Chapter 14: Population: 0

*The sign in front of them looks like something out of a history book; it has worn and faded with time, looking more like a natural growth that sprouted from the ground than a man-made object.
The road past the sign is all but invisible due to the mix of darkness and haze. The trees on either side of the road seems to stretch towards them away from the city, as if either attempting to stop the Stalkers from going any further or uprooting themselves and fleeing the city with the other 50,000 evacuees of 1986.*
Stalin: Welcome to Pripyat: the lost metropolis.
*Stalin takes a deep breath through the filter on his gasmask, the first human breath taken in the city in an unknown amount of time.*
Jargon: Wake up and smell the remains.
Stalin: I just love the smell of decay in the morning! Well, the mutants aren’t going to hunt themselves. Let’s go get paid boys!
Bubba: Yee-haw!
*The Stalkers walk steadily down the seemingly endless road. Stalin’s group seems unaffected by the nearly over-whelming eeriness of the environment. Besides the dark and fog, a strange blue glow seems to hang about the area, giving everything the perfect sense of being dead and forgotten.
They pass more signs along the road as they go, speed limits, billboards, and other notifications. All of them are warped and twisted, many of them vandalized in the time since the city was abandoned. There are several layers of spray-painted images and words over the larger signs. Pictures and words by artists at the time in commemoration of lives lost and hope for the future are overlapped by fresher words and images of warning and doom.
The further they travel down the road, the more frequent the reality of the destruction in this part of the Zone hits them. Lining the road now are bodies long ago abandoned due to the inaccessibility and sheer danger of the center of the Zone. Some of them have been mutilated in unnatural ways, whether by anomalies or an especially dangerous mutant are unknown. Streaks of dried blood paint the road as a final warning to any potential visitors. They are unheeded as Stalin and troop continue on their course.*
Enigma: Oh my God…
Jargon: May the Zone rest their souls.
Martha: Keep quiet or you’ll be joining them.
*Eventually the first signs of more-recognizable civilization appear through the haze; buildings in serious state of disrepair, attempting to succumb by the overgrown plant life growing around and through them. Old cars and busses dot the streets branching off before them, enticing them to choose their fate.*
Stalin: Alright, now we just need to make it to the city center and find access to the sewers. They’re a breeding ground for all kinds of monsters.
Enigma: You’ll fit right in.
*Stalin laughs in agreement.*
*The Stalkers continue down the road until they reach the first major intersection. The traffic lights dangle menacingly as they rock in the wind coursing down the road. They turn left, heading north. The buildings beside on either side of them - old apartment buildings – are all darkened and solemn.*
*Gremlin’s group looks about them, captivated by the sight. Despite trying to look unaffected, it’s obvious that most of them are afraid.*
Jargon: I remember this city when it was the pride of the Soviet Union. The people who made it out of their homes alive left most of their personal belongings here, never to see them again. Others, who refused to leave after the second explosion when the city became sealed off, took their final breaths in their homes, scared and alone.
Martha: Thanks for the history lesson. Now shut your yapper you old prune.
*The Stalkers wind through the streets like rats in a maze, feeling as though they are being watched through any one of the thousands of windows facing them. Finally, the street gets wider and the number of abandoned cars increases as they approach the city center.*
Stalin: We’re nearly there. There should be an underground access tunnel into the main line somewhere down here. We’ll get in there and set a few traps on either end and bait whatever is down there. Then we can get outta here and get paid.
*Gremlin looks back inquisitively at Stalin.*
Gremlin: How do you intend to bait whatever is down there?
*Stalin snickers.*
Stalin: I’m glad you asked. You’ll be the bait. Mutants love human flesh.
Gremlin: Are you insane? You’re the one with the refrigerator for a suit! If you can take a bullet in the body surely teeth and claws couldn’t do much to you.
Stalin: I know *I* can kill a mutant. Now I’m giving you a chance to kill a few too.
Gremlin: There’s no way I can withstand an attack when I run into a nest of them! I’ve done it once before, I know that for a fact.
Stalin: Well, here’s your chance to try again.
Gremlin: Fuck yo-
*Stalin points his rifle at Gremlin’s head and cocks it.*
Stalin: Don’t waste your second chance.
*Gremlin takes deep breaths, his gloves make a gripping sound as he clenches them.*
*Nimbus, who has been walking near the middle of the group slows his pace until he is matched up with Virtue near the back – subtly enough that Stalin’s group fails to take notice.*
Nimbus *whispering*: What are we gonna do? These guys are worse than the Bandits, and I know the Bandits have no problems letting the weaker guys in the group go on the suicidal missions to prove themselves. They’re going to kill all of us.*
Virtue *whispering*: I don’t know. Gremlin and Phantom are communicating through signs, but I don’t know what they have planned.
Nimbus *whispering*: If it comes down to it, you and I may need to try and kill them.
Virtue *whispering*: I admire your courage, Nimbus, but if I had any idea how to do that I would have started making my own plan a while ago.
Nimbus *whispering*: There’s gotta be a way. Everything has a weak point…
Bubba: You two better be talkin’ ‘bout the weather.
Nimbus: Yes, and how lovely it is this evening!
*Bubba pats the butt of his rifle. Nimbus gets the hint and walks back to the middle of the group.*
*Stalin stops in the middle of the street. A beeping sound is coming from within his suit. He opens a small pouch on his right leg and pulls out a small metal bolt. He tosses it in front of him. The bolt disappears as it is crushed into dust in front of the group.*
Stalin: Hmm… looks like we’re going to have to take a slight detour. You first.
*Stalin shoves Phantom ahead of the group towards a small underground car park to their right.*
Phantom *muttering*: Jackass…
Stalin: What’s that?
Phantom: I’d be able to move quicker if I had Gremlin with me to get my back.
Stalin: Oh don’t worry. I got your back.
*Stalin jabs his weapon into Phantom’s back, causing him to hop forward in pain.*
Phantom: Come on, man! We’ve known each other for a long time. If there’s anything down there we can move handle it better together.
Stalin: Whatever. Just get going.
*Gremlin moves up beside Phantom as the group leaves the darkness of the road and enters the pitch-black of the underground car park. The group turns their headlamps and night vision on, quickly scanning the environment before them.
Stalin nudges Phantom forward again, prompting him to go first around the corner at the bottom of the ramp to the right.
Gremlin approaches the bottom of the ramp, scanning the immediate area and flashes right. He signals clear as Phantom pulls up to the corner and does a full check of everything in visual range. He motions the group forward and they proceed inside.*
Martha: Don’t try anything stupid. These suits have tog-grade night vision installed. We can see everything like its broad daylight. You run, we shoot.
Stalin: If you see anything that looks mean, just yell and get down. We get the kills.
*Phantom nods and proceeds deeper inside. Particles of dirt flicker in the light of his headlamp as it scans the concrete wall and floors. The light reflects off of the lines on the parking spaces as it passes over them, providing the brightest source of illumination.
He proceeds to what would structurally make sense as an exit point. The shadows threaten to jump out and attack at any time. As he nears what appears to be the exit, he suddenly stops and curses.*
Phantom: Dammit! The exit on the other side is blocked. It looks like part of the upper level collapsed onto the exit ramp.
*As he finishes his sentence, there is a screeching roar from somewhere below them. Stalin looks back at his friends.*
Stalin: You hear that boys? They just invited us in!
*Stalin’s group laughs in agreement, turning around towards the source of the noise. Stalin forces Phantom forward again while Martha forces Gremlin up beside him.*
*Phantom retraces his steps towards the noise. The sound comes again. He turns left towards the south end of the car park. On the wall, written in yellow reflective paint, is the number “02” with an arrow next to it pointing down the ramp nearby. Below that, written in black spray-paint are the words “off limits”.
*Phantom looks back at Stalin, unwilling to move.*
Stalin: Either you go down there, or I send your friend first. Naked.
*Phantom glares back at Stalin, then turns around and continues down the ramp.*
*As the group follows behind, the sound, as well as others, continues to get louder. Another number on the wall: “03”. A dim orange glow can be seen reflecting off the wall at the top of the ramp.*
Jargon: What’s that light?
*Phantom peeks down the ramp in an attempt to ascertain the source of the light. He retreats back a little and responds:*
Phantom: A camp fire.
Jargon: A camp fire? Who could light a camp fire here? The last humans had to have died here years ago. The radiation in the area would contaminate the food and water, and the mutants would have killed everyone else.
*Phantom duck-walks down the ramp, pivoting to the left once reaching the bottom. Gremlin follows close behind him, watching his back. As Phantom inches forward, he can hear strange squishing and grunting noises. A shadow is moving behind a concrete pillar that is blocking his vision.*
Phantom *whispering*: There’s something up there, behind that pillar.
*Gremlin takes up position next to Phantom as they crawl up to the pillar. When they reach it, they lean out to either side to get a look at what’s on the other side.*
*Phantom puts his hand to his mouth.*
Phantom: I’m gonna be sick…
*In front of them, is a silhouette standing over a man who is lying on the floor. The man on the floor is twitching as the silhouette on top of him rips something out of his midsection. A piece of the man’s intestines leaves his body with a sickening sound as he continues to twitch in pain. The silhouette on top of him turns a section of intestine hanging from its razor-sharp teeth. As the light of the campfire hits it, the Stalkers can see an old, cracked gasmask glinting in the flame, behind which are lifeless, human eyes.*
Gremlin: Fuck me. Not more Snorks…
*The Snork roars back at them, dropping the section of intestine as the man continues to twitch, holding out his arm as if to call upon some hidden aid. His torso spurts blood and other fluids as the Snork leaves to pursue its new company.*
*Phantom fires a shot from his rifle, hitting the Snork directly in the skull and dropping it before it can pounce on them. The shot echoes loudly throughout the third level and throughout the rest of the car park.*
*The rest of the group runs down the ramp to join the action.*
Stalin: What is it?
*Phantom points at the body of the Snork in front of them.*
*At that moment, a chorus of roars and grunts echoes in the dark nearby.*
Stalin: Now that’s what I’m talking about. Take up positions boys!
*The man on the floor lets out a muffled scream as the sounds approach. He squirms around in agony, spilling some of the exposed contents of his lower body as he does so.*
*Gremlin lets out a shot, piercing the man’s skull and ending his pain.*
Stalin: Hey! Where’s the fun in that? You shoulda let him squeal for a while.
*Stalin’s group sets up around the camp fire, bracing themselves for the action.*
Stalin: You guys stay at the bottom of the ramp! No running away… and NO SHOOTING!
*The grunts and roars continue to draw closer, now mixed in with heavy breathing filtered through several gasmasks.*
*Stalin’s group opens fire, illuminating the room in bursts as they do. In the brief seconds of fire, an ever-increasing flow of Snorks can be seen rounding corners and filtering around pillars.*
*Gremlin signals to his group to be ready. For what, is anyone’s guess.*
*Stalin’s group continues to lay down fire, keeping the flow of Snorks contained behind a wall of fire.*
Stalin: Yeah! Keep ‘em coming!
Martha: I haven’t had this much fun in a while!
*Gremlin unclips a grenade from his belt, and points in an unseen area to their right, indicating to run that direction on his command.*
*Stalin’s group continues to staunch the flow of Snorks, looking to be enjoying themselves more than anything.*
Bubba: Yeahhh buddy!
*Gremlin gives the signal. He tosses the grenade into the middle of Stalin’s group and starts to run like hell. Slayer is the first to notice the small, round object rolling towards them.
Stalker: SHIT!!! Grenade!
Stalin: What the…!
*The grenade explodes, shaking the parking structure and forcing Stalin’s group to the floor with the force of the explosion. The Snorks immediately pounce and contain the Stalkers, keeping them immobilized on the floor. Stalin screams in rage:*
*He continues to scream in rage as he empties his weapon behind them, the sound of his gunshots becoming duller in their wake.*
Gremlin: Up ahead! There’s a service exit to the sewer nearby!
Nimbus: What if they catch up to us!?
Gremlin: Don’t think about that! We need to get out of here first!
*The Stalkers continue to run at a dead sprint, following some map in Gremlin’s head. Finally he skids past a door and grabs on to the nearest support pillar, swinging himself towards the door.*
Gremlin: Here! It’s through here!
*He opens the door, doing a quick check of the area.*
Gremlin: Clear! Get inside!
*The Stalkers move into the small utility room, closing the door behind them as they go.*
*Gremlin puts his hands on his knees, taking a moment to catch his breath before speaking.*
Gremlin *breathing heavily*: OK… we should be safe for a minute. I saw a map on the wall near the ramp back there; it showed a service tunnel leading into the sewer near here. The sewer should get us topside again. From there we can continue on to the NPP.
Nimbus: How are we going to get there? For all we know all ways in are cut off.
Gremlin: Nobody said it would be easy getting there. We’ll just have to hope we can find a way in. I didn’t come all this way to get turned back by little obstacles. If there’s still a way in, we’ll find it. Come on, follow me.
*Gremlin leads the group through a few rooms, all of them filled with dust due to countless years of being undisturbed. Once through the rooms, they enter into a deep tunnel.*
Gremlin: This is it. The sewer.
*Gremlin jumps into the middle of the tunnel, his boots sinking into a pile of unknown contents. A stench fills the tunnel.*
Enigma: My God… what did you step in?
Gremlin: The water’s gone… these are the leftovers. You’ll adapt to it.
Enigma: Easy for you to say. I got my helmet shattered, remember?
Virtue: Here, use my gas mask.
*Virtue un-straps the gas mask from around the hood on his suit and hands it to Enigma.*
*She smiles in gratitude.*
Virtue *gagging*: On second thought…
Gremlin: Shh! We’re not on secure ground by a long shot.
*Gremlin motions the group forward, sifting through the damp sewage.*
Gremlin: Keep your eyes peeled for an access port to the street. We need to get out of here as soon as possible.
*A loud sniffing sound comes from nearby. Gremlin halts the group.*
*A scurrying sound comes from nearby. The Stalkers check around them, their headlamps flitting around the tunnel walls.*
Phantom: What was that?
*Squeaking noises and pitter-pattering echo in the tunnel around them. Movement at a junction in front of them. The Stalkers pivot towards the movement.*
Phantom: OH SHIT!!!
*A rat-like animal the size a cat comes into view from around the corner. It stands up on its hind legs, thrusting its nose into the air and sniffing, revealing two over-sized teeth, stained with blood.*
*Before the Stalkers have time to take in the disgusting over-sized rodent, its feet start moving nearly faster than their eyes can detect as it makes incredible speed in their direction. Following in its wake are countless more, streaming over each other like water over rocks in a rover.*
Gremlin: FIRE! FIRE!!!
*The group fills the area in front of them with gunfire, slowly moving backwards as they do. The river of mutated rodents streams towards them, ignorant of the hot lead being fired in their direction.*
*Suddenly, the rain of lead stops and is replaced by clicking noises.*
Phantom: Fuck!
Gremlin: Shit!
*Gremlin launches a grenade from the barrel of his rifle, creating a mist of red as pieces of fur and flesh fly out like shrapnel.*
Gremlin: Reload and follow our lead!
*The group complies and attempts to load their weapons while running behind Gremlin and Phantom.*
*Grenades continue to leave their tubes with a *thunk!*, followed by an explosion soon afterward.*
*As the Stalkers near the four-way junction in the sewer, the river of rodents becomes deeper.*
Gremlin: Get ready to fire to the sides!
*The Stalkers reload their weapons and call out when they’re ready.*
Gremlin: GO!
*More grenades leave the tubes as the Stalkers enter the junction. Gremlin and Phantom continue to fire grenades in front of them while Virtue and Nimbus take the left junction and Jargon and Enigma take the right, firing into the continuous stream of rodents.*
Gremlin: OK! Switch it up – everyone gun down anything in front of us while Phantom and I cover the rear!
*The Stalkers move around Phantom and Gremlin as they plant themselves near the junction, queuing grenades in their left arms and holding their rifles with their right.*
*The rodents begin to thicken again in front of the group. The other four Stalkers open fire again, attempting to clear the path ahead of them.*
Virtue: How many are there?!
Gremlin: Keep firing!
*Nimbus abandons his attempt to keep his shotgun loaded and instead pulls out his sidearm and fires as fast as he possibly can, rapidly reloading and firing into the swarm again.*
Jargon: I see light ahead!
Gremlin: Is there an access shaft?!
Jargon: Too far! We need to get closer!
*Nimbus continues to fire his sidearm in a fury.*
Nimbus: We can’t keep this up forever!
Gremlin: Get to that light, quickly!
*Jargon takes charge ahead of them, coming toe to toe with the rodents and punting the ones that get too close back into the swarm.*
Jargon: I see a ladder! A way out!
Gremlin: Good! Get up there!
*Gremlin and Phantom try desperately to keep up with the group as they continue to launch as many grenades as possible back into the rodents.*
Jargon: Ladies first! I’ll cover you, Enigma!
Enigma: Roger!
*Enigma jumps onto the ladder leading up to the night sky. She swings with one arm until the other hand connects with the ladder, and climbs up quicker than a Spider monkey, rolling out of site once she dismounts.*
*Nimbus follows her lead and climbs up the ladder, ducking out of site once he’s topside.*
*Jargon reloads his rifle, pulling a grenade pin with his teeth and rolling it in front of him. The rodents in front of him vanish, immediately replaced by more.*
Jargon: Go Virtue!
Virtue: You can’t hold back all those things!
Jargon: I may be old, but I’m not dead yet! Move your ass!
*Virtue climbs the ladder with one hand, draining the rest of his clip into the flow of dark shapes below him.*
*Gremlin shouts from below:*
Gremlin: Are they out?!
Jargon: Yes!
Gremlin: Good! Get up there!
Jargon: You can’t hold both sides with just grenades! You need someone to lay down suppressing fire!
Gremlin: Phantom and I can handle ourselves! Just go!
Jargon: NO!
*Phantom spins around to begin covering Gremlin’s flank, but as he does, Jargon rips the rifle out of his hands, spilling the grenades in Phantom’s left hand. Phantom scurries to gather up his remaining grenades as Jargon slaps another magazine in Phantom’s rifle, using both his and Phantom’s rifle to suppress the mutants.*
*Phantom, left with little option, retreats up the ladder, taking out his pistol and peering back into the sewer below him.*
Phantom: Get up here! Somebody!
Gremlin looks back over his shoulder at Jargon, who appears to be cutting a large hole in the opposition with two rifles at his disposal. He looks down at his belt, selecting a particular grenade and after pulling the pin, rolling it into the junction behind him. After doing so he swings onto the ladder behind Jargon, motioning for him to follow.*
*The grenade explodes with a deafening boom, sending a shockwave through the waves of rodents, temporarily stopping the onslaught and causing the street above to rumble. Jargon slings Phantom’s rifle over his shoulder along with his own and makes his way up the ladder.
He makes it halfway up, when to the horror of the Stalkers above him, the rodents have completely engulfed the bottom of the hole and are forming  a ladder up to him.*
*Phantom holds out his hand.*
Phantom: Come on! Give me your hand!
*Rodents begin to swarm up Jargon’s leg, clawing and biting at his pants. He cries out in pain.*
*Gremlin runs to Phantom’s aid and grabs his legs, giving him more reaching distance into the hole. Phantom’s hand connects with Jargon’s as rodents make their way to his lower torso, continuing to nibble at his clothing. Jargon winces in pain as he is quickly pulled out of the sewer, taking a few rodents out with him.*
*Phantom immediately picks his sidearm up off the ground and finishes off anything that came out with him.*
Gremlin: Come on! We need to get this hole sealed!
*Gremlin rolls over to the top of the manhole where the other Stalkers are attempting to move the heavy metal grate back over the top of the hole. With a great effort, they manage to get the heavy metal plate over the hole, suffering only pulled muscles and sharp pain where their fingers have been bitten.*
*As the plate fits into place, the Stalkers fire a few rounds through the top of the grate for good measure, killing most of rodents that managed to make it to the top of the grate and latch on.*
*The group collapses on the ground in exhaustion. They look around quickly to analyze their surroundings. There are several official buildings nearby, but the most prominent one has a sing nearby that reads: “Pripyat square”. It is a normal looking building with a 90 degree, curved, sheltered walkway that connects to the east side of the building. Behind this, is what was once a mini-amusement park. A large, rusty Ferris wheel dominates the sky in front of them.*
Nimbus: Man… that was some serious shit… no pun intended.
Phantom: The rats have been getting fat apparently…
*Jargon moans in pain.*
Gremlin: Jargon? Are you alright?
*Gremlin crawls over to Jargon. His pants are shredded, with several cuts and gashes bleeding onto the street beside him.*
Phantom: Shit, they got him good. I need to dress the wounds before they get infected and stop the bleeding.
*Jargon holds his leg, breathing painfully as he does.*
Jargon: Whatever you say, Doc.
*Phantom pulls a med kit out of his backpack and quickly gets to work cleaning Jargon’s wound.*
Nimbus: Is this it? Is this the city center?
Gremlin: Yeah, what’s left of it at least.
Enigma: It looks like another planet.
Virtue: I certainly wouldn’t plan a vacation here.
Jargon *grunting in pain*: It was a different city in my day… its good days have gone… just a distant memory now. All that’s left are the… souls of those who… once lived here.
*Jargon exhales deeply as Phantom begins wrapping a bandage around his leg to stop the bleeding.*
Gremlin: Check your equipment. We’re exposed here in the middle of the street, and I’m sure our little skirmish down there attracted some attention.
*The Stalkers check their equipment and make sure they are set to go at a moment’s notice.*
*Phantom finishes bandaging Jargon’s leg and helps him stand up. Jargon grunts and closes his eyes as he slowly applies pressure to his leg. Finally, he opens his eyes, and indicates he’s OK to walk.*
Gremlin: Let’s take shelter in the Pripyat square and recuperate for a few minutes.
*The Stalkers get up and jog behind Gremlin, en route to the central building of the city center.
The tall buildings around them look down on them as if they’re disgusted they ever held humans inside of them. The overgrown trees and other plants spreading out from the buildings look like hands reaching out to do the bidding of the structures around them.
Thunder sounds in the distance, indicating a storm somewhere nearby – or maybe it’s just the voice of the city telling them to go no further, they can’t be sure.
They enter the building through the door at the end of the sheltered path outside. The building is dark and ominous, looking as if the source of the city’s darkness is being generated from within it.
Gremlin leads the group to a room deep inside the building, making sure the area around it is clear, and then closes the door, shutting them inside.
The room is cold and damp, the wind whistles through the cracks in the windows and thunder rumbles in the dark outside.
The group forms a circle in the middle of the room as each of them sits down.*
Gremlin: Alright, I think we’re safe for now.
*Gremlin paces the room a few times before finally taking a seat with the rest of the group. He looks at each one of them individually, attempting to intercept any thoughts currently in their minds before speaking.*
Gremlin: We’ve come a long way. We may have gotten off to a rough start but we’re nearly there now. There’s no doubt in my mind that we are fully capable of reaching Chernobyl. The main thing is: we’ve got to keep our heads on our shoulders and our eyes on the objective.
*The group remains silent, adrift in their own individual worlds.*
Gremlin: Look around you. Over 40,000 people are depending on us to succeed. If we fail, the world will continue on unaware of the true tragedy that occurred here. We’ve fought too hard and lost too much to let it come to that now.
*Enigma looks over at Virtue, the glow in her eyes is faded and she appears to be looking past him into some tragedy passed. She takes her helmet off her shoulder and removes the gas mask from her face, then slowly lays her head on his shoulder.
He doesn’t react at first, reflecting on his own pain, but gradually starts to accept her, putting his arm around her and pulling her close.*
*Gremlin smiles and continues:*
Gremlin: There’s a strong bond between us all. We all have a reason to be here, doing what we’re doing. Individually, none of us can our goal, but together, we can accomplish anything.
Jargon: Gremlin’s right. I’ve waited far too long for this moment, and now that it’s here, failure is not an option. I WILL succeed for the families of the victims, for my friends, and for me.
*The other Stalkers remain silent. Then, Nimbus speaks up:*
Nimbus: I think I speak for everyone when I say that I’m in this until the end.
Before I came into the Zone, I was an outcast – I never knew what it felt like to be accepted. It took extreme circumstances and threat of death for me to finally take control of my own life. Then Virtue came along and befriended me. I’m kinda new at this whole friend thing… but I know for sure, that if the time comes when I need to choose between my own life or one of yours, I think I would have the power to choose yours.
*Phantom smiles and rests his hand on Nimbus’ shoulder.*
Phantom: I’d give my life for you too, brother.
Jargon: As would I.
Enigma: Me too.
Gremlin: I would too.
*The group looks towards Virtue in expectation.*
Virtue: And so would I. If it meant giving you yet another chance at life, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.
*Nimbus looks down at the floor, a sense of inner-peace in him like nothing he’s ever felt.*
Gremlin: You all know what we need to do. If a lonely group of Stalkers can find hope in the deepest, darkest reaches of the Zone, then maybe the rest of the world can too. Let’s show them that they don’t need to live in fear of the Zone and the government responsible for creating it.
*The Stalkers agree unanimously.
Suddenly, the sound of footsteps sounds clearly outside the room, breaking the Stalkers from their peaceful states.*
Gremlin: What the hell?
Jargon: People? How could anyone…
*Jargon remembers the dying man they witnessed in the car park.*
Jargon: … that’s right… in all the confusion I forgot about the man we saw in the car park. There are people here. But how…
Gremlin: Quiet! They’re coming…
[Unknown]: Did you hear a noise, Danilo?
[Unknown 2]: I did not, Petro.
Danilo: I heard a noise. *pause* From there…
*The footsteps outside approach the room the Stalkers are in. The group readies their weapons for action. The footsteps stop outside the door as the doorknob turns and the door creaks open. Light from two unknown sources filter into the room.*
Danilo: You! Who are you?
*The Stalkers don’t answer, unsure of how to respond. Finally, Gremlin responds:*
Gremlin: We’re just passing through… we don’t want any trouble…
Danilo: Passing? Who passes? Nobody passes.
Petro: Nobody passes.
Gremlin: Why not?
Petro:  The Monolith prohibits it.
Phantom: Monolith?
Danilo: The Monolith tells us things. We listen.
Petro: Listen.
*There is silence again.*
Jargon: Where is this Monolith, exactly?
Danilo: In the womb of the Zone.
Petro: In the grave of humanity.
Gremlin: Are you talking about the sarcophagus?
*The two strangers look at each other, confused.*
Danilo: Sar… cough…
Petro: A gus?
*Jargon interrupts:*
Jargon: Is it in Chernobyl?
*Their eyes light up.*
Petro: Chernobyl!
Danilo: She is our mother.
Petro: Nurturing!
Danilo: Protecting!
*Silence again.*
Phantom: How did you survive here?
Danilo & Petro: Monolith!
Gremlin: Can you take us to this Monolith?
Danilo & Petro: Yes!
Petro: The time to gather is now.
Danilo: Come, and be taught the ways of the Zone.
*The two strangers walk calmly away, as if forgetting anything that has just taken place.
The Stalkers are left in the room to exchange looks of confusion amongst each other.
Finally, Gremlin stands up and begins to walk out of the room, retracing his steps towards the exit of the building. The Stalkers begin to follow behind him until suddenly he stops at the top of the stairs down to the main level.
The group comes up beside him to see what has his attention.
A line, or possibly a procession, of like-dressed men is entering the building from multiple entrances on the main level. All of them are emitting the same unknown light source as the first two strangers.
Danilo and Petro wave at them from the bottom level.*
Danilo: Come, join us.
Petro: We will bask in the glory of the Monolith together!
*Gremlin turns and faces the group.*
Gremlin: As much as I’d like to just walk out of here and just let these crazies do their thing, they are all armed – and if they’ve survived here they have to be tough. I don’t think upsetting them would be a good idea.
Phantom: Agreed.
Jargon: I’ve got a bad idea about this “Monolith”.
Gremlin: So do I… but let’s just try to play along until we can get out of here.
*Gremlin points out the window near him. Several camp fires and more odd lights can be seen dotting some of the rooftops and streets nearby.*
Phantom: They’re fortifying this position. We’re not getting out through the front doors without a fight.