September 15, 2008

Chapter 8: X-it


{Excerpt from the audio log of Gremlin}
[Audio enabled]
Jargon *shouting*: Hang on young man!
Gremlin *shouting*: Don’t let go!
Jargon *shouting*: I won’t if you won’t!
Gremlin *shouting*: Uh… ok?!
Jargon: *shouting*: I’m just trying to lighten the mood, given our situation!
Gremlin *shouting*: … thoughtful!
*Jargon, who has been hanging by his feet, slowly uses his years of built-up muscle to haul himself and Gremlin out of the hole and back into the room they fell into after the floor collapsed above them*
Gremlin: *whew* Thanks… you’re pretty strong for an old man.
Jargon: Wisdom’s not the only thing that comes with age if you work for it.
Gremlin: Noted…
Jargon: Did anyone else fall on this level?
Gremlin: There was nothing below me besides a pool of something nasty.
Jargon: We’re separated then. I can hear the warning sirens above us still, and it looked like the annual zombie meeting was taking place.
Gremlin: There were a ton of them! How are we going to get out of here now?
Jargon: I’m not sure. There’s always a way out, you just have to know where to look. But we can’t leave without the others.
Gremlin: You’re right. Let’s try to make our way to them.
*Gremlin and Jargon step back from the hole that almost added them to the total body count of the facility and find the main stairwell they had attempted to take before the floor collapsed above them*
Gremlin: Alright… here’s the door leading back to where we fell.
Jargon: Watch yourself when you get up there.
Gremlin: As long as those zombies haven’t made it up here yet…
Jargon: No… not that. Remember how I told you the door kept shutting on me when I was trying to open it?
Gremlin: I think so. You said it was a draft didn’t you?
Jargon: I don’t think it was a draft anymore.
Gremlin: You don’t mean…
Jargon: I saw a blue flash above us as we were falling with the others… it looked like sparks of electricity flying in a pattern.
Gremlin: Dammit… that’s all we need.
Jargon: All it takes it one wrong step on that floor and we could end up further down next time, especially if someone or something else decided to complicate things.
*The Stalkers make it to the top of the stairwell and open the door back into the room they were last together in. A gaping hole is open in the ground before them, exposing several rooms and hallways below them, many of them with smaller holes inside where the debris continued to fall along with the rest of the group*
Gremlin *whistles*: That’s a long way to fall… it looks like it was a bumpy ride but they probably survived. Let’s hope they didn’t land in a mutant den or puddle of contaminated waste.
Jargon: We can’t get down there and the doors in this room were locked from the other side.
Gremlin: We’ll just have to hope they’re still alive and are finding their way back. In the meantime let’s head back to that control room and get as much data as we can.
*Gremlin and Jargon pass through a few rooms and back to the hallway connecting to the central chamber. The zombies are still below them, shuffling around aimlessly*
Gremlin: Jesus… there’s so many of them.
Jargon: Let’s just get in there and get back out before they take notice of us.
Gremlin: At least we know Dmytro doesn’t have direct control over them anymore.
Jargon: I’d rather not take my chances.
*Once inside the control room, the Stalkers continue the search for any additional information that might prove useful in explaining the purpose of the lab and the events following both Chernobyl incidents*
*Suddenly a loud speaker crackles somewhere in the chamber ahead of them*

Dmytro: Finding anything useful, my dear Stalkers?
Gremlin: Hey! Didn’t we shut you up already?
Dmytro: Yes… that was rather annoying. Do you know how long it took me to find the link to the old system?
Jargon: We have nothing more to say to you.
Dmytro: Fine, just listen then.
*The Stalkers stop for a moment*
Dmytro: Your friends are below you, getting well acquainted with the children in the nursery. If you want to see them alive, I’ll need something from you.
Jargon: What could we possibly have to offer?
Dmytro: Keep that information here, where it belongs, and I’ll give you some information that will help you survive the trip back to whatever rock you crawled out from under.
Jargon: Why does it matter, we have it all up here – in our heads.
Dmytro: Yes… that was inevitable. But if you simply leave the documents behind, I’ll let you and your friends live, and even give you a head start!
Jargon: I don’t think so. We’re blowing your operation wide open you sick bastard.
Dmytro: Oh no… you’re dead wrong. DEAD, wrong.
*The voice coming over the internal alarm system ceases to be Dmytro and is instead replaced by a robotic male voice.
[Com System]: Attention! All personnel evacuate the facility. Breach detected on Level Seven… Four… Three. Containment failure. Evacuate. Evacuate.
Gremlin: That’s our sign to move.
*The zombies below gawk at the sounds coming from the ceiling above them and further down the halls until one sees the Stalkers. He holds his arms out in front of him as if to grab them from where they stand above him and begins moving towards them, grunting at other zombies nearby.*
Jargon: We’ve been spotted.
*Other zombies begin to take notice, and shuffle slowly behind the leader*
[Com System]: Critical systems compromised. Opening emergency exits now. Warning: unidentified personnel detected in sections Alpha-One, Alpha-Three, Beta-Five, Beta-Six, Beta…
Gremlin: The exits are open, let’s go!
*The Stalkers run back to the hole they fell in, hearing gunfire and voices directly under them*
Phantom *distant*: Reloading!
Virtue *distant*: I got ‘em.
*pop* pop* pop* pop* pop*
Gremlin *shouting*: Hey! We’re up here, can you hear me!?
Phantom *distant*: Was that… hello?! Yes! We can hear you! We’re falling back to the stairwell on Level Three! We’ve got problems down here!
Gremlin *shouting*: Hang on! We’re on our…
Zombie *distant*: The Devil’s pawn seeks our destruction!
*BOOM* *BOOM*
Nimbus *distant*: Where is it?! I still can’t see it!
Zombie *distant*: Fire when the light turns to dark.
Nimbus *distant*: That stairwell is pitch-black!
Gremlin *shouts*: Zombie! Nimbus! Can you hear me?!
Zombie *distant*: The guests are gathered again.
Gremlin *shouts*: Phantom and Virtue aren’t far from you! Make your way to the stairwell on that side, all emergency exits are open!
Zombie *distant*: We will vacate.
Jargon: Those zombies below us are picking up pace… they’re only one level away now.
Gremlin: We need to hold them off while the others make their way back here. I saw some heavy-looking machines and some crates off to the side of the main chamber, let’s see if we can barricade the path up.
Jargon: Roger that.
*Gremlin and Jargon begin hurling anything in sight into the stairwell in the central chamber in an attempt to barricade the zombies on the lower levels*
Gremlin: This will only hold them for so long; we need to start looking for a way out… wait here.
Jargon: Make it quick! I think we’re making them angry…
*The roar of the zombies below them gets louder by the second*
*Gremlin returns to the room with the hole in it*
Gremlin: Ok… let’s see. Sector A there… Sector B, Sector G… *shouts* Guys! What sections are you in?
Zombie: *distant*: Beta Sector.
Phantom *distant*: Uh… Gamma! We could use some help here!
Gremlin: I’m on my way. Zombie – you’re near the top, just watch the floor when you get to the top.
*Gremlin steps around the hole and opens the door to Gamma Sector. The sound of gunfire gets louder as he descends the stairs*
Phantom *distant*: Watch your left!
Virtue *distant*: There’s more behind them! More than just zombies!
Phantom *distant*: Shit. Stay behind me!
*Gremlin finds the door to the room Phantom and Virtue are in*
Gremlin: I’m coming in guys! Fall back to the door, I’ll cover you!
*Gremlin kicks in the door. The sounds of gunfire, bullets ricocheting, and zombies moaning immediately fills the area*
Gremlin: Holy shit…
Phantom: I think we pissed off the nest!
Gremlin: I’ll say. Fall back! We need to get top-side ASAP. We had another encounter with the talking box.
Phantom: Virtue has a mild burn that needs some attention…
Gremlin: There’s no time! It’s a shit-storm upstairs too, we won’t last another minute in this place.
*The STALKERS fall back to the door, now hanging by a hinge, as Gremlin attempts to wedge it back into place*
Gremlin: The top is three levels up, Jargon’s up there covering our escape. Zombie and Nikita are…
*A growl comes from behind the door, interrupting Gremlin. A second later, the door bursts open, flying off the hinge and sending Gremlin flying to the opposite wall*
Phantom:  Snork!
*Phantom and Virtue open fire while Gremlin struggles to get the door with the Snork attached off of him*
Gremlin: DAMMIT! I hate these things!
*The Snork claws at the door, sliding around the surface as Gremlin tries to kick it off of him*
Phantom: I can’t get a good shot!
Gremlin: Don’t bother – just go!
Phantom: I’m not leaving you here alone!
Gremlin: I left you – and if you don’t leave those zombies are going to kill us all. We’re wasting time – GO!
*Gremlin uses all of his strength to propel the door, and the Snork into the zombies in the opposing room, then looks up at Phantom – a look of dread on his face*
Gremlin: Good bye.
*Gremlin turns and runs – down the stairwell instead of up*
Phantom: Gremlin! What are you doing!?
*Gremlin sprints down the stairs, tripping several times on the way down and sliding instead. A few seconds later the reason for his flight is revealed – no less than 5 Bloodsuckers and several dozen Snorks immediately chase after him like a demented train*
[End audio]
{Logged in as Virtue}
[Audio enabled]
Phantom: Holy shhh… time to leave.
*Phantom and Virtue run up the stairwell, the sounds of gunfire and the screams of the Bloodsuckers and Snorks coming from below them, as well as the shuffles and moans of the zombies who have now filled the stairwell*
Phantom *muttering*: Dammit Gremlin… why did you do that… why…
Virtue: Here it is! Level 1!
Phantom: Just watch your step, from the sound of it the floor is still unstable… and that hole could get worse.
*Virtue opens the door to the top level, and the Stalkers step into the room with the gaping hole, next to the main chamber*
Nimbus: They made it!
Jargon: … and not a minute too late. The zombies are breaking through the barrier!
Phantom: We need to get out of here – now.
Jargon: Where’s Gremlin? He was supposed to find you.
Gremlin: He did… he won’t be coming with us.
*The Stalkers are silent, besides the gunfire coming from their weapons*
Jargon: Understood. Let’s move then.
*Pieces of metal and wood start to land around the Stalkers as the barrier is torn to shreds*
Jargon: Based off the blueprints we got, this way leads to a service room that contains a large pipe large enough for us to fit through. The pipe drains into Lake Yantar.
Phantom: Not my first choice for end location, but if it leads out of here I’ll take it.
*The zombies begin shuffling as quickly as they possibly can towards the group of Stalkers, throwing anything they can get their hands on to impede their progress, including their own body parts if necessary*
*Jargon shoots the lock on one of the doors on that level*
Jargon: This way.
*The Stalkers step through the door, into another series of rooms that look much like the ones they’ve been in, although void of any items or furniture, then close the door behind them*
Jargon: We need to follow the main hall, at the end there is a service ladder leading down to the utility room, the pipe is in there.
*The door behind them starts taking a barrage of debris and body parts*
Phantom: Don’t underestimate their strength, they’ll be through in seconds – let’s move!
*The STALKERS run through the hall, towards the end, the noise fading not-so-quietly behind them. A few moments later, they come to the end*
Jargon: I’ll go first.
*Jargon slides down the ladder, into the room below*
Jargon: I’m ok… come on down!
*The STALKERS take turns sliding down the ladder while Jargon reviews the blueprints in his backpack*
Jargon: This doesn’t make any sense… this ladder was supposed to go straight down, but we’re in another room that looks identical to the one we were in.
Phantom: That wall over there says “Level 02”.
Jargon: This area doesn’t show any levels besides the single utility room.
*Jargon glances back at the service ladder they dismounted trying to make sense of the situation, then stops cold*
Phantom: Wait… where’s the ladder we just came down?
Jargon: I… don’t know.
*Suddenly a shockwave comes down the ladder-less shaft the Stalkers came from, knocking the group over*
Virtue: What the hell was that?
Nimbus: I have a bad feeling about this…
Jargon: So do I… let’s move to the other end of the hallway.
*The Stalkers move to the other end of the hallway, finding empty rooms along the way, eerily empty of all previous contents*
Nimbus: I don’t like this at all…
*Jargon shines his headlamp at the dark end of the hallway, searching for a way out. His headlamp passes over stacks of furniture, neatly arrayed according the size and weight with the smallest and lightest objects in front*
Jargon: Shit… wrong turn…
*A loud roar fills the room, disorienting the Stalkers and sending them to the floor. The area fills with a static hum*
Nimbus: No… not again!
*Nimbus takes off running*
Phantom: What… the…
Zombie: The Devil’s jester is amongst us.
Jargon: Get back to the service shaft!
*The furniture immediately lurches forward all at once, the objects in front pelting the Stalkers like a side-ways hail*
Nimbus: Where do we go?! The ladder is gone!
Jargon: No it’s not – this is an illusion! Reach into the shaft, you’ll feel the rungs!
*A sickening screeching sound echoes through the room as the furniture grinds along the floor, the small objects in front hitting anyone nearby, following to the floor, the flying at them again*
Jargon: Phantom, Zombie! Shoot any of the larger breakable objects, I’ll cover you!
Phantom: Uh… did anyone else notice the fucking furniture is attacking us?!
*Jargon runs into the chaos of moving furniture, kicks over a desk, and balls up behind it. The rest of the furniture immediately starts pelting the desk, sounding like a metallic rain*
*Phantom and Zombie start shooting at anything breakable, ducking the occasional coffee machine or microwave that comes in their direction*
Nimbus: It’s here! Come on!
Virtue: Right behind you!
*Jargon peeks over the cover of the desk, the larger objects in back lurch forward again*
Jargon: Grenade!
*Jargon throws a grenade into the storm of furniture in front of him*
BOOM!
*The shockwave from the grenade disrupts the storm and sends the furniture in back flying back towards the end of the hallway*
Phantom: Ha ha! Take that you invisible freak!
Jargon: We’re not out of danger – Phantom, you go next…
*A deep rumble shakes the furniture in the room. Moments later, Phantom starts screaming*
Phantom: AHHHH! HELP ME!
*Phantom starts hovering off the floor, then is violently thrown to the ceiling, where he stays*
Phantom: What the fuck?! Kill it! KILL IT!
Jargon: Shit! We need to find it!
Zombie: I will seek the light.
*Phantom is dragged across the ceiling like a doll being played with by an invisible girl who has not been taught about gravity*
Phantom: AHHHH! Stop it!
*Phantom shoots at every light in the room in an attempt to either kill his attacker or make it more visible*
Jargon: Over in that corner!
*Zombie begins firing at a corner in the room that is distorting the light. A scream like a hundred voices mixed into one fills the STALKER’s perceptions. The distortion begins to phase out and is instead replaced with a floating creature, resembling a human torso with arms, but no legs.*
Zombie: Return to your master.
*Zombie puts a well-placed round directly into the creature’s forehead*
*A final screeching sound comes from the creature as the whispers and screams of a countless number of people echo throughout the room – the final moment of their lives before their deaths*
*Phantom falls to the ground along with the creature. A few moments later he picks himself up, stunned*
Phantom *breathing hard*: Someone wanna explain that to me?
Jargon: Another time perhaps, right now we have more pressing issues.
*The door with the zombies behind it is now standing wide open with a hoard of zombies standing inside the first room, captivated by the last whispers and screams from the Poltergeist*
Jargon: You two go, I’ll keep them distracted.
*As Phantom makes his way down the ladder, the zombies snap out of their trance and, when seeing the Stalkers in front of them, give a hungry growl and shuffle towards them*
Jargon: Grenade!
*Zombie opens fire while Phantom descends the ladder*
BOOM!
*The first line of zombies either falls to the ground or flies across the room in pieces*
Phantom: I’m down, come on!
*Zombie ceases fire, and begins sliding down the ladder*
Jargon: Come on… I’ll give you all the funerals you deserved years ago.
*Jargon continues firing, hitting the zombies in vital areas to keep them stumbling back into the line behind them, preventing advance*
Zombie: Advance when ready!
*Jargon reaches into his backpack and pulls out an old, makeshift napalm-c4 explosive*
Jargon: I knew this would come in handy one day. Rest in peace, my brothers.
*Jargon hurls the explosive into the midst of zombies and dives into the service shaft. A few seconds later a massive explosion shakes the facility above, sending a bloody shockwave into the shaft above him, causing him to slip off the ladder and bounce down the shaft to the bottom*
Phantom: Jargon?! What the hell was that? Are you ok?
*Jargon lands on the bottom of the shaft with a thud*
Phantom: Shit! Jargon! Talk to me!
Jargon: *cough* That’ll slow ‘em down.
Phantom: What did you do?
Jargon: I just introduced them to an old friend of mine. Now they’re where nature intended them to be.
Phantom: You must have blown that room to high hell! Come on, we need to get out of here; I hear secondary explosions up there.
Jargon: No. This is as far as I go. My work in the Zone is done. I may not have been able to save my former colleagues, but I did save other brothers and sisters.
Phantom: Don’t talk like that… there are plenty of other people in the Zone that still need saving.
Jargon: That’s for another STALKER. I made my decision up there, and now I’m paying the price for angering the Zone. Go on, there’s no room in this place for an old man. the Zone’s been counting down my days for 25 years.
Phantom: Dammit man… I’m not going to lose you.
Zombie: His life is unstable. His spirit is committed. He stays.
Phantom: *choking up a little* Fuck! You of all people! You know… I never got to tell you this Jargon… but you’ve been just like a father to me. The only father I’ve ever known isn’t the one I’ve been chasing after for the past few years… it’s you.
Jargon: I know. I’m sorry… son.
Phantom: Dammit! You were like a father to all of us! You can’t give up old man! YOU CAN’T!
Jargon: It’s too late for me. Don’t make it too late for them too. Get them out of here and leave me to the Zone.
*Tears begin to form in Phantom’s eyes*
Phantom: But… you… you can’t!
Zombie: the Zone watches over him now. We must leave.
*Zombie pulls Phantom away, turning towards the wall to hide the tear that has just escaped his own eye*
*Phantom, allowing himself to be dragged gently by Zombie stares after the old man fading behind him, tears streaming down his face*
Phantom: I’ll come back for you! I won’t ever stop looking for you! Mother and sister’s search will not have been in vain!
*Zombie, Nimbus, and Virtue proceed in silence, glancing silently amongst themselves, knowing of Phantom’s delusion that Jargon is the father he, his mother, and sister have been searching for all these years and promised return to*
Zombie: Rest in peace, Father.
Nimbus: May the Zone be good to you.
Virtue: Farewell, friend.
Phantom: Father… no Father… I’ll find you…
*The Stalkers exit the room and enter the next, containing the utility room with the pipe in it. The facility above them continues to quake, while warning sirens fill the air*
Zombie: The light is near now.
Virtue: I’ll go first.
Nimbus: No, I’ll go. I’m tired of being protected by everyone. If I were to die, nothing would change. I’ve seen too many empty deaths today… never again.
Virtue: I understand… but just for the record, it would affect me if you died.
Nimbus: Thanks… I appreciate that. So… let’s go.
*Nimbus crawls into the pipe and slowly stands up inside, finding barely enough room to do so*
Nimbus: It looks safe.
Zombie: Proceed.
Virtue: Right behind you, buddy.
*Virtue enters the pipe following Nimbus, after which Zombie nudges Phantom inside and follows behind him*
Nimbus: So… where do we go when we get out?
Zombie: Return to Sakharov.
Nimbus: You know the way?
Zombie: I know all ways.
Nimbus: Ok… and once I give him the information from my PDA, what then?
Zombie: Mission complete.
Nimbus: Just like that huh? You know… I’ve only been on the “good” side for a day or two, and I’ve already seen so much death… I don’t know how you guys can deal with it so easily.
Zombie: the Zone decides who lives and died. There is no use disputing it.
*Phantom interjects*
Phantom: That’s bullshit! We’re the ones who decide who lives and who dies… just like Jargon and those zombies back there. He decided to kill that hoard up there, sacrificing himself along with it. That wasn’t the Zones doing – that was his! If the Zone had its way, we would all be dead, and men like him wouldn’t make the sacrifices they do for the sake of saving your sorry ass! You make me fucking sick!
How can you be so casual about someone sacrificing themselves for you and then just say, “well, that’s just the way it goes”?! Jargon didn’t believe that, and he’s been here since all this shit started and has been proving you wrong since day one! To hear you saying this after he sacrificed himself so you could go on living is a fucking insult! If you were really smart, you’d get your head out of your ass and actually give a fuck about the people dying because they had a cause, not because the Zone decided to kill them!
*Zombie remains silent for what seems an eternity. Finally, he breaks the silence with:*
Zombie: He was the father of the Zone. Perhaps the Zone will respect that.
Phantom: You’re hopeless. Fucking hopeless. I could shoot you in the head right now and you still wouldn’t believe that it was because of my own will, and not the Zone’s. Do me a favor and keep your worthless opinions to yourself.
*Zombie is silent. It almost appears that he is deeply hurt, but if so he hides it well*
Virtue: Look… we’re all still shaken up with everything. There will be a time to mourn our losses later… we’ve been through a lot today and we’re not out of it yet. I for one have seen enough pain and suffering to last a lifetime, and I’ve been in the Zone for less than a week.
I can’t pretend to understand the way everything works… maybe there is some force or reason behind the existence of the Zone that can dictate who lives or dies in some way. But I do know that we have a choice in that matter right now: we can get this data to Sakharov, and in turn, we can save thousands of lives, both past, present, and future. I’m not going to let anything stop that, no matter what the odds. I’m going to get this data to Sakharov, or die trying.
Phantom: At least someone understands.
Nimbus: I’m really sorry about your loss too. Even the Bandits knew about Jargon. We’ve had several opportunities to rob him, but we never really did. There’s just too much history behind him, the overwhelming sense of guilt was always too much for us. I guess you can say we looked up to him as a father too.
But I agree with Virtue, this information has to make it to Sakharov, or he would have died in vain.
Phantom: You’re right - both of you. We need to get this information out... people depend on it. I’m sorry for my outburst.
*Phantom glances over at Zombie who is more silent than usual, with a glazed-over look in his eyes*
Nimbus: Hey guys – are there supposed to be junctions in here?
Phantom: I don’t remember seeing any on the map; then again I didn’t get a detailed look at it. Just keep going straight, the main line leads into Lake Yantar.
Nimbus: Well… I can’t see it but the smell is getting worse.
Phantom: I wouldn’t recommend drinking any of the water to say the least. The lake is highly contaminated, so watch where you step ad stay on dry ground as much as you can.
*The Stalkers continue down the drain pipe in silence until Nimbus speaks up*
Nimbus: I just realized we haven’t eaten all day.
Phantom: Nope.
Nimbus: Well, whoever’s stomach is growling is doing a damn good job or reminding me of that fact.
Phantom: I’m not hungry.
Virtue: Not mine.
Zombie: …
*Nimbus stops walking*
Nimbus: Please tell me that growling noise is your stomachs.
*The Stalkers stop and listen to the growling noise echoing through the pipe*
Nimbus: You sure it’s not you guys?
Phantom: No… that’s not us.
Nimbus: What is it?
Phantom: I don’t know, but I know what it could be. Snorks like dark damp places, and Lake Yantar is a breeding ground for them.
Nimbus: Could they be in these pipes?
Phantom: Possibly. Just stay sharp and quiet.
*The group treads carefully onwards, being as quiet as possible while their boots splash in the puddles inside the pipe. As they continue, a minor tremor starts to vibrate the pipe beneath them.*
Nimbus: You guys feel that?
Virtue: Yeah.
*The tremor increases in intensity, as do the cries of birds outside*
Virtue: What the hell’s going on out there?
*The rest of the group remains silent, a look of dread on their faces. Then, from behind them several roars echo through the pipes*
Phantom: Shit… Snorks behind us… run!
*The group splashes through the pipe, running towards the end as Snorks pour out of the junction in the pipe behind them*
Virtue: They’re going crazy back there.
Phantom: If it’s why I think it is, we need to get the hell out of here and find shelter.
*Some of the Snorks take notice of the Stalkers running towards the end of the pipe and give chase, jumping like frogs down the pipes, gaining quickly*
Phantom: They’re gaining – burn rubber!
*The ground continues to shake as the Stalkers break for the end of the pipe, the Snorks closing in behind them – some leaping like frogs, others crawling along the sides and top of the pipe towards them*
Nimbus: I see the end! Come on!
*Nimbus exits the pipe, seeing the first light in what seems like days*
Nimbus: It’s clear!
*The other three Stalkers pour out of the pipe while a group of Snorks lunges out behind them, one of them hitting Zombie square in the back and knocking him into the water*
Nimbus: Zombie’s down!
*Zombie picks himself out of the water, and unloads his rifle at the Snork that hit him, then turns it back into the pipe*
Phantom: Fire in the hole!
*Phantom rolls a grenade into the pipe, and then takes off in the opposite direction. The other Stalkers follow his lead while the grenade detonates*
BOOM!
Phantom: We need to make for the bunker!
Nimbus: Where is it from here?!
Phantom: It’s uh… uh…
*Before Phantom can think another explosion echoes through the area, but this one is 100 times larger. The Stalkers immediately hit the ground in fear as a deafening roar cuts out all other sounds*
Virtue *shouting*: What’s happening?
Phantom *shouting*: MY GOD…
*The Stalkers look up at the sky to see a huge flock of birds flying in every direction, apparently confused*
Nimbus *shouting*: No… it can’t be!
*The birds continue to fly chaotically until a massive shockwave erupts from the hills north of the area, tearing through the flock and continuing south in the blink of an eye. Seconds later the flock stops moving and begins to fall from the sky. The birds plummet to the ground, most impacting water making the illusion of rain hitting the lake.*
Virtue *shouting*: What’s that?! What’s causing that?!
Phantom *shouting*: IT’S A…!
*Phantom is cut off by a huge gust of wind and dust that rockets over the hill, sending plants and debris flying. The earthquake continues to increase in intensity as the sky flashes with a blinding white light. The Stalkers cover their eyes, afraid to move and unable to see.
Virtue: [Indistinguishable]
*Virtue attempts to speak or scream but is unable to due to the sheer intensity of the noise*
*The light in the sky slowly dims, but instead of being blue, the sky has turned blood red, filled with dust clouds and a noticeable large plume in the distance to the north, resembling a mushroom cloud. The sky around it flashes with lightening as the clouds roil upwards into the sky.*
*Phantom is the first to get up and attempts to shout something out, but is unheard. The Snorks, who are still coming out of the pipe, run around like the birds, jumping every which way. Some manage to locate the group of Stalkers and hobble towards them*
*Phantom attempts to speak again, but gives up and instead starts firing at the Snorks while running backwards. Zombie looks over at a hill in the distance and points in that direction, yelling something back. While running and shooting, Phantom makes one last attempt at communication by mouthing “RUN!”*
*Virtue and Nimbus, still huddled on the ground in fear, get the note, and start to take off. Nimbus grabs Virtues arm and points towards a region with plants and trees. Virtue, too overwhelmed to do anything but run, follows behind Nimbus, shooting at anything that gets too close to them. Zombie and Phantom continue off in their own directions, taking on a legion of Snorks apiece while they run for cover, firing behind them*
*The amplitude of the sound goes down a little to the point where voices are barely distinguishable*
Nimbus *shouting*: … need to find cover!
Virtue *shouting*: What is this?!
Nimbus *shouting* …out! … radiation… cover!
*The Stalkers make it to the over-grown plant area, but Nimbus keeps running. As they run, Virtue’s Geiger counter slowly begins to climb*
Virtue *shouting*: Radiation! It’s radioactive!
Nimbus *shouting* … running!
*The Stalkers continue to run, until about a minute later the sky breaks into a flowing-roar sound like a huge flamethrower. The earthquake shoots off the scale, disorienting the Stalkers and sending them to the ground. Nimbus gets back up and attempts to run but is constantly fighting to stay up. The plants around them turn dark red as if soaking up the red in the sky. Nimbus continues to stumble forward until finally he trips and vanishes*
Virtue *shouting*: NIMBUS!!!
*Virtue runs up to where Nimbus fell, and finds no sign of him – only a small underhang beneath him*
Virtue: What the hell… what the fuck is going on?! *shouts* NIMBUS!!!
*Virtue decides Nimbus might have scrambled into the underhang and attempts to make his way down*
*Suddenly, a massive wave of radiation sends the Geiger counter soaring*
Virtue: SHIT!
*Virtue trips on the top of the overhang attempting to shield himself from the radiation, and falls off the side. There is a loud whooshing sound accompanied by an electric discharge and a popping noise*
*All sounds abruptly cease as Virtue lands in a pile of leaves*
Nimbus: Whoa… good thing I moved!
Virtue: Ow… my head… what the hell happened?
Nimbus: Do you want the good news or the bad news?
Virtue: Whichever order works better.
Nimbus: Ok… well… we just escaped a blowout.
Virtue: A blowout?
Nimbus: Yeah… a secondary explosion from the NPP that happens every few days, spewing radiation and mutants, as well as killing anomalies and making new ones.
Virtue: That was massive! I’ve never been more afraid in all my life. I thought God almighty was coming out of the sky to kill the sinners of the world.
Nimbus: It’s another little unfortunate attribute about the Zone that you can’t avoid. Anyway, that was the good news.
Virtue: Really? How bad could the bad news possibly be then?
Nimbus: Well… we’re lost.
*Virtue takes a look around him*
Virtue: Holy… this isn’t where I landed.
Nimbus: Nor I. I wish I could tell you what happened… but I don’t know. All I know is that when I fell off that little cliff, I closed my eyes and the blowout stopped. When I opened my eyes I wasn’t where I had landed.
Virtue: You mean like… teleportation?
Nimbus: I don’t know… maybe it’s an illusion of some sort or we just fell further than we thought. But that doesn’t explain why the blowout just stopped…
Virtue: There’s a small hill over there, let’s see if we can make out our whereabouts.
*Virtue and Nimbus head over to a hill near where they fell, still shaken up from the whole experience and unable to accurately gauge their situation*
Nimbus: We should be able to make out Lake Yantar. If nothing else we might be able to see the fact…
*Nimbus stops and stares, jaw agape*
Virtue: I don’t think we’re in Yantar anymore…
Nimbus: Where the hell are we?
Virtue: I have… no idea…
Nimbus: Where do we go?
Virtue: I… don’t know…
[End Audio]
[20:21]
Surveying the landscape, Nimbus and I find that nothing matches where we just were; in fact, this place looks nothing like we have ever seen. We are in a vast, dark forest. From the looks of it, it hasn’t seen human presence for years - possibly never. The trees are tall and murky green, with dark brown trunks. The sun is almost completely blocked off from above, with only small rays of light seeping in through the leaves or gaps between trees, adding to the eerie light of the forest.
It is still daylight, as the distant, dark fog amongst the tree trunks in the distance indicate. It smells like a swamp, and it appears some of the fog might be a result of that. There are no noticeable signs of which way to go, just an endless expanse of trees and fog.
How we got here and what happened to the rest of our group is currently unknown… it looks like it’s just Nimbus and myself now. I’m happy more than ever to have his company now… I would hate to be lost and alone in this place.
Our objective should be to regroup with the rest of the group, and return Nimbus’ PDA to Sakharov at the Ecologist’s bunker. But… where to start… I can’t even begin to guess. Nimbus says the best we can do is head south and hope we find some point of reference or marker of our location. Where that would be in here is beyond me… we could be kilometers from the nearest STALKER camp, and we have limited supplies on us after our mission to X16.
Well… we’re not going anywhere tonight, so we’re going to sleep on it and hope tomorrow yields some better results.
This entire day has been like a dream… I still can’t believe it. Nikita… killed by that group of zombies and Snorks at the entrance to X16. Jester… zombified by the emission – I shot him. Jargon… the wise old man I met in Cordon on my first day in the Zone who saved my life, died while taking out a room packed full of zombies. Gremlin… chased into the bowels of X16 by a horde of Bloodsuckers and Snorks. Now, a massive explosion known as a “blowout” that seems to kill everything in its wake has separated Nimbus and I from the remainder of our group – only Phantom and Zombie. Not only are we separated… we’re lost… seemingly dropped in this place by the divine intervention of some higher power.
I doubt I’ll be able to sleep tonight… I’ve seen too much death and destruction… too many unexplained things. This forest doesn’t feel right either - it’s eerily quiet and there is no sign of humans ever being here. Nimbus is already asleep, which doesn’t help, now I have only myself to talk to.
[21:33]
Well… all’s quiet and I’m getting tired. I feel like I’m a million miles away from everything right now, both physically and mentally. I’m stranded in the middle of some dark, uncharted forest, within the Zone – it’s like another layer of Hell, and seeing all the suffering around me makes me feel like I’m here for the wrong reason. I mean… Emelia is depending on me to get food and money… which I am making… but there is so much more going on here. Seeing Phantom break down after leaving Jargon in X16 really hit me; these people are fighting and dying not just for themselves, but for the sake of everyone outside of the Zone as well.
For me to stay, get food and money, and then to leave is a spit in the face to all of the Stalkers in here who have sacrificed themselves for people they don’t even know. And what of this rumor that the government has been behind this whole thing from the start – like Phantom’s parents and sister? He’s dedicated his life to finding the truth, like Jargon – who’s last thoughts were probably about the justice he was serving by finally putting those zombies to rest.
Anyway… these are thoughts for another day and I’ll need my sleep for the journey ahead.
Virtue, signing off.