Chapter 17: Antechamber

[Audio enabled]
*The Stalkers huddle together in the small room, unable to will themselves to move. Virtue remains on the ground by Enigma and Nimbus, breathing, but otherwise unmoving.
The sounds coming from the halls of the NPP before them are disturbing. The air around them threatens to crush them into dust at any moment. A deep rumble seems to come from somewhere far inside the plant, the throbbing sound mimicking menacing laughter. The longer they sit, the more danger they seem to be in – yet moving into the hall seems like an instant invitation for death.*
Phantom: We can’t wait here forever! I don’t want to leave him behind either, but we can’t stay here much longer… they can smell us here!
Gremlin: Then we’ll kill them as they come. Besides, we don’t even know that there’s even anything in here at all – you’re letting your imagination get away with you.
Phantom: Haven’t you been listening!? There are all kinds of things in here – in the walls next to us for all we know!
Gremlin: You’re imagining…
Phantom: You know as well as I do what happens when there’s enough human presence in the same location. As much as I hate to say it we’d be better off moving – maybe even splitting up.
Jargon: No! We’ve made it this far together, we stay together.
Phantom: I can’t stay here any longer! What if Kateryna is still alive somewhere?
Gremlin: Phantom…
*Phantom gets up and walks straight to the doorway leading out of the small room into the hall beyond. He pokes his head outside, looking down both ends of the hall. Then, after taking a deep breath, proceeds down the hall to the right.
Gremlin attempts to shout in a whispered voice:*
Gremlin: Phantom! Get your ass back here you idiot! Phantom!
*Phantom glances back with a sorry look in his eyes.*
Phantom: I can’t. I’m sorry.
*Phantom continues down the hallway until he’s nothing more than a fading silhouette in the fog.*
Gremlin: God dammit! That’s the last thing we need right now. Why the hell would he go and…
Jargon: I’ll follow him. We’re better in pairs if we split up, if he gets into trouble he’s dead unless he has a buddy with him.
*Gremlin is reluctant but cares enough for the safety of his friend that he eventually waves his hand in dismission.*
Gremlin: OK. Do what you need to do. Please just get back here as soon as possible.
Jargon: Don’t worry; I’d rather not move more than a few inches in this place alone if I can help it.
*Jargon gets up and heads through the doorframe, looks down both sides of the hallway, then proceeds in the direction Phantom was headed.
Gremlin looks back at the group to assess the situation.*
Gremlin: How is he?
Enigma: Still unconscious, but I think he’ll be OK.
Nimbus: I hope he wakes up soon… this place is really starting to give me the creeps.
Gremlin: Me too.
*The Stalkers are silent for a few minutes, trying not to pay attention to the chorus of unnerving noises echoing throughout the plant. They can hear various banging noises, metal clanking, and what sounds like growling and hissing from an unknown source.
Suddenly, the metal plate they slid over the ladder above them grinds with a sickening screech across the pavement of the area above.*
Nimbus: Shit! They found us!
Gremlin: Quick! Get Virtue on my shoulders, we’re leaving!
*Nimbus and Enigma pick up Virtue and sling him over Gremlin’s back, then proceed to run out of the room. Once in the hall, they start to run to the right, in Phantom and Jargon’s tracks when a deep growl sounds from somewhere just up ahead.
Gremlin skids to a halt in the dust on the floor of the hallway.*
Gremlin: Shit! Not that way… turn around!
*The Stalkers reverse course and head towards the opposite end of the hallway, quickly analyzing the area in front of them as they run form their pursuers.
The hallway is dark and foggy, giving them only a few feet of visibility. Their headlamps illuminate the dust particles filling the area, giving off the illusion of hundreds of eyes shining in front of them.*
Gremlin: Up ahead! In here!
*A doorway appears to the left as they turn right into another hallway. The door is open and the room appears to be clear. The Stalkers run inside as Gremlin closes the door behind them.
They wait in silence for what seems like hours, ready for anything to burst through the door at any moment. Nimbus dares to interrupt the silence:*
Nimbus *whispering*: Did they follow us?
Gremlin *whispering*: I don’t know! Just hold here.
*Gunshots ring down the hallway outside the door. Screaming noises follow the wake of the gunshots, inciting curiosity as the Stalkers look at each other in confusion.*
Nimbus: Are… are mutants carrying guns now?
*Gremlin sets Virtue on the floor behind him and slowly cracks open the door. He peeks out into the hallway in the direction of the noise. He can see muzzle flashes from the weapons going off, but otherwise cannot make out anything else.*
Nimbus *whispering*: What is it?
*The muzzle flashes get brighter as they approach the intersection of the two hallways outside the door. Then, two Stalkers appear in the center of the hallway, walking backward as they fire into the hallway at a source unknown.
One of the Stalkers glances over near the door Gremlin is peering behind. The features of his face can be easily made out.*
Gremlin: Zombie! Zombie, thank God!
*Zombie shoots a look in his direction, confused that a mutant could know his name, let alone speak it with such clarity and insistency.
Gremlin swings open the door and motions for him to enter quickly.*
Zombie: Gremlin?!
Gremlin: Yes! Get in here, quickly!
*Zombie taps the other Stalker near him on the arm to get his attention and motions towards the room. The other Stalker acknowledges and rolls out of the hallway as they dive into the room.
As they enter the room, a wave of Snorks and other ex-human mutants skid down the hallway as they turn to follow their victims into the room.
Gremlin slams the large metal door behind the Stalkers as they enter; the mutants beyond claw and pound angrily after their lost meals.*
Zombie: That will hold them.
*The noise outside generally subsides as the mutants forget what they were doing and leave for destinations unknown.
Gremlin returns his attention to Zombie.*
Gremlin: Oh man… I’m glad to see you. What happened? How did you get here? Who’s this?
*The other Stalker takes off his gas mask. Revealing his camouflage facepaint.*
Solitaire: You didn’t think he’d leave me behind after all that did you?
*Solitaire puts his arm around Zombie, shifting his weight to one leg as they get back on their feet. Through his torn camouflage pants can be seen a bandage where he had been shot previously.*
Zombie: After you guys left, I got to work patching up Solitaire here. I had some special remedies on me for just such a wound and was able to treat it to recover quickly.
Solitaire: We spent the night in the Red Forest. Zombie stayed awake the entire time he thought I was sleeping… but I didn’t catch a wink. The sounds in that place make it impossible to sleep in.
Zombie: After we left the Red Forest, I used my knowledge of the Zone to find a path outside of Pripyat that lead to the NPP. I figured since we had already lost a day it would be faster to meet you at your destination rather than follow in your paths.
Solitaire: I don’t know whether it was luck or fate, but when we got to the NPP, we could see what looked like a war unfolding outside. I got out my binoculars to get a better look. Boy was I surprised when I saw you guys running into the train depot with a swarm of mutants behind you!
Zombie: After that, we just waited for the mutant activity to die down and snuck inside.
Gremlin: It looks like you missed a few…
Zombie: We saw the metal plate over the access hatch outside. The thing had taken a pounding and it was pretty obvious that was the way you had gone.
Solitaire: We knew we’d have to shift it off of the hole. The metal grinding on the asphalt attracted every mutant within a few miles I’m sure…
*Solitaire trails off, taking in the entire experience as he remembers it. His relative newness to the Zone makes the experience take a while to set in.
Gremlin takes the opportunity to get Zombie and Solitaire up to date on the situation, giving a brief recap on the journey to the NPP. When he gets to recent events about Virtue’s possible concussion and Phantom running off Zombie nods in acknowledgement.*
Zombie: That’s quite a story. If we live to tell about it we’ll be legends amongst the newbies and will probably have the respect of every Stalker in the Zone.
*The Stalkers are silent as they think of other parts of the Zone – the danger outside the NPP suddenly seeming like a walk in the park compared to their current situation.
Finally, Virtue begins to stir:*
Enigma: Virtue?
Nimbus: Hey! Virtue’s waking up!
Virtue *groaning*: Unhh… what happened? Where am I? My head…
Gremlin: Virtue man… are you alright? Do you know where you are?
Virtue: What is this place? Who are you?
*Gremlin looks up at the group as they look back in shock.*
Nimbus: Virtue… don’t you remember us? You’re on a mission to discover the true nature of the Zone. You’re our friend.
*Virtue looks back in confusion.
Gremlin shakes his head in sorrow.*
Gremlin: Virtue. Come on man… we’re inside Chernobyl at the center of the Zone. We’re here to uncover the truth about the existence of the Zone. You have to remember!
Virtue: What Zone? I can’t be in Chernobyl, it closed over 20 years ago after the disaster. Where is Emelia?
*Gremlin looks at the floor, trying to find the right words.*
Gremlin: She’s dead. You came to the Zone to support her and make a new life for yourself. Now you’re here with us, and we need you. So pick up your weapon and follow us.
*The words hit Virtue like a shot in the chest.*
Virtue: Dead? But… she can’t… how is she dead?!
Gremlin: They killed her. The men in charge of this place found her while you were away and murdered her. Now we’re here to repay them for the damage they’ve done.
*Virtue puts his head in his hands and sobs. The information is as overwhelming as the first time he heard it. Enigma kneels in front of him and embraces him, whispering in his ear;*
Enigma: I’m here for you Yuriy. We can do this together.
*Virtue looks up into the face of the unknown voice. It’s a woman in a strange suit. Her eyes shine like two moons on a dark night. He is entranced.*
Nimbus: I’m here for you too buddy. I can’t do this shit alone, none of us can. We need you.
*Virtue takes a few minutes to compose himself. He has no recollection of who he is, the life he has lived, or what his goal is. He feels as if he hasn’t known for a while. So he takes what little information he has, and makes a new life for himself.*
Virtue: What’s my name?
Gremlin: Your name is Virtue.
Virtue: What’s my mission?
Gremlin: Your mission is to discover the source of the Zone’s evil, and kill those involved.
Virtue: I understand.
*Virtue stands up. The strength and skill he has acquired in the Zone suddenly flows back into him, and he feels drunk with power. He looks amongst the Stalkers around him; all of them return similar looks of awe and curiosity. He speaks:*
Virtue: What are we waiting around here for? Let’s get to work.
*Gremlin smiles, unsure of what to think about Virtue’s current state of mind, but glad that Virtue’s natural ability to lead and fight against near impossible odds has returned.*
Gremlin: You heard the man! Let’s move!
*Virtue opens the door and swings it easily inward. He steps with purpose into the middle of the hall, listening for anything immediately around them while checking both sides of the hallway around him. He takes a deep breath, the mist of the hallways seems to clear as he does, and his destination suddenly seems clear.*
Virtue: This way.
*The group of Stalkers follow behind him, eager to follow, yet cautious of the mysterious sudden change of personality.*
[End audio]

{Excerpt from Phantom’s PDA}

*Water drips from the walls and the ceiling around him. The hall looks like it’s about to cave in from the crushing weight of the water above it. His Geiger counter spikes with each step he takes through the muddy dirt of the hallway. The drips of the water, the sound of his footsteps on the ground, his heartbeat, and the pulsing noise within the power plant all occur in harmony. He continues on like this for a time, the thought of discovering the fate of his family pre-occupying his thoughts more than any current danger possibly could.
Something is out of place… there is another noise approaching from behind him. He waits for it to get close, then un-slings the rifle from his back and swivels towards the source of the noise.*
Jargon: Whoa! It’s just me! At ease...
Phantom: Jargon… I was about ready to blow your head off man, what are you doing here.
Jargon: Making sure you don’t do anything stupid. If you get into trouble you’re going to be completely cut off form help. What the hell are you thinking?!
Phantom *sighs*: I guess I’m not. I just feel like everything in my life has led me to this place. I can hear it calling to me, beckoning me inside to learn the fate of my family. Everything depends on this…
Jargon: Yeah, well it won’t do anyone much good if you’re dead now will it?
Phantom: You’re right. It was selfish of me. I’ve let everyone down by coming here alone on my own personal vendetta.
Jargon: Hey, hey… I understand. I would like to see everyone responsible pay for their crimes. I’m anxious too, but we’ve worked too hard and lost too much to get here, and now that we’re here we’ve got to depend on each other to survive. The success of this mission depends on our survival, otherwise all our effort will have been for nothing if no one learns what really happened here.
Phantom: I know, I keep hearing those words but they seem so empty when I compare them to my loss. Maybe I lost more than everyone else, maybe I didn’t, but I owe it to everyone who’s lost someone to find the answers for them and myself.
*Jargon puts his hand on Phantom’s shoulder.*
Jargon: We’re close now. Once this is over, you’ll have your answers, and the countless victims and families involved will thank you for that. You’ll find your peace then… we all will.
*Phantom smiles, hopeful that Jargon’s promise will be fulfilled.
Suddenly, the air around them seems to get heavier and they begin to feel dizzy.*
Phantom: Whoa… do you feel that?
*Jargon props himself against the wall with one hand and puts his other hand on his head.*
Jargon: Yes. Something deadly is ahead of us. We should turn back.
*Phantom is hesitant, but reluctantly nods in agreement.*
Phantom: You’re right… let’s go.
*The Stalkers turn to leave. As the near the end of the hallway the hairs on the back of their necks stand on end and they feel as though they’re not alone. They stop in their tracks and slowly turn around. What appears to be a ball of electricity floats in the air behind them. A distorted roar leaves the sphere, freezing the blood in the Stalkers’ bodies, making them unable to move. A shockwave leaves the sphere, knocking them over as it passes over their bodies. The hallway behind them shakes and pieces of concrete fall from the ceiling, caving in behind them and sealing them inside.
{End excerpt}
[Begin audio]
*Virtue leads the group down the hallway, deeper into the NPP. His destination is unknown, yet somehow he knows exactly where to go. The Stalkers behind him follow cautiously, trusting in whatever force is guiding him to get them there safely. Gremlin approaches Virtue from behind and whispers:*
Gremlin: Do you know where you’re going?
Virtue: Not where I’m going, but I do know how to get there.
Gremlin: How?
Virtue: I’m not sure. But something is telling me to go this way. Have I ever had these feeling before?
Gremlin: I don’t know. I don’t think so. Just be careful, OK? I’ll follow you to death if it comes to that, but we need to complete our mission before that happens.
Virtue: I understand.
*Virtue follows the twists and turns of the hallways in no decipherable pattern. The throbbing sound that’s been filling the hallways seems to get louder as they continue. Finally, the endless hallways direct them to a staircase leading into the upper levels of the NPP.
They continue up the stairs until they reach the level above. The area is filled with rows of machinery and pipes. Their headlamps scan the machinery – the machines send glints of light back at them as the light passes over them.*
Virtue: Through here. Stay close.
*The Stalkers keep their headlamps trained on the machinery beside and behind them as Virtue walks straight ahead. The glints from the machinery revolve around them as they move through the room.
Nimbus makes nervous conversation as they move:*
Nimbus: Heh… it kinda looks like the lights are following us.
Gremlin: Yeah… it kinda does.
*The Stalkers observe the lights revolving around them, the ones further away appearing to move faster as they near the end of the room.*
Nimbus: It looks like they’re blinking at us too. What’s up with that?
*Zombie cocks his weapon. As he does, a whole row of lights suddenly shifts and disappears.*
Nimbus: Did you see that?!
Solitaire: Something’s moving over there…
*Virtue stops and looks over at the machinery where the other lights are trained. As he does a large blur moves rapidly towards him, knocking him on the floor before anyone has a chance to react. A large dark creature with four tentacles protruding from its mouth is on top of him clawing at his face.*
Zombie: Bloodsucker!
*Zombie runs up the Virtue and lunges at the creature with his knife in front of him. He lands on top of it and plunges his knife into the side of its neck. The creature roars and bats at Zombie, sending him into a back flip over the nearest computer console.
Nimbus takes out his pistol and puts a few carefully-aimed shots into the creature’s side. The creature stands up and roars at Nimbus, spreading its tentacles out from its mouth as it does.*
Nimbus: Uh oh…
*The creature compresses its body to the ground and pounces into the group, knocking the other Stalkers off their feet before they can pull out their weapons. They recover quickly to find the creature on top of Nimbus, who has stabbed the creature through the bottom of its jaw and is using the knife handle to keep its head stationary. The creature’s tentacles flail In front of it as it attempts to reach Nimbus.*
Zombie:  Stay back!
*Zombie runs up to the creature, wiping the blood off of his split lip as he does. He grabs the creature by the shoulders and throws it off Nimbus will all his might.*
Zombie: Hey! We’re not done motherfucker!
*The creature slams into a nearby machine and rolls on to the floor. Recovering quickly, it stands up and rushes at Zombie. It reaches him before he has a chance to recover his fallen knife from the ground in front of him and bats the side of his head with its massive claws. Zombie stumbles backwards from the blow, 3 large gashes showing across the left side of his helmet.*
Gremlin: Come on! Come get me!
*Gremlin rushes at the creature as it turns to face the new challenge. It hisses with a toothy grin, saliva dripping from its mouth as it does. Virtue launches himself at the creature, both feet in the air ready to deliver a flying kick to the face. The creature continues to grin menacingly as the feet approach, easily batting them aside, re-directing Gremlin over a pipe beside him. Gremlin hits the pipe, rolling off of it to the ground on the other side.
The creature growls in satisfaction, looking for its next target and seeing Enigma in front of him attempting to pull her side-arm out of its holster. It roars at her, its tentacles spreading outwards from its mouth again. She scrambles to stand up and back away from the creature. She makes it about halfway up before the creature compresses itself to the ground and lunges at her, sending both of them speeding towards the wall past Virtue.
Virtue ducks just in time to miss getting hit, but both the creature and Enigma continue onwards past him, impacting the wall in front of him. Enigma lets out a painful gasp as the wind is knocked out of her. She leans to her right and attempts to catch her breath as she collapses on the ground beside her.
Virtue takes a deep breath and lets out a yell that seems to silence the room for a moment.*
Virtue: HEY!!!
*The creature drops to the ground as if to dodge the sound wave from the shout and turns to face the source of the noise. It smiles in delight, jumping on to the broken wall beside it and launching itself in a sideways, spiraling arc towards Virtue.
As the creature sails at him, Virtue un-slings his rifle, taking it both hands and bludgeoning the creature as its head impacts the butt of the weapon.
The creature roars in pain as it skids across the floor behind him. He re-positions the rifle in his hands to prepare to fire at the creature. It turns in time to see the barrel of the rifle pointed at it and engages its natural camouflage, causing it to disappear leaving only a light screen of dust as it scurries away.*
Virtue: Everyone OK?
*The rest of the group recovers while Virtue continues to scan the room for any sign of the creature.*
Gremlin: Jesus… that fucker was strong.
Zombie: That was a different type of Bloodsucker, the strongest known kind. They don’t know what it means to lose… they never do.
Nimbus: Are you saying nobody’s killed one?
Zombie: Most are dead before they ever get to see it. We were lucky enough to see the creature in full form.
Gremlin: Lucky indeed… lucky to still be standing. Lucky that Virtue was here…
*Gremlin looks up at Virtue as he stands up.*
Gremlin: That was one hell of a good hit; we owe our lives to you.
Zombie: Truly you are a great warrior, greater even than myself.
*Zombie bows in front of Virtue in a show of respect.
Virtue smiles, slightly embarrassed.*
Virtue: I see you’re back to your old ways Zombie… but it was nothing really, I just felt what he was going to do and reacted accordingly.
Zombie: Felt?
Virtue: Yeah, you know, just…
*Virtue cuts himself off when he sees the looks of curiosity cast back at him.*
Virtue: Anyway, we need to get out of here, the creature is still nearby.
*Virtue turns back to the direction they were headed before. Enigma is standing directly in front of him, her eyes looking past his own as she leans in closer. She slowly sneaks her hand around the back of his head and pulls him toward her, kissing him hard on the lips. She pulls back, smiling as she does and whispers:*
Enigma: We’re almost there. Don’t lose sight of your goal.
*Enigma brushes slowly past him, smiling as she does. He turns to watch her move behind him blushing as he does. The rest of the group looks at him inquisitively, knowing they missed something.*
Virtue *stuttering*: Uhhh… L… let’s go.

{Excerpt from Phantom’s PDA}
Jargon: It’s a Poltergeist! Shoot it!
*Phantom and Jargon shoot at the mostly-invisible distortion in front of them, their bullets buzzing and crackling as they impact the ball of static. A distorted roar leaves the sphere again and the two are forced backwards into a fit of back flips and rolls as they tumble through the air, crashing into the wall of the caved in hallway behind them.*
Phantom *panting*: Shit… grenade…
*Phantom pulls out a grenade and cocks it behind his ear.*
Jargon: Throw it!!!
Phantom: I can’t!
*The Poltergeist crackles with laughter. In desperation, Phantom drops the grenade and dives for cover.*
Phantom:  Get out of the way!
*Jargon wastes no time and dives out of range of the grenade as it detonates. The force of the explosion collapses part of the tunnel wall near them. Phantom rolls over and takes a quick peek inside, motioning for Jargon to follow him.*
Phantom: Come on! There’s a way through here!
*The Poltergeist attempts to pursue, now extremely angered. The pipes in the broken wall behind them creak and moan as the force of the creatures anger twists and distorts them. The wall holds steady despite repeated impacts from whatever force allows the creature to move things with its will.*
Jargon: This way – I know of an area that may be safe up ahead.
*Jargon leads Phantom through the room which appears to be a multi-purpose room of some sorts with lots of open space below them. They traverse a catwalk of sorts at the top part of the room to the other side. A dim light from outside filters down from the ceiling on the grey, dust-covered tables and chairs strewn about the room.*
Phantom: Where are you taking us?
Jargon: We’re close to Reactor 4; the control room should be nearby.
Phantom: You mean *the* control room? The one that was responsible for creating the Zone as we know it?
Jargon: The same.
Phantom: I’ve only seen it in pictures… nobody’s set foot in it for years now.
Jargon: Yeah, the last time I was in it was over two decades ago. I’m sure I won’t recognize it…
*Jargon leads Phantom down some stairs off of the catwalk and into the room below them. They cross the room slowly, flashing their headlamps over the dark areas. Phantom bumps into a chair which falls on its back with a loud metallic clang. The Stalkers stop for a moment. A deep rumbling noise can be heard nearby.*
Phantom: Is that sound normal or did I just wake something up?
*The Stalkers listen intently, not daring to move a muscle. Dust falls from the ceiling as the sound of large feet stomp towards them. A long faint shadow appears from a hallway in front of them branching off from the main room. Eventually, a large creature similar to the giant walking head monstrosity they encountered outside appears from around the corner. The Pseudogiant glares at them with its large, bulbous eyes before roaring and charging at them. The tables and chairs in its path are either booted to either side or smashed under its enormous legs.
The Stalkers aim for the creatures head, putting several well-placed rounds in it. The creature roars in agony as the bullets force their way slowly through its thick skull. It continues to charge, stopping suddenly in the middle of the room.*
Jargon: Shit… get ready to jump.
*The creature rocks back, shifting its weight as it lifts its heavy body up into the air. It gains remarkable height with the strength of its jump, before quickly falling back to earth.*
Jargon: Jump!
*The Stalkers time their jumps as the creature reconnects its feet with the tiled floor of the room below it. As it hits the ground, whole sections of tiles are knocked out of position and fly out from the floor beneath them. Tables and chairs for several yards in front of the creature fly out in all directions as a shockwave moves out from center of the impact.
The Stalkers avoid the force of the impact and save the bones in their legs from being shattered by the resonance of the creature’s attack.*
Phantom: We should get to high ground!
*Jargon nods as the Stalkers back up to stairs leading back up to the catwalk encircling the room, shooting at the creature as they do. Jargon loads a grenade into the launcher on his rifle and fires it into the path of the creature. The grenade bounces off the creatures head, detonating upon impact on the floor before it. As the cloud of smoke and dust settles the creature emerges with little more than some charred flesh in its legs.*
Phantom: Holy shit… that thing is built like a tank!
Jargon: Aim for the eyes – the skull isn’t as thick there!
*The Stalkers continue to pelt the creatures head with bullets. It shakes its head back and forth and continues to charge towards the stairs. Finally a roar of pain escapes it. Blood pours out of one of its eye sockets. The creature panics and charges head-on into the wall in front of it half-blind. The exterior wall collapses and the creature continues running out into the dim light and rain outside, panting as it goes.*
Phantom *panting*: That wasn’t so hard…
Jargon: We got lucky; that could have been very bad for us.
*The Stalkers cautiously move back down the stairs, peering out the hole in the wall as they do. A path of crushed plants and blood can be seen directly in front of the hole, dictating the path of the Pseudogiant. Rain is coming down profusely and thunder booms threateningly in the sky above. The Stalkers step out and let the fresh water hit their faces, the sensation of which being long forgotten.*
Jargon: At least there is still one good thing about the center of the Zone.
Phantom: You said it.
*The dust, blood, and other foreign bodies are slowly washed off of the Stalkers as they hold out their arms and allow the rain to embrace them. They close their eyes and clear their minds for as long as they possibly can before they begin to hear grunts and growls from nearby.*
Jargon: Ahh… well, that’s our sign to keep moving.
Phantom: When I find what I’m seeking, even if it forces me to hide from the government forever, at least I’ll know that the simple things in life will always be there to remind me that there are things worth fighting for, and they’ll be there for you to keep you going.
*Jargon pats Phantom on the back and puts his arm around his shoulder. Phantom returns the gesture and the two stand there and enjoy the feeling of the rain for as long as they possibly can. Eventually the sound of danger around them becomes critical and the two retreat back inside the NPP. Phantom lags behind as the legless torso of a zombie grunts as it emerges from a bush nearby. It reaches up to the sky above it, seemingly in pain from the mysterious force pecking at it like a flock of vultures.
Phantom watches for a while as it twists and moans, suffering as it drags itself across the ground. Eventually he sighs and pulls out his sidearm, putting a round in the side of its head. The mutated man slowly slumps to the ground, letting out what sounds like a sigh of relief.*
Phantom: Rest in peace, brother. You and your friends will soon be free.
*Phantom turns back into the hole towards Jargon who had turned around and apparently witnessed the whole scene. He smiles, nodding at Phantom as he approaches. The two head off toward the Reactor 4 control room and other parts of the NPP devoid of human interaction for an unknown amount of time.*
{End Excerpt}

*The Stalkers follow behind Virtue as he moves now at a faster pace, seemingly well aware of his destination and eager to get there. They walk through endless halls and tunnels, passing by dark, deserted rooms filled with old rusting machinery. As they cross through different sections of the power plant they pass by many places with gaping holes or huge chunks of space missing due to anomalous and mutant activity. Several times they are forced to jump across missing sections of floor or climb down to a level below them and attempt to find another way through the area.
Eventually, they come to what appears to be one of the upper parts of the NPP. The dim light outside filters in, making their way a little more visible than before. The hum of the facility seems to reach its climax as they approach their unknown destination.
Gremlin: Virtue, where are you leading us exactly…
Virtue: I don’t know, but this is where we need to be.
Solitaire: How do you know?
Virtue: I just do. We’re close now… our destination is just ahead.
*The Stalkers look down the hallway ahead of them. A light pulses from under the door of a room at the end. The Stalkers look amongst themselves as is becoming ever more common as they cautiously walk towards the door.  They gather in front of the door as Virtue slowly opens it. A blinding light shines from inside as the rooms opens up to them. They shield their eyes as they attempt to adjust. A strangely familiar voice greets them from somewhere within the room.*
Dmytro: Hello, Stalkers. I see you have many questions for me... well, ask them and then we can decide what to do with you.