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Fallen -DES

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  04:31:43  6 October 2004
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Double Edged Sword
(Novice)
 
On forum: 10/05/2004
Messages: 8
Fallen -DES

Hello, literary people of the forum! (or people of the literary form, or the forum of the literary people)

I am Double Edged Sword, a friend of amoki. Initially, I heard about the STALKER contest from him, but the contest was finished then (or so I thought. I wrote "Through the eye of a sniper " and amoki to post it, just for fun, see what feedback I got. Then, I wrote "fallen" again, and asked amoki to help me do the research and post the initial work here... then a week ago he told me of the possibility of having my stories sent as contest entries. So I rushed...

Well, now that I have works done, I decided to join the forum and post the story. See what opinions you guys have.

Oh yes, thanks amoki

*Oh well, I do need amoki to post the rest after all... help!*
  04:44:11  6 October 2004
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Amoki
back with a vengeance
(V.I.P.)

 

 
On forum: 07/31/2003
 

Message edited by:
Amoki
01/31/2005 5:35:36
Messages: 1729
Fallen
By: Double Edged Sword

To those who flee comes neither power nor glory- Homer

Prologue
It was a great day, the controller thought. There was no dark cloud at the horizon, no violence heard, no human to interfere with his life. To match with the scene, the sun was shining brightly. Adding to the perfect picture, a butterfly joined him in this serene scene, gliding smoothly and landing at the side of a window.

He smiled. Life used to be this good. Enjoy it while there's time was his decision.

The controller sprawled on the ground, relaxed, closing his eyelids when suddenly something jumped to his mind. Something called instinct.

Something didn't feel right.

Where were the dolls he owned? ‘Dolls’ were the name he gave to the former humans he owned, because they were precisely dolls- can’t move, can’t eat, can’t sleep until he let them.

He was puzzled, perhaps a little panicky. You couldn't be too paranoid in The Zone after all.

Like the way a schizophrenic doesn't know about his schizophrenia condition, the controller felt the same about his ability. It WAS there, always ready, waiting for his wants and desires to control. Right now, it was telling... no, screaming that something was wrong. The dolls... they were supposed to be there, waiting for him to be used for the right cause. His cause.

Then there was a bang, the sound of an old wooden door being battered down by an overused force. Pure human brute force or explosives, he couldn't tell. What he could tell, was that the door literally was forced out of its hinges, onto the ground.

It was more perplexing than he could handle.

Like an old man with arthritic joints, the controller limped towards the door, a cocktail of excitement and fear pumping to his body the same way adrenaline did. He knew he was supposed to be scared, but he also knew he was supposed to be feared of. He was a controller, someone who can exert control, someone who has power to control, someone who was in control, someone who...

The door in front of him broke open without warning, the same way it broke his train of thought.

The jerk of reality brought his attention to the barrel of a silenced pistol that settled on his head, with a set of deadly eyes trained on top of its crosshair.

What followed was graphic yet simple. The trigger was pulled. The bullets exited with subsonic speed, its original velocity reduced yet still fast enough to cut through skin of meat. The bullets perforated through his skull, into his changed brain, and severing arteries that hindered its trajectory. The dense grey matter in his head slowed the bullets down finsually, but the fatal damages had been done. All this started and ended within milliseconds.

First, everything felt normal, and then he felt weak. Then he felt limp. Then he collapsed.

He was dying, the controller knew that. Yet at the same time he wanted to know this angel of death in front of him. With a final determined force, he probed his mind.
The mind of the human in front of him spelled "Spetznaz"

The controller tried to force a smile at the human in front of him. Spetznaz. The protector of Mother Russia, and now the taker of his life, a former citizen of Mother Russia. What irony.

The soldier just stared blankly at him, then fired a few more shots at point blank. The soldier then press the radio on his shoulder and said:" It is done, Lukov. Area secure."


***

Part 1
1995, State Orphanage 02, Kiev, Ukraine.

"Bastard. Lukov, bastard. Lukov, bastard..."

"Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up SHUT UP!"

“Ha-ha! Lukov is a bastard, Lukov is a bastard...”

"Please," the little boy pleaded, on the verge of tears. "Stop it."

To no avail. The other person continued to sing the merry tune, its content intended both to humiliate and to annoy.

Lukov Andreyseyev, as what the tattered piece of paper they called a nametag identified, wanted to cry. He disliked being called a bastard. He hardly understood it, but knew it was a bad word- that was enough. People never like being called with bad words.

He looked at the little bowl of porridge in front of him. He looked at Oleg, the fat boy with dimpled face, jaw slacking with laughter. No one could, or would know, of this bully in the state orphanage, among hundreds of children. Oleg was several times larger than him and had been calling him a bastard ever since awareness gripped him. And obviously he was taking pleasure from it.

Lukov was frustrated. He had enough.

He shoved the bowl and its content to that boy, who happened to be right across him. It was the first time he fought back.

The boy was shocked at first, then reality caught up with him. A rapid transformation took place in him, from bully to brawler. A brawler who looked funny with porridge dripping down his angry face.

"Vyrodok!. You think you can touch me? I'll show you what a bastard really is." With that, he suddenly stood up, banging the table along the way.

Oleg never looked so imposing before, Lukov thought. But it was too late anyway.

Oleg jumped onto the table and leaped his body towards the more inferior body of Lukov. Next thing Lukov knew, he was gasping for breath, Oleg's gigantic body was directly on top of him, both hands clenching at his throat in a clear sign of fury.

The orphanage's dining room turned into an upheaval. A commotion rose as the kids, in eager interest, spectate a "not-so-common" brawl. They did not take sides, but the noise they made sounded like a wrestling match, an amateur one that was.

But Lukov didn't care. He couldn't. Not when his life at stake.

Lukov knew he was helpless, and he knew he was in danger. But Oleg was quite strong. In terms of physical strength. Oleg was one of the largest among the kids in the orphanage.

Lukov tried throwing punches, but his effort was futile: with one hand, his nemesis covered his face while pushing it backwards, blocking his vision.

Lukov felt a soft area around his leg which belonged to a foreign body. "Kick it!" was his reaction. With all the mighty force an eight-year-old could summon, he shoved it to that area.

It turned out to be his opponent's pelvic section. Instantly, the pressure on him was lifted. He found it easier to breathe... although his opponent found it hard to stand up. Apparently, it was his opponent’s most sensitive part of the body.

"Everybody, back to your lunch." A sudden voice of authority, the familiar sound of the Keeper. Everyone moved in unison - they knew the effect of showing even a slight sign of rebellion against the order of The Keeper All except Oleg and Lukov.

"Oleg, there will not be any lunch for you. Go straight to your bunk until lunch is over. Also, you will be toilet duty for one week." As Oleg groaned, the Keeper gave him a sharper look. "That'll be another week for you. Do you want more?"

Oleg reluctantly took the choice to walk away. However, one step before he completely stepped out, he glared at Lukov and said in a menacing low voice: "See you."

Somehow. Lukov, the little Ukrainian boy, didn't feel that that was an empty threat. And suddenly he had fear for Oleg, although he was somewhat thankful that he could get away from the monster, for now.

"And Lukov... follow me. Now." The Keeper turned to him just long enough for the little boy to understand the meaning of his word, before he started leaving. Lukov knew his next meal could depend on him.... but he might as well die right there, right that moment. Everyone knew the Keeper was a strict no-nonsense man. He would probably be punishing him next, the little boy’s mind concluded. In private.

As he trailed behind the tall adult with his shorter legs, he could hear dissents coming from all over the dining hall.

"Lukov is going with the Keeper."

"I hope he'll survive."

"Last time Kaspov followed The Keeper and never returned."

"Maybe The Keeper sold him..."

"Or killed him for dinner..."

"Maybe even boil him alive!"

"Poor guy.."

Lukov, the little orphan, suddenly felt his gut twisting. Like the feeling when you want to go to the toilet for the 'emergency'. Fear entered him.

"Sir, can I go..."

"No, boy. No!" The Keeper warned sternly within the ominously dark corridor. "We are late for your appointment."

The Keeper, as he was known, led him to a room where there was running tap flowing cold water... and an old lady with an incredibly large brush.

"Go in for your bath."

"But I had a bath before yesterday. I..."

"Just go!" The Keeper shoved him in roughly. However, Lukov didn't fall down- the old lady simply caught him before he fall and rinsed him in a bucket full of water, while stripping him of his old and tattered clothing. A haircut followed next.

When it was all done, Lukov was well-dressed in a clean white shirt and a black cotton pants, his hair short. He felt both itchy, from the rough brushing the maid gave her, and curious. This was not the harsh punishment he was waiting for. Something else was going on. Something that had nothing to do with the fight. But fear for the Keeper killed his whatsoever interest for where he would be going.

The Keeper owned the orphanage. His dark mood was always a matching companion for his affectionate for dark-coloured suits and clothing. For Lukov and the other kids, The Keeper was tall. His face always bore the resemblance of a hawk, his eyes itself a weapon of discipline, his grey hair the signature of his experience in this field. The orphans were afraid of him, for he was the symbol of fear itself.

"Good. Lukov, follow me. And behave yourself." The Keeper was already waiting for him. "We have someone to impress."

Their journey to The Keeper's office was without a word.

Once inside, the creepy silence begun as The Keeper sat down on his tattered old leather chair while Lukov sitting on a stool, in the not-so-big room, a ceiling fan twirling on the ceiling. All was quiet.

"Sir... why does Oleg call me a 'bastard'?" Lukov found the courage to bring out the question. "Is it because..."

"Don't let me hear that word again! That is a bad word. You are supposed to be the children of the State, supposed to be good." The Keeper snapped, his steely eyes looked at Lukov.

"But I deserve to know. Oleg must be saying that word with a reason. What is that word? What is that word has to do with me?”

The Keeper looked at him, juggling whether to accelerate the child’s maturity or not. He figured that the kid deserved the truth. "' A 'bastard' means 'a person born of parents not married to each other.'," The Keeper rummaged through drawers in his desk, and took out a manila folder. "They found you at a rubbish bin, left in a blanket, wild dogs inches away from you body because your parent -one of them- left you on top of some cupboard boxes. You, are the son of a bad woman. One day, when you grow up, you will understand..."

"They're here." A secretary, an old woman, knocked the door and informed both.

The Keeper nodded. "Bring him in. No... bring them in."

Them? Lukov mind sprung questions. What was this all about? Why not 'him', but 'them'. As he pondered, he also noticed that The Keeper had changed. His sense of pride was exchanged with meekness, his hawkish look gone.

Something was happening. Something important. And he knew he was part of this drama, if not the main player. It must be something important, otherwise The Keeper would not have change faces.

The door opened. In came a couple, a man and a woman. Both of them sat down in front of the Keeper, without a word. The man was plump, with an aggressive look and a well-tailored suit; the woman was too well-dressed with a beautiful dress.

“Welcome to the State Orphanage 02,” The Keeper started politely after a polite bow, “Committee member of the Communist Party. It is an honour to…”

“Stop the bullshit,” the man instantly retorted. “Let’s begin. I don’t want to waste my time.”

The Keeper displayed a silent shock, than recovered quickly. “Right, right.” The Keeper pointed to Lukov. “He is the one,” he started while handing the file to the man. “His profile…”

“Am I the one who is in need of favour? Or am I suppose to learn how to read from you?”

The Keeper knew he was being humiliated, but he knew he must follow the wimps and crackle of the man, for he knew the price of crossing the man and the price of the deal not going through.

“Lukov Andreseyev, age 7, found beside a garbage bin in 1985, quite a good to the other kids, also less likely to rebel and have a clean slate so far,” The Keeper said while giving a look to Lukov. “He is quite honest, and will probably do what he is told, doesn’t really eat much. He is the best I could offer, I’ll personally guarantee that.”

The man pondered for a while, than made his decision. “No. I don’t want him.” Eyeing Lukov, he pointed at him. “Look at him: so thin and scrawny, like a diseased cow ready to be put down. You expect me to believe he is capable of doing work for me? Ha, ha, very funny.” He stood up. “I guess you can show me the way out now…”

“But… but…” The Keeper sighed. “I need the money! The State has no given us any money for the last two month. We just need some more money to feed the children for some more time. The staff, they already given what they can. We need…”

“I will present the case to the central government, nothing less.”

"That is not enough! Words don't feed the children. The money does." The Keeper was to a point of hysteria.

"I see. Too bad, The Motherland has better use for the roubles, not just for feeding the children of whores." The man himself was annoyed, Lukov could tell. "Sell the kids to pimps- you will get more money and less mouth to feed."

The face of The Keeper turned ashen.

All this while, Lukov noticed the woman stared at him, her beautiful blue eyes gazed at him intently to a point of admiration. She looked beautiful too, Lukov thought. Her blonde hair tied, her face clear of imperfection, her light smile to face of an angel. A striking contrast to the fat short-tempered man.

Suddenly, she spoke, with a sweet and light tone: "I'll take him."

The two men turned their heads, followed by 2 "You will?" One bore relief, the other had signs of shock.

The man, the nasty one, now glared at her. However, the woman knew that the man would not embarrass himself in front of somebody else by starting an argument for fear of dissent and being the joke of other Party Members. This was his weakness, and her ally.

"Yes, I am sure. He'll do fine."

"Very well then. His new name is now Lukov Merinov. He'll be yours after the payment, and the paperwork." The Keeper quickly caught on with the new development and seized the chance before anything else could happen.

When everyone was done was left, everyone had their vastly different feelings.

The Keeper felt relieved, perhaps even happy, because of the 500 roubles he had in his pocket. That should keep the children well-fed for another 3 days. Maybe just in time for the money to come, he thought. Although he knew that most adopted children taken by the Party members seldom met with good luck – in fact, he knew none- , at least he knew he knew he didn’t have to worry about Lukov’s stomach being hungry.

The woman, Mrs. Merinov, knew she was going to take a beating when they arrived back home. However, she felt she had a bargain for it. It would not be the first time she got beaten, but it was the first time she felt she aptly paid the price for something that she liked.

Comrade Merinov, of the Ukrainian Communist Party was a steamboat.

Lukov Merinov did not know what to expect. All of a sudden, his fate changed. He was no longer an orphan in a miserable place, where the food was either barely enough or never enough to satisfy his hunger. He was also glad he did not have to worry about Oleg for an indefinite time. He was doubtful of what was to come, but he tried not to worry, for that moment in time.

***

They moved quickly. Effectively.

The team knew time was their enemy. Not only time, but a stalker clan that may be catching up any time now, in full force and in vehicle. They had travelled 10K in full gear, and they knew it would be soon before they caught up. That was why Lieutenant Lukov Merinov's decided on the cement-and-wooden house to stage for their final stand, or hiding point if they were lucky.

The team made sure they followed the best laid plan they had right to the smallest detail. 3 of them dragged the zombie corpse around the house. 3 more, using what their stubby short knives and hands could offer, cut the yellow dry elephant grass within 5 metres of the house and covered them onto the corpses. Those were going to be burning material soon.

Lukov and The Sergeant were tearing rags from the zombies to make Molotov cocktails igniters with the vodka-fuel mixture they had.

During the entire process, they spoke no words, working with such cooperated motion that they seemed to be clockwork orange, controlled by one mind.

Because they knew the storm was coming. They need every tactical advantage they could gain in the borrowed time they had, holding out until help arrived or they killed every enemy. Or if help ever arrived.

Death was not an option for them, however. Their entire career as Special Forces, they lived on the creed “there are no dead heroes.” Death, it seemed, was not a choice.

“Radio, any luck?”

The radioman shook his head. “The whole thing is not working – I must have knocked against something. Hard. Or some bloody anomaly is disrupting the frequency. Next time, they should have telephone posts around the Zone decorated with flowers and with signs that goes like "Blind Dogs don't pee here!"”

“If there is a next time, I will quit the Spetznaz and open my own fucking bar!” Someone quipped. Everyone laughed.

Just the peace before the storm.

***

2000, Merinov residency, Kiev
“Papa, when can I play the computer?”

Mikhail Merinov was more than impatient. “Sure you can... after you clean the dishes and wipe them and clean the house again, and after Milasov and Andrei have finished playing with it and before ten o’clock...”

“But I never get to play it. Milasov and Andrei, they never let me play! And it is 8 o’clock now, I’ll never...”

“Stop complaining. You are here not to play. Now get to work.”

“But I...”

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” The father was at his patience’s end.

Lukov started sobbing. “But Milasov and Andrei never let me play. They...”

“Shut up!” Mikhail violent temper got hold of him. He pushed the defenceless boy to the floor. Before the boy could even get up, Mikhail’s already took his belt off. “You want to play? I’ll teach you how to play!”

Lukov only knew to huddle his body, protecting his face with his hands and tried not to think about it as the torrent of belting pain came down on him. Screaming or crying out louder would anger the person he was supposed to call ‘father’.

When it was all over, Mikhail looked at that little terrified being that cowered at his legs. “Little bastard,” he said. “Just wasting my food, this good for nothing bastard.” He spat on Lukov, then casually looked at his watch. “Look what you have done, I am 15 minutes late. I expect everything done when I come back.” And then, he was gone, leaving Lukov on his knees, sobbing quietly, wondering if he would strike again.

“Don’t cry, Lukov. Don’t cry.” Lukov felt a soft touch that gracefully lifted him to a shoulder, a shoulder that Lukov knew only too well.

“Mama, why Papa always beat me? Why do Milasov and Andrei never got beaten and they don’t need to do any work, while I always get beaten when I missed a little work?” He lamented softly to his only source of consolation, his shelter in the storm.

The woman, whom Lukov only know as Mama, genteelly patted him.

“It is alright. Papa wouldn’t be back for some time.”

Where has he gone?”

The woman sighed. “He has a poker game with his friends at work.” Her voice slowly trailed off. “Then... he will be staying at another family... with somebody else He will not be back for the night, I promise.”

Lukov felt a little better now, knowing that danger was gone. He stopped crying.

“Ma, why does Papa never like me? Is it because Andrei and Milasov are better than me? Is it because I’ve been bad?”

“No, Lukov.” The petite woman in her forties pondered whether she should tell everything, or simply lied her way across the situation. “Papa... never like you because he never love you at the first place. He adopted you to clean his house and to do things for him, not to make you his son. You being his son is just a cover for something else. Not only so- he did so because... because he needed you to impress the Party Chairman, his boss. He was in a position to impress his boss so he can posses certain favours. When you grow up, you will understand. His real sons, your brothers, are direct imprint of him. I am ashamed of them and Papa.” For a moment, she wondered whether they would be overheard, but she was assured when she heard game music blaring loudly from upstairs.

“Lukov, you are the son I never had, until that day when I got you from the State Orphanage.” The woman admitted. “I will always be on your side, no matter what. But don’t tell this to Papa, he will... do nasty things.”

Lukov nodded.

“Now, why don’t we do the work together? If we can finish earlier, maybe we can play chess together.”

***

The tension was there, in the air

The six soldiers were quickly cleaning their AK assault rifles, checking and rechecking every part was oiled, clean, and ready for heavy duty assault. The mental checklist they had sprung in like instinct – barrel and firing mechanism. How could they forget it, those minor details were what they were schooled with, precise information that would save their life.

Their surrounding was a messy place, somewhat like a normal boy’s room of clutter, or a wooden shack that just survived Hurricane Ivan. Ever piece of furniture were broken down and barricaded at strategic areas where position would be taken up when the time came.

“Anyone still unclear what to do?” Lt. Merinov asked again. “We must make no mistake. We have come too far to fail the Motherland. We are being depended upon.”

The Sergeant, and the rest of the squad nodded.

Lukov reassembled his AK-74 and went upstairs to check the other 2 soldiers.

What used to be a bed’s wooden frame was now broken up into precious piece of protection around the soldier holding the SVU sniper rifle. The soldier was also the only one with the comfort of a mattress.

“How’s it going?”

The soldier shook his head. “Same old shit, Lukov. I prefer to become a political officer on a fishing boat rather than waiting here.”

Lukov showed a little smile. “Good man,” he said to himself, with a tone that was just audible for the other recipient.

The radioman caught his attention just by shaking his head gently.

“No luck.”

“Keep trying, everyone depends on you...”

“And everyone depends on you sir.” The soldier quipped dryly. “For the last time, I hope you make the right decision. I never liked officers who make wrong decision. They never lived long enough to regret it.”

“If I made the wrong decision, none of us will be alive by day’s end.”

***

2006, Merinov Residency
“No, you become anything BUT A SOLDIER.” The voice of Mikhail Merinov thundered throughout the mansion.

Lukov Merinov kept his composure. His face revealed no fear, his feature relaxed, as his ‘father’ screamed at him.

“What is done is done. I’ll leave tomorrow...”

“NO YOU ARE NOT GOING!”

“Or else what?” Lukov retorted.

“So they teach you that in KOMSOMOL? (Communist Youth Party)” Mikhail’s cold stare clearly labelled his contempt towards Lukov. “All those time there, not doing your work at home. Let see if they teach you this!”

A hard punch hit Lukov face on, throwing him to the ground.

“Son of the Motherland? Don’t make me laugh. You can’t even defend yourself, you little piece of shitty bastard. You just the same fry I picked out from the Orphanage! Maybe I will even collect back the money tomorrow. I don’t even know why I took you at the first place!” Mikhail sneered sarcastically at the young man who struggled to get up. “Get up. I say, get up, you little...”

He never finished the sentence when Lukov’s unexpectedly stood up and shoved him a punch straight to the face, throwing him towards pieces of expensive furniture. He landed hard, his momentum shooting pain signals all around him when came in contact with hard teak wood.

Sukin Syn!” He screamed, both in fury and surprise. He never saw that coming, never knew it was possible. “Mila, Andrei: Get him!”

Mikhails’s two fat and tall children, both similar replicas of their natural father, just stood there. They knew Lukov was the regional winner of the DOSAAF sambo military martial arts competition. Every year.

“Listen, and listen closely, Mikhail,” Lukov now strode to his victim, calling him by the name instead of ‘father’ as a sign of a ripped rebellion. “I have endured 11 years of hardship because of you. You think I am joining the Army? Wrong, Mikhail. I am joining the Airborne Paratroopers, The Motherland’s finest. Where were you when I won the sambo? Obviously not there, I’m afraid, because you would have known not to mess with me. Now, get lost.”

Usually Mikhail would have burst in anger of this insolence, but this time, he got up, wiped the blood off his mouth and nose, and summoned his two children before he got to his car, where a driver was waiting to take him to his usual poker game. He knew he was outmatched this time, if not outgunned.

“After tonight, I don’t want any trace of you in my house.” Mikhail shouted, just right before he stepped in the car.

“So be it.” Lukov watched as the stereotypical jet-black government limousine rolled out of the front gate. “Sabaka running with tails between their legs. Cowards.”

“Is it really necessary to resort to such violence?” Somewhere form behind Lukov, a figure rose from the kitchen door. “Is violence really that useful to prove yourself? Part of growing into a man is…”

“Yes, mom, I know. Not fighting back when you know you will win.” Lukov sighed. “But I never liked that man. I have to fight back, to prove that he does not always win…”

“Life, “she said, “is not always about winning. I never liked him too, but what choice do I really have, except to co-exist? And I don’t think it will take a fool to know that he has other women out there. Power corrupts.” This time, the woman sighed, gently shaking her head. “Lukov, just remember this when you enter the army – you always have a mother, you must always keep the pride of you being you, and you not being one of the Merinov’s. Always remember, you may be an adopted child and you may never know who your true father really is, but that is the best thing that can ever happen to my life. Because you, are the best thing that happened in my life, not the Merinovs.” She smiled.

“Sure, mother. Don’t worry about me- I may be gone, but I will not forget you.” Lukov said while going up to the attic to collect the little belongings that he had for the last few years. Mikhail Merinov, the rich Communist Party Committee Member, was never generous to his adopted 'servant'.

“Where are you staying for the night?” The concerned mother asked as her son finally emerged from the attic, carrying all his belonging in a suitcase that still sounded empty when everything he ever had was in there.

“I’ll survive. Like I always did.”

“Please, take this.” The woman quickly went into the kitchen, fished around, and produced a small women’s wallet. She quickly emptied the content and placed into Lukov’s palm. “I never know why I saved this money for when I first moved in here, but now I know. Lukov, use them wisely. I know you will.”

“Ma, I don’t know what to say…”

“Then don’t say anything. You are the son I always wanted, not the two sons Mikhail Merinov bear through me. They are the reflection of him, the details of everything I hate about this family. Use the money, you will need it for the night. Always remember me, your loving mother.”

Lukov gave her a hug, and then was gone, leaving the Merinov Residency. Forever.

***

“They are here! They are coming!”

The words were dynamite. All of a sudden they stopped what they were doing, made the last check that all of their weapons and equipment were within arms’ reach, and prone on the ground, not moving. All of them were at their pre-arranged position, ready to lay their firepower to the enemy simultaneously on order.

“Sniper, you are our eyes and ears.” Lukov commanded as he too lay on the floor.
“Copy that, sir.”

Lukov quickly went through his mental checklist. It may be possible that they had thermal imaging device, but they were behind the Sun, so that would not be too much of a problem to worry about. Their weapons had all been coated with anti-glare paint, a routine they all did every week. No one was in sight. Even the sniper was peering from a crack he smashed to avoid unnecessary exposure.

“I see a leading UAZ jeep armed with a PK machinegun. Could be recon, hard to tell. No, cancel that, not recon. I see the convoy now. 3 Kamaz trucks, content unknown, presumably stalkers. Commander vehicle sighted – the usual Niva, armed with a PK machinegun post. No supply vehicle. This is going to be fast. No heavy weapon sighted, but hard to tell whether that will change. No visible armour plating. Slackers. Should be a milk run”

“Don’t underestimate them, Josef. They are “Duty” clan after all.”

Lukov patted to his Bergen backpack, making sure that the big bulge was there. The suitcase was what they, the “Duty”, were after. Fair enough – after all, his group of soldiers grabbed it from them.

“Sir, can I?” The sniper requested from the radio.

“No, not yet. Let’s pray hard that they just passed by,” Lukov answered back. “But aim at the fuel tank of a Kamaz, just in case.”

“Good sir,” the radio came, followed by an audible “click” of a firing pin.

Lukov looked around. Everyone was looking at him nervously. They all knew they were outnumbered, and the element of surprise didn’t usually do much fatal damage when you have a large convoy of soldiers hunting you down.

He was feeling nervous himself.

“Sir, you know you can run away if you want. You are the leader, you have the suitcase, you are the one who will survive. We can cover you for around half an hour. You will reach an outpost by then,” the Sergeant advised him.

“You may have a point,” Lukov whispered back. “But I am not going to let you all have some fun while I run away like a Sabaka and claim to be the leader of a ‘Hammer!’”

They all shared a nervous laugh.

***

Spring 2007, Kiev's People Square.
“Follow after me, the creed of a soldier.”

There were thousands of soldiers, all in their military regalia and their black-and-white stripe vest under the rainy autumn day. One of them was Corporal Lukov Merinov, standing in front of the rows of soldier as a cadet leader.

He stared with disgust at the sergeant who was reciting the creed right in front of him that very moment; in fact, the sergeant who made it to sergeant in less than 3 months. Because he was the son of the local Communist Party Chairman. Because the whole thing was about him.

Less than a year before, Chernobyl burst. Everyone in the training camp knew, along with everyone in Ukraine; but it never made it to the media. No one knew what happened. So much for glasnost, Lukov laughed silently.

But while no announcement were made this time, the public paranoia was evident judging by the sudden drop in recruitment; and that was not a usual sight when the three main occupation you could involve in was military, bureaucracy, and food-producing. Thus explaining how the sergeant was chosen to be reading the creed- if the Communist Party Chairman’s son would enter the army, anyone could too. That was good propaganda.

Of course, that was a joke, since he would most likely end up in bureaucratic work instead of guarding The Zone perimeter.

The whole field thundered with the voice of enthusiastic Red Army soldiers of the Ukrainian Front, repeating the creed in front of proud parents in testimony of their loyalty.

Lukov readjusted his blue beret that also bore the emblem of a paratrooper. The hard-earned emblem of a paratrooper. He made it, not just passing the grade, but also made cadet leader the whole time, leading the sambo military Russian martial art every morning in the cold January days without any proper clothing, being the first to run, jump, and shout command every time. He passed, with flying colours, while many others who had the same DOSAAF teen voluntary service and KOMSOMOL credential failed and had to be rejected to the regular army or the marines. Anything but a paratrooper, the cream of the crop.

He was the cream of the crop. He was a paratrooper.

If only Mikhail could see this now, he thought while the creed was continued. This will turn his fat ugly face into an ashen one. His other two brothers never had the intention to join the army nor the physical ability to do so – they were too fat, just like their father. In due time, they would join the same trade as what Mikhail did- earn a living via cheating and bullying in the name of the Communist Party.

He scanned the podium for his former adoptive father. Looking intently at the face one by one, he started from the front row. It didn’t take too long to find Mikhail out among the crowd, because he was sitting right beside the Party Chairman himself, in a freshly pressed and starched black suit and a grey leather hat.

When Lukov looked at him, he was chatting in a nonchalance manner with the Party Leader, who was almost the same print as he was, save for a rimmed-spectacle, while looking at the crowd. But the instant Mikhail looked at Lukov, he paused. Their eyes met.

From afar, Lukov could see his eyes suddenly burned with hatred. In defiance, Lukov gave him a smirk that seemed to say “You can’t get me now.”

That day was his day of testimony, evidence that he was everything his father was not.

It wasn’t hard to see why Lukov’s smirk was also the pain in the neck for Mikhail, whose eyes were now popping out. If no one else was nearby, Mikhail would have run to the field and try to get his hand on Lukov, like he always did. Tough luck for him, because the person he wanted to impress was also sitting right next to him. What a revenge, Lukov thought. What a sweet revenge.

But if only Mother was here.

All along, Mother was what drove him to his edge. Mother was the one who pulled him up when he felled, patting the dirt off him and keep him running. Without Mother, he wouldn’t be here. No, he would only be in an orphanage, rotting in hunger. Even if Mikhail had adopted him, he still wouldn’t be here as a self-confident paratrooper. No, he would be back at home, maybe polishing the ten pairs of Italian leather shoes or maybe even starching the suit for Mikhail, living the life of a slave. All of this changed, because of Mother. He missed her.

Mother would have been proud.

If only she was here, witnessing his finest hour, the fruit of her support and nurturing.
. He scanned the crowd one by one, studying intently at any face that bore the resemblance of his mother. He found none.

As the creed read on, he kept looking. He had hope. It may be a misplaced hope, yet hope was what she had always given him. She had to be there.

Then, among the crowd, he saw a lady, dressed in a black dress who seemed to stare at him. No, stare was not the word – gaze. The gaze whom Mother had always given him, the gaze of love and hope. But when she saw Lukov looked at her, she quickly turned away, in other direction.

‘It had to be Mother. Mother must had felt that I should pay more attention to my duty, ‘, Lukov’s heart said.

He struggled to memorize where she was, but at that moment, he heard the command to march, and the starting notes of the national anthem. He knew he was the example of his squad. He had to obey, no matter what, because he was a paratrooper, the Motherland’s best. When he had the chance, he tried to look back at the position, but he couldn’t find it again- there was too many people.

When everything was over, when the crowd dispersed, Lukov immediately detached himself from his unit and ran to the crowd. He was hoping to see his mother for the last time, to feel her hug again, the warm motherly hug that he always hoped after Mikhail turned in on him every time; to feel her last encouragement and wise words for the many years to come. He had to have her again.

He searched frantically, squirming and diving among the orderly crowd. He scanned every inch of his surrounding, hoping to see the woman in black, who could be his mother. He waved, he shouted, he did everything he could. He couldn’t find her.
One by one, the crowd shrunk. In the end, only a few people remained. They were all not his mother.

Lukov wanted to cry, but he remembered he was a soldier- he was not suppose to shoe his weakness. But he too knew he couldn’t return to the Merinov Residency again, as he had been ousted. Disappointed, Lukov went back to the KAMAZ truck belonging to his unit, where everyone was impatiently waiting for him.

“What, Lukov, found your missus and went for a quick jab?” Some chided.

“Nah, probably not. He must have gone for a quick drink. The sun is too much for him”, Someone else joined in, and everyone laughed. All except Lukov.

They just don’t understand, Lukov thought. They just don’t understand.

***

They lay still, tensed and hanging onto every word of Lukov’s conversation.

“They are still going straight. Sir, we might make it.”

Lukov sighed in relieve, along with everyone else. ‘Yes, that’s right, keep going’, Lukov prayed. ‘Go away.’

“Sir, cancel that.” The tension suddenly cracked. “UAZ convoy leader heading here!”

Everyone now looked at Lukov, hanging onto his every breath. Including The Sergeant.

Lukov himself was uncertain. He knew the price of engaging the enemy, especially when they were outnumbered to around 15 to 1, at best guess. But he also knew the price of not engaging the enemy. He knew that if he engaged too late, their fates were sealed.

Their fates were sealed anyway.

“Sniper, listen carefully – lock on any KAMAZ’s fuel tank you can find. When we start cooking, on my order, fire. Is that clear?”

“ROE understand. Engage target at command.”

Very soon, the buzz of the Russian-made UAZ jeep was heard, its diesel engine’s noise clear as day. It approached the building, and then stopped abruptly. Two footsteps crunched on the dry earth, and walked slowly towards the door.

“They didn’t spot the bodies yet. Good,” Lukov consoled himself.
Everyone’s gun locked at the door now.

A hand touched the door’s handle roughly. The hand griped it, and twisted it…
The door opened. There stood 2 stalkers.

They looked at the 6 soldiers prone on the ground. The 6 soldiers prone on the ground stared back. That moment in time froze.

One of the stalkers begun to raise his LR-300, the other pressed the button on his radio. The Spetznaz soldiers all pressed the trigger of their AK-74 at the very same time. Within milliseconds, the stalkers’ internal organs were shred to confetti.

“Fire!”

A crack from the sniper rifle upstairs.

Lukov was waiting for the explosion, but it never came. The crack of the sniper came again, and again.

“Sir! The tank is fire-retarded!”

What a bad start, Lukov thought.

The fight had begun.

***

Autumn of 2012.
"Lejtenant Lukov Merinov, yes? From the 5th Airborne Brigade?"

“Yes. Reporting for duty, sir. I understand my transfer have been successful.” Both exchanged handshakes.

“True, comrade, true. I am Colonel Yuri Bakineyev, commander of Spetznaz Chernobyl Defence Division. I trust you enjoy your ride?”

The young soldier, a day ago paratrooper of the USSR, was too tired to start an argument on why the base needed a quieter transportation, especially after the 3 –hour ride on the Antanov transport. He nodded.

“Good. Follow me.”

As he quickly moved on, Lukov was surprise to find a base so small. The whole base consisted of only an airfield and barracks. He was expecting a city of Red Army Special Force, with a separate airfield. Even he had seen better and glorious days in the Paras.

“So I am a squad leader, from what I have been told?” He quickly passed on his questions. “I am not expecting such honour to be bestowed to me by the Motherland.”
The Colonel stopped in his footsteps. “We lack men of considerable talent like you. Most officers chose to stay away from this part of the Spetznaz. It is not hard to see why.”

“But I lack experience!”

“Experience? You’ll get your experience of the exclusion Zone soon enough. This unit is form not long ago. Two years, if you did not add in the Forgotten Years (2008-2010). There is no such thing as veteran soldiers of The Zone for the moment. A personal question: why here?”

“Ukraine is my homeland. This duty seems to me as defending my birthplace.”

The Colonel nodded, convinced.” A patriot.” He quickly resumed his pace, Lukov on his heels.

“What can you tell me about my squad?”

“Nothing really. Every squad here are the same,” the base commander paused for a while before he continue. “Except they are the ‘Hammer’.”

“’Hammer’?”

“There is a tradition that goes around here- the “Hammer and Sickle”. The sickle cuts through the enemy like hot knife through butter, but only so. But the hammer… the hammer can knock the enemies’ teeth in and crush their skull and bones, giving the enemy the worst kind of death. Whatever squad gains the most kills for the month wins the title of a 'hammer', the second in place the 'sickle'. Tally is counted by the month. “

“You are saying my squad is the best around here?”

“The Colonel nodded.

Lukov suddenly felted nauseous. Somehow, things didn’t sound too right to him.

“Who is my political officer then?”

“We don't exactly have people of that job description here yet. Main priority goes to the regular garrison army at the Border, because the soldiers there are 'green'. Easier to get traumatized and mentally incapacitated, you know, with all those bloodshed. Central command thinks we can last for a while before they can train up some more for us. But of course, that decision was made assuming that none of the officers died during garrison duty."

“What do you guys do during propaganda nights then?”

“Nothing,” the colonel shrugged. “We have better things to do, like sleep. Trust me, you will understand the feeling sooner or later. The life of a Spetznaz in The Exclusion Zone, you see, had nothing to do with communism. When your foot touch the soil of Chernobyl, you are no longer a Russian, or a Ukrainian, or people of any nationality. You are a player, someone who is thrown into the arena for a brawl of life and death, your opponents humans and mutants alike. When you survive, the crowd yells “Encore!” and you will be thrown back there, to the arena again. When you die… well, just remember that there is no such thing as a dead hero.”

“Then who is the current squad leader?”

The Colonel’s eyebrows tensed. “Ah… I know what are you thinking, comrade. The squad is led by a soldier they called “The Sergeant”. He is a true soldier- survived Afghanistan and Chechnya tours, great Spetznaz soldier, involved in counter-revolution in German Democratic Republic (G.D.R = East Germany), the list went on and on. 10 years in the Army, decorated several times, but the orders never came to promote him. Rumours came… he had problems with someone upstairs. Relationship flings I heard.”

Shame on me, Lukov thought. He was only two years in the Army.

At the end of his little trip, he was standing in front of the door of a room, a shiny red hammer’s sticker on the front door. This was the place, he was sure of it.

“A piece of advice: respect. Earn, keep and give it. It can take you a long way.” The colonel turned, and was gone.

Here goes nothing, he gleefully thought. He opened the door.

Just as he expected, it was a standard Russian barracks. Decker beds with rough green linens and a toilet squeezed into a room. Two beds on each side, making the room the correct living quarters for eight.

The five men inside were surrounding two men playing chess, right in the middle of two beds where an old table and two creaking chairs were at. Some of them were whispering tactics, others taunting.

Lukov decided to try out his new power.

“Officer in the quarter!” He shouted. All heads turned instantaneously to look at him, then, to his surprise, returned to the game. Lukov was expecting a squad with more discipline.

“I want to speak with “The Sergeant.” Lukov shouted again to the crowd.

“I am The Sergeant.” A man rose and walked towards Lukov.

The young lieutenant studied the soldier. He had a standard army crew cut of grey, fading hair; his eyes of blue cold steel and his face sturdy, although a few unhealed scars decorated his face. His body were robust; so were his arms and legs. Although every move he took didn’t show his bulging muscles, he did look intimidating to his opponents. Clearly, Lukov thought, this man knew what he was made of. Bloody hell, that man was even old enough for him to call ‘father’ if he was as aged as he looked.

He was looking at a veteran soldier.

“Explain your squad’s behaviour.”

The Sergeant gave him a sharp look. “Sir, as far as we concern, you are a nobody. You might be the son of a somebody, maybe that’s why they promote you to lieutenant. But around here, you start from scratch. You earn your keep, and your respect. I don’t know about you, sir, but the last thing everyone here wants is a lieutenant who works with his mouth, not with actions. We are the ‘Hammers’ – we deserve to be proud.”

With that, he turned back to the game.

Gosh, Lukov thought. It was not going to be easy to lead this squad. He had a feeling that disciplinary action was to be the last thing he should use now.

The next morning, Lukov saw every squad leader shaved with his squad members. Shaving was a ritualistic action in the base, from what he observed- men who were acting like friends and trusted companion in a squad doing the most basic things together while obviously enjoying themselves with morning chatters. He called it “The Shave”.

He was the only one to shave alone that morning, and for many mornings to come.

***

The battle didn’t start well. It didn’t start too bad either.

When all six soldiers on the ground floor rose to open fire, the enemy was to confuse to understanding the battle had begun. All the convoy stopped, all the men paused to understand what just happened. They panicked, they looked back and forth, their fired wildly. Of course they were out of the effective fire range of their AK-74 rifles, as the enemy was about 700m away; but that didn’t stop them from firing full automatic.
Lukov could not see his enemy, but he knew that spraying his bullets on the KAMAZ truck was the most important thing to do that moment, before the stalkers could disembark. He opened up on them.

There was no immediate reaction from the enemy, at least not yet. The air whizzed with bullets, the sound of soft ‘clings’ from spent ammunition shell were heard. The hot gas from the discharging AK-74 made the surrounding a little warmer for them all.
When Lukov finished 2 magazines, he shouted: “Hold Fire!” Everyone promptly stopped.

“Sniper, movement?”

“Negative. I can’t see anything from here apart from ripped canvas. Some of the KAMAZ trucks were dripping blood and diesel. But no sign of movement at all. The Niva have all of their mirrors cracked, blood on the screen. A few opened doors, but all have dead stalkers barricading them. A couple of them still moving, but not going to be very long. All clear. I’ll say we mess them up good even before they know it.”

“Wise choice, my young lieutenant.” The Sergeant chimed in. “Very good course of action indeed, my young lieutenant. Perhaps now we can hijack… no, use one of those Nivas to get to one of the outposts and go home from there.”

“Sir… cancel that.” The Sniper suddenly interrupted. “That, was only a recon force. Look at the North East, sir. The main assault force has arrived from the hills.”

Everyone who overheard the conversation instantly looked at that direction… and was appalled.

Repainted Army BMPs were swarming from the hill, towards the left-over vehicles.

“Chert Vozmi!” Someone screamed. Without any anti-armour weapons, they could only watch helplessly. Grabbing the Niva was the last thing on their mind now.

The real battle was about to begin

***

3 weeks after entry to Spetznaz Chernobyl Zone Defence Division, 2 weeks from present
‘That felt good,’ he thought, rubbing his cleanly shaved chin. “What’s for breakfast?"

“Maybe ‘Flash’ pot roast straight from ‘the farm’, I hope. The eggs, bread and Russian sausage are getting boring these days,” Someone else chimed from his back. “Right, boss?”

“Aye.” Someone else replied before Lukov could response. “Maybe next time we should bring a bag at our next trip to ‘the farm’, see if we can hunt one down.”

“Well, you shove that one down your throat yourself, buddy, ‘cause I am not going to have children that glow in the dark. It is bad enough already that we don’t have military-issued lead underwear!”

Laughter.

Lukov had the billion-dollar smile on his face. He, no – they just completed “The Shave”. The ‘Hammer’ squad did their morning shave with him today, for the first time. He had earned their respect.

Part of being a Spetznaz in The Zone was also to be involved in military stalkers duty. Military stalkers, as the saying goes, were the badass ones who get to walk around in The Zone for one 6-hour shift, with a nice SVU “hunting rifle” that have a 1.0 km range and any other equipment they like.

It was his shift 2 days ago, and he did it with The Sergeant as their rooster instructed.

During their time in The Zone, they happened to be ambushed by a 4-man stalker team.
It happened fast. As they were walking pass a bush, 2 men suddenly burst out of nowhere and appeared in front of them, armed with AK-47 rifles. 2 more subsequently appeared during the time it took for the two soldiers to realize what had happened.
Their demand were simple – “your equipment or your life.” However, the 2 Special Forces soldiers knew better. Stalkers never just let Spetznaz run away.

The Sergeant looked at Lukov, and saw a finger pointing back toward Lukov himself, and towards the back. The Sergeant was amused, and nodded.

The lieutenant yelled “go!” without any warning. Instantly, both of them took to the ground while dropping their primary weapons and rolled up. The enemy stalkers were not expecting anything as such to happen.

Both soldiers came out, one knee of the soil and one knee standing up. They drew their Fort 12 pistols simultaneously and quickly double-tapped on their targets.

When the carnage ended seconds later, all four stalkers was dead, their eyes not even blinked once. One even had his finger on the guard instead of the trigger of his rifle.
The Sergeant, seeing this, was more than amused. “You are clearly not “somebody’s son, isn’t it? You really got your stuff.”

Lukov managed to force a smile. “They make me an officer for some reason, you know.”

That day, after they returned, everything seemed to change for Lukov. All of a sudden, the squad involved him into their activities. When that happened, he knew he was part of them. He was family to them. And for that, he was happy, even now.

Respect. It was his. Now.

He led them to the field, where he was ready to lead them for their routine 12K run. It was not going to be tough for them, Lukov thought as he opened the doors in their path. Maybe he might increase it to 14K today. Maybe he would even led them to a work-out for a full day today, see if he could make them tired today Maybe...

His train of thought was interrupted by the sight of his commander waiting at the field.

The colonel looked at his direction.

“Lukov, Comrade Mikhail Merinov wished to see you in Kiev State Hospital immediately...”

“Now? Can he not wait?”

“He is the Committee Member, after all. He has the power to do what he wants, and all of us has to obey. He is your father too, after all.”

Lukov grimaced. He wanted to explain to him his thoughts about his father, but he realised that shutting up at that moment would do more good than freely expressing his thought. It was a family matter, after all- not a secret he would like to divulge with everyone.

“Sir, do you have any idea why I am summoned?”

“I shouldn’t be telling you this, but… my sources said that it has something to do with Comrade Merinov’s wife… your mother I think.”

Mother! He could now feel his heart racing.

“When can I leave?”

“As soon as possible, the sooner the better… but not with that,” Colonel Bakineyev pointed to his costume of striped T-shirt and jungle-dress cotton pants. “Full military uniform. Hurry up, the jeep leaves at nine.”

“Make it 8.30, sir. 10 minutes from now. I can skip breakfast.”

Two hours later, his jeep halted in front of Kiev State Hospital. Lieutenant Merinov quickly checked in with the registrar, and went up the stairs towards his destination. Lifts were dreamt luxury offered to the higher class, not the common people.

The moment he stepped into the room he was directed, he stared face to face with Mikhail, his adoptive father. Their eyes met. Instantly, Lukov could sense that the room was tension-charged. It was definitely not the returning of the prodigal son.

Lukov quickly glanced around himself. He could see his two brothers, dressed in high-quality suits and hand-made hats, were waiting impatiently at a corner, their plump face almost copied down from their father. Nothing much had changed- The true men of the Merinovs were still fat and well, Lukov thought. So much for bad genes.

“Hello, Lukov. You are earlier than expected.” Mikhail said with a flat tone, his voice bore neither anger nor gladness. For a start. Lukov sensed something had happened, something that forced him to set aside his feelings for him.

Lukov pondered how to reply him, whether to use a full-fledge verbal assault on him, or give a tactful talk. He decided the latter could come in handy. The last thing he wanted to happen here in a hospital is the clash of two men’s ego.

“Hello… sir,” he called Mikhail ‘sir’ for once as he decided ‘father’ was not really a deserving term for the old man. “What can I do for you?”

“Not what can you do for me; I don’t need your service. It is your mother who asks for you.” Casually he looked at his watch, and continued. “What I am here to do is done . Now, if you can excuse me... Let’s go, boys,” he motioned to his two sons, and walked out of the room.

“Nothing much has change. The men of the Merinovs are still the same, and you, my son, are still looking fine and well,” a voice Lukov was only too familiar greeted him. Lukov looked, and saw Mother on her bed, smiling weakly at him. “Hello, son. Good to see you again. Last time I saw you were at the parade. I am so proud of you. You looked so fine then, and now? Even better!”

It was then Lukov realised that he was in a VIP ward, the place where only high ranking members of the Party could enjoy their privilege as leaders of the Party The whole room merely consisted of him and Mother, and some potted plants and flowers too. Space and privacy themselves were privileges in the USSR.

But mother at the parade? It confirmed his wish then. A pleasant surprise that drew a crimson smile on his cheek.

“You’re there at my parade! The lady in the dark dress!”

His mother only smiled warmly. “You’re supposed to pay attention to other matters that day, you know.”

Lukov gently found his way to the side of his mother’s bed and sat down, in a graceful manner. “What have happen to you? Why are you looking so weak?”

“My time has come. Leukaemia.” Mrs. Merinov said, a smile still hanging on her cheek, as if she was taking it as a joke over tea. “Chernobyl and radiation, doctors said.”
It was not a laughing matter for Lukov. A lightning bolt shattered his peace of mind, and suddenly he felt worried.

“Are you receiving any treatment, then? I am sure the best treatment has been arranged for you, mother. Anything I can do? Should I call the nurse? Should I…”

“Oh, don’t get too worried. People have to die someday, isn’t it? Beside, I don’t think it is a big secret that only The West can offer a cure, despite everything they said about the West. I heard that it was done before, 1986. Russian pilots sent overseas for treatment of leukaemia. Most of them died, not because of wrong technique, but because they were treated too late.”

“So, is… ‘Father’ arranging to bring you to the West?” Lukov suddenly founded a glimmer of hope. “When is it? How will you be going?”

Mother gently shook her head, her ever-existing smile still there. “No, no, no Lukov, my son. I don’t think the old man has any plan to get me cured. In fact, I think he has all the reason to have me dead so he could bring his mistress home to be his official wife. That is not a big secret between you and me.” She laughed cheerfully, her face animated despite her terminal disease. “Besides, he has no intention of squandering his investment money on a dying cow, isn’t it? It costs a lot of money to go to the West, you know. America, I heard was the place where men with leukaemia get the best cure.”

But Lukov was not in a mood to laugh. He felt depressed, sad at the fact that he knew his mother was going to die, and there was a cure that was so near yet so far… and he was powerless to do anything about it. He hated the feeling of powerless, but this time, it seemed that there was nothing that could be done.

He casually stood up from the chair and got to the window, pretending to look out to the Capital, in an effort to conceal his watery eyes. He didn’t want Mother to see his tears.

“How much would it take, mother? I want to know if I can find that money.”

“Oh, don’t dream about it, Lukov,” her mother cheerfully replied. “Death, to me, is a release. Besides, if you have that money, I want you to keep it for yourself… maybe find yourself a wife, and let me hold you grandson if there is still time for me. Wouldn’t it be nice, to hold my real grandson?” she mused to herself.

“Ma, I cannot just sit here and watch you die.”

“Lukov, listen to me. There is no point in getting treated anyway. What happened if I am cured? Even if I cheated death next time, who knows that old man would put poison in my wine and kill me?” She jokingly answered back. “Of course he wouldn’t do anything that obvious, but living in there is a hell to me. I even find it better here- don’t have to do anything, get to lie in bed all day…” She smiled dreamily. “Something I haven’t been doing for a long time now.”

“Ma… can I ask you a question? Why did you marry Mikhail Merinov? It just… didn’t seem right to me. You two can’t just fall in love, can you?”

“Of course not, “she replied, and stayed silent for a while before she continued. “It is going to be a long story, a story that I never told anyone before.”

There was an intended pause before she continued, making sure that Lukov was listening intently. “My name is once Yuliya Grischenko. My father was a vendor, people who walked around selling things from village to village. It was just after the War, I think. No one had any money then, all the money and anything of value were all taken from the people for the war. But everyone has to eat. There are many who didn’t have the money who simply ask my father to loan them the food first, they would pay him later when the crops were ready. My father was a family man – he has his own children, how could he bear to watch children who cannot eat enough because their parents didn’t have the money? So he did.”

“Now, those people were poor people. They really have the intention of paying him back, but they themselves needed the money more to other things. Eventually, my father ran into heavy debts because those people keep delaying their payment. My father tried to go hard on them… hired thugs to go into the villages and seize any valuable they have. But it is not as easy as you think for him, a man of honour and a family man, to do something like that. He told me himself that it is quite a heartbreaking thing to do, especially when you seize the family cow, which in those days was the most valuable thing a farmer can have, a private farmer that is. As my father put it: even the cows would cry when the family it had been cared for was forced to watch it leave, perhaps to the nearby butchery. And the family… they cried the most. They would come to my father’s knees, begging him not to do that, asking for more time. It is a sad thing to do. In the end, my father could not do it. He didn’t get any of his debts collected, and in turn ran into more trouble. He was soft… but do not mistake soft with being weak.”

“The Merinov family was quite a rich family then. They knew of what happened to the Grischenko family. My father, who quickly bankrupt when his vendor business fell apart, could only turn to the Merinovs for help if he wanted to avoid the wrath of his debt-collectors. The Merinovs family decided they would lend him the money – note the word ‘lend’, not ‘give’- , with the condition that he must marry one of his best and most capable daughters to their only son, who is Mikhail Merinov as you can guess, when she grew up. My father had no choice. For the good of the whole family, somebody has to be sacrifice. It was me. But I do not hate my father, I understand his dilemma.”

“I was wedded into the Merinovs family since I was 18 years old. They never treat me well. Everything they want, I was the one who have to do it unless I want to suffer from the beating that the mother-in-law was well-exercised for. Mikhail, on the other hand, had no whatsoever interest in me. He was a playboy, and he still is today. If I have the choice, I would have leaved him. But this is not The West; there was, and still is difference in culture that prevented me from doing so.”

“You see, Lukov, I have suffered a lot throughout my life. I seldom had joy since I joined the Merinov family, until the day I forced Mikhail to adopt you from the State Orphanage. Watching you grow up, and becoming anything but part of the Merinovs, is my pleasure. You have grown up; you are a man now. I don’t think there is anything else worth waiting for after you, Lukov. Don’t do anything stupid, Lukov. If it is my time, jut let it be.”

Lukov stared at her blankly, teary eyed. Deep down, he was torn apart. He loved his mother; he could not bear to watch her die.
  04:50:14  6 October 2004
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Amoki
back with a vengeance
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On forum: 07/31/2003
 

Message edited by:
Amoki
01/31/2005 6:19:51
Messages: 1729
The two factions paused, a finite barrier of peace stood between them, ready to be broken any time. It was like the re-enactment of a historical war, bound by the ancient rules of war.

Both sides knew what each other was capable of. One side had brute force on their side. They were well-equipped, well enforced, and well prepared for this. Their stalkers all lined up behind their armoured vehicles, guns drawn and aimed. They were the more experienced ‘Duty’ stalkers; they were used to fights in the Zone. All they were waiting for was the moment that that peace was broken.

The other side was well-dug in an old two-storey house. They had improvised weaponry at their disposal, the element of surprise and tactics their upper card. They were the Spetznaz, cream of the crop of the USSR, too well-adapt to combat in the Zone. The only thing they lacked was manpower and firepower, but their elite training compensated for the rest.

A clash between titans waiting of happening.

The wind bellowed silently, caressing the brown dry grass of the Zone as it went. The morning sun smiled to the land. Both did nothing to crack the tension.

Lukov casually swiped the sweat of brow. His hand quickly rechecked his newly-attached scope was firmly locked in to the top of his AK. His anti-glare visor was long removed from his equipped helmet- the last thing he needed during combat.

“Sir, do you know what to do when we cannot hold the line anymore? You will leave the back door as planed; go to the West 318º north to the nearest Outpost and request for reinforcement. If you got lucky, you might be there in 30 minutes. That is 10 K from here,” The Sergeant kindly reminded him. “You got the briefcase – it is essential that you survive to see daylight, for the good of the Motherland. After that, see if you can send reinforcement to pick up our bodies.” The Sergeant said a matter-a-factly.

But Lukov knew better. He had other plans. He quickly nodded, hoping to end the conversation. “I know, Sergeant, I know. I have the briefcase, I must survive.”

“Sir, someone just appeared. He has a speaker. Looks like the leader,” the sniper reported. “On a BMP-70. You should be able to see.”

Every soldier had their binoculars trained on the direction.

“Government agents of the venerable USSR. We, the ‘Duty’, are aware that you have something that belonged to us. We want it back. We promise to let you go unharmed. Do not force us to resort to brute force. We don’t want anyone harmed. I repeat – if you give us the suitcase willingly, you may go free. Do so or face the consequences.” A Russian voice boomed across the space that stood between the two sides.

“I hate it when The Common People rise against the State and join subversive movements. Rebels just like that man. Why couldn’t they…”

“My young lieutenant, they are things you have not understand, things that you never seen before or heard before when you are still under the bosom of the States. These are poor people, peasants who have no land to work with because of Chernobyl, no money to feed their family, no chance to survive if they were to rely on The States, “ The wise sergeant explained. “They had no choice. Who would come to this hellish land when you have food and money for your family and yourself? Not the Klomenklaratura, not the Kosmolets, and certainly not the Party Committee members who have more than the average family. Most of them are not bad people – if they don’t spot us, normally I’ll leave them alone. You can’t really kill the father of an innocent child, or the husband of a starving wife. Despite what Lenin said, we are still human. The State is not compassionate, we are.”

That reminded him of his mother’s conversation. Poor peasant in need of food.

“Funny, Sergeant. How come that doesn’t really make me feel the warmth fuzzy feeling, especially when those guns are pointing at us?”

The Sergeant only smiled, without taking an eye of the binocular.

“Sniper, shoot the speaker, but not the man.”

A pause, then the infamous crack of a sniper rifle told Lukov that his wish was obeyed.
He watched as the boom suddenly disappeared, and the puzzled look on the Russian stalker surfaced after the gunshot. He looked in his speaker, saw the big bullet hole that it had and how it went right across the cheap plastic that made it, and was stunned at how close that shoot could have passed through his temple if he wasn’t careful.
The whole squad cracked in laughter as the Russian quickly went down hastily from the top of the APC in embarrassment.

“That’ll teach him,” Lukov found himself commented.

And suddenly, 4 APC revved up with life. A pause. As the soldiers watched, shadows begun to move behind the armoured vehicle. They, however, could not shoot nor see what was going on. The APC were facing them from the front.

And then, they saw an incredible sight they would never forget.

An unmistakable trademark of a T-72 tank’s shape came to full view as it came slowly up the hill, and moved in the ‘Duty’ Stalkers’ direction.

Chyort Poburi! They even got themselves a tank,” someone mused.
None of them disclosed the fact that they only had Molotov Cocktails, no other anti-tank device. Not even the RPG-7.

Lukov instantly knew they were doomed.

“Sir, we are not going to survive this encounter. Get out! Get moving! Go!” The Sergeant shouted. “Come on, you are a leader, you must make an example of obedience! Move!”

But Lukov froze.

Deep down, there were threads that hold back the idea that this wasn’t right. That he wasn’t supposed to betray his men just for his own sake, his selfish sake that is. That if he stepped out of that door, he had sealed the fate of himself. That if he ran, and his direction was not to an outpost but rather to some stalkers who were waiting for him and his content, he would be betraying his men. Betraying his beliefs. Betraying the State, the Motherland.

But Mother… he had to save mother. That was the only way, he tried to convince himself.

“Move it!” the Sergeant screamed as the rest of the squad started to fire away at the APC, to kill anyone who would try to fire through the gun pods. “There is no point staying here, we are all going to die!”

Lukov stayed, inert, frozen in irresolution and torn with decision he couldn’t make.
He had made the decision four days ago. He had doubts now. And now was not the time to doubt.

He knew the truth – there was no point staying. But there was this stubborn belief that if he had to run from his men now, he was running from his duty, as a leader. He knew he should be going to the Northwest direction, but… he had made a promise that he would show up to the vehicle. He made it a point that once he leaved, he would go to the pick-up point. He would not change his plans once he was gone.

Stay or leave. Choice, choice, choice.

The Sergeant sensed it. His lieutenant wasn’t as decisive as a leader he was trained to be. He grabbed the Lieutenant by his collar and pulled him towards the door. He opened the door, and threw him outside, into the withering elephant grass.

“Go! Lukov Merinov, what are you? An idiot born retarded? I say move! Go away from here! We don’t need you here!” The Sergeant screamed, and slammed the door shut, closing any hope of changing his mind forever.

Like a machine, he stood up, and he ran.

He had fallen in grace. But at least he could still save someone else that meant something to him.

***

Part 2
Four days before present.

It was a dark and stormy night, to say the least. The rain was heavy, and excluding for the momentary lightning strikes, it was almost impossible to see in the dark unless one had a light source of some kind.

Lukov was glad that no one was around when he hid his UAZ jeep in the bushes. It would be a danger if he was spotted by anyone. He was dressed in a dark waterproof military-issued raincoat; it would have been easy to recognize that he was from the military if someone if the proper knowledge saw him. And he was not suppose to be here.

He was in The Camp, where he knew the stalkers lived.

He walked fast, his boots splashing mud that seemed to cling on his every step. He dared not use any torch for fear that someone would get curious about the only source of artificial light in the night.. For that, he could only move, carefully making out shapes of buildings by the naked eye.

He knew what he was looking for, but he did not know where he should be looking at.

He was looking for The Dealer.

He had heard rumours from the stalkers he captured that there was a man in the Camp called ?The Dealer?. An aura of mystery surrounded this finger, for the stories about him was always different. One said he sold weapons. One said he was a shark loan. One said he was someone who sold the breathing apparatus and radiation gear. One said he do everything mentioned. But all of them had one thing in common ? he had money, and lots of them.

Somewhere in the distance, he saw a faint glint of a tungsten bulb. It must be it, directing him to it. Everything seemed to be going like clockwork to him.

He threaded lightly, up the stairs, towards an office of some sort. He was careful with his every step to not to make too much noise with the creaking wood.

When he appeared at the end of the staircase, he found himself at a makeshift office of some sort. A wooden wall effectively sealed off everything leading to the other side, only leaving a door hanged with a sign which bore both simplicity and ergonomic, in Russian of course.

'Dealer.'

He had come to the right place.

He politely knocked the door, and without waiting for a reply, he entered.

"WHO ASKED YOU TO ENTER?" A snobbish and loud voice thundered unforgiving. "Don't you know that business hour is closed now? Do you want your testicles to be removed or what? This better be good!"

Lukov found himself staring face to face with a squat man behind a desk, wearing a tattered old vest that smelled of foul sweaty stench. One of his legs seemed deform, Lukov automatically observed, judging by the way it looked crooked. But what made this man special, was his face, His fat face bored aggressiveness, his blue eyes sharp like an eagle?s talon. Sitting right next to him was a TOZ shotgun.

"Are you The Dealer?" Lukov asked innocently.

"Are you dumb or what? Is your eyes stained with faeces or is it grown on your buttocks? It says ?Dealer? outside, didn?t it?" The voice bore menace. "Stupid newbies, always ask 'Are you The Dealer?' "The Dealer murmured to himself in contempt. "Retards."

"I am a Spetznaz. I..."

“What makes you special? Everyone come to call themselves Spetznaz these days.” The Dealer animated his mouth mockingly and continued with a different, more girlish voice. “I am a Spetznaz who deserted, can you give me a mission? I am a Spetznaz who just finish my carrier in the Army, can you tell me anything I can do for some money? I am a Spetznaz who served in the Middle East, what can I do for you?” He mimicked mockingly. “You amateurs are a dim a dozen, I have no need for you. Go away before I shoot you.”

Lukov found himself increasingly irritated.

“I’ll show you what a real Spetznaz is. Show me any Russian weapon and I’ll tell you what I am capable of.”

The Dealer looked at him incredulously, and took out an AK-47 rifle from below his desk. “Tell me what is wrong with this gun. Here’s a screwdriver- if you think you need it.”

Lukov instantly took up the gun, inspecting it carefully. He saw no obvious tell-tale sign of any damage. He put it on the desk, and skilfully took the AK rifle apart, with the aid of the only tool he had. Then he studied every nook and cranny of the gun. It certainly wasn’t the first time he had taken the rifle apart, or the hundredth time to say the least.

“Found it. Exhausted firing pin. Gun is not oiled for too long. Way too long” Lukov took out the damaged part and showed it off triumphantly. It had been barely a minute.”

“Looks like you are a Spetznaz after all. But I have no need for ex-Spetznaz…”

“I am still in the army. Chernobyl Defence Division ”

The Dealer raised his eyebrows.

“Then what are you doing here then? Arresting me?” He smirked, but this time reserving more respect for his client.

“I need money.”

“Oh,” the face of the Dealer blossomed into a satisfying grinned. “How do you plan on archiving that?”

“I can collect Mercury Balls for you. Or any artefact you want. I can stockpile weapons for you. I’ll do anything...” Lukov’s voice trailed off, his face bore a guilty look. “But I need it fast.”

“How much then?” The Dealer calculated.

“Something around…. 10000 American Dollars?”

“HAH!” The Dealer laughed aloud at Lukov. “Do you think you can do anything for me to get that money? HAH! Some people would do anything for money, bust unfortunately their anything is just useless. Get lost, I don’t need your…”

“I am the squad leader of a ‘Hammer’!” Lukov was near panic now. “That must have meant something to you! Isn’t it?”

The Dealer stopped laughing.

“‘Hammer’, you say?”

“Yes. Best squad in the Zone Defence Spetznaz, I guess you have heard of it after all. Just tell me to do anything, and I can do it for you,” Lukov confessed, and then regretted. “But not everything. I really want to keep it silent. A secret.”

The Dealer’s hand caressed his own jaw, looking for an imagery beard he never had while he thought. “I have a preposition for you. Something that may worth that much money,” The Dealer intentionally paused, waiting for Lukov to look at him intently. “Sit down, I have something to show you.”

His hand went down the table, and grabbed a bowl of nuts. “Interested?”

Lukov shook his head. “Make it quick. I am not supposed to be here, you know.”
The bowl of nuts settled on the table, and the hand grabbed for something else in another drawer. Out came a map. A rough map of The Zone.

“You see this area?” The Dealer pointed to an area, with the rough drawing of a nuclear reactor. There are rumours that something is still in there. Plans, paper. I don’t know what kind of paper, but newspapers wouldn’t drift into the Zone, do there? Now, I heard that there was some kind of research base underground, some distance from the plant. My sources told me that ‘Duty’ made camp two days ago. A large battalion I heard.”

“You are interested in finding out what happen? No problem! I can…”

“Did I say you can talk?” The Dealer suddenly burst. Lukov was shocked, but he quickly recovered. “Sorry.”

“That’s more like it. My sources also said that this morning they recovered some kind of briefcase. My sources also informed me that ‘Duty’ was organizing a reinforcement group to recover them. Their location is currently unknown, but they are probably out of ammo and fuel, or they had too much casualties to get moving, so there should be around there.”

“I don’t see where I come in.”

“Not you. Your squad, the ‘Hammer’. You will be leading a raid against them in due time.”

“But I am only a new lieutenant. The chance of me getting picked for the mission is slim.”

“Leave it to me. There is only one ‘Hammer’ squad in the Zone, and that is not going to change sooner or later. I have contacts in the military; I’ll arrange your mission.”

A spine-tingling reply.

“What do I do? I am all ears.”

“Easy. You will be raiding the camp, if there is one. After that, you will be moving west, towards this little house,” The Dealer’s finger shifted to the left side of the plant. “About 10Km from your main objective. You have to rid the house of possible inhabitants though. You will then leave your men there when you are attack, and escaped to here, about 8 Km to the west. Someone will pick you up from there, to here, The Camp.”

“When do I get my money, then?”

"Ne tak bystro, priyatel. You'll get full money when you reach The Camp. I'll give you 20000 American Dollars since I like you. Do we have a deal?"

“What will happen to my men then?”

“Isn’t it clear enough? They will die. You will get your money. Fair deal.”
Lukov did not like the idea of his men dying because of his interest.

“Is there no other way? Maybe I do it alone? Maybe my men don’t have to die?”
The Dealer shook his head, a ruthless smile hanging on his face. “There is no other way, at least no other way I seem fit. Now, do we have a deal?”

Lukov stood, unnerved.

“I said do we have a deal, govnuk?"

Lukov walked to the nearest window, and stared out. He looked out, studying the outside scene, perhaps looking for an inspiration, a sign from the deity from above if there was one.

It was tough choice. He loved his mother, but… it just didn’t seems right, to have his men die for him. You cannot buy life with money. Neither can you substitute money with life. He respected his men, his men saw him as their leader. Leaders don’t leave their men to die, they led their men to victory and survival – that was the prime rule he was indoctrinated with for the past years.

The lightning flashed at him, lighting the surrounding of The Zone in an instant. That did little to help him to make the final choice.

“Are you dumb? Do I have to repeat myself?”

He made his choice.

For his mother, he accepted.

“You have my promise. But what if everything did not go as planned? What if I am to escape with my men alive when the chopper extracts us?”

“I said leave everything to me. Fine, you don’t trust me. If everything goes to hell and you are not given any chance of escape as we planned, I’ll give you the money. For free. But don’t hope on it. I’ll make sure everything happen.”

^^^

After Lukov left, The Dealer sighed. Another fallen soldier, fallen from grace and honour. It was not the first time he had seen soldiers changed sides just for money, although he never had one with such high profile and stakes.

“Boy!” He yelled. Somewhere from behind came a young boy, his hair unkempt and his shirts mere rags.

“Go look for a stalker in the ‘Duty’ clan called Timothy. I have a preposition he will be interested.” He paused slightly. “Then go to another stalker named Jasper, the fat Dutchy in the newbie’s slum. You know where he is.”

The first stalker appeared soon after.

“Hello, Tim. Listen good- I know The Leader is looking for a sub-commander, and I know you are keen to rise to power. Listen very carefully. I know the reinforcement convoy leaves tomorrow morning, and… when will it reach the base again?”

“Two days from today, probably at the morning.”

“The first group will be slaughtered by Government elements. However, I know where there will go.” He took up the map again. “They will be at this house. Also, before I forget – bring SAM launchers. SA-7 Grail. Anti-helicopter. I think one is enough. If The Leader approved of your wise decision, you will be promoted. Just remember the deal – any weapons you collected from fallen enemy stalkers, you will sell them to me. The price is of my approval. Clear?”

The Stalker nodded, and left.

Soon after, Kiefer appeared at the office.

“Kiefer, listen – I know you lack money, and I have a mission for you. For you and 3 friends of you that is. Go here, to the west of here, about 9Km, two days from now, in the morning. I can’t give you the exact time, but it is up to you whether you are willing to wait or gamble whether he would appear at the exact time you arrive there. A soldier will appear with something I want. Kill him, and make sure he is dead. Then bring me the suitcase. You’ll get 5000 roubles. A lot of money, don’t you think?”

The stalker nodded. “I understand. I appreciate this opportunity.”

The cunning devil laughed to himself after Kiefer was gone. He was pleased with the way he dealt with all of them. Very pleased indeed.

***

Tat-tat!

One of the dogs felled from a head shot. Five more coming in.

Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat!

Two more Blind dogs downed by the spraying rifle.

They were rushing towards the lone soldier, at full force.

Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat! Tat-tat, Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat!

One of them jerked backwards, convulsed a little, and died. The other two had death more instantaneous, a head-on collision from the bullet?s point of view.

100 metres from him.

Trat-tat-tat-tat-tat!?

One more dog down. One more to go.

The last one left, body bulging with pulsating black muscles paused, seeing the heavy casualty. This human was dangerous, it knew. It now reconsidered its goal. A fatal mistake. Lukov took out the chance to finish the remaining dog with all the bullets he had. The dog joined its ‘comrades’ in oblivion.

Lukov checked his watch. Barely 10 minutes had passed. He must have trekked about 9 km on uneven terrain. He was doing well. Up this hill, down it, and the flat terrain before his pick-up point.

He tried to not to think of his men. The men he left to die, literally. The men he didn’t lead well today. The men that had willingly sacrifice their life for the State; placing high hopes on him that would never be materialize.

He felt a nagging guilt looming over him.

He looked at the direction he came from. Thick black clouds were rising from the horizon. His men were going as planned. Somehow, in his heart, a false sense of pride came to his thought.

In his mind, he could picture them fighting. Picturing them shooting calmly at their opponent. Used the 3 Molotov cocktails they had made to burn the dry grass outside their temporary shelter, reserving the relatively few Molotov cocktail for the BMP. Imagining The Sniper picking on unsuspecting stalkers who couldn’t see the enemy.
He smiled. They were good. They were going to die gallantly. But he couldn’t help feeling the sense of helplessness and doom the men would feel when the tank rammed into the building, killing them. No anti-tank weapons meant that they were helpless against such behemoth of invincibility.

Where had he fallen? Why had he fallen from grace? The answer was forthcoming soon enough – his mother. He wanted to save his mother, at the expense of his squad.

Deep inside, conscience blamed him. He knew it was wrong. He knew the life of 7 men he left behind was more precious than the life of one life. Yet he felt it was not right to stand aside to see his mother died of leukaemia, after what she had done for him. She had adopted him, taught him the values of a true man, picking him up when he felled down by humiliation. Consoled him when he was distraught. Educated when the way of the right when he was wrong.

Mother was everything to him. Mother was part of him.

Tears streaked down his eyes. The dilemma that offered no alternative. There were only two roads, and both were one-way streets.

“Ma, what would you do if you are here?” He asked himself a question he knew which was impossible. His mind was at conflict, his conscience tormenting him. Did he do the right thing? Did he do what was the best?

What happened next was… breathtaking, to say the least.

He felt his knees weakening, as if a force were dragging him down. He felt light-headed. And sleepy the next. Yet he knew that it was no gravity anomaly. Gravity anomaly was supposed to pull blood out from his body out, he heard from the reports. Perhaps he had been shot by a tranquilising dart? Perhaps a new anomaly?

The answer did not come as he succumbed to a coma.


^^^

He entered a new reality. Something he never experienced before. Something no one experienced before. Everything seemed hazy and white to him.

He felt himself being light. Floating in the air. Suddenly he saw he was still on Earth? but he was flying. He looked down, and saw his former self looking onto the ground.

At first he felt scared. At first he was confused. At first he was unable to see what was happening to him, this sudden transformation.

What is this? He asked, but not answer came.

'Mother. I must save mother.' He remembered. He still had his thoughts.

Suddenly, he felt himself propelled. He could see things moving fast past him. The trees, the outposts, the mutants. All of them were gone past him very, very fast.

He suspected it was a mental link. Or maybe his soul.

He felt himself flying out of The Zone. It was like nothing he ever felt. He did not need to steer himself, his new self just propelled towards destination unknown.

Everything seemed blurry to him. After going out of The Zone, the new landscape was changed to a much greener scenery. There were now much green pine trees, roads, cars, even unsuspecting man and women working on their land.

Soon, a city came in sight. Kiev, he knew. It was Kiev.

He found himself now propelling towards the hospital , where his mother was staying.

As the building got nearer, suddenly a panicky thought entered his conscious. How would he enter the building? What could he expect?

The answer came by themselves. He found himself paused directly in front of the building, then slowly elevated, to where his mother used to be. When he appeared out at the window, he entered it as if the glass were nothing, not even matters.

He stopped right beside his mother bed. Her mother was sleeping, resting from his sickness perhaps.

'Mother,' he thought.

Mother suddenly opened her eyes, and stared at him.

"Is this real?" Her mother whispered. "Why are you in your combat uniform?"

Lukov touched his head. He felt there was a helmet. He sensed the tug of the combat vest. It was all very real for him.

"Mama? I have a problem. I... don?t know where to start."

"Then tell me all at once," Yuliya smiled, with her ever-present of life she had. "Everyone has to start from somewhere."

"I... I want to pay for your treatment to the West, but... my men are going to die because of that. Is it worth it? They are dying even as we speak, overrun by enemies far more superior than them. My presence don?t make them any safer, but... I am using their death to pay for your treatment. They are dying because of something that they thought I will be handing to The Government, but I am going to use that thing to... to get money for your treatment. I don?t feel right about it."

"My, my... son, what have you done?" Mother shook her head, but still with a smile. "Didn?t you remember our little conversation? I want to live, but death is not an unwanted guest either. If I am to die, then I will. Sooner or later. It is inevitable, the only thing in life that you can be sure of. Besides," she grinned. "I can get back at Mikhail when I am dead. See how he survives without me, then he might appreciate me more."

“But using the prize of your men’s death in exchange for my life is not a correct thing either. Son, they all have parents. If it means that my happiness is to be exchange for… how many was it again? Never mind – the sorrow of many a family, then I rather be more sorrow. Even if they were all to die, use what is their lives’ barter to do what they are expected of you.” She paused for a while. “Though it is the best thing for a leader to die together instead of running away from his men so that he could live while his men die, that’s my opinion. And I don’t really feel comfortable to have my life bought with blood money.”

“So it is okay if… you’re to die?”

She nodded. “Why not? I know you are trying your best, but there are some things in life that cannot be change. Let it go. Do what is right, not what is the best for yourself.”
Lukov felt his questions answered.

It was then he felt a tug. Somehow, he felt it was time for him to leave.

“I have to go now, Ma.” The mother nodded, understood.

What followed next was too as amazing as the first. He felt himself at the end of a slingshot that was being stretched to the maximum. Without a warning, he was propelled- via matter through the air. Everything reversed fast as he flew. The trees, the roads, the cars… they all went from backward to forward. Along came the outposts, the mutants, the mutated plants. Then to where he was before. And then, everything came to an abrupt end.

^^^

At first his body was lifeless. Then, with a sudden gasp, he came to life with a memory of everything he just had.

Lukov looked around. There was no anomaly nor mutant to be seen, or any special artefact on the ground. He no longer felt the tug he felt before his experience. It was definitely something no one experienced before. But it was all real.

Perhaps it came from the briefcase he had?

Out of curiosity, he opened the simple metallic briefcase.

The suitcase had two sides. One side contained documents, mostly papers. Must have been the papers extracted from the research area this suitcase was taken, Lukov assumed. The other side, cushioned by a soft artificial sponge, was an artefact, slowly fading in green as he watched. After a while, the artefact turned to an opaque rock, like a salt rock.

Somehow, Lukov felt that what he just experienced had something to do with it.

He watched the horizon again, to where he came from. The smoke was still rising. It wasn't too late.

Lukov looked at the artefact again.

'Thank you, for giving me a second chance.'
  04:52:07  6 October 2004
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Amoki
back with a vengeance
(V.I.P.)

 

 
On forum: 07/31/2003
 

Message edited by:
Amoki
01/31/2005 6:35:32
Messages: 1729
This morning, 4.12am. onboard of an unmarked An-124 aircraft.

“You know, I heard from my friend that the corrupt Capitalist America’s Navy have an intelligence test that goes like this: your ship is sinking, and you can only bring 3 items on your survival raft. There is a lot of item on the list, and based on the answer they’ll rate your intelligence, I heard.”

“Oh? What is the answer than?”

“Like I care. If it is me, the three things I’ll bring onboard are vodka, vodka, and vodka.”

“Hmm?”

“Yes. You can drink it when you are thirsty, you can use it to drunk the fish when you are hungry, you can break the bottle and try to kill the sharks if they want a piece of you, and you can both signal and bribe the rescue aircraft’s pilot if they’re around.”

“Maybe that’s why it’s an intelligence test- you are not that intelligent at all!”

“Well, at least I am hanging out with a bunch of no-so-intelligent guys sitting around me, who are going to jump out to nowhere in the middle of the night!”

Laughter.

“You okay, sir?” The Sergeant looked at his lieutenant who was expressionless at the joke and staring out to the dark outside the craft. “Air-sickness?”

“No, I am fine.”

That was an understatement. He was not fine at all.

A few days ago, he thought it was impossible that The Dealer could arrange his fate. 7 hours ago, that belief was replaced by a shock. ‘Hammer’ squad was called on to the briefing room and told that they were going to initiate a raid on an enemy camp that had something important to the USSR. The colonel tried to make it sound casual, by Lukov knew better. It must be something precious that even The Dealer wanted it. Not only he wanted it, he was willing to give Lukov a lot of money just to have it.

There was a nagging sense of guilt in him when he thought that his men were going to die for him soon if everything still went according to The Dealer’s plan. But he was hopeful that everything so far was just a coincidence- that everything would change at the last minute. That his men would be lifted off according to plan. That he would get his money scot-free.

He recalled the briefing:

“Okay, people,” The Colonel spoke after they sat down on chairs, a big map of Chernobyl projected on a white screen. “The GRU wants us to conduct a raid in about 8 hour’s time. This are, marked with a cross and below a valley, is your objective point.
You are to attack this encampment, and take back a thing of value to The State, a silver briefcase on my mission despatch. We do not have a rough idea of where this briefcase is at the moment, but GRU says it is somewhere in the camp.”

“HQ’s plan for you is as follow. Somewhere around 4.15am you will be jumped off 3 km from the objective point, at this plane here. Whether that area is safe of anomaly is unverifiable. Eyes and Ears when you jumped. After the jump, you will get to the camp. In squad of 2, you will attack from 3 directions: East, West, and South. The 1 squad left would be left to the person with the sniper rifle and the radioman, who will be at this high vintage point before the takedown.”

“As of currently, we have no idea of the camp’s strength. You are advised to bring in the Groza silenced rifle, because you are probably outnumbered. But just to be safe, bring in some extra firepower in.”

“This mission will be divided into 3 stages. Your first stage is to eliminate all hostiles. Second stage is recovery of the suitcase. Third objective is to sabotage/destroy all enemy vehicles and equipment. We have no idea of how many vehicles will there be, but I think 40 Semtex charges should be enough. You mission ends when your pickup Hind arrives at your location at the camp to pick you up. As this mission should be fast, don’t need to bring in any anti-armour or rocket-propelled grenades. Carry light. The faster you get this over with, the better.

“From GRU sources, enemy poacher reinforcement will arrive soon after morning. Reliable calculation from GRU desks is that they will not arrive here until long after your mission is complete, so no worries.”

“That’s it, briefing is done.”


Just right before the squad proceeded out of the room to equipped themselves and get some sleep, the colonel recalled something that the soldiers should know.

“The stalker clan you will be dealing with call themselves ‘Duty’. I am sure you know their ideology. They are not to be underestimated however.” The Colonel switched the transparency sheet to a face of a man, in clear black-and-white. “This man is the Leader of ‘Duty’. He calls himself Sergey Dimydriol and known as “The Leader” by his own ranks. However, KGB identifies him as a CIA operative, an agent of the corrupt capitalist America. We don’t know a lot of details about him, but his capability of being able to convince the mass to join a cause that is deem crazy is to be reckon with. ALL GRU agents have been told of this, and all of them are gathering information about him as we speak. He may have experience in propaganda and brain-washing. Be prepared for a dedicated army. Why they possessed this suitcase is not known, but it must be something really important, something that may be interest of the enemy of the Motherland. We must stop them at all cost.”
All of them nodded.

“We will, sir. We will try our best,” Lukov voiced as the leader of his squad.


Somehow, he hoped that everything would go as picture-prefect as planned.

"Okay, we are almost there. Hook up!" The aircraft loadmaster yelled to combat the noise of the loud propellers. All of them hooked their parachute lines to the cable hanging on top of them.

"Okay people. Threads on!" The Sergeant commanded this time, and all of them took out a thread spindle from their pocket. "Attached threads to your comrades. It is going to be dark out there. The last thing we need it to find you in the middle of nowhere and delay the mission!"

After what seemed to be an eternity, suddenly the radio in the cabin cracked to life. "We are there."

"Get ready to jump! 3! 2! 1!" The loadmaster yelled, and slammed his fist to the cargo door's control that was red in colour at the moment.

The button switched to green as the door opened. All the soldiers put on their goggles.

"Squad leader, you first!"

Lukov made sure the second in line had his thread attached to him, then ran and jump off the plane. Not long after the static line pulled his parachute opened for him.

Eight parachutes blossomed and heeded into the Zone.

^^^

One of the prime rules in The Army was that you should not smoke in hostile territory. Unfortunately, the two stationary guards cradling LR-300ML assault rifles did not care about such rules. Who could blame them? The cigarettes were the ones who kept them awake throughout the night. The cigarettes and lots of conversation between the two guarding stalkers.

The cigarettes were also going to be the ones who would lead them to their demise.

From a position both camouflaged by night and grass, two rifle crosshairs locked in at the two cigarettes amber.

The bullets escaped from the chambers of 2 Grozas fired simultaneously, the only hint of what was happening were the clicks of the bolts.

The fact that the two cigarette buds felled two the ground without groans of pain was the testimony that Lukov and his ?sidekick? had scored headshots.

"Guards down! Position one secured."

"Guards down! Position two secured."

"Guards down! Position three secured."

"Sniper here, no visible target from IR sensor."

"Initiate takedown."

Lukov and his men got out of their position and attached on their own NVG gear.

The encampment was of dead silence at that moment. Snores of men were coming out of tents pitched on the ground. Only one tent enjoyed the luxury of a burning kerosene lamp. The sub-commander of the ?Duty? expedition squad, Lukov predicted.

"I am going for the light." Lukoc whispered to his radio. 'Rogers' followed.

Lukov and his other comrade stopped outside of the illuminated tent. A shadow of a man sitting on a chair doing something on a table was seen. Lukov raised his rifle to what seemed to be a head, and fired. The bullets perforated the canvas and scored direct hits.

Killing people was grim business. The myth that scoring one-shot-kills was worth satisfaction remained a myth. For Lukov, a man shot dead was still a dead man. It was nothing to be proud of.

He went into the tent, and was not surprise to find a silver suitcase standing upright on the side of the dead man?s desk. Main objective completed.

"Stop killing people, guys. Blow them out with Semtex."

^^^

When they finished planting charges, it was already dawn. The Sun was rising from the East slowly, covered by hills and trees. The chopper should be near now. There was still no activity in the encampment, though some conversation going on between men inside the tent who woke up early. They were waiting for someone to call them out of their tents, who was normally their sub-commander who laid in his tent, dead.

"Vehicles all done."

"Tents all done."

"Weapon tents all done. Live bullets buried underground to kill cook-off."

"Let's get out of the perimeter. 20 seconds."

After the short period of time, Lukov, surrounded by his men, nodded slightly, and pressed the trigger.

The encampment exploded in a mosaic of explosion. In fractions of a second, explosion tore through everything, leaving nothing standing. No bloody screams of pain, no stalkers in flame. They all died quietly, leaving nothing but a distant memory.

"Everything destroyed?"

"Sir, only a fuel barrel left with a crate of vodka. No enough charges. No point destroying them anyway, just take it as refund money for 'the Duty' from us." Someone said.

Laughter.

"Sir, the Hind is here. They are checking in with me now." The Spetznaz holding the radio said. "Estimated time 3 minutes to touchdown, coming from North-west." They turned, and saw a small blip coming from that direction, its size ever increasing.

Looks like the Dealer was going to lose his bet after all, Lukov smirked. He felt a slight relief...

Until he saw 3 particles rising from the Northeast of his position, a distance away up the hill, homing on the blip.

"Oh no..." Lukov whispered to himself.

The particles flew towards the pickup helicopter. They could see the helicopter tried to lose the missiles. They witnessed the rolls of the helicopter, and what seemed to be chaffs dropping down from the helicopter. They watched in horror as the attempts failed, and finally, the impact. The helicopter did not explode in the sky; instead, it turned into a fireball and accelerated downward and finally disappeared in the horizon.

They stood there, dumbstruck, for a few seconds. Except for Lukov, who knew all too well that this was going to happen- The artwork of The Dealer.

Then, they realised that whoever was doing this must be approaching. It must have been the relieve convoy, they must had arrived earlier. The sniper took out his sniper rifle, zoomed in, and confirmed this.

"Sir, there are above the hills. It might take a while for them to come down, but they are here."

The picture-prefect plan just went to hell.

Suddenly, Lukov remembered the deal with The Dealer. The house. The escape point. It all came back to him.

He knew he was going to let his men die, but he also knew that it wasn?t right to let them die without a fight.

"Did somebody just said there are vodka and fuel barrel?"

Somebody from the squad replied a yes.

"Okay, folks. Empty most of the vodka in the bottles and mix the remaining with the fuel. We might have to use them later. 5 minutes timeframe. After that, we are moving west!"

No one questioned why that particular direction.

As they proceeded to work, someone chatted: "Why waste completely good vodka? I can use a good drink right now."

Only this time, no one laughed.

***

"Radio! I can use some good news now!”

“Not yet Sergeant! I think I am almost there!”

“At least the young lieutenant is gone. At least the objective is safe.” The Sergeant whispered to himself.

The gunfire from both sides never stopped. When Lukov left, they chucked the Molotov Cocktails to the dry grass outside. They worked like a charm – the ‘burning material’ of grass and dead bodies burned. Thick smoke and flames rose to work as burning smoke screens, rendering the enemy helpless. The enemy had been spraying them with wild shots since then, and they returned the courtesy.

It was not going to last, but it was going to buy them time. A lot of times.

“Sniper, any movement on the APCs?”

“No sir. I think the BMP-70s are configured to NBC gear, hence it could be the BTR-70kH variant The Army often used for recon. They can go through the flames without damaging the hull… but NBC filtering gears are fragile, the fire would damage them. Besides, “ the voice came with a sudden grin, “they knew of the gift we were going to sent them.”

“What happen to the tank then?”

“I took out the prisms, as instructed. Blind as a bat. I saw them running out of the tanks, like dogs. Shot a couple of them to send them a clear message.”

The Sergeant smiled with satisfaction. So far, the peace between them still existed. But not if they discovered the rear of the house was not a fire. If they found out… The Sergeant shrugged. Dead meat was more than the suiting description.

Their current plan was to hold on as long as possible until help could be contacted via radio. For the moment, some anomaly seemed to have disrupted the frequency, rendering communication useless. According to plan, they sealed off the front flank the Molotov cocktail to avoid being stormed directly by the APCs.

The tank was the unexpected guest, something they never expected. But they were the Spetznaz – they were trained in conventional weaponry. A T-72 tank had two primary prisms used for viewing, somewhat similar to a submarine. While the tank itself was impregnable, the prisms were exposed. 7.62mm sniper ammunitions would not do much to a tank… but a few of those bullets could dent a tank’s prism. The sniper holding the SVU rifle happened to be a very good shot who took out the entire prism system.

For the moment, the ‘Duty’ convoy were stalling for time. They knew once the fire was gone, supper were theirs. When that happened, the Spetznaz would follow the plan to escape and evade. Everyone of them would go at separate direction from the back of the house, hopefully to confuse the enemy on which target to kill or to chase down for interrogation. It would take a while to get them all, but by the time they did catch one of the soldiers, the Lieutenant would already be airborne and requesting for reinforcement. That would make their sacrifice worthwhile, if none of them manage to escape.

Except if the enemy realised that although the flames were rising thickly, the rear flank was not set on fire. They could easily cut them down from the flank. If that happened, they would have to set fire to the rear flank too. Because the bushfire would be set on at uneven pace, the front flank would extinguish sooner than the rear. The APCs could easily storm from the front by then, and they had nowhere to go. That could still make their sacrifice worthwhile, but having to know that everyone was probably going to die was not a comforting thought.

“Sir! The APCs are moving! They are moving towards both sides! Oh crap, they are going to the back! They knew!”

Suddenly, the door was frantically knocked upon.

“What could it be this time?” the Sergeant mused. As if the time was not bad enough.
He opened the door to see Lieutenant Lukov Merinov looking at him.

“What are you…”

“Hush. We are going through this together. “

“But we stand no chance of surviving, you know that!”

“Yes, But it just doesn’t seem right to have myself to survive alone.”

The Sergeant nodded in respect. “You are a good leader after all. But you are dumb. They are cutting in from the rear flank. We are all going to die here if help didn’t arrive.”

“Sir! I found them! I found them!” An excited voice came from the shoulder radio of all the soldiers. “Hear from them. Live!”

“This is Bomber 1. Colonel Bakineyev requested suppressive fire. Do you need them?”

“We do. We are currently being surrounded by enemy armoured vehicles. They are a group at our front flank, and individual APCs coming towards the flank. Follow the smoke!”

“We see the smoke. Listen – Three Hinds are currently coming towards your direction. We knew what had happened. We tried to contact you, but interference caused radio waves to be useless unless we are to search and receive up-close. My main task is not destruction of enemy targets, but to search for you and take out portable SAMs and/or exhaust enemy SAM capability. Is that understood? We know the enemy have SAM weapons. We are clearing ways for the Hinds. Hold on!”


Lukov knew what was to be done.

“Okay, let’s close off this place. Burn the rear flank!”
The Sergeant nodded. He motioned one of the soldiers to do the job. Silently, the soldier took up to Molotov Cocktails and left from the backdoor.

“Looks like we are going to survive after…”

A sudden shout coming from outside, and then a “Don’t move! Or I’ll shoot!”

Another soldier automatically ran out and dragged something into the house. Something that looked human. A stalker.

“Look what do we have here! Vyrodok listening to our little conversation, aren’t we?

All the soldiers looked at the stalker, dressed in ‘Duty’ coverall with a gas mask on his face. The soldier holding him instantly pulled the stalker’s gas mask down, revealing a man… that looked like Russian.

“An enemy of the State! You deserve to die! You do not belong in here!” Lukov shouted. “And look what you have done. You are leading the enemy to kill your own countrymen!”

The man uttered one word: “Nemesis.”

“What?” Lukov couldn’t believe his ears.

“Nemesis. I am involved in Project Nemesis. GRU officer Captain Sasha Porkayev.”
Project Nemesis. It sounded familiar. Something like a top secret project. The base’s commander told all squad leader before.

Then it hit him.

Project Nemesis was an operation run by the GRU, the Soviet Military Intelligence Wing, who was also involved in The Zone. Their primary mission, the GRU of course, was to spy on foreign scientist working in the Agroprom Research Facility, but they were also involved in spying on the stalkers, searching for clues of special anomalies or artefacts, or maybe even signs of anyone finding out about the truth about what happened to The Zone.

GRU officers involved in such spying activity are called Nemesis. The programme itself, no doubt, was named Project Nemesis. These officers were instructed to use the keyword ‘Nemesis’ when they felt their covers were blown and they had to approach Soviet Military Units for extraction.

This man was obviously such man.

“Captain Sasha Porkayev? Why are you doing here?”

“My cover in ‘Duty’ is blown, I am afraid. I am the GRU source detailing this mission. They are beginning to ask question why Spetznaz launched an assault on them in the night without warning instead of waiting till the morning. Obviously it must be something of top priority, hence someone must have leaked to them. Please, I have to get on the extraction chopper!”

“You buy it, Sergeant?”

The Sergeant nodded. “Yes… I think he is credible. Your contribution to The State is invaluable. Extracting you is the least we can do for you.” He motioned to the two captors of the stalker. “Release him, then sealed off the area with flames. We are not going to escape any sooner until the choppers has arrived.”

The two Spetznaz nodded and took the Molotov Cocktails outside. Not long afterwards, the sound of two bottles cracking and the burst of hungry flames signalling the order had been done. There was now no way to enter, nor anyway to leave.

“Captain! I am Lieutenant Lukov Merinov. We are the ‘Hammer’ squad of the Spetznaz, Zone Defence Division. Please to have you aboard.”

“Good, good.” The new face nodded. “The best of the Spetznaz of The Zone, eh?” He watched as the flames engulfed the surrounding, forming a firewall of invulnerability. “They can’t storm this shack because they are afraid of damaging their NBC filtering system, yes? I know most of the BMP here are configured for NBC missions. The NBC filtering system is pretty expensive. Not easy to get around here, much less getting it from The Dealer. They would wait until the flames die down, although they should be dead first.”

They heard as several SAMs being fired nearby, followed by a thunderous roar from above. However, this time, there was no explosion. This must be the diversionary aircraft- help should be arriving soon enough.

“Lieutenant… I have something to ask. Can I take a look at the thing you are having in the briefcase?”

Suddenly, the instinctive alarm in Lukov kicked off. How did he know there was a thing inside there? If he said “Can I take a look inside the briefcase?” Sure, why not? But he knew there was something in there.

“Why do you ask? Is there anything inside that you know of value?”

“No, no.” The Captain shrugged off. “Just curios what ‘Duty’ was so about the briefcase. Something that they wanted so badly.” For a few moments, he stayed quiet. And then, he asked again, this time less polite.

“I want to see what is inside the briefcase.”

Lukov and The Sergeant exchanged glances. Both of them suspected something.

“Why don’t you see them later inside the chopper? It might not be safe to open it here.”

“Look, I outrank you as field officer, lieutenant. I want the briefcase right now, this minute. Or else I am going to report to Central Command.”

“Problem is, you are not a field officer. You are interrupted elements in the mission. You are here as a guest, not as commanding officer, captain.” Lieutenant Merinov replied coolly. “Why are you that interested in the content of the briefcase? Have you change allegiance?”

At the last sentence, something in Lukov’s mind snapped. Somehow that was the trigger to solve the puzzle.

Suddenly the conversation made sense!

The Captain saw the look on Lukov’s face, and he knew the game was up.

Both of them drew their pistols from the holster simultaneous, and pointed their Fort 12 at each other.

The rest of the soldiers saw this, and wanted to do the same. But the captain noticed this.

“Nobody move, or else I will fire. You people have survived this far without casualty. Don’t let it happen. Now give me the briefcase.”

“Put the gun down.” It was Lukov

“No, you put the gun down.”

“The Briefcase is more important than whether we suffer casualty or not.”

“Don’t be stupid. The State is only using you as pawn.”

“So be it. We are pawns of The State for the greater good, for the final victory as in chess. One pawn can change the whole game in chess.”

The renegade captain smiled. “Not if you are fighting a losing war.”

“Why do you say that? You are the best of The State, you know we are fighting on the right side. The Capitalist pigs are the losers.”

“Or is it? ‘Duty’ showed me the right way. Have you not put together the shattered pieces of puzzle? The overall picture of what had happened?”

Phhheewww,” someone whistled sharply. “Next time they should send political officers.”

“Shut up!” Sasha shouted. “’Duty’ teach me what is the truth. Do you not question who caused this hell called “The Zone”? Do you not ask why all this will happen? I have seen too much in The Zone to know the truth. The USSR is wrong!”

“Saying that the Motherland is wrong without proof is treason and heresy!” The Sergeant shouted this time.

The stalker laughed coldly. “You are never in The Zone long enough to see the truth. I have seen it. Have you ever wonder into the abandoned labs in The Zone holding broken stasis cells? Have you ever rescue the hermits of The Zone and personally asked them what happened that night? Have you ever studied the left-over researched papers? I have done every one of that, and I will tell you the truth. The Motherland had used Chernobyl as a research area because that area is evacuated. Those who never left were captured and used as test subjects, many of them never to survive. Those who survived were left as mutants- the controllers and bloodsuckers. Don’t you ever see the sadness in their eyes? Why they always yearned to kill every one of us? Why they never left any mercy to the stalkers or the military, much less the innocent scientists? Because it is THEIR rights to revenge. They have suffered so much.”

“But before I continue- call off the helicopters. I am not going to go back. Neither are you. Just tell them the attackers have left and you will walk back.”

“Disregard order, radioman!” Lukov shouted.

“”Still so insistent and naïve? That was what I was before ‘Duty’ showed me the truth. But The Leader showed me it is alright to be insistent and naïve, that it is okay to be ignorant because I don’t know the truth. The Leader convinced me. The Leader changed me.”

“You are a GRU officer! You are supposed to be strong, not convinced by a madman!”

“Madman! No one should dirty the name of the Leader! The Leader has baptised me and accepted me into ‘Duty’ when I told him what I was in The Zone to do. He forgave me, and tell me I must use my blessing to do what is the best- mislead the GRU and make sure they will not pass information that may cause more of this problem!”

“SO you tell them your job?”

“Yes. I owe him the truth. But he did not punish me! He…”

“That because he is from the CIA! Didn’t HQ tell you that he is one of the pigs from the
Capitalist West? He is the enemy, the wolf in a Russian’s sheepskin coming to gather intelligence about the Motherland!”

“How dare you defile the good name of The Leader! Do you know the significance of the contest of the briefcase? It can cause more harm than good! That’s why ‘Duty’ must have them!”

He paused before he continued. “’Duty’ know what is the stone capable of. We found out from past research papers we recovered that they made a ‘thing’ that can allow the USSR’s spy elements to find out more ways of making weapons of mass destruction from the other countries, and than will make more mutants that threatens the existence of mankind! This ‘thing’ will ultimately lead to the doom of the human world, including the Motherland! The ‘Duty’ must do everything to prevent such things to happen!”

“That is not up to you to decide! The Motherland will always do what is the best for the People!”

Suddenly Lukov remembered his own experience. The communication with his mother. The ‘ghost’ experience. Everything the stalker said made sense. But he had his own opinion of what the thing could do too.

“You have also any idea what that thing can do for The Motherland too? We can go into the mind of the Corrupted West’s Spy Agency, the CIA, and see what harm they plan to do to the Motherland, without putting our own comrade at risk! Without the limitation of distance and time, or money. We can go to where we want – the Pentagon, The FBI, the NSA, the Mossad, the MI 5… all the dirty pigs of the children of Capitalism who sought our destruction, the destruction of the Sovirt Union. We can see what moles they have in the Motherland that put us all at jeopardy! The Motherland can put this to good use! The Leader is one of the corrupted agents of the Evil West, he is a CIA! Don’t you see he has changed what The Motherland believed in you? He might even want the thing for himself so The West can use this against us!”

“Shut up! The Motherland is no good! The Motherland caused all this…”

“How can you be sure it is not the West that caused this? We still do not know what happened and what caused all this! IT might have been the West who used Chernobyl to do these researches, who abduct the comrade of our homeland and experiment on them because no one would ever know? They are the evil one. The Leader is one of them, so he must be as corrupt and evil as they do!”

“No! The Leader is not evil!”

“Can you be sure?”

“I will no allow you to insult the Leader! The Leader is holy, The Leader wants to rid the world of the dangers who threatens the existence of mankind!”

“Come to your senses! What can be better motive to disguise his real mission? He IS an agent of the West, he WILL do what is the best for his country and whatsoever corrupted cause they have! You and I know he is a CIA agent! He will endanger The Motherland! We must defend our homeland against all enemies!”

“No, I will stop you from saying that! The Leader is the saviour of all mankind! Die!”

The finger of the captain pressed against the trigger.

The instinctive reaction of Lukov propelled him to press the trigger of few milliseconds too late. But what made a difference was that Lukov pressed his trigger twice.

Bullets spew from both barrels. They travelled into a slightly-arced line into the bodies of both men. The hot rotating leads impacted onto their bodies.

What happened next was different between both men.

Lukov used Hydroshock 9mm bullet. The instant the first bullet impacted, the kinetic energy and the bullet’s shape sent hydrostatic shock to the whole body. However, the other stalker wore a Kevlar Vest. The Kevlar Vest absorbed the kinetic energy, but in the process was torn apart into fine ribbons of Kevlar material

The second bullet met a better fate. The bullet went through the same trajectory as the first bullet, but this time it had no Kevlar layer to stop it, only ceramic plate layer. But that did not stop the bullet from spreading its energy to the intended area, knocking the enemy to his back.

“Get him.” Lukov yelled. Instantly The Sergeant ran and got to the renegade GRU officer. “Traitor, he deserved to stand trial for tr…ea…”

The rest was lost with the sound of the Lieutenant slipping to the floor.

When Lukov patted his chest, he felt something warm. A liquid he knew.

He raised his hand. His green gloves were stained with bright red stains.

Blood. Fresh blood.

The bullet must have been Armour Piercing rounds.

His men ran to him. Calling him by his name, checking him, cutting his combat vest open. Swearing at the wound, than yelling at the renegade intelligence officer who was too weak to rise. Words suddenly become incoherent.

Lukov looked at the Sergeant, who took out a combat knife and slit Sasha’s combat vest open, and stood up. Then he took out his Fort 12 personal weapon.

"Predatel' Rodiny! Bood' ty prokl'at! oomri!"

He pointed the gun, and fired. And fired, and fired. And fired until the gun was dry.

The Sergeant looked at Lukov, saw what the rest of the squad was doing, and understood. The two words he uttered was:?Oh no.?

It was then, the artefact was activated.

Lukov found himself light, just as last time, but now right on top of the house they took their last stand. But this time, he felt more powerful. He knew what he was going through.

He looked at the surrounding. Four APCs were garrisoned directly in front of the house. The other 4 were scattered all around the house, ready to storm it when the moment was right.


"Fools," he whispered.

The soldiers around him looked puzzled, including The Sergeant.

"What fools, sir?"

He could see the bomber aircraft, a Tupolov 'Blackjack' Bomber circling the area.

"I want to see what the people inside thinks and sense without them knowing me," he thought. Instantly, he warped towards the aircraft, and inside the aircraft. He could now sense what every crew was listening, hearing and thinking just because he wanted to. But they didn't know he was there.

One of the radio operators was heard talking "Chopper arrive ETA 30 second, 29 second, 28 second?"


?Good,? he whispered again.

The men around him heard it, and again they are puzzled.

"I want to see what the helicopter pilot sensed." Again, his ideas were fulfilled.

He was now right beside the leading Hind's pilot, following his sense. Listening to him as he said "Break formation. I am engaging main force. The rest attacking scattered vehicles!" Hearing his order to launch rocket pods. Seeing his ecstatic smile as his green FLIR screen intensified onto the ground, showing faces that seemed to cringe in fear as they saw the helicopters, regretting that they spent their low-tech SA-7 over a high-tech bomber that had the bells and whistles just to avoid this situation.

He watched, with the satisfaction of a squad leader knowing that his men were safe, as the chopper pilot fired his rocket pods. He merely wished for, and granted, the want of feeling the thoughts of the stalkers. Next, he enjoyed as the rockets streaked towards their targets. Looked on as the armoured vehicles exploded in flames, and the stalkers running away. Heard as the Yak chaingun reeled to life and fired at a rate of hundreds of round per minute, and saw stalkers fallen, dead, as bullets tore through them, sands kicking up from bullets that went through them.


"We?re safe," he said, subconsciously.

"Yes, sir, we're safe. They are coming now, the choppers. Just hold on. Hold my hand," the team medic spoke to the lieutenant, and felt a hand tightening on his hand.

"He is still conscious. But not for long. His liver is hit."

He could now feel his time was near. He jokingly thought that he wanted to be the first man who wanted to see himself dead without a mirror. He was granted the wish, and now homed towards the house, past cement and woods, and straight up his body.

He saw a small red dot oozing some blood on his chest, but he knew there was internal bleeding. A main organ hit. Not a lot of time left for him.

Mother. He had to see mother for the last time.
  05:02:02  6 October 2004
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Amoki
back with a vengeance
(V.I.P.)

 

 
On forum: 07/31/2003
 

Message edited by:
Amoki
01/31/2005 7:07:31
Messages: 1729
It was deja vu again for him all over again. He experienced what he felt again all over again. In due time, he arrived at his mother?s bed. His mother was sleeping this time.

“I want to reveal myself,” he wished. He didn’t feel any changes to his body, but he guessed it didn’t mind anyway.

“Ma… wake up.” Softly, he whispered into her ear.

The woman woke up. “Hi, Lukov, it is you again.” Then this time, she saw Lukov’s chest. “Oh… you’re bleeding.” For some unexplainable reason, the wound was in his ghost image.

“Ma, I come to say goodbye.”

“Did your friends survive? Do you feel your death worth it?”

He pondered, and nodded.

“Yes, ma. I am the only casualty. But I died an honourable death, I think. I…”

“Keep it to yourself, son.” His mother said, putting a finger to her lips next. “We don’t have much time left. Tell me, how do you manage to do this, this… ghost thing? I am
curious.”

“The Motherland wants me to work at The Exclusion Zone in Chernobyl. We have an unusual thing… artefact we call it. It allowed all this.”

“Not all things that come from bad things are evil after all,” Yuliya smiled. “A mother’s wish is to see his son for the last time when his son is dying. The… artefact, you say, it granted me that wish.”

“Yes, ma, it did.”

Lukov suddenly felt a tug. It was time.

“Ma, it is time for me to go now.”

“Yes, yes, go away from you mother like you don’t care,” she joked, then her facial expression changed to a more serious look, this time more sad.

“Goodbye, Lukov. I love you. I am going to miss you.”

The tug pulled him back to the house, through matter, and into his original building.


"Sir, keep still! You are in shock; you are talking to imaginary things. You will survive. Don't move, don?t think. Just be still!" the medic now ordered.

"We did good," Lukov said, his face now blossomed into a smile.

"Yes, we did well, my young lieutenant," the Sergeant said. "We did well."

"I have fallen, but not in grace... in honour. Take good care of my men, Sergeant."

That was when the grip was released.

“Sergeant! He is going into a coma!” the medic yelled. “Doing CPR. 1,2,3,4,5, breath. 1,2,3,4,5, breath. 1,2,3,4,5, breath. Come on! 1,2,3,4,5, breath! Chert Vozmi! sir, breath! ”

“Lukov… you will survive. You will survive!” The Sergeant yelled. “There are no dead heroes, remember? You are a Spetznaz, your duty IS to survive.”

No response. The Sergeant shook the lieutenant’s body, but he knew the answer even before he did it.

It was futile. The medic gave up soon enough.

“Sir… he is dead.”

It was then the pickup helicopter flew past. A moment too late.

“That was a good man that died today,” the Sergeant sighed, standing up and took a deep breath. Then, nonchalantly, he stood up, acting as if nothing had happened.

“Anyone fancy a drink? The drinks on me when we get back.”


***

Epilogue

Debriefing, 2 days later.

“So they call this thing “Wish Rock” in the paper?” Colonel Bakineyev asked, to sooth his curiosity. “I am amused. Why those words?”

The Intelligence Official looked thoughtful as he wondered whether to tell the Spetznaz division commander.

“They accidentally created this… device, although not say how. We suspect it may be the same way how the artefacts formed in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. But this rock must have been formed before The Second Explosion. The paper had not been exposed to air for a long time, nor weakened by radiation. And judging from the way that the briefcase itself suffered no damage from corrosion not melted, it must have been locked in the safe of the research director.”

“So what can you tell me about this artefact?”

“A lot. We tested it after the research paper in the briefcase instructed how. The paper said something like this: the rock serves as a catalyst to accelerate the formation of thoughts and ideas of an individual into an existing conscious. We still need to test what is that suppose to mean, but the fruits of this wonder has come. Only yesterday, a KGB officer peered into the thoughts of the intelligence pigs of the corrupted West. They found a secret tunnel underneath our embassy at Washington. We stormed the tunnel a few hours ago. There were agents inside listening to us that very minute. You should see how they squealed when we led them away! American pigs, and they actually thought they were invincible. Hah, that’ll teach them.”

“Wonderful!”

“It is. We have yet to discover the full potential, but you can imagine the yield.”

“So the death of one of my men is worth it?”

“Yes… what was his name again?”

“Lieutenant Lukov Merinov, son of Mikhail Merinov…”
“Mikhail Merinov! Hah!” The Intelligence Officer laughed aloud. “That committee member?”

“Yes.”

“He is nothing! He is a black-market operator who brings in goods from the West. The Party Leader promoted him to Committee Member so that he could get more vintage wine from the West, France I think. Or fur coat and jewellery for his wife. Or anything he wants from the West. But he is nothing, trust me, and the same goes to his useless sons. He is, how the saying goes again, a small fry. He only holds the smallest position in the party hierarchy, and even so, the Party Leader said he pretended to like him when Mikhail was around. The Party Leader is using him, nothing else.”

“Well… Lukov certainly doesn’t seem like his true son then…”

“Indeed he is not! Don’t you know? When the Party Leader wanted to chose a family for the “Model Family of the Ukraine” party competition, Mikhail adopted Lukov so that he can get a higher chance of winning! Of course, the Party Leader is not impressed. Too bad for him.”

“Oh?” The Spetznaz sub-commander mused. “I never heard of that before.”

“Don’t tell that to anyone though. I don’t think you want to suffer the wrath of Mikhail, however small his post is.”

“So what would happen to the squad then? The ‘Hammer’?”

“They will be awarded the Order of Lenin. They contributed to their country, after all. The Sergeant will be promoted to Lieutenant, even though he had history with one of the Central Party Committee Member in Moscow. His contribution outranks his ‘sin’. Of course, I trust we can hear nothing from them. The last thing we need is The West hearing of such potent weapon. Even now, a platoon of Spetznaz is constantly guarding the artefact around the clock.”

"So... what damage did the renegade captain done to us?"

"We can never be sure. ‘Uninvolved' officers are being pulled out, but those involved in high ranks of stalker clans are at risk. They will continue to be there, constantly at risk of being ransomed by what remains of 'Duty' and The Leader. But no for long- at what time is convenient, he will be brought to the real world and incarcerated and become a bargaining chip for our spies."

“Well, I believe the debriefing is done. Thank you.”

“And thanks to you too… for choosing the men of such calibre for such risky mission.” The Intelligence Officer stood to leave. “Until next time, when your recover something of great interest from The Zone.”

After the Intelligence Officer left, the Spetznaz commander shook his head. “Well, at least Lukov has fallen for his ideas. Lots of people are angry because he never turned up.”


The End
  04:41:49  7 October 2004
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Double Edged Sword
(Novice)
 
On forum: 10/05/2004
Messages: 8
Hey amoki, I was expecting a better reception than this. What happened? Especially Grisly Silence, the only one who commented on "Through the eyes of a sniper" ?
  05:00:37  7 October 2004
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Amoki
back with a vengeance
(V.I.P.)

 

 
On forum: 07/31/2003
Messages: 1729

---QUOTATION---
Hey amoki, I was expecting a better reception than this. What happened? Especially Grisly Silence, the only one who commented on "Through the eyes of a sniper" ?
---END QUOTATION---



Don't worry, your review will come out some day... I hope Let just say that most of them here are too busy anyway.
  19:03:58  7 October 2004
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Double Edged Sword
(Novice)
 
On forum: 10/05/2004
Messages: 8
Hey, amoki, I don't get it. Why would you read all the contest entries TWICE (as you have told me), when these guys don't even bother to take half an hour or so to read the stories you ask them to read? You are doing too much for them. These guys are just a bunch of losers. Exams and Sats? Big Deal. Both you and I have exams in 5 weeks time, and you are still trying to finish what 'atem' asked you to do.

You are doing too much, amoki. These guys don't even know you are doing it for their good.
  06:27:29  8 October 2004
profilee-mailreply Message URLTo the Top
Amoki
back with a vengeance
(V.I.P.)

 

 
On forum: 07/31/2003
Messages: 1729

---QUOTATION---
Hey, amoki, I don't get it. Why would you read all the contest entries TWICE (as you have told me), when these guys don't even bother to take half an hour or so to read the stories you ask them to read? You are doing too much for them. These guys are just a bunch of losers. Exams and Sats? Big Deal. Both you and I have exams in 5 weeks time, and you are still trying to finish what 'atem' asked you to do.

You are doing too much, amoki. These guys don't even know you are doing it for their good.
---END QUOTATION---



Give the guys a chance. Everyone as busy as you and me, now that the exams are upon us all. Cool down, you are too being too hot. I am sure that someone will comment soon enough...
  07:02:06  8 October 2004
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SkyDweller
(Novice)
 
On forum: 07/01/2004
Messages: 41

---QUOTATION---
I am sure that someone will comment soon enough...
---END QUOTATION---



OK, I'll do it
DES, have you seen my comments on this story when part of it was posted by amoki?
It is still in archive part of forum. If its
not, I can post it again.

I haven't really read the rest of story but I stumbled upon this:


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