I remember when I was little. I would lie in bed while the trees outside would knock against the side of our house and tap on the windows. My parents reassured me that it was only the wind and that nobody was out there. My parents always seemed to know everything about anything when I was a kid. Last night I could have proved them wrong - the moaning and pounding of the zombies outside continued all through the night. If I hadn’t been so worn out from the night I doubt I would have fallen asleep at all.
I was the last one awake again, but not by much. Gremlin was talking with Sakharov, obviously pissed about the events of last night and agitated about our current state of affairs – and rightly so. The zombies finally left the area around bunker, but they were still out there and our comrades along with them. He looked like he was about to go insane waiting inside the bunker.
Zombie was sitting on a crate near the door. He seemed to be drawing something so I went over to see what it was but couldn’t make it out. It looked kind of like a ghost, but there was flesh hanging off of it… freaky and disturbing.
Nimbus was checking out some of the wares Sakharov carries… a few over-priced rifles and some old Hazmat suits. He poured over various types of shotgun ammo and bought a few dozen boxes. After last night I don’t blame him for wanting to keep his supplies in check.
Gremlin just urged me over; I better go see what he wants.
*Gremlin looks Virtue up and down as he approaches, as if trying to assess his state of being. His protective hood and gas mask are pulled back, revealing his face for the first time. He has hazel eyes and shaved brown hair. He is more noticeably built than then others - besides Zombie, who is nothing less than a beast. His face is slightly rounder than the usual gaunt-type present amongst most Stalkers - the extra space gives off the impression of a smile, but it’s just a mask for the years if intense training and deadliness that beneath the surface.
Any illusion of a smile on his face dissolves as his thoughts shift back to other things.*
Gremlin: Hey. How’d you sleep?
Virtue: Well enough, despite the company last night.
Gremlin: *laughs slightly* Yeah, the zombies out here can be quite… unsettling.
Virtue: I think I understand the importance of this mission now.
Gremlin: They’re not the reason we’re here - but if we succeed, our friends roaming around out there should visit less often…
Virtue: Nobody deserves the kind of life… if you can even call it that… that they’re suffering through.
Gremlin: Absolutely not, it’s a terrible way for a man to die. For the body to go on living without the mind is a violation of nature… which is why we need to get to that lab, find the cause of this nightmare, and make sure those responsible for this pay for their crime.
Virtue: Those men deserve a proper death, not this… un-death, if I’m allowed to use the word.
Gremlin: You’re right - and it’s up to us to ensure that justice is served. For them, and the criminals who created those monsters.
*Gremlin cocks his rifle for effect.*
Gremlin: Make sure to stock up on ammo and med kits. Where we’re going, we’ll need all the supplies we can get.
Virtue: You got it, Gremlin.
We’re all stocked up on supplies. Zombie gave me a scope to attach to my rifle and helped me “zero” it in. This should help me take out anything at range before it gets too close. He told me “Aim for the absence of life”, I assume he meant the head.
Before we left Sakharov provided us with a few top-of-the-line suit upgrades. Nimbus and I were given gas masks, anomaly detectors, air tanks, night vision goggles, and belts specially made for holding artifacts. I feel like a real Stalker… there’s no turning back now - I’ve committed myself to this mission.
Now there’s a job to be done… one that other Stalkers have stayed far away from and refused to touch. I’ll be honest… I’m afraid; I think everyone in this room is. There are mindless Zombified Stalkers out for blood wandering around outside along with God-knows what else… and inside that lab… I don’t even want to think about it. I’ve got to figure out how to use all of these new devices before we go. I’m positive any recording I do on this mission will be played over and over again should I survive this.
*The bunker door closes with a clank and a hiss as the hydraulics inside keep it shut. Sakharov speaks to them all once more over the speaker outside the door as they exit:*
Sakharov: Good luck Stalkers. Remember to find the source of the emission and bring back anything you can find that details its operation to me. The prototype I gave you all is still in its alpha phase… there is no guarantee it will protect you under every circumstance! Just remember that what you’re doing is for the scientific community as well as whatever social groups you’re a part of these days so there’s no telling what the results of your mission could mean for us!
Anyway, you better get moving; it may take a while to get there with all the anomalies, swamps, and zombies everywhere. Farewell.
Gremlin: Alright, let’s go.
*The Stalkers start walking away from the bunker and exit through the large, metal gate they came through last night. Blood, bodies, and shell casings are strewn around the ground around them. The blood makes a disgusting squishing noise as they walk through the damp mud and grass Gremlin closes the large gate, now pocked with bullet holes behind them as they exit the compound. They stand outside, looking through the dense fog and dim light of early morning around them.*
Gremlin: OK - here’s the plan. We need to head due north, following the main road that runs through the area. On the way we’ll encounter a few swamps and our fair share of zombies as well so some other undesirable things. Make sure to listen for the beep your anomaly detectors make when you’re approaching an anomaly. If it beeps more than once per second you are too close. I’ll use bolts when that happens to mark the anomalies so we can avoid them.
Nimbus: Good. I hate those things. I’ve seen Stalkers run into them before… the Bandits aren’t exactly careful when they’re running from other Stalkers or finding places to ambush approaching Stalkers. Not a pretty sight…
Gremlin: Watch the radiation levels also. One hundred REMs are equal to one Sievert. Anything above half a Sievert can make you sick. Anything above one Sievert is hazardous if you’re exposed to it for too long. Just follow my lead and we’ll make it there in one piece.
*The Stalkers acknowledge his plan.*
Gremlin: Good. Don’t hesitate to shoot any zombies that take interest in you. For the most part they’re too dumb to do anything about it - but sight and sound attracts them. Whatever force is working against us here doesn’t want us getting into that lab… so let’s make ourselves as uninteresting as possible. Stay close, and if you feel dizzy or sick, tell me immediately.
So far, so good.
Almost four hours have gone by and it hasn’t gotten any lighter outside. The fog isn’t quite as bad as last night - I can see about one hundred meters in front of me now, but I still can’t make out anything in the distance. I only see the path ahead, as well as grass and bushes lining the side of the road. If I meander slightly off the center of the road my Geiger counter clicks a little bit… the radiation must be pretty high out there in the swamps.
Walking down this road is like something out of a dream; it’s not dark, but it’s not visibly light either. Everything has a haze about it, like walking through a cloud. Every once in a while the silhouette of a building comes into view and it’s like seeing a memory. But this is no dream… this is reality, and we’re walking through a living nightmare.
Zombie is squinting at the fog, almost like he can see things through it nobody else can. I’ve come to notice that even though he’s quiet, he’s also observant. His eyes don’t wander aimlessly; they’re scanning. It’s like he’s mapping the area in his head. So he’s a poet, an artist and now a cartographer it seems… there must be quite a story behind him. But I doubt he’ll ever tell; he’s not exactly the type for general conversation.
It’s still no lighter than it was two and a half hours ago. We’ve been traveling along this road forever. It almost seems like as soon as we hit the end of the road it starts over; everything has looked the same for hours now. Maybe this really is a dream and I’m still sleeping back in the bunker… or at home with Emelia sleeping next to me.
We just heard gunshots up ahead. I’m switching audio on.
*Gremlin stops, holding up a hand to halt the others.*
Nimbus: Where did that come from?
Gremlin: Up ahead. It sounded like it came from inside a building somewhere.
*Zombie’s eyes light up and he slings his rifle off of his back.*
Zombie: The pack needs aid!
*Zombie rushes forward ahead of the group towards the source of the gunfire.*
Gremlin: Come on! Let’s go!
*As they run, Gremlin makes out a couple of shapes and yells back to the group:*
Gremlin: Some fellow Stalkers… they’re cut off by zombies! Let’s give them a hand!
*A small two-storied house comes into view through the fog as they approach. Two Stalkers are shooting from the upper story into a group of zombies shambling towards them from the backside of the house. A small carport is attached to the side with a door leading into the house beneath it. Gremlin kicks open door and runs inside to where the shooting is taking place.*
Gremlin: Zombie - cover them from here; I’m going upstairs!
Gremlin: Nimbus – you’re with Zombie. Virtue, come with me - time to practice your sharp-shooting!
Virtue: Yes sir!
*The Stalkers split up - Gremlin runs up the stairs as Virtue follows behind him. Zombie fires his rifle at the zombies approaching from the sides of the house while Nimbus takes out the ones who get too close with his shotgun.*
Gremlin: The zombies are swarming the house! There’s a hole in the roof above the carport that I can see them through! Just aim for the head!
*Virtue steadies his breathing as a large crowd of zombies passes under the hole. He holds his breath as he lines up the crosshair on his scope with the head of an unsuspecting zombie. He pulls the trigger.
Blood and brains coat the wall nearby and the zombie falls to the floor twitching with a large hole in its head.*
Gremlin: Nice shot! Keep it up!
*Gremlin lets out some burst fire while another Virtue let’s another shot go through the head of a zombie.*
Gremlin: You’re a natural man; make those bastards sing!
*They continue to fire through the hole until the crowd starts to die down. The stragglers begin to drift away and are taken down by Zombie and Nimbus, as well as the two mysterious Stalkers somewhere else on the second level of the house.*
Gremlin: I think that’s the last of them… let’s head back downstairs and help them mop up.
*Gremlin starts down the stairs, then trips on a loose floorboard near the top and tumbles down half the flight before stopping himself.*
Gremlin: Shit… son of a bitch… fucking *random unintelligible cursing*
*A zombified Stalker, near the bottom of the stairs looks over at the noise and discharges his weapon.*
Virtue: LOOK OUT!
*Virtue lets three rounds out of his rifle in quick succession – all aimed at the zombies head. The zombie ceases firing and falls to the floor - the contents of his skull on the floor behind him.*
Gremlin: Th… thanks Virtue. Good shooting once again!
Virtue: No problem. Now how about we get out of here!
*Gremlin nods and picks himself up, finishing his trip down the stairs.*
Gremlin: Come on!
*The Stalkers exit the second level and run around the corner to the carport.*
Zombie: The pack is reunited.
*Gremlin looks at the pile of bodies around them as they continue to pick off stragglers. He squints in curiosity at the two mysterious Stalkers who are now standing at the other side of the carport, shooting out the back. He speaks, panting:*
Gremlin: How… is… everyone?
*One of the mysterious Stalkers hears the question, and turns to respond:*
Gremlin: Phantom! You made it… I knew you would.
*Gremlin gives him a friendly pat on the shoulder.*
Phantom: We haven’t slept since yesterday, but we’re fine.
*The other Stalker turns and adds:*
Nikita: Yeah… thanks to you and that other guy who showed up.
Gremlin: Other guy…?
*To his surprise, a third Stalker approaches from inside the house behind them.*
Jargon: Hello there.
Gremlin: Jargon - you son of a bitch! What are you doing out here?!
*Gremlin hugs Jargon as he approaches. Jargon returns the hug like a father would a son and replies:*
Jargon: Just enjoying the sunlight and the smell of death in the morning; same old same old.
Gremlin: Really now? And you couldn’t think of a better place than Yantar to do it in?
Jargon: Something told me the sunrise would be especially beautiful in this part of the Zone today.
Gremlin: Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s been foggy ever since we’ve gotten here.
Jargon: Hmm… it must have been something else then. Maybe it had to do with the mission you’re on.
Gremlin: Ahh… and so we come to the real reason you’re out here. How do you know about… wait… you always know…
Jargon: You better believe it! Don’t forget that.
Gremlin: Why does our mission interest you?
Jargon: You should know the answer to that one, considering my history.
Gremlin: You want to know what happened after… that day. You want to help uncover the reason for the Zone’s existence.
Gremlin: Well, you’re in the right place. We can’t be far from X16 now.
Jargon: No. In fact you’re about fifty meters away from the wall.
*Gremlin and the rest of the group look all around them through the fog. Sure enough, north of them stands the outline of a large outer wall.*
Gremlin: Son of a bitch - you’re right. I can see the outer wall from here.
Jargon: We should make for it as soon as possible if we’re going to find what we and get back out before nightfall.
*Gremlin hesitates, but knows that there’s no way Jargon will let them proceed on their mission without him.*
Gremlin: You’re right. Let’s - wait… shit…
Jargon: Is there a problem?
Gremlin: Yeah… we got separated from Phantom and Nikita last night and they never got the prototype from Sakharov to protect them from the Emission.
Jargon: You mean these things?
*Jargon reaches into his backpack and fishes out a couple of devices similar to the prototypes they were given.*
Jargon: I’ve been Sakharov’s guinea pig for years; he has tons of these things. Take them.
Gremlin: Thank you.
*Gremlin looks around the group, assessing them and doing a headcount. He turns back to Jargon and says:*
Gremlin: By the way, we’re short a man. Did you happen to see anyone else on your way here?
Jargon: No… not with their brains still intact anyway.
Phantom: You mean Jester never made it back?
Gremlin: No. We were trapped in the bunker by the zombies until sometime last night. I thought you were him when you came out of hiding.
Phantom: No – we saw the zombies swarming the bunker and were forced to find shelter elsewhere. We never found him.
*Gremlin sighs heavily.*
Gremlin: Alright... let’s do an inventory check and make ready for the facility.
Man… it’s good to see Phantom and Nikita again. Words can’t describe the scene in that house. Phantom and Nikita were propped up around a central support with bodies all around them, the ones that fell face up all had holes in the direct center of their heads. Phantom is obviously a sharp-shooter, and extremely quick on the draw too judging by the lack or bullet holes anywhere other than on the zombies.
Jargon once again has successfully caught up to me - this time deep inside Yantar. Gremlin obviously knows him, and they seem to be good friends. I don’t know why he’s following me, but I think I finally understand part of why. He was a worker at Chernobyl up until the day of the disaster, and taking into account that he hasn’t left the Zone since that day he must have some questions that need explanation. I wonder if he and Phantom are after the same thing: the truth about what took place there after the reactor exploded.
Gremlin told me I was a naturally good shot with a rifle. I have no doubt this will come in handy as we venture deeper into the complex ahead. Speaking of which; I think the inventory check is done; we should be moving again shortly. I doubt I’ll have much time to write while I’m down there so I’ll keep audio enabled.
Gremlin: We’re ready to go. When we get inside the complex, expect anything. Stay close, and watch your sensors. The fog is still pretty thick, so double-check all corners and dark spots. Let’s go.
*The Stalkers proceed down the gravel road up to a large, rusted gate that opens up into the compound. They pass through the gate cautiously as they step over the rotting corpses of less-fortunate Stalkers who attempted to enter the compound before them. An eerie, distorted sound like water going down a drain increases and decreases in amplitude as they walk through the thick fog.*
Nikita: What is that sound?
Jargon: That’s the Emission being blocked by the prototypes we’re wearing.
Zombie: The Devil speaks to us.
Jargon: Sakharov said the hums are part of the Extremely Low Frequency or ELF sound spectrum. Normally it’s undetectable by human ears, but the emission amplifies somehow so that humans receive it like a radio wave. Think subliminal advertising with the subliminal messages filtered out.
Phantom: And the advertising is just one word: “kill”.
Jargon: Or “protect” maybe. Everything you hear is garbled but essentially that’s the message.
Gremlin: Well whatever it is, it could become the main topic of discussion if we’re not careful. Sakharov said he didn’t know if it will withstand a burst of the Emission or for how long it would protect us.
Virtue: How will we know if we’re unprotected?
Gremlin: He said there would be a tone of some sort that will sound in the presence of dangerous psionic activity.
Virtue: Then what?
Gremlin: Try to get underground real fast and hope it’s safer than it is out here. I wouldn’t recommend going underground until we find the lab though. The Zombified Stalkers are just for show… there’s worse brewing beneath here.
Jargon: It’s nothing we can’t handle as long as we keep our heads level and our hands steady.
*Nimbus shifts around nervously, then asks:*
Nimbus: Do you know of anyone who’s made it out of the lab alive?
Jargon: Well uh… that is… no.
*The Stalkers look through the fog anxiously, letting their imaginations run away with them as the fog plays tricks with their eyes. They look to Gremlin who catches their eyes and does his best to maintain his composure, looking directly into the fog in front of him. The shifting of his eyes gives away the fear behind them.*
That shut everyone up. This… complex looks like it used to be a manufacturing plant of some sort. There are several buildings of various shapes and sizes with pavement surrounding each of them. Some of the buildings are warehouses packed with crates for storage while others have tables and assembly lines inside of them. There’s a large loading crane near the middle of the facility and shipping containers in the back of the facility. All of the buildings show obvious sign of age; rust and grime coat the exterior walls of most buildings, and a dried red substance in top of that on some of the buildings. It looks like blood…
The fog makes it impossible to gauge the size of the entire complex, but from what is visible around us I can tell that a lot of fighting and death has occurred here over the last few years. I can see spent casings, some discarded weapons, dried blood and bone fragments, and even a few decaying bodies of some unfortunate Stalkers who must have attempted to enter the facility more recently.
The whole place smells of death. It’s hard to see inside most of the buildings, like in the Wild Territory. The ones I can see inside look like they’ve been frozen in time; some of the machines are halfway through whatever job they were doing, several cars are still parked inside, covered in dust, and amazingly - some of the lights are still working, though not enough to make the area any more visible.
I feel like I’m walking through a deserted park at night; it’s creepy and it sounds like any number of creatures could be out there just beyond the edge of my perception. Something in the back of my head is constantly telling me that we’re being watched and that we shouldn’t be here, but then I snap back to reality and it’s just the same fog and empty buildings staring back at me. It’s like this is the second part of the dream I was in on the way here, and this is the part just before it turns into a nightmare.
I wonder what we’ll find when we get to the…
*A deep rumbling begins to enter the range of their hearing through the sound of wind whistling past them and leaves skittering down the deserted road before them. At first, they discard it as their ears playing tricks on them, but as it begins to increase in intensity their blood begins to freeze in their veins. Nikita pops the question on all their minds:*
Nikita: Are you guys hearing this?
*Gremlin puts a finger to his lips, issuing silence to the group and stopping in his tracks.*
Gremlin: Shh… quiet…
*The rumbling noise gets louder as they listen, and a sound like electricity crackling from a downed power line increases in intensity.*
Nikita: What… the… hell…
*The noise begins to distort and a new sound like an evil cackle comes to their ears - sounding like its coming from someone right next to them. The Stalkers look around them frantically as a loud boom, followed by the sound of an empty metal barrel tumbling end-over-end across the ground comes from nearby.*
Gremlin: Brace yourselves – we’re not alone.
*The barrel suddenly grinds to a halt with a sickening screech on the pavement somewhere near them. The Stalkers continue to peer through the fog frantically.*
Nimbus: Where… where is that?
*Suddenly, the barrel flies past their heads and slams into the wall of a building behind them with a loud clank. The Stalkers hit the deck as Phantom yells:*
*BOOM! Nimbus swivels around and unloads a shell into the barrel while Zombie drops to the ground to avoid getting taken out and Nikita fires blindly in the direction of the deep rumble.*
Nikita: Fuck! FUCK!!!
Nimbus: Where is it?!
*Nikita keeps firing into the fog in bursts, listening for a grunt or roar of some kind in hopes a stray bullet may eventually hit something.*
Gremlin: Stop firing! It’s gone!
*Nikita stops firing.*
Nikita: Wh… what the hell was that?
Gremlin: It was… just a barrel.
Nikita: Barrels don’t fly through the fucking air like that one did! We almost got decked with it… something HURLED it at us!
Gremlin: Whatever it was is only a distraction from the mission. We need to get inside and out of this fog before more… distractions come our way.
Nikita: Whoever or whatever that was is doing a damn good job… I’m losing it here man! Shit man… shit!
Nimbus: At least I know my barrel-shooting skills are in good standing.
*Nimbus loads another shell into his shotgun and cocks it.*
Nikita: I hope so, man. If barrels can just fly at us out of nowhere, you’d better be ready anything.
So a barrel flew out of nowhere, nearly taking out Zombie… yeah.
Zombie is probably the buffest one out of all of us, but with the way that thing hurtled past him he could have easily ended up out cold on the ground. Who, or *what* threw it… we don’t know, but it’s obvious someone or something knows we’re here and doesn’t want us to be. We’re close to the north-west wall of the complex now. The entrance to the underground lab isn’t that far ahead according to Gremlin.
Gremlin: The entrance should be just ahead. It is disguised as the basement of one of the buildings here in the complex. The door will lead into the underground lab as well as the tunnels and sewers that run beneath the area. Once inside we’ll be relatively safe until we get deeper in, so we should try to get there with little delay before we attract any more attention.
Virtue: Sounds simple enough.
Nimbus: I’ll take first watch for flying barrels once we’re inside.
Gremlin: Zombie, take up the rear. Make sure we don’t encounter any more unpleasant surprises.
*The Stalkers continue down the road alongside a small building near the back of the complex. They follow the curve in the road to the front of the building. A small metal door near the front opens into a room with a stairwell in the back.*
Gremlin: This looks like the place.
*The shadows in the fog around them shift as they enter the building. Nikita stops as the rest of the group enters and squints through the fog at the other end of the road outside.*
Nimbus: Hey… there’s someone down there.
Gremlin: Phantom, can you make it out?
Phantom: Let me see what I can see.
*Phantom kneels to the ground, looking down his rifle’s scope to get a better look.*
Phantom: Too far away, I can’t make it out.
Gremlin: Keep your eyes peeled.
Nimbus: I’m sure I saw someone. They had no protection on though so I don’t think it was a Zombified Stalker, it looked more like a straggler or something… like one of those people who decided to come back into the Zone despite the radiation?
Jargon: No… not quite…
Gremlin: You know something, Jargon?
Jargon: It’s a straggler alright… but he never left the Zone.
Gremlin: What do you mean?
Jargon: I think it was a mutant.
*The Stalkers look around them with new awareness of the present danger.*
Nikita: You… you mean… human mutants?
Jargon: Ex-human... but yes.
Gremlin: Shit... just what we need.
Nimbus: What’s that mean?
Gremlin: The human mutants tend to be the smarter, more aggressive ones. Mutation tends to cease higher brain function, and given enough time the primal instincts take over. The need to hunt and kill becomes their main and only desire.
Nikita: What do they eat?
Gremlin: Meat… and it doesn’t matter what it comes from or how old it is.
Nikita: So those things have been multiplying and eating other people?
Gremlin: Yeah, basically.
Nikita: Well… that’s just dandy.
Gremlin: We’ve made it this far, don’t let that distract you now.
Nikita: Alright… sorry… I just hate zombies. Especially the “real” ones…
Nimbus: You and me both.
Gremlin: Come on. Jargon and I have point; just make sure nothing comes up beside us.
Nikita: Fair enough.
*The Stalkers slowly progress inside for what seems an eternity until, finally, they cross onto the wood floor of the hallway inside.*
Gremlin: Left clear.
Jargon: Stairs clear.
Gremlin: Move in.
*The Stalkers advance slowly but steadily, the weight of their boots cause the wooden floor to creak beneath them. Their breathing is short and choppy, as if every breath is a beacon for the zombies around them to use to find them.
Suddenly, a low mumble cuts the silence. The Stalkers freeze in place, not holding their breath.*
Gremlin *whispering*: Wait.
*Gremlin advances a few steps forward, then quickly checks a door on their left.*
*Gremlin slowly advances to the next door. *
Gremlin: Clear. Moving o…
*Gremlin stops in his tracks, and then cautiously moves back to the door he passed. He listens intently as the Stalkers wait expectantly behind him.*
Gremlin: Nobody move.
Phantom: What is it?
*Gremlin looks Nikita in the eyes - a look of urgency in them.*
Gremlin: Nikita… step slowly to your right.
Nikita: Why… wha…
*Nikita carefully glances around only to find that the figure seen previously outside is now inside and staring right at him crookedly with dead eyes. Its jaw is locked open and offset, drooling on the floor in front of them. Its skin is grey and dead, its clothes - torn and moldy, like they’ve been worn every day for countless years now. The smell of death fills their nostrils as it opens its mouth, revealing its worn, blood-stained teeth. It groans hungrily at them, reaching its arm out and grabbing at the air as it stumbles forward.
Nikita spins around as the others stare in horror.*
Nikita: HOLY SHIT!
*Nikita falls to the floor and drains the remainder of his magazine into the zombie’s torso.*
Gremlin: Open fire!
*The group opens fire on the zombie, dropping it to the floor instantly.*
Nikita: FUCK! HOLY FUCKING SHIT!
Gremlin: I said step to your right! Not fall on the floor in front of him! What are you, inviting him to eat you?
Nikita: He was standing right fucking there! You could have said get down or something!
Gremlin: I was trying to hit him in the head and avoid making too much noise!
Nikita: Shit… I didn’t mean to yell… but Jesus, he was looking right at me. He looked hungry too.
Gremlin: It’s fine. Everyone’s a little on edge… we just need to get in…
*A roar-like growl comes from behind them where the zombie fell on the floor. Nikita yells again as he reloads his weapon.*
Nimbus: It’s not dead!
Nimbus unloads two shells at the re-animated zombie. The first hits it in the chest, sending blood and internal organs out the back of it, the second hits it in the head, blowing it to pieces. The body slumps over and falls to the floor - a pool of blood slowly spreading over it.*
Gremlin: That got it!
*The zombie again falls to the floor, while Nikita proceeds to bash the remainder of its skull in with the butt of his rifle.*
Gremlin: Nikita! It’s down!
Nikita: It’s still twitching! I’m not letting this fucker get up again!
Jargon: It’s just reflex - Nimbus got him!
*Nikita pants furiously, not letting up on his beating.*
Gremlin: NIKITA! IT’S DEAD!
*Nikita starts to slow down as the butt of his rifle begins to hit the wooden floor beneath the back of the zombie’s skull.*
Nimbus: That’s disgusting.
*Gremlin waits until Nikita is finished beating the remains of the zombie into small fragments, then addresses the group again:*
Gremlin: Alright… as you can see those things are resilient. Simply shooting them in the head won’t necessarily kill them; you have to tear apart their motor functions - which usually means pumping them full of bullets. It goes against my philosophy, but that’s what it takes to take them down and keep them down.
Jargon: Believe me when I say, you’ll be doing them and their families a favor. Show no mercy.
Gremlin: We’re not safe lingering here, we need to get inside.
There’s some weird shit going on around here. First the flying barrel, then that zombie. He was different than those Zombified Stalkers; they all looked “intact” besides the fact that their brains were fried by the Emission. That *thing* in the room with us looked like it had died years ago, and was taking a stroll outside of its grave. I noticed that it was still in full clothing too – no protective gear of any kind. The logo on his shirt matched one I saw on one of the bodies we passed on the way here, suggesting he used to be a worker here. So I guess what Jargon and Gremlin said was right… he must have survived up until a point where the radiation got to him, mutating him into a mindless zombie.
I’m sure I’ll have time to figure all of this out later, but now is definitely not the time for a debate; we’re standing outside the door to the lab now.
*Gremlin checks his gear outside of the door he lead the rest of the group to in the back of the buildings down a few flights of stairs. The door is re-enforced, unlike the other doors in the building, and has a warning sign posted on the door. The bodies of a few dead Stalkers litter the bottom of the stairwell outside the door, looking as if they died trying to conceal whatever was behind the door. Gremlin tries not to notice and speaks to distract the group from the bodies.*
Gremlin: This is it. Once we enter this lab we’re on uncharted territory, so be on the lookout for anything – especially holes or loose sections of flooring. If you fall through anything there’s a good chance you’ll be stuck there. If that happens you better hope you die soon afterwards or suffer the fate of our friend back there. And don’t forget to listen for possible anomalies inside – there’s no telling what could be in there.
*All the Stalkers check their gear and then announce their readiness.*
Gremlin: OK… here we go.
*Gremlin grabs hold of the door handle and yanks it open. The door grinds across the loose concrete and dust along the floor beneath it. It squeals as it opens, telling of countless years of disuse. The area before them is pitch-black. Gremlin flicks on his headlamp and proceeds cautiously inside, whispering back:*
Gremlin *whispering*: Headlamps on - it’s clear.
*A deep rumble emanates from deep within the underground facility, imitating a bottomless pit. Every sound is amplified by the unoccupied space of the large facility before them.*
Gremlin: Stay close Phantom. Jargon: behind me. Zombie, keep our asses covered. The rest of you fan out to the sides. Let’s try to get the scope of this place.
Phantom: Right clear.
Jargon: Left clear.
Zombie: Only echoes of time behind us.
*Their headlamps dart over the room, scanning in as much of it as possible with each pass. A control booth of some sort to their right is the only object of note in the room, besides a few scattered old crates. A dim light illuminates an elevator shaft in the back of the room. The metal lift within is twisted off of its track, looking to be on the verge of falling to the bottom with an ear-shattering crash.
Gremlin decides to take a look in the control booth to see what he can find. After whipping some of the dust off the panel he sees a switch simply titled: “ON”.*
Gremlin: I’m flipping a switch on this console. I think it might give us some lighting if this place has a generator. Hold on…
*He flips the switch on the console. An electric whir sounds as some of the electronics begin to power on. A power surge shoots the system and several of the light indicators shatter, sending the Stalkers to the floor as they look for the source of the noise.*
Gremlin: Relax! Relax, it’s OK! Just a power surge!
*Most of the lights are extremely dim, covered with dust or just not getting enough power. The combined luminescence of an array of lights above the elevator shaft is enough to reveal a service ladder leading down the right side of the shaft.*
Gremlin: Ahh… it looks like there’s a service ladder next to the elevator shaft. I don’t like the look of that lift, so let’s check it out.
*They continue towards the back of the room, their boots making footprints and crunching in the dust covering the floor.*
Phantom: It looks like the last guys who used this lift tried to leave in a hurry; it’s off the track on the right side and the tether has snapped on that side. The “up” button is jammed in place and it looks like someone overrode the safety limit for the speed.
Gremlin: The service ladder is on that side, I’ll go down first and test it. I have a harness so we can rappel down if we need to.
Jargon: Right behind you.
*Gremlin steps on to the top rung of the service ladder, then, after verifying its stability, proceeds down the ladder*
Gremlin *shouts*: It looks like there are about 4 platforms on the way down! Each one has ladders in-between! I can’t see to the bottom but I can see a light beyond it! This platform’s stable, come on down!
Phantom *shouts*: Alright! Let’s get down there guys.
Nikita: Whatever you say.
*The Stalkers climb down the first ladder while Gremlin proceeds ahead to make sure the ladders and platforms hold*
Gremlin *shouts*: Keep coming! I’m just above the bottom floor now!
*Suddenly, a pipe clatters to the ground somewhere in a room below, echoing throughout the immediate area. All movement stops. After a few seconds Gremlin peers into the room below, then motions everyone down*
Gremlin: I’m gonna try to make out that light. Hurry down; I’m dropping to the floor now.
*Gremlin dismounts the last ladder, dropping into the mound of dust on the floor*
Phantom: Hold up, Gremlin. I can’t see you anymore.
*A loud roar resonates throughout the shaft*
*Gremlin screams, then curses and open fire*
Phantom: Gremlin?! I’m getting down there, come on.
*Phantom slides down to the platform above the bottom floor just in time to see Gremlin get knocked to the back of the shaft by a creature springing out of the shadows*
Phantom: Holy shit!
*Gremlin pulls out a knife and starts hacking at the creature while it grunts and roars*
Phantom: Hang in there!
*Phantom jumps from the bottom platform to the floor of the shaft and kicks the creature in the head, causing a vicious roar in reply*
Nimbus: We’re coming! Hang on!
Nikita: Right behind you…
*The ladder they were on buckles under the stress of the weight and clatters to the ground with a loud clang, Stalkers still attached*
Gremlin: Shoot it! Shoot it!
*Phantom opens fire, putting 3 rounds directly in the side of the creature’s head*
*The creature gives off a final roar; cursing everyone around it, then grunts and collapses*
Gremlin: Get it off of me!
*Phantom kicks the carcass off of Gremlin, revealing what looks like the slow reverse-evolution of a man to a 4-legged predator*
Phantom: What the hell is it?
Phantom: Another one of the devil’s experiments?
Jargon: Call it what you will.
Gremlin: It leapt on top of me out of nowhere; it looked like a man-sized bullet was coming at me.
Jargon: They’ve developed some sort of super-human strength, especially in their back legs. They also have heightened senses similar to the average dog; scent mostly.
Gremlin: It looks so human… it had a gasmask and everything still attached to it.
Jargon: Some of the Zone’s less fortunate survivors thought they would be safe in underground tunnels during the events after the first explosion, as long as they kept their gasmasks on. But when the radiation seeped into the water they didn’t stand a chance, and by that time they were too sick with radiation poisoning to escape. Now they inhabit irradiated swamps and other damp places where they drink the same water the once made them sick… only now it sustains them.
Virtue: More helpless people condemned to a lifeless shell… only an echo of what they used to be.
Jargon: Just pray we don’t run into worse.
Nikita: I’m starting to regret signing up for this mission.
Phantom: Don’t talk like that! We owe it to that man, and the others like him to end this hell.
Nikita: You… you’re right.
Phantom: Let’s move further in, the source of the emission has to be around here somewhere. I’ll take point if it’s alright with you, Gremlin.
*Gremlin, obviously still in a state of shock, looks up briefly and nods*
Gremlin *mumbles*: His face… teeth bared… through the gasmask… dark eyes… evil…
Phantom: Uh… come on guys. Stay sharp.
Gremlin seems to still seems to be shaken up about the whole incident with what Jargon called a “Snork”. I don’t blame him… the thing would have looked almost fully human had it been standing up… but it pounced on him like a dog and crawled around on all fours. I couldn’t help but look back at the body on the floor… shredded up protective clothing and the top part of a gas mask – the eye pieces clouded over like the thing didn’t know how to clean them and relied on some other sense. The bottom half of the gas mask had either been lost or torn off, revealing the things sharp teeth and hardened, crusty skin – a lot like that zombie we saw on the way down here.
Whatever happened between being human and turning into that thing must have been brutal and torturous.
I… I can’t keep writing in this place. It’s getting too difficult to type with the lack of light and the fear that floats around this place. It’s cold and damp down here, but I know that’s not the reason I’m shaking.
Phantom *whispering*: Hey, it’s ok man. Just take deep breaths.
Gremlin: *whispering*: I know… that thing just scared the living shit out of me is all. Give me a few minutes.
Phantom *whispering*: You know I don’t mind leading for short periods of time, but if the others see you this shaken up it’ll break their spirits.
Gremlin *whispering*: I know… I know. 5 Minutes man… just… just 5 minutes. *sighs*
Phantom: *whispering*: Just keep your composure.
Phantom: Keep lights in those corners guys; we don’t want any more surprises.
Jargon: He must have been alone, nothing else is stirring.
Zombie: The calm before the storm.
Phantom: We don’t know that. There might be nothing between us and the emission’s source.
Jargon: Unlikely. Somebody wants their investment under twenty-four hour surveillance… and no trespassers.
*A section of ceiling tile falls to the ground in front of the group with a loud crash*
*Phantom lets out some controlled shots at the unknown target*
*Nikita and the rest of the Stalkers join the fight*
Nikita: Fill it full of lead!
*The zombie grunts and howls as more of the ceiling crashes down in front of the Stalkers*
Nikita: SHIT! MORE UP THERE!
*The room is filled with the sounds of gunfire and zombies wailing*
Phantom: Grenade out!
*The grenade rolls along the floor into the group of zombies, resulting in an explosion that rocks the room, sending dust cascading through the area and causing an uproar amongst the zombies*
Gremlin: Switch to Armor-piercing rounds if you’ve got ‘em.
Phantom: Take cover behind those supports! Target the one closest to you!
*Gunfire continues to fill the room as the zombies shuffle closer, screaming at the Stalkers*
Phantom: Fire in the hole!
*A second grenade shakes the room, resulting in body parts flying against the walls and a chorus of wails from the zombies*
Nikita: They’re still coming! There’s gotta be dozens of them!
Phantom: Don’t let up! Keep Nimbus covered, he’ll do more damage up close!
*Nimbus, now at the front of the group, goes to town on the zombies, each shot resulting in a loud boom and splattering body parts*
Nimbus: Gotta reload!
Virtue: I got you!
*Virtue steps in alongside Phantom, keeping a constant stream of bullets at the zombies*
Phantom: Careful! They’re starting to circle around us!
Gremlin: Get the ones on the side! Nimbus stay up front!
Nimbus: I’m good to go, make way!
*The Stalkers continue to open fire, aiming to the side while Nimbus, Phantom, and Virtue hold the middle*
Gremlin: Watch that one, he’s too close!
Jargon: Got him!
Zombie: The imprisoned approaches!
Gremlin: Stop speaking in code! What approaches?
*A loud grunt, followed by a roar comes from behind the zombies*
Gremlin: Shit… not another…
*Before the Stalkers can react, another Snork lunges out of the darkness, right into the group of Stalkers*
Nikita: Shit… AHHHH…!
*Nikita skids across the floor, behind the Stalkers while the Snork tears into his suit*
Nikita: OH MY GOD! HELP ME!
*A group of zombies take notice and divert their attention to the exposed target, a drooling grin over their faces*
Gremlin: Get those ones! THOSE ONES!
Nikita: THEY’RE COMING FOR ME!
*The group of zombies shuffle over to Nikita, moaning and forming bits of words as they go*
Unknown (1): Kiiiiill!
Unknown (2): Soldier! Soldier! Soldierrrrrrr!
*Nikita struggles under the super-strength of the Snork on top of him to reach his weapon, knocked to the ground a few feet to his left*
Gremlin: Nimbus! I need you over here!
Nimbus: On it!
Jargon: I’ll cover front!
*Nimbus switches to the back of the group in an attempt to neutralize the zombies closing in on Nikita*
Gremlin: The walls! ON THE WALLS!
*Tapping and banging noises come from the walls on the side of the room*
Jargon: More Snorks!
Nimbus: They’re climbing the God damn walls!
Phantom: Aim for the head! They’re not that strong if you shoot first!
*Bullets ricochet off the walls, aimed at the Snorks crawling along the walls*
Phantom: One down! Two more on the right!
*Nimbus lets off a blast in the direction of the Snorks on the right wall. A squeal of pain echoes through the room, then a thud as the creature lands on the platform below it and gurgles blood*
Gremlin: Get the last one!
*There’s a hefty grunt and a loud thud as a larger Snork leaps and lands to Nikita’s left, kicking his rifle across the floor*
*Nikita screams in horror*
Gremlin: Phantom, hit the big one!
*Bullets start flying in Nikita’s direction, with several direct hits to the head*
Phantom: He won’t fucking die!
*The larger Snork, enraged, starts running towards the group*
Gremlin: HEADS UP! It’s coming this way!
*The Snork lunges into the group, plowing a path through the middle of the group*
Gremlin: Regroup! Form a circle and fall back to the elevator shaft!
*Nikita, out of options, pulls out a grenade and shoves it into the mouth of the Snork on top of him. Then, with all his energy, shoves the creature to his side and makes for the shaft*
Nikita: Get down! Live grenade!
*The Snork scrambles to get its footing on the floor and before doing so, starts in Nikita’s direction, sliding across the floor*
Gremlin: Drop that Snork!
Phantom: I don’t have a shot!
*Nikita pulls out a pistol and unloads it at the Snork while it pounces at him again*
Nikita: Sit boy! SIT!
*The grenade detonates with a pop and a cloud of internal organs and blood, sending the remains of the Snork flying through the air*
Gremlin: Holy shit…
Nimbus: Guys, we’ve got problems up here!
Gremlin: I got these back here, keep on the front ones!
Nikita *coughs*: I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Gremlin: Shit, you’re burned badly.
Nikita: Just keep the rest of those fuckers out, I got these.
*Panting, Nikita raises his pistol at the still approaching zombies and starts firing*
Nikita: Stay back you motherfuckers!
*The rounds slowly drain from the clip until Nikita is left pulling the trigger, shooting nothing but air*
Gremlin: Hang in there, man, there’s only 3 left!
*Gremlin continues to fire*
Nikita *panting*: Wa… wait… I’ve got… one last ‘nade. H… Here it goes.
*Nikita pulls the pin his grenade, and wearily holds it above his head, like a symbol of triumph*
Gremlin: Wait! I’ve got them!
*Nikita throws the grenade with all his strength, hitting one of the zombies in the forehead*
*The grenade explodes, spreading the zombies over the room*
Nikita: Home run.
Gremlin: Nice throw! Just hang on… we’re almost throu…
*The shaft above him groans as debris bounces off the top of the lift into the bottom of the shaft*
Gremlin: WATCH OUT!
*A piece of concrete bounces off the walls of the shaft, stopping upon hitting Nikita in the chest*
Phantom: Gremlin! We need your help here!
Gremlin: Dammit! Why… why…
*The Stalkers keep up the firing while the moans of the zombies continue*
Phantom: On the ledges above us!
Jargon: Right side is down!
Zombie: Left is dust.
*The screams of the zombies continue until the hoard finally dwindles to a few stragglers*
Phantom: Ceiling looks clear.
*A shotgun blast resonates through the room*
Nimbus: Stay dead you piece of shit.
Phantom: One more to the left.
Gremlin: He’s mine.
*Gremlin strolls over to the zombie and opens fire point blank*
Gremlin: DIE YOU MERCILESS SON OF A BITCH! That one’s for Nikita you mutated fucks!
*Gremlin continues to fire and lets out a yell while he does so, the muzzle flashes illuminating the sick look on his face*
Phantom: Gremlin! GREMLIN! It’s dead! Let off!
*Gremlin finishes the clip until the magazine empties and the chamber clicks a few dozen times*
Phantom: Come on man… let off.
*Gremlin pants furiously, teeth bared. The other Stalkers stare in confusion*
Gremlin: Too many lives… too many. The sooner we get to the source of the emission the sooner the lost souls of this place can finally go to hell where they belong. Do you hear me you piece of shit? DO YOU HEAR ME?!
*Gremlin yells again, kicking the corpse of the zombie and smashing its head with his rifle*
Jargon: THAT’S ENOUGH! You’re not solving anything! You’re right – the sooner we get to the source, the sooner we get out of here… then maybe no one else will have to die.
Nikita *coughing*: I’m not quite dead yet.
*The group rushes over to the elevator shaft where Nikita, half buried under concrete and debris, is propped up, blood dripping from his mouth*
Gremlin: Dammit man, I thought you were dead! We finished off those sons of bitches.
Jargon: Hold still, I’ve got some medical experience, let me check those wounds.
Nikita: I already know the diagnosis doc… don’t bother.
Jargon: Don’t be an idiot, let me see.
Gremlin: Nikita, I’m sorry… I could have gotten those guys before they got too close. But I was fucking stupid!
*Gremlin punches the concrete in front of him*
Nikita: Don’t punish yourself. You couldn’t have done anything.
Gremlin: Maybe not… but I should have expected an ambush the second we stepped foot in here, but I was too busy being a pussy after that Snork pounced on me.
Nikita: You weren’t being a pussy. You’re only a pussy if you keep blaming yourself for not preventing the unpreventable. I’m the Zone’s now.
Gremlin: Fuck that. I don’t believe that anymore. the Zone doesn’t dictate who lives and who dies – nobody does.
Phantom: You believe that?
Gremlin: I do… and I’m sorry I made you believe otherwise.
Phantom: No… don’t worry about it.
Nikita: Well… either way it’s too late for me now.
Gremlin: No it’s not. How is he Jargon?
Jargon: Not good. I’m sorry.
Gremlin: Dammit! Stay with us! We have a mission to accomplish.
Nikita: My mission ends here.
Gremlin: NO! We have lives to save… you can’t give up on that.
Nikita: I gave my life for the Zone; I’d gladly die so that others live.
*Gremlin curses and stands up abruptly, walking back into the room in an attempt to look like he’s patrolling the area, hiding his face from the group*
Nikita *sputters*: Listen! Stop lingering around here; you have a job to do. I’ve always been a nobody. Nobody knew me in life, and nobody will in death. I’ve lived a meaningless life – at least let me die for a cause.
Virtue: You did the right thing, signing me up for this mission. I thank you for that.
Nikita *laughs, spitting up blood*: You needed a job, I needed a sixth man.
Virtue: No, you picked me for a reason.
Nikita: Yeah… well I guess I thought you were the type that would get it done in the end. I knew you were different than the average Stalker.
Jargon: You were right, Nikita. Virtue’s not a normal Stalker; he has heart and the will to keep going despite the odds.
Nikita *coughs violently*: Well, who am I to stand in your way then? Get to it Stalkers. Don’t let the Zone have any more lives.
*Nikita coughs up more blood, then heaves a few times, and lets out a sigh – committing his spirit to the Zone*
Jargon: Rest in peace, Stalker.
Virtue: Thanks again.
*The Stalkers stare in silence for a few moments*
Phantom: We’ll need his ammo and med kits. The rest will stay with him forever.
Jargon: I’ll attend to that.
Phantom: Very well. Come on guys… let’s go.
*Jargon takes what supplies are necessary while the rest of the Stalkers group up with Gremlin, who is standing on guard, unmoving and silent*
Jargon: Ok, we’ve got what we need.
Phantom: Alright, everyone ready?
Phantom: … let’s go.
Nikita is dead. I barely knew him. He was one of the first Stalkers I met in the Zone… and one of the first friendly faces I had seen in a long time. His death still lingers with me… it reminds me of what that bandit said my first day in the Zone…
[Log - Day 2]
"Are you going to shoot me? What do you think you and your little band of freedom-fighters are going to do here? Nothing! If you kill me, that's one more life the Zone claims, and one more soul that will be forgotten. Can you handle that "Stalker"? I bet you and I are not so unalike."
The bandit had lived an empty life like Nikita claimed he had also. I believe there was dignity in his death… but does he believe that? What if this mission is just a waste of time and we’re solving nothing here? His death would have been in vain, and so will be any more deaths along the way. We’re no better off than the soulless abominations that crawl around these halls if this mission fails. If we don’t discover the source of the emission, or shed any light on the cause of the death and destruction that litters the Zone like the leftovers of Chernobyl, we fail everyone who has died here since that day… and I fail Emelia.
Gremlin hasn’t said a word since Nikita’s death so Phantom is calling most of the shots with an occasional suggestion or comment from Jargon. Zombie is ever vigilant in his silent analysis of the areas we pass through. Nimbus seems rather distant over the death of Nikita… I can’t say that I blame him; death is not an easy thing to get over, especially when you’re at his level of experience. I’m no better off than he is… I honestly don’t know if we’ll ever get out of this place, but I know that if we do, anything above ground will be a great sight to see from now on.
So we march on, ever-conscious of the danger that surrounds us. But we can’t stray from our target now, not with so much depending on it. The sound of machinery beneath us gets louder as we stalk the halls of this place. I can feel an internal battle going on inside me… am I willing to sacrifice my life so that others may live… or do I do the job, and get the hell out so my wife will live to see another day? I can’t answer that now… but I know there is a huge burden on my shoulders, and who lives depends on what we do here today.