| 09:53:43 10 March 2006
back with a vengeance
On forum: 07/31/2003
The quiet, ominous landscape that made up the region south of the city Chernobyl never did seem dangerous at first glance, but from my experience in the Zone, I new better, most of us did. Those foolish explorer wannabes never believe the words of advice I give them, they just wander in with a six-shooter and a gas mask and think they’ll make their fortune in the wasteland. I always follow them for a few days. Newbie’s tend to find out the truth soon, and I’d be there to see them when they do.
“Easy picking’s,” other Stalkers would say. “Morons’ always go in with their shiny new toys, but they don’t need ‘em when they’re dead.”
No wonder Stalkers become so paranoid. Not only are the military looking to put a bullet in them, but others of their own kind wouldn’t think twice to do the same if it meant they’d make a few hundred rubles in the process. Can’t say I blame them.
I’ve always tried to get on the good side of everyone I meet, but most people here shoot first, make friends later. So, it’s not a question of ethics, killing another man, its not even business, rather its survival. There are piles of money to be made in the Zone, but its better to be alive and comfortably wealthy, than rich and rotting.
Yet, on occasion, survival can be a fleeting thing, so it’s okay to be risky once every so often.
Fog was a thing to watch for. Gas clouds that burn the throat and poison everything else. But this fog was different. It looked almost… Normal. In this alien world, it is rare to see natural phenomenon. The mist rolled in slowly from the north, shrouding the tree-dotted region that was the southern Chernobyl plains with thick white clouds.
The morning chill only added to the ghostly, yet peaceful atmosphere that I had found myself in. For a moment I lowered my rifle and breathed deep. I forgot all the fear, all the pressure, and all the dangers that had filled my mind. It had been a long night.
I was trailing a pair of Military Stalkers that had been separated from the main group. I had stumbled upon them while they were being ambushed by a pack of blind dogs. What once were five were now two. One of them had been killed, the other four scattered. Fortunately for my quarry, the dogs followed the other two. I picked up a sack of food, water, and an AK clip from the fallen Stalker. Like my collogues always said, “What the living need, the dead have. They’d do the same for you.” Unfortunately, I had no time to strip weapons if I were to follow the two.
“The fog’s okay. Geiger’s picking up clean.” My attention snapped back as the taller Stalker spoke. Only then did I realize how close I had been following because of the fog. The patch of shrubs that made up my cover was only a few meters from the pair.
“You won’t feel offended if I keep this on, right?” The shorter Stalker tapped his mask. He carried a small duffel bag that I could see was sparsely filled. During the fight, he had pumped clip after clip into his Austrian Bullpup rifle, so it was no wonder he had little to occupy the bag.
“I wouldn’t myself. Can’t trust these cheap models any more than a free lunch in this place.” The other man said with a nervous chuckle. Catching myself unconsciously tightening my own mask, I had to agree. “Let’s head for the shack. Closky and Simmone could have made it back.” Hidden in his deep Russian accent, there was a hint of hope in the Stalker’s tone, but I knew that he was trying to keep his companion’s spirit high. In this situation, the last thing he needed was the truth.
“Yea, maybe… Hey, you got the water?” Noticing the slight rasp in the little one’s voice, I felt sorry that I had taken the water canteen from his late teammate. The smaller Stalker had an American accent, probably a new recruit, fresh off the boat.
“Sorry, Ivan had the canteen.” His voice now had a hint of anger. In the flash battle with the dogs, “Ivan” was the one who went down. He managed to warn the others, but it did them little good. The AK-74 he carried was picked up by the tall Stalker, who proved to be a professional marksman.
Waiting until they had nearly left my sight range, I began scouting for a proper following route. I learned stealth from a fellow stalker. He was very experienced, and it was as if he knew Southern Zone by heart. That was until he was poisoned. He slipped his hand over a patch of rusty hair, never recovered. I didn’t stick around to watch, he just gave me his canteen and his sidearm. He gave me the bullets out of his six-shooter, but he kept one round in the chamber.
Snapping out of my memory lapse, I started off, following the two Stalkers into the mist. They were following an old gravel road past the industrial compounds. The pair walked with clear intent and knowledge. Also, judging from the way they walked, careless and slow, I discerned that they knew they were safe. This puzzled me, as even the taller, seemingly more experienced Stalker walked this way as well. What could they have that made them so confident, especially after that massacre just a few hours ago?
Keeping the two just within my sight, I saw them turn towards two adjacent warehouses. The area between them made a very narrow and unsuspecting alleyway. They stopped a meter away from the entrance, searching in every direction. I took cover behind an overturned dump truck, ducking a little lower so to be sure not to be seen. After a quick scout of the area, they headed in, smaller one first, into the alley. After the tall one entered I moved out of hiding.
Cautiously approaching the point of entry, I put my back to the corner of the right-hand warehouse and listened. Only the sound of rustling gravel was heard, until the sudden metallic clack of a heavy lock and the rusted squeal of a steel door echoed in the small gap. After the accompanying reverse squeal, clack, I turned the corner and headed in. The space was very cramped; I had to turn with my back to the warehouse wall to fit.
The fog had not filled the alley, so I saw the metal hatch in the ground soon after entering. It was small, just wide enough for one man to pass through at once. Rust had covered it, but on closer examination, I discovered that the hinges and the wheel latch had been oiled recently, and kept in excellent condition. Pressing my head against the rusted steel, I listened for vibrations coming from inside. I waited for a few minuets, but hearing nothing, I decided to follow.
With careful precision, I slowly turned the wheel latch. It turned with fluid silence until it came to an abrupt stop. The easy phase out of the way, I reached for the hatch handle. Slowly pulling up, the hatch barely made a sound as it rose. I considered it fortunate that the hinges didn’t make the same squeal I heard earlier.
Halfway open, the hatch swung open within a second. A pair of hands reached out of the portal, taking grip on my suit shoulder straps. With my un-prone position, it must have been easy pulling me down the hatch. Before I could gather my thoughts, I was on my back on the ground, a boot on my chest and an AK-74 barrel staring me down.
“Who the hell are you, kid?” My right eye could only see down the barrel, but my left caught the mask of the larger Military Stalker. “Well? You speak English?”
“Yes, don’t shoot!” When a gun is in your face, you tend to answer much quicker than normal. “I’m not here for trouble.”
“Bull. You’ve been following us since last night. Who you with? ‘Sin’? ‘Liberty’?” The questions were cut short by a loud crashing outside of the hatch. “What was that?”
“Motion outside. Two targets, human build. It might be Simmone and Closky!” The smaller Stalker was out of sight, probably in a monitor room. Before the larger man could reply, the junior Stalker was at the hatch.
“Wait! We can’t be sure it’s them.” Wise words. This one is still cautious, compared to his foolishly hopeful partner.
“Psi sensor isn’t picking up anything. They might be hurt.” The young one was opening the hatch as fast as possible, and his older companion was occupied with me. The young man opened the hatch wide. On the outside, there were two Military Stalkers dressed in the same hazard suits as the two I had followed. Yet these two wee different. There suits had been torn with deep, blood stained gashes, and they wore no masks.
“Closky! What happened man?” There was no reply to the young Stalker’s question. At least, no reply that constituted as language. The Military Stalker known as “Closky” let out a low moan. It hit me like a punch to the face, Closky was a zombie.
“No! Close the hatch, now!” My watcher leapt from me and pushed the young Stalker away from the entrance, just in time to be snatched up by two bloody hands.
There was no time to fight; I couldn’t risk zombies entering such a small area. A fight like that would be a quick and deadly. I sprang from my back towards the entrance, pulled out my Glock sidearm and fired three shots into Closky. With my free hand I grabbed the hatch wheel and pulled it shut. There was heavy banging on the hatch door, but it went silent after a few moments.
“Victor!?” The young Stalker rose and turned to me. His eyes were filled with tears of anger and fear. “What the hell are you doing? He’s still alive!”
“Not for long. ‘Victor’ is gone. He’ll be a zombie within the hour, kid.” I still had the Glock in my hand, so I pointed it at the Stalker for security reasons. “Calm down.”
This didn’t settle him down. “I have a gun in my face, and you want me to calm down?” Just then he must have realized his Bullpup rifle was still in his monitoring room.
I lowered my sidearm. “Look, just relax. I’m sorry about your friend.”
I saw the anger disappear from the young man’s eyes. “Forget it. He’s gone.” He dropped his head and moved to the far corner of the room.
It was only at that time that I was able to observe where I was. The room was small, only about three meters in diameter. The corner opposite of the hatch had two doors, one that led to the monitoring room, the other probably led to the main facilities.
The young Stalker sat on a small wooden chair near the monitoring room door. Unfastened the straps on his gas mask and lifted it off. Removing his hood, I could recognize a clearly American face. “The name’s Leon.”
Just to raise a little trust, I followed suit and removed my mask as well. “Blaine. You’re not from around here, are you? What are you doing here?”
“I have a wife and daughter at home. Needed a job, couldn’t get in to the police academy, I heard there was a job with the Russian military for some major cash. ‘Hazard pay’s huge,’ they said. I didn’t know the half of it.” The young Stalker, Leon, explained with an ironic grin. “What about you? Who’re you here with?”
I sat down in the corner opposite to Leon. “I’m alone. Gone freelance. I’m here for the money, nothing else.” After a long sigh, I decided that it was time to tell him the situation. “Well, here is what’s going to happen. We need to get out of here. Is there any other way in or out?”
Leon lifted his head; a weary look was in his eyes. “Sorry. That hatch is the only exit.”
“Rest up then. We storm out in one hour. Zombies tend to forget their prey after a while.” I pulled the clip out of my Glock and pumped in a fresh magazine.
“Whoa, wait. We have food and water here. We can wait it out.” Now standing, Leon began to move to the monitoring room.
“Nope, not an option. When the zombies stop attacking, their controller steps in to look around. He’s smart enough to figure out the latch. We have to move out before he gets here.” I began securing my weapons and equipment. The only way out was to get out of the Zone before nightfall, or there would be no telling what could be waiting for us.
Four o’clock. Only three hours before sundown. The psi equipment that Leon’s troop set up must be malfunctioning, because there is no way a controller could have zombies in the area without being picked up. The only thing we could count on was the motion trackers, but they were coming up dead. Surveillance cameras set up outside were useless as well, the fog had not lifted, and all they could see was grey.
Just as before, the wheel latch spun with fluid motion, coming to a stop once it unlocked. Slowly raising the hatch, I scanned through a small crack in the door. It appeared clear, but that was no reason to lower my guard. My AK led me out of the entrance, into the near familiar surroundings of the alleyway.
Covering the alley entrance, I motioned Leon out. He came with Bullpup ready. It concerned me that he had only two full and one half empty clips, but it shouldn’t worry me, since I wasn’t expecting a full-on battle. He was covering the rear as we slowly made our way to the alley exit.
At the corner of the two warehouses, I held up a closed fist. Leon stopped and knelt as I scouted the area. Nothing in sight, but then again, the fog somewhat limited my sight’s range. Motioning to move out, we turned the corner south, towards the Zone boundary.
A low moan echoed from inside the warehouse. Identical to that that was heard from Closky earlier. Now was decision time. Make a run for it and hope the controller doesn’t sense us, or bust into the warehouse firing and take out the immediate threat. I couldn’t help but smile at the idea of provoking a controller and who knows how many zombies to a head-to-heat battle. No, we’re running.
Leon must not have heard my thoughts, because when I turned to tell him the plan, he was nowhere to be seen. The door on the warehouse, however, was wide open.
“Leon!” I whispered as loud as possible. I could have just left him in there, saved myself, but conscience is still present, even in the Zone. I slowly crept for the door, AK leading the way.
Inside was just like I imagined it would be: dark, old, and dust blanketed. There was a large hole in the roof, and beams of misty light lanced into the darkness. Luckily, the metallic surfaces were giving off a silvery reflection of the light, just barely illuminating the huge space to the point that I could make out four figures. The shape of humans, at least three of them was not Leon.
“Leon? Come over to me slowly. No sudden movements, now.” I calmly called to the smallest of the four.
“Blaine? I can hear him, in my head.” Leon’s voice was not that of panic or fear of any kind. It was more the tone of fascination or relief. “He’s going to make everything okay.”
“Leon, don’t listen. He wants to kill us, just like he did you your friends.” I had trouble keeping my voice low, but I began feeling the tension rise. “Just do one thing for me, ‘kay? Raise your arm.”
Shouldering my rifle, I kept the sight on the small figure. After a moment, another shadow raised its arm. That was all that I needed. A single shot flew from my AK-74, and the small apparition staggered back.
“Die… Die die die die!” A rasped and booming voice filled my mind. Two of the other figures rushed out of the shadows. Closky came into view on the left, and one that I could only assume was Simmone staggered towards me on the right. The situation had really gone to hell now, so I flipped to full auto and let loose.
“Leon! Help out, man! Snap out of it!” I yelled between bursts. Leon had fallen to his knees and was shaking his head as if recovering from a blow to the head. He looked up and stood while shouldering his rifle. A burst sent Simmone staggering back.
I had pumped nearly a full clip into Closky, but he didn’t so much as flinch. Luckily the rounds had slowed him down long enough so that by the time my AK ran empty I had time to draw my Glock and put one bullet into Closky’s skull at point blank. Needless to say, he went down.
Leon was having a little less luck. He wildly sprayed full auto fire at Simmone, and only a few rounds connected. He had time to slap in another clip before the zombie was on him. Leon yelled with anger and bashed Simmone’s head with the back-heavy butt of his gun. The creature fell, and that was the end. Putting the barrel of his rifle to Simmone’s head, one round finished it.
I was so tied up with watching Leon fight that I hadn’t noticed that the Controller was behind me. Turning to face him, my heart nearly stopped. Its sunken, black eyes held no expression, but its wide mouth was twisted into a vile grin. “Die.”
I didn’t know the zombies had weapons on them until I saw the 9mm pistol in the controller’s hand. One single shot echoed off the warehouse walls. I hit the floor, and there I blacked out…
“…aine? Blaine? You okay? Wake up man!” Leon’s voice rang in my head, and it was then I realized that I had a splitting headache. “Good God, man! You scared me shitless!”
I opened my eyes to see the ceiling of the warehouse. The hole in it had darkened, but other than that I didn’t know how much time had passed. The head of Leon hung over me, a spatter of blood on his face.
“What happened?” I managed to gasp. My throat was dry; it felt like it had sand in it. “I… was shot.”
“Yep. Too bad for the Controller his arms were too weak to handle the recoil. You got shot in the arm, his broke in the process.” My arm ached almost as badly as my head. “He was easy picking’s after that.”
“Easy picking’s…” I couldn’t help but laugh at the young man’s remark.
“I stopped the bleeding and dressed it.” Leon added.
“Thanks.” I groaned as I managed to sit up. Looking around, I realized how bad the fight had been. Closky and Simmone lay side by side, arms crossed over their chests. Leon probably would have given them a proper burial if he had the time. The Controller looked the worse of all of them, his right arm was twisted, and bloody holes riddled his body. I looked at my watch. “Six fourteen, we had better move out if were going to beat sundown.” I struggled to my feet, clutching my arm.
“If you’re up to it. Sure you don’t want to rest?” Leon had nothing but concern, but I didn’t need help. I’ve been worse.
“Absolutely. I’d like to leave this place ASAP.” Slinging my AK, I made my way for the door.
A large man stepped in front of the door, blocking my path. He wore the same uniform as Leon. His face was dead and scratched, and his eyes held no sign of life.
“Victor!?” Leon yelled.
I had no time to shoulder my gun with my wounded arm. I could only watch as Victor staggered at me, arms reaching and eyes wild.
A burst of automatic fire boomed in the large warehouse. Victor’s head snapped back, followed by his body. I slowly turned around to see Leon, rifle shouldered and smoking.
With a sigh, he lowered his gun, dropped his head for a moment, and said, “Now we can go.”
Great, independant Iraq War journalism: http://michaelyon.blogspot.com/
From the halls of Montezuma To the shores of Tripoli'
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,
We are proud to claim the title Of United States Marines.
Our flags unfurl'd to every breeze From dawn to setting sun';
We have fought in every clime and place Where we could take a gun.
In the snow of far-off northern lands And in sunny tropic scenes,
You will find us always on the job - The United States Marines.
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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They will find the streets are guarded By United States Marines. - US Marines Hymn