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  20:30:13  10 February 2011
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On forum: 06/22/2010
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This story is my character bribe from the Atrophy site. it went up today. It's the second prequel/side story to The Zone. I'm a hero for sharing.

A Zone Story

“Can fix gun?”

“No, I don’t think I can.”

“Make gun work.”

“Look, you’ve been using hand loads with lead so soft you can drink it through a straw. You haven’t cleaned this weapon since the first disaster. A stechkin is precision machinery. Did you run it over with a truck? Did you try to feed it to a pseudogiant? Have you been lubricating it with tar? Cement? You’re lucky it even fires, you goddamn Neanderthal. This weapon will never cycle properly again.”

There was a long pause. I looked up about half a meter at the towering stalker. He didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Russian. He glowered down at me, and at the pistol in my hands.

“Make gun work,” he said stubbornly.

I shook my head. “It can’t be done.”

“Make work.”


“Fix gun!”

“Shut up!”

He looked at me blankly. My temper snapped. I started to disassemble the stechkin and fling the pieces out the window to my left. “See? No gun. Cannot fix. Broke. Gun is broke. Like your brain. No more gun.” I tossed the slide out and held up my empty hands. “See?”

Big McLargehuge stared at me, then at the window, then at my hands where his gun had been a moment ago. His eyes narrowed. Several seconds went by.

“New gun?”

I nodded, sighing. “Yes. New gun.” I wondered if Bolt VanderHuge here would notice if I just gave him a brick. I held up two fingers. “Two seconds.” I turned to my workshop. I’d taken his weapon, so I had to issue him a replacement, Duty policy. But he’d already proved that his talent for weapon maintenance was slightly below that of a puddle of vomit. You’d expect better from a Duty man. I looked over my shoulder at him. For all I knew, old Smash Lampjaw couldn’t use anything more complicated than a hockey stick. There were certainly enough bullet holes in his armor. Probably in his head, too.

I took down a big magnum, a box of rounds, and a couple of moon clips. I put them on the table in front of him. “Here. Enjoy. Get out.”

Trunk Slamchest peered down at it for a moment, frowned, then picked up the revolver. For several seconds he fiddled with it using big, clumsy fingers. Then he tipped out the cylinder. On seeing the size of the chambers, his face split into a big grin. He looked at me.

“Is good.” One gigantic hand – or paw, maybe – came out and slammed down on my head, ruffling my hair hard not quite hard enough to give me a concussion. I staggered backward, head swimming.

“Get the hell out!”

Still grinning, Dirk Hardpec turned and left my workshop. “Good little man,” he said, and disappeared into the corridor.

I staggered to my chair, dropped into it, and groaned. Sometimes I worry about Duty. And that guy had been a part of it since the stone ages.

A man poked his head around the doorway, then stepped inside, letting out a low whistle at the sight of my workshop. I’d never seen him before, and he wasn’t wearing Duty gear. There was a handgun in a drop-leg holster on his left leg, a fancy Colt 1911 with a big full-profile compensator. It looked like it’d had a lot of work done on it, but not by me. I’d have liked to take a look under the hood, but I’d never seen this guy before in my life.

“Who are you?”

“Oh, nobody.” He left without a word. Well, at least he’d spoken English. I cracked open a can of STALKER energy drink and drained it. I had work to do. Weapons to repair and maintain, magazines to load. I also reload my own cartridges and sell them on the side – but my hand-loads are nothing like a lot of the garbage floating around the Zone. You can count on them. I use them myself. Or I would, if I ever got out of Duty HQ and got to shoot at something.

It was only mid-afternoon, and I’d already had lunch. I got to work. There was an AKM a scout had sworn was jamming, but there wasn’t anything wrong with it. At least not until I took a look at the magazine. The magazine is a part of the weapon, too – you have to maintain it. Magazine maintenance is paramount to survival. This one had rust on it like a rash. I threw it out the window, got another one for him, wrote him a receipt, and hung it up.

Someone brought in a mid-sized 9mm, and I wondered how all these American guns were getting into the Zone. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it – no, the extractor was faulty. He’d probably dropped the gun while it was locked back or something. I had to look through my drawers of odds and ends, but I got it replaced. I stuck a note on it for the guy to test-fire it before taking it out.

Then a squad leader came in and dumped a whole duffel of guns in front of me. None of them were broken, but he expected me to get them all cleaned up and ready to go. That wasn’t really my job, but I had to do it anyway. I got started, and it was full dark before I was finished.

So I went down to the canteen. It’s easy to get into routine when you never leave the base. Duty HQ wasn’t very lively; most of the patrols and scouts were out. I’d heard tensions with Freedom were getting bad, which probably had something to do with it. But it was none of my business – I just take care of the gear.

Duty rations take some getting used to, but you do get used to them. I picked at my food and sat by myself, also in keeping with routine. Who wants to talk to the scrawny guy that cleans the guns and never leaves HQ? Nobody. Just another day in the life of the Zone’s only Asian.

I realized it was the first of the month, and went to the cook to see if he’d gotten a case of energy drink. He had, but I found I barely had enough to cover it. I’d been slacking off lately on my ammo business. Instead of calling it a night, I decided to go back to the workshop. You don’t want to load cartridges when you’re tired, but I could clean up some brass, and set everything up so it would be at hand when I got a free moment the next day. I looked around the canteen. A few guys getting late dinners were there, pounding back vodka like it was in their job description. I hefted my case of energy drinks and tottered out into the corridor, then headed for my bunk to drop it off.

A lot of stalkers go day to day, they don’t worry about money much. A lot of Duty guys are the same way, since Duty pays well. But it’s different for me – I’m not one of these rugged head-bashing types, and I have to make up for it. Weapons to make up for my lack of physical prowess. Skills with equipment to make myself useful. Money to compensate for having no influence otherwise. Besides, I don’t speak Russian, Ukrainian, or any of the other popular languages – but money is a universal communicator. I didn’t want to fall short. I just try to keep my bases covered. I take care of Duty, Duty takes care of me – but there are no guarantees in the Zone.

In the barracks, Wheel was taping up a big photo over his bunk. I set down my case and looked at it. “She’s hot,” I said, then squinted. “Isn’t she Freedom?”

Wheel looked guilty. “Uh – know your enemy? What – do you drink that stuff out of a thimble?”


Wheel jerked his chin at something behind me, and I turned to see a bottle of vodka lying on my bunk. Where had that come from? Had Slate Slabrock left it as a token of gratitude? Nice gesture, but I don’t drink. I picked up the bottle, hefted it, and threw it to Wheel.

“Happy birthday.”

“Hey, thanks. Could you take a look at this? It jams.” He held up his guitar. I told him what he could do with it, and went back into the hall.

HQ was quiet. Returning patrols had already turned in for the night, and the night watch had already gone out. Things were winding down after another day in the Zone. I took out my iPod, put on my headphones, and headed for my workshop.

To my surprise, I didn’t find it dark or empty. There was a man sitting at my table reserved for weapons ready to be picked up by their owners. I held up in the doorway; he hadn’t noticed me. I leaned around to see what he was doing. I didn’t recognize him. He was wearing dark fatigues and a tactical vest, not Duty issue. It looked like he had a gun in a shoulder holster. He had Talkov’s rifle and was… removing the firing pin. My eyes widened as he tossed it out my window. Actually, come to think of it, the emblem on his armband looked an awful lot like Freedom’s.

Indignant, I stepped into the room. “What the hell, bro?” The guy looked up, and I realized he wasn’t supposed to be there. Nobody was supposed to be there but me – but this wasn’t a simple case of someone not being where they belong. This guy wasn’t Duty at all. And he was sabotaging weapons that people were about to trust their lives to. More than that, he was screwing with my work.

He went for his gun, and I did what seemed perfectly natural at the time – I picked up the nearest thing, and threw it at his head. It turned out to be a bottle of gun oil, and my aim was good. It struck him dead-center, and his gun, which was in the process of coming out of its holster, slipped from his fingers.

I realized this wasn’t a good situation, and turned to bolt for the door, but he vaulted over the table and caught me bodily. I struggled, and he stumbled into the wall. I planted my feet and pushed off hard, bashing him into my Lucky Star wall scroll – imported to the Zone at great cost – which fell from the wall to cover his head. I got free as he struggled to tear it off, and dove for the gun. The saboteur tore off my wall scroll and tackled me from behind. We both smashed into my workbench. I wriggled around in time to see a big fist coming at me and jerk my head out of the way.

The saboteur tripped and pitched forward, hitting my pegboard. I was about to make another try for the gun, but there was a creak, and we both had to scramble to get clear as the whole board came down, scattering about sixty handguns across the floor of the workshop. I hit the ground hard enough to have to gasp for air, but the board and guns had mostly landed on the enemy. Guns skittered and slid about as I tried to get to my feet, but the saboteur grabbed my ankle, and I fell again, scattering pistols.

I grabbed a Beretta by the barrel and rolled over to hit the other guy in the knuckles with the handle, and he let go of my leg. I rolled away, and the saboteur snatched up a gun at random, pointed it at me and pulled the trigger. Hollow clicks.

“Seriously?” I said, in spite of everything. “You think I keep them loaded?”

The Beretta hit me in the face like only two pounds of steel can. I fell over, clutching at my nose, and the guy clawed his way to his feet.

Then there was a figure in the doorway. It was Wheel, holding the bottle I’d found on my bed.

“Dude,” he said, wobbling. “I don’t feel good. I think there’s something wrong with this.” He gave the bottle a little shake, then took a drink. I stared at him from the ground. The saboteur lunged for him, and I stuck out a foot to trip him. He stumbled past Wheel and into the wall with a nice crunch.

“Whoa,” Wheel said, eyes crossing. “Guns everywhere. Far out.”

But the saboteur didn’t fall down; he just turned around, shook his head, and tried again. Startled, Wheel dropped the bottle. “Hey, man – my booze!” But the bad guy was trying to wedge an elbow under his chin. Wheel swatted it out of the way and locked it, still swaying on his feet. “Hey – I am a professional. I am Duty.” He drew back his fist for a punch. “And so can you.” Wheel released the saboteur and collapsed into his arms, snoring loudly. For a moment the guy held him, eyes wide, then let him fall with a nasty thud.

I looked up at the saboteur. He looked at me with an expression that I can only describe as unfriendly. I frantically shook Wheel. The saboteur advanced.

“Five more minutes,” he mumbled.

But the guy was on top of me. I rolled over and did that thing you see in movies – where the guy on the ground kicks the guy on his feet in the crotch. To my surprise, it worked. He doubled over, and I locked my legs around his and jerked him off his feet. I scrambled onto his back and grabbed desperately for a gun to club him with. Instead, my hand fell on the wall scroll, thrown aside earlier. I snatched it up anyway and pulled it across his face really hard – I guess in the heat of the moment I thought I could use it like a plastic bag.

Another shadow appeared in the doorway, and I looked up. It was the guy from earlier – the good English speaker with the fancy 1911. He was staring at us with one eyebrow raised. Me, straddling this guy with a wall scroll over his head, dozens of pistols scattered about, and Wheel lying sprawled across the whole mess, snoring loudly. The guy with the Colt held up his hands. “Don’t mind me. I was just leaving.” He was gone before I could even react. The saboteur thrashed madly beneath me, and I lost my grip on the wall scroll. He got free, and I went for the door yet again.

I could hear him right behind me, and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. An arm like a tree trunk shot through the door, past me. My best pal Big McLargehuge stepped into the workshop, holding the saboteur at arm’s length. The man clutched at the huge fingers wrapped around his throat, but it’d be easier to break a steel collar with your bare hands than Trunk Slamchest’s grip.

Just like that, my adventure was over. I staggered to wall and slid down to sit on the ground, gasping for breath. Wheel licked his lips and rolled over, yawning in his sleep. The vodka had been spiked to make sure I didn’t walk in on this guy exactly like I had. It had been left by the saboteur, not Dirk Hardpec, as I’d initially suspected.

“Nice work,” an officer said, as he and Smash Lampjaw escorted the saboteur out. I frowned and thought about it. I had stopped him. Yeah – I had, hadn’t I? More important than that, I’d been in a fight. Me. In a fight. I realized I was smiling.

“I can’t eat any more,” Wheel said, rolling over.

That's it. XD
anyway read Zone, read Atrophy, and give Wish his stupid feedback so he keeps writing XD
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