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A change of career

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  23:30:55  21 August 2009
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On forum: 09/12/2007

Message edited by:
08/21/2009 23:31:44
Messages: 21
A change of career

"Oh God, please help me. Help me survive this!"

"You should have killed him". The footsteps of the two men raised echoes on the narrow hallway. Echoes that somehow covered the whisper. The firing officer from Stepanov's Hind continued: "Just a couple of rounds and you wouldn't have given the opportunity to the pig to do this".
"Do what?", Stepanov asked.

The incident in question happened almost a week ago. Stepanov and his partner were flying over The Zone (Stepanov found this name more appropriate) to test high altitude, directional anomaly detectors. The scientists back at Pryluki airbase mounted two of them (the egg-heads called it an 'interferometric device') and they were flying over the edge of the zone. Both military outposts (one at the south, the other near a broken bridge) signaled anomalies on the ground, so Cordon seemed to be the right area to test the rig.
While flying over the road, the Hind crew detected a man. We was near the road, next to a trailer, helping out a what seemed to be a wounded man. Thing is, wounded or not, good samaritan or not, no civillian activity was allowed in the zone. The normal protocol for this would even allow Hind pilots to attack the people involved. That day however, Stepanov decided to look the other way around.

And now, somehow, the pig (actually the commander of the airbase) found out about it.
Stepanov and his copilot stopped in front of the pig's door. He felt a light punch in his left shoulder, and heared the copilot: "Good luck!". He then knocked on the door.
"Come in!". The voice behind it was soft. Dangerously soft, for a man who was noted more for his yelling and screaming rather than for the moments he acted nice.
Stepanov went in, and closed the door behind him. Saluted, then froze in a perfect standing position.
"Ah, there's no need for such formalism", the pig started. He smiled and indicated a chair: "Please, have a sit.".
The pig was never nice. The only time the men from the airbase heared that the pig behaved nice was when one of the pilots stationed at Pryluki was demoted by him.
And he was nice again.
"This can't be right". Stepanov's mind was racing: "They can't demote me just for this. For God's sake, handling civilians inside the zone is the job of the military patro"
"I have sad news", the pig interrupted Stepanov's thoughts. "The higher-ups found about your little insubordonation", and he accentuaded the word insubordonation. "They want to set an example". Stepanov felt his palms getting moist.
"I did my best though, and you will not be demoted". The pig took a break, trying to find a trace of emotion, be it fear or joy, on Stepanov's face. But since the pilot was stubbornly staring at (apparently) something behind him, he continued: "But you will be transfered. From now on, you will be part of the air transport group", and he leaned forward, "stationed here, at Pryluki airbase".
Stepanov was still showing no emotion. That made the pig get bored, so he simply dismissed the former attack helicopter pilot.

Outside, his former coleague grabbed Stepanov's arm: "Well? Are you going to tell me what happened?". "I got 'transfered'", Stepanov started, "to the transport group stationed here".
The face of the copilot lightened up: "Hey, that's not so bad. It means you'll still get to fly, right?".
  08:12:10  2 September 2009
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On forum: 02/20/2008
Messages: 127
Interesting perspective that I haven't seen before, cool way to add on something in the early part of the game that not many people might think about (I like how you assume that we all help the guy).

Just work on grammar, and I'd love to see more.
  13:39:18  2 September 2009
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On forum: 09/12/2007
Messages: 21

Interesting perspective that I haven't seen before, cool way to add on something in the early part of the game that not many people might think about (I like how you assume that we all help the guy).

Just work on grammar, and I'd love to see more.

Lol, indeed, first time I played the game I didn't give the medkit to Tolik, I kept it for myself. After that, each time I started a new game I'd give the medkit to him and take my chances with the bandits either wihout medkits,

** spoiler! **

or by getting the one inside one of the boxes in the trailer.
  21:57:11  4 September 2009
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On forum: 09/12/2007

Message edited by:
09/04/2009 22:21:16
Messages: 21
Stepanov did get to fly. Once in a month. And even then, as a copilot. A copilot in a transport helicopter. Stepanov didn't know what to think now. Initially he was happy the pig didn't demote him, but now ...
"Thing is", Stepanov concluded to himself, "as a Hind firing officer, although you don't actually fly the machine, you still have the guns to toy with. But in a transport helicopter?"
He arrived to this opinion after his first flight. He and his current pilot were scheduled to ship supplies to a remote science lab, placed in the Yantar area. When they arrived the first time, they were greeted by a leutenant and the two scientists that were living there.
"They want to make sure the equipment arrived ok", the leutenant explained to the pilot, while Stepanov scanned the area.
"What a stink hole", Stepanov noted to himself. "A swamp that most likely is infested with mosquitoes, a factory that looks entirely made of rust and irradiated bricks and dead trees". He almost smiled: "And I though I had it bad, the people living here most likely have a daily urge to put a bullet through their heads and get it ov" -
"Ok, we're dusting off!", the pilot broke through the trail of thoughts Stepanov was having. "See you next time!", he then shouted to the leutenant. The former just waved his hand.
"Just in time for dinner!", the pilot told Stepanov. When noticing that his colegue wasn't paying attention, he then noted: "Hey, I know this is not a Hind, but we're still flying, right?". "Well", Stepanov replied, "I feel more like a passenger here, to be honest".
"Ha ha ha", Romanov, his coleague, started to laugh. "Come on, you could be doing much worse. You could have been demoted by the commander, and never fly again.". Seing that Stepanov didn't change his mind state, he added something: "You know what? Why don't you handle the flight back to the base? I mean I shouldn't be doing all the work, you know", he concluded trying to look upset.
"Well, looks like this guy is not that bad", Stepaonov thought to himself while taking a better look at his new coleague trying to mimic a bad mood. "40, maybe 45 years old. Did he get to see some action in his days?".
While he was thinking on this, he took the control of the helicopter. "Funny", Stepanov started, "although lighter than a Hind, this one moves slower". Romanov nodded and replied: "It's a different rotor design. Add to that weaker engines and you get this"-. He then stopped mid sentence and asked: "Wait a minute, why are we changing course?" The older man looked a bit scared. Stepanov flew many times over Rostok back when he was a hind pilot, and he managed to memorize a 3d map of where each anomaly was located at theit flight altitude. Basically, he had the experience needed to navigate almost any helicopter in almost any place in The Zone. In this particular case, over Rostok.
Romanov however, considering his reaction, was not such a man.
"Don't worry", Stepanov tried to calm down his new partner, "I flew over this area many times. Plus, we'll save some fuel". Romanov was not thrilled: "So? I didn't, and if something does happen, how the heck am I supposed to get back? And what if the commander finds out about this little escapade, who's ass do you think will get burned?"
"If he had balls, he lost them by now", Stepanov thought about his older partner. "Listen", he started, "we're almost out. From Garbage I'll give you back the control", trying to calm him down.
The thought of flying over more secure areas did manage to calm down Romanov. But now, unlike before Stepanov took control over the helicopter, Romanov was genuinely upset.

"Leave the bottle here", Stepanov told the bartender. By some miracle, he had a two days leave. And since miracles come in pairs, his former gunner was in the same bar, at the same time. "That bad, huh?" he asked pointing to Stepanov's bottle.
"You have no idea ...", Stepanov sighed. "We fly once in a couple of weeks, over safe zones. God forbid to do something rational like saving fuel and use the experience of other crew members!".
"Ha ha ha", his gunner started to laugh, "you miss the Hind already, huh?". Seeing that Stepanov didn't enjoy the joke, he sat next to him: "Ok, so what's that bad about flying supply choppers anyway?". Seeing he gets no reaction from Stepanov, he continued: "Heck, flying over safe zones might not be that bad. Just the other day, while flying over Rostok, somebody down there fired an RPG at us". Stepanov started to laugh: "An RPG? At a Hind?". The gunner smiled: "Well, ok, they missed, but still, they get more and more daring". He took a break, grabbed a glass from the table and, while pouring himself from Stepanov's bottle, he asked: "And how's your new partner?"
"Eh ..." Stepanov's voice was anything but thrilled. "He's an old man hoping to live long enough to be retired. Lacks balls." His former firing officer almost chocked then started to laugh quietly. "Oh man", he started, "sorry to hear that. I guess then that each mission is as exciting as a trip to the library".
Stepanov started to laugh as well, also trying to keep quiet: "He almost crapped his pants on our way back, come on! And we didn't get fired upon. He just got scared by the perspective of flying over Rostok".
"Well", his partner started, while getting up, "ok, he gets scared easily, I guess. But still, Rostok is Rostok. Just remember what I said earlier about the people shooting RPGs, ok? Now, take care, man. I'll catch you back at the base, ok?".
Stepanov just nodded, and then his friend left the bar.
  22:59:40  7 September 2009
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On forum: 09/12/2007
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"You're quite lucky, considering what happened to your friend"

"We're flying with you?!" Stepanov's face betrayed the surprise. His former gunner and a new pilot were waiting for him and Romanov. The gunner was smiling, from one ear to the other.
"Lt. Romanov, Lt. Stepanov", the new pilot started, "we'll be giving you some cover. We've spotted increased activity in the Rostok area, somebody even tried to shoot us down with an RPG". He then concluded: "Anyway, those are the orders: we're to escort you guys to Yantar".

Stepanov and Romanov were again heading to Yantar. If in the first trip there they carried equipment, this time they were loaded with food, some weapons and also loads of ammo. Lt. Ignat, stationed at the mobile lab in Yantar, reported attacks on the lab; while they still had ammo, it was not a bad idea to have them well supplied.

"Is it that bad now that we need an escort?". Romanov was visibly worried, the 'stunt' Stepanov pulled on their last trip to Yantar was still fresh in his mind. Added to that was also the incident in which ground forces in the Wild Territory (that was the informal name for that part of Rostok) fired an RPG at the Mi24 helicopter that was about to escort them. All in all, a mission that turned from cozy to dangerous. Not something to Romanov's liking.
"Not really", the other pilot replied, "but it won't do any harm. After that, we're supposed to do a bit of patroling around Yantar. The scientists there reported hostile activity, and the commander received orders that the security of the scientists is a top priority objective".
"What?!" Instead of relaxing him, the words of the Hind pilot had the opposite effect. He realized that, so he tried to calm Romanov: "Don't worry, we're talking about small weapons fire. Plus, before you guys try to land, we'll make sure the place is clean. You'll be fine".
Romanov remained worried though. He didn't notice Stepanov and the gunner of the Hind exchanging amused looks on his own account.

The preparation of the two helicopter was well under way when the two pilots exchanged this dialogue. By the moment the Hind pilot was giving the last assurances to Romanov, both machines were ready to fly.

It was cold that morning. He could see his breath in the light, humidity from it condensing in front of him. He cursed to himself. He was standing in that damned place for more than two hours, and the blood circulation in his legs was not that good now. His left leg was almost asleep, so he started to rub to keep the blood flowing. On top of that, it was not safe to stay in one place for too long. Blind dogs, or snorks, or even worse, blood suckers, any of them could pose a threat for the single man.
The he heared them. Two helicopter rotors, comming in at below 1000 meters. He grabbed the Igla missile launcher and took aim in the general direction of the sound. Seconds after, the two helicopters passed over him, and the mercenary, after rotating to maintain aiming, had now a clear shot at the receding aircrafts.
"One transport helicopter, comming right up", he grinned while firing the missile.

"Oh man, I thing I managed to scare myself for nothing", smiled Romanov. Stepanov was not paying attention. He was looking at the Hind in front of them. He wished he was flying it. "So", Romanov continued, "let's radio to Yantar, and tell prof. Shakarov we're comming". Minutes ago, the pig radioed from Pryluki to the scientist, announcing an ETA of 23 minutes for the two helicopters.
Romanov reached for the radio controls when the helicopter made a sudden leap forward and up, like a giant foot kicked it. AT the same time, the cockpit lit up and started screaming at the flight crew using it's alert sounds: the left engine was on fire. Loosing fuel. Tepmerature rising in the right engine. Throttle down. Start the fire extinguisher system manually (the automatic one failed seconds ago). Check for altitude.
Surprise lasted for a split second. Romanov then grabbed the radio, announcing the problem to Pryluki, while Stepanov grabbed the flight controls on his side, trying to put the aircraft in a more gentle descent, so that their remaining engine would not be that stressed.
"Fuck!", Stepanov cursed out loud. "Find me a clear spot for landing!", he shouted at Romanov. Stepanov was again reacting as a Hind pilot, responsable for both his life and the firing officer. With the minor difference that fire officers on Hinds usually faced such situations much, much cooler. The didn't panick, unlike Romanov.
"Yantar is your best bet!", Stepanov heared his former partner, from the Hind that was now circling Rostok, in a futile attempt to find and kill the people behind the hit.

When they reached Yantar, their altitude was about 100 meters. Romanov was now praying: "Oh God, please help me. Help me survive this!"

The last thing Stepanov remembered before loosing his conscience was the right engine protesting under the load. Then failing.

Distant voices reached a knocked out Stepanov. "This one is alive!". Then a roar. Another man yelling "Get down!". Then gunfire. "We're clear!".
"-ver some of the supplies. What do you think?". The first voice replied: "Yes, you do that. Our friend here doesn't loo-".
Stepanov was trying to regain conciousness, but with little luck. In his attempts, he only managed to get pieces of a conversation that seemed so very distant.
"I think that was the only one", a voice from a radio broke through the veil of black Stepanov was experiencing. "How's our firend?" the same voice asked. "He's just knocked out, otherwise he's fin-"
Much to Stepanov's despair, the voices faded, like an invisible hand moved them a mile away from him.

"Snork, from snorkel", another radio like voice broke through.

"Your men could be zombies by now", the second voice finnished. Stepanov was now starting to panick: "What the hell happened?" he thought to himself. He then noticed that the black veil was slowly turning red. "... must see ...", Stepanov concentrated.

When he managed to open his eyes, Stepanov let out a sigh. Most likely the bright light from the room he was layed in disturbed him. However, he managed to get the attention of two men. They were scientists, from their exterior appearance. One of them, mid 30s, while the other one well older than 50.

"Where am I?", Stepanov asked. "Hello", the older looking man started, "I'm professor Shakarov, and my friend here is professor Vasiliev. You're safe now, you're at the mobile lab in Yantar."

"Yantar?!" Stepanov was puzzled. Then it all came back to him. The hit, the desperate attempt to land near the lake. The crash.

"Romanov! Where's Romanov?" Stepanov made a sudden move to get up from the bed, but the migrene he experienced from the moment he woke up was stroger than his will, so he crashed back.
"Hold on there", Shakarov stopped him from a second attempt at getting up. "Try just to sit up for now, ok?". He reached for a cup that the other scientist, Vasiliev, prepared. "Here, drink some water". Stepanov did so, and thus provided Shakarov some time. The old man then spoke: "Your friend is dead, unfortunately. He was dead when we arrived there. A piece of glass perforated his throat, severing the main arteries". Shakarov sighed, then went on: "You're quite lucky, considering what happened to your friend", Shakarov concluded. "They're sending in a BTR to transport you out of here tomorrow morning".
  23:31:16  25 September 2009
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On forum: 09/12/2007

Message edited by:
09/25/2009 23:35:36
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BTR? The only way from Yantar to Agroprom was through Rostok and Garbage. While Garbage was not too much of a challenge, Stepanov was more worried about Rostok. And for good reason, since he and Romanov were shot down while flying over that area. If the people down there mahaged to get their hands on surface to air missiles, they will surely have RPG to take down the BTR.
It just didn't make any sense to use a BTR, but Stepanov was too out of contact with reality when the old man (he recommended himself as Shakarov) told him the plans for his evacuation.
In the morning, however, Stepanov managed to reach this conclusion, and for the first time in his whole career as a helicopter pilot he regreted he didn't have the time to get one of those short AKs with him. The thought of being trapped inside a BTR without any weapons to defend himself if needed made his hair stand up.

"- of their own men". Stepanov went out of the bunker to join the two scientists while waiting for the BTR. His arrival seemed to put an end to the discussion the two were having. The pilot didn't get the whole conversation, but what he heared only convinced him he was right. Indeed, a BTR through Rostok would definitely jeopardize the life of the men inside. He had no idea the two were actually talking about the EMF emissions that they were covertly investigating.

The BTR arrived shortly, and one of the soldiers offered to carry Stepanov. Since he still felt groggy, he accepted the help of the soldier, after excahnging salutes with the commander of the mission. While being carried over, Stepanov noticed that the men were carrying Thunder assault rifle. Like an echo to his thought, Shakarov asked: "You expect problems?"
"Our main mission is to find and arrest a group of STALKERs. They are part of a dangerous group, called -". Stepanov could not hear how the conversation ended, he was already inside the vehicle, and the engine noise covered the answer of the commander. He was not happy though. It seems that his own safety return to the Pryluki air base was just a secondary objective. And to top it all, their primary mission involved combat. After surviving a helicopter crash, Stepanov was under the impression his luck ran out. A combat mission would have been streching it.

Before leaving, the soldiers inside the BTR stepped out, readying their weapons.Then the back doors slammed shut as the commander stepped in. There was no turning back now.

Inside, Stepaonov could not make out the exact destination of their mission. The commander did mention something to the two scientists, but he couldn't make it out from inside of the troop carrier. He did notice that the vehicle pitched, like climbing, then turned left.
He then tried to remember the mental map he had made on this area. If he was right, they would be heading towards the industrial complex. The only image he had about it was brick buildings and pipes. All looking old, rusted and a radiation hazard.
"Keep your eyes open", the commander radioed to the men outside the vehicles. "We're bound to meet some zombies". "Understood".
The dry dialogue made Stepanov's mind race. Zombies? What was that all about?

He didn't have the luxury to continue his trail of thoughts. 4 shots where heared outside, fired almost instantly.
"Yuri! Serghei!" the commander called, "what's going on?"
"Two zombies sir". The voice from the radio continued: "Serghei and me fired and two of the soldiers, to be sure".
The prospect of being trapped inside an enclosure, without knowing what was going outside, was driving Stepanov insane. He had to get out. "Sir", he started, "permission to join the soldiers on foot!".
The commander found the thought amusing. In reality he didn't care if the pilot would die or not. They were not a rescue mission, and from his point of view, Stepanov was just a burdeon. He turned to the driver and tapped his soldier, while calling through the radio: "Yuri, the pilot is getting out of the transporter. Fetch him a weapon from one of the zombies and then take the rear with him".
Stepanov let out a sigh of relief when outside. Although less protected, he had his field of view unobstructed, much like the view he got used to from the Hind. Yuri (he was a corporal) handed him an AK74 and a belt containing 3 clips for it. "Sir, this will be your weapon". He stopped for a bit then continued: "It would be safer if you'll avoid firing it". He had a point, and Stepanov realized he lacked the combat experience, so he could easily turn into a loose cannon. Well, assault rifle to be more accurate.

Both him and Yuri slowed down, allowing the rest of the convoy to pass them. The last soldier looked a bit amused at Stepanov; he just pulled out the clip from his newly aquired gun, trying to estimate how many bullets were still left in it. Meanwhile, the BTR took a left turn and entered the complex through a corroded gate, on the left of the road. To the right the land formed some sort of small valley. A rusted bus was at it's bottom. Closer to the road, a container, with something burning in it.
"Nothing really special to this place", Stepanov muttered more to himself. "Agreed", Yuri replied. "What the hell would a group of STALKERs want from this place?", he then asked. He realized Stepanov was not up to date with the main objective of their mission, so he continued: "Our primary objective is to find and arrest a group of STALKERs headed to Yantar. We were on our way when Pryluki asked to also evacuate you from this place".
As they were speaking, they reached the same gate the BTR and the rest of the group went through.
"So much for evacuation", Stepanov grinned, pointing the gate with his weapon. Encouraged by the leutenant disregarding any kind of military code, Yuri laughed quietly and started to answer: "Well, that's the best they managed to set up in short tim-"
He didn't have time to finnish the sentence; gunfire errupted in the front of the convoy. However, the sound of AK's was now accompanied by both the 14.5 mm heavy machinegun of the BTR and what seemed to be enemy fire. AK's, and a gun Stepanov never heared before.
The pair darted ahead, leaning forward as to present a small target to the enemy.
"Watch our back!", the commander yelled at both Stepanov and Yuri.
The enemy fire was comming from somewhere across what seemed to be an empty concrete water tank. More of a swimming pool in size.
The BTR placed itself between the pool and the barely visible enemy, and the gunner started to fire longer bursts, trying to suppress the people firing at the convoy.
The soldiers also joined the APC, trying their best to sustain the fire. The commander was already picking up the people who would then flank the enemy, when something happened.

Stepanov and Yuri were facing the rusted gate (now from inside), making sure nobody would come through it to surprise the group, when they heared a roar. Despite the gunfire, everybody heared it, because the convoy stopped firing for an almost two good seconds. The soldiers turned around, trying to figure out the source of it. They didn't realize they got too close to one of the buildings until ... something was visible on top of it.
Looked like human, except it was standing on all four. A gas mask seemed to be permanently fixed on their face, but there was no filtering cartrige at the end of the hose. Further more, the lower part of the rubber mask was ripped off, exposing teeth. The trace of a mouth that was still there seemed to be streched into a permanent green, allowing the teeth to be visible.
Then five of these creatures leaped from the building in the middle of the goup of soldiers.

Stepanov and Yuri watched in horror, and helpless, how panic spread among the soldiers. Just a minute ago, they were the ones having the advantage, with the heavy machinegn suppressing the enemy across the pool and a assault team ready to flank them. Now, these creatures managed to mix with their own.
In a desperate attempt to save their life and to force the new threat to retreat, the soldiers opened fire. With unfortunate results: the creatures managed to take one soldier out on their own. The remaining soldiers got killed on account of friendly fire.
Like in a horror movie, the two whitnessed how one creatures jumped inside the BTR, through the back doors. They only caught a glimpse of the gunner trying to get out through one of the top hatches, then being dragged back inside, most likely by the creature.

"Let's go!". Yuri surprised Stepanov with this. He ran back 15-20 meters, then turned back to Stepanov, while aiming with his gun at a point behind the pilot.
"Come on!". A roar behind him pulled Stepanov out of his frozen state, and he dashed towards Yuri, trying to give the soldier a clear shot at whatever was behind him.
The snork however didn't bother to follow them, so the two managed to retreat.
The pair started to fall back towards the mobile lab. They didn't get too far, and they hearded talking.
The words didn't make sense. Nor did the manner in which the people who uttered them moved around. Aimless.
Stepanov fired instinctively. He hit one of the three people in the chest, and much to his horror, the man didn't fall to the ground. He saw how the muzzle of the baby AK his enemy was holding started to rise. He couldn't help feeling how his brain became incapable of sending any reactions to his limbs.
For the second time in this short ammount of time, it was Yuri who managed to cause the pilot to snap out. This time however the words were "Bam - bam - bam". And they were shouted by Yuri's Groza, addressed to the head of the baby AK owner.

The remaining two zombies raised their weapons as well, but by now both Stepanov and Yuri were prone, aiming at their heads.
Both the AK and the Groza spoke first, stealing any chance of reply from the sawn-off shotgun and the Makarov.

"We were lucky!", Stepanov started, turning to Yuri. "Not quite so", the soldier replied, pointing towards the lab. The pilot turned around: more zombies and snorks were comming from the marsh near the lab. The first ones were already near the bunker's door. "The lab is off limits for now".
  23:38:09  17 January 2010
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On forum: 09/12/2007
Messages: 21
"Ha ha ha, got'em!" Romanov laughed through the intercom. Stepanov groaned in reply, but seconds later he became alert. Not because an immediate threat: the group of STALKERs who infiltrated the facility from the Red Forest were taken care off, and now their Hind was climbing. What Stepanov could not explain (and what ultimately triggered his reaction) was the fact that Romanov was the firing officer.
"Poor bastards", Stepanov mumbled, while setting course back to Pryluki. The comm was turned on and Romanov heared him. His reply had no emotion in it: "Don't pitty them. In any race there will be acidents, there will be victims". "A race to what?" Stepanov asked. "Up here the radiations are too high for anybody to survive. Not to mention the goons that worship a monolith and fire at anybody that is not one of their own."
"The Wish Granter!" Romanov started. "That monolith that the cultists adore is the same thing with the Wish Granter"
"Come on!", Stepanov argued, "there's nothing in this world that can materialize any whish". "Oh yeah?" Romanov replied. "Then how do you explain anomalies? These pockets of energy? It's not like This one seems alive".
"What?!" Stepanov asked. The last sentence just didn't make any sense in the context. And much to his horror, the noise of the Hind's engines dimmed down into darkness.
Stepanov was left in the dark, with just Romanov's face. A face that started to strech and thin, while disolving in the dark background and mumbling on different voices: "It could be a zombie by now". "Don't think so, he had a metal helmet on. That might have shielded him, at least partially".
The darkness surrounding Stepanov thinned out a bit in front of him. From black, it turned to red, then a streak of light pierced through.
"What the fuck?!" Stepanov asked, more to himself.
"Easy!", a voice from outside the darkness adviced him, then continued: "For now, just open your eyes. See?", the voice argued to the other one, "he's not a zombie!".
Stepanov felt that he had his eye lids sawn shut; he had to put a lot of effort to focus on simply moving them.
"He's a soldier. He needs our help", the voice continued, "and we will help him. We owe it to Shakarov.". The second voice sighed, then replied: "Fine by me. We should hurry though: he got knocked out by the blowout, and so will we if we stay here long enough for a second one".
"Ok", the first voice agreed the second one, "we should move then. I'll radio Lukash and tell him I'm bringing in guests".
Stepanov felt himself being picked up. Next second, the first voice placed him on it's shoulder and the trio started to move to the military wharehouse.

How much time has passed? Stepanof had no idea. The bright light seemed to pierce through his eyes straight into his brain, triggering one of his worse headaches. He groaned.
"Yo Screw!", a man in a green suit next to him shouted. "The dude you got back just woke up!". He was answered with the sound of footsteps getting closer. A figure then filled the doorway, looked at him then nodded to the green suit: "You should also let Lukash know, he'll want to ask him some questions".
He then sat down on a chair near Stepanov and turned to him: "Take it easy for now. I'm Screw. Can you talk?". Stepanov barely articulated a "Yes", and Screw started laughing: "Riight ... you can barely say 'yes'. Let me fill you up with what happened, ok?". Stepanov nodded afirmatively, then groaned again: even the slight movement of his head made his headache worse. Screw noticed that: "Don't move your head for now, it'll only make you feel worse. Just tap with your right hand index if you're agreeing, ok?"
Stepanov tapped, so Screw continued: "We found you outside the Rostok area. Most likely the latest blowout caught you in the open. Any idea what you were doing there?"
While asking the question, a second figure stepped in the room. He interrupted Screw: "Most likely he won't be able to answer that right now.". Screw tried to stand up, but the second man placed his hand on Screw's shoulder, pushing him back on the chair: "No need."
Screw decided it would be best to repeat the question, this time adding: "By the way, he's Lukash, he's in charge of this place."
Stepanov articulated a 'No'. "Where am I?"
Lukash responded: "You're at the Freedom base. You're safe, as far as I can say, but we don't know for sure how badly you were affected by the blowout.". He turned to Screw: "Listen, find Chef, and tell him I need some vodka. Bring the bottle back here, ok?". Screw nodded: "Yes Sir", and ran off.
Lukash then turned to Stepanov: "First time a pilot drops by, if you pardon the pun. What happened?"

The sentence had the same effect as a powerful slap on Stepanov's face. He remembered everything. He started talking about the same time Screw came in with a bottle of Cossaks in his hand.

"We were flying over Rostok when we got shot down. We were carrying supplies for the scientists stationed near Yantar". He took a shot of vodka. The alcohol entered blood circulation almost immediately, since he had an empty stomach.
"Romanov and I - Romanov was the pilot", he thought needed to explain, "Romanov and I managed to keep us in the air almost all the way to Yantar, but the left engine was blown off, and the right engine died soon after we reached the marshes".
"No fucking way!!" Screw was honestly amazed by the story, and he continued: "No fucking way! You're the pilot Shakarov and Vasiliev rescued, aren't you?"
Lukash tapped screw on the shoulder, trying to temper him: "Easy, easy. Let the man talk."
Stepanov nodded, then groaned again. "Keep it still man", Screw smiled, "you're making me think that the blowout took out your short term memory or something". Stepanov grinned, and replied: "Yeah, I'm the same guy". He then stopped, not knowing if to continue or not.
"We know about the military patroll", Lukash started, sensing the hesitation. "Were you part of it?"
"Yes and no", Stepanov replied. He noticed both Screw and Lukash got a colder look on their faces, so he continued: "I caught up that they were after a group of STALKERs, and their orders were then altered to also act as my evacuation".
"They were after some of our men", Lukash interrupted. His voice was as cold as his attidude. "Continue".
Stepanov began to regret that he mentioned having the BTR as escort. He sighed, and being fully aware he was at the mercy of the freedomers, continued: "We encountered resistance. We opened fire on four zombies, and then had to defend ourselves as we went deeper".
"You got fired upon when moving in? Where?" Lukash demanded to know.
"We got fired from across a concrete pool", Stepanov acknowledged. "The snorks however finished my party".
"Hold on a bit", Screwed jumped in, "did the snorks also attacked the people who ambushed you?". "What? No, I don't think so. They all jumped just on us, I mean the people wo were shooting at us did not seem to take notice of the mutants".
The attitide of both Lukash and Screw seemed to improve a bit after this last sentence. Stepanov didn't know what to think of this whole interrogation, so he asked: "Why? What happened?"
Screw replied: "Snorks do not attack zombies. It's likely that you got ambushed by zombies". "Well, what difference does it make?" Stepanov asked. He was answered this time by Lukash: "It means that our team was most likely KIA before you guys got there. It means you didn't kill them, so you get to live instead of getting shot now. Does that make a difference?".
Stepanov nodded, and just like the two times before, groaned in pain. "Good", Lukash continued, his voice still cold. "Either way, nothing guarantees that you didn't kill some of our men in other ocasions. In four hours you'll leave our base, recovered or not." Lukash turned around and left. Screw hesitated for a second, then whispered: "Find Murk, in the bloodsuckers village. He'll help you."
  21:07:49  15 May 2010
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On forum: 09/12/2007

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05/15/2010 21:11:08
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The exit of both Lukash and Screw left inside the room a very confused Stepanov. He was able to understand their reaction, to some extent. Still, he didn't kill any STALKERs, Freedom or from other groups. Hell, the reason he ended up here, Stepanov thought, was because he looked the other way several weeks ago on his patrol over Cordon. "Cursed fate!", Stepanov whispered to himself.
After an hour or so of harsh language, a good deal of it adressed to his fate, some to God and a much larger part to the freedomers, Stepanov started to pick himself up. Harsh language was then replaced by moans of pain: his head still hurt, admitedly less than an hour ago. He looked around the room. "A weapon, I'll need a weapon", Stepanov uttered to himself. He couldn't see any around, and the thought of going through that village with those creatures ("vampires? How did the freedomer called those things? " ) sent chills down his spine.
He stepped outside the building, a bit wobbly, but still on his feet. In front of him, a group of freedomers. One of them broke from the group, and started to walk towards him. "Here we go ...", Stepanov thought. He feared retaliations from the STALKER, especially thar by now most of them would know that he's military.
Nothing happened though, and Stepanov recognized the man as being Screw. "You're leaving us so soon?", Screw tried a joke. A bad one, Stepanov thought. He decided to play along thouh: "Yes, my wife and kids are waiting for me". His reply made Screw laugh, and Stepanov to relax a bit. "Well, do you know where to go, at least?" Screw asked. Stepanov had to admit he had absolutely no idea. He got Screw's hint about visiting a neighouring village, but he had no clue where to head to. That, and he didn't have a gun.
"You'll need help", Screw started. He took a pause, then continued: "Let's walk out of here". Stepanov didn't know wether to trust the freedomer or not. He was also aware that in a location filled with people that might turn into enemies the next minute, he had no choice. His lack of enthusiasm in his "Ok" betrayed that.

After they passed what seemed to be the main entrance (a barrier with sandbags and three freedomers on guard) and left it well behind, Screw started to talk again: "Do you belive in second chances?". The contrast between Lukash's attitude and Screw's question left Stepanov speechless. Screw continued: "I didn't belive in it, at the beginning. You know, you made your own bed, now you lay in it, that sort of stuff". Screw then pulled Stepanov towards the right side of the road: "Trust me, you don't want to step into a springboard ...". He then continued: "But then, something happened. By all the written rules, I was supposed to be dead. Either shot, or later killed by a blowout". He left the road and started to climb a small hill. Stepanov had no choice but to follow and listen. Screw continued: "So, we were supposed to be dead. But here I am, alive and kicking. You know why?" and he paused, expecting an answer from Stepanov. "Because you got a second chance?", Stepanov asked. "Eeeexactly. And you know who gave me that chance?". Stepanov stared to fear that his newly found friend might turn out into a religious nutcase. "God?" he asked. "Bwwwa ha ha ha ha", Screw bursted into laughter. "Come on man, get serious". They were reaching the top of the hill they were climbing. The familiar sight of old abandoned houses layed down. "There is no God here. He has nothing to do with this".
He then stopped, reached for his holster and grabbed his sidearm. He then handed over the gun to a frightened Stepanov. "Relax, I don't have plans to kill you. Take the gun, and hope you won't need it". He then started the downhill walk, Stepanov following in silence. Screw continued: "Vasiliev and Shakarov. They gave me the second chance". He paused, to follow Stepanov's reactions. "They also gave you another chance to live, by dragging you from the crash site to their bunker". "Do you belive in fate?" he asked, but he didn't bother to wait for the answer: "Maybe it was your fate to be rescued by the two egg-heads. And maybe it is mine to help you, much like Shakarov helped both of us".
"He's military, you can drop the fate bullshit", a voice Stepanov recognized as the second voice of his rescuers. "Murk!", Screw yelled. "You two found me ...", Stepanov uttered. Murk and Screw didn't hear him. They were busy shaking hands and patting backs, so Stepanov cleared his throat, and for the first time in that day, asked a good question: "How is me being here going to help me?".
"Well", Murk started, "you're still alive. And being here with us might be safer than in the Freedom base". Stepanov nodded, headache slowly fading away: "Still, I can't stay here forever. I'm pretty sure you guys need to be resupplied, and Screw mentioned vampires. Not the kind of animal I'd keep as a pet". "Bloodsuckers", Murk interrupted him. "I'm pretty sure Screw used the word 'bloodsuckers'". "Who cares!", Stepanov jumped back in, "I still don't see how staying here helps".
"Well", Screw decided to answer, "there are some basics that you'll need: a suit, a gun and a clean PDA". He paused, then pointed at Stepanov: "The pistol, I'll have that back now, thank you. The flight suit is crap in terms of protection, and it paints a bullseye on you. Same for the PDA". Murk joined the conversation: "Now, I can get you a gun and a suit easily. Plenty of STALKERs come here just in time to end as blooducker food. And where they're going they won't be using their gun or their suit".
Stepanov had to ask: "And their PDAs?". Murk shook his head: "PDAs are off limit. STALKERs know each other, and if you were to use the PDA of a guy named 'Bes' in Garbage, people will know you're not him. Then you'll end up finding this stinking place a much more cozy home than any place in the Zone". He sighed, then continued: "We'll go see Shakarov about your PDA". After a second's worth of pause, he asked: "Question is, once your slate is clean, what will you do?"
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