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A Crucial Gift (probably the best short story out there)

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  04:07:08  17 February 2006
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On forum: 02/17/2006

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02/17/2006 11:27:53
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A Crucial Gift (probably the best short story out there)

A Crucial Gift

“Heavenly father, guard us on our righteous path, so that we may deliver thy vengeance upon those who defy thy will. Grant us the purity to recognize whom to spare thy anger and whom to cleanse from this world. Bless us, and forgive us father, for we will take many lives in your name tonight, and forgive our enemy, for thy mercy is all they have. Amen.”

Slowly and reverently Makarov opened his eyes, and unfolded his hands, revealing the tarnished crucifix they had been clutching. He kissed the crude family heirloom, polishing its copper surface with the worn out leather of his gauntlet, before cautiously sliding it back into his jacket. At the horizon, the sun was dropping its clouded head behind the world in leaden dullness. Rising from his praying posture, Makarov let his view fly over the corroded plains that surrounded Pripyat, unfolding ghostly behind the milky reflections of his helmet visor. It was a desolate picture. The day was departing with the same jaded revulsion Makarov felt out here, on the dreadful, haunted strip of land people just called “The Zone”. He wondered whether they where aware of the callous cynicism of such a short, common name for this heresy. In time their indifference would make the whole planet a hell like this. Fortunately Makarov would not live to see it. Age had become a consolation after all.

The sad lungful of evening air he tried to take was choked by the gasmask use had made him forget he was forced to wear. It filtered the radioactive dust particles from his breathing air, sparing him the slow, drawn-out death that would eat him from the inside out as silently and as certainly as it had consumed the decrepit marshland before him.

Only after the grisly wash of the acid rainfalls was it safe to breathe free air. Makarov had a hard time deciding which was worse; the dust, or the rain. In the long weeks they had spent on this ghastly strip of land the sour precipitation had gnawed even trough the thick fabric of his coat, rending it but a tattered rag. Makarov approved of his garb having faded somewhat since he had felt like a trainee in the newly bought clothes. Nevertheless he had never regretted to have burned his old gear after returning from Afghanistan. It could never have been washed clean.

Even so, after all those years Makarov found himself seizing a gun once more, compelled by the very man in whose confessional he had devoted his life to peaceful ways: Bishop Alexandrow.

How had it come this far? It was an exception Makarov couldn’t have anticipated. Never being able to dodge his old talents he had ended up in the bishop’s bodyguard after seeking refuge from his past behind the blessed walls of the Orthodox Church. Even though the prospect of further violence had daunted him, he had found consolation in the thought that taking a bullet for a holy man could be just the sort of atonement god had foreseen for him. But then fate had struck, making him “the ideal man to defend the holy mother church as an institution”. That misfortune had been drawn upon him, by the same name that he had recently found scribbled on the dilapidated plaster of each house front in the ghost city of Pripyat.

In search for confirmation, his eyes focussed on the graffiti smearing on the eroded rest of a wall nearby. It read “Genesis2” in audaciously bold letters. The words “God has left us” where scribbled below in a childish or imbecile hand. It must have been statements like those who had drawn the group to the attention of the conformist council of bishop Alexandrow’s diocese in the first place. Still it wasn’t until the day those paroles had made it to a Moscow wall, that the council had been in turmoil. When the bishop finally entrusted him with secretly eliminating that stain from the face of God’s earth, Makarov hadn’t dared to object. After all the dreadful memories the ageing veteran had shared, it had hurt seeing the bishop force open the very door he was meant to close, but Makarov had stifled his concerns reassuring himself he was just carrying out things that where meant to happen. So why not run this small errand for his saviour?

The subversive activities of Genesis2 seemed to worry the council to such an extent that, when Makarov had accepted, they had allowed funds for equipping five men of his choice and hire a local guide. He had chosen two colleagues to accompany him, Kolja and Grigori, and decided to resurrect his old army comrade Boris from the pool of vodka he had drowned in at Moscow’s shady bars, rallying him under the banner of righteousness.

The fifth, Natasha, was a retired KGB officer, but the backing sufficed even for her rate. The poorer the state, the richer the church; Makarov was reminded of the sad lesson about wealthy shepherds and shaven sheep the last decade had taught him. As guide he had chosen a Stalker that had been recommended by the army patrols they had met along the fence. The soldiers had claimed he hardly ever retreated as far as the fence. It was rumoured that mysterious hermit had found his peace in the Zone.
Makarov’s team had only found terror and depression. Even though the cause had changed, the game remained the same: reeking clothes, starvation, lack of sleep and dull weaponry maintenance. The only thing none of them had ever encountered had been the mutations. They affected everything in the Zone: fauna, flora, even the few unfortunate humanoids they had stumbled upon. Makarov’s wonder about those abominations had soon turned to disgust. It was plain why nobody talked about it in the media. For the most part, their reticent guide had led them on safe tracks, avoiding the gross of problems, yet there hadn’t been any sign of their target for weeks. They had picked up the group’s trace in the sewers of Fioletov, but even that hideout had been empty.

The cold, clammy horror of those dark tunnels still roamed Makarov’s dreams. Hopefully they would have better luck this time.

Suddenly there was a far movement on the wind whipped plains to the east catching Makarov’s attention. He grabbed the pair of binoculars resting upon his chest, and slammed the rubberized eye-rest onto the visor glass. It revealed the scout team was returning. The Stalker was followed by Kolja who had fallen behind, labouring to carry his prized RPD, a token from the forgotten time Russia still won its wars, strategically and morally. Makarov knew that lack of professionalism always hid behind a big gun, but there hadn’t been time to assemble a better line-up. Teaming up on scout missions was the consequence of having lost Grigori to one of the abominable birthmarks. It was gruesome to envision his slow entrapment and even slower death, especially given the fact another team member could easily have freed him. He had already been stripped clean of his meat when they had found him.

Shuddering, Makarov wrapped the thick fabric of his camouflaged overcoat closer about him as he descended from his vantage point atop the heap of piled bricks beside their camp.

“Thought is a burden,” he repeated his old soldier’s mantra passing Natasha, who was on sentry duty by the tent entrance. “Don’t think.” He opened the zipper seam of their oxygen tent, ducking under its low parapet as he stepped in.

“They’ll be back in a minute,” he reported after hastily taking off his mask, longing to feel the pores on his sweat-oiled skin breathe again.

Boris put away his pocket mirror, rubbing his nose and sniffing.

“What,” he asked irascibly feeling his new principal’s reproachful gaze upon him. “We’re out of coffee. Got to stay sharp tonight, right?”

“Should’ve tried sleeping,” Makarov mocked, collapsing into the tensed embrace of his folding chair. He took off his helmet, acknowledging the small cross he had burnt through its dark camouflage paint with hydrochloric acid in replacement of an army badge.

“Eager to get going,” Makarov asked, noticing Boris’s nervousness with foreboding.

“You know me. Killing has always made me itchy.”

“I know,” Makarov responded with distaste, recalling their patrol duty on the outer reaches of the Kuh-e Baba Mountains. He was painfully reminded that even though Boris had been his comrade, his friend and had even saved his skin once, he still was a scoundrel.

“He gave it, we take it, just like old times,” Boris grinned frankly. “Only this time, even you will have an easy sleep afterwards.”

Makarov fell silent watching his reflection in the gasmask’s visor as he lit his cigarette and poured himself a glass of vodka to chase away unbidden memories and warm the chill of dread before the impending battle. All of a sudden his likeness looked old and wrinkled. Drawn out. The skin on his throat began itching again, and he used the butt of his boot dagger to scratch through the high collar of his reinforced vest that he had not taken off for days now. Soon they would be done anyway; he consoled his desire for a bath, grabbing his lucky service pistol from the steel box with his belongings while concentrating on what lay ahead. It was time for the last weapons check. The sturdy little weapon clicked satisfyingly exact as he cocked back the slide to oil it. The old sidearm was the embodiment of the communist regime, Makarov thought. Burly, stubborn, economical…outdated; a relic of the Afghanistan war, just like him. It was the only memento he had kept. He wondered if anything holy was to be delivered with it.

Finally the rugged figure of the Stalker stepped into the tent. Under the hood of his rain cape shadow ducked deep into the gristly crinkles of his bare face. Makarov had been taken aback by the Stalker’s refuse to wear a gasmask at first, but now he had gotten used to it, just as he had accepted the fact the solitary outsider bore no name.

“They’re at the monastery.” Kolja stated triumphantly as he followed in. “The Stalker was right.”

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Makarov advised. “Any idea how many they are?”
The Stalker shook his head. “The windows are barred. I just saw a few of them skulking on the grounds.”

“Then we’re up to some stealth before we get to smoke ‘em out,” Makarov weighed up the information thoughtfully. The Stalker cracked a condescending grin, patting him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry,” he consoled. “It’s like riding a bike. You never forget how it’s done.” Even though it hurt to admit it, the Stalker had guessed right. Makarov was in doubt if he could still handle things up close and personal.

“My father was shot before he could teach me,” he replied unsympathetically, drowning the last swig of vodka before grabbing his gear. “Common, we’re late.”


They had to cross the two kilometres to the monastery on foot because the headlamps of their old UAZ jeep would have been visible for miles on the endless plains. Everybody packed light, taking only their battle gear and night camouflage overalls.

Makarov intended to be back by midnight. Dusk closed in around them like a dark curtain hurriedly drawn shut to veil mankind’s sin, as the forsaken monastery first came into view behind a barren hillock. Catching the last glint of twilight on its eastern facade it stood, seemingly untouched for decades, haunted only by nightmares of past tragedy. All openings where barred with jagged boards obstructing the view inside.

They approached the old, 16th century building from the blasted roadside, only turning from it a few hundred metres before reaching the main gate to seek shelter in the embrace of the few gnarled, tortured husks of rotten trees that surrounded the grounds in mournful memorial of the formerly picturesque monastery orchard. The undergrowth’s bare twigs branched out like broken fingers desperately grappling at the passing men, while the wind whistled their anguished lament.

The Stalker had been right: on the perimeter behind the rusty fence two abominable,
lumbering mutants loitered by the portico.

Makarov’s night-vision binoculars exposed their abhorrent changes, visible even through the leprous wrappings they where covered in.

“We could easily cut through the wire, and neutralize them,” Makarov assumed, “but I fear the door is barred from the other side.”

“There is a back entrance,” the Stalker explained, seemingly pleased with Makarov’s precautious approach. “It’s an underpass of later build, apparently an access-way to the storage cellars. Once inside we could access the ground floor and open the door from the inside.”

“Alright,” Makarov acknowledged “We will go. The rest will wait here.”

Makarov and the Stalker followed the narrowing road in a respectful distance, cautiously breaking through the undergrowth until they had gotten around the old building.

From the other side, Makarov noticed many-coloured shafts of light seep thorough the only intact church window left. Fumbling for his binoculars he realized the light-source inside the building needed a generator.

It appeared that most part of the roof had been rebuilt after having collapsed under the weight of time and rot. Zooming in on the old wall, Makarov discerned recent maintenance work on the faded masonry. The small, even bricks that had been used where known to him. It seemed the mutants used the outskirts of Pripyat as a quarry. Makarov wondered what kind of a madman would build on this forsaken land. What hope could anyone see here?

Around the corner the angular bulk of an old truck filled with scavenged rolls of rusty wire-fence was parked at the end of freshly ground mud-traces that cut through the withered grass. There was another mutant standing by the black hole of the underpass that yawned open with a hungry threat. Finally Makarov understood the abomination was a sentinel.

“Not the witless animals you believe them to be,” he mocked beginning to realize they had underestimated their enemies. That was no incoherent band of madmen; it was an organized group of fanatics.

Makarov found himself pondering the pros and cons of a retreat, even at the end of such a long privation.

“They still bleed, don’t they,” the Stalker stated unimpressed. “I don’t mind this hunt becoming soldier’s work.”

Somehow the Stalker’s simple, compelling words touched the daring, foolhardy side in Makarov. The sort of childish pride that would have never allowed him to lose face in the professional rivalry they where entertaining. Besides, the Stalker had proven to be a seasoned warrior, and out there survival was certainly not earned by imprudence.

“I’ll go”, Makarov decided. “Keep me covered.”

He quietly slipped past a gap in the fence, sneaking up on the lone sentry from above the passageway, until he could hear its horribly rasping breath below, akin to the churning of his gasmask.

“Don’t think,” Makarov repeated to himself while drawing his knife, not intent on wasting the few silenced shots from his pistol. As soon as he was above the mutant, he dropped down from the edge of the tunnel, tearing it to the ground from behind and slitting its throat with a quick, surgical cut. The rough breathing distorted into an awfully high pitched whistling, quickly drowned by a viscous gurgling. Perceiving the mutant lacked the breath to scream, Makarov slowly loosened his choke-hold around the sagging neck.

Suddenly there was a scuttling sound from behind the wall of absolute darkness behind the tunnel entrance. Before Makarov could turn, he was seized by a pair of massive, bloated hands, joining across his chest with inhuman strength, and slamming him sideways against the concrete edge of the tunnel entrance. Makarov felt his ribs crack, as his breath was smacked out of his lungs, puffing like a pair of old bellows. He fell splattering into the soft mud, fighting hard not to squeal, as the assailant kicked him into the abdomen, bringing his body around. Helplessly Makarov found himself lying on his back, dizzy with pain, while the creature raised a rusty gas canister above its head, ready to deal death. He tried to roll away from the blow, but before the mutant could strike it was beat down violently from behind. Almost swallowed by the gloom, the Stalker took posture behind his outstretched victim like a proud hunter, the butt of his sturdy Dragunov sniper rifle having caused a giant cut on the mutant’s head. Its bloated, silky skin had the sick coloration of an old haematoma. Getting up again, Makarov noticed its protruding, grotesquely bulbous eyes, resembling the features of a night active animal. It must have sought shelter in the passageway, avoiding the fading light.

By the tunnel entrance, another scrawling was dissolving into the dead of night. It read: “Answers are close.” Suddenly Makarov understood the graffitis where sort of a perverted spiritual signpost, indicating a heretic path of pilgrimage. Now, that he had been forced down it as well, he wondered what “answer” awaited him at the end.
“Are you hurt,” the Stalker finally inquired curtly.

It’s nothing, Makarov replied with proud effort, putting a bullet through the smashed mutant head with a soft pop.

“Just to make sure,” he explained, thinking to catch a slight glint of disapproval on the other’s face, as he blended into the shadow of the passageway.

“Wait,” Makarov restrained him. “You go and get the others. There’s no point in two men taking this risk.” The Stalker nodded reluctantly, heading off around the building.

The darkness inside the tunnel was dreary and absolute, reminding Makarov of the tunnel system beneath the sewers of Fioletov. His heart was pounding in his throat as he painstakingly negotiated a silent path trough the crammed, littered confines. After a while he could hear the droning of a far voice through the aged structure of the fundament. He staggered towards it, noticing a sallow illumination as his eyes accustomed to the gloom. It lead him into a narrow staircase mounting steeply towards an opened door, revealing the nave’s vaguely lit archivolts behind. Makarov noiselessly mounted the angled steps. There was an open padlock dangling from the door on the other side, almost as if it had been deliberately left ajar. They really had to feel safe out here Makarov thought irrationally insulted.

Inside the monastery everything was still in a state of disorder. The glare of three bare light bulbs suspended high on the ceiling reluctantly revealed the packed interior of the desecrated place brimming with blanket-covered heaps of rubble, the decaying wood of broken benches, and empty ration cans bearing the emblem of the Russian Army.
Remembering the denial of the soldiers at the fence to know anything about Genesis2, Makarov hoped to ever get a chance to question them again.

About three dozen mutants surrounded a silhouette standing in the darkness of the altarpiece. They where listening like spellbound, with ugly faces wide open so Makarov decided it was safe to go for the door. As he emerged the close confines of the staircase, he noticed the words of the relentless voice had become intelligible. It seemed to be a form of heretical sermon.

“Too long have we mourned for god’s absence,” the shadowy figure preached on as Makarov slowly crept towards the door. “Too long have we prayed without response. In creation lies the answer. 26 Years ago a sun of our own making has lit our path to future.”

Makarov stopped dead, listening on incredulously.

“The bright flare of fate threw long shadows, true, but it is always failure that accompanies man’s deliverance. Forget piety and ethic boundaries. As we make out into a new age, we pack light. We won’t carry around dead weight from long faded centuries.”

Makarov turned back towards the door taking off the padlock and thoughtfully weighing it in his hand.

“Each decision we are able to make on or own has brought us further from God. Still evolution is his gift to us, and emancipation is the last step towards our purpose. Like any good father He lets us make the final step on our own. Our heavenly father has left because we do not need him anymore.”

In a scornful rush of zeal Makarov had given his verdict. Closing the stairway door he let the lock snap shut. Even though it was paradoxical, he felt there was no more room for God’s mercy within those walls; those abominations had all deserved death.

Eagerly he proceeded towards the door, letting the others in while explaining them the situation with a few whispered words.

“The best spot for me would be the galleries,” the Stalker said, sheathing his bloodied knife.

“Good,” Makarov replied, bolting the door with a wooden plank he had found in the surrounding rubble. “Kolja, you take the other side. We’ll wait until you’ve secured your vantage points, then we’ll begin. And leave the leader for last.”

“I think we should fan out for better coverage,” Natasha suggested resentfully as soon as the others had departed. Makarov nodded, cautiously advancing between the rows of splintered benches, while Natasha and Boris took to the far sides of the vast hall. Closing in on their unaware prey, Makarov once more began listening to what seemed the closing words of this appalling ceremony.

“Do you not recognize the hour? We have blown the boundaries of evolution. We can grow to be whatever we choose. Where god has left us in darkness we sparked a light of our own. Every one of us is bestowed with another gift. In our unity lies the apotheosis of man, its ascension to flawlessness.”

Makarov cocked his assault rifle, feeling an angry itch curl his trigger finger. He barely restrained himself until Kolja and the Stalker had reached their positions overhead, before raising his voice in challenge of the preacher.

“In god’s absence there is only hell,” he bellowed, “so embrace your doom.”

The startled silence was sundered violently as their AK assault rifles exploded into a lethal shower of bullets, supported by the low bark of Kolja’s machinegun he had finally planted atop the balustrade. A mixture of screams and automatic rifle-bursts echoed off he ancient walls, almost drowning Boris exhilarated yells. Each shell cut through many of the close standing mutants, ripping their distorted flesh apart, and knocking them into the dusty litter on the floor. In the ensuing panic, the unarmed, startled mutants dispersed to all directions, not putting up any resistance before their advancing executioners. Makarov was experiencing a surge of righteousness for the first time in his life. They had the air of avenging angels. The Stalker’s SVD cracked like thunder at their backs and the staccato shooting died down abruptly. Suddenly there was a surprised yell, and from the corner of his eye, Makarov saw Boris fall from the gallery, locked in combat with a mutant that seemed to have surprised him. Their splintering impact on the floor kicked up a cloud of dust and debris that lingered in the room like a hovering spirit.

“Reload,” Makarov barked eager to press forward regardless. In a few moments the high pitched rifle bursts had filled the room with torn bodies, the tarnished scent of blood and a dense gunpowder fog, settling sour on the back of their tongues. Slowly they carried on through the bloody disorder of the massacre, methodically searching dead angles for those hiding from their just punishment. Their light speared through the noxious haze in search of more victims, occasional shots divulging bloody success on their relentless progress towards the altarpiece, where the preacher had frozen motionlessly in wait for his judgement.

As Makarov finally mounted the steps to the altar, drawing his pistol, he was startled to see the man was wearing priestly robes. Instead of the litany of righteousness Makarov had prepared, cold silence reigned in the ancient nave again, broken only by the low wail of the wounded and dying. Makarov pressed his gun to the grotesquely elongated head of the man whose surprisingly human eyes calmly fixed his, and whose face, although warped by the land’s taint, bore a strange resemblance in his memory. Conclusion was just one step away and Makarov simply could not pull the trigger.

“Put down your weapon my son,” the priest bid in a soothing tone.

“It is not against those poor, hopeless souls that you should rage, but against those who have sent you here, who have tainted your mind with their arrogance.”

“Be quiet, traitor!” Makarov managed to interrupt. “You have no right to be in here.”

“I have preached in this church even before the accident in the reactor long ago.” The priest corrected frostily. “I put up with the people our civilized world has forsaken. I am old enough to see the truth, so don’t lecture me about it. Take a look at yourself son. It is not a flaming sword you bear in your hands. Your righteousness is but an illusion. You come in the name of the church, and bishop Alexandrow, not God. They want to protect their office and their wealth from the truth I am revealing to the tormented land and its people, but history has shown the church cannot hinder progress.”

“Go ahead; Kill him,” Boris urged hungrily, a red dot suddenly dancing upon his forehead.

Makarov glanced back catching sight of the sniper taking careful aim. A few metres down the hall he saw Natasha lie, heart-shot out her chest from behind.

“The Stalker delayed our meeting until you was ready…” the priest explained, “ready to understand, and to grasp your destiny. You have been granted the gift to reveal the truth.”

“Bishop Alexandrow claimed I was only good for the opposite,” Makarov stated, fighting to keep his mix of feelings in check.

“Do not hide from your calling,” the priest continued. “Take off that mask my son. You are free to breathe now, as you are free to choose. The sermon was for you all along. Those you have killed where merely shadows without future. You know what I am speaking of, even though I can sense you are reluctant to accept it. I do not want to tell you what to believe. I only ask you to listen to the voice inside yourself. Hopefully your stay here has changed something inside you.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Boris implored from behind. “Kill this idiot and let’s get out of here.”

“And what about the sniper,” Makarov demanded hard-pressed.

“I’ll take care of him,” his old comrade assured. “Don’t worry, I’ll cover you.”

“You think we have a chance?”

“Nothing we can’t handle. Just like old times. Think of the alternative,” Boris urged shaking his head in disgust.

“Right”, Makarov nodded, cautiously cocking his gun, “For the old times.”


Back at Moscow, the crystalline light of a bright September morning fell trough the grand windows in the anteroom to bishop Alexandrow’s bureau resembling the ornate frame of a baroque painting. The rich pastel colours outside seemed surreal in comparison to the dull, mournful overcast in the Zone. It did not fit Makarov’s mood anymore, but he bore nature’s serene happiness with the mask of implacable solemnity. There was no more hiding from the insight he had consciously postponed during his lengthy return journey: it was impossible to return to normality after what he had lived through.

“The bishop will see you now,” Yuri, his old apprentice jolted him from his thoughts with a superior air.

Wearily Makarov rose from the old chair, his steps echoing through the empty room as he crossed the creaking floorboards towards a door the younger man had opened for him. Makarov felt miserably tired on this morning. He was eager to spill his guts and be gone. For good. That fool Yuri could keep his old job. Makarov was beyond envy or competitiveness.

“Caught a cold?” Yuri asked looking at the bulge of the long scarf Makarov had wrapped around his throat. The aging man just shrugged impassively, as he stepped through the doorway.

“Ah, a good morning to you,” the bishop welcomed him with delightful triumph. “I am glad you have come to pass me the good news personally, although I have already received your telegram of the mission’s success yesterday. I must say I am eager to hear the full detail.”

Whether they screamed at their execution is what you would like to know, Makarov thought, repulsed by the bishop’s nauseating gloat.

“Sit down my son,” Alexandrow offered remembering his good manners. “It is saddening to see the others did not make it. Today it must be two months from your departure. Truly a long time to spend in hell.” He opened a small, wooden cigarette box inviting his guest to serve himself. Makarov shook his head absently, focussing on what lay ahead.

“Good. I perceive those crucial incidents have helped you focus on the important things in life,” the bishop sermonized helping himself to a cigarette from the casing. “You see my son, even in the worst hardship god gifts us insight.“ Makarov felt a long buried anger rise in him.

“You do not seem very talkative,” Alexandrow weighed up the poor conversation with annoyed reproach. “I hope you have not only brought death and sorrow back with you.” The rage in his guts told Makarov it was time for the truth. He nodded, clearing his throat, and indicating the bishop to come closer.

“My gift,” he whispered with a thin, rustling voice warped beyond humanity. The bishop looked up in surprise, just as a spray of green pus from Makarov’s swollen throat, splashed into his face. He stumbled backwards, falling over his heavy chair, wincing in pain as the contaminated saliva ate through his mucous membranes. He wanted to reach for the alarm button under his desk, but Makarov restrained his hands softly, with professional care.

“Your old friend, father Jewgeni bids you welcome to Genesis2,” he taunted, the words leaving his swollen throat like a tortured squealing. “Even though you have excommunicated him, he has never given you up.” Makarov slowly took off his scarf, revealing the grotesque bulge it had obscured.

At the unnatural sight, Alexandrow’s eyes widened in horrified disgust.

“You better keep this incident a secret,” Makarov warned. “My saliva is a present from the hell that you sent me to. It works fast. We have tested it on Boris. It will only be days until you should see our movement is your future as well.”

“How dare you relinquish your faith!” the bishop managed to whimper.

“I think I have already lost it to people like you long ago.” Makarov smiled sadly. “If this had all been about faith you could have sent me out earlier. I’m done with the truths other men make for me. To me Genesis2 is neither a faith, nor the truth. It is just the mirror of man’s sin, and I will force people to look into it. The hushed horror will be visible on the faces of those responsible who have forgotten their duty. No longer will people with bloody hands be able to retain an immaculate vest. The truth will be plain, whenever you switch on your TV.”

The bishop rolled on the floor, mumbling his indiscernible protest.

“You can wipe it off now,” Makarov permitted throwing him a handkerchief, “It will make no difference. Try to look normal, while you still can.”

He rose from the bishop’s side, meticulously straightening his clothes while savouring every second of that moment.

“Oh, by the way” Makarov added already by the door. “In return for all the good you have done for me I will spare you the shame of exposure, but in return for my discretion concerning the little secret we share I demand you convince the council that my report is accurate, and Genesis2 is dead. Furthermore I want you to issue a personal communiqué to the minister of the interior you have me deliver him by the same time tomorrow. Afterwards you are free to enjoy your retirement.”

Makarov slammed the door shut and wordlessly indulged Yuri to remain seated with a lifted palm.

He took a deep breath of free air as he left the building.

Now that Genesis 2 was officially dead, it would become a ghost that the government could never root out, and soon no longer want to.

Makarov had always known that a soldier was used by the man he couldn’t abide to deny, or by what he blindly believed in.

The priest had kept his word, and allowed him true choice, and he had chosen to believe in mankind, not its lies. It was plain there was no better future in store for the world; still Makarov had decided to fight for a more truthful tomorrow. Finally he had found the conciliation he had sought for so long.
  04:13:07  17 February 2006
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On forum: 02/17/2006
Messages: 14
About my own statements...

I admit the personal laudatio had the sole purpose of making people read it. Still I feel it has a publishable standard from every point of view (style, plot etc). I really worked a few days on that one so commentaries and constructive criticism are welcome indeed.
  04:37:31  17 February 2006
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On forum: 02/17/2006
Messages: 14

Obviously the "birthsign growths" where intended to be "Birthmarks".
I apologize for my lax attention and thank marf for providing inspiration.
  09:45:13  18 February 2006
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back with a vengeance


On forum: 07/31/2003
Messages: 1729
Well, I can say for certain (I've been in the contest for about 3 years ) it's not the best story out there, but the attitude will get you to places.

There is supposed to be a permanent reviewer around (Ian_C and Grisly! Where are you? Come out or I'll give you a good hiding!) ), but I guess the two of them are catchingt up with life.

The story is not bad, even refreshing, but not well thought-out. The comparison to the Roman Catholic Church is even intriguing (in a bad way). Why the heck would the Archbishop of Russia wants the priest in Ukraine dead, and actually bothered to send in a strike team (wouldn't giving out a bounty would have been signigicantly easier? However, having said that, I like the way how you encompaass ideas of freedom into your story - a good point woth mentioning.. And how the hell would the bishop in Russia know about a priest in Chernobyll - which in the game is completely seperated from the outside world.

The pace of the story can feel tedious at times (in my opinion), but I guess you're trying to bring out the camaraderie of the team.

Not bad for a first try, not bad at all. There is more to be desired, but for now you have my respect: I didn't do so well on my first try .

Keep up the good work. And oh, on behalf of the STALKER team I welcome you to the contest (if you want it to be included in the contest that is.)
  16:25:03  22 February 2006
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Local Law-Enforcement


On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Wow man, great story. Very readable, none of the (small) mistakes in it detract from the experience. Well-paced and easy to imagine, although easier if you live in easter Europe.

I am too lazy to say anything more other than keep on writing. Very good effort, a fine piece of literature.
  22:31:34  10 March 2006
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Messages: 14
The privilege to criticise the critic.

First thank you both for your opinion. And thanks for the kind words (ok, the other words, too). I would like to ask Siro to specify the mistakes he has noticed (except those that I will now admit).

Usually I would not waste a word on what I did and how it was meant but I perceive it will be necessary here. (Hold on, This will be long even for my standard.)

First of all I have to confess that due to many reasons I have only had time for a sloppy research on the Stalker game background (which I will change). Secondly you will find that most things in the story are implied not shown, but it makes for complexity without having to trouble too much to write out every idea (something we are harassed with in many a story here.)

Admitting the unforgivable:
Lets get to the apologies first. Chernobyl is in the Ukraine… right. Sorry for that. (Can an aouthor in this competition even make a worse mistake?)
If you felt insulted by too specific reference to the Roman Catholic Church it certainly wasn’t intended… since I am roman catholic myself (at least baptized as such. And Unitarian. Great. I’ll get two seats in heaven , … though maybe not after this story). I have resolved to make the appearance of the church less obvious though. It might suggest my intended criticism in this story would only apply to the church in certain areas. In the end it does not even apply to the Christian religion, but human nature itself.

Now to the other things:

1. It is not the “Archbishop”.

2. The bishop sends the team in to murder them all, not only the priest.

3. The bishop’s reasons are:
a)fear of the movement, and it gaining influence among the population. It is obvious that their beliefs are in no way tolerable to the church, and the exposure of the problem it did not care about (providing for the poor and lost souls in the zone). I tried my best to show that things are about to get political, and that is what the bishop and the other’s do not want
b) fear that the priest wants to take revenge on him. The bishop and the priest have been friends before (which is why Makarov recalls his face), but the bishop has abandoned the priest in the zone, once he has become a mutant. I tired hard to show the priest is not simply a priest, but that the people that are gathered around him form a group of fanatics that are indeed dangerous and devoted. (which can be seen in the way Makarov makes the "attack" for them in the end. This incident proves the bishop’s concerns to have been justified. By the way: Makarov does not take the lives of his “victims”, he only takes away their humanity, thus their immaculate “masks” they hid behind. That is his “crucial” gift.)
I think all this would warrant killing I suppose, especially because there is no other way to handle it.

4. A bounty would not be suitable. Secrecy is mandatory for the bishop, specifically because of the bishop’s own implication and guilt in all this, as well as his omission to care for the problem. The less people know, the better. And a bounty only works when attracting attention (at least in certain circles). A priest from the bishop’s diocese being a mutant and the leader of a heretical group is something the bishop does not want to read in the newspapers about.

5. Seclusion of the Zone: Choppers can fly in and out of every place on this earth that is not situated at an extreme altitude. If engines work inside the Zone and Chernobyl itself, a chopper’s turbine will also, no matter any anomaly. I can’t think of any good reason they would not. Surely this service is not provided for stalkers in the game for evident reasons, but this fact clearly can’t mean we may not include any persons from outside entering the Zone (Particularly because almost every story does so (not to mention whole contingents of U.S. Marines).)
Still, the problem remains how the mutants have escaped the zone. I admit not to have been specific enough there. The Genesis2 movement has spread through the army - which I linked to the movement by the use of the ration cans - for some military stalkers will inevitably suffer from mutations, thus being susceptible for sympathising with the movement’s cause, maybe even join it. They could certainly be flown out into the world beyond Chernobyl and gather people who hate the (governmental and clerical) authority’s hypocrisy there and set up splinter cells. (And those could buy a spray-can…).

6. Tediousness. This surely is open to personal taste. Still each sentence in the first part, which is the only one I recognize to be tedious, serves either to explain 1. the background 2. Makarov`s chocie to betray his old comrade Boris at the end of the second scene (whithout previous info it would feel strange for him to betray a comrade he had himself picked as trusted and reliable.), or 3. to hint at his mutation that is later revealed, and show that Makarov consciously postpones it I tried to implement most things, for example (the similar descriptions of irradiated landscapes set in comparison to his own picture of himself) rather than to explicitly write them down, so there might be a tendency to overlook them in the usual manner people fluff through the posts (as do I).) I tried hard to get rid of all dead weight but still leave the background ambivalent and reasonably rich.
In particular the scene in the tent serves not to show their comradeship, but the opposite. I wanted to show that underneath their obvious comradeship, there are hard feelings between Boris and Makarov, who on the one hand dislikes his inhuman, homicidal tendencies, but on the other hand recognizes him for his battlefield skills as well as owing him his life. So the betrayal at the end comes only at the cost of regaining the innocence to consider without the rehearsed acceptance of things life forces one into. Thus the priest kind of liberates him. He who has been sent to murder them, ends up being their “messiah” (do not take this term literally) fighting to make the world realize and admit the catastrophy of chernobyl.

7. Intention and Topics and problems with it
Actually the story is about more than freedom. It is a (timid) plead for political honesty and against the hypocrisy dominating our media and politics, that are the premise for the STALKER world to exist. The story tries to elucidate the opinion of those overlooked. It is also about the fact one cannot keep the hungry, the outcast, and the misfortunate down forever. That everybody desires a voice, and needs somebody to trust, or rely on. I have tried to deal with exactly those issues in my story in a way I think matches the game backdrop while still make it a short and comprehensive story. So to turn around your question: What more can be desired (with the set topic and goal (publication in the manual) of the contest)? (This raises certain concerns about the impending judgement in the contest, that I have dealt with in another thread. Please check it out.)

I have tried hard to give my characters reasonable goals, motivations, and put my character into an internal conflict (or more).

Besides: This is not the first story I have ever written (If you meant that) though it is my first post on this board. I can’t help myself, but that it is quite obvious.

I think it is now understandable why, regardless of my thoughts and intentions being interesting or not, I object to the story not being well thought out.

I feel a bit misunderstood, since what I revealed now had been there all along.

In conclusion, I think I’ll work on those Ideas a bit and come up with an improved version you should give another, unbiased try (since I understand you are one of the judges ) It is not so much about winning, as being understood (although winning is fine with me ).
So, I will try to improve the obviousness of all aforementioned points, and largely re-work the story.
Since your comment made me reconsider certain parts, I have started to read a few more stories, (had only read 3 before) and discovered a religious topic the protagonist being a mutant himself, wasn’t really that much new (Yup, should`ve been here 3 years before).
I have settled to use the religious topics only that much to 1. give the bishop a plausible reason for the measures he is willing to take. 2. Explain how the Group’s name is meant, as well, as how much they had to twist their beliefs around to still be able to retain a sense in their existence, not to mention their dignity.
I thought to focus on the mutants motivation for this sort of "Faction", and put Makarov`s dilemma in the focus of things. In addition to that I will rework the geographical and hierarchical issues with the church. (If you read exactly I am not the only one with geographical mistakes though. Nearly all you've entered into the competition have some.)
As soon as I have found the time to work this over, it would be an honour to be considered in the competition.

P.S. I propose Siro to be judging the contest.

Thanks for reading all this.

Now, I hope y’all excuse me. All this typing made my dizzy.
  22:43:46  10 March 2006
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On forum: 02/17/2006
Messages: 14
The last two where meant to be .
  22:50:39  10 March 2006
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On forum: 02/17/2006
Messages: 14
Btw, how do I make letters to be a flowing script (like in the quotations), for when I posted the story from word, this kinda like was not heeded by this site
  01:57:46  11 March 2006
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back with a vengeance


On forum: 07/31/2003
Messages: 1729
If you proposed Siro to be a judge for the contest just because he gives such a short and all-positive review, then he's not qualified to be a judge at all. Too bad.
  05:58:19  11 March 2006
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back with a vengeance


On forum: 07/31/2003
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Don't meant to be harsh, but here's a rebuttal. (Although not everything in life is my enemy, heh ) If it is too harsh... oh well.

1. I don't really care. IT is a religious head figure of some sort. I'm Methodist btw.

2. Your story focused on the priest - I didn't bother to include the rest. That said, Ukraine is not part of Russia, so why would someone from Russia interfere? Also, Roman Catholic isn't that popular in Russia, it more to Russian Orthodox, and in Ukraine Ukrainian Orthodox. Ask Siro the friendly Commie.

3. It still sounds dodgy. The Zone is supposed to be an all-dangerous place, why would it even be a place for (mutated) preachers/priest and a group of believers?. That said, you tried to lay out your "intentions" for how the plot should be like, but you did not phrase them out clearly in words. That's why I've to say again: it's not well thought-out. A well thought-out plot is one thing: a well thought-out written story is another. It takes meticulous planning to get your story written right, to bring out different characters and plot . If it were well-thought out, it would have been easier to bring out that part of the plot which you don't have to discuss after the review.

4. Bounty hunters kill and don't say a word. That said, after the bounty killers done their jobs klling the bounty killers isn't as complicated as sending a group of "believers" to do the klling in the name of "religious".

5. Have you read about the gravity anomaly of STALKER? And even if the gravity anomaly doesn't affect choppers, The Zone is controlled by the Authorities, with security checkpoints situated at the borders of The Zone. For some reasons I seem to have the impression you have not gone through the details of the game completely - an unfortunately a good STALKER fanfic deserves thorough detail as that of the game. This goes to the Genesis 2 thing as well: based your new stories on something that we already know, not something you imagine up. In my experience (and I have been here for 3 years) this sort of stories does not work unless you based your fanfic to specifically entail this "Genesis 2" item.

6. Tediousness can often occur as a result of 3 things:
1) paragraphing: There is a huge chunk of words initially in your story, but it improves towards the end.
2) irrelevant events: things that you think may be relevant to the characters, but does nothing to help fleshing out the story or be relevant to the plot. People are looking to be entertained; they are not seeking to get every exact details of in your head. It's your job to make sure you write down only relevant part of your imagination so that we all get the geist of it.
3) interests: get your intro right.

7. It doesn't matter. It is extremely easy to draw distinction towards the Knight Templer in the 13th century or so when religion and politics are thrown in the mix together.

8. Of course not. But this is your first STALKER fanfiction, which has to follow a strict rule and it's to follow the details of the game.

GSC Game World would like to announce A CONTEST ON THE BEST LITERARY CREATIONS about the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. project,

You have to base your story on the STALKER's Chernobyll Exclusion Zone, what makes every author different is how he "plays" his characters.


My suggestion may sound harsh, but as the contest administrator I also have to telll you this so as to be fair to every contestant: read everything you can about STALKER. Otherwise you run a serious chance of running afoul with the judging panel.

This is the best site to start looking:
  21:37:53  15 March 2006
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On forum: 02/17/2006
Messages: 14
A smilie normally indicates I did not mean the thing... needless comentary with the siro thing. Still I do not think he is a bad reviewer at all, no matter what he thinks of my story.

And then I wonder if you really written a reply to my statements... Somehow you do not seem to get to the bottom of it. (btw I'm fine with my paragraphing. And I do not see how I could take offense in your "harshness", so do not trouble yourself. It is either inappropriate or well... good advice (concerning the stalker stuff))

I could open up each point again to tell you that... there is no point in telling me what I admitted already (like not caring too much about research, yet) or what is obvious (like the intention of my story: I did write it out in reply to your statments, not because I feel it is necessary to explain things I IMPLIED ( you shure you've understood that concept?)or not even appropriate (politics and religion have been always mixed up even now One could name dozen of events in past and recent history... yup... so?) but ... no, this mess needs to stop.

I only totally agree with point 8.

Still the question is and I agree to your objection concerning the Gensis 2 Idea from a contest judge`s pov) If the story is innapropriate why welcome it into the contest, and if there is room for genesis 2 why keep yapping about its suitability?

The thing I would like an answer to nonetheless: why does almost anybody in this contest get away with implementing guys from Russia The US and so forth and only in my story there are impassible anomalies hindering guys from outside coming in. More specific: why do the rules of the stalker world only apply to my story? If there is no way a guy can get from kiev to the zone, then my story as well as half those posted on the board as accepted entires should really be taken out of the competition because their content will confuse people.

I will wait for your reply on the last two points until deciding whether it is a waste of time to try re-write the story (fom the participating pov) or write down the other one that's begun haunting my mind since yesterday.
  21:49:17  15 March 2006
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On forum: 02/17/2006
Messages: 14
I do not know how

The smile has gotten there.. that little sneak. please do not consider that!
  23:41:57  15 March 2006
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back with a vengeance


On forum: 07/31/2003
Messages: 1729
Let's clarify one thing beforehand: I am the contest administrator, not the contest judge. And will never become one because it will destroy my objectivity as the contest administrator.

Being the admin for the contest, it is my duty/role to make way for new stories into the contest i.e to welcome them. However, being well aware of the contest judging criteria, I also have the obligation to advise contestants when and where something is inappropiate. In short, I'm like... God (not that I possess omnipotent power or anything like that!): God can't interfere with one's free will, but God can devise rules that tell you when and what is inappropiate when doing something. While the contest certainly welcomes adaptation of certain STALKER ideas, entire change of concept of The Zone, such as that in your case (Religious, Genesis2 etc.) is almost certainly not going to be well-received by the judges (who are going to be given strict code of conduct when they start the review process).

Finally, no one has yet to get away with the Russian/US/Ukrainian thingy yet! Judgement Day isn't upon us just yet. As far as I'm aware the judging method isn't officially announced yet.
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