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Hunting Misfortune

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  03:29:29  26 February 2006
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Amoki
back with a vengeance
(V.I.P.)

 

 
On forum: 07/31/2003
Messages: 1729
Hunting Misfortune

The quiet, ominous landscape that made up the region south of the city Chernobyl never did seem dangerous at first glance, but through my experience in the Zone, I knew better. Most of us did. Those new to the Zone never listen to the words of advice I give them, they just wander in with a gun and a hiker’s pack and think they’ll make their fortune in the wasteland. Now I follow them for a few days. They 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. “Kids going in looking for shiny rocks, but they don’t realize that this is a competition, not a scavenger hunt.”

No wonder most stalkers become so paranoid. Not only are the military looking for us ‘trespassers’, but others of their own kind wouldn’t hesitate to kill if it meant they’d make a few rubles for the effort. 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. It’s not a question of ethics, killing another man, its business. There are piles of money to be made in the Zone, but sometimes the means of making such profit comes with the price of your humanity.

I try not to kill others like me, but the Zone kills anyway. I’m just there to make sure their loot gets put to good use.

Fog was a thing to watch for. Gaseous clouds that burn the throat and poison everything else. Yet this fog was different. It looked almost… normal. In this alien world, it is rare to see truly 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 LR-3000 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 quickly, the other four scattered. Fortunately for my quarry, the dogs followed the other two. I picked up some MRE’s, water, and medical supplies from the fallen stalker’s backpack. Like the Zone saying goes, “What the living need, the dead have. Think of it as charity.” A double-barreled shotgun lay next to him, but he had no extra shells. I decided to leave it, probably not worth much, anyway.

“The fog’s okay. Geiger’s picking up clean.” My attention was turned back as the taller stalker spoke. Only then did I realize how close I had been following because of the fog. A thick patch of shrubs that made up my cover was only a few meters from the pair.

“You wouldn’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 emptied several magazines from his Austrian Steyr Aug rifle, so it was no wonder he had little to occupy the bag.

“I wouldn’t myself. You can never trust these cheap models.” 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.

“Yeah, 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 containers from his late squad mate. The smaller stalker had an American accent, probably a new recruit, fresh off the plane.

“Sorry, Ivan had the canteens.” His voice now had a hint of anger. In the flash battle with the dogs, “Ivan” must have been 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 skilled marksman in the short fight.

Waiting until they had nearly left my sight range, I began scouting for a proper following route. I learned stealth from a fellow stalker I met in Belarus. He was very experienced, as if he knew the layout of the 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 loot, but kept his sidearm. I didn’t ask for it.

The two stalkers followed an old gravel road that ran along the side of an industrial compound. The pair walked with clear intent and knowledge of the place. 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 close to 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 steel hinges 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 well packed 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.

I slung my rifle on my shoulder, needing both hands to open the hatch quietly. Slowly turning the wheel latch, it rolled with fluid silence until coming to an abrupt stop. The easy phase out of the way, I reached for the hatch handle. Slowly pulling up, the hinges made little sound as it rose. I considered it fortunate that the hinges didn’t make the same squeal I heard earlier.

Halfway open, the hatch was swung open from the inside. A pair of hands reached out of the portal, gripping on my pack’s shoulder straps. With my awkward 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 pressed against my mask visor.

“Who are you?” A voice spoke angrily in Russian. My right eye could only see down the barrel, but my left caught the mask of the larger military stalker. I didn’t answer, waiting for him to speak in English like he did talking to his partner. “You speak English?”

“Yes, don’t shoot!” With a gun pointed at your head, you tend to answer much quicker than normal. From the corner of my eye I saw the smaller stalker pointing his rifle in my direction. I decided to play innocent. “I’m not here for trouble.”

“Liar. You’ve been following us since last night. Who are you with? ‘Sin’? ‘Liberty’?” The questions were cut short by a loud crashing outside of the hatch.

“Motion outside. Two targets, human build. It might be Simmone and Closky!” The smaller stalker had gone out of sight, probably in a monitor room. Before the larger man could reply, the junior stalker was climbing towards the hatch.

“Wait! We can’t be sure it’s them.” Wise words. This one is still cautious, compared to his foolishly hopeful partner.

“Psy sensor isn’t picking up anything. They might be hurt.” Psy sensor? I had heard of them from a group of Zone researchers I do jobs for, something about an array that can pick up the disturbances made by certain creatures. The young one was opening the hatch as fast as possible, and his older companion was occupied with me, unable to stop him. The young man opened the hatch wide. From my position just below the opening I could see a military stalker dressed in the same style of hazard suit as the two I had followed. Yet this man was different. His suit was torn with deep, blood stained gashes, and he wore no mask. His eyes were dull and his mouth hung open.

“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 droning string of gibberish. It hit me like a bullet: Closky was a zombie.

“No! Close the hatch, now!” My watcher leapt from me and pulled the young Stalker away from the entrance, just in time to be snatched up by two bloody hands.

There was no time to try and save him; I couldn’t risk a zombie entering such a small area. A fight like that would put me at a huge disadvantage. I sprang from my back towards the entrance, pulled out my Browning sidearm and fired three shots, only one hit, striking Closky’s chest. I could see him quickly recover, but his attention turned to his captured prey, the stalker had pulled a knife and was wildly stabbing. With my free hand I grabbed the hatch wheel and pulled it shut. There was heavy banging and the sounds of struggle outside the hatch door, but it went silent after a few moments.

“Victor!?” The young stalker rose and called out before turning to me. His face visible through the mask visor was filled with 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 high-powered pistol in my hand, so I turned it to the stalker for security reasons. “Calm down.”

This didn’t seem settle him. “Get that gun out of my face.” Just then he must have realized his gun was still in his monitoring room. His hands twitched, uncertain if he should raise them or make a break for his weapon.

I lowered my sidearm. “Look, just relax. I’m not here to kill you.”

Anger slowly melted from the young man’s eyes. “So what? We’re screwed anyway.” 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 was larger, probably leading to storage or a shelter.
The young stalker sat on a small wooden chair near the monitoring room door. He unfastened the straps on his gas mask and lifted it off. His hood removed, I could recognize a face that matched his attitude. “The name’s Leon.”

Just to raise a little trust, I followed suit and removed my mask as well. “Blaine,” I needed to lighten the situation up, learn all I could. “Just a guess, but you’re not from around here, are you? What are you doing here?”

“I have a wife at home. I used to work for Blackwater, but when that fell through, 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, freelance. I’ve worked in the private security firm business, too, but it all changed when this place came up. Left with some friends to come here, I’m the only one left.” 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.”

“Pack up then. We storm out in one hour. Hopefully your friend managed to distract the zombies from us; they tend to forget about targets after awhile, unless the controller is nearby.” I pulled the clip out of my Browning and inserted a fresh magazine.

“Whoa, wait. We have food and water here. We can wait it out until they leave.” 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 possibility 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 psy detecting equipment that Leon’s troop set up must be malfunctioning, since there is no way a creature with the psychic 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, as 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 LR-3000 rifle 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 Aug ready. It concerned me that he had only two full clips and one half empty, but it shouldn’t be an issue, 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. Motioning to move out, we turned the corner south, towards the Zone boundary.

A low moan echoed from inside the west warehouse, similar to what 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 full-on battle. No, we’re running.

Leon must not have shared my thoughts, because when I turned to tell him the plan, he was nowhere to be seen. The door on the warehouse, however, was now wide open.

“Leon!” I whispered as loud as possible. I could have just left him in there, saved myself, but my conscience is still present, even in the Zone. I slowly crept for the door, my rifle leading the way.

Inside was just like I imagined it would be: dark, plain, and blanketed in dust. 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 shapes of humans, at least three of them were not Leon.

“Leon? Come over to me slowly. No sudden movements, now,” I calmly called towards the figures, hoping not to startle any of them.

“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. It wants to kill us, just like it did you your friends,” I had trouble keeping my voice low, but I began feeling the tension rise. “Just do one thing for me, okay? Just take one step towards me.”

Shouldering my rifle, I kept the sight on the smallest figure. After a moment, a different figure stepped towards him. That was all that I needed. A single shot flew from my rifle, and the small apparition stumbled 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 decided to let loose.

“Leon, help out, man! Move!” I yelled between bursts. Leon had fallen to his knees and was shaking his head as if recovering from a punch. He looked up, finally realizing the danger we were facing, and stood while shouldering his rifle. A burst sent Simmone reeling back.

I had pumped nearly a full clip towards Closky, but the shadows made targeting difficult, and the zombified stalker moved surprisingly fast. Luckily the rounds that connected slowed him down long enough so that when my LR-3000 ran empty, I had time to draw my sidearm. As close as Closky had advanced, not much accuracy was needed. His wildly swinging hands managed to grab a handfull of my suit before I put a single round into his skull at point blank. Needless to say, he went down. Yet his muscles all clentched as he fell, tightening his grip on my suit and pulling me down with him. I struggled to open his hand and help Leon, who now was engaging the other zombie named Simmone.

Leon was having a little more difficulty than I had. He wildly sprayed full auto fire at Simmone, but firing like that, only a few rounds connected. He ejected the empty magazine but had no time to load another before the zombie was on him. His hands closed on Leon's neck, and began to squeeze. Leon yelled with anger and bashed Simmone’s head with the back-heavy butt of his gun. The creature lost his grip and fell to the ground, giving Leon the time he needed to reload. Putting the barrel of his rifle to Simmone’s head, a final burst finished it.

I was so distracted watching Leon fight that I hadn’t noticed that the Controller had disappeared. Just then, I heard a rustling sound behind me. Turning to finish it off, my heart nearly stopped. The barrel of a P229 pistol shook in my direction, held by the sickly thin Controller. The sunken, black eyes staring into mine held no expression, but its wide mouth was twisted into a vile, toothy grin.

"Die." One single shot echoed off the warehouse walls. A blow sent me spinning back, but I felt no pain. I lost my senses before I hit the ground.

* * *

“…aine? Blaine? You okay?” Leon’s voice rang in my head, and it was then I felt the splitting headache. “Good God, man! How do you feel?”

I opened my eyes to see the ceiling of the warehouse. The light outside 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.”

“That’s right. Too bad for the Controller his arms were too atrophied to handle the recoil. You got shot in the shoulder, his broke in the process.” My entire right side 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, but you’ll need more than a bandage.” 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 sickly as if he had a third joint, 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 shoulder and using my rifle for balance.

“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 in worse shape before.

“Absolutely. I’d like to leave this place ASAP.” Slinging my LR-3000, I made my way for the door.

As I reached the exit, a large man stepped in front of the door, blocking my path. He wore the same uniform as Leon, his face dead and scratched, a pair of strangely familiar eyes looked down to me.

“Victor!” Leon yelled.

I had no time to shoulder my gun with a wounded arm. I could only watch as Victor staggered at me, knife raised and ready to fall.

A burst of automatic fire boomed in the large warehouse. Victor’s head snapped back, his body followed soon after. 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, “I’d like to leave, as well.”

End.
 
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