| 04:31:06 21 February 2010
On forum: 07/14/2009
Message edited by:
Sappers and Miners (Explicit Content)|
"The worlds spotlight was once again focused on the Chernobyl exclusion zone as Irish UN peacekeepers shot and killed two American "adventurers" who were allegedly trespassing
into the zone. The Irish Ministry of Defense has refused to give out the names of the involved soldiers but has fielded an investigation in what has been called a 'tragic accident of misunderstanding'. American authorities have launched a parallel investigation into what they call 'a gross demonstration of incompetence'..."
"...at least four US marines were killed in the IED attack in central Teheran, officials claim..."
"Three people were killed last night as Russian security forces raided a Moscow-based "artifact black market" as a part of what Russian authorities have named "Operation Storm". At least 30 people were arrested and 200 pieces of illegal material was confiscated, making this one of the most successful operations in the war against artifacts."
"...Ukraine officials claim that they have the Zone under control, yet a motion was put forward yesterday in the Ukrainian House of Parliament to request more UN personnel to guard what has been dubbed "hell on earth". I'm Andy Rooney and you're watching CBS 60 Minutes..."
"...mass-riots in London as demonstrators clash against what they call 'an increasingly prominent Big Brother society'..."
"...Unsurprisingly, the Nobel prize for medicine was given to professor Sakharov for his breakthrough in treating leukemia. Sakharov was once again in the spotlight only a week after when he made the highly controversial statement "I don't deserve the prize. The prize should go to all the stalkers who night and day, in face of great horror and danger, risk their lives to help the world and explore the wonders of the Zone."
"A public outcry was heard yesterday as Ukrainian police assaulted a peaceful Mutants Rights demonstration in central Kiev. The demonstration, which was held outside a military
headquarter, was dispersed by exoskeleton equipped riot-control police who fired teargas into the masses, sending several to the hospital with eye injuries and respiratory difficulties. Ukrainian officials have yet to make an official comment on the incident"
"Tensions rise once more as Russian and Chinese border guards engage in hostilities, sources claim. Neither country has reported any casualties, but in a press statement last week Chinese authorities claim that they'll go to any length to secure Chinese border sovereignty."
"Negotiations were re-opened yesterday concerning the Belgian smuggler who sits under arrest in Stockholm, Sweden. Our source claims that talks are "at a standstill" as it is still debated whether he falls under Swedish, Belgian or Ukrainian police jurisdiction. The smuggler have claimed "not guilty" in interrogations and have commented his arrest as "unjustified". The so-called "stalker" was arrested last summer at Arlanda airport by a border police officer who claimed to have recognized him from Interpol 'wanted-lists'..."
PROLOGUE - THE LOST SON
For an hour no one utters a word. The man had not moved as much as a muscle after dropping down on the other side of the camp-fire from where the stalker Battery was sitting. However, his gleaming eyes were hard-fixed on the stalker, hidden deep in the dark caves painted by the flickering light. A custom, a ceremony of sorts. A repetition of a routine, to Battery a game that he was both amused by and bored of. Neither spoke, testing the other.
"So you're back" Battery fells the painstakingly obvious remark at last. He knew the man in front of him too well. He wasn't exactly the talking type. He nods in reply, draws a deep breath and sighs.
"So I am"
Another hour passes. Stars appear as winds tear the cloud-draped skies. The newcomer lit a cigarette.
First daylight scorched the skies, mercilessly cutting through clouds and melting banks of fog. A beautiful, unhealthily orange glow overflowing the horizon. Nature's imitation of a near drowned man finally getting to fill his lungs with air, as if night was to never leave the world and now celebrated the contrary by cascading fireworks of vibrant colors.
"Mornings like these are reason enough to return to this place..." the man comments quietly.
"How come every time I jump that piece of shit fence every sense in my body gets cranked up way above their safe limit? Like I'm revived from an existence in numbness, boiling blood pumping out life from the core of my soul to the tip of my fingers?"
He trails off, his body slumping as he realizes he'll never catch this feelings verbally... and some things are better unsaid.
His name was Famine. Battery would call him his best friend, an imperfect definition if he ever saw one. The man in front of him was his brother, his father, his son. His bodyguard and cross to bear, his proxy, priest and other half. As Famine would never be able to put words to his feelings towards the zone, Battery would never be able to properly describe their relationship. They had grown a bond only soldiers, survivors and stalkers could grow. They had even told each other their real names. Lone wolves in a world of wolves, each others world entire.
"Did you go see your family?" Battery sat with his legs folded up beneath him, his cigarette slowly sending out wisps of smoke from within a growing tower of ash.
"I went... home, Famine says with a grimace at the word "home". I didn't tell anyone I was coming, you think you should be able to come and go in the house you grew up in as you please... they had changed the locks, would you believe that? I went around the back of the house and came in through the kitchen door. I happened to come in right during a dinner party, you can guess how popular that was. Half of the people there looked like they'd seen a ghost, the rest looked like they were gonna be sick. My mother burst into tears, father stormed out of the room.
My sister was the only one who was genuinely glad to see me. The rest just stared at me... the staring, why are they always staring? I was hungrier than a stray dog, but their food tasted nothing but ashes. I couldn't choke it down, disgusted as I was by the people, by the house, the air of
falseness and hypocrisy, yet within I felt wildly triumphant. I felt in my heart that I had at last truly broken free, I was no longer apart of what had once defined me. The people who bred me and raised me,would now no longer be able to claim me. I had shattered my shackles and severed an umbilical cord feeding me nothing but poison. I just had to see it for myself, the final testament of my great escape."
"One by one the guests excused themselves with mumbling pleasantries of "how nice it'd been" and how "it was getting late". I guess they were worried I was going to rob them, or worse. I don't know what I expected going there. I guess I wanted to shock them. I wanted to spit them in the face one last time, rub it in, 'look what has become of your son, a robber, killer, looter, scum of the Earth'.
A final good-bye, a final 'fuck you!'"
He looked up as the wind rattled the leaves.
"... I don't know those people anymore."
"Sorry" Battery said cautiously, trying not to stir up another fit of anger.
"For what? For detaching myself from more bullshit? You mistake my anger for mourning, this is the celebration of my release, the amputation of ties and connections trailing back to the Big Land.
I've got the smell of the Zone on me. I've been infected, it runs through my blood and I welcome it.
It's the reason people in the Big Land don't sit near me, how they avoid my look and move out of my way. She's marked me. I've been burned by the radioactive branding-iron of Chernobyl. It's how it's always been and should be. They can't reach in, I can't reach out."
CHAPTER 1 - POWDER KEG
Battery's senses sluggishly drifted into waking again sometime around late noon, with the warming sun peering through the overhead foliage drawing shadow figures on the inside of his eyelids.
Famine, true to form, had not slept at all. Battery found him hanging upside down in a tree, smoking a cigarette while stropping a menacing-looking hunting-knife.
"G'morn'n" he greeted, every notion of his sullen mood vanished, "the way you sleep one might almost believe you've actually been working while I was gone"
"Yeah, cleaning up after you is a full time job, fucker" Battery replied yawningly, used to the others banter
"Hey, cleaning up after me is the least you can do to show some appreciation. If it weren't for me you'd be killed by a pack of dogs by now, or worse yet, still be spooning with Wolf back in rookie camp" he continued in his try to aggravate the other
"I'm sure that one day we'll find someone who will spoon you too, friend" Battery retorted absently while checking his PDA "If you must know, I've been helping our friends in the bright suits purge Yantar of snorks, zombies, and all kinds of shit. I also provided some perimeter defense against the Bandits” he added. “They're on the move, hungrier and in bigger numbers than ever before. I hope that'll translate into some good job opportunities on our behalf" he added with a smile and a shrug of his shoulders.
"Purging mutants and killing bandits? Holy fuck, you have been spooning with Wolf!"
"Aaand here's the money you didn't get" Battery finished as he'd never been interrupted, tapping the screen of his PDA Upon retrieving the buzzing PDA from his pocket Famine's eye shrunk as he laid eyes on the earnings he had not taken part of.
"Bollocks" he whispered disgruntled, noting that just the loot from dead Bandits made up for more than double of what his fathers wallet had contained.
"If you really wanna make some money, like really-really, you should set after Sultan, the Bandit chief. The price on his head is upped daily. You'd be an historic man!"
"The one thing all historic men have in common is that they're all dead" Famine mumbled preoccupiedly, still counting on just how much his Big Land hiatus had cost him.
"Just out of curiosity, how much is his head worth?" he asked
"Almost enough to get you laid" A big grin spread across Battery's face.
“Bada-bom tssch!” Famine mimicked while playing an invisible drum-set.
"Now, my little monkey, if you'd swing out of that tree we have stuff to discuss."
"All ears" Famine replied, landing limberly on all four.
"What I said about the Bandits is no joke, brother" Battery continued after easing himself down by yesterdays fireplace. "They're a threat to be reckoned with. Our friends believe they're being run from the outside now. Fuck knows but they are a hell of a lot better organized and equipped than what they used to. It's more of a militia than a band now. They still do the whole "rob-and-abuse-rookies"-thing but it's more serious now. Retreating at first sign of trouble gave away to skirmishing which has now evolved into head-on combat. The balance of power is shifting; ammo prices are up, if you know what I mean."
"Who's supplying them?" Famine inquired.
"No clue, could be anyone. Someone with a wish to see this place locked down, or to have more foreign troops come in. Someone who wishes to get leverage on Ukraine in foreign policy, someone with personal interest or personal gain, or just some fucking warmonger that wishes to see this place in war and anarchy. Since when did we ever give a fuck, friend?"
"You're right, brother. What about the loners?" Famine asked
"The Loners consider themselves a faction now. Yes, they too are getting support from someone, they're armed to the teeth and led by Wolf"
Battery continued, ignoring Famines snort at the mention of the fairly well-known stalker.
"They're quite the little gang of fighters, praising themselves as the Zone's righteous ones, white knights who sees it as their duty to rid Chernobyl of Bandits or some shit like that. It's all in the oath they swear. It kinda reminds of that crappy Kevin Costner flick, ohwhatsitcalled, “the Mailman”?"
"So's anyone even bothering to search for artifacts anymore?" Famine said jokingly
"Hardly" Battery replied, stone-faced "Everyone's just hunkered down, stocking up, waiting to see how this plays out"
"And how do we want it to play out?"
"I was waiting 'til you came back to decide on that. I do know that in a few weeks the Zone will be screaming for men like us. Things can play out however we want them too if we're patient"
They smiled wolfishly at each other and silently pondered the possibilities that laid before them.
They stayed up long after sundown that night, energetically discussing the future, their past, their lives, the Zone and the Big Land, slowly succumbing to drowsiness first sometime in the small hours. The morning that followed even surpassed the previous one, a brutal explosion in colors, aggressively repainting the world. However, what they'd remember that morning by was the cryptic one-sentence text message sent to Famines PDA.
"FATCAT CALLING ALL RATS COME HOME"
"Do you know who you should kill if you really wanted the Bandits to disappear?" Famine asked, and continued before getting an answer "Sidorovich. People act as if these thugs just sprout out of the ground or gets flung out of some kind of foul anomaly. I betcha fucking 90% of these "bandits" get here the same way everyone else. Looking for adventure and money, jumping the fence with the best intentions of becoming a famous but honest stalker. Getting to that rookie village, what do they get? They get cheated by that calculating fat-fuck who lures them into his underground lair, like a fuckin' spider in the web, pouring honey in their ears as he sells them a barely working shotty and sends them on some suicide mission. And then on the ground level you get these rag-tag rookies with barely enough to eat, clothed in rags rejected by homeless people, wielding guns not even good enough to use for clubs. And they're all praising the "honest life", while that hubris-stricken tool Wolf leads them on.
So there you have it; On one side a person robbing and harassing everyone, sitting safe on a dragons treasure, and on the other hand the "real stalkers" without food for the day, living on pipe dreams of scoring it big by finding "the one" artifact. Which, of course, ain't never gonna be found by the perimeter, despite what Wolf wants them to believe. So the newcomers slip out into the night and gets recruited by the Bandits, who'll take them in as family and promise them revenge on those who have faulted them."
He racked the mechanism of his gun as he was just done cleaning it, or as to underline what he just said.
"You're acting like the only options are to live poor or rob people." Battery retorted absently without
stopping his inspection of a pair of NVG goggles. “Sure, the people in rookie camp are poor as shit, and yes, Sidorovich does personify everything wrong with the Zone. However, if you wanna make it big in the Zone it's up to you. No-one gets forced into being a thug. Every great stalker who has ever lived has been through that village, has dealt with Sid's games and lived like a goddamn dog before moving on to greater things. He who dares, win. That's especially true in this place."
"A lot of people dare, friend, but it is few who win. I've met a lot of people who dared but all they got was their limbs torn of in a Vortex. It's a dream fueled on by Wolf and Sid, since it's in their interest to keep it alive. I don't know how those two operate. Obviously they work in tandem, yet can't seem to stand each other. I guess their operation is just too fuckin' profitable to let their mutual despise for each other stand in their way. Most people who manage to stay alive long enough realize that, save for a brainwashed few who join Wolfie's little sect. I mean, look at Snook, how long as he not been in their service? Last time I saw him he was still wearing the same shit-stained jeans he was two years ago. How many times has he not almost died on one of their stupid little missions? What the hell have they promised him to keep him going? So anyway, yeah, the Bandits grow stronger by the day. The Zone is too well-known now. It's no longer a haven for romanticizing anarchistic artifact seekers, they're being out-numbered by the realists." Famine concluded, dry-mouthed.
"Don't give me this "it's not their fault"-bullshit” Battery snapped back “You may not know what you're getting yourself into by jumping that fence, but you sure as hell know what it means to join
the Bandits. There's only one way to rid the Zone of Bandits--"
"Is what, brother? Killing every Bandit there is?"
"Yes, damnit!" He raised his voice, losing his cool "Kill 'em all, make an example. Let people know that joining the Bandits is a fucking death sentence, no mercy in any way, shape or form."
"How typical of you to see everything in black or white. But brother, this isn't the fight between the good and the bad. Your Christian rules don't apply to this place, God have deserted this land. There is no black or white, there are only shades of gray. What makes a bandit isn't some kind of inherent evil, it's a decision to dwell into the darker shades of gray to makes end meet, or to survive. You of any person should know this. Principles will only serve to get you killed here."
"Sometimes good men must resort to evil deeds to rid the world of bad men, if there's something I know, it's that. The difference is that the Good do Bad out of necessity while Evil does it for the sake of the deed itself, out of spite or personal gain, something that doesn't serve a higher purpose"
Battery's voice trailed off, forgetting about the fragmentation grenade fuse that he was inspecting.
"And what does that make us?" Famine asked quietly, but Battery didn't hear, he was lost in memories.
They broke camp before noon, the sun already burning down as Famine carefully concealed the entrance to the cave they called home, camouflaging the trip wires around the entrance and masking the fire place with leaves and low bushes. He took a step back and inspected his work.
"That should do it! Damn, I'm good."
He pulled the safety on the last defensive charge, gave Battery a thumbs up and started to descend the hill down towards the Cordon and their meeting with the Fatcat.
Walking through the lush green forest he drew several deep breaths, savoring the rich aromas of the Zone that he knew so well, and loved so deeply. They'd walked for a little more than half an hour before slowing their pace, drawing closer to the Zones equivalence of civilization. From far away he could hear the infrequent crackling of small arms fire, the sound of combat dying down, were both sides are just taking the occasional pot-shot at each other but still haven't disengaged.
The trees started to grow far and few between before finally stopping at a tree line overlooking the part of the Zone commonly called the Cordon, named so by stalker because of the proximity to the military base. God knows what this part of the world was called before the accident, not that it mattered, it wasn't the same place no more. It was a beautiful landscape that stretched out before them with low rolling hills, sleepy meadows and small bushes that dotted the landscape. Sprinkled across the valley were a few derelict buildings of Soviet architecture, tainting beauty like moles on the face of a super model. In the far distance was the rookie village, merely a gray dot in the horizon, sun gleaming off the houses that were still standing. From beyond the village led a road through the valley, crossing a railway that lacerated the otherwise unscathed nature.
Crouching down by the trunk of a pine tree, Famine could see the cause of the noise. Down by a old cluster of buildings known by stalkers as "the Autopark" a group of Loners were sporadically exchanging fire with a detachment of Bandits holed up in the old shot-up cement structures. The Autopark held little real strategic value save for its adjacency to the rookie village. It's value was probably more of the sentimental kind, since it was always either being attacked, conquered or fortified. The tug-of-war between the Loners and the Bandits had been going on for as long as Famine could remember, or anyone else he'd talked to for that matter. He watched as one of the attacking stalkers toppled over, caught by a stray bullet. One of his fellow stalkers gave up a shout and ran from cover but was mercilessly gunned down by a string of automatic fire as he reached the body of his fallen comrade. This triggered another fit of gunfire, like the reaction of a disturbed anomaly.
"You done?" Battery's voice rasped over the intercom, and they moved again, moving low and fast to avoid detection by the fighting factions. Moving south they descended the last incline, skirted around a boars nest hidden in the uneven terrain and finally reached the cracked asphalt of the main road. They walked down the road side by side, in view of the military outpost poised at the end of it. A siren blares deafeningly and a voice crackles over a loudspeaker system;
"Stalker! You are trespassing on government property! Remain where you are and lend yourself over to our squad peacefully! If you fail to do so we will open fire! Thank you for your cooperation"
“Aw, for fucks sake...” Battery murmured
A squad of soldiers broke free from behind the walls of the base and warily moved out to intercept them, guns shouldered.
"Halt!" one of them ordered, likely the commanding officer "Stalker! You are tres--"
"Yeah yeah yeah, I heard you the first time. Twenty-seven"
"The password? The number 27? Remember?" Famine replied impatiently
"Oh right... Err... Carry on, then" the officer said back, confoundedly lowering his gun.
The rest of the soldiers made way and let the stalkers pass between them before escorting them back to the base...at a safe distance, of course.
Pvt. Ivanov yawned wearily, bored of staring at this godforsaken strip of asphalt baking in the sun, exhausted by staying up all night doing the exact same thing.
"What gods have I wronged to be put in this hell-hole!" he thought grudgingly "Nothing fucking ever happens here, what a waste of time, what a waste of life!"
He shook his head to clear himself of the dark shadows creeping in from the corners of his peripheral vision.
"And the fucking heat! I never thought I'd miss the Moscow winters!" he continued as he hoisted up the sling of his rifle higher up on his shoulder, sweat prickling his back under the heavy flak vest.
"Vasya! What's the fucking hold-up, I need coffee, man!" He exclaimed miserably "I'm dying here, for goodness sakes!"
"Shut up and watch the fucking road!" someone on his left shouted back.
"I am watching the fucking ro--" His voice died down "Is the heat playing a trick with my eyes?" He rubbed his eyes roughly, but upon opening them the two figures were still there.
"People! I got people on the road, Sarge!" he shouted over his shoulder while at the same time bringing his gun to his shoulder, aiming it down at the two men casually walking towards them.
"Holy fuck you are right!" Sgt. Grachev shouted back, surprise in his voice as the siren sounded off
"What do we do, sir?"
"Ivanov, Khanmourzaeva, on me!" They filed out into the road, intercepting the two men, but lost for words as they caught up with them. The two men seemed to think nothing of it, merely registering the welcoming-party. The smaller of them raised his head as he drew close.
"Twenty-seven" he relayed to the hand-fallen sergeant, speaking the password which granted him access to the outpost, before picking up the hushed conversation with his partner again. Ivanov moved out of their way, looking back at the slack-jawed sergeant for instructions.
"Err... escort them to the base" the sergeant managed to press out of his gaping hole of a mouth, an order Ivanov wasn't late to comply with, this being by far the most interesting incident in his six month deployment to Chernobyl. He slung the rifle over his shoulder again and ran after the two men, carefully scrutinizing them from top to bottom.
The smaller of them, the one who'd spoken to the Sarge, was engaged in eager conversation with his comrade and didn't seem to take any notice of Ivanovs watchful eyes. He walked with an uneasy gait, like a wound up coil being forced to decompress slowly. He had an intriguing but at the same time deterring look to him, an enigmatic smile constantly tugging at the corners of his mouth, but not a friendly or warming one. It was the smile of a child entertaining itself by ripping the wings from a fly, a cold smile that didn't seem to reach his penetrating hazel-colored eyes. Eyes that didn't agree with his anxious body-language. They had a dull look to them, veiling the febrile activity of a mind that was untiringly registering, calculating, measuring.
His sharp face had a pale complexion, as if the late summer sun couldn't catch him, unable to taint his chiseled features. Contrastingly, his hair was so dark it seemed to absorb all light. It had a dim gleam to it, as if it hadn't been washed for a long time and for some reason the left side of his head was closely shaven. His age was hard to guess. He had the appearance of someone who was so used to hardship that he had finally given in to it, recognizing it as the norm. His sinewy body was evident of back-breaking strains, nourishment substituted by cigarettes, sleep replaced with insomnia. It was a body built from fist-fighting, tests of endurance and a hard-won struggle for survival. A body harder and stronger than any body ever built in a gym, but at a high price. He sported loose-fitting Russian military clothing, a gorka suit, boots and shturm half-finger gloves, the only thing really weighing him down was a light platecarrier, a day-pack and a black rifle Ivanov had yet to see anyone but security forces use. It was just one more quizzical detail to go with the others. He traveled light, that was for damn sure. He perplexed Ivanov, a feeling he did not much care for. He wished he could disregard him as simply one of many misfits drawn to the Zone, but there was something more to him than that... he creeped the fuck out of him.
Ivanov shifted his gaze onto his companion, a tall, muscular man who walked with long, calm strides, making his partner seem all the more twitchy. In contrast to his anemic partner this man had a healthy glow to him, spreading an aura of confidence and serenity. Whereas the former stalker had a boyish but rugged look to him, this one looked grown-up with streaks of gray in his red-blondish hair and a hint of stubble on his mature face. He would have looked real friendly if it weren't for two scars, one across his throat, the other over his head were it looked like a piece of his ear had been ripped off.
His eyes were friendly but stern, piercingly light blue with an honest gaze. He smiled a genuine Colgate-smile, chuckling and shaking his head at something the other just said, drawing a hand through his short, rust-colored hair. The soldier reflected over the two men who seemed to differ from each other in every noticeable way, like opposite magnets drawn to each other, he thought.
Where the other seemed minimalistic and lightly armed this man was yet again on the other side of the scale. He looked like someone out of a VDV recon team, carrying a huge backpack and sporting a Bulat ballistics vest. He was well-armed, his arms cradling a well-maintained sniper rifle, while a shotgun was secured by a weapons catch down his side. An intimidating handgun protruded from a quick-draw holster secured to a dropleg panel.
Famine didn't care much about the soldier walking beside them, examining them from top-to-toe while at the same time trying to make it look like he wasn't carefully scrutinizing them. He sized him up fairly quickly and dismissed him as a no-threat. The way he shuffled his flakvest around, wheezing at its inconvenience, of how he treated his rifle like it'd been given to him as some sort of punishment. He was young, inexperienced, the type that yearned for blood but cracked after their first firefight. He'd probably get what he hoped for, and more. But for now he was just a scrawny conscript with an oversized helmet constantly slipping down over his childishly curious eyes. Eyes that had not yet died from seeing war, from seeing your friends die around you and then see that you are not the man you once was. That you had ripped your soul apart.
He interrupted his train of thought as he noticed Battery looking at him, apparently he had stopped talking mid-sentence into a story he was telling.
"Err... So where was I? Oh yeah, so apparently there's a warrant for my arrest now. Father saw to that. That's why it took so long for me to come down here, y'know? Dodging Interpol agents. Every. Single. Fuckin'. Day. They're really cracking down on stalkers out there. So when you think about it, stealing dad's car was justified."
"But you didn't know that when you took it"
"Right... um... well I wanted to be on the safe side. Looks like they really beefed this place up" he said with a nod towards the military outpost. And he wasn't mistaken; what had once been merely a group of houses, a low wall and a boom-gate had been built into a system of bunkers, dragons teeth and machine-gun emplacements with overlapping fields of fire. The boom-gate was still there, though, only now flanked by two menacing pillboxes, machine-gun barrels sticking out the middle of them like a certain rude hand gesture.
A soldier standing guard in one of the watchtowers peered down at them as they closed up, the bipod of his Pecheneg dangling over the edge of the railing, reminiscent of the arms of a challenging prizefighter as he leans over the side ropes. A cricket played in the distant. The boom creaks as it's moved out of the way. An Ukrainian flag defiantly plays in the air, like at an isolated fort in enemy territory. On the courtyard a BMP-3 is parked, ironically pointing its double-barreled turret towards the way they came, as if its task was to fight what was within the Zone and not to deter luck-seekers from gaining entry to it.
Everything turns quiet as the two stalkers stop in the middle of the base, in the center of everyone's attention. Awkward silence settles, like after a loud fart at a dinner party. Luckily the peace is almost at once interrupted as a steel door is slammed up against the side of one of the barracks.
"I heard reports of an ogre and a vampire strolling around in the exclusion zone, I had to come see it for my self! How you boys doin'!" Colonel Kuznetsov walked up to them with giant steps, an ear-to-ear smile plastered on his face "and you, finally made your way home, eh?" he said while playfully jabbing Famine on the arm.
"Now, do you want to come with me peacefully or do I have to grab you by the ear?"
| 15:01:38 21 February 2010
On forum: 07/14/2009
its really good just so long of a single post
Thanks dude And yeah I know, it is a bit long I reckon, I just wanted readers to get a taste/full introduction.
All questions, comments and constructive criticism is very welcome
| 22:22:49 21 February 2010
On forum: 07/14/2009
Much obliged, gents Thanks for all the kind comments. Yeah in retrospect perhaps a bit long but what's done is done |
| 01:08:07 1 March 2010
On forum: 07/14/2009
Message edited by:
CHAPTER 2 - POSITIONING THE PAWNS
The Colonel led them into a barrack marked "A1" the same from which he had sprung out of, a hangar-like structure with massive antennas protruding from it. It was like stepping into an air-pressure chamber, a low-lit sauna with the window blinds blocking out any notions of the bright summer day without. The walls were draped with strategic air surveillance photos of the Zone scribbled with arrows and circles, intricate mind-maps and black-and-white photos of grim-looking men. Some of those men had their faces crossed over with a red pen, others had a question mark on them. Famine wondered where his file was, and what it said about him.
"Can I interest you boys in anything? Coffee, tea?" Kuznetsov asked
Famine would have done anything for a cold beer and a nap in the sun on top of the BMP but disregarded his day-dreams sourly.
"Um, yeah, coffee please, sir"
"As I'm sure you've heard, the Zone have been quite a bit in the spotlight these last few weeks" the Colonel said while pouring up three cups of coffee which he handed out "this isn't good for anyone, especially not for me, and it's not good for my career. The government is wanting to increase the UN presence and the yanks are making excuses to station a contingent of Marines. Do you think these are soldiers that will be put under my command or that I'll be left in the backwater once again? Don't answer that. Like that wasn't enough, corporations continue to drive prices up prices on everything that comes out of the Zone. Chernobyl diamonds they call them. This causes all kinds of people to come here, people without a fucking clue what's waiting for them and are killed within a week. And then they go on to claim that I am incompetent at guarding the Zone, lobbying for my resignation. All they want is to replace me with someone more corrupt so they can turn a bigger profit. There's shit being flung at me from every direction. But if they think I'll let go without a fight they are badly mistaken.”
"Yeah well it's all about the money, innit?" Battery said as he took a sip of coffee "ugh, this is fuckin' rank!"
"Yeah, sorry, it's been on the boiler all day" Kuznetsov replied, his mind miles away
"You know, I've fought hard to come this far and I'm not gonna let some greedy cocksuckers just push me aside. It's responsible for a lot of lost sleep. What forces are pushing the events? Who is responsible for the hostilities and supplying the Bandits? Who is it conducting false-flag operations against Duty and Freedom? Fuck knows, but I will get to the bottom of this, I promise you that much.”
"Why don't you just do something?" Battery asked "I mean, you have the resources? Unless that bronetransportyor out there is just for show, you have Havoc gunships, why don't you let 'em cause some?”
The military commander sighed and rubbed the corners of his brown bearish eyes, all of the sudden looking very tired.
“It is for show and the only thing those gunships are causing are accusations that I am economically incompetent. God forbid I ever put one of those things to use. The situation here is under control because the government says it is, that's why it doesn't rhyme well when people get killed around here. Everything I do I get second-guessed. Just look at when the UN peacekeepers shot those yankie college kids and the shitstorm that ensued. Who was in charge of those soldiers? Not me. Who got the blame for it? You guessed it. I'm no diplomat, I went on a press conference once and fucked up royally. Now when I don't attend them people say I'm shy of taking responsibility for my actions. It's easy for them to say! They haven't been here, the closest these fuckin' reporters have been to the Zone is the luxury suites of the Grand Hôtel in Kiev. And I bet you not many of these protesters have seen their pals being chewed on by freak pigs." He gulped down the last of his coffee. "They can assign half a million troops here, still doesn't do any good if their hands are tied. The people here consider the military presence a joke and I don't blame them. If you so much as give a stalker a dirty look some CNN reporter will piss his pants."
Battery chuckled at the last remark but Kuznetsov didn't seem to appreciate the comedy of his choice of words. Famine looked about with a hint of disinterest, regarding the aerial photos while habitually twisting the black spike of hair down by his left ear. But as opposed to what it looked like he was paying close attention.
"I've wasted too many words here. Bottom line is this, you can do things we can't, this is why I need you. You report to me, and to me only. If you are killed or captured we will deny any association with you. The usual deal. You need anything, you let us know. This is nothing new to you. Oh, you can't leave here either, but from what I understand you're pretty fed up with the Big Land as it is, eh?" He added with a smile and a blink to Famine. "My guys found that Bentley you stole. I tip my hat to you for not being caught with that thing. Oh and if you noticed I spoke to the right people to get some heat off you when you entered Ukraine"
"Noticed. So what's the plan here?" Famine asked curtly
"Short and to the point, always liked that in you" Kuznetsov answered, a brief glimmer of admiration in his eyes
"There's a rising star in the Bandit camp, goes by the name of Cyanide. Scary little fucker, first got attention for killing a man by biting him in the throat. Went from Soldier to Lieutenant in two weeks, and that was not because they had to fill holes in the ranks... not exactly a mother-in-law's dream, if you know what I mean. Rumor has it he's some kind of sectional quartermaster. Bring him to me"
Hushed whispering and gossip surrounded the camp, with the non-com's trying to stifle the problem accusing the soldiers of acting like elderly women at a tea party.
"Who are those guys?" Pvt. Ivanov asked one of the more senior soldiers
"Stalkers, contractors or something. Been a while since I last saw them, they come and then leave just as fast. One is a big burly fella, hands like a lumberjack, face of a movie star. Probably handy in a bar-fight. Thrashed ear" he added thoughtfully "The other looks like he'd slit his mothers throat for shits and giggles. Never smiles, never talks. Fidgeted... Yet composed. Unsettling little fucker."
"They don't scare me" the machine-gunner Fedorov declared
"How long have they been in there? Should we go and check to see if the Colonel is alright? What if they killed him?" Ivanov asked, clearly concerned
"Haha yeah, you do that! And let us know how it goes de-greasing tank engines with your tongue"
"Yeah, you're probably right. But still... They're coming out! I'm gonna move up for a better look!”
He crossed the courtyard with hasty strides, trying to make it look like he was performing some dull but official chore as he looked sideways at the men as they left the building. The smaller of the two was obviously missing something, patting his arms and front of his vest in search of it.
"Fuck" he grunted "Hey you!" Ivanov almost froze with fear.
He spun on the spot. The stalker had fixed him with his eyes. He felt like a deer paralyzed in the headlights of an oncoming car, all sounds muted except for the sound of gravel crunching under the stalker's military boots. He stopped uncomfortably close to him. The whole base watched them, holding in a collective breath.
"Y'gotta cigarette" the stalker asked. His voice was as cold and emotionless as his stare.
With shaky hands he produced a pack of cheap Russian cigarettes from his pocket. He felt naked, revealed by the stalker's unrevealing eyes.
"Take it easy kid" he took out a cigarette from the pack "owe you one"
And then he was gone.
"What the fuck just happened?" Ivanov asked himself as he staggered away, chilled to the bone.
Famine and Battery stepped out of the barrack, and while it was nice to be able to breathe their eyes hurt painfully as they re-adjusted to daylight.
"Ow, it feels like fuckin' Edward Scissorhands just poked me in the eye" Battery exclaimed, rubbing his eyes fiercely.
"Tell me about it... There's that kid again. Right there, the one walking towards us. Hold on, I wanna go talk to him"
"Always with the shenanigans" Battery threw his hands in the air as Famine made a little show of misplacing his cigarette pack
"At least he's generous" Famine said with a smile as he returned, victoriously holding up a cigarette like a prize.
"Get a good look? Can we please get the fuck outta here now?"
"What's the matter, angry because I didn't get you his number?"
They walked out of the outpost under silence, both contemplating what they had just been told. Famine, who considered himself a man of good taste, discarded the cheap cigarette he was given in favor of a Lucky Strike. Only when they were out of hearing distance of the nosy soldiers did he let Battery in on his thoughts.
"I figured we'd head up north, I have a friend in the Rostok area who is pretty well-connected. He has a finger in every game and always knows what's going on. He can probably tell us something interesting about this Cyanide character."
"Good call, even if I call bullshit on you having friends. Cy didn't exactly seem like the kind of person you want to be asking around about. On another note, it felt like the Colonel hadn't had anyone to speak to for a while"
“Yeah, seriously, I didn't ask for the story of his life”
“Maybe he can't trust his own guys is what I thought”
“Heh, I guess you'd recognize the symptoms! Ouch! That hurt you know!”
Upon reaching the exit to the Rookie Village a far away sentry called out to them
"Stalkers! Identify yourselves!"
"Identify my cock" Famine said under his breath, ignoring their young antagonist as they trudged on.
They walked in a steady pace, the slumbering surroundings giving no incentive to hasten their journey. Famine took the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the Zone. To reach the vast industrial area of Rostok they'd first need to travel through Cordon, which was a breeze, at least compared to the next part of their journey which would go through the relatively dangerous "Garbage", a funnel that that branched out in every direction of the Zone and thereby becoming a strategic strongpoint with daily shootouts between the numerous bandits that preyed on everyone passing through and the increasing number of Loners that were fed-up with being preyed upon.
Back in '86, when the first disaster occurred, the Garbage was a place where the government discarded equipment made inoperable due to radiation. Stalkers still went there and searched through the piles of rubble. These people called themselves diggers, and were generally considered the lowest form of stalker. Some of them struck gold, of course, but the vast majority lived short, harsh lives. Bandits, radiation and too much vodka saw to that. Famine had never tried his luck as a digger. Somehow searching through other peoples trash had never really appealed to him.
Beyond the Garbage started Duty territory, an infamous clan composed of ex-military from some ancient operation into the Zone. Hard-asses who hated everything about the Zone and didn't pass up a chance to let everyone know about it. They made for reliable fighters but terrible conversationalists. Their headquarters was the Rostok area, also home of the 100 Rad Bar and Arnie's Arena. It was the closest thing you'd come to a metropolis in the Zone. It also housed its fair amount of cutthroats and shady people, what made it their destination.
| 11:45:11 8 March 2010
On forum: 07/14/2009
Thank you, it's comments like these that makes you wanna trudge on
As for the critique, I'm glad that my attempt to make this part shorter didn't go unnoticed. And yeah, in hindsight I wish I would have made the descriptions more clear. It's like my proof-reader (girlfriend) said; "The descriptions are really good, I just don't know who they describe". She had to backtrack re-read parts to understand and that really breaks up the flow of the story. If I ever do a rewrite that is probably the first part I'd fix, I will also be sure to think of this in coming chapters.
The thing is, I'm experimenting quite a lot with POV descriptions. Like, I'm trying not to describe or judge people by narration but leave it up to the eyes of other characters to get their take on it. Two different persons may have different descriptions of a character, or remember things differently. I hope that this will add some depth to the characters, their own thoughts, what they put their focus and attention on. Perhaps it'll even make the reader try and make his own mind up on what he thinks about people
Wow this really turned out a lot longer than I planned. I feel like a new-age artist that can speak for hours on end about a splash of paint on some canvas I hope to get the next part up today.