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Cataclysmic Destiny

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  03:33:17  5 January 2009
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On forum: 01/04/2009

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01/05/2009 3:48:24
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Cataclysmic Design
So this is my first time in actually showing my story to the world, if there are any grammar corrections or anything else feel free to correct me. For the story I was hoping to make it a prequel of the two stalker games, but don't expect any of the familiar characters to be here.

So without ado, here it is,

Chapter 1: Age of Exploitation

“There’s too much radiation, we have to move around.” Sergei said warningly.

Leadest just stood in the opposite end, searching for any unusual bearing. They were a total of five men, each one wearing military fatigues and a gasmask. Leadest took out a piece of metal from his pocket and tied it to a rope. Sergei also searched around for anything out of the ordinary, if there is such a thing in the zone. Dark clouds covered the sun. Flashes of lightning kept brightening the sky. It seemed like night time although it was still early afternoon. Sergei looked to his front and saw a swampland with overgrown grasses taller than men, trees over enlarge in trunks and roots. There was once a day when Sergei led a bunch of scientists or “eggheads” as stalkers called them. They wanted to study the overgrown fauna caused by radiation.

“Sergei!” Bryngger called out, “We’re wasting time.”

“Better careful than dead” replied Sergei.

“We’ll never get the artifact this way.”

Sergei was about to answer when Leadest gave a hand signal to get into formation. All five of them started forming a single file. They moved for a kilometer or so in a dirt road surrounded by trees and rocks. Each of them walked cautiously carrying their Aks by the hip, slowly aiming it at different directions, anticipating an attack. As Leadest, the first man in the line walked, he heard a beep by his belt. Walking a few more steps the beep grew louder. The other stalkers cautiously followed Leadest, a grip of fear inside of them. Leadest stopped a few meters from an area where light was distorted by three meters. Behind the distortion were nothing unusual just dust and grass. The objects however; seemed distorted as if looking through water.

Leadest took a gadget from his belt. Looking like a PDA; the screen had a similar outline to radar. Raising his right hand with a closed fist he said, “Artifact!”

Even though they were wearing masks Leadest could sense the excitement in their faces. “Bryngger, Mhotep cover us, Sergei, Ezekiel prepare your bolts.” Leadest ordered, “from this moment on throw a bolt for every five steps.”

Sergei and Ezekiel took a piece of metal tied to a rope. They walked slowly following Leadest, throwing a bolt as ordered. Leadest sensed an anomaly in front of him. Leaves and grasses floated in a distortion, circling the anomaly. Leadest threw the bolt and saw the anomaly sucking in wind in a spiral dimension. “Whirlwind!” shouted Leadest, he sidestepped quickly by-passing the anomaly. The detector beeped continuously in a deafening tone. Continuing his search, Leadest walked slowly throwing a bolt for every three steps until his detector showed a dot. Ezekiel and Sergei were behind, nervous with each step. Looking a bit closer Leadest found it, the artifact. Even without a bolt he knew that there were anomalies surrounding the artifact. The three men looked at the artifact, its shape an almost perfect circle, colored brown and glowing.

“Here’s how we do it,” Leadest said looking at both men. “Once the anomaly sucks the bolt I will run and take the artifact. Ezekiel you throw the second bolt once the anomaly reemerges.”

Both men nodded. Leadest raised his tone “ready?” Ezekiel and Sergei held the metallic object tied to the rope. “Go!” Sergei threw the bolt on the distortion, the anomaly sucking it in a spiral motion and exploding gauze of air. Sergei quickly pulled the bold back to his hands while Leadest was running to the artifact. Leadest slid down and took the artifact, and held it high enough for them all to see. The anomaly returned, Leadest was encircled by anomalies, his detector beeping a continuous loud noise. Ezekiel immediately threw the second bolt, the anomaly sucking it the same way it did to the first. The end of the anomaly got Leadest running frantically. Standing in front of Ezekiel and Sergei, Leadest held out the artifact.

Bryngger and Mhotep at the far end took notice. Before any of them could release their excitement, a bark was heard. Bryngger looked forward then shouted, “Blind dogs! Find elevation!”

A pack of dogs emerged from the trees, about thirty in numbers. They were hairless; all of them had eyes without pupils, their faces demonic in figures, overall creating an image of an abomination. Several generations of dogs lived and died in the zone, soon enough adapting to the zone’s condition. Losing their sight, the dogs compensated with improved hearing and sense of smell. They became similar to their cousins the wolves, following the tactic of the pack. Bryngger and Mhotep opened fire with their Aks, crouching to improve their accuracy. Mhotep aimed steadily at a dog, he looked through the installed Warsaw Pact sight. The weapon fired in bursts, tearing the dog’s head. The three artifact hunters started running pass the direction of the anomaly. Leadest ran quickly, holding his Ak by the hip. The two stalkers ran beside him, ignoring the strong beeps of their detectors. Sergei thought it would be luckier to die from an anomaly than be slowly and painfully torn to pieces by blind dogs.

Leadest saw a huge quarry of stones and quickly dashed to its direction. Climbing the stones, Leadest signaled them both to follow him. After climbing the stones, the three stalkers gave covering fire to Bryngger and Mhotep. Both men sprinted to the quarry of stones, anomalies in their path. Blind dogs were just a few meters from them.

While running, Mhotep’s belt beeped louder and louder until Mhotep was swept of his feet. Mhotep screamed as he was sucked in the whirlwind anomaly. “Help me! God, help me!” cried Mhotep as the whirlwind dragged him, spinning him in a spiral motion. Reaching the final point Mhotep floated, white fog assaulted Mhotep in all directions until the anomaly exploded, killing him instantly. Mhotep’s corpse slowly fell on the ground. The anomaly again reemerged, spiraling Mhotep’s corpse until gauze of air exploded this time splattering Mhotep’s corpse. Entrails, internal organs and flesh splattered all around. The skeleton remained all covered in blood, but well intact.

Blind dogs still followed Bryngger. Leadest aiming through his scope, fired, hitting two dogs, they fell to the ground screaming in pain. Bryngger risked a look back and saw the dogs closing in; he dropped his rifle, and ran faster with no avail. A blind dog jumped and hit him at the back with its head. Bryngger fell down, face flat. The pack followed, biting Bryngger all over his body. Bryngger screamed in pain, as a dog bit off a piece of his arm, blood spurting out. A dog stood on top of him, biting his torso and slowly opening it. Eight dogs surrounded him, their mouths filled with flesh and bones. Through instinct, Bryngger held out his hand to protect his face from a bite. The hand was bitten by a dog and slowly ripped apart. Bryngger continued screaming, his voice trembled in pain as he wished for a quicker end to his life. The remaining stalkers continued firing at the dogs, vainly trying to rescue Bryngger, but each one of them knew Bryngger was good as dead. Sergei aimed his gun, the crosshair slowly moving upward until it showed Bryngger’s head. Sergei slowed his breath, attempting to stop the trembling in his arms. Bryngger made a hard target as he was shaking back and forth. One, two, three, Sergei fired rounds of 5.56 ammo. The bullets splattered Bryngger’s head, tearing it off piece by piece.

Leadest felt disgusted at such actions, but consoled himself, knowing Bryngger’s suffering has ended. Aiming their rifles, the three of them continued firing at the dogs. More blind dogs littered the grass. Blind dogs advanced towards the stalkers. They jumped trying to reach the stalkers but couldn’t. Dogs were easily killed. Chunks of brain fell, the grass painted red with blood, legs dismembered. The dogs quickly retreated to Bryngger’s corpse and attempted to pull it to the trees. However; the three stalkers fired in a constant volley with pin-point accuracy, only stopping to reload. Fifteen mutants then ten, the numbers slowly dropped with every shot, soon three remained. The surviving dogs ran towards the forest quickly. Bullets pierced the soil behind and beside them. The dogs entered the forest and disappeared. Leadest shouted “stay frosty, this might not be over yet.” The stalkers aimed their guns by their shoulders. They looked around cautious of any movement. The anomalous area where Mhotep’s body floated remained. The skeleton still intact filled with blood. Bryngger’s body lied bloodied, mutilated and dismembered among the corpses of his torturers.

Leadest held the Ak in his right hand, pointing it upward, “alright men, take five.”

Chapter 2: What a Wonder Full World

Leadest had his Ak tied behind his back, Ezekiel and Sergei did the same. Half a kilometer in their direction was a large base surrounded by walls. The gate was in the middle of it, made up of metal bars with a name on top of it, Volkyr’s Plastics. The building inside was a factory with large chimneys and strong walls. It was here where Duty has set up their base in the zone. Five armed men were near the gate, three of them wore light armor. Their faces concealed by balaclavas and a hood, the gasmask were held around their neck. The armor was leather, with some clothing taken from anti-radiation suits. The other two were wearing a heavily armored exoskeleton. The gasmask and helmet were combined; the arms and legs had tubes connecting it to the back. The body was a combination of leather and metal, by the belt was a thermometer and radiation count in one screen. The colors of the five men’s armor were black and red arranged in a nice hue.

Leadest, Ezekiel and Sergei walked following the road, their arms raised above their heads as if to surrender. The five Duty members were in front of the gate surrounded by sand bags. A few minutes of walking led the stalkers to the guards. The Duty guard wearing the exoskeleton went out from his cover. He walked and came face to face with Leadest. “What is your business here”, he asked. Leadest took off his gasmask, revealing a face of mixed European and south-east Asian descent with a skin slightly tanned. Sergei followed and took off his gasmask; his face was slightly pale. Ezekiel used his right hand and pulled the mask off his head. He was completely bald, the face having a noble brow.

Leadest said softly, “I’ve been here before, Barkeep sent us on a job.”

The Duty officer eyed the PDA that was part of his left forearm, “name?”

“Ezekiel Avadon, Sergei Macharius, Leadest Rohv.”

The officer pressed the screen of the PDA with his two fingers. The screen opened, showing an image of the three men. “You’ve already been accustomed to this place.” The officer pointed to Leadest and Sergei, “but this… Ezekiel this is his second time.” The Duty member gazed at Ezekiel, “in case you forgot the rules, I’ll say it again. Holster your weapon at all times, try and aim it at anyone and you will be shot with snipers.” Pointing to the four towers at the edge of each wall, “there will be no fighting in the base, fire a bullet and you will be shot. And lastly don’t go to places where you don’t belong. If you do you will be shot, is that understood.”

Ezekiel smiled a little, “it seems you solve everything by shooting at it.” The Duty man remained emotionless added by the fact that his face was covered by the exoskeleton.

Leadest presented himself, “understood, you have our word on it.”

The Duty man turned around and barked, “Let them through.” The guards stood aside as the three stalkers entered through the gaps of the sandbags.

“The world fears the zone’s expansion, join Duty and save the innocent,” ardently said by the voice from the speakers.

The base was an oasis in a desert, filled with numerous stalkers. Some wore heavily armored exoskeletons, others protective radioactive gear, most wore normal bullet vests adjusted for radiation purposes, and the rest wore simple jackets and ski-masks in a vain attempt to protect themselves from radiation. The factory was surrounded by many small buildings, each one having its own make-shift business. Leadest saw a building named ‘canteen’, it was hardly readable, being covered by wood with the words ‘Bar 101’ painted on it. The stalkers moved in that direction. Leadest looked right, beside the bar was a two story building painted ‘hostel’.

Usually to get in the base a stalker must pay a toll and register his name, but they were given a mission and so were exempt. The speaker preached again, “deadly anomalies, dangerous mutants, anarchists and bandits. None of them will stop Duty in its triumphal march towards saving the planet.” The stalkers stopped in front of the door of the Bar. The man in the window beside of the door said, “Sit, come in, and don’t stand there.” Leadest gave a quick nod and entered along with his companions. The room was slightly dark but lighted enough to see to occupants. Numerous circular tables were in the room, each one having chairs around it. The bar was on the far end of the room. The stalkers walked pass the tables and chairs. Filled with stalkers, it was a meeting place for the zone’s trotters, a place for interaction, a place where alliances were made and broken, and a place to find a job. Slow orchestra music was being played; Sergei found an eerie calm within himself, as he listened to the slow tune of pianos and violins.

Leadest felt his eyes burn from the smoke caused by the cigarettes, his nose inhaling carbon and odors of alcohol. Ezekiel reached the bar first and took a sit, his companions followed. Barkeep was serving drinks to a man on the other side of the table. He turned and saw Leadest with his companions. Slowly Barkeep walked towards them. Leadest was still busy with his PDA when he felt the presence of Barkeep. Slowly lifting his head, he saw Barkeep, a fat man with a round face, wearing a white apron. The Barkeep smiled and said, “Still alive? That’s great.”

Leadest felt a little irritated at Barkeep’s tone. What did he think? Was I good as dead? Something replaceable, Leadest thought. A little anger rose inside of him, still remembering the death of Bryngger and Mhotep. “We have the artifact”, Leadest responded, inserting his hand in a pocket by the belt and taking out a round object covered by metallic paper. “The Fleshrock, as agreed upon.”

Barkeep took a key from his pocket and put it in the key hole of a drawer, opening it in a clockwise motion. He opened the drawer and took some money. Barkeep counted it twice and handed it to Leadest, “16000 rubles.” Leadest grabbed the money and said in a tone of superiority, “we want more.”

Barkeep faced the three men angrily, “you’re not getting anymore.” Ezekiel stood up, both palms flat on the table growled, “You said it would be safe! You said it would be a simple artifact hunt! Get in at first light and get out by dusk.”

Barkeep smashed his fist on the table and screamed, “This is the zone God damn it! Nothing is predictable in this God forbidden kingdom.”

“We lost two of our friends!”

“They knew the risk. And so did you, I’ve got a pack of that stuff just sitting on my shelves! You think you’re the only ones I hired?! You think your so God damn irreplaceable?! Well you’re fucking wrong! I’ve got ten squads hired to get this artifact. So if you don’t want to sell this piece of shit, then get the fuck out!” Barkeep’s voice audible enough to encircle the room.

Ezekiel pulled a .45 handgun from his holster. The entire room then sounded with the crackling of guns. Leadest turned back, and saw most of the stalkers standing up with their guns aiming at the three of them. Sergei put his hand on Ezekiel’s shoulder. Putting back his gun, Ezekiel immediately walked away. Sergei followed behind him. Leadest looked a them both as they exited and turned to Barkeep, “we’ll take it.” Barkeep stared at Leadest, his face in anger, the event still fresh in his mind. He took a bottle of vodka and poured it to a glass on the table, pushing it towards Leadest. The stalker realizing Barkeep’s anger quickly fading, drank a little of the vodka. “Sorry about my friend’s behavior”, Leadest apologized.

Barkeep glanced at him in reply, “that kid’s a menace. You better put him in a leash.”

Leadest grabbed the bottle and poured some more vodka in his glass. Holding the glass in front of his face, Leadest studied the liquid. Stalker’s drink they called it. Vodka was the favorite drink of all stalkers, bringing it anywhere they would go. Not only to have some fun, but also as a life saver. Vodka was scientifically proven to reduce the effects of radiation in the body.

“That boy is a menace,” said Barkeep warningly, “he’ll get you killed on day.”

Leadest drank the glass till empty then responded, “he’s a rookie just met him last month. Young, idealistic, naïve, you know the types. It’s his first time to see a friend die. But for all these, I have never seen a better shot than Ezekiel. Ex-military I think, fresh out of his military service in Ukraine.”

“Just make sure he stays out of my face”, said Barkeep, “but as consolation for your friends, I’ll increase the pay.”

Leadest smiled and sarcastically said, “I never though you had a heart.”

Barkeep let Leadest laugh a little, “just don’t tell anyone” with a forced smile in his face, “or everyone would just kill their companion to get more dough.”

“Your secret’s safe”, Leadest laughed.

“You’re a mystery Leadest.” Barkeep turned serious.

“Why is that?”

“To start with, what the hell are you still doing in the zone? Your one of the most experienced stalkers I know. You’ve got enough money in that stash of yours to buy a mansion.”

“Maybe, but not enough to buy an exoskeleton,” Leadest replied with some sarcasm.

Barkeep took a glass hidden under the table and poured vodka in it. Slowly raising the glass, he took a sip. “How long have you been here?”

“Three years.” Replied Leadest.

“And in those three years what have you done with your money?”

Leadest stayed silent, unsure of what to answer.

“I’ll tell you what you bought, guns, ammunition and equipment.”

“That is why I’m still alive!” Leadest responded angrily.

Barkeep nodded in disapproval, “your twenty-eight, and unmarried, with no one to turn too. Sell all of these junk and settle in, raise a family. Get out a rich man before its too late.”

The glass on the table was carefully being filled up by Barkeep. “I have nowhere else to go,” Leadest said quietly, “no family, no wife, and no girlfriend. The zone is my life, it is my home.”

“No family?” Barkeep took a folder under the table then showed it to Leadest, “You have a family somewhere, it states here. Also before you got here you were in the military, Special Forces. You tried to get in to college, but you didn’t pass so you joined the army.” Barkeep seriously gazed at Leadest, “You’re from Asia but not in Eastern Russia as you said so yourself.”

The stalker placed his right hand on the folder, “why?”

“I just wanted to know”, Barkeep answered.

Leadest gave a belligerent look at Barkeep, “you’ve known enough.” A moment of silence followed. “Now what do kind of job do you have for me?” Leadest quickly changed the subject.

Barkeep took the folder and lighted a match under it. The folder burned upward. Dropping it on the table, “General Wladskov, the leader of Duty has a job. He asked me to find the most experienced stalkers for this one.”

Looking at the folder turn to ashes, Leadest asked, “what kind of job?”

“He told me to go see him yourself.”

“Well then I better get going,” said Leadest slowly standing up.

Barkeep took some money and handed it to Leadest. The stalker stood up and walked in the opposite direction. He turned around and said, “Don’t interfere with my affairs again, or I will kill you.” With that, Leadest Rohv left. Barkeep knew he was dead serious.

The inner workings of the factory were quite different from what one may expect from the outside, it resembled more of a shopping mall than a workplace. The main factory building was a large square block, three stories high. The main building was surrounded by rectangular structures still connected to the block. The three story building had windows, for the second and third floor. Inside the factory was a bustling market for stalkers. Many businesses were set up at the end of each wall. They formed a row of endless square blocks almost all occupied the same area, the more thriving businesses occupied two or three squares. Each had a sign on top of the entrance showing the name of the business. Its sides were covered by thin woods, a make-shift attempt at separating the different traders. Businesses of different kind’s, guns and ammo, armors, food even a cinema. Most stalkers were puzzled at how so many products managed to enter the zone. Leadest could only guest, the most likely explanation is to bribe the guards in the cordon.

Leadest walked through the center of the building. The factory’s machinery completely removed, providing an avenue for travelers. Stopping a few feet, he looked at the sign, Uncle Yar’s Guns and Ammo. The shop occupied two blocks; Leadest entered and saw that it looked similar to a convenient store with weapons arrayed in aisles. He walked to the assault rifle section. Peering at the many types of weaponry, a SGI 5K took Leadest’s attention, as he picked it up. A relatively new Swiss-made assault rifle that uses NATO rounds. It felt lighter than his regular Ak rifle. The nozzle looked clean and sharp, providing an almost flat trajectory to his field of fire. The rifle was painted black, perfect for night assaults.

Leadest sensed someone was looking at him. He turned his head and saw Ezekiel, staring at him. “Ezekiel, I’ve been looking for you” said Leadest neutrally, “we have a new job, this time it comes from the top brass of Duty.”

Ezekiel a little surprised asked, “what kind of job?”

“Don’t know yet. But I suggest you repair your weapon or buy a new one… And also” Leadest handed him a bundle of paper bills. “Buy a Bulat armor for the three of us. Expensive, maybe, but very useful. It can stop an entire round from an assault rifle, offers moderate protection from radiation and is used in mostly in anomalous areas.

Ezekiel nodded his head and quickly left. Leadest carried the rifle in one hand and dropped it in front of the cashier. Hidden behind a screen, the cashier undid a screw preventing the gun from firing. Leadest gave the cashier money and tested the gun’s weight. He took aim with the NATO scope and was happy to see its accuracy. Leadest felt it, raw power. “I won’t let this kid die”, he thought,”not this time”, then the stalker left.

The library was a small rectangular room two stories high. Compensating for the small space, the books were stacked in a height of two floors; ladders were placed on the shelves. The room’s center had tables and chairs. Sergei sat on one of them. There were few stalkers in the library; most of them saw it as a waste of valuable space in the oasis. The library was set up by the zone’s eggheads, as a place for study and for relaxing. Duty barely gave it to the scientists, but as a means of appreciation for their work, it was given. The scientists built a generator powered by an electroid artifact. This generator powered the base 24/7. The eggheads predicted that the artifact won’t lose its energy until two hundred years, although it produced radiation it was a hell lot cleaner than uranium.

Sergei was reading a book entitled On the Origin of Species. Unlike Leadest who was more on military history and politics, Sergei was more of the scientist. He found the book at a particular interest not only because he once tried to become a scientist, but also because of its relation to the zone. The zone he wondered, was it the next step for the evolution of mankind? His next thoughts came to philosophy and ideology, a realm wherein he and Leadest could relate to. The war between Duty and Freedom constantly bothered him. What if Freedom is right? Maybe the zone should be embraced as man’s higher power. A long time ago, when he was attempting to get in the Kievian Science Institute, environmentalists called the zone as nature’s revenge on man.

The zone is the only place in the world where nature remained untamed, a world free from the bondage of man, a place where nature was at its best, free and wild. Mankind has done everything to tame the zone, only to discover their efforts as futile. The next thing humanity did was to try and understand the zone, robots, communication gadgets, satellites all were disrupted by the zone.

This is the reason why the world hates the zone, because they feared it, they cannot understand it therefore they could not control it. The same reason why Duty wants it destroyed and why Freedom wants it protected. Enough philosophy he thought, he could have put those thoughts into paper if only he passed the exam in the Kievian Science Institute. Sergei became a stalker as a last resort, to study the zone and finally prove himself as a scientist. But only now did he know that the zone is too incomprehensible for any man. The zone was alive as most stalkers thought about it, living phenomena, and a deity in its own right. Such thoughts were superstitious to Sergei; he was a man of reason, a believer that science was in its own right a god. He would have thought more till he felt the PDA in his pocket vibrating. After taking out his PDA he read the message, meet me in the third floor of the main factory building, it was from Leadest. Sergei dropped the book and took off, dropping a coin in the jar by the scientist.

“Duty has been protecting the world from the expanding zone,” said General Wladskov, his eyes peering about. “The zone is a menace to humanity, and it has been Duty’s duty to destroy this cancer.”

Sergei flinched a little, nodding in disagreement at such closed-mindedness. He stared at General Wladskov, a military man wearing fatigues with some red stripes. Wladskov’s face was filled with scars, he had thick brow, grey eyes, and the hair was a clean military cut. The face was a perfect example of manliness, similar to that of Leadest. Sergei stood in the middle, Ezekiel was by his left and Leadest by his right.

Wladskov directed his eyes towards Leadest, with a stoic and emotionless face, “I am tired, we are tired of fighting the zone. How can we destroy the zone, exterminate mutants if they hide in the center when low in numbers. We’ll just fight the entire war all over again once they’ve done breeding.”

“Right…” Leadest replied sarcastically.

General Wladskov stared at Leadest, continuing his speech. “I want to destroy the source of all our problems”

“So what do you want us to do?” questioned Leadest.

The general walked slowly and pointed his finger at a map pinned on the wall. The three stalkers move closely and saw Wladskov’s finger pointing to the center. They soon recognized the map, it was the zone. “I want you to go to the center of the zone. I want you to scout ahead and be the first to reach the center. Find out what is it that keeps us from coming to the center and destroy it. Explore the area, make an intelligence briefing and by your word the full force of Duty will fall upon the center.”

Leadest turned his head left and right, looking at both Sergei and Ezekiel, he almost laughed as he saw their mouths wide open from surprise. Leadest looked back at the general and began to examine him. He weighed his options and thought many things, is this man mentally sane? Did all this time spent in the factory lead him to lose touch of reality? Leadest slowly answered, “are you mad? If we go as far as the Red Forest we’re going to encounter a million monolithian bastards. And say we do get pass them? Our brains will be cooked by the Brain Scorcher.”

Wladskov took a piece of metal from his desk and showed it to the three men. It looked like headphone, with a metal piece extended to the mouth. “This is a psy-protector”, said the General, “this was created by the eggheads in Yantar. It will protect you from the psy-emissions. Five of these were assembled.”

“Well then”, replied Leadest, “its enough for the three of us.”

Wladskov sat on his desk, “two of my men will come with you and another four will escort you to Yantar.”

“So if you’re going to brig your own men why do you need us?”

“Leadest your one of the best stalkers I’ve seen yet. You passed my test.”

“What test?” Leadest said in anger.

“The artifact hunt, who do you think gave you those coordinates? Three groups have already gone there, none returned except for you.”

Ezekiel burst with rage, “you sent us to a death trap.”

“A trap which you escaped.” was the cynic reply.

Ezekiel took the gun and pointed it to Wladskov with two hands, “you bastard!”

An assault rifle cracked behind Ezekiel’s head. Leadest turned and saw a Duty officer come out of nowhere. Wearing an exoskeleton but without the helmet, the man looked like a brute, his face half covered with burns.

Wladskov smiled, “Colonel Blazkovich, these are the stalkers, stalkers this is one of your companions.” A Duty man came from the darkness in the far end of the room. Wladskov pointed, “And that is Major Kruglov.” The man wore an exoskeleton, his head bare from the helmet, his face covered by a balaclava. Even without seeing his face it was obvious from the openings by the eyes that his face was fully burned.

Ezekiel dropped his arm and the Colonel did the same. Blazkovich smiled, the ripples in his burns extending, “ye bastards, do you want to live forever?”

Chapter 3: Ascension

The binoculars revealed long distance objects as if they were a few meters from sight. Looking through the binoculars, Sergei saw an open plain surrounded by grasslands and trees. Wild grass grew to the height of about two meters. A pack of boars caught Sergei’s attention; he estimated the boars to be at about four feet in height and 6 feet in length. Sergei zoomed the scope to a farther plain. He saw an animal brown in color, almost round in shape, and its front was slightly larger than its back. The head was just like its body, almost round with deformed eyes and nose that were out of proportion. Its legs were the only part of the pig that didn’t mutate.

“Anything unusual?” asked Leadest.

Sergei smiled in reply, “aside from seeing a cow with only one head, nope.”

Leadest pointed his SGI 5K upward with his right hand, checking for any defections. He said, “Then let’s be on our way.”

Sergei went back to his work, his body still getting used from the weight of the Bulat armor. The three stalkers with their Bulat armor on looked very intimidating. Made from the latest dragon skin vest, fibers protected it from being ruptured, composite plates made it bulletproof, along with clothing taken from anti-radiation suits. The armor was covered in leather, painted in fatigues. Its helmet was combined with a gasmask. The three of them also carried a backpack, which stored all their ammunition, rations and med kits. The two Duty commandos were beside Leadest and Ezekiel; both were wearing an exoskeleton with a helmet. Four Duty members wore commonly made stalker vest, made of leather it hardly protected the wearer from small arms fire and offered less radiation. They wore a hood; their gasmasks only covered their mouth and nose, with a tube extended to a small oxygen tank at their back.

The men were about to move when Sergei raised his hands and shouted, “wait!” Sergei examined the field through his binoculars and saw a boar separated from the pack. The boar was feeding on grass; it stopped and lifted its head. A six foot tall, bipedal, humanoid figure, brownish in color appeared out of thin air. The creature had a rough and hard texture to its skin, the legs were long but in proportion except for toes that extended sharply. The hands were sharp like talons. Its head was elongated with two sharp, pointy red eyes and no nose, where the mouth should have been was replaced by tentacles with a large hole in the middle. Small sharp teeth encircled the hole pointing inward. With its right hand the creature slashed the boar’s neck. The boar screamed in pain and fell down, blood forcing its way out. The creature crouched and used its tentacles to grab the head. It seemed to suck the nutrients from the boar. Done with its meal, the creature stood up then vanished. Sergei noticed distortion of light moving, he knew it was there, the creature was just invisible. He faced the men and raised his voice, “Bloodsucker!”

Men grumbled some swore softly. Leadest shot a look at the field with his binoculars. “I see it. Distance two kilometers.”

Ezekiel walked in front of Leadest, with a confident tone said, “I say we kill it.”

“Idiot” said the Colonel in an irritating tone.

Ezekiel turned at the Colonel, “What are you a coward?! Well isn’t this your job Colonel, to kill mutants.” He burst, “If this is Duty then no wonder why Freedom is more popular to stalkers.”

Blazkovich was about to retaliate when Leadest scolded, “that’s enough!” Both men directed their eyes to Leadest. “Sergei, what do you suggest?” asked Leadest.

Sergei stoically faced Leadest, “we have to pass through, if we wait till nightfall, more mutants will come out. Added to the fact is that our visibility will be diminished without the moon, and our flashlights will just make us a prime targets at night.”

“Can we move around?”

Sergei nodded a no, “we cannot, and that house on top of the hill will be our only shelter. If we move around God knows where we’ll be at nightfall.”

Leadest listened intently, he weighed his options and said, “We go through this plain.”

“How?” questioned a man from Duty.

“We crawl”, Leadest answered with a tone of authority.

Moving with the Bulat suit felt like hell to Sergei. It was hot inside, added to his discomfort was the unusual climate even for the zone. The sun shined overhead, its bright rays compounded to the heat. The sweat in his body couldn’t be released due to the Bulat’s design of keeping in heat. The stalkers and Duty formed a line. Leadest, as usual with his leadership theatrics was in the front. The Duty escorts were in the middle, while the boy’s in the exoskeleton were behind. They were crawling through long, overgrown grass. The cover was quite effective; the long grass easily hid the men. Ezekiel looked both ways as he crawled, anticipating and attack. The boars continued in their routine work, seemingly not noticing the men. The squad has already crawled for about one and a half kilometers. Leadest heard sounds of heavy breathing but with no visible source, he knew it must be the bloodsucker.

Almost out of the grassland, Leadest saw a group of large boulders, enough to hide a group of men. Leadest held out his hand backwards, in an open palm, symbolizing a halt. He softly dialogued using the communicator in his helmet, “follow my lead.” Leadest waited a while, using his hearing to sense footsteps or sounds and heard none. He stood up and sprinted a few meters then jumped on top of the boulder and rolled down. Sergei was next, he tuned in for any sounds. He felt it was safe then stood up and sprinted like hell, following Leadest’s actions. Ezekiel searched the area, looking in all directions for any distortion of light. He held his Ak tightly, stood up and ran quickly, jumped over the boulder. Ezekiel aimed his rifle, guarding carefully for any movement.

Leadest attention was taken by a distortion of light, aiming his rifle through the scope; he saw two small red orbs floating. It was the Bloodsucker’s eyes he thought. In order for the Bloodsucker to see, its eyes must remain visible since a living creatures vision is caused by the reflection of light. The bloodsucker would be blind if its eyes were invisible.

With his communicator, Leadest whispered, “Stop all movement.” The next man lied down, clearly trembling with fear. It seemed that their escorts were more of a liability than an asset. The Duty escort clutched his Ak tightly, his hands shaking. The bloodsucker passed him by only a few feet. Leadest watched closely and saw the distortion of light fading away. Leadest whispered, “go.” The man regained his composure and ran, jumping over the boulder. The next in line stood up and ran. Reaching the boulders seemed like an eternity, his body pumping adrenaline out of fear. A few meters from the boulders, something grabbed him. It held the man against the tree with on hand. The creature regained its visibility, it was a Bloodsucker. The bloodsucker choked the man with its right man; it pulled the man’s face to its head with the tentacles. On the other side the remaining crawlers stood up and fired, missing the bloodsucker by inches. The Bloodsucker dropped the man, his face half gone but still alive. The face was all covered in blood, the eyes, nose and lips were missing. The victim was shaking, his arms and legs waving up and down.

Sergei took aim at the man, but couldn’t bring himself to squeeze the trigger, the memory of Bryngger flashing back in his eyes. But he had not to wait any longer, as a bullet made a hole in the man’s head. Sergei looked back, and found it was Ezekiel who made the shot. The anger of Ezekiel’s kill revealed what his emotionless mask couldn’t. The rest of Duty fired wildly at places they thought light was distorted. Major Kruglov fired his weapon by the shoulders. A man beside him fired rounds in random directions. Kruglov looked with horror as he saw red eyes approaching the man. Before he could aim his M4 at the Bloodsucker, it slashed the man’s neck while revealing itself. Blood spurted out as an artery was cut, the man would die in a minute from blood loss, his right hand holding the cut in a vain attempt to reduce the bleeding.

The colonel fired in the direction of the Duty member’s impending death. It didn’t take Blazkovich long to find out that they were safer behind the rocks. He yelled, “Go behind the boulders, we’ll shoot it from there.”

Kruglov heard the order and ran in the direction of the boulders. Meanwhile, the stalkers fired their guns more accurately hitting near places the Bloodsucker ran. Blazkovich ran behind Kruglov, his Ak held by the hip. All that was in Blazkovich’s mind was to reach the boulders, but was ended abruptly by a slash in his left leg. The colonel fell face down, turning about; he could feel the exoskeleton sterilizing the bleed. The Bloodsucker appeared in front of him its left hand preparing for a strike. Was this the end? Is this where it will be done? Those questions might be seemed true until a bullet hit the creature in the shoulders. The Bloodsucker turned back and saw Ezekiel. Leadest enraged shouted, “Goddamn that fucking idiot!” as he ran towards Ezekiel. The rest of the men in the cover continued firing their weapons, but they noticed something unusual happening.

The valley generated some magnetic distortion; bullets started hitting areas far from its trajectories. The Bloodsucker became invisible once again. Ezekiel, guided by light distortions fired his weapon but the bullets landed in far off places. Again he fired his Ak from the hip but with no avail. As if in the brink of losing his mind, Ezekiel pulled the trigger and fired his weapon sideways while screaming. The Bloodsucker revealed itself behind Ezekiel, slashing him on his back. Blood sipped in four lines. Ezekiel dropped to one side; the Bloodsucker grabbed him by the neck and pushed him against a tree. The other Duty’s corpse still lay underneath it. Its tentacles expanded and reached the back of Ezekiel’s head.

The Bloodsucker moved in for the kill but suddenly stopped. With a little force, Ezekiel lifted his head and saw a knife stick on top of the Bloodsucker’s head. Leadest was behind the creature and pulled out his weapon. The Bloodsucker slowly dropped on the ground, blood bleeding its way out. Leadest wiped clean the knife, using his left hand, pieces of skull, brain and skin slipped off the stainless steel. Ezekiel rested his back against the tree and fainted. Taking Ezekiel by the hands and legs, Leadest placed the stalker on top of his shoulders, he said softly, “I said I won’t let him die” as he walked upwards. Passing the boulders and climbing the hill to the shelter. The survivors followed his lead.

It was a small house, more of a cottage even. Only having a ground floor, the insides still had its furniture. A T.V., coach, vases even pictures of a couple. The house was a wreck, broken chairs and mirrors gave an oblivious feeling. Sergei used his binoculars, looking from the window. The night vision in his binoculars activated. He saw the zone at its best, wild, without interference from man. The binoculars zoomed in a boar being attacked by a mutant. The mutant was what remained of a man. Crawling with its legs and arms, it was abnormally faster than any human. It was clothed in a gasmask and military fatigue. The boar ran away as fast as it could, but the creature jumped and stabbed the boar with its sharp claws.

“Snork”, Sergei said quietly. Looking back, he watched as Ezekiel was sewing the cuts in the Bulat. Wearing a white shirt and brown pants, bandages could be seen pass his shirt. The door opened, it was the colonel, coming in.

The exoskeleton had its tears loosely stitched. Blazkovich gazed at Ezekiel and said cordially, “I would like to thank you my friend. I wouldn’t be standing here today if it weren’t for you.”

“Thank Leadest, we would have been dead were it not for him”

“And I shall.”

The Colonel dropped his head, his face a bearing of humility, “I was wrong about you, I thought you stupid and reckless.”

Ezekiel smiled, “I thought you were cowardly and vain.” The two men faced each other in an aura of respect.

Leadest held the SGI 5K by the barrel, its clean black nozzle reflected the kind of firepower it displayed awhile ago. Leadest wiped his with a cloth in a mechanical fashion. A small lamp lit the room. Without windows, it was the only place in the house that could safely be lighted.

Sergei stood behind Leadest and said straightly, “there is something that bothers me Leadest.” He paused for a moment, “the fight by the rocks how is it the zone suddenly… turned against us?”

Leadest dropped his gun and shifted his head to face Sergei, “The zone is unpredictable, we know little of it.”

The lamp exhaled small amounts of smoke. The sound of the wind passed, its force causing the branches of the trees to hit the roof. Sergei quietly said, as if unsure of himself, “the zone is alive.” Leadest face changed to that of confusion. “The zone is against us Leadest; as if it knows what we’re after.” In a quick recourse of action Leadest’s face turned to that of surprise.

Of all the people Leadest thought would be superstitious, Sergei would be the last in his mind. Ezekiel, sure… Duty, maybe… But Sergei, never… Leadest wouldn’t have believed it if he didn’t hear it himself. Sergei would never say anything so irrational or superstitious, but there it was. Leadest eyes rolled, he gasped as he searched for an answer.

“Go to sleep Sergei,” Leadest quickly changed the subject, “tomorrow will be a long day, we’ll need our rest. And by the way, tell that man from Duty once his done with his guarding shift to wake me up, I’m up next”

Sergei sensing Leadest’s refusal decided to play along, “sure thing and goodnight to you” with that he left.

Leadest shook his head at such nonsense. The zone is an area occupying the planet earth, a piece of land covered by mutations and radiation. Some claimed the zone was alive and well, a deity in its own right. Such claims were against Leadest’s sense of reason. Leadest shrugged off such thoughts and stood up, leaving his weapon on the table. Major Kruglov was on guard that night. Leadest had full confidence that the major would do his work exceptionally. There was no need for special precautions, but he needed to rest, it would be his turn next. So Leadest leaned forward to the lamp and blew the candle. With light’s absence, darkness prevailed.
  04:01:35  5 January 2009
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On forum: 01/04/2009

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01/05/2009 4:59:36
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Chapter 4: Failed Creation

Yantar was a lake before the second explosion, according to Sergei’s readings. The squad walked toward a base set up by the eggheads. The men walked through puddles and knee foot high potholes, what was left of the lake. Wild grass grew as the lake dried up. Trees abnormal in shape and proportions grew, some with roots bulging out from the soil. At the farthest end the eye could see were large buildings that resembled laboratories.

Leadest pointed his gun upwards with his left hand raised, the rest followed. The scientist’s base was surrounded by thinly made metal walls with barbed wire on top. In the middle was a bunker, two stories high. It was shaped in a pentagon made of thick metals. There was an opening to the wall on one side; clearly the metallic wall fell inward. Stalkers guarded it behind some makeshift covers. Wooden crates, barrels, metallic tables and even an overturned bed. The group walked slowly raising both hands and avoiding any sudden movements. The stalkers on guard continued their aim. From the distance of about two hundred meters, Leadest could make out five guards but still remained uncertain of their numbers inside. The squad stopped short of the barricade. A stalker went out wearing a simple stalker’s vest; it looked similar to what the Duty escorts were wearing.

The stalker asked in a stern voice, “what is your business here?”

Colonel Blazkovich presented himself and showed the stalker his PDA. The man silently read it and said, “Follow me please.” Blazkovich took the lead, the group followed behind him. Inside the walls, Leadest saw stalkers numbering about twenty. From the looks of it, they were rookies; weakly armored and poorly equipped, most of them only carried the Viper submachine gun. The army was the scientist’s protectors, but for now stalkers would do the job and for all its worth, rookies made cheap contracts. Looking to his right, Leadest saw five stalkers around a campfire, making jokes and one of them playing the guitar. The squad continued walking until they stopped at what looked like a door. The stalker faced up, Leadest followed. He saw a camera on top, facing downward.

“Men from Duty”, said the stalker.

“Let them in”, replied a voice from the receiver.

The stalker nodded and walked away. The door opened automatically, Colonel Blazkovich stretched his hand as a gesture for Leadest to come in first. Leadest walked in and bowed his head a little so as not to hit the ceiling. Sergei and Ezekiel entered straight away. Before entering, Kruger nodded as a sign of thanks then came in.

The two Duty members were about to enter when Blazkovich held out his hand and touched one of the man’s chest. “Here is where your duty ends. Both of you take a rest, and go back to the base.”

The two soldiers looked at each other then replied in unison, “sir yes sir!”

The bunker was small and claustrophobic, separated evenly into three rooms by built in walls, with openings enough to fit one man. One of the rooms had no opening but a door, next to it was a window covered in glass. The insides of the room could be seen, there was a computer and some lab equipment. At the very end, was a ladder leading to the second floor. The five men were sitting in the scientist’s sleeping quarters two on the bunk, one on the chest and three on the couch. The men were relaxing, each holding a bottle of Cossack vodka.

Ezekiel was laughing, his head near intoxication, “I opened my phone and guess who called? My target!” The entire room burst to laughter.

“I presume you all are enjoying yourselves?” asked an old man with glasses. “I’m Dmitri Sakharov.”

Sergei felt his heart tremble, he knew Dr. Sakharov. A world famous scientist and Nobel Prize winner, his works included the study if radiation’s effect on living organisms. Leadest nodded his head, stoic as always. Another man came in with a trolley, wearing a lab gown just like the professor, but younger in appearance. On the trolley were five headpieces.
Dr. Sakharov pointed his fingers on the headpieces and said, “The psyprotectors gentlemen.”

The men looked puzzled, how could such thinly made plastics protect them from the zone’s psy-emission.

Sakharov knowing the thoughts in their minds said, “I won’t go on the details, but let’s just say you were wearing a bucket over your head. The amount of sound you would hear is limited because of the bucket; well it is the same concept here.”

Before the doctor could add anything, his PDA ringed. Sakharov opened it and pressed the loudspeakers button. “This is barrier guard”, said the voice, “We’re being overrun! Zombies they’re everywhere!” Firing of guns followed. “Hundreds, thousands, I don’t know!” The firing continued. “They’re coming to the base damn it! Prepare the defenses! We’re not going to ma-“, the man fell silent, the roaring of guns grinded to a halt. The squad looked at each others faces, trying to make sense of it all. Footsteps were heard next, a voice was picked off. It sounded human but spoke in an indecipherable, gibberish language. Sergei turned to Sakharov and saw the doctor’s face pale from fear.

The scientist faced the squad, “help bolster the defenses, I still need to adjust these psyprotectors. And leave your helmets, in need to install these devices in them, don’t worry about radiation. The geizer suggests that radiation count is zero to none.” The men quickly took their guns and left.

The opening by the wall made a perfect defense, only fifteen meters wide; the zombies would be forced into a chokepoint. Leadest looked through the binoculars and saw hundreds upon hundreds of zombies converging to their position. They were all stalkers, each wearing different kinds of armor and carrying guns of different caliber. The zombies limped as they walked, their right foot always stepping forward and dragging their left foot. Zombies with assault rifles carried it by the hip, while those with handguns held their weapon in one hand. Leadest saw them closing in, he stretched his hand forward as a signal for the snipers to begin firing. The defenders were thirty-two in all; fifteen of them formed a line behind the barricade. The other fifteen were behind the first line on elevated yet barricaded position made of sandbags, they carried long range rifles.

The two Duty exoskeletons were on the side of the opening, peering about to fire. The original squad wore no helmets, the stalkers did. A stalker on Leadest’s right side fired the firs bullet. Hitting the zombie between the eyes, blood and chunks of brain spurted out; and so the battle begun. The zombies in front fired their guns, hitting parts of the barricade and the walls. Snipers fired their rifles continuously in a shot, it almost sounded like a perfect rhythm. Leadest aimed his scope, the started firing. The stalkers by him fired their assault rifles. Bullets splintered the soil, some hitting zombies by the leg and arms, yet they continued advancing. Sergei crouched, lying behind the barricade; he lifted his head and saw the most awesome display of firepower, sparks of light, myriad in numbers showed up in front of him. Lights that came from the guns of undead stalkers, all firing in an uncoordinated motion.

Sergei stood up and fired his assault rifle; he felt the bullet penetrating a zombie with an exoskeleton, causing the undead creature to drop. One, two, three, the number of undead stalkers dropped. However’ no sign came of their numbers dwindling. Leadest aimed his gun at the zombies behind, seeing that the stalkers targeted the ones in front. The crosshair aimed at the heart of a zombie wearing a yellow jacket. He fired and the zombie fell on its back. The crosshair moved upward and fired at another head, causing the brain to splatter. Leadest adjusted his form, he put the rifle on the barricade and aimed at a zombie wearing a Bulat. Ezekiel on the extreme left didn’t take note of his aim anymore. His Ak firing in random directions, hitting multiple zombies and causing some to fall on the dark soil. As the zombies neared to about two hundred meters so did their accuracy. Sergei watched as hundreds of bodies littered the ground, zombies ignoring their toll of fallen.

The nature of the zombies, Sergei knew, was nothing more than mindless killers. As the psy-emission damaged parts of their brain, all sense of reasoning and rationalizations were abandoned. Only their animal instincts and parts of their muscle memory remained. Walking, firing a gun, reloading, and eating all parts of the muscle memory and instinct. Sergei could only guess the mystery of the word the zombies spoke; perhaps it was a cry for help, a plea for death or even the secrets of the zone.

Leadest shouted, “cover me, I’m reloading!” he crouched and reloaded the rifle, his hands shaking. Leadest was about to stand when a man by his right was showered by bullets in the torso. The stalker fell on his back, his head facing Leadest. Anger built inside of Leadest as he stood up and fired his weapon wildly, screaming a loud roar.

The snipers continued their shooting, volleys of bullets from the zombies hitting the sandbags. The snipers could hear, bullets whooshing over their heads. One of the snipers held his SVD Dragunov in his right hand, frantically searching his pockets for any magazines. A round passed by his neck, the sniper fell. The man made a desperate attempt to call out for help, blood coming out of his mouth and exiting the gasmask. The sniper’s fellow stalkers ignored his plea, too busy at the job on hand. Firing his weapon, Sergei looked left as a man had his head torn off by rounds of ammunition.

Leadest fired continuously, rounds penetrating tens of the undead. Leadest dropped on knees as he felt the force of five bullets hitting him in the chest. Coughing out blood, Leadest pressed his hand on his chest and saw as blood came out. Was this the end? Leadest thought, is this how it all would end? Leadest pressed harder on his chest and felt multiple bulges in his armor. He knew it was the bullets weren’t able to penetrate the armor. Leadest felt relieved to know that it was only a flesh wound. Standing up and ignoring the pain, Leadest continued firing.

The colonel leaned right to fire; he felt a number of wounds but knew the exoskeleton endured most of the impact. Kruger leaned left, firing his M4 in bursts; he seemed calm in the midst of bullets missing him by only a few inches. Two stalker s died a simultaneous death, their torsos bleeding out guts and organs. The zombies’ accuracy got better with every step.

Ezekiel shouted, “one hundred meters!”

The zombies kept advancing; hundreds of bodies lay behind them, some still moving with arms and legs shaking and some mumbling the same gibberish. Ezekiel crouched, leaning on the barricade while reloading. He reloaded his gun, trying to crack his Ak, Ezekiel saw a sniper die from a headshot. The death of another followed, rounds hitting the torso going upward to the head. A man fell on the ground, still alive but with the arm torn off, he screamed in pain as blood exited the wounds. Thousands of rounds hit the barricade, as if the world rained bullets on them. Ezekiel gasped, quickly inhaling and exhaling. Sergei lied behind the barricade, the sound of bullets hitting metal continued. Flashes of light could be seen in front, approaching, coming closer.

Sergei shouted, “Leadest! They’re in range!”

“What?!” Leadest asked while firing his weapon.

“They’re in range!” Sergei shouted again.

Leadest crouched and peered a little. Lying behind cover, he took out a remote, “everyone get down!”

The stalkers crouched behind cover; the Duty soldiers did the same. Leadest pulled out the antenna, breathing slowly he pressed the button. A sudden explosion came from beneath the zombies. Multiple orange mushroom clouds emerged from left to right; its sound was a tone of thanksgiving for the stalkers. Zombies flew to the air, body parts scattered in all directions. The men stood up, still watching as the cloud reached its maximum height and slowly vanish. Black billow of smoke remained; the men aimed their rifles in anticipation. As the smoke cleared and visibility returned, they saw zombies but had signs that they were less in numbers. A large crater remained from where the explosion took place. The zombies from behind who were unaffected by the blast, fell in the crater as they continued in their march.

The men quickly fired their weapons, their spirits reawakened. However’ their joy did not last for long. Leadest noticed the soil on the craters falling. A hand came out from the crater, then a body. Leadest quickly recognized it, “Snorks!” he shouted. Snorks came out in huge numbers rivaling that of the zombies. Multitude of hands came out first, as if the came out of their graves. The undead stalkers shifted their targets on the Snorks. A number of Snorks died in the first assault, but more came out. What the Snorks lacked in firepower, they made up in speed. Using their enhanced arms and legs, they jumped long distances, pushing zombies on the ground then devouring them. Snorks killed zombies with their hands and teeth, slicing their necks with hands sharp as talons. The zombies did not scream as they were tortured, but kept mumbling the same gibberish.

Ezekiel looked at Leadest, “what now? What should we do?”

Sergei faced Leadest and felt fear in him. For the first time ever, Leadest’s face showed that of fear and confusion. The Snorks and zombies fought a bitter war and the winner would be undoubtedly the Snorks, with what was left of their numbers and ammo, most certainly the stalkers would face a most horrendous death.

Ezekiel shouted in confusion, “what do we do?!”

Leadest just remained silent, breathing heavily. Sergei wondered, was this Leadest’s face behind the mask. Whenever they were in battle the gasmask revealed none of Leadest’s emotion. How he wished they wore a mask. Of all the horrors the zone offered, Leadest’s silence seemed most frightening of all. The man they looked up to, now in silence and fear. As all hope vanished, a sound of a chopper hovered above. The men looked up and saw two Black Hawks and a Comanche circling the battlefield. The Comanche fired its gatling gun while hovering forward; it turned around and fired again. The wings folded out then the chopper fired its missiles. Zombies and Snorks died in huge numbers, limbs falling, the ground soaked with blood.

The Black Hawks slid its doors open, and from the side Gatling guns fired. The choppers circled the battlefield in opposite directions, moving in a circular arc. Thousands of ammunition hit zombies and Snorks alike. Leadest noticed the men’s silence decided to fire his weapon at the remaining wounded. The men followed, firing their guns. The battle lasted for five minutes until everything that move lay dead. Bodies of zombies and Snorks lied on the ground wet in blood.

Ezekiel watched the choppers circling overhead and asked in a fear toned voice, “the military?”

“No”, Leadest replied, “Mercs.”

The two Black Hawks and the Comanche flew towards the sun’s direction. It was dusk and sky reflected red as the sun slowly faded. Leadest watched the choppers until disappeared into the sun. A few minutes ago, Leadest gathered their dead and buried them. The men made some repairs in their armors and weaponry. Leadest looked to the bunker wondering what the Mercs and eggheads were discussing. The door opened and fourteen men walked out. Each of them wore a Bulat armor painted in dark camouflaged blue. They wore no helmets, but every one of them wore a balaclava, as a means of concealment. Stalkers gathered around the campfire, drinking vodka to calm the nerves. The wounded man with the missing arm was slowly dying, yet Sergei did as much as he could to save that man’s life. A Merc went to Leadest, “the scientist wants to see you.”
Leadest stared at the Merc and nodded

Raw power he felt again, the exoskeleton enhanced Leadest’s body and offered him even greater protection.

“My thanks”, said Sakharov.

Leadest opened and closed his hands, trying to get the feel of the armor, his left forearm had a PDA; the right had a screen displaying his life signs. Ezekiel and Sergei close by, Leadest turned to them, and they nodded at him in approval.

“Don’t worry about us”, said Sergei, “that exo won’t only protect you but also us.”

Leadest gave a nod. Sakharov walked in front of Leadest and said, “The armor was built with the Nightstar artifact. It’s an anti-gravitational artifact. Less gravity means less weight, without it, carrying the exo would be impossible.” Sakharov with his hands behind his back turned around, “And for the both of you. Go to my colleague and he will give you both an anti-radiation artifact with body enhancement.

Sergei said in appreciation, “thanks doctor.” And both of them left.

“Is this why you sent me?” asked Leadest.

“The Mercs will come with you” Sakharov said quietly as if afraid.

Leadest closed his fist in anger, “what?! They’re going to get us killed, like those men from Duty.”

“No they won’t in order to get to the Chernobyl NPP, you need to pass Pripyat. There are a lot of heavily entrenched Monolithians on the way. These Mercs are experts in urban warfare, you’ll need them.”

“But before that, we need to pass through the Red Forest. These Mercs have no experience in the zone.”

“You don’t have a choice. Believe me when I say this.” Sakharov paused, “I have sponsors who fund me a blank check. I don’t know who they are nor do I want to know. And in return I give them whatever they want. My ‘sponsors’ want to see the center, and so I obey. I have made psyprotectors for them as well.”

Leadest stayed silent, not knowing what to say. Sakharov not letting Leadest respond added, “One more thing. These psyprotectors won’t protect you forever. There is in Pripyat a ‘Brain Scorcher’, more powerful than any psy-emissions. It is man-made and can be shut off. The Mercs know where it is, you need to go in that area and shut it down.”

A Merc entered, wearing a balaclava. “I lead the Mercs”, he said.

Staring at the Merc, Leadest responded, “Since we will be working together, I think it is a matter of trust if you at least show your face.”

The Merc chuckled, “unfortunately I cannot have the luxury of trust. The least you know the better for the both of us. My employers prefer to remain anonymous and so do I. Without this mask, it wouldn’t take a smart man a long time to trace my employers. If my employers are targeted, so am I targeted and if I’m targeted so will all witnesses including you.”

Leadest allowed a grin to show, “you don’t have to worry about me, I can handle myself. And by the way, what should I call you?”

“Marked One” came the reply.

Chapter 5: Warpath

Rain fell down from the sky; it had a strange and burning feeling. A Merc stopped for awhile and looked up.

“Acid rain”, said Sergei, “nothing unusual here.”

The Merc continued walking. The Red Forest, Sergei thought, was the zone’s wildest areas, only a few dared enter. Roamed by unknown creatures and trapped by endless anomalies. The area was heavily forested, with trees abnormal in height, trunks enlarged beyond reasonable growth. Roots grew out of the soil, stretching long distances. Thankfully for them, the Mercs were able to plot out the safest route with their satellites. But the stalkers were vigilant; the simplest of carelessness might cost them their life. The stalkers and Mercs wore their helmets.

Ezekiel talked to Sergei, “I’m starting to think this mission isn’t worth the risk. We’re not even being rewarded.”

Sergei responded, “It’s a benefits-received principle, they give the psyprotector, we get to the center. Think about it, a gold mine of artifacts, enough money to last us for three lifetimes, hell even a wish from the Wish Granter.”

“Stop dreaming”, said Leadest from the front, “the Wish Granter is a myth.”

They walked fro two hours until stopping. Sergei walked a few steps with a detector in his hand that was beeping. A small distortion of light appeared in front of him. Sergei took out a bolt and threw it in the anomaly. The bolt fell in the distortion, flat on the ground. Pulling the bolt out of the anomaly seemed heavier than throwing it, as if the bolt added significantly added weight. Using more force, Sergei pulled it back to his hand.

“Gravity field”, Sergei warned.

Leadest gave the Mercs a quick look and said, “Follow our lead.”

Sergei led the way, throwing a bolt before walking, and sidestepping if necessary. All of them followed exactly where Sergei stepped. A few more minutes of constant routine followed. Sergei continued leading the group, when he heard gunfire. He lifted his left hand in a closed fist, as an explosion boomed in the distance. They continued on their walk, refusing for the slightest of moment to break their disciplined formation.

Leadest took out his binoculars, viewing from it as he saw a firefight. Ten men hid behind the trunk of a fallen tree, their armor had stripes of green in the torso, and their left arm had a symbol of a wolf colored green. He moved the angle of his binoculars and saw the enemy. About forty of them, some wearing an exoskeleton most wore medium armor and a gasmask. Their armors were painted grey.

Leadest directed his eyes towards his fellow stalkers and said, “Listen up we’ve got ten Freedom against forty Monolithians.” Leadest sensed anger build in the colonel even though the mask hid Blazkovich’s face.

Marked One went to Leadest and said, “Stay out of our way. See professionals at work.”

“Very well”, Leadest replied.

Water splashed as Mercs stepped on deep puddles of mud. Running in a disciplined row, the Mercs moved as if in one body. Through the binoculars, Leadest could see all that was transpiring. The Mercs hurriedly hid behind the trunks, leaning out to fire. Fourteen Mercs in all, they fired in constant volleys.

Marked One radioed in, “this won’t last five minutes.”

Leadest checked his watch. A Merc threw a grenade at the Monolithian with an exoskeleton. A loud boom followed with the Monolithian flying through the air. The Monolithians scrambled, hiding behind the trees and rocks. Leadest saw the deaths of three Monolithians from accurate hits in the head. Freedom soldiers watched in awe as the Mercs displayed their discipline and accuracy.

“Tactical Assault, one-zero, two-niner”, ordered Marked One.

Cracks of barrels loaded with grenades followed. The Mercs’ TR100s under-barrels were filled with grenades. Other Mercs continued giving covering fire. A Merc threw a grenade, black smoke poured out. Blinded by smoke, the Monolithians fired randomly, bullets hit areas of course the battlefield. The Mercs pressed a button on their helmet. Leadest recognized it from his training in the Special Forces, thermal imaging. TR100s fired in guided angles. Explosions blew out Monolithians from the smoke, bodies lifted in the air, gunfire from the Mercs followed. With the smoke nearly clearing, a Merc threw another grenade repeating the same event. Monolithians charged out from the smoke, only to be gunned down.

Leadest could only stand in awe at the display of firepower. He turned and examined Blazkovich, “I’m impressed.”

The colonel directed his eyes to Leadest and asked, “Why’s that?”

“When we saw Freedom you hardly reacted. No word of disagreement when I wanted to help them. Not even a little name calling.”

“The mission comes first; all trivialities will be settled later.”

Smoke cleared, slowly visibility returned to the battlefield. Forty bodies lay on the ground, blood mixing with rain water. Radio chatter from the Mercs scattered the air waves, “stay on guard, there might be more.” A minute passed.

Marked One radioed in, “its over.”

Pripyat, Chernobyl, the final step to the legendary Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, once home to fifty thousand people, now a city with broken down buildings and empty streets. Before the second explosion efforts were made to repopulate the city. Scientists and soldiers were housed in the city, rumors persisted that some kind of experiment was conducted. This experiment, they say, caused the second explosion. Men died quickly, machines were destroyed, and at least they died instantly. A narrow highway stretched a long distance, till it stopped to where a building stood. By the side of the road were buildings four floors high. Cars, bus and rubble covered the roads. A total of six buildings lay on each side of the road.

“We’ll be walking in ambush alley”, said Leadest.

Rain poured even harder. Lightning penetrated the night sky, revealing the zone in a flash of light.

Marked One, his eyes in contact with Leadest said, “Squad Hydra will clear the buildings on the left, with me leading the assault. Squad Vulcan will clear the buildings in the right. Your men will pass through the road.”

“As bait?!” Ezekiel exploded

“I won’t mince words with you”, replied the Merc, “but this is of strategic importance. A tactical decision, with you in the center, the Monolithians cannot guard against our attacks lest they let you through.”

“Then why don’t you stay in the road!” Ezekiel snapped.

The Merc replied calmly, “you don’t have the training to use our equipment technically and tactically.”

The tense stand off was broken by Leadest, “alright we understand, but I warn you Merc, if my men die because of a simple delay or an error of judgment to your part, it will be by your hands.”

“On my honor, it shall not”, replied the Merc with a fist on his chest.

“This is Team Hydra”, said Marked One in his headpiece, “Team Vulcan are you green?”

“This is Wolf; Team Vulcan is green light sir.”

Marked One radioed, “Leadest are you ready?”

Aiming his rifle on a building, Leadest answered, “Give the signal.”

Seven Mercs from Team Hydra formed a line on the building’s side. A C4 was placed on the wall the Mercs were beside it.

“Execute”, said Marked One.

Two bombs exploded, putting a whole in the wall, particles of concrete dust coming out. The first Merc threw a grenade. These were Mercs on the left building. Team Hydra on the right building did the same. Not waiting for the dust to clear, a Merc quickly threw a grenade. An explosion in opposite buildings was heard in unison as both teams did their jobs in a prescript way. Both squads entered their assigned buildings; the sounds of gunfire filled the air. The stalkers moved forward, sprinting to cover. Kruger and Blazkovich hid behind a car, standing up and shooting at the building in the left. Leadest heard bullets ricochet in the bus he used for cover, leaning left to fire his weapon. Sergei crawled under a car, firing at a Monolithian in a window by the third floor. Rounds of ammunition hit their position for a few minutes then stopped.

“This is Team Hydra, building clear.”

“This is Team Vulcan, hostiles are neutralized.”

Leadest shouted, “keep moving!” They immediately ran behind trucks and cars, sandwiched between the second buildings. Sounds of explosives detonated the air as the Mercs proceeded to their next target building. Leadest could see an explosion in the buildings in his left and right, most probably from a grenade that was proceeded by short bursts of gunfire. In every floor grenades boomed, as the sounds of men dying penetrated the air.

“Team Hydra, clear!’

“Team Vulcan, clear!”

“Proceed to next target building”, ordered Marked One.

The stalkers sprinted forward, dodging amounts of ammunition. Reaching cover, Leadest hid behind a car, he fired his weapon in an attempt to distract the enemy, but he knew they already lost the element of surprise. The Monolithians knew what would come next. Mercs proceeded in the same line formation. Team Hydra placed a C4 on the wall, an explosion followed, punching a hole in the wall. A Merc threw grenade, a second blast followed. The first in line came in, smoke from the explosion rendered both assaulters and defenders blind. A shot from an Ak was heard in the Merc’s right. The Merc felt a sting in his ribs, he watched as the bullet passed his torso. The Merc fell on the ground dead. The second Hydra squad member came in, and with ruthless efficiency gunned down his would-be killer, a Monolithian wearing an exoskeleton.

Team Vulcan on the other end, suffered no such attack and their assault went smoothly. Leadest aimed his scope at a man in the window, he fired his SGI 5K, blowing of the man’s brain.

“Team Hydra here, minus one, task completed, proceeding to next target.”

“Team Vulcan here, enemy has been neutralized.”

“Proceed with caution.” Marked One radioed, “use your thermals.”

Leadest shouted, “Two more buildings!”

The five of them sprinted forward, bullets missing them by inches. They got to cover and hid behind two buses, leaning out to fire. Sergei and Ezekiel crawled under the right bus and gave covering fire to the Mercs about to assault the right building. Vulcan Team Leader turned on he’s thermal imaging. Heat sensors detected four men in the building; two men guarded each side, preparing an ambush for the assaulters. Entrenched in the same line formation, The Team Leader nodded his head. Kaboom! Pulling the pin, black smoke came out the grenade as the first Merc threw it inside and entered. He fired his SGI 5K at the two hostiles by his right. The second man entered and fired salvos at enemies by his left. Firefight followed loud screams of dying men hidden by gunfire.
Rounds of ammo hit both buses, causing the sound of two metals to deform. A most unusual moment of silence followed, proceeded by radio chatter.

“Team Vulcan, clear!”

“Team Hydra, clear!”

“Last buildings!” sounded Marked One.

Stalkers sprinted to cover for the last time. Sergei ran as fast as he could, he felt a bullet hit his shoulder. Screaming in pain, Sergei ignored the wound and kept running. The stalkers encountered a car and jumped over it, then rolling down. The last building, Team Hydra were lining up. The last Merc was about to step in his position, but felt something strange. He was suddenly pulled out standing at a far end. Marked One and the rest of the Mercs watched as their buddy was being pulled into the ground. The legs were dragged downwards, flesh bursting, as bones pierced its way out. The bones were separated from the torso, the Merc screamed in pain as he lay on the ground. His torso and head were pulled downward, slowly being flattened, as if a large block was placed on him. Nothing remained of the Merc, except for some clothing. Blood and a few bones littered the anomaly.

Marked One shouted over the radio, “What the fuck!?”

“What happened?” Leadest radioed in.

“My man was crushed to death out of thin air!”

Leadest eased his voice so as to calm the man, “Calm down, avoid that area and continue your assault, what you saw was a gravity field, it’s an anomaly that produces more gravity than what is normal on earth.”

“Team Vulcan, clear! Zero casualties!”

Marked One signaled his Mercs to continue the attack. With a press of a button, the wall tore itself apart. Marked One threw a grenade. One Thousand One, One Thousand Two, One Thousand Three, the grenade exploded. Team Vulcan went out of their building and sprinted towards the stalkers who were hiding behind a group of cars.

Team Leader Vulcan reached Leadest’s cover behind a van and shouted, “Give covering fire to Team Hydra!”

Stalkers and Mercs peered out of their cover and fired on the building by the left. Ezekiel aimed his rifle on a Monolithian and fired in the bastard’s heart. The Monolithian fell from the building, dropping four floors. Sounds of bullets hitting their covers were ignored by the stalkers. Slowly sparks of gunfire in every floor were extinguished. Sergei took a knife and inserted it in the wound by his left shoulder. Pain rose, as he stabbed the knife and slowly pulled out the bullet. Breathing heavily, Sergei examined the bullet and laughed. It was an armor-piercing round from the Dragunov rifle.

“Damn!” said Leadest looking at Sergei’s shoulder.

Sergei took out and artifact from his belt and pushed it into his wound, the artifact looked like a burning flame, but frozen.

“Flame artifact?” chuckled Leadest.

Sergei replied, “Whoever said the zone never helped humanity is an idiot.”
Sergei pulled out his hand, and saw the bleeding stopped; only a flesh wound remained.

“Team Hydra, clear!”

The men went out of cover and saw the Mercs slowly coming out of the front door. Marked One ran to Leadest.

Still catching his breath, he said, “The Brain Scorcher is nearby… tell your men to gather enough ammunition, these Monolithians carry both NATO and Warsaw Pact weapons.

With a nod of a head, Leadest walked away and quietly said, “The die is cast.”

Chapter 6: Divine Heresy

It was a dark underground complex, pitch black and completely silent. Its psychological effect was tremendous, more so than any gunfight or loud roars. The fear of not knowing would bring any man to the edge. The stalkers and Mercs walked in such a place, their night vision activated so as to remain hidden. Team Vulcan was placed on top, as the rear guard, preventing any surprise attacks from the rear. Marked One switched on his PDA, one of the Mercs covered him in clot so as to conceal the light. Switching to thermal imaging, the satellite detected no other heat signature in the vicinity except for them. Deciding it was clear, Marked One switched on his headlight, the nigh vision was good but could be confusing, due to the lack of color.

“No other living signature detected, that is, unless you believe in ghost”, Marked One said sarcastically.

Walking in line, they moved slowly, cautiously, placing their assault rifles on their shoulders. Even though the satellite detected no hostiles, an eerie feeling of danger remained. The Merc at the last guarded their rear. Facing the opposite direction, he walked backwards slowly, careful not to bump with the Merc at his front. He turned his head left and right, searching for any movement. Under the mask, his eyes widened as he saw a barrel slowly levitating in the air. The Merc turned back, tapping his companions shoulder.

The second Merc faced his comrade and softly asked, “what?”

Facing back the Merc pointed to the barrel which was on the ground. He said nervously, “but I saw… it was… never mind.”

Going back to their formation, they walked for half an hour until reaching a door. Before the door there were still narrow corridors stretching left and right.

“This might lead us to the scorcher”, said Leadest.

Ezekiel disapproved, “that’s what you said forty minutes ago.”
“Whatever, let’s get in.”

Leadest walked in first, suddenly the door closed, a loud bang echoed the corridors. Slamming his fist on the door, Leadest shouted, “anybody read me!?”

The colonel kicked the door repeatedly, sounds of banging metal echoed.

“Leadest?” asked Sergei, “we’ll find another way in, its best you search the area, if you can’t find another exit, we’ll come back for you.”

“Agreed”, replied Leadest, “maintain radio silence.”

Marked One pointed his finger at a Merc, “You guard this area.”

The Merc nodded his head, and the squad left.

Twenty minutes Leadest walked, twenty minutes of eerie pitch black silence. A light from the helmet guided his way, giving a limited and narrow view of the mazelike corridor. Just like the entire building, the corridor was empty. Rooms were in every corner. Through broken doors, Leadest could see what remained of laboratory equipment and offices. Continuing his search, he found a room with light exiting through the door’s narrow holes. Raising his rifle above his shoulder, Leadest slowly opened the door. With his left hand, Leadest covered his eyes from the bright light. Slowly his eyes were adjusting from the light. The room was small, filled with monitors and computers, it resembled a control room. Blood stained the walls and the ground; even the monitors had blood in them. In the middle of the control room was a man. Shirtless, he was muscular but extremely thin, most obviously starved. His body was filled with curs and deep wounds, some were recently made. The man was kneeling with a knife in his right hand. Slashing his chest in a downward arc, heavy bleeding occurred.

“It’s a myth, an illusion” said the man with a broken voice.

Leadest, sensing the man meant no harm, lowered his weapon. “What is?” asked Leadest.

The man turned around, “the Wish Granter.”

A large thump echoed the corridors, it sounded like a heavy object fell.

Marked One pressed his helmet, “Scar, this is Marked One. What is you situation? Over.”
Silence… “What is your situation? Over…”

The team faced Marked One. Raising his head slowly, he said, “let’s check it out.”

“The Wish Granter?” Leadest was a bit confused.

The man continued cutting himself, slashing in parallels and curves. “An illusion, not real…” his voice shaking, “we need it we want it… for us to be controlled… controlled.”

Leadest just stood, examining the man with every cut. A though came to Leadest, The satellite detected no hostiles, then why is this man here? If the satellite could not detect this man, then what other persons or monsters were in this place?

“If it’s not real, then what is real? Am I alive or dead? A ghost… no not a ghost… then what? Is this me?” The man took the knife then slowly sliced off his left thumb, blood spurting out. “The pain is it real…? An illusion…? Am I real… Am I awake or asleep? Is this a dream? Am I conscious…? Consciousness… Yes, consciousness, it is they who act on me… It’s the fact of consciousness… I’m awake…? I’m real…? I feel, I breathe, I see… I see… My eyes, they lie… life is a prison, death is release… I’m trapped.” The man paused then cried, “I am tormented!!! The world in the eyes of another… I need release… release!!!” The man slowly stood up and turned himself in Leadest’s direction, holding the knife in his right hand.

Leadest examined him, still deciphering the man’s words.

“Release me!!!” screamed the man as he jumped at Leadest immediately.

Caught off guard, Leadest fell on his back. Leadest’s left arm was over his head, blocking the man’s right hand from stabbing him. He could feel the blade reaching his neck; the blade would easily penetrate the neck, the exoskeleton’s weakest part. Both men mustered strength. Leadest wondered how his opponent could gain such strength despite all the blood loss and starvation. Leadest quickly slid his arm, grabbing the man’s wrist. Using his hand, Leadest pushed the man’s wrist. A quick mount of force broke the man’s hand. Leadest quickly hit his opponent in the head, using his elbow. The man’s head turned puking of blood. With the same elbow, Leadest struck backward hitting his enemy’s opposite face. Leadest feeling his opponent weakened, pushed the man with both legs. His opponent flew off then fell.

The enemy stood up again his hand obviously dislocated from the arm. “Release me!!!” the man shouted.

The man was about to strike when Leadest fired three shots in the man’s chest. He slowly dropped to the ground. Leadest stood up, still recovering from the pain. Pointing his pistol at his opponent, Leadest walked cautiously. Coughing blood, the man uttered some words. Leadest stepped closer, the words became clearer.

“I’m free…” said the man then stopped breathing.

Leadest took off his helmet, dropping it close to him. He breathed heavily, trying to regain his composure. Facing downward, Leadest felt a presence by the door. He lifted his head and saw a little girl, about five to seven years old. Blonde, beautiful and blue eyed, the girl embodied perfection. Leadest face turned pale, fear overtook him.

In a gentle voice, the girl asked, “What are you doing mister?”

A corpse was stuck on the ceiling. Blood slowly dropped from the long metallic pole that pierced the Merc’s chest. His head was crushed, the face pushed inward. The walls and the floor were stained red. Sergei looked in fear, beyond his mask. The door was still close. One of the Mercs pulled the metallic pole, causing the corpse to fall. The team circled the body, all of them confused and afraid. Distracted by the body, a long axe lifted. Ezekiel saw the axe closing in behind a Merc. Before he could warn his companion, the axe suddenly hit the Merc’s head, slicing it in two. Everyone reacted, about-facing; they searched frantically for any hostiles. A long metallic tube floated in front of the Merc’s neck. The Merc tried to grab it, but it quickly tied itself around his neck, lifting him up. The Merc’s comrade ran to help him, but was hit from behind by a crate. His comrade fell face first, with the crate broken to shreds by the force. The fallen Merc turned his body and saw a large barrel on top of him. It dropped, flattening his head. Eyes gouged out, with chunks of brain passing out the holes of the mask and helmet.

The squad ran, scattering in all direction. Separated from each other, Sergei hid behind an overturned table, in a room without a door. A green orb-like energy passed the room. He peered out and got a better view. The energy was shapeless, but hardly formed a circle. It generated something like electricity, without a base. Floating in the air, it was not like anything Sergei before.

Leadest Rohv’s face displayed utter terror, pointing his pistol at the girl, he shouted nervously, “I don’t know what you are, but you better let me go, or I’ll kill you!”

The girl let a sinister smile cross her face and said in a demonic voice, “Then why do you fear?”

Leadest turned his head in all directions and found himself in hell. The ground was filled with ash, fire lit everywhere. Pikes of men and women being impaled stretched in long lines. A corpse lay by his side; skinned and flayed, blood covered it.

“What are you afraid of?”

That voice, it sounded familiar. Leadest directed his eyes at the creature and saw Bryngger, bloodied, dismembered in one hand and missing half of his upper face, only the mouth remained.

“Is everyone here?” asked Sergei hiding in a corner beside all the men.
“Kruger is still coming… Oh wait, there he is.”

Kruger ran quickly and crawled to them. They were hiding in a corridor, forming a line, headlights off.

“Anything?” asked Sergei.

Ezekiel whispered, “No response from Leadest, all I’m receiving is static.”

“There it is”, pointed Sergei, the green energy passing their entry point to the corridor.

A Merc asked nervously, “did it see us?”

No answer from the group. His answer came with a stab from a crowbar in the chest. The men ran away and scattered, turning on their headlights. For some reason the night vision couldn’t be used. Sergei sprinted, sliding down as soon as he saw another corridor.

Pressing his helmet, he barked, “Shoot the energy! It’s causing all this to happen.”

A response came from the colonel, “can it be killed?”

“Fuck if I know!” shouted Sergei, ‘it’s better than nothing!”

Dante’s Inferno, Leadest constantly read from this literary genius. Paradiso and Purgatorio meant nothing for him; all hope is lost from the beginning he usually thinks. Now, his worse nightmares from the Inferno came back to haunt him. One moment he was facing Bryngger, the next he was drowning in a river of boiling blood. It was the seventh circle of hell in the inferno, a place for the violent and murderers. Leadest choked, he held his breathe for countless minutes, but to no avail. No longer capable of enduring the pain in his lungs, his body automatically inhaled as gallons of blood filled his lungs. The pain was immense, intensifying with every breath. He wanted death, but death did not come. His body struggling to find an exit, Leadest constantly swam upward; the endless stream of blood seemed to be endless. There was no exit. Was this how it would be? To forever drown in blood. As Leadest continued swimming upwards, a corpse appeared on top of him. It was Bryngger; his maladjusted form depicted him in the moments of his death.

Bryngger opened his mouth, “Murderer! How many lives have been lost by your hand?”

Leadest could clearly hear Bryngger’s voice, despite sound waves passing through liquid. Leadest’s body drifted in the endless stream, pain weakened him; the death he long awaited would come at last. His eyes closed. All the death and destruction he caused passed before his eyes. When killing his opponent, Leadest was good at suppressing his emotions. He tried not to think of the killings he committed. In his waking moment, the man he killed and would kill was not a creature who lived, breathed and felt. But whenever he was asleep, the dreams would keep him awake. This blood, the blood he drowned in, was the blood off all the murders in the world. He soaked his hands in blood and this was his punishment.

Suddenly, Leadest’s eyes opened, this was not his judgment. This was his personal hell, his subconscious, a thought in the back of his mind that kept him awake. A thought before and after every battle, his conscience, and somehow it was exploited.

With blood enveloping him, Leadest shouted, “I am no murderer!” the blood distorting his voice. “I killed those who meant to kill me!” slowly his voice became clearer. “It is by natural law to undo others if they meant to undo you! I have never murdered the innocent nor shall I.” Leadest closed his eyes and fell to the ground, the blood vanished.

Firing in fully automatic, the Merc could see blood splattering on the wall where the green energy was. “It bleeds!” shouted the Merc, “it can die!” A large barrel thrust forward. The Merc sidestepped, the barrel crashed down, deforming. Mocking in a foreign language, he aimed his rifle and fired. Not noticing the crate of wood behind him, he continued firing. The green energy flew away, the Merc ran in pursuit. Just as the bastard was cornered, he felt a strange feeling. He looked up and saw the crate on top of him. It fell on him, crushing the Merc in an instant. The helmet remained, although slightly deformed.

“Land Viper, Land Viper come in, over… Land Viper respond, over…”

Boils afflicted Leadest. Naked till the waist, Leadest was a disgusting wretched, with large boils covering his entire body. From all corners of his body, Leadest felt pain as the skin was stretched until it tore from the pressure. A boil in his right arm expanded, it grew bigger and bigger till it exploded and released oozes of green liquid along with disgusting insects. Leadest stood up, trying to regain a little bit of his pride. He quickly fell down, vomiting yellow liquid in large quantities. This place, it was the Eight Circle of Hell, ring nine, home for alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers and impersonators, in short ‘liars’. Just like a metaphor a disease of society, this circle took it literally, with the sinner being himself a disease. A figure walked in front of him. Still blurring from the shock, Leadest lifted his head, slowly his eyes cleared.

The person was a skeleton covered in blood, parchments of skin and clothing remained “How does it feel?” asked the skeleton.

Leadest covered his nose, the smell of thousands of rotting corpses came out of its breath. The smell of it made him want to vomit even more. “Mhotep!” coughed Leadest.

“Liar!” shouted Mhotep, “you said the mission would be safe, get in and out. Only death awaited me! How many Leadest? How many have died because of your lies? Your assurances in their times of doubt lead them to death. You only saved yourself. With the truth you could have saved them, but no, they needed to die in order for you to get rich.”

A boil on Leadest’s back exploded, blood dispersing in all directions. Memories of the past passed his eyes. Moments in which a rookie would be afraid but Leadest told them that they would go through. He felt like he gave them false hopes, it was not just once but many times. Leadest felt like a liar deep inside, a white lie that he hoped would come through but it didn’t. Tears fell from his eyes, Leadest touched it and they were blood. His head felt dizzy, the eyes blinded red with blood.

Mustering all his strength, Leadest stood up, “I didn’t say the truth nor did I say a lie. I made no promises; I did what needed to be done for them to be comforted. I blame myself for their deaths, but no words could convince them to leave the zone. We shared a brotherhood, and in that brotherhood we guarded each others back. In their final moments I was the one close to them, I acted out their final request, my final promises to them.” Leadest paused and felt the pain disappearing from his body, “None of your tricks will work on me…” With those words the ground opened, and Leadest fell in a pit of darkness.

Blazkovich fired an entire clip at the energy. Dodging sharp metallic objects coming at him. Unaware of a toolbox behind him, Blazkovich continued fire. The toolbox hit him on the back, but only gave a slight pain. The exoskeleton protected him from the force. A large glass fell from where the energy stood, shattering in a thousand pieces. The biggest chards of sharp glass lifted and came for an attack. Blazkovich turned around and ran, his heartbeat raised, he could feel his body releasing adrenaline. Glass blades got closer, faster than Blazkovich. The Duty Commando was near the end of the corridor but saw it lead to another path going right. Nearing the end, Blazkovich jumped and fell. The glass shattered on the wall, on top of him. The energy stood in its original position. Sergei along with Kruger arrived from another entry point and fired their assault rifles. Blood spurted out of the energy.

Emptying a clip, Sergei shouted, “Cover me!”

Kruger nodded, pulling the trigger of his M4. The Major heard a click from his belt. Looking down, he watched in horror as the pins of his grenades were pulled out. Kruger felt his body shake, he had to make a split second decision. Without giving it second thought, Kruger ran towards the energy.

Shouting from the top of his lungs, Sergei shouted, “What are you doing?!”

The Colonel, seeing the action in the opposite end radioed, “Major?! Get back to your position!”

A few seconds, everything fell silent for Kruger; a large blinding light passed his eyes. The grenades exploded killing both Kruger and the energy. Kruger’s body parts flew in all directions. The energy revealed its true form; the mutant’s corpse was pushed by the explosion, yet lay intact. Next thing heard were objects dropping on the ground, and then the world fell silent. Blood and dismembered body parts covered the area where Kruger met his end, organs opened up, stretching long distances and giving out a horrid smell.

Frozen in ice he was, Leadest’s lower body and arms were numb from the ice. Sharp claws bled his back to the bone. His forehead was being devoured by a monstrosity with three heads. Tears would pour down from his eyes, only to be frozen, causing his eyes to hurt. Leadest knew where he was, the lowest pit of the ninth circle of hell, the home for traitors. Betrayers of lords and benefactors, for Leadest, benefactors meant friends. The circle would be lower than kinsmen, since friends are chosen out of freewill. The thoughts of his so-called betrayals were always deep in his mind. His eyes burned, like salt placed in them. A man approached him; he did his best to look but could hardly see from the frozen tears. Leadest could hardly make out the figure, it was a bald man. He had a noble brow, the standing features of a man he knew. The man’s neck was slit by a knife, blood still pouring its way out.

“Ezekiel?” asked Leadest.

“Yes” answered the figure, “How many men have you betrayed? How many died so you can live?”

Leadest felt his heart beating faster, feeling of anxiety, anger and sadness overtook him.

The figure came closer to Leadest’s face and said with blood flowing out of his mouth, “In the forest, you had Mhotep and Bryngger guard you, and for that they died a horrible and painful death. You… you just ran away in terror as you caught sight of death. You let them die so you could get rich.”

Leadest flinched, his eyes hurt more. Blood dropped down from his forehead, freezing in seconds. Scars in his back got deeper; he could feel the bones being torn apart.

Ezekiel grinned, “Sounds like betrayal, a traitor like you have survived because of your foul deeds! Soon I will die, and you will be the cause of that death.”

The last two sins, were not more damning to Leadest that this one. He felt this sin everyday, every hour. Near the point of surrendering to his damnation, Leadest closed his eyes.

Ezekiel added, “If only you did more to ensure their survival, then they would still be alive.”

Those words, Leadest remembered them. He knew it was he who was talking. Those words were what he would always say to himself and to others. A memory passed his eyes, a memory that put his mind at ease.
A scientist, a woman whom Leadest met, comforted his furious mind. As he lay drunk in the bar, he shared to that beautiful woman his own fears and doubts.

The woman said to him, “Their death is not in your hands. You have done more than any normal man would do to save their friend’s life. Yours are not the merit of coward nor a traitor, but a true friend.” The beautiful woman smiled at him and said, “If you must doubt, then it is that you have wasted your life in apologizing for things not meant. When they died, they thought of you as a friend and not an enemy.”

Leadest blacked out after those words, he woke up the next day and attempted to find that woman. But the woman was long gone along with the scientists; the government cancelled the expedition due to some politicking. Leadest just smiled, knowing the girl he met never have to fact the zone’s horror.

His eyes opened and with superhuman determination, broke the bondage of the ice. The monster disappeared, Leadest walked to Ezekiel, “I made an oath I will not break. I am not traitor, for I have betrayed no one! Those deaths were not by my hand but by the random guide of fate, God or whatever you call it. I saved your life Ezekiel and I promised not to make you another number of the dead I have fought with.”

Those words greatly enhanced Leadest’s mental strength and determination, he regained control of himself. Leadest found himself back in the room, his form unchanged. He was still aiming his pistol, but this time the creature showed its true form. Humanoid in appearance, it was shirtless but had pants on. It had a large head with an elongated face, blood red eyes and brown skin. Bald in the forehead it had hair at its sides. The nose was plain flat, its mouth widely extended, the ears were sharply pointed.

Leadest carefully aimed his pistol, savoring every moment. “Controller”, Leadest whispered, as he pulled the trigger.

The bullet came out; Leadest could feel its movement, slowly almost as if he was the bullet. Force pushed the bullet, it felt like time stopped. The round quickly hit the Controller between the eyes. The mutant fell flat on its back. Leadest walked closer, point his pistol on its head, he emptied a clip. He turned back and walked to the control panels, feeling a sigh of relief. He looked at the controls, searching for the button to halt the psy-emission. In one of the monitors, he saw glass tanks filled with water; people could hardly be seen inside them. Taking no particular note, he continued his search. A button took his attention, large and red. He pushed it and felt the ground shook. Leadest heard chatter in his helmet, he took it and placed it near his head.

“Good work Leadest”, radioed Sakharov, “the psy-emission has been shut down; you can now proceed to the Power Plant.”

Leadest took off his helmet, placing it in his left hand. He went to the controller and pulled out a tooth. Tying a rope around it, he wore it as a necklace, his trophy for his triumph against the enemy and himself. He walked away saying, “Jesus was tempted by the devil three times. I was tormented by a controller three times. That must make me like Christ.” Leadest seldom made jokes, and whenever he did, it was always dry and dark. Laughing at his own dark joke, he exited the room.

Surrounding the corpse, the Mercs and stalkers carefully examined the mutant. It looked similar to a controller but only had half of its body, no legs, only torso, head and hands. Footsteps sounded behind Sergei, he quickly turned back and aimed his rifle. He saw Leadest without his helmet. Light flashed out of his helmet as Leadest held it in his left hand. The rest of the stalkers took off their helmet.

Sergei held down his weapon and said to Leadest, “you look like you’ve been through hell.”

“You have no idea”, Leadest laughed cynically.

“Marked One pressed his helmet, “Team Vulcan, Hydra is completely eliminated, including replacement from you squad.”

“Vulcan here, all of them? Repeat.”

“All are painted red, I’m left.”


Leadest faced downward to what the group was looking at, and saw the corpse.

“Poltergeist”, said Sergei, “We couldn’t have killed it without Kruger.”

“We will honor him”, replied Marked One

Sergei shook his head, “I thought these mutants didn’t exist.”

“They do now”, answered Leadest

Sergei directed his eyes to Leadest, “what about you?”

Leadest chuckled, “nothing much, had a knife fight with a crazed Monolithian and by the way I also got warped by a controller.”

“A controller!?” shouted Ezekiel

Leadest turned to Ezekiel and stopped for a moment, an image of his nightmare arose from his thoughts, “Yes, I killed it”, pointing to his necklace. “And by the way Sergei, remember the time when I told you to read a little literature?”

“Yeah why?” asked Sergei

“Well just trust me on this one, don’t do it okay? Especially Dante’s Divine Comedy.”

“What is a Controller?” Marked One interrupted.

“Well”, Sergei started, “Controllers are the survivors of the second explosion. Instead of dying from the radiation, they mutated. The mutation managed to rearrange the genetic code and altered their body systems. You see, we humans are different in genetics; thereby we react differently to foreign substances. For example some people can drink any kind of sterilized water, without effect, but others can only drink the most sterilized water without getting diarrhea. Controllers have grey matter in their brains. All of us posses psychic abilities, but it is an underdeveloped part of our brain. Radiation must have developed this part into full functionality.”

“And the Poltergeist?”

“I don’t really know much about it. No scientific proof of their existence has surfaced. Except for this, I only heard rumors about it and most are unreliable and contradictory. Poltergeist are said to be stalkers who died from overexposure to radiation. It is said that their souls, purely metaphysical, are mutated by radiation, which enables them to be in between the living and the dead. They haunt houses, warehouses, buildings and laboratories, anything that resembles their past life as stalkers.” Sergei smiled, “hard to believe isn’t it” then pointed to the corpse, “but then there’s your proof.”

Everyone fell silent, probably had thoughts of their own. Blazkovich sat on the far end of the corridor; Leadest lighted him and saw Blazkovich’s face in deep anger.

“Fight for the living”, said the Colonel, “fight for the dead.”
  17:35:27  27 March 2010
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On forum: 01/04/2009
Messages: 7
Sarah parang hnd ka naniwala sa sinabi ko, o basahin mo siguradu ako na si Rob, gs2 mo pa isabi ko ang dalawang crush mo ang mga P?!!! )

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