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STALKER Prologue: 7 Day Journal

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STALKER Prologue: 7 Day Journal

This is the Journal of Harris Johnson, a US intelligence operative who has been on deep-cover assignments for the past seven years. Officially he is retired from a distinguished 15 year career in the US military, having risen to the rank of colonel. Most recently of Harare in Zimbabwe where he spent nine months as a trusted aide to the dictator Robert Mugabe, culminating in the assassination of Mugabe and his senior cabinet. Johnson was nearly killed during the operation, and is believed dead by Zimbabwean police and intelligence services. He slipped out of the country using a false identity and arrived in Washington DC prior to these entries.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

08:49 Travelling on Highway 267 East from Dulles International Airport, Washington DC

Arrived at Dulles at 08:35 from Harare. Couldn’t sleep – I’m still taking oral morphine every few hours for the pain in my back and fractured ribs. The altitude changes were agony.

Debriefing with General Reeflin, the head of the NSA special covert unit, at 10:30. A suite has been booked for me at the Hyatt Arlington, a few miles from the Pentagon. A shower and a shave will be a welcome relief. I’m so tired I could sleep right here in the cab.

17:52 Hyatt Arlington Hotel, Wilson Boulevard, Washington DC

The meeting with Reeflin took 7 hours. Not exactly what I needed, but he’s just doing his job. At least Mugabe’s gone and I won’t have to go back to Harare ever again. I’ve seen some of the worst cases of poverty and exploitation the world has to offer, and Harare overshadowed them all. Maybe the people there will give it a better shot this time.

I’ve been told I have just three days to recover before I ship out again. There’s no point in going home because it will waste too much time that I could better use recuperating. They haven’t told me why there’s such urgency on this one, but that’s the nature of the work. I’m not really sure where home IS anymore anyway – I’m in the States ten times less than I’m on foreign soil…

This next job’s from high up – I won’t get clearance until I’m on the plane. Nothing new in that, but even Reeflin seemed… unnerved. And the General has titanium balls. He’s always the first man in the fight, the last man back in, and the stories about him pushing on without flinching despite crippling wounds are endless. For something to get under his skin enough to cause a reaction means it must be terrifying.

And then they’re sending me out again so soon… That’s not a first either, but something has definitely got the boys at the Pentagon rattled for them to send me straight back out when I’m less than 100 percent. There must be something I can do that they need, and urgently. Three cheers for indispensability.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

23:30 Atlantic Ocean, GPS Lat 3912.7138182, Lon -6951.5751743

We flew out of Dulles on a Russian Antonov ‘Ruslan' AN-124 cargo plane. I haven’t seen what we’re carrying, but the plane was definitely sluggish on the way out due to the load – we took a lot longer than I expected to get off the tarmac, and I’ve flown in enough planes past their expiry date to know. Whatever they’ve got in here must be massive to make a Ruslan groan. I’ve heard of them transporting entire train carriages and combat ready tanks in these planes, so they can take a lot of weight.

I’m the only passenger, in a special cabin behind the cockpit that has seats for eight. The walls must be sound proofed because I haven’t heard anything from the crew, and even the jets are just a dull murmur. There’s a black brandless lap-top computer on the seat next to me that I’ve been told contains everything I will need to know about the mission. Time to get into it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

03:00 Atlantic Ocean, GPS Lat 5234.8976345, Lon -3326.2843766

Three and a half years ago, there was a nuclear explosion in the Chernobyl Quarantine Zone, a kilometre from the old reactor itself. Tests were being run by Ukraine government scientists, and something went vastly wrong. It is unknown if there were survivors of the explosion as all plans for rescue attempts had to be abandoned due to the extreme radioactivity levels reading as high as three hundred Grays. Five months later, the area of radioactive saturation expanded by a further five kilometres. All nearby residents were evacuated. The press had a field day, the greens yelled and screamed, and eco-terrorists around the globe celebrated a victory its doubtful they had a hand in. Scientific experts were unable to determine what had caused the change, and few theories were able to agree.

Early last year there was another explosion, although the exact origin is less certain. Radioactive clouds spewed into the skies and the area of deadly radioactivity expanded to 30kms across. Satellite imaging and sensors have been ineffective due to the interference caused by the extreme radiation. The Ukraine army committed thousands of soldiers to set up a perimeter and seal off what has become known as the ‘Containment Zone’ from the rest of the world. Nearly everyone that’s been sent in there has lost contact within hours. Even robot probes go offline within the first mile of the perimeter. All recognisance and exploration efforts were abandoned months ago.

There are very few hard facts known about the situation, what caused it, and what is going on inside the area now. A lot of people have disappeared, presumed dead. Ukrainian military continue to maintain strict quarantine. No press is allowed within 20kms of the military blockade. The most worrying aspect is what the scientists are talking about - that if the Zone decides to keep growing, we have absolutely no way to stop it.

According to reports from deep cover operatives in key positions, the Ukrainian government and military aren’t trying to hide their cards with this – if they know any more than they’re telling, our best insiders don’t know about it.

World governments were initially supportive, which was pretty lenient given Chernobyl’s coloured history. But Ukraine has been emphatic in its rejection of external aid. Neighbouring European countries are now lobbying the UN to grant sanctions against the Ukraine and demand they accept external assistance. Especially Belarus which is right next door to the Containment Zone and suffered the most from the nuclear fallout and contamination following BOTH Chernobyl ‘accidents’. If the Zone keeps getting bigger and the Ukraine takes a hard line about outside interference, the UN might consider approving military action against them.

Most of the information to come out of the Zone are completely unverifiable testimonies. There are reports of advanced mutation of animals and plants, while some survivors of rescue teams have reported colleagues literally exploding without warning. There have even been sightings of rocks and tree branches moving of their own volition. However all such accounts have been made by people who are now undergoing psychiatric ‘evaluation’ indefinitely. Its not the first time people have hallucinated under extreme stress, and the high radiation would certainly contribute to that.

Washington has decided they want someone on the ground. They aren’t very happy with the situation as it stands, and if there is cause for them to be seriously concerned, they want as much fore-warning as possible. Speaking fluent Ukrainian, Russian, German and French makes me the obvious candidate. There’s that indispensability. I’m getting too old for this.

My role will be the Tactical Commander for a science team about to head out to the Containment Zone. My papers say I’m ex-senior military – it suggests without saying outright that I’m a Ukrainian government special agent; not that far from the truth, just wrong about the allegiance.

The load in the Ruslan’s cargo hold is a modified semi - a truck kitted out with the latest environmental hazard protection, a complete microbiological and hazardous material containment and analysis lab as well as the latest in communications, data storage and high-power mobile computing gear.

The science team are all Ukrainian and seconded for this job by the government, but most of them normally work for private firms, including several who now live outside the country. A special forces military escort will also be provided at the last border station before we enter the quarantine zone.

09:45 Kiev, the Ukraine

Touched down in Kiev without incident. At sight of the official government papers customs officials and security passed the truck and myself beyond the gates of the International Airport. I’m now heading to the highway and then north to Chernobyl.

11:20 38kms from Chernobyl

40kms from Chernobyl itself was the first military checkpoint. A T-90S main battle tank, temporary sand bag bunkers, heavy machine guns, a combat jeep and army transport truck and a dozen visible troops. They were all alert and nervous, and definitely interested in the obviously foreign truck that pulled up. They didn’t get to ask questions, though. I handed them my papers, the commanding officer made a quick cell-phone call, handed my papers back and barked orders to “get the damn tank the hell off the road!” Through the checkpoint in under five minutes.

15:39 Ukraine Southern Military Base Camp – 30km Chernobyl Zone border

I met the Science team and the top military commanders here, Generals Krivitskiy and Horoshko. Krivitskiy seems upset he’s not the one going into the Zone to blow the whole place up with his tanks, while Horoshko was far more reserved. I get the feeling there’s something he knows about all this that I don’t, and I always hate that.

A group of eight Army Special Forces troops will be accompanying us. They’ll be running escort in a BTR-90 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC). From everything I’ve heard about the Containment Zone, I have to admit I’m happy to have the additional protection.

The Science team are an eclectic mix of experts of various disciplines. The only female in the team is Elizaveta Lagutin, a Microbiologist who’s been pulled away from her research at the Genzyme laboratories just outside Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Svyatoslav Gavrilenok is an Environmental Chemist and Hazardous Materials Management Specialist at Siemans AG based out of Berlin in Germany.

Our resident Nuclear Engineer is Artyom Plyushchikov who’s most recently been working under contract for SEPCO in China.

Vasiliy Zhirnyak is a Radiological Engineer currently with a subsidiary of Entech in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Nikolai Krovopusk has had over a hundred papers published in such prominent journals as ‘Science’ and ‘Nature’. He is a Nuclear Physicist whose current research at the Rare Isotope Accelator at the Argonne laboratory in the States could well lead to a Nobel Prize if the most recent papers he’s been writing are any indication.

Kostya Moroz is a Psychologist working for the Hungarian government researching long term behaviour characteristics of veteran soldiers.

There is a sense of nervous anticipation from the whole group. There is a little fear, but mostly it is dominated by their scientific curiosity and unshakable belief in their own abilities. They have been cordial with me for the most part, except Artyom, who looks down on anyone who doesn’t have at least two PhDs.

We leave tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

07:45 Ukraine Southern Military Base Camp – 30km Chernobyl Zone border

We were all up at 0600. After breakfast everyone checked and double checked their equipment, loaded the last of the necessities into the truck and dressed in hazard-suits, although leaving the helmets and respiration apparatus on their mounting brackets in the truck – we won’t need them unless we venture outside.

I started the truck while the last of the Science team finish loading up and the noise brought some of the army personnel out of their tents to watch sombrely. The expression on their faces said what they were thinking about our expedition. It said ‘they’re all dead - they just don’t know it yet’.

The troops in the APC just pulled up. I’m going to talk with their team leader and then we’ll leave.

08:45 20kms into the Containment Zone (10kms from border camp)

Travelling slowly. Geiger counters have been steadily ticking away. Radiation background count is higher than average for anywhere BUT here, at 0.038 Grays. Not deadly, but I’m glad to have the shielding that’s built into this truck. GPS has been sporadic and giving unreliable results – one of the readings it put out confused the computer into thinking we were in Canada! I had to switch off the real-time map feature half an hour ago.

Atmospheric radiation has been interfering severely with radio communications. Barely any transmission from the border camp is intelligible for more than a second at a time.

Weather is slightly overcast and fairly still. Haven’t seen anything moving other than us and the APC since we left the border camp.

We just crossed the only bridge over the river for miles. It’s a major choke point between Chernobyl to the rest of the Ukraine. I’m glad its still in good repair, or we’d have a long detour with this truck, although the APC wouldn’t have any trouble.

09:15 Pririat

The dead town of Pririat. Slava says the instruments read 0.39 Grays - above average but not hazardous levels of radiation. Other atmospheric readings of gaseous air mixture and airborne contaminants are normal, even healthy, so venturing out of the truck in our hazard suits will be safe. Everyone’s donning helmets and getting ready, and we’ve radioed the special forces unit, who are already out of the APC and setting up a perimeter.

In addition to the truck and my other equipment I’ve been supplied with a couple of high quality, Austrian made firearms - a Steyr TMP (Tactical Machine Pistol) and an AUG-A1 assault rifle with M203 integrated under barrel grenade launcher. I hope there won’t be any need for them.

09:35 Pririat

Everything around us is silent except for the noise of our boots on the dry ground, and our radio mics chirping and cracking in our ears as we stay in constant communication. Everyone is in view of at least two others at all times. Only the military escort boys are allowed to venture into buildings, and even then one of them is in the APC scanning the area with IR, thermal, motion sensors, radar and cameras that feed their raw data into a tactical computer, which in turn updates the HUD (head-up display) in our suits 50 times a second with position and direction of team members and perceived threats.

The science team are spread out, carefully analysing the area, talking quietly into portable recorders, taking readings with sensors, carefully picking up samples and storing them in metal vials and containers.

Since we’ve been out I have seen a few birds flying off in the distance, but nothing else. Its as though everything around us is waiting for something, like the world is holding its breath in anticipation.

The buildings here are like something from another time. Many of them are rubble from the attempted clean-up effort by the government, burying anything with a high enough radiation count. Entire villages were buried as they stood, as well as vehicles and equipment. Anything of any value has been stripped bare. The paint and wall-paper is peeling off walls and ceilings. Its all so dry and brittle, most of it crumbles into dust at a touch from the toe of my boot.

I feel as though I’m in a bizarre post-apocalyptic movie set – its so surreal its hard to believe. Only a few hours drive away from the nation’s capital, teeming with life and the industry of the modern world… But here it is so quiet that walking around I feel as if we are disturbing something that has been untouched for millennia. Something that maybe doesn’t want to be disturbed by us anymore…

09:57 Pririat

Two of the soldiers searching some of the buildings radioed that they had discovered something. Everyone quickly converged on them to see what had been found.

Inside one of the buildings (that looked like small offices) was the corpse of a massive dog. It was over a metre and a half in length, would have stood well over a metre in height and was solidly built. Best of all the corpse was only a few days old, complete with buzzing flies and gaping tears in its flesh, suggesting the dog had died in violent circumstances. The smell of diseased and rotting flesh was pungent in the air, despite the filters of the hazard suit. The soldiers quickly ran off to secure a new perimeter while the science team discussed the find and began collecting samples.

Eliza said she wanted to do a full examination if time permitted. I agreed and we organised moving the corpse to the truck.

10:03 Pririat

Several of the soldiers and scientists have seen rats. Only glimpses, but their descriptions all match up – the rats are huge, up to half a metre in length (tail not included).

We’ve bagged the dead dog and moved it to cold storage in the truck’s lab for later examination.

11:21 Pririat

The silence around us was broken by the sudden urgent yelling of one of the soldiers, Evgeniy. According to his account, he and his partner Pyotr were scouting out a building when Pyotr said “hang on, there’s something… odd…” when suddenly his rifle was pulled from his grasp and flung across the room where it landed as a piece of unrecognisable twisted metal. At the same time he was pulled forward screaming and instantly torn limb from limb in a vortex of pulverised flesh. The remnants of his near liquefied body then exploded in all directions, coating the walls, ceiling and floor.

We have scanned the room with every sensor system we have available – IR, ultra-violet and ultrasonic imaging, magnetic field detectors, Geiger counters and a gamma spectrometer. So far we have only been able to determine that there is a localised radiation count in there as high as 1.5 Grays. Some of the other instruments are giving inconsistent results and will take more study.

The soldier’s remains have been retrieved as best we could without entering the room and are being analysed by Eliza. Everyone is badly shaken. The soldiers have insisted on keeping a tight perimeter around the truck and not exploring further until we have some idea what happened to their man. Everyone has silently agreed.

13:14 Pririat

Vasiliy has discovered that as well as an abnormally high background count, the room in which the soldier died also has very strange electro-magnetic field readings. He said it has the characteristics of a fluctuating electro-magnet a hundred meters across squashed down to an area barely three meters square. We’ve tested his theory by throwing some rocks and pieces of metal into the area and watched them all pulverise. He also noticed that if you look carefully at the area and move around, you will notice that even light is distorted as it passes through the field.

All this has provoked endless discussion and argument among the scientists, while the soldiers have been quiet but hyper vigilant. I have spoken to the team leader, a lieutenant called Aleksey (Alex). He says all it would take is one of those things on the road as we are driving along, and whether it’s the truck or APC everyone will be killed instantly. I said “Yea, that’s why we’ve got this mission. Because no-one else wants to do it”.

15:39 Pririat

Vasiliy has calibrated the gain on our three portable magnetic resonance instruments to detect abnormal electro-magnetic fields like the one in the strange ‘space’ that killed the soldier. Depending on the strength of the field, the scanners should also be able to indicate direction and hopefully relative strength. The problem is there are only three of them, and they won’t be much use on the vehicles, unless we are travelling at near walking speed… I’m beginning to feel like we’re playing Russian roulette every time we take a step in this place.

16:20 Pririat

Alex and I have discussed moving to a location outside the deserted town before it gets dark, preferably somewhere on high ground with good visibility. He’s checked his topographical maps and he thinks there is a likely place 10kms away.

17:12 Countryside 17.2kms from Chernobyl Plant

We’ve made a rough camp on a hillock in the middle of open fields 80 metres West of the main road. We’ve seen a few more birds, but no other sign of wild-life. If it weren’t for the grasses, weeds, trees and shrubs growing everywhere this place would seem completely dead – instead it just feels deserted.

There should be room to sleep everyone in vehicles with four sentries posted throughout the night. I’ll be standing in as sentry for the dead soldier.

19:04 Countryside 17.2kms from Chernobyl Plant

Eliza has discovered that the dog corpse we collected earlier has several abnormal organs. There are three additional cranial glands that Eliza says she has never seen in a mammal before, while the brain exhibits advanced Frontal Lobe development but retarded Occipital Lobes. The dog was also blind from birth. While that isn’t significant in and of itself, the age of the dog (being several years, maybe four or five) in a hostile environment means that the dog’s blindness hasn’t been the handicap it should have been. Blind animals in the wild don’t typically survive long.

21:23 Countryside approx. 17kms from Chernobyl Plant

All attempts to establish communications or data links with the army border station or the secure US military satellite the truck’s designed to communicate with have been unsuccessful.

The central computer system on board automatically keeps a backup copy of everything the science team records or input into their note-takers, hand-helds or laptops. Even my journal is backed up. In case of electro-magnetic interference the computer automatically writes everything to optical storage in a ‘black box’ welded to the chassis of the truck that has been designed to withstand anything short of a direct nuclear blast, or so I’m informed. The problem is, of anywhere we could be in the world, we are in the place most likely to suffer a nuclear blast…

Everyone on the science team is aware of the vital importance of the data that we collect getting out at any cost. There is a ballistic projection system built into the vehicle that will launch a hard copy of the data a distance of up to 25kms via a projectile shell, taking it outside the Containment Zone’s perimeter. If there is no external input to the on board computer within a 72 hour period, either manually or via an upload from our equipment, or if the truck is severely damaged, the ballistic system will automatically fire. It can also be loaded and fired manually in the case of electrical malfunction. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come down to that.

21:52 Countryside 17.2kms from Chernobyl Plant

Going to get a few hours sleep. I’m on second watch at 0200.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

02:30 Countryside 17.2kms from Chernobyl Plant

All quiet so far. Night-vision is being interfered with by something but works most of the time. Vision through it keeps fading into useless pixelated noise. I’ve climbed on top of the truck to get a clear view of the surrounding area. One soldier is in the turret of the APC, while the other two slowly patrol in a circle opposite each other five metres around the vehicles.

On watch change Alex told me he’d seen what looked like a pack of wild boar nearly a kilometre away, but they were enormous – he estimated up to 1.5 metres in height at the shoulder. They weren’t moving very quickly, so they must have been in their own territory. I’m glad we’re not driving at night – hitting one of those would wreck the truck.

03:38 Countryside 17.2kms from Chernobyl Plant

Something… strange is happening. The soldiers have noticed it too. The air seems heavy and the hair on the back of my neck is standing up so much its all I can do not to claw my own skin off. The other soldiers and the science team have all woken up without needing to be told – they can feel it too, even in the vehicles. The other three soldiers are on the ground now and Alex is climbing up to watch from up here.

Night-vision is playing up significantly worse than before, especially towards the North-East. Vasiliy has reported that his equipment is reading very strange signals, but nothing is consistent. Nikolai says the Geiger counters are off the scale one minute and reading zero the next, which is impossible even in a normal environment. And they are giving different readings at the same time! Whatever is going on I sure don’t like it.

03:49 Countryside 17.2kms from Chernobyl Plant

One of the soldiers has spotted movement to the North East. Night vision is next to useless now. Alex has ordered two of his men to drive the APC around to that side slowly and set up the 2000 Watt floodlights. I’ve got Nikolai ready in the truck to switch on the four 1000 Watt spots positioned around the truck, as well as the ones mounted on the front. We’ll use good old fashioned light to see what’s going on.

03:58 Countryside 17.2kms from Chernobyl Plant


10:42 Somewhere in the countryside approx. 1km from last location.

I don’t know how much the cameras will have picked up from last night. I’ve lost a fair bit of blood from a gunshot wound to the upper left thigh. I’m stabilised now but if I don’t get surgery I may lose the leg. Keep passing out. Blood loss is making me dizzy.

We turned the lights on and for a moment everything was stunned silence. From the North East, shambling slowly towards us was a group of about 20 people, no more than 40 metres away. They were all dressed in rags, their arms hung limply by their sides and their mouths gaped open. On all sides of us another dozen people were advancing. None of them flinched at the light, and the scope on the AUG told me why – their eyes were rolled up into their heads or looked off at odd angles, glazed over and milky. Up close their skin looked pasty and diseased, torn in places but not bleeding. They looked like walking dead people!

Alex was talking fast into his radio, which crackled and chirped with static, but was still audible. Eliza spoke over our connection “Oh my god, those are PEOPLE! Just LOOK at them!”

I activated my mic. “Science team, do your jobs and we’ll do ours. Do NOT leave the truck for any reason unless cleared to do so, understand?”

I started to hear argument from several sources at once, so snapped “And stay off the radio. We all have our orders; I am NOT asking for your opinion”.

The loudspeaker on the APC sounded out “This is a Ukraine Army military patrol. Halt your advance. If you are Chernobyl survivors, withdraw and send a representative to talk with us. If you do not stop we will open fire. I repeat, halt your advance or we will open fire!”

The bedraggled people continued to shamble forward with no acknowledgement of the warning. At a word from Alex, his troops readied weapons and trained them on the advancing figures. They were now within 20 metres.

From the loudspeaker, “this is your final warning. One more step and we will be forced to shoot you”.

They took another step. And we opened fire.

I carefully picked my shots, efficiently sighting one leg at a time, starting from the rear-most people, because I could see the soldiers going for those at the front. A single shot from the AUG tore through flesh and shattered bone. But after the second shot I noticed my first target was still stumbling forward, though a little ungainly. The second had fallen to the ground, his leg barely attached, but despite that he continued to crawl forward using his remaining leg and arms. None of them uttered a sound.

I glanced at Alex, seeing the disbelief and horror in his eyes that must have mirrored mine. I looked around and could see that many of the advancing people were down, but continued to crawl, limp and drag themselves towards us.

“Fifty Cal”, Alex murmured into his mic. The soldier in the turret of the APC lowered his assault rifle and sighted in the mounted .50 calibre machine gun. Its roar was deafening, and its effect devastating. Limbs and body parts were torn from people.

But no-one screamed. No one so much as shouted. There was no blood; just congealed black liquid that splattered on anything nearby as massive bullets smashed and ripped through soft tissue and bone. And still they advanced.

Eliza came over the comm. and said she could see how to keep them down. She said at first she thought it was a shot to the head, but there were a couple with only half their brains that were still moving. But every one with a severed spine was still. I looked around the massacre and could see she was right.

I started looking to Alex when I heard the first scream. As I scrambled to that side of the truck there was another. Looking down I saw one of the soldiers had just SHOT two of the others. One through the chest and the second through the shoulder. As I watched he pulled the trigger again and blew the second soldier’s brains over the irradiated dirt.

Without hesitation I lifted the AUG and fired in a single motion, taking half the man’s hand and flinging the weapon from his grasp. HE didn’t scream. He turned slowly towards me, a blank expression on his face, and took a single unsteady step.

That was when my world turned to agony. Pain exploded in my thigh and I collapsed, falling off the roof of the truck 12 feet to the ground below. My training saved my life, but I still heard a rib crack and was badly winded. Peering through swimming vision I saw the slack-jawed soldier with the vacant expression was shuffling towards me. The AUG was several feet away, an eternity for me at that moment. I forced the pain out of my mind and pulled the Steyr TMP machine-pistol from its harness at my back, rolling onto my side and firing it a mere foot from the advancing soldier. A three round burst tore out of the weapon and into his throat so fast it almost sounded like a single bullet, toppling the man backwards, his head barely hanging from his shoulders by the ruined sinew and muscle that remained. He lay there, still.

I could hear the last sporadic bursts of the .50 Cal as a thud from the roof of the truck made me look up. Alex was kneeling, looking down towards me and swinging his assault rifle down in my direction. I grabbed hold of a strut in the undercarriage of the truck and hauled myself under it, just as a shot thudded into the ground where I’d been lying.

I engaged the mic “Science team, I need one of you to move this rig.”

Artyom came on “What do you mean, move it? Where to? Its insanity out there!”

“I don’t care where to, just drive! There isn’t time to explain just DO IT!”

I started hauling myself further under the truck, grabbing struts, suspension and brackets one hand at a time. My leg was bleeding profusely and I knew in a few minutes I’d lose consciousness.

A dull thud and sharp crack sounded from near where I’d dragged myself under the truck. Past the tyres I could see a soldier’s uniform… and it began to move. Alex had fallen off the truck, and obviously broken his leg from the way he twisted and began half dragging, half crawling under the truck after me. His movements were jerky and unnatural, his eyes stared out unfocussed like a blind man’s, and his face jerked and twitched sporadically.

I pulled myself under a horizontal strut and undid some of the fastenings of my combat vest. Looping them over the strut and back through buckles on the vest, I heaved until I lifted my weight off the ground and hung suspended from the strut. I nearly blacked out from the effort.

I thumbed the journal button and screamed something barely intelligible.

Alex had reached me and was dragging at my legs, pulling himself towards my torso.

“Fucking DRIVE damnit!” I screamed into the radio mic.

With a lurch, the truck moved forward. With my good leg I pulled back and kicked Alex in the face, shattering one lens of the hazard suit’s helmet. He barely noticed and continued to drag himself forward, a large gash on his cheek pouring blood.

Alex clung to my legs, continuing to pull himself up my body as our legs bounced against the ground that was gradually picking up speed below us. My leg seared with pain that constantly threatened to tip me over into unconsciousness.

“Fuck you Alex I don’t want to kill you” I yelled at him, grabbing at the small med-pack in my breast pocket. Alex’s hands were now past my waist, grabbing at the bottom of my combat vest. My damaged leg hit a large rock and my vision swam. By touch I ripped a syringe from the pack, pulled the safety cap off with my teeth, and jabbed it into the back of Alex’s neck as he reached a hand up for my throat. A second passed without him moving and then he went limp, falling away from me, rolling under the tail of the truck.

“Ok, you can stop now,’ I said into the mic, grimacing with pain.

A feeling like the air around me solidifying, suffocating me, weightlessness and rushing wind, like I’m flying; then unconsciousness.

I awoke hanging suspended from the strut on the undercarriage of the truck, only the bottom of the truck was NEXT to me, and above me was a pair of wheels. The truck was on its side! My head was afire with pain and I could feel wetness on my scalp, my helmet was cracked and my mouth had a dull metal tang. Dust was in the air and I could hear things occasionally falling inside the truck. It was still very dark – I must have only been out for a few minutes.

It hurt to breathe – it was agony to move. I did it anyway. I removed a strap from my vest, looped it around my leg above the wound, threaded it through the buckle, and pulled as hard as I could. And passed out.

This time it was several hours later before I came to. I was lying on a thin mattress in the shade of the APC. I could feel dressings on my leg and head. My mouth felt like it was coated in tin. I could tell it was early morning by the pre-dawn light.

“Here, drink this.” It was Nikolai. He passed me a drink container and helped me to sit up. I started to wave him away, until I realised I could barely hold the water container. Without him lifting me I wouldn’t have budged.

It was vodka! Nikolai held the container to my mouth until I’d drunk several mouthfuls. I noticed the metallic taste was gone, though.

“Now this,” he said, and this time the bottle WAS water. While I was drinking he explained that vodka has long been believed to reduce the damaging effect of radioactive isotopes on the body. Heavy irradiation will kill you no matter what you do, but certain medication and even common products such as vodka can help to stabilise the body in cases of mild irradiation no greater than a few hundred RADs. He said the science of this has been debated for decades, but he’d seen it work time and time again, so that was enough proof for him.

He helped join the dots between now and last night.

Just after I’d told them to stop, SOMETHING had slammed into the truck, lifting it into the air and throwing it on its side. At the same time the electro-magnetic field detectors went berserk. Artyom broke his neck in the accident, but the others were relatively unhurt, suffering bruises, scratches and a couple of broken fingers.

The soldiers arrived a few minutes later in the APC and helped the scientists out of the truck. Initially everyone thought I was dead, but when they went to cut me down someone noticed I still had a pulse, so gave me over into Eliza’s ministrations.

After ensuring the safety of the science team, the soldiers went back to the site of the attack to see if anyone else had survived. They returned with their three dead comrades and Alex, who had managed to survive the night, although if he was going to ever walk again he would need medical assistance within the next few hours. The bone had punched right out the side of his shattered leg. He hadn’t regained consciousness yet and they didn’t expect him to for some time.

I’d used a whole 10mg syringe of Naropin (Ropivacaine hydrochloride) as a spinal block to neutralise him. When he’d fallen off me his head hit the ground hard enough to give him a tennis ball size lump. Between the concussion from that and the pain from his injuries he would be out for some time yet.

I fished in my vest for the med kit that wasn’t there. Nikolai silently reached into an open crate on the ground next to him and passed one to me. I removed a syringe of pethidine, peeled open the sealed packaging and gave myself the shot.

“Did the ballistic system launch the data capsule?” I asked, finishing off the bottle of water.

Nikolai looked disgusted. “Yes, it fired. But by that time the truck was on its side, so who knows where it is now? I doubt it would have made it out of the Zone.”

“Alright, we’re leaving. We can’t continue the mission. Hell, I think we’ve completed it as well as can be expected. Call everyone together. I want to winch that truck upright with the APC and see if it still works. Then we load up and get the hell out of here. We’ll go back the way we came and move as fast as we dare.”

“I don’t think you’ll get much argument about THAT.”

14:29 28kms from Chernobyl, 2kms from Southern Military Base Camp

That was a little over four hours ago. The truck’s frame was twisted, but it ran and moved, albeit a bit slower than I’d hoped, so we could at least salvage any undamaged equipment.

We’ll be back at the border camp in five more minutes, then military hospital for me and then back to DC. Maybe this time I’ll get that vacation.

17:13 Ukraine Southern Military Base Camp – 30km Chernobyl Zone border

Looks like that vacation will have to wait. General Horoshko has had us placed under ‘protective supervision’ while a debriefing team drives up from Kiev. The barracks we’re being housed in is 50 metres from the rest of the border camp and is fenced off separately. Its coated with plastic inside and out and could house up to sixty soldiers, so its mostly empty with just the nine of us here. We have all been treated by doctors, and Alex and I have intravenous drips and electrodes running to equipment monitoring our vital signs. He’s still yet to regain consciousness.

All of the medical staff and soldiers guarding us were fully garbed in biohazard suits and have refused to talk to us unless giving us direct instructions. The relief we all felt returning to the border camp after the strangeness of the past 36 hours was quickly replaced with a surreal despondency and feeling of betrayal.

No one has been talking much since Kostya’s outburst. He began by demanding the soldiers let him talk to Horoshko, and then tried to force his way past them. One of them responded by knocking him unconscious with the stock of his assault rifle, then he and another dragged Kostya to one of the beds. None of them said anything to us – they didn’t need to. The message was abundantly clear.

We are under constant surveillance from cameras mounted to the ceiling. There isn’t a square millimetre in this place that the cameras don’t cover. The room will be riddled with microphones too. Nothing to do now but wait.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Discovered recording device on US spy 03:21 in morning of 22nd. Spy being transferred to Kiev Military Prison for interrogation. Refer to manifest documents DULN63498072, case number 8294091022345498.
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