| 05:37:19 15 September 2009
On forum: 04/15/2007
Message edited by:
Here it is; the fourth installment of "Rebirth". At long last the tide turns to Freedom, who have had the most to do with the incident besides the Military.
With complete radio silence, the anticipation and fear mounting in the Freedom base is critical. The status of the team sent to Chernobyl is unknown and contact with squads and outposts outside of the base has been lost. Their gut instincts tell them something big is about to happen, but all they can do is speculate as to what that may be.
Dark thunderclouds churn across the sky, not unusual in this part of the Zone - but something about these feels almost evil; like some malicious presence is about to make itself known. The small, but heavily fortified military complex is on high alert, not knowing what to expect but expecting it nonetheless. All eyes outside of their territory have gone blind and all ears deaf - all they can do is hope that their other senses can make up for the sudden loss.
“Any word yet?” asks Lukash, the leader of the Freedom faction of Stalkers.
“Nothing…” replies one of the Stalkers under his command. “… as far as we know they achieved their objective and got out but stopped reporting afterwards.”
Lukash curses, resisting the urge to look helpless but knowing full well that the confidence of his men is in jeopardy.
“Keep trying. If you get so much as a whisper I want to know about it immediately.”
Lukash turns to leave but before he can another Stalker speaks up;
“Sir… if I can speak frankly; what the hell is going on?”
Lukash does his best to smile positively and responds;
“You know as much as I, Stalker. The best thing we can do right now is wait and prepare.”
The Stalker looks satisfied for a moment, but then concern washes over him and he asks again;
“Prepare for what, sir?”
Lukash refrains from breaking eye contact, attempting to maintain his composure.
With that, he leaves the room; letting his absence ease the tension within. He looks out at the foreboding clouds and fog slowly seeping towards them. The limited visibility masks the outposts on the horizon, hiding them from sight and leaving their ongoing presence to the imagination.
“What is happening?” he thinks to himself.
He inhales deeply and sighs heavily, allowing the fear within to seep to the surface now that no one is around to see it. All contact with the squad he sent to Chernobyl on a suicidal rescue mission to save his former-leader’s team was lost after their last report. They managed to meet up with the team, destroy some secret military lab within the plant, and get a ride out before everything within turned to chaos. There was too much - probably even more than he thought that deserved an explanation – but of the utmost was the cause of the current situation: complete radio silence. Not to mention why the storm approaching looked like smoke clouds.
Could the smoke and ashes from Chernobyl really be reaching this far?
Before he can speculate further, Lukash is jarred from his thoughts by what is either thunder from the storm or distant gunfire. He quickly re-enters his command center within the abandoned military complex that is Freedom HQ and demands a report.
“No sir… but…” The Stalker stutters and looks around the room.
“Go on – even a whisper deserves our attention right now.” Lukash reassures him.
The Stalker continues, “We… we were just speculating that the thunder outside is either very rapid, or we’re hearing gunshots.”
Lukash nods, “I thought the same. Put us on high alert; we’re blind as a bat and those are gunshots or I’ll fuck a mutant.”
The Stalker nods, hitting a button on his console which triggers the base air raid siren. The wailing sound of the siren scrambles the base to full battle readiness as Stalkers run through the streets of the base, grabbing their gear and reporting to their posts. Floodlights set up around the perimeter walls are activated and aimed all around the base, the highest concentration to the north towards the Barricade and Chernobyl.
All Stalkers outside the base immediately run inside, barricading the large outer doors behind them as they do and then running up stairs onto the catwalks on the walls where an array of sandbags is set up. Squad leaders shout orders as their troops move out to their defensive positions. Tensions are high as the siren continues to wail, echoing throughout the region and alerting all outposts of a possible imminent attack. Assuming the outposts are still there at all.
“All squads in position. Orders, sir?”
Lukash nods in acknowledgment, resting his chin in his hand and stroking his gruff undergrowth in thought. “Kill the siren. Now we watch and listen.”
The siren is cut, making a whirring sound as it deactivates. Thunder and gunshots ring out somewhere in the darkness and fog. The Stalkers grip their weapons hard as the sounds seem to draw closer and closer. Deep booms from explosions begin to pound in their ears, sending tremors through the walls around them.
There’s no doubt now that a large battle is taking place just beyond their sight and drawing closer. The pattern of the gunfire sounds disorganized and desperate, as if a large force is running with all their speed, shooting as they go.
Lukash glances at the perimeter cameras as they scan the brightly illuminated hills close to them, and the dark misty ones behind them. Small flashes can be seen in the fog, obviously the result of large mounted guns being fired.
Then, all at once the situation becomes clear. The roaring of engines approaches and a streaming force APCs, Jeeps, and other vehicles come rocketing towards them, carving a path of destruction in front of them as they burst over hills and crash over trees, destroying anything in their way.
“It’s the Military! They’ve come for another attack! Open fire!” Lukash screams.
The Stalkers in the room race into action, declaring the order to open fire over their radio equipment. Moments later the walls light up with gunfire. Rockets and RPGs scream out of their tubes and into the oncoming Military force as it careens toward them on a reckless path of destruction. Explosions light up the hills and shake the walls as Freedom welcomes the Military on a second tour of their base and the armaments contained within.
Lukash watches the monitors in satisfaction as vehicles are torn asunder in a flash of light and fire, soldiers rolling out of the vehicles and dying in a bath of flame. The vehicles continue to pour in, not yet directly engaging the Freedom forces but instead continuing to fire into the unknown behind them.
“Why aren’t they firing at us?” Lukash thinks aloud.
The answer is all too apparent. Before anyone can react a seemingly endless sea of mutants begins to stream over the hills behind them. Lukash’ eyes go wide with surprise.
“Whoa whoa whoa… cease fire!”
The Stalkers acknowledge, radioing the ceasefire to the Freedom troops. The flashes and smoke trails emitting form the walls ceases and the Stalkers stand down, watching in horror as the pursuers of the Military force reveals itself. Freedom Stalkers begin jumping from the walls as the Military vehicles crash into them full force, completely out of control.
Lukash continues to watch the monitors as soldiers begin crawling out of the vehicles and desperately clawing at the outside walls of the Freedom base. They try desperately to climb up the tall outer walls in a futile effort to escape certain death at the oncoming onslaught. They make every effort they can to show their non-hostile intent, hastily constructing white flags out of materials on their clothing and hoisting them up on the butts of their rifles.
They continue to pound on the walls and form human ladders – anything to get inside.
“Sir…” the Stalker at the radio closest to him looks up at him with a genuine sense of pity in his eyes. “… they’re dying! We can’t just let them get slaughtered like that!”
Lukash continues to watch as the mutant swarm draws closer. The Military, knowing that their efforts are futile, turn and face the swarm, unloading everything left in their arsenal. He takes one last look at the swarm and at the tattered remnants of the Military force before making up his mind.
“Help them. All forces engage the mutants – but DO NOT let the Military in. They brought this mess to our doorstep and that’s where it’s going to remain.”
The room goes into action once again, giving the order to the teams at the walls to target the mutants. The walls light up again, bullets and rockets soaring over the soldiers backed against the wall and into the rapidly approaching mutant army. The area north of the base is completely lit up by the floodlights, as well as the stream of tracer bullets and rocket explosions. The fog to the north continues to creep towards them, and more and more mutants continue to emerge from the cloud of death right before their eyes.
Lukash glances back at the monitors in dismay. “We’ve got to get more firepower out there. Call in support.”
“Aye sir.” The Stalker radio’s in for fire support – a hidden asset that Lukash had been neglecting to use until absolutely necessary.
Shortly after the radio command is given, several thunderous booms sound from somewhere south of the base like a firework finale. Moments later the sound of falling bombs reaches their ears and the perimeter cameras are knocked offline.
Lukash walks over to a window facing the action in time to see several large objects fall from the sky north of the base. They impact the ground with enormous strength, sending fountains of dirt flame and mutated body parts erupting from the ground. Several large fireballs follow after, one after one in a domino effect. The wall of fog behind the explosions is lit up briefly before the fire dissipates and the area darkens again, leaving the floodlights to do the work.
The perimeter cameras flick back online. Where moments ago there were rolling hills with overgrown grass and weeds now is just a burnt, ragged and smoldering patch of land between the outer walls and the fog.
The Stalkers in the room cheer at the effectiveness of their secret weapon, jumping out of their seats, cheering and high-fiving each other. Lukash looks on as the cameras pan across the sea of black and red, strewn with the broken bodies of their would-be assailants. He allows a smile to creep across his face as he surveys the destruction with satisfaction. Turning from the monitors he addresses the Stalkers in the room;
“Well done, well done. It would appear that our years of fortification here prove that we are here to stay. With the amount of destruction available at our hands, surely the entire Zone will soon be bound under one banner – and that banner is Freedom!”
The Stalkers cheers in agreement, boasting and reenacting the final moments of the mutants as seen on the monitors. Lukash’ smile widens as he watches his men dance around and shout for victory. He turns to leave the room and survey the entirety of the battle when once again the sound of gunfire rises in the background. He stops in his tracks, arching an eyebrow and pivoting around, looking back into the room as the Stalkers slowly stop their cheering and take notice as well. They quickly return to their stations, spewing reports simultaneously back to Lukash. He can’t make out what they are saying but he understands;
“They’re still coming”.
Before anything can be done, the mutants regroup and attack in a manner never before seen by any of them. Acting as if there is a single mind controlling them, the mutants leap or run directly into the walls – the combined force of the blow knocks large groups of Stalkers from the walls, contorting the old, rusty metal and forming many small holes in it. Lukash watches in horror as the remaining Military soldiers on the ground are instantly crushed to death between the walls and the mutants.
“They’re breaching the walls, sir!” One of the Stalkers in the room shouts at him.
He watches as his men try desperately to hold position on top of the wall as it sways and buckles under the repeated blows from the mutants below. The Stalkers on the ground begin firing through the holes as the larger mutants claw and bite their way through.
“Have they gone insane… what could cause them to attack like this.” Lukash whispers a little too loudly.
“I don’t know sir, but if they keep this up we’re going to have to abandon the outer walls.” One of the Stalkers in the room replies.
After a good dose of abuse from the mutants outside, the walls begin to fall, sending Stalkers scrambling back and laying down fire as soon as they’re clear. After a few seconds of this, Lukash knows what needs to be done.
“Abandon ship. It’s over.”
The room goes deathly silent. All eyes look to him for confirmation.
“Abandon ship… sir?” One of the Stalkers repeats Lukash’s order for clarification.
Lukash looks the Stalker in the eyes, anger welling up inside of him.
“You heard me. Pack up and get the hell out.”
The Stalkers look around in stunned confusion, slowly taking in the urgency of their situation. Lukash presses a button on the console nearest him, leans in and talks into the microphone.
“All forces, this is Lukash. We are abandoning the base. Repeat: abandon the base. All Freedom forces must evacuate and head for site B. Lay down suppressing fire, and retreat. Repeat: all forces retreat.”
He swallows hard, slowly releasing the button as he tries to confirm whether the words actually did just leave his mouth or not. He stands back up and slowly looks back at the Stalkers around him. When he meets their eyes, they begin to get up, slowly at first, then begin to run to grab their gear and head for the Evac point. He waits until the room is completely evacuated before calmly walking out of the room, down the stairs, and out into the yard outside.
As soon as he reaches the outside, a warm breeze brushes against his face, smelling of smoke and blood. The roads between the buildings of the base are filled with Stalkers retreating, firing behind them as they go. Several explosions go off near him as grenades are thrown and detonated.
Maybe running would be a good idea.
He breaks into a sprint ahead of the Stalkers, heading to the Evac point – an abandoned train tunnel built into the hillside forming the base’s natural eastern boundary. Screaming and gunfire fill the air around him – the air is ripe with fear and death. He does his best focus, but is constantly reminded that he was responsible for every life being torn from the Stalkers who are dying to cover the retreat of the others. He slows to a walk once more.
A group of Freedom Stalkers bump into him suddenly, glancing quickly at the man walking through the gunfight and identifying him as their leader.
“Sir! You should get to safety. This is NOT where you want to be.”
“Give me your weapon.”
“You’ve done your job. Get the fuck out of here – I’ll cover you.”
“Y… yes sir.”
The soldier looks back at him, confused, but then takes off towards the train tunnel. A mischievous grin crosses Lukash’s face as he charges the rifle and resumes walking – in the opposite direction. More Stalkers run past him, glancing at him as he walks through them. Time to right a few wrongs.
“Come on… you’re not welcome here. You will pay for the lives you’ve taken.” He says to no one in particular.
A Snork charges and leaps on a Stalker in front of him, knocking the man to the ground before going to work tearing through the clothes at his back to get to the warm, juicy flesh within. Lukash squeezes the trigger, letting the fully-automatic G36 do its work. The muzzle flashes betray the look of curious satisfaction at seeing the creature take a storm of hot metal, then collapsing on the ground with a squeal of inhuman agony. He walks carefully up to where it is twitching and suffering on the ground and fires one last round directly through the back of its’ head.
The Stalker on the ground climbs painfully to his feet, looking at Lukash, painfully closing his eyes and reopening them acknowledging his savior.
“Come on, Stalker. It’s time to go.”
He takes the man’s arm and slings it around his shoulder as the man limps alongside of him. He quickly urges the man along as he heads back towards the train tunnel. Stalkers continue to fight and die all around him but that can’t be stopped now. They were overwhelmed, nobody saw it coming.
But if I save one of them, I’ve done my job. Lukash thinks to himself.
The two enter a small utility door beside the tracks beneath the tunnel ceiling. A group of Freedom soldiers inside hurry them inside, grabbing their arms and practically hurling them in like baggage. Lukash knows under normal circumstances his men would never do that, but appreciates that there is no prejudice, no VIPs, nobody left behind. These are the things that Freedom stands for, and even in the end, they’re worth fighting for.
The Stalkers near the door desperately pull in a few more men before the door is forced shut by a large, lumbering mutant outside. A few persistent knocks sound on the door followed by screams of agony as the last of the survivors outside die a painful death.
But they died for a good cause. They fought for what they believed in. Lukash reassures himself.
The dark, damp train tunnel grows eerily quiet as the unknown number of Stalkers inside quiet down, hoping that the mutants will lose interest and leave the tunnel alone. All they can do now is wait.
Check out my Stalker stories and other Zone-related stuff!
| 08:50:45 16 September 2009
On forum: 04/15/2007
There’s No Place like The Zone|
After much debate, I've finally decided to give you a teaser through the eyes of one of the main characters. Well... THE main character actually. Obviously I've been in the habit of giving you a broad view of what's going on in The Zone but haven't given you the information that can only come through the eyes of the main character. So here it is!
When we last saw Virtue, he finally realized that the Zone had always been his one true home and immediately set out to return and hopefully met up with his friends in the aftermath of the incident at Chernobyl. As he approaches a checkpoint along the border, he quickly finds that his news is very out of date and tensions are high not only within The Zone, but outside as well.
(Sorry for the formatting-cluster fuck taking place throughout my writing; I'm "experimenting" if you will. It's still very readable, hopefully...)
The sun was just starting to rise in the early hours of the morning when Virtue decided to return to The Zone – his one true home. The sky was a deep blue with just a hint of orange to the east. The lazily waving field of overgrown grass and weeds brushed against his covered legs as if welcoming him back. The abandoned houses in the distance pass him by like small details in a dream. For all he knows it is - since he can’t remember the last time he slept. But that’s not important. He’s here, whether in mind or body, and his destination is clear. Enigma, his friends, humanity.
He passes his hand through his long, black hair, brushing it away from his face to feel the cool morning wind flow around it. He listens carefully as the wind whispers promises of adventure ahead; tales of untold action, excitement, and horror.
But something else is on the wind; it’s different this time. Maybe because he’s been more familiar with it for most of his life than he knew, maybe because after the first taste of The Zone he has a better idea of what to expect this time, or maybe it’s Chernobyl – the heart of The Zone – slowly burning away in the aftermath of the mission there.
No – there’s something more real, more immediate. Fire. Maybe a small camp of Stalkers somewhere nearby – and something else. Voices. He listens carefully to what sounds like several loud voices – too many to count – some of them are raised above the others; shouting.
Something is happening over there. Curious, Virtue heads towards the noise, roughly north-east. As he approaches he can begin to make out black smoke rising nearby. He climbs carefully to the top of a hill closest to the smoke, crouching close to the ground to conceal himself. He reaches the top of the hill, going prone and taking a pair of binoculars out of his backpack for a better look.
Below him is one of The Zone’s various checkpoints along the abandoned roads leading in. The checkpoint is situated between two hills – the one he is on and another to the east of him. A fence runs up along the other hill and as he traces it back he finds the ruins remains lead back over the hill near him. Military soldiers are set up in a line at the base of the two hills and what appears to be a riot is taking place outside the checkpoint.
Virtue zooms in to get a better look at the protest taking place. The soldiers appear to be standing their ground against an angry force of Ukrainian citizens… businessmen, doctors, even some police and military stand on the opposing side. There are a few small fires and the outpost has taken some flak, but the soldiers inside the fence remain where they are, weapons drawn. A man is standing on a car near the middle of the crowd, shouting at the soldiers. Virtue places the binoculars back in their pouch and crawls forward through the tall grass so he can hear better.
“How long will we continue to sit idly while they continue to destroy not only our country, but the rest of the world?” The crowd cheers at the man standing on the car as he turns to address them. He looks like he’s come from a day at the office as his business suit would suggest, though the suit is dirty and slightly ripped like it’s seen a lot of action.
An automated message plays over a megaphone situated on an old telephone pole near a fenced-in portion of the checkpoint: “ATTENTION! YOU ARE ENTERING AN ECOLOGICAL DISASTER ZONE. ALL KNOWN CASES OF STALKING WILL BE DEALTH WITH EXTREME CONSEQUENCES. WE ARE HERE TO PROTECT YOU FROM THE ZONE, NOT THE ZONE FROM YOU.”
The message is ignored by the crowd as it loops; all attention instead is directed to the man as he continues, “The Zone is a manmade deathtrap! The more we tamper with it the more it kills. The military would use it to research more ways for humans to kill themselves even while it claims even more lives, both within and without. Now is the time for not only the Ukrainian people, but the people of the world to cry out in one voice; LEAVE THE ZONE ALONE!”
The crowd yells are cheers, chanting with him: “Leave The Zone alone! Leave The Zone alone!”
As the energy of the crowd builds, so does the amount of destruction being dished out, as all kinds of objects are hurled at the outpost and the soldiers. A few gunshots rip through the sky. The soldiers fire a few warning shots in the air as well as the ground in front of the protesters. The man on top of the car doesn’t even flinch as a few of the bullets zing past his head in an effort to scare him off of his perch. Instead, he calmly crouches down to take a bottle being handed to him. He holds the bottle into the air, taking a lighter from his pocket and igniting a small cloth sticking out of the end. The cloth slowly burns, creeping towards the liquid within the bottle composing the Molotov.
“No longer will they tamper with The Zone behind our backs! No longer will they claim to protect us from The Zone when, in secret, they are using it to kill us! No longer will man tamper with that which he does not understand! No longer will our children suffer at the hands of those in power, who we entrust with our very lives and who have only ever had their own interests in mind! We are the people, and we have a voice! Let us be heard!”
The crowd cheers again as the man turns to face the soldiers again, the bottle still aflame in his hand. As he cocks his arm back to throw, the cheering of the crowd is met with an earth-shattering roar from somewhere in The Zone in front of them. He jumps slightly, over-throwing the bottle as the soldiers at the checkpoint react, looking around and behind them for the source of the noise. The Molotov veers from its intended target, hitting a soldier in the back of the head. The liquid pours down his body and is instantly ignited by the flame.
The soldiers quickly turn back to face the crowd and, taken by surprise and seeing their comrade on fire, begin shooting wildly into the crowd. The crowd panics and dives for cover. One of the protesters opens the trunk of the car, revealing a large cache of weapons apparently placed there as a last resort. Weapons are tossed through the air to various people in the crowd and the gunfight begins.
Many of the people are gunned down before they even know what’s happening, others while they are attempting to seek refuge from the storm of bullets – but the one with guns return fire while running or behind cover. The soldiers are forced out of position, either running up the hills on either side of the checkpoint or seeking cover on the other side of the checkpoint.
Virtue watches in amazement as the scene unfolds. The people outside the checkpoint are falling much faster than the soldiers, but it hardly seems as though they are affected – as if they came expecting to die. The soldiers are taken out one by one as the remainder of the crowd pushes into the checkpoint, shooting at anything that can be destroyed.
The grass rustles near Virtue as a retreating soldier runs directly for him. He tries to roll out of the way but the soldier trips over his leg before he can. He face-plants on the ground, looking around quickly to make sure nobody is shooting at him. He spots Virtue in the tall grass next to him and yells in surprise. Virtue puts his finger to his lips in an effort to quiet and calm the man but the fear is so immense in his face that he scrambles backwards while pulling out his pistol and fires rapidly.
Virtue dives out of the way, rolling on to his back while pulling out his sidearm. He lines up his shot, hoping the soldier will cease his fire. The soldier continues to fire while backpedaling away, obviously scared out of his mind. Virtue sighs, out of options, and puts a bullet directly between the soldier’s eyes. The soldier instantly collapses to the ground, his faces twisted in horror as the ground beneath him begins to turn dark red.
Virtue reaches over with two fingers and closes the man’s eyes, trying not to think about the news his family will receive very shortly. “We are here to inform you that your son…” the letter would begin. Nothing else would matter. The rest of the words would do nothing to hide the fact that that person had died and was never coming back. That was part of life, he understood that and dealt with it first hand, but what the letter would not say is how needless his death was and how frightened he had been before the end.
Déjà vu. Virtue thought back to his first day in The Zone where he was first confronted with death. He remembers pulling the trigger of the small pistol given to him on his first mission and watching the life drain from the man on the receiving end. All that he was, all who knew him, and all that he accomplished ended in a second. But that wasn’t the hard part… it was knowing that nobody would ever know what his final moments were like through his eyes, what he died for, and why.
The Zone had claimed countless more lives in the same manner – but that was different – their deaths were either due to the hazards of The Zone or human corruption that knew no compassion. He had held many lives in his hands and seen them die by them. Would the pain ever go away? “No.” he thinks. ”The day I stop feeling the loss of life is the day I become just another monster in The Zone”.
Snap back to reality. In the blink of an eye, the last of the soldiers are dead and bleeding on the ground, while the protesters wander around the outpost, admiring their work. Some of them begin looting the building and removing the body armor and weapons from the soldiers, claiming them for themselves.
The automated message being played over the loudspeaker continues to play. “ATTENTION! YOU ARE ENTERING A-” A burst of gunfire goes off somewhere near the loudspeaker. A loud, electronic whine sounds from the loudspeaker before it crackles and dies.
Virtue decides to take advantage of the situation and walk out into the open, down the road leading to the checkpoint currently under new ownership. As he approaches the checkpoint some of the civilians take notice and point their guns at him shouting, but then lower them when they realize he’s not a soldier. More people take notice and gather along the road as he enters the checkpoint. They try to look tough but it’s obvious they are afraid and unsure of themselves and what will happen now.
He walks into the middle of the small compound between the gates dividing the inner and outer checkpoint, searching for the man in the grimy business suit seen shouting on the car before. In the confusion, Virtue had been unable to tell whether he had survived the initial firefight or not, but if he had, he was the best source of news since the night before. Apparently a lot had happened.
The man is found walking through the main building, attempting to organize the men and women and plot his next course of action. Virtue walks into the room and waits.
“Everyone: get all the uniforms and gear you can. Bury the bodies. If we work fast it’ll look like nothing happened.” The man scans the room, his eyes resting on Virtue. “Who are you?” He raises his newly acquired AKS-74U at Virtue, demanding an answer.
Virtue chooses his words carefully. “I’m no friend of the military, so I guess that makes me a friend.”
The man looks him over, analyzing all the gadgets and markings on his suit. Satisfied he lets a subtle smile cross his lips and responds, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Welcome Stalker, to our new base of operations.” The man offers his hand to Virtue, who shakes it a couple of times. “My name is Choma… at least it used to be. I don’t think my worldly name really applies anymore since I’ve committed an act that will surely bar me from that world again.”
“Speaking of which, maybe you can help me. I’m a little behind in the news.”
Choma looks at him incredulously. “Really? I wouldn’t think so considering how close to the outer boundary you are. The only real reason to be out here is to fight.”
Virtue confesses. “There was something I needed to take care of outside, but I didn’t stay long enough to get any update on the news.”
Choma stares at him for a while, at a loss for words, but gradually he dismisses the strange story and fills him in. “Well, you’ll be hearing or better yet seeing for yourself what happens. Needless to say, the world’s gone to hell in a hand basket, and there’s a giant magnifying class hovering over the world and aimed directly at The Zone. Even as we speak the Ukrainian military is setting up a full military blockade. The Ruskies are in a real pot of shit right now, since their little skirmish within our territory has attracted the attention of the entire world,” He pauses for dramatic effect. “Oh - and there’s the fact that Chernobyl exploded again and is currently spewing out another cloud of death over our county as well as the rest of the world.” He smiles in a way that says things have certainly been better in the world.
Virtue cracks a smile, admiring the man’s ability for humor while the world burns around him. Little does he know; he’s just met the man that sent the snowball rolling. He should have known his actions as well as the actions of the others with him would have had such consequences… it was just different seeing it play out in his mind then actually living in it and seeing it happen before his eyes.
Curious about the events currently taking place around the checkpoint, Virtue asks, “So what brought this on? I doubt you made all this up on the spot; you planned this.”
Choma nods and replies, “Yes. We should all be appalled by what has happened here – but more that we sat by and allow it to happen.” He pauses, looking at the floor briefly before meeting
Virtue’s eyes again. “I know my actions were… drastic and maybe even murderous in some people’s eyes – but it needed to be done. Had I not, somebody else would have. A message needed to be sent: no longer will we hide in fear while corrupt politicians play with our lives like puppet masters. No. We hold our own strings now.”
Virtue nods, remembering his own part – both the real and the fake. That lie of a life where he was nothing but a another number in a sea of numbers, not making enough numbers himself to support his made up wife and son, whom at the time he had loved with all his heart. And that other lie he was nearly tempted into believing when confronted by C-Consciousness that if he would but sacrifice his body, his mind would be at ease and the problems of the world would slowly die away. In that way, he and Choma were alike; both of them were new residents in The Zone, both seeking to define their new lives without others defining it for them.
“What will you do now? What do you hope to accomplish here?” Virtue asks Choma.
Choma ponders the question, as though he had not yet planned that part yet. “We were remain here and fool as many soldiers as we can while letting in as many Stalkers as possible. Obviously, other soldiers will get suspicious if they had friends here – but The Zone is a dangerous place and with all the current confusion it would be so easy to say that they were killed by other means.”
“What about all that talk about leaving The Zone alone? Aren’t you interfering even now as we speak?”
Choma half-nods. “In a way, yes. But a little “interference”, as you put it, is necessary to ensure that The Zone is never again touched by those who would use it for their corrupt and perverse intentions.”
Virtue says nothing, but gives a look that more-or-less agrees with Choma’s intentions, if not his actions. He looks around as the citizens-turned-Stalkers go to work looting the corpses of the soldiers and begin digging trenches for the bodies in a grassy area outside of the checkpoint concealed from the road. “Well… I wish you luck but I have a mission of my own to accomplish.”
Choma puts his hand up in a mock-helpless motion. “Don’t let us stand in your way – but if you ever head back this way and we’re still alive look us up. It’s obvious you’ve seen some action and we could always use another gun – especially an experienced one.”
Virtue smiles, mock-saluting the new, self-appointed commander of the checkpoint. Choma salutes back playfully, retreating further into the base. No doubt there is a lot of work to be done if they are to pull off their little operation.
Virtue continues down the road north of the checkpoint, grateful for the well-maintained road on this side of The Zone. The condition of the road does nothing to improve the condition of the area around it though. He tries to keep from gagging as he passes the corpses of freshly killed and mutilated soldiers and Stalkers alike. Things in The Zone were getting bad; it was all too obvious that a lifetime of events had happened all in the course of a single day.
The road ahead opens up into a clearing, giving him a good view of The Zone stretching before him. He rubs his eyes as he squints along the horizon – they must be playing tricks on him. No – it’s still there. More smoke, like that of the fires seen burning around the checkpoint before, dozens of them. They’re too far off for him to assess their size and exact location - but by his guess, every checkpoint bordering The Zone and the rest of the world is under siege.
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