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The Story of the Man She Loved - by Siro

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  07:49:42  14 March 2010
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Local Law-Enforcement


On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 11

His love for her was one that meant unquestionable dedication and loyalty. If she asked for a place to stay, he would give her his home. If she asked for a drink, he would bring her his entire collection of liquor. If she asked for a meal, he would prepare a feast to rival the Royal Court. If she asked for new clothes, he would buy the entire shop. If she wanted someone to leave her alone, he was ready to kill. If she wanted to be loved, he would give her himself. If she wanted the sun, he would give her the whole damn universe.

Or so he thought...

Never before had he met someone that made him feel this way. Never before was he ready to sacrifice himself for the good of just one person rather than a thousand. Never before had someone given as much love back to him as he gave to her.

If only it were not all gone now...

If only it were real...

Now it turns out that he never entered the Zone. He never lived a life outside of Her kingdom, never loved. He was just another of the Zone's children. A child with no memories of its own. A child of the Zone, to be slaughtered soon by the hand of his own mother. The climax was coming. Medea shall soon take up the sword in her hands. He felt it.

Maybe it would have been better had he not found out, Vasiliy pondered. Maybe he could have kept on existing with the fragments of memories from a person long dead...


He had to go North. Despite the inner drive of an unseen force within him calling him there, he was asked to go by a person that was long dead. A person he never loved in reality. Still, if he never loved her, how could she know it was him? Why did she come to him? How did she know? The memories were not his own, yet he still felt love for this person despite the circumstances. He only knew her through inherited memories. That was good enough for him. He owed the soul of this person, regardless whether her visit to him was a vision, a trick of the Zone, or a visit from the Other Light of beyond. He could not resist. If she wanted North, he would give it to her. The entire Northern hemisphere would be hers. He would do it.

For her.

The country landscape kept swimming by Vasiliy as he looked out over the right side of the truck through a gap in the tarp that covered the bed of the truck, lost in his thoughts. The constant hum of the engine of the large Soviet-built truck made conversation impossible, even when it quieted down as the truck slowed to skirt around an anomaly on the road. Kolya sat across from Vasiliy between several Freedom foot-soldiers, making for an amusing spectacle whenever he suddenly convulsed and leaned over the side of the truck to vomit. The Freedomers beside him either jumped out of his way to safety, or grabbed on to his legs to keep him from falling over the side of the truck.

Arkadiy, or Belicoff as he was now known, was standing in the gap between the cabin and truckbed with his machine-gun on the roof of the cab, keeping watch for hostiles. Soon the truck passed the derelict gas station and the pavement ended. The ride became much more bumpy as the truck made its North way over the debris-ridden field behind the gas station, expanding a big trench in the soft mud of the grassy field that was apparently made by other vehicles going along the same route before.

What makes us who we are? Vasiliy thought back to what he discovered from the Freedom researchers. A copy? A copy of someone else. What makes us the person we think to be? Is it our appearance? Our memories? Our general attitude in life? Our loves, our hates, or how differently we percieve the world from others? A copy is a copy, not the original. Despite the memories being fragmented, how did Vasiliy know he was a copy? How did he know that the Zone spared him such a fate? When was he even copied? How did he know? A corpse was never found. Vasiliy never met anyone that looked like him. Vasiliy never heard about anyone resembling him. How do we know that we are the people we think to be? The Zone again threw a wrench into the gears of life. Now there is the whole notion of copies that bring doubt to the very notion of individuality and existence. Some would damn Her for this, Vasiliy percieved it as a new discovery to the workings of a new physical world that he resided in, to the workings of this kingdom over which Medea presided, damn her...or was it not Medea? True, Medea was a stranger in her lover's own land, even banished by the king, Creon, to exile. Did this chapter of the tragedy happen yet, or was Medea yet to be exiled?

Someone needs help up North, someone needs to be freed...perhaps...perhaps Medea requires Vasiliy's assistance to be freed from king Creon's rule? Perhaps the Zone was not free to do as she wished, perhaps She has been shackled by someone else? Who, then? Who controls the Zone...?

The truck suddenly lurched to one side and a gust of wind made the tarp flap violently. Belicoff grabbed onto the hand-hold on top of the truck cabin.

"Gas it, you fool, gas it! Whirligig to 3 o'clock! Turn left!," Vasiliy heard someone yell.

The ancient truck's engine roared even louder as it tried to free itself from the anomaly. A small whirlwind was sucking in debris just to the right. It kept building up until the center was full, then a large clap sounded as the anomaly discharged, compressing everything that was caught in its gravitational pull. The driver took the 3 seconds the anomaly was inactive and pulled the truck out of peril.

"Too close, you sod!" Belicoff hammered on the top of the cabin once to express his anger.

Eventually the white walls of the army warehouses became visible on the horizon as the terrain became much more hilly and elevated.

"We're almost there, brother," Kolya told Vasiliy. "Our friends are waiting very close to the base, in the old farm just Northwest."

"Who is waiting for us, Kolyan?" Vasiliy asked.

"Two people I know, I went on raids with them before, you can trust them. They have their...err, issues, but they're dependable. We'll do jobs and earn up some money."

"Will we then go North after we acquire the necessary provisions?" Vasiliy asked.

"We'll make like mercs, do some jobs, and after that brain-melter is switched off, we'll be in a good position to make a break North," Kolya answered excitedly.

"What jobs, and how much will they pay?"

"Already got some lined up, and if all goes to plan, with this kind of payday you could buy a goddamn BTR."

Vasiliy nodded and began to collect his gear for the dismount. When he was done, there were still a few minutes left as the vehicle made its way inside the outpost gates past the towering sniper nests. He still could not shake the thoughts that kept gnawing on his soul.

What makes us who we are? Can a copy be an original? Or is a copy different enough from its original that it can be considered a new person? What is it that makes a person unique? Goals in life? Pursuits? Desire? Attitude? Morals? Memories? Copy or not, the memories, inherited or not, were Vasiliy's. He had them. They were now his own with the absence of his former self. What makes us ourselves? What makes us living beings? Not everything lives for desire, not everything lives for a greater goal. Even organisms with the sole purpose of consuming and breeding to pass on their genetic seed exist with such a seemingly meaningless purpose. Perhaps the answer was much simpler. Perhaps it was in front of everyone all along. The meaning of life, the purpose, is not a complex theory or a complete unknown. No.

To feel, to experience, and to retain what knowledge is gained. Is that not what makes us unique? How we retain it and to what use we put it. How we live, what we live for.

That is what makes us unique.

To be continued...
  07:57:55  14 March 2010
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Local Law-Enforcement


On forum: 03/02/2005

Message edited by:
03/14/2010 7:58:19
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Part 12

Vasiliy and Kolya jumped out from the truckbed as it slowly rolled to a stop in front of the headquarters building in the abandoned army base that the Freedom faction claimed as its primary outpost. Belicoff followed them, landing with a loud thud and whirring of servo-motors from his massive exoskeleton armour.

“Thank you for the ride,” Vasiliy said to the driver in his deep, gravelly voice.

Vasiliy took a moment to look at his surroundings. The base lay within a small valley of hills surrounded by white concrete walls. Barrack buildings and antennae towers, converted into sniper nests, dotted the interior of the base's perimeter. Kolya began walking toward the main gate, with Vasiliy jogging up to catch up to him and Belicoff struggling to keep up with the weight of his massive PKM machine-gun weighing him down.

“Where are the rest of the team waiting for us, Kolyan?” Vasiliy asked.

“A kilometre West, just follow me, I'll take you there,” Kolya replied.

“Sheep follow their kin, not realizing they're being lead to a slaughter,” Belicoff added.

“Fine, fine, take out your PDA and look at the map. It's the old farm West of the Barrier Freedom set up to keep the Monolith and other evil things from crossing over into the main Zone from the Brain Scorcher.”

“That's all I needed,” Belicoff said contently.

“Intellectual wannabe, pfft,” Kolya said under his breath.

“Is it not faster to cut through the large village straight to the farm instead of circling around on the road?”

“Yes it is, Vasia, but read the Stalker net. That place became a bloodsucker nest. Only fools would go there,” Kolya answered. As if to prove his point, a loud, liquid-sounding roar came from the village. Kolya shuddered.

Vailiy shrugged. The gates were right across the bridge built over the long unused railroad tacks in the base and were growing closer before Vasiliy noticed Belicoff was not behind him. Vasiliy whistled for Kolya to wait. Vasiliy walked over to Belicoff, who was looking at the tunnel the tracks disappeared in.

“Anything wrong?”

“What is that flashing going on in there?” Belicoff pointed to the tunnel.

“Electra anomalies. Large pockets of built up static energy. Do not ever get caught caught in one, for the the extra metal of your suit will conduct the energy with great efficiency and your servos will short-circuit. You will be trapped in the middle of the anomaly before you are fried to death. A most horrible fate.”

Belicoff looked at Vasiliy.

“Indeed it is, brother.” Belicoff said and continued walking toward the gate with Vasiliy.

Vasiliy's dark eyes narrowed slightly.

“That is why I do not use the exoskeleton you are fond of.”

“Small price to pay for the extra protection, I'll just avoid anomalies, nothing serious. Why such contempt, friend?”

“That is ignorance. Armour is not necessarily the best protection within the Zone. She punishes such ignorance. Sometimes it is best not to enclose oneself within a sarcophagus in order to survive. Movement, open eyes, and good judgement are the best protection within Her kingdom. As for avoiding anomalies, your detector will not be enough. You will see yourself. It is one thing to know an anomaly is nearby. What will save you from a cruel fate is judging where and what the anomaly is, not relying on technology. Think logically, where would the anomaly be? Where would the Zone set Her traps? On the clean, paved path, in a tunnel, or a path less known in the grass? She knows, She sees, She judges. It is difficult to explain.”

“Do you think I'll ever be able to achieve the same level of courage as other successful Stalkers?” Belicoff looked at Vasiliy through the lenses of his mask.

“It depends. What do you fear?” Vasiliy asked.


“That is the what differentiates successful legends from the rookies rotting in oblivion. Fear of death leads us to do things. Things that the Zone expects us to do. It takes away rationality, it causes rash decisions, such as you deciding to wear that suit. And eventually that fear of death will lead exactly back to just that, death.” Vasiliy shielded his eyes from the sun peering from between the clouds, which seemed to be dissipating, allowing the bright blue ocean of the sky to shine through.

“I'm not ready to take off the suit just yet. I need more confidence and experience,” Belicoff said defensively.

“May the Zone grant you the time you need,” Vasiliy looked at Belicoff and lit a cigarette, withholding the fact that the stench of death was long upon him.

The three Stalkers reached a fork in the road with a sign between the two paths. One arrow pointed to the right had “barrier” spraypainted on it, the one pointing to the left was blank. Kolya signalled the group to follow him left.

“What's at the barrier?” Belicoff asked Kolya.

“That's the border between the civilized Zone and the Centre,” Kolya replied gruffly.

“Isn't the entire Zone uncivilized, unknown, dangerous territory? What is across that border?”

“That, my friend, is the Brain scorcher. Anyone caught in it gets his personality erased and becomes a zombie. The approaches to Pripyat and the Chernobyl reactor are also under blockaded by Monolith fanatics who worship some supposed wish-granting rock in reactor 4. That is why Stalkers have yet to explore those areas and see if the claims are true. That answer all your questions?”

Belicoff wagged a finger to show that he had one more question.

“What about the famed Oasis that is said to cure any disease?” Belicoff asked. Vasiliy turned his head sideways in order to listen in on the conversation at the mention of the Oasis.

“It's somewhere in the centre, no one knows where it is. You do know that the legend started after some crackpot half-zombified Stalker wandered into the 100 Rads bar in Rostock? Oasis, Monolith, Wish-Granter, all of that could well not be true. For all we know it's a crock of shit, for God's sake.”

“So what's your point? That even if it exists, it can't cure just any disease if he's still insane?”

Kolya shook his head.

“No, I meant that it was started by someone who was not even in his right mind.”

“Didn't that gentleman have terminally fatal cancer before he returned?” Vasiliy interjected.

“I heard that, yes, but that's no proof. Legends become twisted and warped over time, for all we know he didn't. There are no medical facilities in the Zone to prove or disprove that claim.” Kolya answered, his frustration visibly growing.

Vasiliy thought back to what he could remember of his past and the fact that he was a copy of a person that was already dead.

“Do you think it could cure death, Kolya?”

“I don't freakin' know! Alright? It's just rumours. Why are you even interested in that, Arkadiy?”

“It's Belicoff now, Kolya. Anyway, imagine what contribution I could make to the scientific community if I discovered it.”

Kolya waved Belicoff's naïve statement away.

“Everyone comes to the Zone with their own dreams. Most of those get shattered like glass on a storefront from a flying brick.” As he finished his statement, Kolya gestured at what Vasiliy assumed was their destination. “There it is, the farm. That'll be our base while we're earning up some money for our push to the North.”

Vasiliy could see two farm buildings enclosed by a small waist-high wooden fence. An L-shaped residential building stood at the farthest corner of the farm, while an L-shaped barn stood opposite. Large cliffs loomed over the farm just behind a small patch of woodland just behind the farm. Two stacks of concrete panels, most likely meant for construction of apartment blocks were on the road in front of the small farm complex, with the cabins of Kamaz trucks and Moskvitch sedans littering the hills nearby.

Suddenly, a shot sounded and Vasiliy saw a muzzle-flash from the small patch of elevated woodlands North of the farm. Vasiliy grabbed Kolya and Belicoff, and threw them to the ground.

“There is a sniper.”

The shot hit the road about a meter away from the group. The cocking of a weapon sounded behind one of the stacks and a man wearing Adidas track pants, a leather coat under a basic militia bullet-proof vest, and a balaclava over his face jumped out from behind a stack of concrete panels, pointing his Aks-74U assault rifle at the three men.

“Stay down! Who are you?” He yelled.

“Same side, same side, Zek! It's Kolya!”

The man waved at the trees behind him and lowered his weapon.

“Well shit, you scared us, you know?” the man said as he walked up.

“Why're you guys so tense?” Kolya said as he helped Belicoff up off the ground.

“When we first came here, we found shell casings all over the ground, the body of one Freedom guy, and about five mercenaries in blue uniforms. They've got an outpost nearby, they think we're responsible.”

“Are you?” Kolya asked.

“Well shit, no. It was already like that when we got here, dammit.” the man answered.

“Was it really, Zek?” Kolya added in a humorous tone.

“Well shit, stop joking. This is serious. We've already got dogs in the forest up North behind us, barking, shit, keeping us up, and now, shit, mercenaries out for our heads nearby. We have no fortifications here to keep us safe, just recently, shit, we had to shoot off a bunch of pigs that wandered in here. Malysh, shit, didn't say nuthing, Hamzad was nowhere to be seen, shit as usual, and Sapsan fell in the well, shit, while trying to reach the fucking shitty bucket to get a drink. Overall, shit, it's been a real shitty fun time.”

“Optimistic as usual. Happy to see you're still your dirty-mouthed self, you criminal bastard,” Kolya laughed.

“Those days are behind me, shut the hell up, Miner.”

“Take a joke, Zek. This charming gentleman dressed like a walking shadow is the Zonekeeper, and the walking tank you know,” Kolya gestured at Belicoff and Vasiliy.

Zek pulled off his balaclava to reveal a graying head of hair, weathered face, gray stubble on his chin, and a mouthful of golden teeth.

“Pleasure,” Zek said, spat on the ground, turned around, and started walking back to the farm.

“By the way, Hamzad's aim is off. Is he losing his touch?” Kolya asked.

Before Kolya could take a step, a small pile of rags with a pair legs sticking out from under it ran out from behind one of the stacked panels.

“Say that louder! If you're going to insult someone, don't do it behind their backs. I wasn't even aiming for you. It was a warning shot. My rifle is tuned to precision.”

Vasiliy took a step back, his hand on the holster of Slava. Kolya saw this and put out a hand in front of him to tell Vasiliy it was okay.

“Calm down, it's Hamzad.”

The pile of rags stood up straight so Vasiliy could see it was not a pile, but more of a long trenchcoat with a myriad of green rags sewn onto it to make himself easily concealable under foliage. Outside of cover, he looked like a homeless drifter from the city. The short man under the rags pulled back his hood to reveal a set of narrow eyes, typical of someone born southeast of Russia, the rest of his face hidden under a bandana covering the lower half of his face.

“Good to meet you, I am Hamzad, sniper by profession. I've got Grozny and Ossetia under my belt, experience is not an issue,” Hamzad said as he outstretched his arm to shake Vasiliy's hand.

“The feeling is mutual, friend,” Vasiliy replied as he shook Hamzad's hand. He had an accent. In conjunction with his facial features and the fact that he was a sniper, it was most likely that he was from Kazakhstan, as the Russian army usually picked out individuals from the Southeast to become snipers. The reasoning behind that was the fact that hunting was necessary for survival in those regions.

“Shall we go into our humble base?” Hamzad gestured at the farm.

Vasiliy nodded.

Kolya, Zek, Belicoff and Sapsan were standing by the well in the centre of the farm complex, discussing something, with Sapsan gesturing angrily at the well. Hamzad and Vasiliy walked up to them.

“We have an exoskeleton here, we have concrete panels just outside of our base and all over the surrounding area left behind from some construction project that they never even started here, not to mention a myriad of abandoned cars, so why don't we get all of that crap together and fortify the place?” Vasiliy heard Kolya say.

Everyone nodded.

“Right, so we'll prop up the panels to make a fortified concrete wall about where the wooden fences are, that would be a good perimeter, and the metal from the cars we can use to cover the holes on the outside of the barn and the windows in the residential house so nothing small can get in,” Kolya laid out his plans.

“How will we chop the cars up?” Hamzad asked.

“The old fashioned way. We have no power tools, but the past residents were kind enough to leave axes behind. That'll have to do until we can find better tools.”

“I'll get started on the cars,” the man Vasiliy assumed to be Sapsan said as he walked away. He wore green tiger-stripe camouflage typical of Russian special forces, a heavy-looking 6B3 afghan-era armoured vest, solid-green spherical helmet Vasiliy recognized as a Sphera model, and a white PBF gas-mask covered his face.

Vasiliy felt something familiar about Sapsan.

“Hey, idle hands are the devil's work. Help Belicoff get the concrete plates in place,” Hamzad said passing by, the hood of a Moskvitch sedan held out in front of him.

Vasiliy looked at Sapsan climbing a hill, axe held in hand. He walked up to an abandoned Kamaz truck, took the axe, and began hacking the rusted metal apart. Vasiliy could have sworn he saw similar technique when using an axe before, but he had no idea where. Sapsan paused for a moment, unknowing that Vasiliy was watching him. He took off his gas-mask and wiped his brow. Before he pulled a balaclava over his face, Vasiliy could see it.

There was no doubt. Vasiliy nodded at Belicoff to lift from the other side as he pushed the concrete panel with all his might into Belicoff's arms.

There was absolutely no doubt, Vasiliy thought.

He knew Sapsan from before.

To be continued...
  08:07:33  14 March 2010
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Local Law-Enforcement


On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Part 13

Night had already fallen by the time the last concrete slab had been planted into the ground around the compound. Belicoff grunted with relief as he straightened up.

“Goddamn that was hard work. You people will work an old man to death,” Belicoff wagged a finger at Kolya, who was finishing shovelling soil to seal the small holes at the base of the slab.

“Work, old man, work. For a bright Communist future all over the world!” Kolya laughed.

Vasiliy put the last crate that the group was going to use for storage into the barn and locked the doors as he exited. He saw the rest of the group sitting down by the campfire in the centre of the farm and joined them. Hamzad, still in his ragged coat, placed several skewers of meat onto a spit above the fire.

“What is that stuff?” Sapsan asked with his quiet, but strong, voice.

“Wouldn't dare use the meat from local wildlife. Used the canned beef and onions I bought at the 100 Rads bar. Fresh non-radded onions don't come cheap here, so enjoy,” Hamzad answered.

“Why beef? We have a crate-full of pork tushenka in the barn,” Kolya asked.

Vasiliy looked inside the barn as he poured boiling water from the kettle into his bowl of potato-mash and saw a waist-high crate overflowing with cans.

“Why don't you just ask me to eat dog-shit? Pig is a dirty animal, you shit-eater.”

“Muslims can't eat pork,” Sapsan explained.

“How do you know? You a Muslim or something?”

“You served in Afghan, Kolya. You should know they don't.”

“Savages,” Kolya answered.

“I'm going to take my rifle and shoot you if you don't silence yourself now, Miner,” Hamzad growled.

“Your little fart-shooter isn't here, so you'll half to fight me like the man you aren't.”

“You bastard! What did you do to my rifle? Where is it?!” Hamzad yelled.

“Calm down, Hamzad. He didn't mean he did anything, you left it in the house,” Zek interrupted.

“Don't you dare insult my rifle! Where is it? Where is my rifle?!” Hamzad's voice started cracking.

“Woah, I didn't mean anything by that. Boyish banter, was all, man. It's in the house, Hamzad. Calm down,” Kolya put his hands out in front of him.

Hamzad ran off after his rifle, reaching full panic at that point. Vasiliy noticed a younger Stalker in the circle, wearing a black Stalker suit, similar to a Duty faction uniform, except the chest-plates were painted green. He had blonde hair and young boyish features. He looked about twenty-four years of age.

“Hello. I did not meet you yet. Who are you, brother?”

The boy just looked at him, smiled, and let out an unintelligible moan.
Vasiliy furrowed his brows in confusion.

“He can't talk,” Zek explained.

“What do you mean?”

“Eh...he just can't. Obviously he's not in his right mind.”

“You mean disabled? Down syndrome? No, his eyes look normal,” Vasiliy mused.

Hamzad came back, rifle in hand, and sat back down around the fire.

“That's Malysh. Forgot his real name. Duty sent us into the brain-scorcher in 2011 when some faction managed to break through, thought they went that route. He was my spotter, and still is, to a degree. Bastards, they didn't even warn us. I had good psy-protection in my helmet, so I grabbed him and ran off as soon as the storm-group came under fire from the Monolithians and my vision started turning fuzzy. He wasn't lucky, the Brain Scorcher left its mark on him. At least he's still alive and isn't a full-fledged zombie. I haven't returned to Duty since. They can all go instinct for doing that to us,” Hamzad said, embracing his rifle firmly. Vasiliy noticed his bowl of food was empty as he listened and discarded it.

“Well isn't this nice. We're all sat around here, telling stories,” Kolya said happily.

“Why don't we all talk about why we're going to the centre of the Zone and what we'll do,” Sapsan suggested.

“Well, I'll wish for riches. Maybe become governor of a small region, buy a mansion, nice car. Find a nice girl, and get married,” Kolya said dreamily.

"Such shallow dreams. Obviously the mark of someone hurt in his life. Who hurt you, Miner?" Zek asked.

"Wife. Fallen empire. Government. World," Kolya pulled a bottle of vodka from the pack next to him and drained the bottle to the half-way mark before turning away and exhaling forcibly to drive his point home. He turned his head to Zek.

“Meh, I want to get rid of my past. I want to wish for forgiveness. If God won't forgive me, then there is some way to get the dreams away. Lord, shit, I'm not proud of what I did, shit, that's why I left the shitty bandits. Wasn't like them, I actually have regret for what I did, shit. Rape, drugs, armed robbery, it all took a toll on me. I want to, shit, finally become a normal member of society! Before I did everything for a rush, for money, for pleasure, now, shit, I want to make a difference. I want to find a new life. The life I always dream of,” Zek said with a grave look on his face, the flames reflecting in his tired eyes.

“Zek, that is an interesting nickname. I take it you did time in a colony?” Sapsan asked Zek, which is short for “Zakluchenniy,” which means “convict” in Russian.

“Yes. I don't want to talk about it,” Zek answered.

“I want to find what is in the centre of the Zone. But the real breakthrough that shall change the face of human science is the discovery of Oasis,” Belicoff interjected.

“I sense a deeper reasoning for that,” Sapsan said with a hint of curiosity.

“Well...fine. I have terminal cancer and HIV to boot. Clinical trials are doing nothing even in well-equipped labs in West, the shoddy state of Native medicine here in Eastern Europe is laughable, so there's no hope. If I find Oasis and it cures me, that will be one of the biggest discoveries for medical science in our existence.”

“I feel you're trying to escape death,” Vasiliy said, his head bowed down and hidden under his hood.

“Shut up about that already. Sure, fine, I am! I am terrified! There is so much I have yet to accomplish! I made a new start in Britain, and now it's all being taken away from me!”

“Now you are being honest to yourself. That is one of the first steps, brother,” Vasiliy added.

“I want to find out what the hell is going on in the centre of the Zone. Duty aren't even close to killing it. Maybe I can at least find a way to control it, make it stable,” Hamzad gestured at Belicoff, “God knows how many discoveries can be made in this place to benefit mankind.”

“What about you, Sapsan? Come on, fast bird, tell us. You want to become faster? Ain't nothing faster than a sapsan.” Kolya laughed.

“Well, you know what every mercenary dreams of? A boat rocking on the quiet waves of the tropics. A painted dark blue sky with a hint of red in the West where the sun sets, a woman you love in your left arm, and a glass of expensive, good cognac in the right. But most importantly...for the killing to stop.”

“The killing can never stop, you said yourself, man. You tried a peaceful life, turned to religion, to sport, but it was always the same. Your place was on the battlefield, you realized. Now why don't you stop bullshitting these nice people and say the truth, eh?” Hamzad said to Sapsan quietly.

“You know why they call me Sapsan?”

Silence was the only answer.

“Sure, I am fast, but you know why? Like some, I am running away from something. Some kind of goddamn...ugh...evil is stalking me! It started following me since...since...the collapse of the Soviet Union. I didn't notice it at first, but through my service in various agencies as a private contractor and then operative of the FSB, I could see something following me on the battlefield. Something or someone cursed me! Some otherworldy force! Maybe it came from here, maybe from...the Other Light of Beyond, but I have no idea! I want to wish it away. Or at least go where it can't follow me. I can always hear it. Always nearby...the same sound. The same footsteps, the same rattling of chains, the same cries of “you will pay for what you did to us!” And no! It's not the people I killed in war. It's something else, dammit! Something else!” Sapsan was getting wound up and stopped when he realized what he was saying.

“Eh, you people sure know how to start a lovely damn conversation. Let's just listen to the mastery of Vysotsky on the guitar and eat some food, eh?” Sapsan added as Zek unsheathed a guitar from its case.

“Not in the mood for Vysotsky. How about Valdimirskiy Central by Rosenbaum?” Zek protested.

“Dammit, you and your prison-music. Shanson grates on my ears. I'll go inside and take a nap. Call me when the food's ready.

Sapsan got up and walked over to the residential building. The rest of the group shrugged and went about their business. Vasiliy stood up and went after Sapsan after lighting a cigarette. He looked over the compound one last time to see the fruits of their labour. The fences have been replaced by towering walls of concrete, the parts of both buildings that were facing outside were plastered with metal sheets, held strongly together by railroad spikes Zek looted from Freedom's base with their permission. It was secure. Even makeshift metal gates stood securely shut at the south side of the compound. He walked inside the residential building, past the large oven, which was now used to hold the group's weapons and ammunition, all neatly laid out with needed tools locked in a wooden box at the very end. He entered the main room of the building and whistled in amazement at how clean the interior was. Several bunk-beds, courtesy of the Freedom base, stood neatly in a row. There was a table with two chairs and a bottle of vodka neatly arranged in the corner, the bedding was clean, a primitive sink and water-tank with an upwards push-handle was nailed to the farthest wall, and Hamzad even managed to get a hold of a Persian rug to hang on the wall.

Vasiliy saw Sapsan lying down on a cot.

“Sapsan. We need to talk.”

“Yeah, sure, it's Zonekeeper, right?”

“If you prefer, or you can call me Vasiliy.”

“So what brought you here, anyway? How did Kolya convince you to come along?”

Vasiliy sat on a chair opposite of Sapsan.

“He made some good points, and there are events unfolding. Certain events that I need to be a part of. That is why I am talking to you. I recognize you. From where I don't understand or remember.”

“Heh, many people say that. I'm that kind of mercenary that everyone's seen me once or twice,” Sapsan laughed.

“No. That is part of the problem. I am...a copy. Of someone. You know how sometimes people or mutants are copied during blowouts? It happened to me.”

Sapsan sat up, tense, obviously threatened.

“You came after me, didn't you?”

“No. I just want you to tell me what happened to me, who I was, who I am a copy of.”

“Lift up your hood and show me who you are.”

Vasiliy did as he was told. Sapsan's eyes widened in terror.

“It's you! You are dead! That blowout took you! Now you have manifested into material existence again and have been sent by the evil to get me! Begone, foul demon!”

Sapsan rolled off of the bed and unholstered a worn, silver Mauser C96. Vasiliy dropped his half-finished cigarette.


Before he could fire, Vasiliy sprung up and with a swift motion, pushed the slide of the Mauser back and held it there so Sapsan could not fire. Sapsan lifted Vasiliy off his feet with surprising strength using his left leg and kicked him off with his right. The slide of his handgun snapped forward and he stood up. Vasiliy got onto a knee, and sweeped with his left leg, hitting the back of Sapsan's knees and simultaneously pushing him backwards with his left arm, dropping Sapsan onto the ground. Sapsan was about to snap the barrel of his Mauser into Vasiliy's face before a Gsh-18 appeared in front of his forehead.

“Demons know Sambo better than me.”

“Listen! I am not here for you. Tell me who I am. You obviously recognized me.”

“So you are not here for me?”

“I would have fired if I was,” Vasiliy answered.

“Fine, fine. I guess it is possible what you said. The Zone is a strange place.”

Vasiliy glanced out of the window to make sure nobody outside heard the struggle.

“I could tell you, but it would be best with proof, as you won't believe me without it,” Sapsan got up and brushed himself off. “But not a word to anyone. When we take jobs tomorrow, we go to the Yantar factory. There is a science lab not far from there. I used to do security for that place before someone cheaper got the contract,” Sapsan lit a cigarette and handed one to Vasiliy, who took it with a nod.

“Let's go outside and eat some food. We'll go to sleep and search for contracts near Yantar in the morning. When we're done, we will meet Sakharov at the mobile lab, surely you remember him. He will tell you what you need to know, Pasha.”

“Sakharov sounds familiar. And why did you call me Pasha?”

“What, you don't know? I thought Vasiliy was a pseudonym. You are Major Pavel Yurevich Kochevnikov. Don't you rem...wait, you don't.”

To be continued...
  08:09:46  14 March 2010
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Local Law-Enforcement


On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378

this is out of the blue, are you typing this or are you just uploading it?
by the way your stories great, hasnt gotten boring yet.


Thanks. I'm just re-uploading it, but I am working on new material as we speak. This will continue until I reach the end...or maybe I won't reach an end, who knows?
  15:49:34  14 March 2010
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On forum: 11/01/2009
Messages: 883

this is out of the blue, are you typing this or are you just uploading it?
by the way your stories great, hasnt gotten boring yet.


Thanks. I'm just re-uploading it, but I am working on new material as we speak. This will continue until I reach the end...or maybe I won't reach an end, who knows?

you know that you posted this twice right?, or did you delete the other one.
  18:00:04  14 March 2010
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The Artist


On forum: 06/13/2007
Messages: 12362
The story is starting to look really good and interesting Siro. Keep it up while I wait for more.
  01:57:11  23 March 2010
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Cake Muncher


On forum: 01/08/2009
Messages: 4119
I just re-read the story again, good stuff Siro.

Can't wait for the next chapter.
  01:56:16  28 March 2010
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On forum: 12/12/2009
Messages: 76
Awesome story, given me inspiration to continue mine.

Is there more to come? If so I cant wait.
  16:00:18  17 April 2010
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100RadsBar - Formerly known as LoboTheMan


On forum: 06/03/2009
Messages: 1716
Any T.O.A regarding the next chapter.?

Very good story, can't wait for the next chapter
  10:15:10  26 April 2010
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On forum: 04/26/2010
Messages: 9
Nice work

Keep it up brother, I hope the zone don't get you...
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