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The Zone: Life, and Death.

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  06:32:09  30 August 2008
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Senior Resident

On forum: 04/15/2007
Messages: 490
Thanks... your support is appreciated. Nay... required.
  06:24:29  30 August 2008
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On forum: 07/06/2008
Messages: 107
Awesome job, as always. You do a wonderful job of bringing us into the minds of all the STALKERS, and you have managed to bring a bit of humanity to all of them.

I love the huge chunks of story posted, so at least after waiting I get a good, long read to make up for it

Keep up the awesome work, I really can't wait to keep reading more!
  04:47:01  30 August 2008
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Senior Resident

On forum: 04/15/2007

Message edited by:
08/30/2008 5:00:35
Messages: 490
The Zone: Life and Death - Part 5

Here it is, once again! Reviews, comments and suggestions are always welcome. Remember that if you like the story you can suggest a character name and even put a background in with them!

Don't hesitate to show some love... these take a long time to write, so I want to know you're enjoying them!


Day 6

Yuriy aka “Virtue” – Me, on my mission to start a new life for myself and support my wife outside the Zone

Boris aka “Nimbus” - Bandit turned neutral, he helped me get to the safety of a neutral Stalker outpost during an assault. He’s a good companion to have.

Gremlin – The Stalker in charge of the current mission. Dedicated to his goal, he expects everyone to get the job done. He and Phantom are best friends.

Phantom (MIA) – The son of a Chernobyl worker presumed dead in the ’86 explosion. His mother and sister went missing after unearthing some government secrets about the events that transpired afterwards. He is on a mission of truth to uncover what really happened in the Zone. Last seen in Yantar, he offered to stay with Nikita, who had been shot in the leg by a zombified Stalker.

Zombie – A quiet, mysterious Stalker. Often speaks in metaphors. He is a loyal follower; even while a bit creepy at times.

Jester (MIA) – His name says it all. He can’t stand uneasy silences and will say anything to cut the tension. Coupled with his natural ability to insult and speak without thinking he’s both a blessing and a curse. Last Seen in Yantar, after a horde of zombified Stalkers attacked the group waiting for Gremlin and Phantom to find the Ecologist bunker. He left to go find them and hasn’t returned.

Nikita (MIA) – The Stalker who’s taken notice in my skills and provides me jobs. Last seen in Yantar, he took a few rounds to the leg from a zombified Stalker.

Averiy aka “Jargon” – An Ex-Chernobyl worker who seems to have been in the Zone for a long time, he knows a lot about words, hence the nickname

Andriy aka “Mace” – The leader of a neutral Stalker outpost in the Garbage. A compassionate, dedicated leader

Oleksiy and Pavlo – Two brothers, dedicated to a leader and inseparable. Oleksiy seems to be more brute force while Pavlo thinks through first.

I remember when I was little. I would lie in bed while the trees outside would knock against the side of our house and tap on the windows. My parents reassured me that it was only the wind and that nobody was out there. My parents always seemed to know everything about anything when I was a kid. Last night I could have proved them wrong. The moaning and shuffling of the zombies outside continued all night. If I hadn’t been so worn out I doubt I would have fallen asleep at all.

I was the last one up again, but not by much. Gremlin was talking with Sakharov, obviously pissed about the events of last night and agitated about our current state of affairs. The zombies left the bunker, but they were still out there… and hopefully our comrades along with them.

Zombie was sitting on a crate near the door. He seemed to be drawing something. I went over to see what it was but I couldn’t make it out. It looked kind of like a ghost, but there was flesh hanging off of it. Freaky.

Nimbus was checking out some of the wares Sakharov carries… a few over-priced rifles and some old Hazmat suits. He poured over various types of shotgun ammo and bought a few dozen boxes. After last night I don’t blame him.

Gremlin’s urging me over, I better go see what he wants.

[Audio enabled]
Gremlin: Hey. How’d you sleep?
Virtue: Well enough, despite the company.
Gremlin: *laughs slightly* Yeah, the Stalkers out here can be quite… unsettling.
Virtue: I think I understand the importance of this mission now.
Gremlin: That’s not why we’re here, but if we succeed our friends should visit us less often…
Virtue: Nobody deserves the kind of fate they’re suffering through.
Gremlin: Absolutely not, it’s a terrible way for a man to die; for the body to go on living without the mind is a violation of nature… which is why we need to get to that lab, find the cause of this abomination, and make sure the men who did this suffer for what they have done.
Virtue: Those men deserve a proper death.
Gremlin: Right, and it’s up to us to ensure that justice is served.
*Gremlin cocks his rifle*
Gremlin: Make sure to stock up on ammo and med kits. Where we’re going, we’ll need all the supplies we can muster.
Virtue: Got it.
[End audio]

We’re all stocked up on supplies. Zombie gave me a scope to attach to my rifle and helped me zero it in. This should help me take out anything at range before it gets too close. He told me “Aim for the absence of life”, I assume he meant the head.

Before we left Sakharov provided us with top-of-the-line suit upgrades. All of us were given gas masks, anomaly detectors, air tanks, night vision, and special belts for holding artifacts. I feel like a real Stalker now… there’s no turning back, I’ve committed.

Now there’s a job to be done… one that other Stalkers have stayed far away from. I’ll be honest… I’m afraid. There are mindless Stalkers out for blood wandering outside along with God knows what else… and in that lab… I don’t want to think about it. I’ve got to figure out how to use all of these new devices before we go. I’m positive any recording I do on this mission will be played over and over again should I survive this.

[Audio enabled]
*The bunker door closes with a clank and a hiss. Sakharov speaks over the speaker outside the door*
Sakharov: Good luck Stalkers. It’s a brave thing you’re doing. The Zone depends on this.
Gremlin: Just doing what’s necessary.
Sakharov: Remember that the prototype is still in its alpha phase… there is no guarantee it will protect you under every circumstance!
Gremlin: I’m well aware of the risk, we all are. Thanks for the help and supplies.
Sakharov: Just remember: if you all get killed that equipment goes to the next team crazy enough to get into that place!
Gremlin: I didn’t know you cared so much.
Sakharov: Yes, well… just remember you’re doing it for the scientific community as well, there’s no telling what the results of your mission could do for humanity! You better get moving. It may take a while to get there what with the anomalies, swamps, and zombies everywhere.
Gremlin: Alright, let’s go.
*The Stalkers start walking away from the bunker and exit through the main gate*
Gremlin: Ok… here’s the plan. We need to head due north, following the main road. Along the way we’ll encounter a few swamps and our fair share of zombies, as well so some other undesirable things. Make sure to listen for the beep your anomaly detector makes. If it beeps more than once per second you are too close. I’ll use bolts when that happens to mark the anomalies.
Nimbus: Good, I hate those things. I’ve seen Stalkers run into them before… the bandits aren’t exactly careful about where they hide sometimes.
Gremlin: Watch the radiation levels also. One hundred REMs equal 1 Sievert. Anything above ½ a Sievert can make you sick. Anything above 1 Sievert is hazardous if you’re exposed to it for too long. Just follow my lead and we’ll make it there in one piece.
Virtue: Got it.
Gremlin: Good. Don’t hesitate to shoot any zombies that take interest in you. For the most part they’re too dumb to do anything about it, but they are attracted to sight and sound when they’re not already distracted. Whatever force is working against us here doesn’t want us getting into that lab… I’m sure of it, so let’s make ourselves as uninteresting as possible. Stay close.
[End audio]

So far so good. Almost 4 hours have gone by and it hasn’t gotten any lighter outside. The fog is not quite as bad as last night… I can see about 100 meters in front of me, but I still can’t see into the distance. I only see the path ahead, and grass and bushes lining the side of the road. If I meander slightly off the center of the road my Geiger counter clicks a little bit… the radiation must be pretty high out there.

Walking down this road is like something out of a dream; it’s not dark, but it’s not visibly light either. Everything has a haze about it, like walking through a cloud. Every once in a while the silhouette of a building comes into view and it’s like seeing a memory. But this is no dream… this is reality, and we’re about to walk into a nightmare.

Zombie squints like he can see through the fog, almost like he can see things nobody else can. I’ve come to notice that even though he’s quiet, he’s also observant. His eyes don’t wander aimlessly; they’re scanning. He’s mapping the area in his head. So he’s a poet, an artist and a mapper… there must be quite a story behind him. Though I doubt he’ll ever tell, he’s not exactly the kind for general conversation.

It’s still no lighter than it was 2 and a half hours ago. We’ve been traveling along this road forever. It almost seems like as soon as we hit the end of the road it starts over; everything has looked the same for hours now. Maybe this is a dream and I’m still sleeping back in that bunker… or at home with Emilia sleeping next to me.

We just heard gunshots up ahead. I’m switching audio on.

[Audio enabled]
Gremlin: Hold.
Nimbus: Where did that come from?
Gremlin: Up ahead. It sounded like it came from inside somewhere.
Zombie: The pack needs aid!
*Zombie rushes forward ahead of the group*
Gremlin: Come on! Let’s go!
*The Stalkers run ahead in the direction of the gunfire*
Gremlin: Some fellow Stalkers… they’re cut off by zombies! Let’s give them a hand!
*Gremlin kicks open a side door on the abandoned where the shooting is taking place*
Gremlin: Zombie! Cover them; I’m going to cover you from upstairs.
Zombie: Affirmative.
Gremlin: Nimbus – you’re with Zombie. Virtue, come with me. Time to practice your sharp-shooting!
Virtue: Yes sir!
Nimbus: On it!
*The stalkers split up, Gremlin running up the stairs with Virtue right behind*
Gremlin: There’s a hole in the roof above the garage that they’re in. Just aim for the head.
Virtue: Ok!
*Controlled breathing, indicating Virtue steadying himself for better aiming. A shot is fired.*
Gremlin: Nice shot! Keep it up!
*Gremlin lets out some burst fire while another shot is fired from Virtue*
Gremlin: You’re a natural, man; make ‘em sing!
*More burst fire and controlled shots are released until a few minutes later the fight dies down*
Gremlin: I think that’s the last of them… let’s head back downstairs and help them mop up.
*Gremlin starts down the stairs, then trips on a loose floorboard near the top, tumbling down half the flight*
Gremlin: Shit… son of a bitch… fucking *random unintelligible cursing*
*A zombified Stalker, near the bottom of the stairs looks over at the noise and discharges his weapon*
Virtue: Behind you!
*Virtue let’s out 3 rounds, aimed for the zombies head, ceasing the gunfire*
Gremlin: Th… thanks man. Good shot.
Virtue: No problem, let’s get out of here.
Gremlin: Come on!
*The Stalkers exit the upstairs and run around the corner to the garage.*
Zombie: The pack is reunited.
*Gremlin speaks, panting*
Gremlin: How… is… everyone?
Phantom: Tired.
Gremlin: Phantom! You made it… I knew you would.
Phantom: We haven’t slept since yesterday, but we’re fine.
Nikita: Yeah… thanks to you and that other guy who showed up.
Gremlin: Other guy?
Jargon: Hello there.
Gremlin: Jargon. You son of a bitch! What are you doing out here?
*Gremlin hugs Jargon*
Jargon: Just enjoying the sunlight and the smell of decay, same old same old.
Gremlin: Can’t you find somewhere else in the Zone to do that? This isn’t exactly the most welcoming place.
Jargon: Something told me the sunrise would be especially beautiful in this part of the Zone today.
Gremlin: Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s been foggy ever since we’ve gotten here.
Jargon: Hmm… it must have been something else then. Maybe it had to do with the mission you’re on.
Gremlin: How do you know about… wait… you always know.
Jargon: Don’t forget that.
Gremlin: Why does our mission interest you?
Jargon: You should know the answer to that one, considering my history.
Gremlin: You want to know what events transpired after the Day 1.
Jargon: Bingo.
Gremlin: Well, you’re in the right place. We can’t be far from X16 now.
Jargon: No. In fact you’re about 50 meters away from the wall.
*A few seconds of silence*
Gremlin: Son of a bitch, you’re right. I can see the outer wall from here.
Jargon: We should make for it as soon as possible.
Gremlin: You’re right. Let’s… wait… shit.
Jargon: Is there a problem?
Gremlin: Yeah… we were separated last night and Phantom and Nikita never got the prototype.
Jargon: You mean these things? I’ve been Sakharov’s guinea pig for years. Take them.
Gremlin: By the way, we’re short a man. Did you happen to see anyone else on your way here?
Jargon: No.
Phantom: Jester never made it to you guys?
Gremlin: No, we we’re trapped in the bunker by the zombies until sometime last night. I thought you were him when you came out of hiding.
Jargon: I’m sorry, I didn’t see him.
Gremlin: Alright. Let’s do an inventory check.
[End audio]

Man… it’s good to see Phantom and Nikita again. Words can’t describe the scene in that garage. Phantom and Nikita were propped up around a central support with bodies all around them, the ones that fell face up all had holes in the direct center of their heads. Phantom is obviously a sharp-shooter, and extremely quick on the draw too judging by the lack or bullet holes anywhere other than on the zombies.

Jargon, once again has successfully found me, this time deep inside Yantar. Gremlin obviously knows him, and they seem to be good friends. I don’t know why he’s following me, but I think I finally understand part of why. He was a worker at Chernobyl when overloaded, and taking into account that he hasn’t left the Zone since that day he had to have uncovered something that needs explanation. I wonder if he and Phantom are after the same thing: the truth about what took place there after the meltdown.

Gremlin told me I was a naturally good shot, I have no doubt this will come in handy as we venture deeper into the complex ahead. Speaking of which I think the inventory check is done, we should get moving.

[Audio enabled]
Gremlin: We’re ready to go. When we get inside the complex, expect anything. Stay close, and watch your sensors. The fog is still pretty thick, so double-check all corners and dark spots. Let’s go.
*The footsteps of the Stalkers go from gravel to concrete, indicating that they have entered the complex. An eerie humming sound increases in amplitude as they walk*
Nikita: What is that?
Gremlin: That’s the emission bouncing out of our heads. The prototype blocks it, but we can still hear it.
Zombie: The devil is speaking to us.
Jargon: Sakharov said the hums are part of the Extremely Low Frequency or ELF sound spectrum. Normally it’s undetectable by human ears, but the emission amplifies somehow so that humans receive it like a radio wave. Think subliminal advertising.
Phantom: Where the advertising is just one word: kill.
Jargon: Or “protect” maybe.
Gremlin: Well whatever it is, we have no idea when it could become the main topic of discussion if we’re not careful. Sakharov said he didn’t know if it will withstand a burst of the emission or for how long it would protect us.
Virtue: How do we know if we’re unprotected?
Gremlin: He said it would beep when it was unsure about the level of protection.
Virtue: Then what?
Gremlin: Try to get underground real fast and hope its safer than it is out here. But I wouldn’t recommend going underground until we find the place we’re looking for. The zombified Stalkers are just for show… there’s worse brewing in here.
Jargon: Nothing we can’t handle.
Nimbus: Do you know of anyone who’s made it out of the lab alive?
Jargon: No.
[End audio]

That shut everyone up. This… complex, looks like it used to be a manufacturing plant of some sort. There are various buildings with concrete pathways between each of them. Many of them are warehouses for storage and others have tables and assembly lines inside of them. There’s a large loading crane in the middle and storage containers in the back of the facility. The whole place is run down and dreary. The fog makes it impossible to gauge the size of the entire complex, but from what is visible around us I can tell that a lot of fighting and death has occurred here. I can see spent casings, some discarded weapons, dried blood and bone fragments, and even a few bodies in the corners.

The whole place smells of death. It’s hard to see inside most of the buildings, like in the Wild Territory. The ones I can see inside look like they’ve been frozen in time; some of the machines are halfway through whatever job they were doing, several cars are still parked inside, covered in dust, and even some of the lights are still working.

Right now this feels like a walk through a deserted park at night; creepy, but no immediate danger. Something in the back of my head is constantly telling me we’re being watched and that we shouldn’t be here, but then I look up and it’s just the same foggy, empty buildings. It seems like the second part of the dream I was in on the way here, but more detail this time… and a lot creepier.

I wonder what we’ll find when we get to the…

[Audio Enabled]
Nikita: Did you guys hear that?
Gremlin: Shh… quiet.
*A low rumbling noise comes through the sound of wind and leaves blowing down the deserted path.
Nimbus: What was that?
Gremlin: I don’t know. Stay quiet.
*The rumbling noise gets louder and becomes mixed with an electric hum*
Nikita: What… the… hell…
*The hum turns into a crackle then dissipates. The rumble stays constant, then the sound of a barrel clanking across the ground distracts from it*
Gremlin: Brace yourselves.
*The sound of the metallic barrel grinding along the ground comes to a halt suddenly*
Nimbus: Where… where is that?
Phantom: SHIT!
*Nimbus puts a round in the barrel while Nikita unloads his gun in the direction of the noise. Zombie falls to the ground*
Nimbus: Where is it?!
Nikita: Fuck! FUCK!!!
Gremlin: Stop firing! It’s gone!
*Nikita stops firing*
Nikita: Wh… what the hell was that?
Gremlin: Just a barrel.
Nikita: Barrels don’t fly through the fucking air!
Gremlin: It’s gone now, keep going.
Nikita: What’s gone! Zombie just got decked with a fucking flying barrel… something threw it at him!
Gremlin: Whatever it was is only trying to distract us from the mission.
Nikita: It’s doing a damn good job… I’m losing it here man!
Gremlin: Zombie’s fine, no harm done. We have to keep moving.
Nikita: Shit man… shit.
Nimbus: At least I know my barrel-shooting skills are up to date.
*Nimbus cocks his shotgun*
Nikita: I hope so… if barrels can do that in here, you better be ready for the living shit that might come flying at you.
[End audio]

So a barrel flew out of nowhere taking out Zombie. That guy is probably the buffest one of all of us and he fell to the ground faster than testifying preacher. Who, or what threw it… we don’t know, but it’s obvious someone or something knows we’re here and doesn’t want us to be. We’re close to the north-west wall of the complex now. The door to the lab isn’t far ahead according to Gremlin.

[Audio enabled]
Gremlin: The door should be just ahead. Once inside we need to get to the back of the building and find the door to the underground tunnels.
Virtue: Sounds simple enough.
Nimbus: I’ll take the first flying barrel watch once we’re inside.
Gremlin: Zombie, take up the rear. Make sure we don’t encounter any more unpleasant surprises.
Zombie: Affirmative.
Gremlin: There’s the door ahead.
Nimbus: Hey… there’s someone up there.
Gremlin: Phantom?
Phantom: Let me see what I can see.
*Phantom kneels to the ground, aiming down the scope in an attempt to get a better look*
Phantom: Too far away, I can’t make it out.
Gremlin: Keep your eyes peeled.
*The Stalkers march along, making for the front door of the building*
Gremlin: Anything?
Phantom: No… whoever it was is out of sight now.
Nimbus: I’m sure I saw someone. They had no protection on though so I don’t think it was a zombified Stalker, it looked more like a straggler or something… like one of those people who decided to come back into the Zone despite the radiation?
Jargon: No… not quite…
Gremlin: You know something?
Jargon: It’s a straggler alright… but he never left the Zone.
Gremlin: What do you mean?
Jargon: I think it was a mutant.
*Silence for a few seconds*
Nikita: Human?
Jargon: Ex-human.
Gremlin: Shit… one of the smart ones.
Nimbus: What’s that mean?
Gremlin: The human mutants tend to be the smarter, more aggressive ones. Mutation tends to case higher brain function, and given enough time the primal ones take over; feed and mate.
Nikita: What do they eat?
Gremlin: Meat… and it doesn’t matter what it comes from or how old it is.
Nikita: So those things have been multiplying and eating other people?
Gremlin: Yeah, basically.
Nikita: Well… that’s just dandy!
Gremlin: Keep your cool! We’ve made it this far.
Nikita: Alright… sorry… I just hate zombies. Especially the “real” ones…
Nimbus: You and me both.
Gremlin: Come on, Jargon and I have point, just make sure nothing comes up beside us.
Nikita: Fair enough.
*The Stalkers slowly progress towards the front door for what seems an eternity until, finally, they cross onto the wood floor of the entryway.
Gremlin: Left clear.
Jargon: Stairs clear.
Gremlin: Move in.
*Slowly advancing footsteps, with sounds of choppy breathing from some of the Stalkers*
*Suddenly, a low mumble cuts the silence*
Gremlin: *whispering* Wait.
*Gremlin advances a few steps forward, then quickly checks a door on the left*
Gremlin: Clear.
*Gremlin slowly advances to the next door *
Gremlin: Clear. Moving o…
*Gremlin stops in his tracks*
Gremlin: Nobody move.
Phantom: What is it?
Gremlin: Shh… Nikita… step slowly to your right.
Nikita: Why… wha…
*Nikita carefully glances around only to find that standing a meter from him is the zombie seen outside, staring right at him - crookedly with dead eyes, jaw locked open and offset, drooling on the floor in front of him*
Nikita: HOLY SHIT!
*Nikita falls to the floor and drains the remainder of his magazine into the zombie’s torso*
Gremlin: Open fire!
*The group opens fire on the zombie, dropping it to the floor instantly*
Gremlin: I said step to your right! Not fall on the floor in front of him! What are you, inviting him to eat you?
Nikita: He was standing right fucking there! You could have said get down or something!
Gremlin: I was trying to hit him in the head and avoid making too much noise!
Nikita: Shit… I didn’t mean to yell… but Jesus, he was looking right at me. He looked hungry too.
Gremlin: It’s fine. Everyone’s a little on edge… we just need to get in…
*A roar-like growl comes from where the zombie fell on the floor, then another yell from Nikita*
Nimbus: It’s not dead!
Gremlin: That got it!
*The zombie again falls to the floor, while Nikita proceeds to bash it’s skull in with the butt of his rifle*
Gremlin: Nikita! It’s dead!
Nikita: It’s still twitching! I’m not letting this fucker up again!
Jargon: It’s just reflex, Nimbus got him.
*Nikita pants furiously, not letting up on his beating*
*Nikita starts to slow down until the butt of his rifle strikes the wooden floor, through the back of the zombie’s skull*
Phantom: Shit…
Nimbus: That’s disgusting.
Gremlin: Alright… as you can see those things are resilient. Simply shooting them in the head won’t to it either; you have to tear apart their motor functions - which usually means pumping them full of bullets. It goes against my philosophy, but that’s what it takes to drop them and keep them down.
Jargon: Believe me when I say, you’ll be doing them and their families a favor.
Gremlin: We’re not safe lingering here, we need to get inside.
[End audio]

There’s some weird shit going on around here. First the flying barrel, then that zombie. He was different than those zombified Stalkers; they all looked “intact” besides the fact that their brains were fried by the emission… that one looked like it had died years ago. I noticed that it was still in full clothing too, the logo on his shirt matched one we passed on the way here, suggesting he used to be a worker here. So I guess what Jargon and Gremlin said was right… he must have survived to a point until the radiation got to him, mutating him into a mindless zombie.

I’m sure I’ll have time to talk about this later, but now is definitely not the time for a debate; we’re standing outside the door now.

[Audio enabled]
Gremlin: This is it. Once we enter this lab we’re on uncharted territory, so be on the lookout for anything – especially holes or loose sections of floor. If you fall through anything there’s a good chance you’ll be stuck there. If that happens you better hope you die soon afterwards or suffer the fate of our friend back there.
Phantom: I’m ready
*All the Stalkers announce their readiness*
Gremlin: Ok… here we go.
*Gremlin grabs hold of the door handle and yanks it open, causing a grinding sound along the concrete floor before it. The door squeals as it opens, telling of countless years of wear.*
Gremlin: Headlamps on, it’s clear.
*A deep bass sound emanates from deep within the underground facility, imitating a bottomless pit. Every sound is amplified by the unoccupied space *
Gremlin: Stay close Phantom. Jargon: behind me. Zombie, keep our asses covered.
*The Stalkers proceed down the dark, empty stairs as cautiously as humanly possible*
Gremlin: Fan out at the bottom, let’s try to get the scope of this place. Go.
Phantom: Right clear.
Jargon: Left clear.
Zombie: Only echoes of time back here.
Gremlin: Alright… let’s see. There’s a control booth on the right and a lift at the end of the room. It looks like there’s a service ladder next to it… I don’t like the look of that lift, so let’s check out that ladder.
*The Stalkers advance into the room at the bottom of the stairs, making footprints in the dust covering the floor*
Phantom: It looks like the last guys who used this lift tried to leave in a hurry; it’s off the track on the right side and the tether has snapped on that side. The “up” button is jammed in place and it looks like someone overrode the safety limit for the speed.
Gremlin: The service ladder is on that side, I’ll go down first and test it. I have a harness so we can rappel down if we need to.
Jargon: Right behind you.
Gremlin: Alright.
*Gremlin steps on to the top rung of the service ladder, then, after verifying its stability, proceeds down the ladder*
Gremlin *shouts*: It looks like there are about 4 platforms on the way down! Each one has ladders in-between! I can’t see to the bottom but I can see a light beyond it! This platform’s stable, come on down!
Phantom *shouts*: Alright! Let’s get down there guys.
Nimbus: Ok.
Nikita: Whatever you say.
*The Stalkers climb down the first ladder while Gremlin proceeds ahead to make sure the ladders and platforms hold*
Gremlin *shouts*: Keep coming! I’m just above the bottom floor now!
*Suddenly, a pipe clatters to the ground somewhere in a room below, echoing throughout the immediate area. All movement stops. After a few seconds Gremlin peers into the room below, then motions everyone down*
Gremlin: I’m gonna try to make out that light. Hurry down; I’m dropping to the floor now.
*Gremlin dismounts the last ladder, dropping into the mound of dust on the floor*
Phantom: Hold up, Gremlin. I can’t see you anymore.
*A loud roar resonates throughout the shaft*
*Gremlin screams, then curses and open fire*
Phantom: Gremlin?! I’m getting down there, come on.
*Phantom slides down to the platform above the bottom floor just in time to see Gremlin get knocked to the back of the shaft by a creature springing out of the shadows*
Phantom: Holy shit!
*Gremlin pulls out a knife and starts hacking at the creature while it grunts and roars*
Phantom: Hang in there!
*Phantom jumps from the bottom platform to the floor of the shaft and kicks the creature in the head, causing a vicious roar in reply*
Nimbus: We’re coming! Hang on!
Nikita: Right behind you…
*The ladder they were on buckles under the stress of the weight and clatters to the ground with a loud clang, Stalkers still attached*
Gremlin: Shoot it! Shoot it!
*Phantom opens fire, putting 3 rounds directly in the side of the creature’s head*
*The creature gives off a final roar; cursing everyone around it, then grunts and collapses*
Gremlin: Get it off of me!
*Phantom kicks the carcass off of Gremlin, revealing what looks like the slow reverse-evolution of a man to a 4-legged predator*
Phantom: What the hell is it?
Jargon: Snork.
Phantom: Another one of the devil’s experiments?
Jargon: Call it what you will.
Gremlin: It leapt on top of me out of nowhere, it looked like a man-sized bullet was coming at me.
Jargon: They’ve developed some sort of super-human strength, especially in their back legs. They also have heightened senses similar to the average dog; scent mostly.
Gremlin: It looks so human… it had a gasmask and everything still attached to it.
Jargon: Some of the Zone’s less fortunate survivors thought they would be safe in underground tunnels during the events after the first explosion, as long as they kept their gasmasks on. But when the radiation seeped into the water they didn’t stand a chance, and by that time they were too sick with radiation poisoning to escape. Now they inhabit irradiated swamps and other damp places where they drink the same water the once made them sick… only now it sustains them.
Virtue: More helpless people condemned to a lifeless shell… only an echo of what they used to be.
Jargon: Just pray we don’t run into worse.
Nikita: I’m starting to regret signing up for this mission.
Phantom: Don’t talk like that! We owe it to that man, and the others like him to end this hell.
Nikita: You… you’re right.
Phantom: Let’s move further in, the source of the emission has to be around here somewhere. I’ll take point if it’s alright with you, Gremlin.
*Gremlin, obviously still in a state of shock, looks up briefly and nods*
Gremlin *mumbles*: His face… teeth bared… through the gasmask… dark eyes… evil…
Phantom: Uh… come on guys. Stay sharp.
[End audio]

Gremlin seems to still seems to be shaken up about the whole incident with what Jargon called a “Snork”. I don’t blame him… the thing would have looked almost fully human had it been standing up… but it pounced on him like a dog and crawled around on all fours. I couldn’t help but look back at the body on the floor… shredded up protective clothing and the top part of a gas mask – the eye pieces clouded over like the thing didn’t know how to clean them and relied on some other sense. The bottom half of the gas mask had either been lost or torn off, revealing the things sharp teeth and hardened, crusty skin – a lot like that zombie we saw on the way down here.

Whatever happened between being human and turning into that thing must have been brutal and torturous.

I… I can’t keep writing in this place. It’s getting too difficult to type with the lack of light and the fear that floats around this place. It’s cold and damp down here, but I know that’s not the reason I’m shaking.

[Audio enabled]
Phantom *whispering*: Hey, it’s ok man. Just take deep breaths.
Gremlin: *whispering*: I know… that thing just scared the living shit out of me is all. Give me a few minutes.
Phantom *whispering*: You know I don’t mind leading for short periods of time, but if the others see you this shaken up it’ll break their spirits.
Gremlin *whispering*: I know… I know. 5 Minutes man… just… just 5 minutes. *sighs*
Phantom: *whispering*: Just keep your composure.
Phantom: Keep lights in those corners guys, we don’t want any more surprises.
Jargon: He must have been alone, nothing else is stirring.
Zombie: The calm before the storm.
Phantom: We don’t know that. There might be nothing between us and the emission’s source.
Jargon: Unlikely. Somebody wants their investment under twenty-four hour surveillance… and no trespassers.
*A section of ceiling tile falls to the ground in front of the group with a loud crash*
*Phantom lets out some controlled shots at the unknown target*
Nikita: Zombie!
*Nikita and the rest of the Stalkers join the fight*
Nikita: Fill it full of lead!
*The zombie grunts and howls as more of the ceiling crashes down in front of the Stalkers*
*The room is filled with the sounds of gunfire and zombies wailing*
Phantom: Grenade out!
*The grenade rolls along the floor into the group of zombies, resulting in an explosion that rocks the room, sending dust cascading through the area and causing an uproar amongst the zombies*
Gremlin: Switch to Armor-piercing rounds if you’ve got ‘em.
Phantom: Take cover behind those supports! Target the one closest to you!
*Gunfire continues to fill the room as the zombies shuffle closer, screaming at the Stalkers*
Phantom: Fire in the hole!
*A second grenade shakes the room, resulting in body parts flying against the walls and a chorus of wails from the zombies*
Nikita: They’re still coming! There’s gotta be dozens of them!
Phantom: Don’t let up! Keep Nimbus covered, he’ll do more damage up close!
*Nimbus, now at the front of the group, goes to town on the zombies, each shot resulting in a loud boom and splattering body parts*
Nimbus: Gotta reload!
Virtue: I got you!
*Virtue steps in alongside Phantom, keeping a constant stream of bullets at the zombies*
Phantom: Careful! They’re starting to circle around us!
Gremlin: Get the ones on the side! Nimbus stay up front!
Nimbus: I’m good to go, make way!
*The Stalkers continue to open fire, aiming to the side while Nimbus, Phantom, and Virtue hold the middle*
Gremlin: Watch that one, he’s too close!
Jargon: Got him!
Zombie: The imprisoned approaches!
Gremlin: Stop speaking in code! What approaches?
*A loud grunt, followed by a roar comes from behind the zombies*
Gremlin: Shit… not another…
*Before the Stalkers can react, another Snork lunges out of the darkness, right into the group of Stalkers*
Nikita: Shit… AHHHH…!
*Nikita skids across the floor, behind the Stalkers while the Snork tears into his suit*
*A group of zombies take notice and divert their attention to the exposed target, a drooling grin over their faces*
Gremlin: Get those ones! THOSE ONES!
*The group of zombies shuffle over to Nikita, moaning and forming bits of words as they go*
Unknown (1): Kiiiiill!
Unknown (2): Soldier! Soldier! Soldierrrrrrr!
*Nikita struggles under the super-strength of the Snork on top of him to reach his weapon, knocked to the ground a few feet to his left*
Gremlin: Nimbus! I need you over here!
Nimbus: On it!
Jargon: I’ll cover front!
*Nimbus switches to the back of the group in an attempt to neutralize the zombies closing in on Nikita*
Gremlin: The walls! ON THE WALLS!
*Tapping and banging noises come from the walls on the side of the room*
Jargon: More Snorks!
Nimbus: They’re climbing the God damn walls!
Phantom: Aim for the head! They’re not that strong if you shoot first!
*Bullets ricochet off the walls, aimed at the Snorks crawling along the walls*
Phantom: One down! Two more on the right!
*Nimbus lets off a blast in the direction of the Snorks on the right wall. A squeal of pain echoes through the room, then a thud as the creature lands on the platform below it and gurgles blood*
Gremlin: Get the last one!
*There’s a hefty grunt and a loud thud as a larger Snork leaps and lands to Nikita’s left, kicking his rifle across the floor*
*Nikita screams in horror*
Gremlin: Phantom, hit the big one!
*Bullets start flying in Nikita’s direction, with several direct hits to the head*
Phantom: He won’t fucking die!
*The larger Snork, enraged, starts running towards the group*
Gremlin: HEADS UP! It’s coming this way!
*The Snork lunges into the group, plowing a path through the middle of the group*
Gremlin: Regroup! Form a circle and fall back to the elevator shaft!
*Nikita, out of options, pulls out a grenade and shoves it into the mouth of the Snork on top of him. Then, with all his energy, shoves the creature to his side and makes for the shaft*
Nikita: Get down! Live grenade!
*The Snork scrambles to get its footing on the floor and before doing so, starts in Nikita’s direction, sliding across the floor*
Gremlin: Drop that Snork!
Phantom: I don’t have a shot!
*Nikita pulls out a pistol and unloads it at the Snork while it pounces at him again*
Nikita: Sit boy! SIT!
*The grenade detonates with a pop and a cloud of internal organs and blood, sending the remains of the Snork flying through the air*
Gremlin: Holy shit…
Nimbus: Guys, we’ve got problems up here!
Gremlin: I got these back here, keep on the front ones!
Nikita *coughs*: I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Gremlin: Shit, you’re burned badly.
Nikita: Just keep the rest of those fuckers out, I got these.
*Panting, Nikita raises his pistol at the still approaching zombies and starts firing*
Nikita: Stay back you motherfuckers!
*The rounds slowly drain from the clip until Nikita is left pulling the trigger, shooting nothing but air*
Gremlin: Hang in there, man, there’s only 3 left!
*Gremlin continues to fire*
Nikita *panting*: Wa… wait… I’ve got… one last ‘nade. H… Here it goes.
*Nikita pulls the pin his grenade, and wearily holds it above his head, like a symbol of triumph*
Gremlin: Wait! I’ve got them!
*Nikita throws the grenade with all his strength, hitting one of the zombies in the forehead*
Nikita: Catch.
*The grenade explodes, spreading the zombies over the room*
Nikita: Home run.
Gremlin: Nice throw! Just hang on… we’re almost throu…
*The shaft above him groans as debris bounces off the top of the lift into the bottom of the shaft*
Gremlin: WATCH OUT!
*A piece of concrete bounces off the walls of the shaft, stopping upon hitting Nikita in the chest*
Gremlin: NIKITA!
Phantom: Gremlin! We need your help here!
Gremlin: Dammit! Why… why…
*The Stalkers keep up the firing while the moans of the zombies continue*
Phantom: On the ledges above us!
Jargon: Right side is down!
Zombie: Left is dust.
*The screams of the zombies continue until the hoard finally dwindles to a few stragglers*
Phantom: Ceiling looks clear.
*A shotgun blast resonates through the room*
Nimbus: Stay dead you piece of shit.
Phantom: One more to the left.
Gremlin: He’s mine.
*Gremlin strolls over to the zombie and opens fire point blank*
Gremlin: DIE YOU MERCILESS SON OF A BITCH! That one’s for Nikita you mutated fucks!
*Gremlin continues to fire and lets out a yell while he does so, the muzzle flashes illuminating the sick look on his face*
Phantom: Gremlin! GREMLIN! It’s dead! Let off!
*Gremlin finishes the clip until the magazine empties and the chamber clicks a few dozen times*
Phantom: Come on man… let off.
*Gremlin pants furiously, teeth bared. The other Stalkers stare in confusion*
Gremlin: Too many lives… too many. The sooner we get to the source of the emission the sooner the lost souls of this place can finally go to hell where they belong. Do you hear me you piece of shit? DO YOU HEAR ME?!
*Gremlin yells again, kicking the corpse of the zombie and smashing its head with his rifle*
Jargon: THAT’S ENOUGH! You’re not solving anything! You’re right – the sooner we get to the source, the sooner we get out of here… then maybe no one else will have to die.
Nikita *coughing*: I’m not quite dead yet.
Gremlin: Nikita!
*The group rushes over to the elevator shaft where Nikita, half buried under concrete and debris, is propped up, blood dripping from his mouth*
Gremlin: Dammit man, I thought you were dead! We finished off those sons of bitches.
Jargon: Hold still, I’ve got some medical experience, let me check those wounds.
Nikita: I already know the diagnosis doc… don’t bother.
Jargon: Don’t be an idiot, let me see.
Gremlin: Nikita, I’m sorry… I could have gotten those guys before they got too close. But I was fucking stupid!
*Gremlin punches the concrete in front of him*
Nikita: Don’t punish yourself. You couldn’t have done anything.
Gremlin: Maybe not… but I should have expected an ambush the second we stepped foot in here, but I was too busy being a pussy after that Snork pounced on me.
Nikita: You weren’t being a pussy. You’re only a pussy if you keep blaming yourself for not preventing the unpreventable. I’m the Zone’s now.
Gremlin: Fuck that. I don’t believe that anymore. The Zone doesn’t dictate who lives and who dies – nobody does.
Phantom: You believe that?
Gremlin: I do… and I’m sorry I made you believe otherwise.
Phantom: No… don’t worry about it.
Nikita: Well… either way it’s too late for me now.
Gremlin: No it’s not. How is he Jargon?
Jargon: Not good. I’m sorry.
Gremlin: Dammit! Stay with us! We have a mission to accomplish.
Nikita: My mission ends here.
Gremlin: NO! We have lives to save… you can’t give up on that.
Nikita: I gave my life for the Zone; I’d gladly die so that others live.
*Gremlin curses and stands up abruptly, walking back into the room in an attempt to look like he’s patrolling the area, hiding his face from the group*
Nikita *sputters*: Listen! Stop lingering around here; you have a job to do. I’ve always been a nobody. Nobody knew me in life, and nobody will in death. I’ve lived a meaningless life – at least let me die for a cause.
Virtue: You did the right thing, signing me up for this mission. I thank you for that.
Nikita *laughs, spitting up blood*: You needed a job, I needed a sixth man.
Virtue: No, you picked me for a reason.
Nikita: Yeah… well I guess I thought you were the type that would get it done in the end. I knew you were different than the average Stalker.
Jargon: You were right, Nikita. Virtue’s not a normal Stalker; he has heart and the will to keep going despite the odds.
Nikita *coughs violently*: Well, who am I to stand in your way then? Get to it Stalkers. Don’t let the Zone have any more lives.
*Nikita coughs up more blood, then heaves a few times, and lets out a sigh – committing his spirit to the Zone*
Jargon: Rest in peace, Stalker.
Virtue: Thanks again.
*The Stalkers stare in silence for a few moments*
Phantom: We’ll need his ammo and med kits. The rest will stay with him forever.
Jargon: I’ll attend to that.
Phantom: Very well. Come on guys… let’s go.
*Jargon takes what supplies are necessary while the rest of the Stalkers group up with Gremlin, who is standing on guard, unmoving and silent*
Jargon: Ok, we’ve got what we need.
Phantom: Alright, everyone ready?
Gremlin: …
Phantom: … let’s go.
[End audio]

Nikita is dead. I barely knew him. He was one of the first Stalkers I met in the Zone… and one of the first friendly faces I had seen in a long time. His death still lingers with me… it reminds me of what that bandit said my first day in the Zone…

[Log - Day 2]
"Are you going to shoot me? What do you think you and your little band of freedom-fighters are going to do here? Nothing! If you kill me, that's one more life the Zone claims, and one more soul that will be forgotten. Can you handle that "Stalker"? I bet you and I are not so unalike."

The bandit had lived an empty life like Nikita claimed he had also. I believe there was dignity in his death… but does he believe that? What if this mission is just a waste of time and we’re solving nothing here? His death would have been in vain, and so will be any more deaths along the way. We’re no better off than the soulless abominations that crawl around these halls if this mission fails. If we don’t discover the source of the emission, or shed any light on the cause of the death and destruction that litters the Zone like the leftovers of Chernobyl, we fail everyone who has died here sine that day… and I fail Emilia.

Gremlin hasn’t said a word since Nikita’s death so Phantom is calling most of the shots with an occasional suggestion or comment from Jargon. Zombie is ever vigilant in his silent analysis of the areas we pass through. Nimbus seems rather distant over the death of Nikita… I can’t say that I blame him; death is not an easy thing to get over, especially when you’re at his level of experience. I’m no better off than he is… I honestly don’t know if we’ll ever get out of this place, but I know that if we do, anything above ground will be a great sight to see from now on.

So we march on, ever-conscious of the danger that surrounds us. But we can’t stray from our target now, not with so much depending on it. The sound of machinery beneath us gets louder as we stalk the halls of this place. I can feel an internal battle going on inside me… am I willing to sacrifice my life so that others may live… or do I do the job, and get the hell out so my wife will live to see another day? I can’t answer that now… but I know there is a huge burden on my shoulders, and who lives depends on what we do here today.
  08:30:17  28 August 2008
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Senior Resident

On forum: 04/15/2007
Messages: 490

I'm glad you enjoyed it, thanks.

I'll give you some advice about writing style that's really worked for me in this story. Just make it up as you go. When the time comes to introduce a new character, get as much information about his/her background as you can and develop a personality.

The dialogue and the way they react to a situation comes a lot easier when you can think to yourself "what would this person do in this situation".

One of the things that has been awesome in this story is my 2 best friends making characters based off their personalities and researching a solid backstory. Also, a couple of the readers suggested some names and 1 of them sent me a backstory for his character also.

That's how I've done it with this story. It's also affected the overall plot as I've been writing it. Obviously I have an ultimate goal, but how the characters reach that goal is still a mystery, even to me.

All I can say at this point is see you in X16.
  06:55:36  28 August 2008
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On forum: 03/04/2008
Messages: 50
OMG OMG OMG!!!!! I love this story i just spent about 50 minutes just reading the last post! i bet it took you a while to write all of the last one though.

Im thinking of writing a story but im afraid it wont be very good, or i will just run out of ideas. I have a few things that i could make into a story, a few characters, but not alot of detail. i got to think more and decide which character's story im gonna choose first.
  06:29:53  28 August 2008
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On forum: 08/28/2008
Messages: 2
Great job with the story psynexus, you are doing a great job on my character
  03:24:27  28 August 2008
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Senior Resident

On forum: 04/15/2007
Messages: 490
You can send me email -

Phantom and Gremlin are actually 2 of my good RL buddies, and they both gave me a really good background story for their characters. I found it was very easy to construct a story around them once I had the actual characters, so I'll take anything you've got.

Thanks for reading, I'll have the next part up soon.
  03:11:16  28 August 2008
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On forum: 07/06/2008
Messages: 107
Man, it just keeps getting better and better! Loving the new characters, diverse personalities make it even more interesting, and I like the direction you're taking them in so far.

As for a background story, should I send you an e-mail or pm or something? I don't want to post it in the thread so as to ruin the story or anything :\
  01:47:45  28 August 2008
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Senior Resident

On forum: 04/15/2007

Message edited by:
08/28/2008 6:29:33
Messages: 490
The Zone: Life and Death - Day 5 (Part 4)

Here it is - Day 5! As always please excuse any formatting errors - copy and paste like to take out all of the break I put in MS Word. Constructive criticism is always welcomed, as well as any advice or comments about the way I work with the "modes" or general story-telling.

Also, to those who gave me character names with or without backgrounds, I hope you enjoy being part of the story. If you would like to give some background for your character please do, everyone will get to fully introduce themselves at some point.

Are you still reading this? Get on to the story! (Added Notes section so you can keep track of everyone)

Yuriy aka “Virtue” – Me, on my mission to start a new life for myself and support my wife outside the Zone

Boris aka “Nimbus” - Bandit turned neutral, he helped me get to the safety of a neutral Stalker outpost during an assault. He’s a good companion to have.

Nikita – The Stalker who’s taken notice in my skills and provides me jobs

Averiy aka “Jargon” – An Ex-Chernobyl worker who seems to have been in the Zone for a long time, he knows a lot about words, hence the nickname

Andriy aka “Mace” – The leader of a neutral Stalker outpost in the Garbage. A compassionate, dedicated leader

Oleksiy and Pavlo – Two brothers, dedicated to a leader and inseparable. Oleksiy seems to be more brute force while Pavlo thinks things through first.

Day 5

[Story mode Active]
I opened my eyes slowly, still deciding if it was morning or not. All the fires in the camp sites had died hours ago so it was freezing cold. I tried to rub the haze out of my eyes only to find that it was the Zone producing it, not my eyes.

Not 5 seconds after I looked around to see if anyone else was awake, Nikita, who had apparently been up for some time, came out of the corner he was crouching in and slowly approached me. I guess he had been watching me for some time.

“Good morning, Stalker.” He said. “The Zone doesn’t announce the sunrise the same way you’re used to. The animals have been howling for a few hours now, you slept right through it.”

“Usually the early morning is comforting to me, but I can’t say I’m disappointed to have missed it.”

He tried to grin, but he was obviously unsettled. He must not handle the morning very well here.

“Well, if you’re ready we should get going so we can make good time. I promise you no morning here can come close to the danger of night where we’re going.”

“And where would that be?”

He whispered to me “A good Stalker never tells others where he is going until he gets there”.

“What if you get lost or need help?"

“You’re on your own, unless you have friends. You could always contact the nearest military outpost but they’d just as soon shoot you for trespassing. I’d rather take my chances.”

Good point. I remember the various military checkpoints I had passed by already. They were armed to the teeth and looked like they were expecting something, anything to happen at any given time.

He got up and signaled to some Stalkers that I hadn’t seen behind him on the other side of a wall panel. I counted 4 of them, all with their own customized Stalker suits. They seemed to have a lot of extra addons too, more than most of the Stalkers in this camp. Gas masks, air tanks, various scanners and some other equipment I couldn’t identify.

“They’ve been waiting for you, let’s not disappoint them.”

“Alright, let me tell Nimbus what’s going on.”

“No! Leave him. We only have room for you.”

“But… without him I might not even be alive.”

“The Zone decides who lives and who dies. He’ll walk the path the Zone lays before him, I’m offering you this one…” he pointed north along the main road.

I sighed “He’s the first Stalker I’ve met who seems to be on the same level as me, the rest of you are still a mystery to me.”

“Today should change that. You’ll more than a taste of what the Zone has to offer, you’ll get a whole bite today.”

Nikita looked back at the other Stalkers, who looked impatient.

“Time to move out” he said as he grabbed my backpack and held it out for me to put on.
I took it and put it on. He started to walk towards the group of Stalkers and I followed behind. I took one last look at Nimbus, my new-found friend. He had a look of inner-peace on him; I only hoped the feeling would remain when he awoke to see that I had abandoned him.

Nikita, the other Stalkers and I have started along the road north – where to I can only guess. The mood seems casual right now; the Garbage seems to be just a stroll through the park for them. I’ll turn on audio logging in case they say anything interesting.

[Begin Audio Log]
Unknown (1): I think the smell is starting to soak through my suit.
Nikita: I doubt that, opposites attract. When was the last time you took a shower?
Unknown (1): Don’t tell me *you’ve* been taking showers. Hasn’t anyone told you the water out there is contaminated?
Nikita: Only from the last time you were in it.
Unknown (1): Not my problem your mother’s a dirty slut.
Nikita: Heh. Yeah… well…
Unknown (2): Is that the best you can come up with?
Unknown (1): With all the little ears around I didn’t want to offend anyone.
Unknown (2): Whose little ears? You mean the new guy?
Unknown (1): No, I meant you.
Unknown (3): What’s his name anyway?
Nikita: His name is Virtue.
Unknown (1): Cute.
Unknown (3): Shut up Jester.
Unknown (1) [Identified as Jester]: Hey, just breaking the silence. I feel like I’m talking to a dead dog when I’m around you guys - especially you, Zombie. You haven’t said shit since yesterday.
Unknown (4) [Identified as Zombie]: The hunter must silently stalk his prey, ever-conscious of those who may be stalking him.
Jester: That’s deep, man. Did you read that off a cereal box somewhere?
Unknown (2): Hey, we were talking about the new guy, remember?
Jester: Yeah, yeah. Well I’m Jester; the only sane one here. He’s Phantom.
Unknown (2) [Identified as Phantom]: At your service.
Jester: Gremlin there.
Unknown (3) [Identified as Gremlin]: Nice to meet you, Stalker.
Jester: And the one who looks like he’s a mile away is Zombie.
Jester: Yeah… well he doesn’t talk much, and when he does you can’t understand shit.
Zombie: The lizard does not compromise his cloak that you may understand him. He remains mysterious until he is assured of safety.
Jester: Right…
Phantom: At least he remembers to close his mouth after he’s done talking.
Gremlin: Enough! We’re nearing the Bar.
[End audio log]

Well, it wasn’t quite the introduction I was expecting, but at least I know their names should a situation arise. We’re continuing north towards what the stalker “Gremlin” identified as “the Bar”. Whatever it is it seems to be a good place to go, Jester’s eyes lit up when he heard the name.

We’ve reached the Bar. From the outside it looks like nothing more than a bunch of abandoned building and warehouses. I can hear a loud voice echoing from the inside, over a speaker system of some sort. Whoever it is seems to be announcing news and jobs. It looks like a central stronghold of Stalkers from all over the Zone; I can see several camps inside with many strange-looking Stalkers around them. Nothing like Cordon, everyone here has their own story and experiences.

I’m inside the Bar now. It looks little like the name suggests, just a bunch of makeshift tables and chairs circling a “bar” along the back wall. It’s a little livelier in here than most places I’ve seen and it’s a relief to know that such a place exists in the Zone. Others in the room don’t look so relieved though; many of them are drunk and have a look of hopelessness about them. Others are containing themselves to the darker corners and are just staring straight ahead, barely moving. The “Barman” as they call the man behind the Bar looks content enough considering the circumstances. He looks like most shop-keepers I’ve seen; on a mission to make as much money as possible, and always trying to hide something about his merchandise from you.

Behind him are racks of beat-up weapons with the corresponding ammo below them, the ammo boxes being in the same condition as the weapons where there are boxes at all. For the Zone, it looks like this is one of the best places to get anything you need for your travels. There are medical supplies and crates of food scattered on the floor behind the bar also. That must be what the man with the rifle next to the bar is guarding, it looks like a precious resource.

We’ve stopped for supplies but Gremlin says we can’t stay long. Phantom had some extra ammo for my AK and I used the money I had to buy some food and a couple of bandages for the journey.

We’re heading west from the Bar. I noticed a heavily-guarded base behind us on the way out the checkpoint. All of the Stalkers there had unique armor with a special logo on them. Jester said that was Duty territory – Duty being one of the factions in the zone. I remember the announcer on the loudspeakers mentioning something about Duty… something like trying to protect the world from the Zone and saving the planet or something. They sound overly zealous, but they seem to have admirable goals. Maybe I’ll run into them some time.

The Bar is fading into the background and the sound of the loudspeakers set up outside is dying away. We’re approaching an area Phantom called the “Wild Territory”. The road there is dotted with abandoned buildings and warehouses, densely-packed like the area inside the Bar, but with no Stalkers in sight. The buildings that still have windows are nearly impossible to see inside of with all the years of dust accumulated on the surface of the glass. The ones without windows are blacker than a moonless night. We’re all on our guard – Gremlin says this is Mercenary territory. I can’t keep typing this, it’s too quiet around here and I’m getting a bad feeling about it.

[Story-mode auto-enable]
The six Stalkers continued into the heart of the Wild Territory, destination unknown to most of them. Being on the road felt like asking anyone or anything that might be in the area to come out of hiding and ambush them. Jester made it well known that he had a bad idea about where they were and where they were going despite constant reprimanding from Phantom. Gremlin refused to go any closer to the abandoned buildings though, he wouldn’t say why. Finally Jester broke the silence once and for all.

“Ok, hold on for just a second. Why are we walking down the center of the road when there could be mercenaries in every single one of those buildings waiting to ambush us?”

“Can you shut up for two seconds?” Phantom yelled at him as quietly as possible.

“Yeah, as soon as our almighty leader here tells us why we’re strolling down headshot lane.”

“No, the question is why you can’t shut the hell up about it…”

Gremlin cut in “The reason we’re not going anywhere near those buildings is because that mouth of yours might wake up something worse than napping mercs.”

“So we’re better off out here in the open, in range of every sniper they have in the area?”

“If they wanted us dead we’d be dead already, mercs keep to themselves unless the job requires them to do otherwise.” Gremlin replied.

“I think you’re just afraid of going in those houses.” Jester said with a slight snicker.

“You’ll thank me for keeping you away from them later.”

“No.” said Jester, stopping. “I’m tired of all this mystery bullshit. Either tell me what the fuck is going on, or I’m going back. I’m not staying anywhere near this clown car.”

Gremlin stopped, the rest of the group stopping with him, looking at him inquisitively. He walked up to Jester and before anyone knew what was going on, pulled out his rifle and hit Jester with the butt across his face. Jester fell to the ground and shouted,
“Fuck! What the hell was that fo…” but before he could finish was cut off by Gremlin.

“I’m tired of your shit! I’m taking us this way because it will keep us alive. If you want to go another way then go! But not on this mission, this one’s mine!”

Jester looked at the others, then back at Gremlin – speechless for once.
Gremlin looked around for a few seconds. Then his eyes locked on a small warehouse covered in over-grown weeds. His eyes lit up and he grabbed Jester by the collar of his suit, then started dragging him over to the warehouse.

“What the hell are you doing?” Jester yelled, trying to grab Gremlin’s hands but unable with the blood from the cut on his head stinging his eyes.

“You want to know why we’re not going near those buildings, so I’m going to show you. I thought it was safe too, so I went in that one once.” He said, indicating to the warehouse he was dragging Jester towards.

“Hey… look, the road is fine! I’ll shut up, I promise.”

“I doubt that. But maybe after you’re shown why, you’ll understand.”

Jester was obviously starting to panic, like he had awakened the beast in Gremlin and was about to wake another.

“What the hell is in there? What is it?”

Gremlin laughed “You’ll see.”

The other Stalkers glanced at one another, unsure of what was about to happen. I walked next to Nikita and asked “What’s going on? What’s in there?

“Only the Zone knows” he said, visibly tense. That didn’t help ease the tension in the group.

Finally, Gremlin came close to the entrance to the warehouse and threw Jester at the front door. Then pointed his weapon at Jester’s head.

“Ok, now listen carefully. Inside this building is the reason why we’re sticking to the roads. Go inside, make a right, and follow the corridor down to the end. Then head down the stairs into the basement.” He started to grin “If you decide you need to exit in a hurry, just make sure you scream real loud to let us know you’re coming. Then run outside and duck.” He picked up Jester’s weapon from the ground and slung it over his shoulder.

“Hey… I might need that!” He said, his fear escalating.

“It’ll only slow you down; you don’t want it swinging around when you’re running.”
“RUNNING FROM WHAT?!” Jester yelled.

At that, a loud roar-like sound echoed from within the warehouse. The Stalkers whipped out their weapons and trained them on the warehouse in the direction they thought the noise was coming from. Jester turned white as a ghost.

“Oh God… don’t make me go…”

Gremlin cocked his rifle. “You’ve already pissed them off, we need bait or they’re going to spread out and come after us one by one.”

“No… please…”

Gremlin shot a round into the wall beside Jester’s ear, causing Jester to fall into the doorway, then scramble back up at the growl the followed the shot. Jester stood just within the door, looking back at the group of Stalkers, all weapons trained in the doorway. He whipped out a pistol that had been hidden in his suit, looking like he might try to kill one of the Stalkers right there. But instead he just spat at the ground in front of Gremlin, and then proceeded deeper into the building, a mixed look of anger and fear on his face.

Once he was out of sight Nikita whispered to me “Aim between the eyes”.
“What is it?!” I whispered, a little too loudly.

Phantom, overhearing said “The question is what *was* it?”

Zombie contributed; “The nightmare within the nightmare.”

Silence for about a minute, nobody moved a muscle. Then, breaking the silence was a soul-piercing roar. Gunshots and screams echoed from within the building, getting louder as they approached. The Stalkers gripped their weapons in the same manner I saw the Stalkers do in Cordon before the dog attack. I braced myself.

The gunshots stopped but the screaming didn’t… and it was getting closer still, just a few rooms in now. We could hear Jester panting, apparently too afraid to scream now. A few seconds later he burst out of the front door, pale as death, and dove all the way behind the semi-circle we had formed in front of the door… how he jumped that far I’ll never know.

He rolled off of his face, and crawled backwards, scared out of his mind. The Stalkers kept their weapons pointed at the door. Nothing stirred inside the warehouse. Everyone was concentrating intently on the door for what seemed like an eternity. I looked away from the iron sight of my rifle for a few seconds at the other Stalkers to see what they were looking at. As I looked away I saw the light distort in the doorway. I immediately looked back at the doorway. At first it was nothing, just what appeared to be a beam of light from a window on the other side of the building. But then the light shifted and turned into two eyes – looking right at us. I could see saliva dripping from just below the eyes. Then the eyes let out a roar that I’m sure even the Bar heard. I dropped my weapon trying to cover my ears. The other Stalkers unloaded their weapons. Bullets streamed into the building, ricocheting off of metal and concrete.

The eyes now had a body attached to them. The thing looked nearly human, with dark skin, an elongated skull, and 4 tentacles coming out of the sides of its mouth. It lunged outside with incredible speed, right at Jester. The Stalkers jumped out of the way scrambling to get back on their feet. The thing had broken the semi-circle and was running right for Jester who broke into a sprint. It lunged.


The shot echoed through the sky, the force of which knocked me to the ground. Everyone scrambled up trying to figure out what was going on, except Jester, who had been knocked to the ground when the thing hit him full-force. The thing was filled with holes, most notably a large one in the frontal chest area. Jester, underneath the fresh kill was covered in blood, still alive, but in shock.

“Who… what… who got it?” Gremlin asked; a look of surprise and confusion on his face.
“That would be me.” A voice from behind me announced.
I swiveled around and stepped out of the way, exposing our possible enemy to the rifles of all the other Stalkers in my group.

“Nimbus?!” I couldn’t believe it… standing right behind me, shotgun barrel still smoking, was Nimbus.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were in trouble?” he said, smirking.

“We weren’t” said Gremlin, trying his best to look composed. “I had everything under control.”

Nobody said anything, least of all, Jester.
I broke the silence “How did you find us?”

“I talked to that old guy… Jargon. He said you guys were headed this way. Mercs and Bandits have a fragile truce so I’ve been over here a few times with the boss. I used one of their towers to look over the area and saw you all together. When I got closer I heard the gunshots and ran to catch up. I came around that corner and saw the Bloodsucker pounce on your friend.”

“Bloodsucker? Is that what that thing was?” I asked.

“The Stalkers that have lived to tell about them call them that.” Gremlin replied.
Jester, who had been buried under the corpse of the Bloodsucker the entire time, finally gathered the strength to push the thing off of him. He stood up, looking at the ground, completely silent.

Gremlin, feeling accomplished yet shaken from the encounter said “We need to keep moving. There’s no telling who or what heard our little shuffle here.” He looked over at Nimbus. “If you keep shooting like that we might just have room for you in our group.”
Nimbus, relieved to be going with us, said “Thanks, I know I wouldn’t survive two seconds out here alone.”

Gremlin smiled “No problem… just stick to the road” he glanced at Jester who was at the back of the group, still staring at the ground. “Let’s go.”

[Story-mode .dat file not found]
Dammit! Jester must have kicked my PDA or something; it looks like some of the modes are all fucked up now. Oh well, I can write just fine and I think the audio capture still works. Anyway, we’re heading out of the Wild Territory now due south-west. I still don’t know where we’re going, but I have a feeling some of the other Stalkers do, and they look unsettled about it. At least some Stalkers are talking now… that incident back there scared most of us shitless.

That… Bloodsucker looked almost human. I can’t think of an animal around here that it could have mutated from. On top of the fact that it might have been human at some point… seeing those eyes, there were nothing human about them, almost as if the man or women who used to inhabit that body was replaced with an animal… or demon. The Blind dogs don’t even have eyes but I’m sure I could sense the same thing when I stared into those sockets… a lust for destruction.

I should probably talk to Nimbus about leaving him this morning.

[Audio enabled]
Virtue: Hey, Nimbus.
Nimbus: Yeah, Virtue?
Virtue: Sorry I left without saying anything, I felt bad about it, but Nikita said there wasn’t any room for you.
Nimbus: I understand. Missions are sensitive things; you can’t have too many or too few people and expect it to go as planned.
Virtue: Yeah, but we’re both pretty inexperienced out here compared to the rest of these guys; I didn’t want to just leave you there after all that happened yesterday.
Nimbus: I’m used to it. I understand why you did.
Virtue: I’m glad to see you decided to tag along anyway.
Nimbus: *laughs* You’re the first ok guy I’ve met since I’ve been here, I wasn’t going to let that get away.
Virtue: Well, I appreciate that.
Nimbus: I doubt you’d keep me around if it weren’t for my amazing skills with a shotgun though.
Virtue: *laughs* probably not.
*Cut Silence*
Phantom: Hey, Virtue – mind some company?
Virtue: Not at all.
Nimbus: I’m gonna go talk to Nikita about the mission.
Virtue: Good luck with that, he’s pretty hushed about it.
*Cut Silence*
Phantom: Hey. You kept your cool pretty good back there.
Virtue: On the outside maybe.
Phantom: Not many Stalkers have a Bloodsucker, let alone survived an attack. And you came out like a trooper… unlike some of us.
Virtue: I hope Jester’s alright.
Phantom: He will be. I’ve been friends with Gremlin for years now. That’s one of the ways he breaks Stalkers into the Zone – he exposes them to it all at once, figuring if they’re still alive afterwards they’re made of the right stuff.
Virtue: Is that what this mission is all about?
Phantom: Not exactly… but it is a side-effect when you take new Stalkers in to missions such as this one.
Virtue: Why all the secrecy with this mission?
Phantom: Let’s just say its top secret, and there are ears everywhere.
Virtue: Fair enough.
Phantom: Trust me when I say the rewards are well worth the risk involved.
Virtue: I hope so. I have a wife waiting for me on the other side of that fence… depending on me. Every day that goes by is another day that I don’t know if she’s still alive.
*Cut Silence*
Phantom: Back in 1986, I was 17, living in Ovruch, when my dad got a job working in Chernobyl. He took my mom and my sister with him but I refused to go. I lived and worked in Ovruch when the first explosion took place. After the cleanup crews finished and the total damage was assessed, I learned that my father was working a shift that night, and was near the reactor when it over-loaded. My mother and sister were convinced that he was still alive, and risked everything they had to try to get back into the Zone after it was evacuated.

The weeks went by and the chance of my father’s survival dwindled. Eventually it turned from a rescue to a search for his body. On one of their journeys into the NPP, they said they could hear screams of what sounded like men… but more animalistic. They also stumbled into a military operation in the area. Apparently a secret command center had been set up inside the plant, for some top secret project.

They kept ranting about something referred to as “Sector X” within the reactor. They always gave me updates on their latest findings. One day I stopped receiving updates. I went to the place they were living to see if they were alright. Someone who knew them say that one day some men in black cars and suits came to the house and left with bags marked as “radioactive”. I checked the obituaries that day, and both of their names were on the list.

It was devastating to me to lose everyone. When I heard of the second explosion in ‘06 I decided it is time to face my problems and begin my journey to Chernobyl to learn the truth of my father’s disappearance.

Virtue: Wow… that’s quite a story. What do you make of your mother and sister’s findings?
Phantom: Well, I know for a fact that the radioactive bags they carried away were the first versions of the artifacts we have in here today. How they got them I can only guess.
Virtue: What about “Sector X”?
Phantom: I can only assume it’s the part of the reactor where the remainder of the nuclear fuel spilled after the explosion. The radiation is most intense there. That might be where the first mutants came from.
*Cut Silence*
Virtue: You don’t mean human, do you?
Phantom: I do. The Soviets rushed everything they did, including the cleanup of the disaster. The Liquidators, for instance, were the ones in charge of shoveling the nuclear waste back into the reactor before the sarcophagus was built over Reactor 4. The radiation was so intense, they had to run in, shovel as much waste as they could back into the reactor, and run to safety within ten seconds or suffer the side-effects of radiation poisoning. Now take into consideration the fact that they were in the middle of the Cold War with America. Do you really think they would have spent the extra resources doing a thorough job when they had other affairs to attend to?
Virtue: What are you getting at?
Phantom: The bodies. They didn’t recover the bodies. There was too much contamination. You might as well be dressing your own corpse for a funeral.
Virtue: So they just left all the bodies? What about the families who had funerals?
Phantom: All closed-casket. It’s easy to claim you identified a body through DNA sampling or Dental records and never show the corpse. The real ones are still in Chernobyl, and some aren’t as dead as people think.
Virtue: How do you know this?
Phantom: The second explosion was a sign to me that the truth needed to be revealed. With the disappearance of my mom and sister and all of the other unexplained things I owed it to myself and the rest of those families who lost their family members to find the truth. So I went into the Zone after the second explosion. I was one of the first ones who made it to the center before the barriers went up. I made it to the NPP.
Virtue: What did you find?
Phantom: Hell.
Virtue: Hell?
Phantom: Between the first and second explosions whatever the government had been working on there had been abandoned, but they didn’t take anything with them. I found bodies strewn about rooms, as if they had just been discarded like garbage. Smaller rooms had bodies stacked inside, all of them charred and mutilated. But all of that was tame compared to what I saw as I neared the reactor…
Virtue: What did you see?
Gremlin: Quiet guys: We’re nearing our destination. Up ahead is the Burner tunnel.
Virtue: Burner Tunnel?
Gremlin: If you haven’t run into an anomaly yet, you have now.
Nimbus: Do you know the way through?
Gremlin: It shifts constantly; we’ll have to “feel” our way through. Everyone follow in a line behind me. I’m going to use these bolts to test where the anomalies are.
*Cut Silence* *A small bolt is tossed, and lands on the ground a few feet away*
Gremlin: So far so good, follow my path.
*Another bolt is thrown, this one triggering a Burner anomaly, incinerating the bolt*
Nimbus: You sure this is going to work?
Gremlin: Just follow my path exactly and you’ll be fine.
*Another bolt is thrown, contacting the ground*
Gremlin: Forward 6 paces, then right 4 paces.
*Another bolt is thrown, incinerating in an anomaly*
Gremlin: Forward 10 paces.
*Another bolt is thrown, and is incinerated*
Gremlin: Left 8 paces.
Nimbus: How do you know this goes all the way through?
Gremlin: It always does.
*Another bolt is thrown, and is incinerated*
Gremlin: Forward 4.
*Another bolt is thrown, contacting ground*
Gremlin: Step around the support, go forward 8 paces.
Phantom: It’s getting hotter.
Gremlin: Don’t worry, this’ll work.
*Another bolt is thrown, and is incinerated*
Gremlin: Left 2 and a half paces, forward 5 paces.
*Another bolt is thrown, and is incinerated*
Gremlin: Right 3 paces, forward 2.
*Another bolt is thrown, and is incinerated*
Gremlin: Uh… Left 1 and a half paces.
Nimbus: It’s getting really hot now.
*Another bolt is thrown, and is incinerated*
Gremlin: Forward 6 paces.
*Another bolt is thrown, and is incinerated*
Gremlin: Shit…
Phantom: Uh oh.
Nimbus: What’s uh oh?
Gremlin: Nothing, it’s no problem. Side-step forward 6 paces, then step behind 1 pace, pivot right and walk 2 paces forward.
*Cut Silence*
Gremlin: 4 paces left, 4 forward, around the support and we’re out.
Phantom: We’re short a man.
Gremlin: Jester, come on!
Jester: What were those directions again?
Gremlin: Weren’t you paying attention? I don’t remember now. Throw something ahead of you.
Jester: I don’t have anything to throw!
Gremlin: Dammit!
*After a brief period of silence there is a sudden burst of flame and a scream from Jester*
Gremlin: Shit! He mis-stepped.
*There is a small whoosh suggesting Jester has jumped more or less around the last Burner anomaly to the other side where the rest of the Stalkers are standing*
Jester: Fuck! Put it out! It’s too hot!
Phantom: Stop, drop and roll!
Jester: I am! It’s not going out!
Gremlin: Stand back!
*Some ripping and slashing sounds mixed in with Jester’s screams of agony*
Gremlin: There! You’re ok now. I had to tear your armor all to hell to get the flames off of you. The fire those things spit out isn’t like normal fire. It’s like Hell fire. The burns will heal though.
Nimbus: Are you alright, man?
Jester: Well let’s see, I was on fucking fire a few seconds ago!
Gremlin: Enough, we need to keep moving if we’re going to make good time.
Jester: I’ll be in the back so you don’t have to smell burnt flesh the whole way.
[End Audio]

That Jester guy can joke his way out of anything, that’s probably how he got his name. He’s got some pretty nasty burns after that incident and his armor looks like an old teddy bear the dog got a hold of. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson though, Gremlin has a harsh way of doing things at times, but he’s gotten us this far.
I can’t stop thinking about Phantom’s story. That really shed the Zone in a different light. The longer I’m in this place the deeper it seems to get. Halfway through that tunnel back there I got the feeling that it was a one-way trip. I’m starting to think that the Zone might keep me here forever.

No, I can’t think that way. Emilia deserves more than that.

It’s getting dark now, but it seems that the light is fading at a faster rate than it should. The area ahead is foggy and it’s hard to make out anything beyond the road in front of us. The only hint at where we’re going is a sign along the road… I think it read “Yantar”. I saw Gremlin shudder a little as we passed it.

This place gives me the creeps. I thought the Zone was a pretty creepy place, but I see now it was just the welcoming room. It smells like a swamp ahead. It’s getting darker by the minute. We’ve all turned on our headlamps, making everything a lot creepier but easier to see. There’s a slight breeze in the area, the air is damp and cold. The air has a kind of deep moan to it as it goes by. I swear… it sounds like someone is nearby, making moaning sounds. It’s just the wind though…

Something’s wrong. The fog is too thick and Gremlin can’t figure out where we are on the map. He and Phantom are looking over it on Gremlin’s PDA while the rest of the Stalkers keep watch. It’s almost completely dark; the sky is a dark blue. The fog does seem to be dissipating a little, but I still can’t see more than 30 meters away. I can’t feel the wind as much but I can still hear the moaning noises… weird. Even Zombie looks a little unnerved now.

It looks like we might be moving out soon, so I’ll turn audio on.

[Begin audio]
Gremlin: Dammit, we should have been there hours ago.
Phantom: You didn’t know the fog was going to be this bad.
Gremlin: We should have left earlier.
Phantom: Well we can’t change that now, let’s just head in the direction of the bunker and hope we hit it.
Gremlin: Do you have any idea what’s out there?! If we just start walking around we could hit the swamp, the facility, or who knows how many pockets of radiation.
Phantom: Well, if we sit here it’s just going to keep getting darker.
Gremlin: Darkness is better than fog.
Phantom: I’m just saying…
Gremlin: I know… I know. It might be best if I try to find the bunker and the rest of you stay here.
Phantom: If you go, you’re not going alone. I’m going with you.
Gremlin: Alright, let’s do it then.
*Cut silence*
Gremlin: Ok, change of plan. Phantom and I are going to scout ahead and try to find the bunker. The rest of you stay here. We’ll come back for you when we find it.
Jester: And what if you don’t come back?
Gremlin: If for some reason we don’t, Zombie will know what to do.
Zombie: I am as the Falcon.
Jester: That’s *real* reassuring.
Gremlin: If we’re not back in an hour, execute plan B, Zombie.
Zombie: It will be as a man on his deathbed.
Jester: Do you try to freak people out, or does it come naturally?
Zombie: Men fear what they do not understand.
Jester: Yeah, well I understand we’re in real shit right now.
Gremlin: Zombie is a capable Stalker. One hour. Good luck to you.
Jester: Yeah, see you in the next life.
[Resume – timeframe + 1 hour]
Jester: It’s been an hour, where are they?
Zombie: Patience is a virtue.
Jester: And Virtue is a Stalker.
Nimbus: Har har.
Jester: What exactly is this “Plan B” anyway…. or Plan A for that matter?
Nikita: I think it’s safe to tell them what Plan A is now.
Zombie: A man has a right to know what he’s fighting for.
Jester: That’s more like it. What’s Plan A – and where the hell are we anyway?
Nikita: Freedom – a faction of Stalkers, recently discovered that the barrier blocking the route to the center of the Zone is a psionic field generated in a lab in the Red Forest. Another such lab exists here. The job was commissioned from Freedom to Gremlin to learn about the device generating the psionic field in hopes that it would be the key to bringing down the field in the Red Forest.
Jester: And where is this lab exactly?
Nikita: It’s underground within the complex west of here.
Jester: Underground?! Nobody told me this was an underground mission!
Nikita: As I recall, you didn’t ask. You just jumped in head first the same way you do with every other mission you go on.
Jester: Yeah… but that detail would have been nice to know before-hand.
Nikita: The reward is well worth it, and you know it.
Nimbus: What’s the reward?
Nikita: One beyond your wildest dreams; a chance to be granted a wish.
Virtue: A wish?
Nikita: You obviously haven’t heard of the local legend around here. Supposedly there’s a monolith inside the sarcophagus that appeared sometime after the second explosion that is capable of granting a wish to the first Stalker who gets there.
Virtue: You believe this?
Nikita: The Zone is a strange place; you never know what truth something may hold until you are staring it in the face. But either way, there’s obviously something to be had behind the barrier, otherwise what’s the point in having one?
Jester: Hey… someone’s coming!
*Footsteps approach slowly in the distance*
Jester: Gremlin? Phantom? Hello?
*Moaning sound*
Virtue: I’ve been hearing that sound for hours now… I don’t think it’s the wind.
*Zombie cocks his weapon*
Zombie: The hunted becomes the hunter.
Jester: What?
Nimbus: What’s over there? Do you know, Nikita?
Nikita: I’ve only heard rumors.
Nimbus: Regarding what, exactly?!
Nikita: Stalkers stay away from this area. They say the danger outweighs any reward.
Jester: Great! Fucking great! We’re going right into the heart of it aren’t we?
Nikita: Yes.
Jester: What’s this danger? Does it have to do with that moaning sound? Huh?
Nikita: Yes.
Jester: Then what is i…
Zombie: Silence!
*Silence for a few seconds while the sound of slow footsteps comes closer*
Jester: Mykola? Is that you?
*Silence for a few seconds*
Jester: Mykola! What the hell are you doing here, I heard you were headed this way but you never reported back! What happened?
Nimbus: Something’s not right… look at his eyes…
Jester: Mykola… man, what’s wrong, you look half dead.
*A loud moan comes from Mykola, followed by the sound of a shotgun blast*
Jester: Shit! What the hell’s wrong?
Nimbus: Get down!
*An AK is unloaded, ceasing the other sounds. There are a few last moans from Mykola until finally, he dies.*
Jester: I… I can’t… what was he?
Nikita: His brain got fried by the emissions out here, he was zombified.
Jester: How? How did that happen?
Nikita: The psionic emission field that is generated here fucks with your mind, making it the ultimate barrier. The body can’t function as intended without the mind, so they fry your mind, turning you into meat shield for them.
Jester: Who’s “them”?
Nikita: Whoever is putting up the barriers.
Jester: Well fuck this. I’m not going to be next on the menu!
Nikita: Jester! Get back here! Don’t go out there!
Jester: They said the bunker is that way, so that’s the way I’m going!
Nikita: You idiot! Stay here; you don’t know what you’re doing!
Jester: Better than staying here. I don’t want to be zombie bait!
Nikita: If you leave, we’re not going to go looking for you!
Jester: I’ll see you all at the bunker!
*Jester walks off into the fog, towards what he thinks is the bunker*
Nikita: Dammit… that stupid idiot.
Nimbus: What do we do now? Gremlin and Phantom still haven’t shown up.
Nikita: I don’t…
*The sound of gunshots close by as well as moans from several sources pierce the night fog.*
Nimbus: Where’s the coming from? Is that Jester?
Nikita: I don’t know… but it’s close by.
Nimbus: Behind you Virtue!
Virtue: Shit!
*Loud thump sound as Virtue falls to the ground, PDA near the impact*
*Boom! The sound of Nimbus’ shotgun shakes the immediate area*
Unknown (1): Youuuuuu… Ouuuutttt…
Unknown (2): Geeeeeett…
*Zombie unloads his AK at anything within range*
Nimbus: Stay down Virtue, there’s more coming up behind you!
Virtue: Shit… I dropped my weapon!
Nikita: I got it… here!
Virtue: Thanks.
*Nikita and Virtue join the other two Stalkers in the firefight.*
Nimbus: How many are there?
Nikita: They must have known about us the whole time, probably just outside our line of sight in the fog!
Zombie: Back to hell you atrocities!
*Continued gunfire from the Stalkers*
Nikita: I need a mag!
Virtue: I’m out!
Zombie: Last one. May it pierce their soulless hearts.
Nikita: Keep it up, there’s more from the south-west!
Nimbus: There’s more gun-fire coming from that direction!
Nikita: It’s not erratic enough to be the zombies… who is that?
Nimbus: Someone else is definitely out there. Nikita! Down!
*Another shotgun blast goes off, emptying the content of the targets head all over the area.*
Nimbus: Oh God!
Nikita: I’m dry!
Nimbus: I’m getting low on shells here!
Zombie: Purge these foul things.
Nimbus: Thanks.
*More gunfire from Nimbus and Zombie*
Zombie: The hunted return.
Nikita: Up ahead… I think it’s Gremlin!
Virtue: That’s them!
*Gremlin shouts from a distance*
Gremlin: Cover us, we’re coming right for you!
Phantom: Watch yourself! They’re closing in from the side.
Gremlin: They used the fog as cover! They’ve been all round us the whole time!
Zombie: The pack is patient until the kill, then instinct takes over.
Gremlin: We found the bunker! We’ll need to make a break for it or we’re dead meat!
Nikita: Virtue and I are out of ammo, the Zombie and Nimbus are low.
Gremlin: Where’s Jester?
Nikita: He ran off a few minutes ago for the bunker, he could be anywhere.
Gremlin: Damn that fool!
Phantom: Here’s a couple magazines for both of you. Don’t waste them.
Gremlin: Alright, we need to get the hell out of here. Go!
*The Stalkers start running, gunning down anything in their path*
Gremlin: It’s not far! I mapped it out on my PDA. The fog made it hard to find, but we found it.
Phantom: Don’t let them get too close to you!
Nikita: Fuck!
Phantom: Nikita is down, I got him.
Gremlin: Phantom! Come on!
Phantom: Keep going, I’ve got him!
Gremlin: Dammit! Come on guys!
Phantom: He twisted his ankle, he won’t make it! I’m staying here!
Gremlin: Don’t be a fool!
Phantom: It’s foolish to leave a good man behind.
Gremlin: Alright… alright… here’s my last mag, and that scope I promised you a while back.
Phantom: Thanks.
Gremlin: I’ll be back for you as soon as I get them to safety.
Phantom: Don’t worry about me. Get out of here.
Gremlin: Alright Stalkers, let’s move!
*A few minutes pass with the sounds of gunfire, moaning, and running all mixed in*
Gremlin: The bunker is just ahead, once we’re inside we’ll be safe!
Nimbus: What about the others?
Gremlin: They’re on their own.
Zombie: The Zone will watch over them.
Gremlin: There’s the perimeter fence! Keep go…
*A loud moan comes from nearby followed by a short burst of gunshots*
Gremlin: Zombie! Are you ok?
Zombie: The prey is wounded.
Gremlin: Shit man, don’t stop now!
Nimbus: His leg is torn up pretty good, give me your arm!
Gremlin: I got this one. Move!
Virtue: I’ll cover you, just keep going!
Gremlin: Don’t let anything through that fence!
*Virtue lays down suppressing fire while the other 3 Stalkers limp towards the bunker*
Virtue: Get back! BACK!
*Retaliating moans answer*
Virtue: Don’t come any closer!
*Sporadic gunshots from multiple sources ricochet off the ground near Virtue*
Virtue: Shit, they’re closing in guys!
*More gunfire form Virtue, followed by several hits on the closest targets*
*A multitude of voices fill the immediate area*
Virtue: Shit… there must be hundreds out there!
Nimbus: I hear them! There’s too many!
Gremlin: That’s the door! Knock three times!
Virtue: They’re inside the perimeter! I can’t kill them all!
Gremlin: Get over here Virtue! We’re almost inside!
Unknown (1): What’s going on out there?
Gremlin: Sakharov! It’s Gremlin!
Unknown (1) [Identified as Sakharov]: Who?
Gremlin: GREMLIN! I was here a few minutes ago with Phantom!
Sakharov: What’s all that noise out there?
Gremlin: We’ve got zombies closing in! Open the door!
Sakharov: Who was this again?
Sakharov: No need to shout. I’ll open the door right now.
Gremlin: Any day now…
Sakharov: Sorry, I can’t remember which button opened the door… I really need to color-coordinate these. Now was it this one… or that one. Maybe that one. No… it might have been…
Sakharov: This is a lab, I can’t just go around pressing buttons without knowing what will happen. The last time I did that I made a Pseudodog. Heh heh… little joke.
Gremlin: COME ON!
Sakharov: Oh! Here it is! I couldn’t see that it said “open” on it. There you go.
*The door to the bunker swings open*
Gremlin: Everyone inside! Come on Virtue!
Virtue: My weapon’s jammed!
Gremlin: I got this. Sakharov! Cycle the door!
Sakharov: Now which button was th…
Gremlin: Virtue! Inside, hit the button on the right side of the door, hurry!
Virtue: Got it.
*A few seconds later*
Virtue: Ok, it’s cycling!
*The door begins to close*
Gremlin: Die you brainless bastards!
*Gremlin opens fire with his AK, resulting in a barrage of gunfire and moans directed at him*
Virtue: Gremlin. Watch your right!
*A satisfied moan comes from nearby as a shotgun blast goes off, sending Gremlin to the ground*
Virtue: GREMLIN!
*Virtue rushes to the front of the closing door and open fire, tearing into the zombie the shot Gremlin and sending the rest into a frenzy of moans*
Gremlin: *coughs and sputters* Unhh… I’m *coughs* ok. Just get me inside. *coughs*
Virtue: I got you, don’t worry.
*Virtue keeps the trigger pulled until the magazine is empty and all that remains are empty clicks*
Gremlin: Another on the right… he’s gonna make it in!
*Virtue lets out a determined yell*
Virtue: BACK!
*The nearest zombie suffers a boot to the face, followed by bones cracking, indicating a hand getting caught in the doorway. The door closes with a hiss from the hydraulics. The moans approach followed by the sound of rubbing against glass and bumping against metal*
Virtue: They’re all pressed up to the door!
Gremlin: They can’t get in, we’re safe.
Nimbus: Are you guys ok?
Virtue: I’m fine. Gremlin took a nice shot to the chest though.
Gremlin: I’ve had worse.
Nimbus: Look at that… they’re all up against the door like they think they can force their way in.
Gremlin: They don’t want inside - they want to keep us inside.
Nimbus: Why?
Gremlin: Nobody ever comes here except to go to the complex where the emissions are coming from. They’re protecting it.
Virtue: You took a good hit, we need to get that fixed up.
Sakharov: What’s going on here? I just cleaned these floors!
Gremlin: Keep complaining and you’ll be cleaning up your own brains old man!
Virtue: Gremlin and Zombie are wounded, they need help.
Sakharov: I have the proper facilities is back, but I can only work on 1 at a time.
Gremlin: Take Zombie first, I’m fine.
Sakharov: Ok. In the meantime here is a medkit and bandages to stop the bleeding. Come with me Zombie.
Nimbus: What about those guys out there? All alone out there…
Gremlin: They made their choices. There’s nothing we can do for them now. We’re stuck in here until those zombies find something better to do.
Virtue: Dammit!
*Silence for a few seconds*
Gremlin: Like Zombie said, the Zone will watch over them. It will decide if they live or die.
Nimbus: Yeah, no offense or anything but I think that’s a load of shit. WE can do something about it.
Gremlin: Oh? You want to go out there and gun down a fuckload of zombies, be my guest.
Nimbus: Are you just going to give up?
*Gremlin attempts to sit up but fails, so instead grabs Nimbus by the collar of his suit*
Gremlin: Listen to me! There is NOTHING we can do! Whatever force is controlling these guys has an agenda… and right now it wants to keep us in here. If we try to go out there we’re all dead!
Nimbus: Well then what CAN we do!?
Gremlin: Wait.
Nimbus: That’s it? Just wait?!
Gremlin: That’s it.
*Nimbus gets up, obviously angry, and walks away*
Gremlin: It’s the way of the Zone. He’ll understand that in time.
Virtue: I can’t help but feel the same way. I mean I know there’s a horde of zombies out there… but I feel like sitting in here is getting us nowhere.
Gremlin: When you’ve been in the Zone as long as I have you’ll learn that everything happens for a reason, and you have absolutely no control over it.
Virtue: I believe that we control our own lives… nothing or nobody else controls it.
Gremlin: *laughs* Maybe outside, but in here it’s different.
Virtue: Why do you say that?
Gremlin: There’s some other force at work here. Something we have no control over. Every Stalker here has tried to understand it, but nobody can. The best we can do is try to stay clear of the barriers and keep whatever secret is hiding there to the power that wants it to stay hidden.
Virtue: You know, before I came to the Zone I thought like that. I thought as long as I stayed in line, respected authority, was a good little citizen I would be fine. No harm would come to me. Then one day the government showed up at the factory I worked in to close it off when the zone expanded. We weren’t just laid off; we were thrown on the streets to fend for ourselves. One of the workers tried to do something about it, only asking for what was fair, and they shot him for wasting their time. The rest of us were beaten and charged with “conspiracy to commit treason”. We couldn’t get work after that. That’s the day I knew there was no future for me in the world. I believe in justice, and that day proved to me that there is no justice left in the world. The Zone took my job and life, so I’m here to get back what is mine. That’s what’s fair. Those Stalkers deserve our help, and I’m not going to let any “force” tell me not to do what is right.
Gremlin: That’s a nice speech and all, but I’m telling you, in this place it’s diff…
Virtue: What about Phantom? Don’t you think he deserves some answers?
Gremlin: Answers to what?
Virtue: About what happened to his family?
Gremlin: He told me they all died when he was a teenager.
Virtue: His father was a worker at the plant when it blew up in ‘86. His mother and sister risked everything to find him or his body. The government got to them and he never heard from them again. When he came into the Zone he made it to back to Chernobyl, and saw the remains of what the government was doing there. They left the bodies and used others for experimentation. They spat in the faces of the families who had loved ones in the Zone that day.
Gremlin: I… I’ve never heard that story.
Virtue: Maybe he never told you because he respects your friendship and didn’t want to compromise your beliefs.
Gremlin: Yeah… but if I had known all of that.
Virtue: You’re a good leader, those are hard to find these days. A good leader has a goal, and motivation to reach that goal. Maybe he didn’t want to distract you from your mission.
Gremlin: Maybe. But now I might never know. He’s still out there and those monsters are blocking our only exit.
Virtue: Well, if there is another force at work here, as you say, maybe it’ll let him live.
Gremlin: One thing’s for sure. The second those things move an inch from that door I’m going out there. You’re right, Virtue. He does deserve my help, and I’ll be damned if I let anyone try to stop me from helping him. He deserves to know what happened to his family.
Virtue: Thanks for hearing me out.
Gremlin: Thanks for giving a damn.
[End audio]

It’s about a quarter to 1 in the morning and the zombies are still outside, barricading the door. I can still hear them moaning and grunting all around the building, mostly in front where the door is though. Zombie and Gremlin are all patched up and should be good to go, according to them. Those guys can really take a beating. As for Jester, Phantom and Nikita… as they say “only the Zone knows”.

My fifth day in the Zone has been one of the most earth-shattering for me. Seeing the heart of the mapped Zone – the Bar, and the look of hopelessness I see in the eyes of other Stalkers makes me wonder if any of us will make it out here.
It’s good to see Nimbus again, I’m amazed he managed to make his way to us and even rescue us from the Bloodsucker.

That Bloodsucker… one of the scariest things I’ve seen in my life. The zombies around me are like something out of a horror movie, but that Bloodsucker is like a nightmare incarnate. Did it used to be human? A Stalker maybe? Did he or she have a husband or wife? Kids? Whatever it used to be, it’s not now. Those eyes seemed to pierce flesh and see right onto every flaw you have, and behind them… only a lust for blood and destruction. If there is another force behind the Zone, it must be stopped… at all costs.
Tomorrow we’re going to complete our mission, which Gremlin has laid out for the rest of us. Our mission is to infiltrate Lab X16 and discover the source of the emission that covers this place.

Sakharov, the scientist in charge of the lab here, has some sort of makeshift device he says should dampen the effect of the emission to prevent it from controlling our higher brain functions. He says it’s the first test of the object, so he doesn’t know how well or for how long we will be protected from the emission. But he suspects that once we’re underneath the complex, the emission should fade away.

Well, Gremlin has given up on trying to get out of the bunker to rescue Phantom and Nikita. He finally laid down, holding his rifle like a teddy bear. I’m the last one awake besides Sakharov, who never seems to sleep. He mumbles a lot and seems to be a bit absent-minded. But he does good research and seems to be a generally good person.

Nimbus and I talked briefly before he was too exhausted to talk anymore. I guess he ran for most of the journey to the Wild Territory, using paths frequented by Bandits and Mercs to get there faster than other Stalkers would able to normally. He enjoys my company and the company of the other Stalkers in the group, it must be a big change compared to what he’s used to in here.

Anyway, we’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. Virtue out.
  05:07:15  20 August 2008
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On forum: 05/09/2007
Messages: 79
Great Stalker story. Very interesting. Wish people were that friendly to me when I first got into the zone, free stalker suits and AK-74s, though I guess it wasn't really free, it was more of a reward, but still! I'm jealous... Anyway great story and I have two Stalker names. One obvioiusly, is Jester, the other, Red Fog (stole Red Fog from the game Supreme Commander, he was just too cool) So, use em if you want em.
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