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Memories of Winter - By Siro Dracosin

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  13:58:43  30 November 2005
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Memories of Winter - By Siro Dracosin

A Russian winter, it always was a beautiful sight, and a wonder to listen to. The soft crunching of snow underfoot echoed throughout the forest. The whistling of the wind and the soft chirping of snigir birds completed the winter symphony.

The man walking along a path where the road leading to the town used to be was smoking elatedly, taking long, relaxed drags from the Belomor cigarette he held between his middle and index finger. The parka he was wearing seemed to make him look bulkier than he really was. The man adjusted his watch-cap, and discarded the butt of the spent Belomor. Soon, he reached a signpost that signified the beginning of the town.

The towering “desiati-etazhki” were practically glowing from the reflections of the snow on the shiny tiles they were covered with. The man, who seemed to be in his late thirties, walked up to the iron door that led to the stairs of lobby #3 and entered the door code: 212, the same number as the room he bought a year ago.

The door lock was released with a soft beep by some mechanism unknown to the man. He walked in and softly closed the door. Finally he was home. The smell of home entered the man’s nostrils.

Home smelled like boiled potatoes blended with stale urine.

The man carefully climbed the stairs to the second floor, his breath swirling in a cloud of mist before him. Finally, before him was the blue door. A wreath hanging just above the knocker welcomed him home. He took off his parka, and revealed a green uniform, complete with shoulder rank-boards and a tie. The man replaced his watch-cap with a wide army cap that proudly held a pin of a red star with a hammer and sickle in the middle of it.

He pulled the chain that held the keys from his right pant pocket and inserted it into the lock on the door. The door opened and a pleasant smell of frying meat and potatoes filled the air along with thick steam from the warmth of the air. The man entered and closed the door. A portly woman about 143 cm in height who appeared to be 67 years old ran from the kitchen to greet the man, as did an attractive young woman.

“He’s home!” the old woman yelled happily.

“After all of these years! You’re home!” the young woman added.

The women both hugged the man as hard as they could manage. They even forgot to take off their aprons that were smothered with gravy. The women planted soft kisses on the man’s face. The man smiled out of pure happiness.

“I added garlic, just like you like! Just the way you like!” the younger woman’s eyes were overflowed with tears. “I can’t believe you’re back! Thank god, thank god!”

The older woman withdrew, letting the couple rejoice. The man smiled calmly, wiping the tears off the woman’s cheeks with his thumbs while holding her face gently.

“It’s all over, Masha. I have returned.” The man reassured her. They kissed passionately.

“I bet that you haven’t eaten normal food for years. Why don’t we sit down and have dinner now?” the older woman interrupted. “Why don’t you ever shave that ridiculous moustache?” She added.

The couple agreed and walked over to the kitchen and sat down at the table built for four people, one place was empty.

“You look like your father in that uniform, Semion. Except he was 178 centimeters tall, you are 190. He was always embarrassed to stand next to you.” The older woman chuckled weakly.

“At least it’s your job to make sure no one dies the same way. Terrorism is despicable.” She added.

“I know. I joined the FSB to ensure of that. I could not just betray the memory of him by not following in his footsteps.” Semion added sadly.

“Well, let’s cast away the sad atmosphere and celebrate.” The older woman attempted at cheering him up. Semion just sat there. The older woman got up and put food on each of the three plates.

“Your cooking will cheer anyone up, mother.” Semion said.

“I always envied Tamara for her amazing cooking.” Masha answered.

“So when are you getting married?” Semion’s mother asked.

“That’s a secret.” Semion looked at Masha with a subtle smile on his face. He nervously felt the lump in his pocket that was the ring. Masha brushed her long blonde hair over her shoulder, a look of anticipation on her face.

With that, the family started eating. Tamara brought out a bottle of expensive Italian wine and poured everyone a glass. The food looked as good as it smelled, good enough to be in a five-star restaurant. It was the best food Semion ever ate.

The dull thumping of the Mi-8 transport helicopters’ rotors was filling the ears of every man within the cargo compartment. The make-shift seats everyone was sitting on were uncomfortable, but at least they were something. They were also an extremely important provision for all of the men heading off to an unknown destination. The permeating stench of tobacco smoke came and stayed in the air for hours. Fresh air was elusive.

Semion, out of a lack of anything to do, was smoking his fourth cigarette. The pack of Marlboros was a gift from his friend, and thanks to him, Semion was the most popular man in the helicopter. Marlboros were a rarity for everyone in the helicopter, including Semion. American goods were too expensive for everybody except for Semion’s friend. Where he gets the money from is a mystery for everyone.

Semion was still remembering that morning.

The sound of someone knocking on the door was like a hammer shattering a glass window to Semion. He got out off the couch he was sleeping on, and realized that he still had his uniform on. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and inhaled deeply. Loud yelling knocked Semion from his drowsy state. He ran as fast as he could to the front door where he heard his mother and fiancée yelling at someone viciously.

As soon as he saw who it was and what state he was in, Semion almost passed out from shock. He pushed the outraged women away, assuring them that nothing bad will happen. They left reluctantly to the living room.

“Tovarish Polkovnik Simionovich Alekseyevich Kremliov. The Soviet Union needs your help again.” Maior Anton Yurevich Mariashev stated, no, pleaded. He was in his combat BDU’s instead of his dress uniform, as was protocol. His uniform was torn and bloody, signs of bullet wounds were on his right side. His right arm was in a cast and his eyes sunken.

“What happened to you, old friend?” Semion was afraid to make any move toward Anton, afraid he might die at the slightest touch. This man that Semion knew ever since basic training was transferred to Chernobyl to keep him away from the Soviet Government. Obviously they were afraid that he might discover something that might endanger the Party. What he discovered the first time was a mystery to everyone. For some strange reason, he has been making good money lately.

“This is an urgent matter. I know you just returned from Moscow, but we have a horrible situation on our hands. We are short on men and desperately need reinforcements. Please, Semion. I cannot explain now, you will be briefed on the way.” Anton explained urgently.

“Where will I be dropped off?”

“Fifteen kilometers from Pripyat.” Anton could see the look of shock on Semion’s face before it even came.

Anton patted Semion sympathetically on the shoulder and stuffed a pack of Marlboros into his chest pocket.

It seemed so recent, yet half a year had already passed since Semion was whisked off by a helicopter to an installation where he was going to be trained how to fight and react in a hazardous environment and Anton died in the hospital from a blood clot. He was told that terrorists have taken over a Russian Military Research installation near Pripyat. That was all that he was told.

What alarmed Semion was the fact that he was issued a completely sealed protective suit. Even though he liked the fearsome appearance of the armor and helmet, the fact that he needed one made him wonder what horrors awaited him.

Even though the “Exclusion Zone” was only a thirty kilometer area, it was becoming the next Africa. A place still unexplored, unknown, and dangerous. Just like in the situation with the continent of Africa a long time ago in the 19th century, the Zone was practically reeling in explorers, adventurers, and anyone else foolish enough to enter the Zone by the hundreds, like a fisherman luring his helpless prey to their deaths.

Semion was not sure whether it was smart to agree to go there. After all, the second explosion in 2006 had some very strange results. Semi on had heard tales of men torn apart by holes in the ground, walking corpses, vampires, corrosive gas that could incinerate men in seconds, T-72 tanks being infected by some parasite and attacking its comrades. Not very flattering tales.

Once more, Semion checked over his equipment: anomaly detector, Geiger Counter, hazardous materials container, suit repair kit, extra charcoal filters, food packages (just add water), envelope with 2000 rubles for an emergency, and his inflated canteen he had ever since Basic Training in the FSB.

It was funny, the way the canteens were inflated. They were made out of some kind of metal, yet they expanded when put under pressure. In Semion’s case, a tire pump. Some guys from his troop went to the garage and inflated the canteens for five rubles each. When the medic in Semion’s squad found out about how he inflated his canteen, he laughed and showed an easier way to do that. The “easier” way was to stick the canteen on the barrel of your rifle, and fire a blank round into it. When the medic attempted to do that, his canteen exploded, and the result was better than plastic surgery for him. It is hard to explain, but his Asian looks became more pronounced. Great, Semion thought, he is remembering meaningless things now. The suspense has gotten to him.

Semion looked over his rifle, a very nice and new one. It was called an Avtomat Kalashnikova 103. Even though it is still 7.62mm, Semion’s preferred caliber, it was a substantial step up from the AK-47 he was issued before. He checked that he had all three of his spare mags, plus the one in the rifle. Simion also took out his sidearm, a brand-new Russian Grach 9mm, cocked it with a quick motion, put the safety on, and replaced it back into its holster. God, it was a beautiful gun. Russian weapons are getting better with each passing year, Semion thought. If only the same could be said about Russian cars.

A red light came on, and one of the men came to the rear hatch of the Mi-8 and pulled a large lever, thus opening it. A UAZ jeep was going to be unloaded, along with the soldiers inside the aircraft. Semion and the other seven men lined up behind the jeep, waiting for it to be unloaded by the technicians. One of the men in front of Semion turned around, raised his thumb and index finger, signifying a gun. He jerked his hand up. "Bang”. Semion grabbed his gut, as if shot, and grinned, even though his helmet’s visor did not reveal anything. The man gave a thumbs-up, and unslung his silenced VAL from his shoulder. Semion adjusted the lower part of the helmet, which was the air-filter, and did the same with his rifle. All the other men in the line repeated after him.

The jeep lazily rolled out of the rear of the helicopter. The men took off the safeties from their rifles at the command of the soldier in front of the line, pulled back the cocking lever on their rifles, and put the safeties back again. The line started moving forward, with every man running out one by one after the person in front of them.

•Hostile Environment rule no. 4 – NEVER disengage from an aircraft at the same time in a large group.

A second jeep was already waiting for them at the landing site. Semion, the man who was in front of him on the helicopter, and three other men got in one UAZ jeep, while the remaining three took the other one. The man who was in front of Semion on the helicopter drove the dark green UAZ. The jeep had a canvas top, which could be taken off, if need be. The driver turned the keys in the ignition and the car started immediately.

So the army saved enough army to buy a new one, huh? Semion wondered how the new recruits were suffering back in Russia. Food that was even cheaper than what the dogs were fed must’ve gotten even cheaper. The whine of the underpowered 98 horse-power engine left Semion longing for the sheer power of the 227 horse-power GAZ Tigr.

“Hey, Aleg. Put on some music.” One of the men in the back said.

“No radio. Only tape-player.” The driver responded.

The man handed the driver a tape. The driver inserted the tape into the slot, and the car immediately erupted in a Russian Rap Song called “Chorniy Bumer”.

“I like this song.” Semion said, his voice a distorted buzz from the air filter.

“As does the rest of the of the car.” The driver answered in a raspy voice. He also pronounced his t’s rougher than some other people did, his accent was peculiar. He was probably Ukrainian. “Right, Guys?”

Enthusiastic shouts of agreement answered the question.

“Aleg Kirilenko. There is no rank here.” The driver held out his arm. Semion shook it, Aleg’s grip was strong. “A pleasure to meet you.” Aleg was looking intensely at Semion, as if he could see right through Semion’s visor, to show that he really meant it.

“Simion Alekseyevich. Likewise.” Semion answered, looking Aleg in the visor, even though nothing could be seen through it.

Aleg pressed the gas and accelerated lightly, following the jeep in front of them onto the road.

“So, how’s the Ukrainian countryside?” Aleg asked curiously.

“Always wanted to know how different we have it from Russia.”

“Honestly, it looks very similar to the countryside around Moscow.”

“Oh, you’re from Moscow?” Aleg asked, his interest growing.

“No, I am from a village called Golitseno. I was stationed at a base near Moscow.” Semion answered.

“Wow, I always thought that Moscow was this dark metropolis with dark black clouds hanging over it no matter the weather.”

Semion laughed heartily. Aleg started to, also.

“So, where are you from in Ukraine?” Semion asked curiously.

“It is a little village next to Kiev, it was so small that I don’t even remember the name of it.”

“How did you end up here?” Semion was getting interested.

“My dad was a hunter. After he let me fire off a few shots from his hunting carbine, I was whisked off to train for the army. They said my aim was good.” Aleg answered. “I had to leave my daughter. Her mother just left me with her when I was twenty. I had no choice but to give here to my parents after I got conscripted.” Aleg finished sadly. “I have not seen here since.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. One of my friends had something similar happen.” After that, the car was in complete silence for ten minutes.

It was a beautiful autumn. The sky was a cloudy gray, the trees were a vibrant yellow, and a soft rain was falling. The sheen of Semion’s green suit reflected the colorful display, making it look like he had the ability to change color.

“Is it safe to take off the masks?” Semion asked.

One of the men behind Semion took out a Geiger counter and Anomaly Detector. “It’s safe.”

•Hostile Environment rule no. 19 – NEVER take off you air-filter without having CONFIRMED that the air is safe to breathe in.

Semion lowered the air-filter from his mouth, removed a cigarette from the pack of Marlboros Anton gave him. He lit it, took a drag, and inhaled, feeling the smoke enter his lungs. He felt a little dizzy, and his head started buzzing a little bit. This was a feeling of bliss for Semion. Everything seemed simpler with a lit cigarette.

“Sharing and caring can be fun.” Someone said.

“Pass it around.” Semion handed the pack to Aleg, who took one and removed his air-filter, and then he gave the pack to someone sitting behind him. Everyone did the same.

“Thanks.” A hand appeared holding the pack next to Semion’s head. Semion took it, and noticed that six cigs were left of ten. His comrades were pretty honest, everyone else Semion met before took advantage of his generosity.

After fifteen minutes of wheat-fields and yellow trees, the scenery shifted abruptly. The first sign of a past disaster was standing by the road. A Zil truck, army green, and almost covered by some rust-colored fuzz. It looked like hair.

Semion glanced into the tent-covered bed of the truck, it was empty.

“Aleg, stop. We were ordered to investigate abandoned vehicles and collect samples for research.” A voice said from the back.
The UAZ coasted to a stop in front of the Zil. Semion, Aleg, and one other man got out from their jeep. Semion closed the door of the car with a metallic thud. “Normal” cars’ doors closed smoothly, but this was a Russian one.

“Aleg, check the drivers’ area.” The unknown man said.

Aleg obliged. It was Semion’s job to watch for danger while they were working.

•Hazardous Environment rule no. 10 – ALWAYS have someone watching when working, and never leave your vehicle empty.

The man scraped off some of the fuzz, and put it into his hazardous materials container.

“Rusty Hair. It grows on rusted metal if left out for a long time in an irradiated environment. If you touch it with you naked hand, it will dry up and blacken until you scrape the skin off. It hurts.” The man explained to Semion.

“Sasha! This vehicle is completely operational and there’s no Army registration. This bastard’s clever.” Aleg yelled from the cab.

“Booby-trap the door, and let’s continue forward. We have no time to find him.” The man who was working answered.

Aleg got out of the cab, and took out a grenade. He pulled the pin, but kept the ignition lever held down. He wedged it between the driver’s seat and the door. Should anyone open it, they will get an explosive surprise. “Russian ‘Nade Trap”, it was called.

Sasha got up from his crouch, and placed the container into the satchel hanging on his hip. Aleg, Semion, and Sasha got into the UAZ and drove away.

It was so beautiful. The frozen lake seemed to be made of glass, no, marble. The cracks in it spiderwebbed, creating a marble-like effect that Semion had never witnessed in his life. Everything seemed so peaceful during the winter. The snow-storms had long since stopped, two years had already passed since the last one.

Masha ran up next to Semion and sat down next to him on the hill, rubbing against him playfully.

“I finally got my diploma, Semion! Aren’t you happy? Now I can work and earn money just like you do.” Masha said, a cheerful smile on her face.

“They gave it to you today? I’m sorry I did not show up to the ceremony. You never told me, Masha. I would’ve come.” Semion said embarrassedly.

“It wasn’t a problem. I knew that you had a reunion with your fellow class-mates at your old university and did I not want to ruin it for you.” Masha reassured him.

Semion smiled.

“A beautiful day today, don’t you think?”

Semion looked at her. Her radiant features glowing before him. Her wide eyes, her full lips, the oval shape of her head, and her long dirty-blonde hair. Perfection.

Masha grabbed Semion around his body, and they both tumbled down the hill, rolling over each other. After they stopped on the lake’s edge, Semion saw his reflection. Saw his dark brown moustache turn white because of the snow in it.

“What was that, Masha? You want kill me or something?”

Masha got up and brushed the snow off her coat.

“No, I wanted to see how prepared you were for your future service in the army! Remember the drill sergeant from Bondarchuk’s movie? A soldier is always prepared for an unexpected attack.” Masha said jokingly.

Semion got up from the ground and looked at her with bewilderment. Masha looked back.

They both started laughing.

Some small children across the lake were building a snowman, some old man was roasting meat on a fire, and Semion and Masha were playing in the snow. Every winter Semion would come to this lake. Everything seemed so peaceful, so perfect. What man could want more?

The UAZ coasted to a stop by an old tenement building, one of those “desiati-etazhkis” that were ten stories high and built using the old Soviet “block construction” technique. The seams where each panel was connected by cement to the other were not painted over yet, giving the building a weathered look.

“The dealer’s meeting us here.” Aleg said.

The crew opened the doors of the jeep in unison and closed them quickly. One person was left in the jeep to keep watch.

“Tell me how it goes when you come back, guys.” The soldier yelled as Semion and the others entered the doorless lobby of the high-rise.

It was clear that this building was abandoned during construction. Wall panel stacks littered the right side of the lobby, piping was stacked under the stairs, everything was here except for construction tools. This must be one of those cases when the company that was building the tenement ran out of money before they finished.

“To the left, the guard room.” Sasha nudged Semion slightly.

Sasha told the two other men to stand watch while he, Oleg and Semion discussed something with the Dealer. Semion entered the expansive guard room, which had blank wallpaper pasted on the walls, a folding-style desk, and a one-armed fat man of seemingly Slavic descent sitting behind it with two armed muscle-bound men in camouflage standing on either side of him.

Sasha slung his scoped VAL on his back, Aleg did the same with his AK-101, and Semion followed suit with his AK-103. They had to appear as less threatening as possible.

One of the men who was holding a Bizon Sub-machine gun, a very odd looking weapon, nodded and whispered something in the fat man’s ear.

The fat man nodded in answer and brushed off crumbs from his black vest.

“You guys are lucky I had to leave my office. I would not have been here just to see scum like you if I had no business here.” The fat man said in a throaty voice. “I am the Dealer, my name does not concern you.”

“We need permission from you to take care of some business near Pripyat.” Aleg explained.

“Why the hell do you want to ask me first?” the Dealer said in alarm, reaching under his desk. Semion thought it was to adjust his jeans, but obviously there was some sort of weapon under the desk. Semion could feel the Dealer’s muscle-bound guards tense up, ready to snap him in half at a moment’s notice. “Why not just sneak in here without me knowing?”

“Well, we are civilized people. In Russian culture, if someone is a guest in another person’s house, they don’t just reach into the host’s fridge without asking.” Semion answered. He practically felt the hurricane of sighs of relief from the Dealer’s side.

“Oh, you people. Military Stalkers are such easy money. For 500 rubles the whole Zone is yours for two weeks. If you die, the zone is yours for eternity. If I catch you in MY Zone after the five weeks, your corpses will make very nice warning flags.” The Dealer exclaimed happily.

“It’s not your Zone, it is property of the Ukrainian Government and the Soviet Union, the only reason you are the here is…” Aleg started.

“…because I have the entire military in this area eating from my palm.” The Dealer finished, mockingly.

Sasha withdrew an envelope from a breast-pocket in his suit and angrily slapped a 500 ruble bill on the table. The Dealer did not even twitch.

“The deal is set, now get the hell out of my temporary office, Government Dogs!”

Well that was a peculiar experience, Semion thought.

There it was, the University. The three-story red brick building looked just like a box with columns on the front entrance. The windows were cemented shut and the building looked new, obviously the scientists took care of their property. It was like a shiny new jewel amidst ruined and weathered stones. The surrounding buildings looked operational at a distance, but if you closer got closer, the blemishes and scars of a past disaster are displayed like medals on a uniform.

Seven armed and armored men were prone on a small grassy hill overlooking the street. The trees and bushes of the park provided great concealment because of the Military Stalkers’ green suits. No one could see them, unless they had SpetzNaz heat-sensing goggles, but those were far beyond the reach of poor Chechen terrorists.

“Targets neutralized, priome” Sasha said through the built-in radio in his helmet as the last armed man hit the ground. Sasha’s VAL was practically silent, and had a very long range. The corpses of the guards looked like green dots from where Semion was. Semion wondered why Sasha, a doctor who graduated with full honors from the University of Physics in Sankt Peterburg, was in Chernobyl deployed as a military unit, and not as a researcher.

“Why were they not moving? Priome.” Semion asked.

“No idea, they were just standing straight with their heads hanging forward and tilted slightly to the right. Must’ve been praying or listening to an announcement through their radios. Priome.”

Semion had a feeling that the terrorists were going to get a nasty surprise soon. After all, they went to the trouble of disguising their men as the guards. Anton was the only man from the Army’s search party that managed to escape alive.
“Ladna, let’s secure the front entrance. The fire escapes and rear doors were cemented shut to fortify the building when the scientists first refurbished the building and turned it into a research center. Those with silent weapons stay ahead, those with unsilenced ones hold your fire.

Seven green silhouettes quietly materialized from the bushes of the park. The figures moved fast along the edges of the street, hugging the buildings on their way to the university. Three men were aiming forward at the head of the formation, two were just running in the middle, and Semion, along with Aleg, were covering the rear.

The Soldiers dashed into the lobby of the university, fanning out and securing the area rapidly. After determining that they were not a threat, the squad examined the three scientists and two security guards just standing with their heads hanging in the middle of the lobby. It was too dim for the squad to make out any details in the lobby, but the heat-sensitive thermal setting built into their visors determined that there were no active threats in the immediate vicinity.

Movement in a side-hall on the left alerted the soldiers. Aleg gave a hand signal to two men, they cautiously entered the hallway and the next five minutes were complete silence. The remaining five men in the squad aimed their weapons at the only hallway that led further into the building. It was the only door besides the front entrance that was not cemented shut. Tension was tangible. Semion could feel beads of sweat run down his forehead. Shuffling was heard from the hall. Semion and Sasha took to one knee, getting a better aim on the open door.

Sporadic gunfire startled the five men. They twitched and cringed at the sound of the weapons fire, they forgot the loudness of firearms. Each man listened in horror at the cacophony of gunshots. The shots stopped, leaving only the tinging of spent shell-casings on the stone tile floor. Semion was ready for whatever might burst from the door, listening for any sign of life.

The university staff was still standing in their original positions.

Slow footsteps were heard from the hall. The clicking of cocking levers being released alerted Semion to the fact that someone was reloading.

The door opened and the two men originally sent inside emerged, their helmets missing. One of them was the man that sat behind Semion in the UAZ and the other was in the second car. The first man’s face was gaunt-looking. He had a scar above his forehead and high cheekbones. The second man’s hair was blonde, his face was livelier and more pronounced.

“What the hell was that? Priome.” Aleg demanded.


“I repeat: What did you engage in there? Priome.”


The university staff, including the two men, came to life and charged at the squad. The three other soldiers’ weapons were silenced, but Semion was almost deafened by the sound of Aleg’s rifle firing right next to his right ear. He did not even feel his finger tighten three times on the trigger. He did not feel the recoil of his rifle, nor did he hear anything at all. The man that was his squad-mate six minutes ago was now charging toward him, his facial expression a combination of fury and sadness. Three crimson splotches blossomed across the man’s chest. The 7.62mm slugs went through his chest armor plates, but lost their original velocity and bounced back from the rear armor plates, ripping the man’s organs to shreds.

The body flew backwards, impacting against the floor with a dull thump. Semion quickly glanced over to the right and saw one of the scientists force the helmet off from one of Semion’s squadmates. The scientist was immediately thrown to the floor by five slugs from a silenced Heckler and Koch MP-5 A7 SMG. The man whose helmet was forced off searched frantically for it.

Aleg was concentrating on two security guards that were hiding behind a thin wooden desk while trying to pull their handguns from their holsters and did not notice the other man that went into the hallway raise his rifle and aim it with one arm at him.

Semion noticed this and switched over to full-auto. He let off seven rounds into the attacker, but all that did was knock him down. Because of Semion’s quick turn of the rifle and the adrenaline rush he was experiencing, only three rounds found their mark. The attacker got up within a moment’s notice, blood flowing from his left arm and lower abdomen, and shifted his attention over to Semion.

The man fell before Semion could fire off another shot, Aleg was now even. He looked over, Aleg and the three other men were still in their original positions, expecting something else to happen. Semion noticed that his watch said that only a minute had passed since the shootout started.

Semion suddenly felt two arms around his neck, the grip very powerful. He could not breathe, he could feel his helmet being forced off him by whatever was holding him.

“Shoot it Aleg!” Semion thought. “Someone, help me!” Semion grabbed the Russian Orthodox cross hanging on a chain around his neck and held it tightly in his gloved palm.

The shot never came.

Semion finally felt the grip disappear. He heard a grunt and maniacal screaming. He turned to see Aleg holding down the man who lost his helmet during the engagement.

“You will pay for your intrusion! You government dogs enjoy normal lives when you are not on duty, but I cannot! It is the government’s fault for allowing this accident to happen!” the man Aleg was holding down screamed in a horrifically distorted voice.

Sasha walked up to the struggle, took out his sidearm, and planted a round right into the man’s forehead.

Semion looked around and saw the bodies of his comrades, strewn about the lobby amongst the dead staff members. What had just happened registered within his mind. He let out a scream of pain at the thought that once again, he lost good men to a stupid mistake. He should have gone into that hallway, he would not have turned his back on the petrified staff members, Semion thought hopelessly.

“Sasha! Ti spiatel tozhe?!” Aleg grabbed his rifle after releasing the corpse he was trying to restrain a moment before.

“No, these men fell into the Controller’s influence. Our helmets protect us from his abilities.” Sasha explained.

“Controller?” Semion asked.

“Controller is a code-name to humans that somehow gained the ability to control minds after the second explosion. They mutated into a walking antenna, they alter what a person thinks and does.” Sasha answered. “No time to explain further, we have to get out of here! This entire building is a trap! The controller will realize his mistake and send the rest of his puppets here!”

“Where are the two other men that were with us?” Semion asked as he got up.

“I have no idea! Vladimir and Aleksandr just vanished!”

Aleg, Semion and Sasha sprinted like mad away from the building, they could here voices and screams trailing them. They sounded so close.

“Just a little longer! We need to get into a defensible location! The apartment next to the park is suitable!” Aleg yelled to Sasha and Semion.

Semion’s legs hurt more than they ever did in his entire life. He was carrying a quarter his weight in gear, and he was sprinting. The sealed helmet did not help, either. Semion’s gear flopped around as he ran, like so many sacks of flour tied to a robber who is running from angry villagers.

Semion’s chest felt like it was going to burst, he could not breathe, yet he knew he should not take off the helmet. Five years of serving in the FSB did not prepare him for this.

Sasha collapsed on the ground next to him, he landed on his right leg and just fell forward awkwardly. Semion grabbed him, put his rifle under his shoulder and aimed it rifle with his right arm at the approaching crowd of researchers. Even though he knew he would not hit anything, Semion fired repeatedly, his rifle jumped unpredictably with each shot. Semion knew that putting his rifle on automatic is a needless risk, so he left it on semi-auto. Semion pulled Sasha as fast as he could after Aleg while facing the approaching crowd. They ran fast, like zombies from an American horror movie Semion saw once.

One researcher, who had half of his cheek missing got close enough to leap at Semion, the researcher held a syringe that was filled with a dangerous-looking orange liquid. It seemed to pulsate menacingly. Semion fired and finally one of his rounds found their mark. The researcher crumpled to the ground, a large crimson mark on his upper body.

Semion heard a familiar loud chattering and realized that it was Aleg covering him from the rear. Semion’s rifle went “black” and Semion had not time to switch clips in his rifle, so he hoisted Sasha onto his back and ran as fast as his body could manage into the welcoming shelter of the lobby.

Semion dropped Sasha onto the ground by accident, sat him up against the wall, and removed his spent magazine from the rifle. Semion was gasping for air erratically and simultaneously put his spent mag into an empty spare mag pouch on his suit and pulled out another one. He inserted the new one into the rifle and pulled back on the cocking lever of his rifle.

Aleg ran inside the lobby, he was a green streak to Semion. He almost shot Aleg, were it not for the reflection of the sky on his visor. Aleg slammed the door shut with such force, that the entire building seemed to shudder. The windows leading to the stairs in the lobby were all boarded up with thick-looking boards. There were small mail-boxes on the left wall that have not been opened in ages, the stairs led up to an eerie darkness, and there was a door that seemingly led down into a basement.

“Maybe we should go into the basement and wait it out.” Semion offered.

“No, hell no…You cannot imagine what horrors…can be down there.” Sasha gasped, trying to satisfy his body’s thirst for oxygen.

“What if they get in?” Semion said. “What then? Isn’t it better to stay in a fortified basement?” Semion persisted.

“Semion, do you have any reason to live?” Aleg irritably.

“Yes. My fiancée is back home, waiting for me.” Semion answered.

“We, like you, all have something to live for. The Zone is a dangerous place. This is not just an abandoned city, this is like a new planet, with new dangers at every turn.” Aleg finished.

Alright, Semion thought. If Aleg wants the padlock to stay on the door, it stays there.

The night was a restless one, the banging on the windows and door that was coming from out side, the nightmares from all the death Semion saw yesterday. Semion also swore that he hear something in the basement. Now he knew, the Zone cannot be taken lightly.

Semion rose up from his sleeping place, shaking his head to wake himself up. He noticed that the banging stopped.

“Should I check?” Semion asked.

Aleg was awake, it was his turn to guard the sleeping men.

Semion always heard stories similar to what is happening to him now. People manipulated against their will, never to see the light of day. They only see what the Controller wants them to see. They think what the Controller wants them to think. A horrible fate. It was like sleeping a never-ending sleep. Until death, your body does what it is told to by an outside source, never to think for itself. Semion wondered if they dreamt while they slept. Semion always remembered the phrase his father told him when he was only five.

“Death is an eternal sleep, be happy you can still wake up, for everyone has to rest sometime.”

Semion thought if his father knew about this situation when he told him.

Aleg nodded, and Semion cautiously opened the door. The sky was a dark blue slowly turning lighter.

“It’s dawn. No one-” Semion did not even have time to finish the sentence before he was grabbed and dragged out from his shelter, like a pesky gopher who checked if the coast was clear way too soon.

Semion’s question of whether people under control by a Controller dreamt were going to be answered soon enough. ___________________________________________________________

Aleg noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked over to the door. It was open, but Semion was nowhere to be seen. Aleg had a feeling that something was wrong. He slowly took his rifle, making sure that he made as less noise as possible. He thumbed off the safety on his rifle, making a soft click, and stood up. His suit rustled noisily, but no one outside should’ve been able to hear it.

Aleg kicked the door open and noticed that the street was absolutely empty.

Suddenly, a sound alerted Aleg to the fact that something was happening. The noise sounded like a 7.62mm rifle discharging.


Aleg woke up Sasha and alerted him of the sudden turn of events.

Semion ran.

He ran, ignoring the branches of trees and the pain in his chest. Branches snapped underfoot, leaves rustled as he ran, and the menacing yells of Vladimir and Aleksandr were getting more distant.

Finally, Semion stopped. His rifle had long ran out of ammunition. He spent all of it in the park, so he had to discard it. Semion did not regret using it one bit, when you disrupt the sleep of a hornet’s nest, you need as many supplies as you have to decimate it. Semion did not have any left over rounds for his rifle to rid himself of his former comrades that were persistently pursuing him. They still had their rifles, and Semion was sure that they still have at least one more magazine after what they used up on him. Thank God the Controller was such a bad shot.

Semion remembered something that could have saved him a lot of trouble. He should have kicked himself for such a preventable mistake.

His sidearm, the Pya Grach 9mm. Semion took it out of its holster. Seventeen rounds were more than enough. Teflon-coated bullets would have no trouble piercing Kevlar plates. Semion thumbed the safety into the “ready to fire” position and turned 180 degrees to face his pursuers.

There was no one behind him. For some reason, the controller decided to end the chase.

Then he heard it. It was a soft buzz, but it was still audible over Semion’s erratic breaths. He looked around, but nothing was nearby. What he could see was a side of an old factory. The windows were knocked out and even the stone seemed to be rusted. That was not it.

A figure leaped at Semion from behind. Semion heard the entity jump, but that was not the buzz. Aleksandr was the one who leaped at Semion from a tree. Before Semion could even raise his handgun, Aleksandr froze midair, like a bee hitting a windshield. Suddenly, Aleksandr’s body seemed to be stretching against its will, like a piece of gum. Aleksandr showed no signs of pain.

Something snapped in Aleksandr’s body, but he still kept struggling. Semion aimed his handgun at his former comrade, trying to get a good aim on his forehead to end his misery. Semion pulled the trigger and muttered “Gospodi, spasi y sokhrani.”

So the buzzing was the anomaly. Turns out the stories were true. The controller probably did not want to waste people under his command. A rustling alerted Semion to the fact that something was behind him. Semion turned around, holding his handgun with both hands, ready to fire.

Nothing was there. All Semion could see was something shimmering. Semion, adrenaline rushing, stood still, waiting for any sign of a threat. A loud bang broke the silence.

Semion saw the shimmering stop, and a horrific creature materialized in front of him. It had four serrated tentacles where its mouth should be, or were they jaws? The creature had leathery light brown skin. It was humanoid, save for the oversized arms and claws. It was a vampire he heard about before.

A sudden realization hit Semion like a sledgehammer. Semion dropped to the ground, keeping out of sight of the factory. Wait, Semion thought. If it was a sniper, then why did he not kill Semion the first chance he had? Semion waved to the direction where he thought the sniper was. His guardian angel had not abandoned him, Semion thought.

Swirling colors, moving shadows, disembodied voices. Immeasurable pain, horror and suffering swirled in front of the eye. Hunched figures tearing at flesh. Skinned men on all fours who were constantly morphing were laughing manically at a high note. Headless figures with fountains of blood spraying from the stumps where their heads should be were shuffling around. A human torso with no limbs was hung upside down, with its abdomen completely cleaned out and its rib cage gleaming sadistically was attached to a wall of skin, as if crucified. Then, a daemonic figure with spiny wings, blood encrusted armor, and red glowing eyes flowed through the abyss toward whoever was watching. Its arms outstretched, the figure came closer, closer, closer, close enough to grab whoever was watching...

Semion could see what the controller was seeing, yet he could not realize it. The suffering felt by this one man became known to Semion, and became a part of him as well. Semion struggled when he was abducted by the Controller’s puppets, they waited for him in the building he slept in with Sasha and Aleg the night before. All seemed lost.

Aleg and Sasha were following the trail of shell casings all day, searching for their lost friend. Maybe the Controller did claim him? Aleg thought hopelessly. The street was eerily empty, the Controller once again continued his slumber.

“The casings continue near the park. They seem to go in deeper.” Sasha reported.

“Let me see.” Aleg ordered. He examined the casings that Sasha found.

“No, Semion’s rifle is a 7.62mm Kalashnikov. These are 5.45mm.” Aleg corrected.

“Aleg, it’s hopeless. We already lost the rest of our team, what makes you think Semion survived?” Sasha skepticized.

The memories returned to Aleg. The fire, the chaos, and the pain of Afghanistan. He still weeps for the fallen and for those deaths he could have prevented. When his regiment was assaulted by “Black Storks” special forces, he was one of three people that survived. Half of the regiment was wounded heavily, yet his commander left them behind. With thoughts just like Sasha’s, Aleg left them. How many could have survived in it were not for his own laziness?

“No, people die needlessly from thinking like that.” Aleg scolded.

“I think that it will be best if we rid the area of any immediate threats and accomplish our mission first. We might find him if the Controller had anything to do with this.” Sasha advised.

“You are the strategist and scientist on the team.” Aleg said.

With that, Aleg and Sasha stealthily approached the research center.

How everything had changed. His city, his family, his life. He used to be a mechanic, and a very good one, to boot. But now, every vehicle within thirty kilometers is beyond repair. His neighbors, his friends, even his family ran away from the fire. He was one of the few that stayed. He changed. He did not even know how, but he gained new abilities. He could think for people, make their bodies do different actions just by thinking.

He had even forgot his own name. He was still wearing the denim jeans he had on ever since the explosion. His cotton shirt had long since rotted away. His skin became a hairless, leathery texture. His head felt three times heavier than it was before. He constantly suffered from pain, as if his entire body was being eaten away slowly. Death was no near, and yet so far for him. Because of this, he grew to hate humanity. He struck every intruder with extreme hatred, trying to rid himself of the pain he was feeling and his thirst for retribution.

He feared these new men that just arrived because they were unlike anything he faced before. They were determined, they were skilled, they were SpetsNaz. He knew that death was near for him, but he was going to take whoever he could with him.

He read the documents in the lab he took over. He found out that he was what they called a “Controller”. He was a mutant. He started to hate Humanity even more. He wished he could leave the Zone and inflict as much damage as he could on this horrid world, but he was too weak to manage.

Right now, he was sleeping a restless sleep, his dreams invaded by visions of untold suffering that only he could endure. His sleep was suddenly interrupted by a loud noise. He rose from his slumber and saw sunlight shine through a window. Two figures moved in and obscured the light. Before he could even grab the Grach handgun lying by him, three bullets granted him everlasting peace. He was free, his pain ended.

Aleg looked inside the locker room of the center. He and Sasha were searching for any way of communicating with the outside world. A way to call in backup. They needed all the transport they could get to evacuate the freed Research center staff. Aleg’s eyes fell upon a locker labeled Anton Mariashev, Semion’s friend that Semion told him about. Aleg knocked the lock off with the butt of his rifle and opened the locker. He found multiple letter and documents with a suspicious address and sender. What he read made him gasp.

Aleg Went over the far corner of the room to Semion, who was now absolutely unrecognizable. He sat with a blank stare at nothingness. He did not speak about what was plaguing him, nor did he even greet Sasha and Aleg after they rescued him. Vladimir and the entire university staff seemed fine, but Semion was just sitting there, thinking about something.

“Read this, Semion. Your friend was earning big money selling artifacts to terrorists. He called us in here to save his source of income. It was a ruse.” Aleg told Semion, who did not react at all.

The money we will get when the Army gets here is more than enough to find a cure, Aleg reassured himself.

It was all over. Semion, who seemed to be getting better was climbing the stairs one more time. The bullet wound on his right arm and the large stabbing wound on his chest seemed to be getting better. Two new medals hung on his chest. “For Services to the Soviet Union” and “For Bravery” shined.

Semion was depressed after he thought about how Masha would react to his new condition. What he had to do to make the visions go away was remember winter. The memories of winter kept him sane. Aleg’s words echoed in Semion’s mind.

“I will find a cure. I swear.”

Semion felt the five-hundred-thousand rubles in his pocket and approached the door.

Three new ribbons also hung on his left breast. One yellow one, symbolizing a light wound, which was his bullet wound when the Controller shot him with his own firearm out of pure frustration. A red one for a heavy wound, which was the stabbing wound from the controller’s claws. And another red one, another heavy wound, symbolizing the blow dealt to his mind.

People would look at these ribbons. They would know what they were for, but they could not possibly imagine the horrors he had witnessed.
  11:13:35  6 December 2005
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Local Law-Enforcement


On forum: 03/02/2005

Message edited by:
12/06/2005 14:24:29
Messages: 7378
Some feedback would be appreciated.

P.S. I know it's rushed, but I'm gonna get a new version up instead of this one. I just wanted to make the December deadline, but turns out it's a lot later than I was told.
  12:23:35  15 December 2005
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back with a vengeance


On forum: 07/31/2003
Messages: 1729
Ah, Siro, not bad at all! I've read your work. It does felt a bit long, I have to skip a lot of the firefight scen... but it's good all right. Major improvement than your previous work. Also, you've started to know how to "kill 2 birds with one stone" - the ending part with the medals is a testiment of this. Отлична! The thing about the car's comparison also impress me a lot, despite I have no idea about Russian cars. It really makes the readers feel Semion was genuinely Russian, because he was THINKING like one instead of those senseless "да" and "нет" You WILL get somewhere, dude!

A few notes worthy of mention:
1) the goal Semion was there for: wasn't too obvious from the start, and from what I have read until the end wasn't too obious either. The fact why he was wanted was even more not-so-obvious. His role would could have been replaced by someone else, and it wouldn't change a thing. Another thing: he's Intelligence, isn;t it? Not Special Forces. So why him?
2) Lots of Russian used is a good thing for characterization and a sense of authenticity, but it's not a good thing when you don't provide explanation for them. Especially when they are vital to the story.
3) The Dealer don't exactly own the Zone, so I do not see the point of including him in. Also, if The Dealer knows why they are in there wouldn't he be the first to kill them and grab their loot (whatever it is from the mission objective) Alternately, wouldn't he be asked to be given the contract to get the item himself and give some kickback to those involved? Kill the Dealer thingie would have made it better... and the story shorter
  23:01:28  22 December 2005
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Local Law-Enforcement


On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Thanks for your critique. I would still be thankful even if it was not so positive.

The dealer part was to show the corruption of military forces. While not all of them are bribed, there are enough for the Dealer to remain in power.

I did not understand the last sentence in 1)

And I guess you're right in 2) but did I not explain?
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