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Echoes

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  06:23:35  9 June 2009
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ZeroDead
Senior Resident
 

 
On forum: 12/07/2008
 

Message edited by:
ZeroDead
06/09/2009 17:30:42
Messages: 197
Echoes

Before I begin, my thanks to psynexus for encouraging me. As I told him, I rarely, if ever, get to finish any new writing I begin; I run out of steam too quickly. I hope this is not the case.

Some clarifications:

- This is a gigantic "what if...?" loosely based on OL 2.2 and the multitude of freeplay mods around: what would -or could- have happened if Strelok did make it back from the NPP? (Actually, it was a script for a mod, before I realized that only a few NPCs can give quests... )
- I'm from Argentina, so my English can certainly use some polishing. Don't refrain for the sake of politeness from pointing out any mistakes if you find them.
- IMPORTANT WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE. BIG TIME. IF YOU HAVEN'T FINISHED THE GAME, STOP READING. RIGHT. NOW.

---------

“So, Strelok, welcome back.” Guide raised his bottle in toast. “Good thing you got your memory back and returned to tell the tale.”

“Yeah. You don’t know the half of it.” Wearily he dropped his backpack beneath the table and signaled Barkeep for a drink.

“Enlighten me, then. Last thing I heard, you were heading straight into a battle between the Army and those Monolith maniacs.” The rugged, elderly baldman appraised him. New scars were etched in his face, and many wrinkles had settled around his eyes and in his forehead. His eyes were glazed, lifeless. He had all the looks of somebody who had lost his mind and barely managed to get it back. “Doc didn’t expect you to make it back. He said he told you everything you had said about the Monolith was true.”

Strelok shook his head in denial.

“We believed no one who went into the station ever returned, so we presumed they died there. They do come back, but as Monolith cultists... the damn thing’s an illusion manufactured to brainwash stalkers into serving this... entity or whatever’s its name.” He closed his eyes for an instant; the memories of the pitched gunfight in the bowels of the ruined station flooded in. “I used the decoder on the door... it led into a maze crammed with Monolith goons. Then, into a room with some kind of dynamos. And, ahhh... I think it was a hologram of the monolith.”

He fell silent, his eyes dead. Guide eyed him expectantly. “And?”

He offered Strelok the vodka, but he refused it with a dry gesture. “I break the dynamos, and this hologram vanishes. Then, the image of a man in a labcoat shows up.” Strelok shook his head again. “I still can’t come to grips with what this ghost told me. Something about a ‘knowsphere’ or some other bullshit...” Deliberately he chose not to tell Guide what the C-Consciousness had told him about his role. He wasn’t ready to share that. Yet. “It is supposed to contain the reflections of the emotions and knowledge of the whole human race. He... it... tried to sell me this story of how it tried to improve mankind by removing negative ideas and feelings from this ‘knowsphere.’”

Guide arched his eyebrows. “Farfetched even by Zone standards if you ask me. Speaking of which...”

“Hold on, I’m coming to that.” Barkeep came with a bottle and two glasses.

“Some irish beer I’ve been saving for special occasions,” he said. “It’s on me. Great to see you again, Marked One.”

“Thanks. Got a load of stuff you could find buyers for.”

“As usual from you. Many people made it to Pripyat?” Strelok snorted.

“Lots. But I don’t know how many will make it back. Between Duty, Freedom, the Monolith lunatics and the Army...” The stalker shook his head slowly. “It’s like some twenty-first century Stalingrad.”

“Well,” Barkeep said, clapping him hard on his shoulder, “you returned. Come by later, ‘kay? You can show me what you got and have a little chat...” Curiosity sparkled in the man’s eyes. Strelok needed not to ask what he wanted to know. What am I going to do with this whole wish crap?

“I’ll do that.”

After Barkeep had returned to his place behind the bar, Guide whispered, “How odd it is that you are still known as the Marked One.”

Strelok shrugged.

“Strelok is the subject of legends now... While I was amnesic and running all over the Zone looking for clues about ‘this Strelok guy’, I heard all manner of things.” He grunted with grim amusement. “Like some folk legend of sorts. The Marked One is much better known.”

“And has built quite a reputation, I hear. Both the guys here and at the army warehouses would like to count you as one of their number.” Guide accepted the glass Strelok offered him.

“Cheers,” he toasted. The beer was thick, rich in flavor, and easy on the throat. “I’m not a big fan of either. I’d rather stay on good terms with both.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Guide emptied his glass. “So... what are you going to do about this Monolith scam?”

Strelok toyed with his drink.

“Either I go public or lay low. The bastards running it have moles all around the Zone. ’Sides... it’s not like I’m going to get much attention. Just another moron that ran too close to the Brain Scorcher.”

“Maybe. And maybe not. You haven’t been around enough to know that everyone speaks of you as the person responsible for shutting down the Brain Scorcher in the first place. That lends credibility to your word, don’t you think? If someone would know...”

“Yeah, yeah, I get the picture.” He emptied his glass and refilled it. “I could just as easily paint a target on my head.”

“Not that a bullet would hurt you much, with that walking tank you’re wearing and all the baubles you are carrying,” Guide retorted in a low voice. “But a grenade would do the job, that’s true.” He stopped a moment and studied Strelok again. He had always been the reckless risk-taker, even after surviving through ordeals that had driven most other stalkers to death or insanity. “Bear in mind that you have some renown. Barkeep doesn’t greet much people that way,” he said making a vague gesture towards the man. “A party with something to gain with your demise wouldn’t have to look too hard to find you. And no artifact can protect from a killer dedicate enough.”

Strelok recognized the truth of this. He sipped the beer again as he thought.

“Then I guess I’ll have to pay Voronin a visit.”

“And Lukash.”

“Yeah.” He was about to ask Guide about the current relationship between both factions, but the firefight on the Red Forest jumped to his mind. “Getting those two hardheads to cooperate on anything will be harder than...” He sought an adequate comparison, but couldn’t think of one. He cursed silently and shrugged; Guide nodded, understanding him. They both stood at the same time:

“I was considering to return to the Big Land,” Guide said, as he grabbed his backpack, “but I can’t leave behind a friend in need.” Strelok’s lips curved in the barest hint of a smile. He clapped the elderly baldman in a shoulder, hard.

“Shame about Ghost and Fang. We could surely have used them now.”

“True. But I think... I think finding replacements shouldn’t be too hard.”

“You sure don’t waste your time, do you?”

They thanked Barkeep and slowly walked their way out to the street. Strelok noticed Guide was right: whenever he came across someone, they followed him with their eyes, some of them with respect, some of them with awe. A couple of Dutyers next to the arena saluted him as they passed by.

He was going to turn right, but Guide bade him to turn the other way. “I want you to meet somebody.”

They entered the warehouse Strelok went through often in his way to Rostok or to Freedom territory; this time, a lone stalker was waiting near the door, fully dressed in black stalker gear.

“Strelok...” Guide said intentionally in a low voice, so as to make his identity unmistakably clear, “meet Chasme.”

The man took off his gasmask and looked at Strelok in amazement.

“You?” The Marked One was dumbstruck. Chasme grinned widely and fiercely hugged him.

“That’s a thank you for not playing into the military’s hands by smoking off an AWOL,” he said.

“Does Barkeep know? He was the one who hired me for that gig in the first place.”

“Oh yeah, he knows. But that’s a story, I guess, nowhere as interesting as yours.”

“Guide will fill you in with everything you want to know later. Tell me what happened to you.”

“Oh, you see... after you left, I tried to make a run for it and steal the car back. I found it was much closer to the road than where this prick had left it... was it you?” Strelok nodded with a grin. “That’s another thing I have to thank you for. As well as the ammo and all the stuff you didn’t take from the bandits and the soldiers you wiped out.”

“Um, yeah...” The Marked One shifted uneasily.

“Oh, don’t worry, you did the world a service by killing that bunch, they were all thieves and gangsters in disguise.” Guide turned around and started walking out the hangar in the way of the Duty base, and his two companions set off after him without thinking. Chasme continued: “I drove all the way from Agroprom to the warehouse near the junkyard, and I arrived just in time for another gunfight.”

“Let me guess. Damn raiders again trying to take the warehouse.”

“You got that right. I helped out the stalkers in the warehouse doing some quality sniping,” he replied with an evil smirk, “and when they saw my outfit they almost flipped out; took a long chat to convince them not to off me. Some guy by the name of Seriy kind enough to give me something to wear other than my uniform and a password for the Duty checkpoint.”

“So Seriy is racking up points with Duty... check that out. How’s he doing?”

Guide purposely slowed down and let them overtake him, wanting to have a clearer picture of the conversation; he was relieved to see that his call had not been a mistake.

“He’s in charge of a bunch of loners there. Can’t say much more, I didn’t get to hear a lot while I was around there. He’s trying to turn the place into a fort or something, but they’re constantly harassed by bandits and raiders so he hasn’t had much of a chance to do any serious work.”

“Shit... oh well, it’s as good a place as any to do some good. What’re you packing? And where are your weapons?”

Chasme pulled the black fabric of his suit. “Standard issue stalker outfit.” He grinned. “Barkeep’s got a soft spot for me. Call it guilt for setting you on my trail. He keeps my stuff while I’m around... a scoped AKM, a Pernatch, a Saiga and a few grenades. Nothing as fancy as yours,” he said jokingly as he eyed Strelok’s exoskeleton and Vintorez. The Marked One whistled silently:

“He feels guilty alright. I say you milk him for all he’s worth... I never knew anyone who got treated like that by Barkeep.” A moment’s thought, and then: “That’ll do for the moment, but we need to work on that.”

They were near the sandbagged entrance to the Duty headquarters now. Oddly enough, Petrenko was standing guard there; he was clearly upset for some reason. There were more guards there than usual, too; they eyed the approaching group attentively:

“Stop!” Petrenko said as they approached the checkpoint. “The Duty base is under lockdown. Only faction members are allowed.”

All three stalkers could see that the Dutyers there were on edge. Clearly there was something important going on here. Strelok stepped forward:

“All the better, then. I bring some news from the NPP.”

Petrenko looked at him, not recognizing him at first, then:

“Marked One! What are you doing here? I thought you’d be at or beyond Pripyat now. We heard about your exploits in the Red Forest... you did a hell of a job there.” A chorus of agreements from the guards around him echoed him. “Sorry, friend, but I can’t let you in now.” Petrenko’s eyes darted through the street, searching it for eavesdroppers, then: “I suppose I can tell you. There’s a high-level meeting going on right now.”

“Then why aren’t you inside? You are Voronin’s second-in-command, aren’t you?”

The man frowned. He was obviously upset for not being allowed into the meeting, but was coping with it.

“That’s all I can tell you. I was put in charge of security for the moment by his express orders, so go figure. Sorry.” He spat. “I sure as hell would like to know myself what’s going on.”

Guide understood there would be few insights for them to glean from him. “Thank you, colonel. Send our greetings to the general, then.”

“On behalf of who?”

“I’m Guide.” An amazed hush descended upon the Dutyers. Petrenko said, respecfully:

“I’ll be sure to do that, sir. Will you be staying around? I’m certain Voronin will want to have a conversation with you.”

“We won’t be far.” They said their goodbyes, then Chasme whispered, as they walked away:

“What the hell’s going on?” Guide answered, as discreetly:

“I am pondering the same. Petrenko is very close to Voronin. Why would he be left out of a meeting puzzles me.”

“We’ll know soon enough,” Strelok said. “Let’s go get your gear. We’re off to see Seriy.”

After retrieving Chasme’s weapons, they were quickly out of the Bar area. Like the journey back from the NPP, the way to the garbage heaps was a refreshing experience for Strelok. He had been yearning for the relative warmth and safety of these areas; everything beyond the barrier near the Freedom base had been literally turned upside down.

“So, what is the Red Forest like?” Chasme asked, as soon as they had set off. He grunted and answered reluctantly:

“Unnerving. You’re always feeling that something’s going to pounce on your back.” He sighed with relief, once again thanking for having made it out of there in one piece. Guide said:

“I can’t imagine how is it going to be now that the Scorcher is done for.” He mulled the thought a bit, then added: “There was this rumor about the military having quarantined the installation.”

“They did. Or they tried to, I don’t know. After I entered the control bunker Monolith reinforcements started pouring in, so when I returned outside they were duking it out with paratroopers. Take it from me... this thing looks mighty tough alright, but bullets hurt all the same.”

“It looks like it’s seen its share of action.” Chasme noted the many dents and scraps in the armor. Guide followed suit, and only then did he seem to notice something:

“Isn’t that Fang’s exoskeleton?”

Strelok nodded. He walked on silently a few seconds before saying:

“It felt horrible to take it, but I needed everything I could get.” For a few minutes he described them the carnage that was taking place at Pripyat, and how it seemed to be every man for himself in the ruined city with five factions hellbent on butchering each other. “I know Fang would have wanted me to have it anyway. He would have hated it if I ended up dead in that city too.”

“I agree.” Guide studied the exoskeleton carefully. “It wasn’t that battered when we buried him.”

“That square was crammed with whirlies and ‘springs, all around and over the grave. I had to weather a blowout and wait for the suckers to shift before I could get there... it’s almost as if this thing attracted them.” The elderly baldman tilted his head to a side, as he tried to sort fact from fiction in his head and make an idea out of it all.

“Maybe you should put it to test.”

“What do you mean?” Chasme asked.

“Ghost, our late comrade, had a suit much like yours. He obtained it from an anomaly which you’ve probably seen at Agroprom already, especially in the basement...”

“That greenish one?”

“That exact same. Many stalkers dub it ‘Fruit Punch.’”

“Oh... and what did Ghost’s armor do?”

“Made him a tough nut to crack. Let me tell you a story... there’s this place, near the gate leading to the cordon area, where we once had a stash. I don’t know if that stuff is still there. Is it?” he asked Guide, who nodded.

“Everything was there a day and a half ago.”

“Good, maybe we can get you something decent then. Okay... well, this place is a hatch leading into a control room of some sort, I think it’s for a natural gas pipeline. Before we got to use it to stash our goodies, a bloodsucker used it as a lair.” Chasme shivered.

“I’m not anxious for seeing one of those.”

“Let’s hope you live to a ripe old age without having the pleasure.” Strelok laughed at his own sally. “Ghost, as our... er, more ‘stalking oriented’ stalker, scouted ahead. Fang, Guide and myself went behind him. Reckless bastard...” He sighed sadly, remembering his friend, suddenly aware of how fed up he was with mournings and deaths and blood and radiation and anomalies and factions. He continued wearily, his voice deep: “The damn thing saw him coming and jumped him before we could react. We couldn’t do shit... if we tried shooting it we could have hurt Ghost too. All we could do was watching and waiting.” Strelok fell silent. Chasme waited for the rest of the tale, but it was Guide who had to complete it:

“Ghost gained the upper hand. He stabbed the bloodsucker through the tentacles and shot its head into a gory mess. But he didn’t get out unscathed. The creature almost ripped his bowels open. We tended to his wounds as best as we could, but we thought he would not survive the night... And yet, the following morning, he was on his feet again. It was weeks before we noticed that even severe wounds healed on him on a mere matter of hours. It was the armor; it sped up healing and metabolism.”

Chasme had been staring at them both with increasing amazement.

“No shit... another of the wonders of the Zone.” Strelok replied bluntly:

“For every such one thing it spits out, it kills a hundred like us. What good did it do to Ghost in the end? He ended up in an underground lab with his brains fried by a controller.”

They marched on in silence. The gate to the Duty checkpoint was ahead.
  04:46:39  13 June 2009
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ZeroDead
Senior Resident
 

 
On forum: 12/07/2008
 

Message edited by:
ZeroDead
06/13/2009 5:02:02
Messages: 197
Second installment... college's lightened up for a bit, so I've been relatively free to pursue other interests.

Characters so far:

- Strelok: the Marked One starring SoC.

- Guide: the most veteran stalker in the Zone, and probably the most knowledgeable person on its mysteries.

- Chasme: a military deserter turned stalker, spared by the Marked One after being hired by Barkeep to assassinate him.

I guess it's just healthy precautions to repeat the following:

- As I said before, I'm not a native english speaker and I'm always looking to improve my skills. If I made a mistake, post it. Please

- IMPORTANT WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE. BIG TIME. IF YOU HAVEN'T FINISHED THE GAME, STOP READING. RIGHT. NOW.

I'm also adding that I haven't yet played Clear Sky since it's not available for purchase in my country and I don't want to spoil the fun by reading the story, so I may make continuity mistakes.

Enough chitchat. Read on and enjoy.

--------

Strelok, Guide and Chasme stood over a hill that overlooked the road to the junkyards. A cacophony of low rumbles, buzzing and humming came from below them, the light mist that floated under the mild morning sun making visible the dozens of anomalies on that treacherous part of the way between the bar area and the junkyards. Chasme looked down the road in disgust:

“I just hate this place.”

“You have every reason to. Many stalkers have met their demise here.” Guide didn’t even search for stones; stalkers coming and going always used them to mark the anomalies. He was carefully surveying
the land below him, already mapping a way in his mind through the many hazards.

A brilliant light glittered in the haze, rolling and bouncing as the anomalies around repelled it. Chasme pulled out his binoculars:

“An artifact... and a very shiny one at that.” He did not delude himself with the idea of collecting that prize. The haze all around it was completely distorted; anyone greedy enough to make a run for it would not have time enough to regret his mistake. Strelok stepped forward and looked attentively:

“Looks like a Night Star from here.”

“Whew... someone’s gonna turn into ketchup today.” Chasme instantly regretted his joke. “Sorry.”

“Nevermind, you’re right. There’s nothing a body can do if a moron’s born just too stupid.” His mood was getting worse by the minute. Guide noticed this but said nothing.

“Follow me. Step where I step and you’ll be fine.” The elderly baldman started walking down the hill, Strelok and Chasme behind him. The former soldier felt the hairs on the back of his head stand and his heart beat faster. Fear whipped through him. Running through that gauntlet with two of the most famed stalkers in the Zone didn’t ease him. He couldn’t see Strelok’s or Guide’s faces, but he did not need it to feel their concentration: the old man led them taking exactly six steps, stopping, crouching, grabbing a tiny chunk of dirt, tossing it ahead, and seeing what happened. Whenever the chunk was turned into dust by a thundering shockwave or into cinders by some invisible force, Guide would turn left or right and repeat the process.

They had covered two thirds of the deadly maze when the sounds of gunfire erupted from the other side of the gate, two hundred meters ahead of them. Instantly Guide and Chasme dropped to the ground and removed the safeties on their weapons; Strelok, impeded by his cumbersome armor, crouched instead. Carefully he took aim, determined to blow off the head of the first sucker who dared to shoot at them; the gate was open, but no Duty guards were on their side. Through his scope he saw the flash of more gunfire, the sound reaching them scarcely afterwards. He opened a pouch in his belt and produced a radio:

“Duty outpost, this is the Marked One. I am with two fellow stalkers on the anomaly field north of your position. I am hearing gunfire. What is going on? Over.” The speaker on his radio replied:

“Marked One? Is that you? Thank God! Hurry up outta that field! We’re under attack by a horde of mutants coming from the Dark Valley! We need all the help we can get!”

“Again? Shit, almost seems like someone’s busy breeding them. Hold on, we’re coming. Over and out.” He put the radio back on its pouch, and switched his Vintorez for a Benelli shotgun. Guide and Chasme followed suit immediately.

“Trouble?” The former soldier asked.

“Muties attacking the Duty post.” Guide needed no further encouragement. Again he set off through the field, waiting, probing, watching and moving out again. Less than five minutes later, they had left behind the last of the anomaly field and its deadly bait. Chasme shot a last glance towards the brilliant orb and turned his attention back to the gate. The sounds of a raging battle came from the other side.

Strelok went through the gate first; immediately Chasme and Guide heard the blast of his shotgun and the deep snarl of something very large and very angry. The old man sped forward:

“Bloodsucker!” he yelled atop his lungs. Chasme remembered what Strelok had said barely an hour ago, took a deep breath, and went through as well, just in time to see the Marked One, less than four meters away from him, duck and roll to avoid the lunge of a shadowy bulk.

Automatically he aimed his shotgun and fired. A cloud of pulverized blood appeared floating in midair, half a meter from Strelok. The shadow turned to face this last attacker; two small white orbs looked down on him. The stench of stale blood and bestial muscle paralyzed him. Without warning, the two eyes sped forward and a ghostly clawed hand lunged for his neck. The impact left him without breath, but had the side effect of knocking him out of his fright. Amidst his desperation he somehow recalled Strelok’s tale, and pulled out his knife as he tried to fight off the bloodsucker’s relentless grasp.

Then, another deafening thunder, and the nightmarish visage was blown off him. The beast roared in anger and frustration and jumped back on its feet. Again, it hurled itself towards him; Chasme barely managed to keep his almost overpowering panic in check and sidestepped, the creature brushing him aside. He rolled on the ground, straightened up, brought his shotgun to bear, and fired again. The back of the bloodsucker’s head disappeared in a bloody explosion. It gurgled in agony, fell flat-faced, and died.

A cold grasp in his left shoulder helped him stand; he whirled and saw Strelok’s masked face. He thanked him with a raised thumb and looked around for other targets: he could make at least four other spectral shapes fighting the guards, over a dozen dogs and the gray forms of at least two pseudodogs. “Into the train car!” Guide yelled. “Go!”

The Dutyers heard him too and made a dash for it. Guide entered first; the small windows lit up with the flash of a shotgun being fired inside. He again appeared in the doorway and crouched there; he blasted a nearby dog’s side into mincemeat and shouted them to hurry. Chasme hurried towards him, his heart racing in his chest. He heard the Marked One behind him fire several shots with his shotgun in quick succession; he turned his head over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of Strelok reaching for his sidearm in the moment a bloodied pseudodog crashed into him; he turned around, hoping the exoskeleton to be as resilient as it seemed to be, and fired on it. Pellets sprayed both the mutant and the stalker. The pseudodog yowled in pain, a leg almost torn out by the blast. Strelok put his sidearm under its throat and blood exploded in the air a split second later. He kicked the corpse away from him and ran towards Chasme and the train car.

“We’re even now,” he said as the Marked One dashed past him.

“Hell no, you didn’t get a buckshot shower.” Chasme laughed and covered his retreat inside the car, which the Dutyers and Guide were using as a bunker to snipe the mutants. The battle quickly turned into a massacre. One of the remaining bloodsuckers made a suicidal charge against the doorway and was blown to pieces, while the dogs were picked off one by one as they ran around the car in circles. A good five minutes later, the guard post was strewn with mutant corpses. A few cheered in triumph.

The Duty warrant officer, a stalker who went by the alias of Dagger, slung his PKM on his shoulder and sighed with relief. “Not a moment too soon, eh, Marked One?” he said, turning towards him. His eyes went over his black exoskeleton in awe. “Some of the loot from Pripyat?”

“Sort of. What the hell happened here?”

Dagger vaguely pointed towards the Dark Valley.

“This is the fifth such wave we’ve got since the Brain Scorcher went down. It gets worse each time.” He went over his companions with a quick look: “Any of you got injured? One of the ‘suckers almost got you,” he said to Chasme.

“Don’t worry, I’ll survive.” He was still shaken by the experience, but a glow was slowly filling him; he had fought one of the Zone’s most dreaded dangers and had survived it. “What about your guys?”

“Only a few wounded, thank God... we were ready this time.” That they were, Guide noted; they all sported machine guns or heavy-duty shotguns.

“Is it getting that serious?”

The guards started walking out of the train car. Dagger led them to the small campfire; he opened a barrel, revealing a cache of beverages. “Take your pick,” he offered. “Bullet took a team and left to scout the Valley... that was at dawn. We’ve been getting radio reports of his progress. Last thing he said was that he’d probably have to retreat to the cordon. Swarms of mutants there.”

Chasme gladly took a soda. Guide settled for some cold water. Strelok took his helmet off and sat by the fire, a bottle of vodka in his hands. Dagger and a few of his fellow Dutyers followed suit.

“Figure this,” the officer said. “Packs of bloodsuckers and pseudodogs run around and the fleshes have kicked the loners out of the pig farm. The ‘suckers and the dogs hunt them, but only to feed... they don’t just kill them for fun like they used to do before. It’s like someone flipped a freakin’ switch on them.”

“What about the criminals lairing in the unfinished building?” Guide asked. He took a long sip of water.

“Still hiding there, Bullet said. They have dug up tight in there. He hasn’t had a close look yet, but we told him to steer clear of the place. Bandits would love to nail one of us and we’re not interested in giving them the chance.”

“Hey Marked One,” one of the Dutyers asked, “you been to the center of the Zone?”

“And to the Wish Granter?” another one said.

Chasme shot a discreet glance towards his comrade, remembering how he had reacted to his own question. Strelok thirstily guzzled his vodka before replying:

“Yeah. It’s hell in there.” He went on to describe the chaos that had erupted at Pripyat, and then his exploration of the plant: “Damn Monolith bastards crowd the plant like the roaches they are. The military is obsessed with reclaiming the place... the moment I arrived, they were fighting the lunatics. I don’t think they will, not any time soon at least. Monolithians have rigged the place with traps and minefields and God knows what else. About that Wish Granter...” Chasme held his breath in excitement, like Dagger and the rest of the Dutyers circling the fire; Guide looked up at Strelok, knowing what was coming, and playing along. “Other than a shitload of rads, there’s nothing there. The whole story is a load of crap. Prolly dreamed up by some moron who ran too close to Yantar or the Scorcher if you ask me.”

The Dutyers stared at him, disappointment or disbelief etched in their faces. Then, they started talking all at the same time:

“Back to artifact hunting, then--”

“Come on! That can’t be--”

“Are you sure? You--”

“Oh, man! ‘twas a lot of bullshit--”

“Gimme a fucking break!” Strelok shouted. The guards hushed immediately in surprise, again staring at him. Even those who were not by the fire turned their heads. “There’s no Granter, so don’t go fucking looking for it. The only thing you’ll find there is a load of bullets with your name on them. If you think you’re badass enough to go and find it where I didn’t, it’s your damn funeral.” Again he guzzled his vodka. The rest of the stalkers fell silent, a good half of them still mired in disappointment, most of the rest with a resigned look, and the remaining few saying ‘I knew it’ with their eyes.

Dagger cautiously insisted:

“But I’m sure you found some interesting artifacts, at least.” Guide immediately shot a searing glare his way; the Dutyer flinched, regret written all over him.

Strelok didn’t notice any of that. He merely unzipped his artifact belt and tossed a spiky thing in Dagger’s lap. The other stalkers crowded around: it seemed to be a fuzzy mass of thorns and spines like the Kolobok, but it shone with an eerie blue-green light, occasionally producing small bursts of light; the air around it became warmer and tinged with ozone.

“Incredible... incredible,” Dagger repeated, half to himself. His comrades were equally awed; Chasme’s eyes were glued on the artifact too. He respectfully returned it; Strelok put it back on his belt. “Never seen one of these before... have you named it?”

The Marked One shrugged. The guards expected him to say anything else, but he was not forthcoming. He emptied his bottle of vodka with no sign of inebriation at all and fastidiously threw it aside.

“Dagger, what have you heard about Seriy’s group in the hangar?” Guide asked a bit awkwardly, wanting to divert attention from Strelok and to defuse the stifling mood that was building up.

“Um, yeah...” Dagger was still shocked by the Marked One’s revelations. He sighed and shook his head. “Excuse me...” he said with a hesitant smile. “You know, when I had just came here... I had made up my mind about what I was going to ask the Wish Granter for if I ever got the chance... I had given up on that by now, but a tiny bit of me still believed on it.”

Chasme clapped him on the shoulder. He had received the news with resignation, realizing he had, somehow, already pieced together subconsciously what Strelok had just said; there would be little reason for him to be still there if the Wish Granter had existed.

“Thank you didn’t buy it outright and ended up as a zombie or mutant meal.” Dagger snorted with amusement.

“Heh. That’s true. Well...” he begun, now turning his mind to Guide’s question. “Seriy’s been holed up there. They’ve been fighting bandits coming from Agroprom for the past week. Damn scum... for each one you kill, three more make it to the Zone.”

Strelok grabbed his helmet and slowly stood up. His joints creaked audibly.

“Then we’d better hurry there. We heard he needs help.”

“You heard right.”

In the brief silence that followed, Chasme caught the distinct howl of a jet engine flying very high above them and looked upwards. Puzzled, Guide looked at him, then he heard it too.

“What is it?” the Marked One asked.

“Aircraft. High above us,” he replied as he scanned the partly clouded skies, looking for the plane. “That’s strange. The military are scared shit of flying here.”

“Why’s that?” Dagger asked.

“I was in the army myself. A chopper pilot told me there are anomalies as high as ten miles up in the sky, and they are a hundred times more dangerous than those on the ground because the detectors they use have very short ranges. You only get a three or four second warning.”

Something disappeared behind the curtain of clouds, and reappeared. He pulled out his binoculars:

“It’s... a fighter. If I’m not wrong, a Sukhoi 27. I don’t see any weapons... it’s probably doing some recon.” The stalkers looked at each other, wondering what this new development was about.

“It can freaking burn for all I care. Let’s go.” Strelok started walking down the road. “Thanks for the drink,” he said to Dagger. “We’ll be around. Radio us if mutants come again.”

“Will do. Thanks for your help.” For a split-second Chasme considered asking Dagger what had he heard about the meeting at the Bar, but thought better of it. He shook hands with him and set off after his companions.
  10:10:55  13 June 2009
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yagoo
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On forum: 10/04/2008
Messages: 224
HA HA HA,this is SO interesting,I like how much detail you put in the description part,really nice.

And,if you insist,the only BIG problem with your English is some contextual mistakes,meaning some words just don't belong somewhere and a synonymous word that would fit should be there.It's altogether not much at all,what I've told you is more of an aesthetics matter.It's normal if you don't do advanced English classes six times a week like I do,the teachers give you nightmares,but they also teach you stuff that is important when you want to do a piece of writing in English

Don't get it wrong,when I went with some of the writing I did together with a friend to the head of a SF magazine,we were lectured for over an hour and a half about what mistakes we had and what we had to do right them,your work is great,carry on,don't let trolls get to you.
  18:06:02  13 June 2009
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ZeroDead
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On forum: 12/07/2008
 

Message edited by:
ZeroDead
06/13/2009 18:10:24
Messages: 197

---QUOTATION---
HA HA HA,this is SO interesting,I like how much detail you put in the description part,really nice.

And,if you insist,the only BIG problem with your English is some contextual mistakes,meaning some words just don't belong somewhere and a synonymous word that would fit should be there.It's altogether not much at all,what I've told you is more of an aesthetics matter.It's normal if you don't do advanced English classes six times a week like I do,the teachers give you nightmares,but they also teach you stuff that is important when you want to do a piece of writing in English

Don't get it wrong,when I went with some of the writing I did together with a friend to the head of a SF magazine,we were lectured for over an hour and a half about what mistakes we had and what we had to do right them,your work is great,carry on,don't let trolls get to you.
---END QUOTATION---



Glad you like it. More's on the way I knew I should have taken at least a TOEFL test. Well, not that it's too late anyway. If you're taking advanced writing classes then there must be something I can learn from you... any specifics?
  22:20:21  13 June 2009
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yagoo
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On forum: 10/04/2008
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---QUOTATION---
Glad you like it. More's on the way I knew I should have taken at least a TOEFL test. Well, not that it's too late anyway. If you're taking advanced writing classes then there must be something I can learn from you... any specifics?
---END QUOTATION---



Well,the first rule is that you tell a lot,but NOT everything,you must leave space for ambiguity,for the reader to ponder upon.Don't explain to much,but also,try to be concise with what you try to say.

Second,don't be repetitive or redundant in any way,a word is not supposed to appear more than once on a "page",of course,you can do it but there must be a good reason and technique behind this,so,it's all to often easier and better to use synonymous words or sentences.

And the last thing I can teach you with my modest knowledge,is language register.What does that mean?Well,it's better I explain,here is an exercise in language register I've been given:

"A hooker and a pimp have a chat on the sidewalk then they start arguing."[i/]

Relate the events from the perspective of:
the hooker,the pimp,the priest watching the scene from a balcony,the hooker's mother/father/sister"

Now,what must be done,is,trying to imagine what is important to each character,what are their feelings,how would they describe what they see,and,what would they omit and what would they emphasize on .When you've got that sorted out,in comes the real language part.You must relate to the characters and what they really are,for example,the uneducated pimp cares nothing of people and cares only of money,speaks very crudely and vulgar;the hooker is broken,hopeless and fearful to speak;the very educated priest has only kind words and pity towards both parties,speaks with a lot of piety;etc.

Hope I wrote this so that somebody else than myself can understand(I tend to do that,speak in no apparent order,so that only I can understand what the hell I'm saying,this got me a few bad marks)and that it's useful for you and others.
  00:33:08  14 June 2009
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ZeroDead
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On forum: 12/07/2008
Messages: 197
Gonna try to incorporate those tips on my next installment. Thanks
  16:20:11  14 June 2009
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QuaNTuMbenxh
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On forum: 10/05/2008
Messages: 918
Im following this too , I juss didnt comment which is strange , bcuz I always comment , well leave the messy fuzz and check this

IT IS COOL , gimme more and maybe i'll be satisfied!
  04:06:18  16 June 2009
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ZeroDead
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On forum: 12/07/2008
 

Message edited by:
ZeroDead
06/16/2009 4:22:21
Messages: 197
Echoes, episode 3

Third installment is here! Things are heating up, so stay tuned...

Characters so far:

- Strelok: the Marked One starring SoC.

- Guide: the most veteran stalker in the Zone, and probably the most knowledgeable person on its mysteries.

- Chasme: a military deserter turned stalker, spared by the Marked One after being hired by Barkeep to assassinate him.

--------

“You looking for someone, sir...?” the young stalker asked, cowed by Strelok’s intimidating appearance. He gruffly replied:

“Go tell Seriy the Marked One’s here. And don’t you call me ‘sir’ again.”

“Yes, s... sorry, yes, Marked One.” The rookie closed the gates behind him. Chasme smirked behind his mask. Soon, the sound of approaching footsteps reached them, and the gate opened again without a noise.

“...Wow.” Seriy was left speechless upon seeing the stalkers. He smiled widely and shook the hands of all three of them. “Seems like it was yesterday when you came around out of the blue, no more of a stalker than some of the rookies here... and now you show up just like that! Did you find Strelok after all?”

“Something like that” he answered, not too evasively. “Will you ever get yourself a decent nickname, for God’s sake?”

“Oh, you know... I just haven’t made up my mind yet. Please, come in!” He stepped aside to let them through. The areas around the hangar apparently had not yet been worked on; everything there was as they remembered it.

“We should call you Enigma then.”

“It’s taken already. Some big-ass stalker who went to Limansk.”

“You should as well take it then,” Guide replied. “If he went to the dead city, rest assured he is not long to this world.”

Seriy led them inside the hangar proper. “I haven’t met your companions...”

“The one with the optimistic mindset is Guide.” The old man laughed. “And the other one you already know; he’s Chasme.”

“Oh, I didn’t recognize him with that mask... so the soldier finally settled for the stalker’s life and made a team with no others than the first one to enter the Zone, and the guy who shut down the Brain Scorcher. You’re in for a hell of a ride...”

“I just had a taste of that.” Chasme told Seriy what had happened at the Duty outpost as he guided them through the train yard. There were about twenty stalkers on the hangar, divided in groups of three or four.

“Hmph. That won’t be the last you’ll see with such partners. And yeah, the Dark Valley’s hell. Loup and Stardust got the crap beaten out of them there. We’re still patching them up.”

They climbed up the stairs; supplies were neatly stacked and organized on each level. When they reached the uppermost level, they found themselves in an improvised dormitory with bunk beds and even a few footlockers. “Make yourselves comfortable,” Seriy said. “And tell me, what brings you back here? Unfinished business?”

“Chasme told me you needed help.”

Seriy opened his footlocker and offered them food or beverages; Chasme and Guide settled for bread and sausage, while Strelok took another bottle of vodka. The former soldier noted this and only then did he realize that his comrade had drank a liter of the strong alcoholic drink merely minutes ago, and was not drunk in the least.

“Hell, Marked One, we need help all the time here. Between bandits, mutants, the military...” The stalker shook his head. Strelok replied:

“You should give up this place for good and let the buggers fight for it.”

“And go for the dough,” Chasme added.

“Heh. Maybe.” He sighed. “But this is home now. Take ol’ Bes... He’s still by the junkyard, he never left the place. A stalker like him could make a fortune hunting for artifacts deeper in the Zone.”

“Bes had his reasons to stay there.”

“His criminal record? You say Duty would have something against him? It’s not like he couldn’t have made it to Freedom territory if he wanted to. He stays here because here’s home.” Seriy allowed himself a tired smile. “It’s the same with me.”

Guide swallowed his morsel and replied:

“I can hardly conceive thinking of the Zone as my home.”

“But you’ve been here more than anyone.”

“Not because I wanted to.”

“Why haven’t you left then yet?” Chasme asked. Guide pointed vaguely at Strelok:

“What passes for my family is here.”

The Marked One put his bottle on the floor. “I don’t know where you guys have been getting your vodka but it’s watered down or something.”

“You can’t expect to wear a king’s ransom worth in artifacts and experience no side effects at all,” Guide retorted. Chasme laughed:

“A hell of a side effect!”

“Now that’s an artifact I’m never wearing,” Seriy said with a big grin.

“Yeah, let’s see if you say that when bullets start flying.” Strelok stretched. “What kind of work you wanna do with this place?”

A sudden hush fell upon them.

Then the floor started to quiver. Red light flooded in through the windows.

“Shit!” Seriy cursed. He grabbed his radio: “BLOWOUT! EVERYONE TO THE TRAIN YARD! NOW! PREPARE TO FIGHT OFF MUTANTS!” He tossed the radio in his knapsack and grabbed a Saiga shotgun from his footlocker. Strelok, Guide and Chasme were already darting to the stairwell.

“Why the mutants?” Chasme asked between strides.

“They’ll want to weather it here too!” Guide answered.

“Let’s hope the damn bandits don’t join the party...” The Marked One cocked his Benelli.

Thunder rumbled lowly outside as the four stalkers joined the rest in the floor of the hangar. Guide flinched upon hearing a roaring boom that seared the very ears themselves. He was pale.

“DOGS!” a stalker yelled, turning to the gate on the side of the Dark Valley. A barrage of machine gun fire and shotgun blasts quickly disposed of them. Everyone reloaded nervously, expecting the next wave to come very soon. The ground quivered like a leaf in the wind.

Men appeared on the other side. “Stalkers from Agroprom!” Strelok zeroed his shotgun on one of them.

Seriy fired a warning shot: “THROW YOUR WEAPONS!” he ordered, nearly snapping his vocal cords in doing it. The approaching men did as they were told:

“We are unarmed!” one of them yelled back. “Let us in! Please!”

“Come within ten meters!” he replied. “Everyone walk five steps back, no more, no less,” Seriy ordered, only as loud as needed for his comrades to hear him. Bright flashes of light blinded them intermittently. Strelok fired another warning shot:

“YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!”

Seriy sighed in relief. “Thanks, I had forgotten about that!”

“I can’t understand how you lasted so long here if you forget things like that!”

The newcomers stood exactly ten steps away from Seriy’s men and Strelok’s group. Most were rookies in every sense of the word, judging for the poor quality of their gear. Guide grew even more wary. “Stay sharp!” he said. “There’s no way to know what they have up their sleeves!”

Seriy had to literally punch Strelok in the shoulder to attract his attention. “Keep an eye on them and on that door! We’ll watch over this one!”

“You got it!”

Another ear-shattering blast shook them. “Here it comes!” Guide warned. The Geiger counters started ticking ominously.

Chasme caught the glimpse of a shadow on the gate, behind the newcomers: “WATCH OUT!” he yelled as the shadow pounced on top of one of them.

“SNORK!” Guide screamed. The other men dispersed in all directions. Chasme charged forward and smashed the mutant with the butt of his shotgun in the back, tearing it off the man. The snork rolled on the ground and jumped away, expertly using the objects on the cargo bay as cover; Chasme fired again and again at it, but none of his shots found its target.

“FUCK! I missed!”

“STICK TOGETHER!” one of the newcomers said. Almost all other men heeded his command and again grouped themselves in a tight and frightened bunch, save for one who ran for his weapon, which was lying on the floor close to the entrance: “DON’T DO IT!” the man said, but it was too late. The rookie stopped short of grabbing his AK, hiccuped, and vomited explosively. He twisted in the ground, screaming in torment for half a minute, then agonizingly turned their way and tried to crawl back towards them. He gurgled horrendously, dribbling bile and vomit through his mouth, twitched, and died.

“Holy mother of God...!” Chasme uttered, his eyes wide with horror. Strelok did not hear him but reading Chasme’s body language was enough:

“I hope that’s been a clear enough example of what happens if you are careless during a blowout!” he yelled. “And wake up before that snork offs you!”

The threat of the vicious mutant shook him off his daze. He climbed to the walkway next to the tracks, putting the group of rookies between him and the cargo bay. With a sign of his hand he indicated them to stay down so that he could have a clear field of fire. He searched for the man the snork had jumped; he had cruel slashes on the sides of his neck and was pale like a ghost, but nothing else.

The blowout started to subside. The thundering again became a low rumble. Chasme’s ears were left with a ringing, but he could unmistakably make the grumbling of the snork coming from behind the wagon. It seemed to him it the noise was slowly but steadily moving towards the gate leading to Agroprom...

Something appeared from behind the wagon. Chasme fired at the snork as it pounced towards the irradiated corpse of the rookie; the mutant fell heavily with a gaping hole on the side of its chest.

“Good shot, kid,” Guide said. “Everyone stay where you are.”

Some twenty-odd seconds later, the skies went totally dark, announcing the end of the blowout. Rain started falling.

“It seems we’re safe now. Scourge and Whip, keep an eye on this gate for the moment.”

“You got it,” one of them said. Which was Scourge and which was Whip was difficult to tell; they both used the same vests, masks, and weapons. Seriy noted Guide’s curious expression:

“They’re twins.” He turned to the newcomers: “Who’s your leader?”

A small, wiry blond man in his forties stepped forward. “Name’s Blackjack. Thanks for letting us in.”

Strelok lowered his shotgun, but kept his finger on the trigger guard; something was amiss. Blackjack walked up to Chasme and shook his hand. “Thanks for saving my friend Screws, here.”

“No problem. Sorry about your other friend.” The stalkers started dispersing themselves over the hangar. The man sighed.

“We can only bury him now. And learn from his mistake.”

Strelok studied the men. Most matched the stereotype of the rookie stalker, dressed in hooded sweatshirts, jeans or cheap military clothing; many had the pallor typical of those who weathered a blowout for the first time. Except one who was particularly edgy.

“Seriy, search this asshole.” He aimed his shotgun at the man, who raised a hand in protest and started to say something, only to be cut short by the sound of Strelok cocking his shotgun. Blackjack shook his head slowly and sighed again.

His hunch proved right. The man had a PDA on his pocket, with a microphone strapped to his chest and plugged into it. “You sorry fucker,” the Marked One muttered. The rest of Seriy’s stalkers circled around the group of newcomers, weapons ready. He aimed at Blackjack: “You have exactly ten seconds to tell me who are you working for before I blast your brains off.”

Screws, the man attacked by the snork, answered. “We picked this guy up on our way back from Agroprom. He said bandits had robbed him.”

Guide stared searchingly at the rest of Blackjack’s men; not one of them evaded his piercing glare. “He’s telling the truth.”

“Or they’ve rehearsed this a lot of times.” He pulled the snitch by the collar of his jacket. “Who the fuck you work for? And don’t you bullshit me.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll talk!” The man coughed explosively. When he could breathe again, he said in a rush: “I was hunting for artifacts in Agroprom and a squad of mercs ambushed me. They let me go on condition of doing some ‘recon duty’ for them. The leader said he’d even pay me for it if I brought him something juicy.” Chasme snorted.

“And you actually BELIEVED them?”

“If he’s telling the truth, he can’t be blamed,” Guide said.

“Is someone receiving anything from this thing now?” Strelok asked with a dangerous edge on his voice. The man flinched and nodded almost imperceptibly. “Son of a sorry bitch... Seriy, stay on this asshole.” He picked up a Makarov pistol from among the weapons discarded by Blackjack’s group, unloaded it and expelled all the rounds from the clip, save one; he loaded the magazine into the gun and tossed it to the snitch: “Get the hell outta here before I change my mind.” The man ran out of the hangar as if pursued by a mutant. “Just fantastic...”

“What should we expect?” Seriy asked.

“Lots of firepower,” Guide answered. “Mercenaries pack state-of-the-art gear. They’ll be tough opponents.”

Blackjack closed in slowly. “Let me help. I brought you the problem in the first place.” Strelok shook his head.

“That’s very heroic of you, but I wouldn’t like to bury you all. You rookies would just get in the way and die for nothing.”

“I can handle myself.” He turned towards the rest of his group. “You should head back to the cordon area. It will be much safer there. Screws and Ogre,” he said to a towering man and to the one who had been attacked by the snork, “please take them to the cordon. I’ll meet you there.” Ogre nodded and barked a few orders; soon, the rookies were leaving the hangar.

“Why these bastards have to come here?” Seriy said tiredly, crouching next to Strelok and Guide.

“We don’t need to know that,” the Marked One replied. “What we’ll need are guns for your men. We won’t beat off an attack from these suckers with the toys you have here.”

“Hmph. Easier said than done.” Strelok smiled to himself.

“Gimme two of your men. Chasme, Guide, come on,” he said. “We’re off to the stash.”
  18:13:23  23 June 2009
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yagoo
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On forum: 10/04/2008
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This is going along well,please post more
  19:32:48  23 June 2009
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QuaNTuMbenxh
Albanian Monsteя!
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On forum: 10/05/2008
Messages: 918
MORE I need more and no cliffhangers please
 
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