as always, was what the right course of action to take is. That is why I’m looking down his barrel and he’s looking down mine – Politics.

Resuming to my current situation - I could say something to him but I have a feeling if either of us make the slightest movement it will cause someone’s nervous finger just to tighten one tiny bit and both of us will likely end up dead. Maybe if I lower the gun he won’t feel the need to shoot. The problem with that is the alternative- he may shoot. And if he did, I would be out of the game entirely. So how long will this go on before one of us gets tired? How long must we stand here until one of us pulls the trigger? This is the second time this has happened today but this is the only time one of us will die.

Now suddenly I think he’s trying to say something! His lips are opening…

"Politics,"

And then as he uttered that one word, my trigger finger felt destiny, obligation and above all – duty and before I can even gain the consciousness to realize what I just did; John - third head - had fallen forward onto the table, with a bullet in his head. And now, I know that when they find out what I have done, they will kill me, as that is the course of action we had decided on for anybody who kills any leader. And then they will continue with two heads and retrieve the core and then bring it back and more will die. It never ends. More and more people will die if this bomb is found and there’s no way out of it. But there is one way out…


When the sun came up the next day, a soldier had realized the third head was missing. He woke some other soldiers who then woke up me and the other two heads. "Someone go check the building out back next to the warehouse," the fourth head ordered as they all packed up. I ordered some soldiers to go check outside in the forest to see if there were any trails left but, obviously there were none. It was when the soldier came back from the shed out back that really got them stirred. We all ran to the shed and what we found devastated some of the men – the third head was shot in the head and slumped over the table. Quickly, they checked his gun and found that there was a full clip – he hadn’t committed suicide.

"Second head," I addressed accusingly. "Give me your weapon."

Anxiously, second head handed me his weapon with his hand shaking. "You don’t think I did this, do you?"

"I wouldn’t know," I responded as I emptied his clip.

"Well I assure you I d-"

"This clip only has 8 shots. One of them has been fired." I said disregarding him. "You killed the third head, didn’t you?"

"I didn’t kill anybody!! You planted th-"

But it was too late as some soldiers had already grabbed him. The second head began to struggle and shout accusations as we all dragged him away. The sun was glaring and we walked from the shack and into an open field behind the warehouse, dragging him kicking and screaming the entire way.

"You can’t do this! You don’t have any proof! You f-" the second head was then interrupted by a strike to the face and his nose began to bleed.

When we got to the center of the field, the soldiers took off their hats and helmets and waited silently in the field, all of them surrounding the second head.

"Do you have anything to say before you die, Bill?" asked the fourth head.

But there was only a gap in time and silence filled the field.

"So be it," said the fourth head as he walked up to the second head, put the gun to his skull and fired a shot that rang through the field and into the forests, scattering birds and casting shadows. The second head slumped over and fell to the ground as the soldiers walked away. Only I stood staring at him.

When in the Zone, things happen that you can’t always control. People are put into positions that will test them, their morals, their ideals and their strength. Sometimes one has to assign significance to something and put that in front of all else. Sure I planted the gun on the second head, but it had to be done. He was the perfect fall. He had already gotten into a fight with the third head earlier and he had to be disposed of anyway. I don’t feel good about having killed them. I don’t feel good about killing anyone. But it has to be done. Sometimes you have to ignore the rules and do what needs to be done. That’s what I did and that’s why I’m alive. Darwin spoke of the survival of the fittest – only the strong survive. I’m not saying what I did was right, but it had to be done and it shows I’m strong enough to survive. The Zone does things to men. Once you step inside, you’re put into place and you have to decide who you are. I now know what I’m capable of and as I walk away from the second head’s corpse on this warm summer day, under the blazing heat of the sun, with a group of armed men, thirty pounds of crap on my back and sweat dripping off my face - I can’t help but smile and say "Damn, what a fine day."
 
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