back with a vengeance
On forum: 07/31/2003
Message edited by:
Fast Ripe, Fast Rotten|
It rained last night, the roof is leaking in a dozen places, with that the smell of mildew and decay is stronger today. Cobwebs are everywhere, yet I haven't seen a single spider, rat droppings litter the floor and papirossy stubs have burnt black rings into a nearby windsill.
Nothing lives here anymore.
The isolation hurts, so I focus on the transmitter, a short-range beacon I cobbled together from our equipment. It only goes on for two hours a day, need to think long-term, save the power, who knows how long I may be here. Truth is I could just walk out at any time, maybe find my way back to civilisation in under two days, but I won't leave them, they wouldn't have left me.
Three clips of ammunition left for my AK, less than half that for the SVU, I lost my pistol two days ago in a fight with some blind dogs, searching for food. They don't taste too bad, the meat is pretty stringy so you need lots of rainwater to wash it down with, I always feel a little sick afterwards. I ration the rainwater, set up some catchers for it on the roof, sometimes I forget and drink too much.
I sit outside of time and I wait, I wait to be rescued.
Someone has written on the walls, can't understand the language. Sometimes it seems familiar, nagging at me, I stand and stare, worrying at it like the solution is a scrap of meat stuck between my teeth. There's no answer of course, I stopped taking note of my thoughts a while ago; "Why am I here? What did I do wrong, how could I have, why didn't, maybe....."
Easy to drive yourself mad with that, when there's no-one else around, just you and the chatter. It's like.....I'm on a squash court, smashing the ball around those clean, polished walls, seeing how it feels against the racket everytime it comes back, if there's any difference, any new insight. Go too deep into yourself and you may never come back, they told me, that's why you start out in a faction. Get the measure of things, weather the experiences with others to watch your back, adapt, then you'll know if you can handle it alone.
I did what I was told, wanted to be a good Stalker, one of the best, everything became a test, a chance and a need to prove myself. I kept away from distractions, stayed clean, sober, soon they knew me as a rock, someone to rely on, someone who you could trust your life with. It was as though the zone itself was paying attention, no one creature ever managed to surprise me, anomalies would form in the other squads, I found the artifacts when they were fresh.
So how did it fall apart?
Simple, it didn't. This is just another test, the one I've been preparing for since the beginning, if you understand that then you can beat anything, anyone, because you know that the spotlight has been turned on you. Nobody tries to fail, unless they're afraid, but there's nothing to be afraid of here.
You don't understand, I can tell. There's nothing to be afraid of because this is a place built from fear, fear sustains the zone, you are little more than a conduit and if you think about it, if you stop and actually think, you'll see that the fear doesn't stay long before the zone takes it away. It needs us and we need it, there's a sort of beauty there, I think, a mutual need.
I switch on the transmitter, lithium-ion batteries power into life, the clock starts ticking down in my head.
The street outside is quiet, the only evidence anyone else has set foot here is a broken gas-mask, one glass eyepiece punched in and crazed. Greenery is everywhere, snaking up between the broken concrete slabs, coiling around a burnt-out Kamaz truck, there are even flowers, new species of plants rising out of the nightmare. I admire nature, it can exist anywhere, never falters, we Stalkers like to think we are that way but in comparison we're little more than children playing games, dressing up in clothes meant for someone far larger and far older.
I draw back the slide of the SVU, chambering a round.
Seems some creatures are attracted to the transmitter, easy enough to spot most of them from up here. They'll shuffle out into the street, staring up at the building with their head tilted to one side, as though it's trying to talk to them. I kill the most dangerous ones, scavengers are along soon enough to tear at the remains. Last night's rain washed most of the blood away, only a few dull, rust-coloured streaks left now.
My eyes are drawn back to the writing, the same way those things are drawn to my transmitter. Just looking at it makes my mind hurt, deep, boring pain like a cold steel tongue embedded in my head, tears come and I wipe them away angrily.
Whatever's on my hand stings my eyes, the two agonies fight each other.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but it's the words that'll hurt me.
I bark out a laugh, it sounds and feels flat.
I'm unsure of the noise at first, sounds like a sudden, distant rumble, maybe a blowout or explosion, then in the next few minutes it resolves into that of an engine. I shrug forward in my chair, clicking the safety off the SVU.
There's no excitement, no wash of relief, an engine can mean many things.
I've let others pass by, instinctivly I knew they wouldn't help me or my friends, my link with the zone tells me so. Clues are there for anyone to see them, sticking out like dirty footprints when you know how to look, kept me alive this long. Military Stalkers, Special Forces, they wouldn't help me, they suspect the signal is some kind of trap, one laid by thieves, or perhaps a mutant blundered into a piece of equipment and powered it into motion.
I shift the transmitter closer to me, within easy reach.
Fear comes in waves, has done ever since I came here; nothing, nothing, nothing, run-hide-run, nothing, nothing, nothing, run, hide-ru..
As I said it can't stay long, the zone sucks it in, regurgitates it back into new creatures, new births, deaths, blowouts.
The engine grows louder.
Next street along, maybe closer.
I ease down, draw the scope back to meet my right eye.
For a moment all of the scales are nothing more than scrawled lines, as though a mischevous child has jotted on the glass. One by one my mind snaps them into place; windage elevation, ragefinder, bullet-drop compensator. Every measurement seems rigid and complex compared to what it frames, but the better you know it the simpler it becomes, then suddenly the world outside of the scope is the complicated one.
Throwing up grit, a UAZ jeep rounds the far corner. The sun against its windows stops me from making out the occupants, but they're heading right for me, straight up.
The jeep brakes, engine idling, about 30 meters up the road.
Two soldiers get out, young and nervous, both brandishing their standard issue AK-74's like there's already something to shoot. They do a quick, visual sweep of the area, one of them twists back towards the jeep and says something.
There's a third figure; female, a little older, dressed in non-descript green fatigues and carrying a kit of some kind. Obviously a civlian, yet she exudes far more authority than the soldiers, her raven black hair has been tied into a pony-tail with eyes invisible behind small, black sunglasses. She slams the door, making one of the soldiers jump and round on her with his weapon, they're wound tight.
Walking over, she speaks briefly to them. Heated discussion, some kind of argument, she exerts that undeserved authority once again and they sprint out to check nearby houses. The civilian stays put, leaning against the bonnet like she may as well be wearing a bikini, she has no idea I could put her down right now, in a strange way I admire that ignorance.
Pieces of the puzzle slot together, I place the kit in her hands, body language and manner. She's a Scientist, the two soldiers have been ordered to escort her to a research outpost. They place the signal, the soldiers want to keep going, they know the risks, but she's determined and they're green, she bullies them into line. Is it compassion? The belief that what she knows of biology could be transferred into aiding a wounded man?
Or, just as likely, curiousity. She's new and everything is compelling, an iron filing surrounded by a huge magnet drawing her in all directions at once, the thought of arriving at the outpost with experience already under her belt is a good one.
Would she help me, would she help us?
The two soldiers finish sweeping nearby homes, one remains next to the UAZ whilst the other accompanies our scientist down the road. There are two more derelicts for them to check before they reach here, just as I realise I need to make a decision the power to do so is ripped from my hands.
Sniper shots ring out, the first is wide, blasting a chip out of the pavement as it whips past the soldier. He panics, shoving the scientist towards cover but not following, instead kneeling and bringing his AK-74 up, sweeping it frantically across the landscape.
The second slug doesn't miss, ripping through his jugular in a spray of crimson, he's dead from that exact moment on. One hand flies up to grab the wound, the other gripping down tightly on his assault rifle, trigger-finger mashes, bullets spray wildly as he lurches and crumples to the concrete.
Screams, yelling, the remaining soldier wrenches open a jeep door and crouches behind it, I've lost sight of the scientist. Squinting through my scope at the UAZ, I see the soldier slithering his way inside the cab, trying to stay as low as possible as he reaches for the radio set. The sniper has found his rhythm now, three shots punch through the windscreen in quick succession, exploding it inwards in a torrent of glass shards.
Two seconds pass.
Limply, the soldier slides back onto the street, the fingers on his exposed hand clenched and folded inwards like the legs of a dead spider.
Cursing, I upend the SVU and loop it over my shoulders, grabbing the AK.
Floorboards creak in protest as I race through the building, seems that every motion throws up a new plume of dust, soon these rotten stairs will probably collapse under me, but not today. Tugging away the old, half-rotten desks used to barricade the door, I shoot the rusty bolts back into their brackets and ease it open a crack.
I see the dead soldier, blood pooling under his body now.
'Hey!' I yell out, voice sounds strange, how long is it since I used it, 'I can help you! Are you still alive out there?'.
No reply, she thinks it's a trap.
Only one way to do this.
The door creaks as I push it wide, shifting the AK to point down at my boots, I take a step outside.
Everything is utterly silent, no breeze, no movement. She could be hiding behind any piece of discarded furniture, or stomach down in the shin-high grass, I have no idea where the sniper is or what direction he was firing from.
'I'm here!' I yell again, 'I can help you! I didn't fire those shots, I was the one with the transmitter! I've been waiting for help!'.
'Throw your weapons down!' comes an answering shout, at first I suspect the sniper, then a patch of grass rustles with movement, 'in front of you, throw them down!'.
Sighing, I bite back an objection. The AK clatters to the pavement, I unsling the SVU and drop that, then raise my hands to show my empty palms. 'Good enough?'.
She moves slowly from cover to cover, hugging the side of the burnt-out Kamaz then easing back into the undergrowth. The last patch is open ground, she sprints across it and joins me in the alcove, snatching up the AK and SVU before even catching her breath.
I play along, she leads me inside at the end of a gun barrel, 'alright then, who are you? Who killed those men?'.
I'm about to reply when she tugs off her sunglasses to stare at me in the poor light, her eyes are a brilliant green. The AK drops, I turn around and she involuntarily steps back, something approaching horror in her expression.
'What?' I mutter.
She tries to form the words, to explain, then gives up. Instead she reaches into a pocket on her pack and pulls out a plastic-framed mirror, hesitantly offering it to me. I find myself suddenly reluctant to take it, to finally resolve the question that's been spinning in my mind. Sometimes I wanted to look at my reflection to prove I was real, to try and trigger some kind of energy, hope. Yet every mirror in the building had been violently smashed, even the shards themselves stamped and ground into tiny fragments.
I must have done it before, looked in the mirror and resented what stared back at me, so I destroyed them all.
I lift it, I look.
Skin is deathly pale, yet patches of it are black and ripe, reminding me of a rotten apple. Most of my hair is gone, whispy strands hang on in clumps, pus-filled blisters dot the scalp. Blood is crusted under my nostrils, I look into my eyes and find them empty, blank.
Rage boils through me, I throw the mirror to the ground and slam my boot into the glass, shattering it. Suddenly that one act makes me feel so weak I can barely stand, I sag back against the desks like an old man, moaning pitifully.
She looks at me with a mixure of fear and pity, 'I....I'm sorry. But...you had weapons, why didn't you leave?'.
'The others' I groan.
'I can't leave them' I explain, 'they wouldn't have left me'.
'Show me' she says, 'maybe....maybe I can help them'.
I hesitate then nod, heaving myself up and leading her up the stairs. We reach a room where the school-desks have been piled aside, old coloured charts lay crumpled on the floor, a black-board with one huge slash ripped across it lays overturned. Three bodies are sitting upright against the farthest wall, the boards around them tacky with dried blood.
The others, my team, my friends.
She knows they're dead without a closer look, I try to keep the flies out but the air is still thick with them, grown used to the smell but it pushes her back like a hard shove. 'Wh-what happened?'.
I close my eyes, heart slamming against my ribs, 'I.....we'.
Steel pins drive into my brain, yet I keep trying to remember, I access fragments, shreds, I taste blood in my mouth as it trickles from my nose. White light detonates behind my eyes, I fall to my knees, digging fingernails into my palms until the pain lances white-hot, I need to hold on! I need to remember...
I bawl in frustration, the agony of not knowing.
She turns and sees the writing, the words I can't understand, and that same look of horror returns to her face.
Won't help you, won't help any of you.
Turns and runs, runs for the door.
I'm on my feet before she reaches it, my hands around her neck, choking the life out of her. Some disconnected, helpless part of me wonders why I'm so angry, but the distraction is no more than a passenger, an ant trying to stop a ten-ton truck by dangling their feet out of the door.
Her eyes bulge open, arm shoots up and fingernails rip across my face, shredding the blisters and opening up one cheek with a pregnant pop. Pus and blood runs down my face, I don't feel the pain, my being is empty once again, blank.
She stops struggling after a minute, I let her drop to the floor.
The pain returns, uncoiling in my mind and licking through the rest of my body like sulphur, I open my mouth to scream but nothing comes out.
I fall, I die.
I come to in a strange place, dust and cobwebs everywhere.
There are four other bodies in the room, my squad.
I find a transmitter running, switch it off. Need to save the power, who knows how long I may be here?
Explore the building, there are some weapons downstairs, dead soldiers outside. I take what I can use from the soldiers, check their jeep. Someone has slashed the tyres, ripped vital parts out of the engine, the battery is missing. I drag the soldiers inside the UAZ, pop the handbrake and roll it out of sight.
Return to the building, there's writing on the wall. I feel like I should be able to read it, yet it hurts just to look, otherwise I feel numb, disconnected.
The transmitter seems to run on lithium-ion batteries, I salvaged some from the soldiers' kit, should give me enough power for a while. I decide to ration them, two hours a day, the number sounds right.
Slumping down in the chair I let my mind wander, and I wait.
I wait to be rescued.
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We fight our countrys battles In the air', on land, and sea.
First to fight for right and freedom , And to keep our honor clean,
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Here's health to you and to our Corps Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we've fought for life And never lost our nerve.
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