Chapter 20: Break-up, Breakdown

*Virtue moves away from the voices behind him, feeling betrayed, confused, and hopelessly lost inside himself.*
Nimbus: Virtue! Wait up!
*Virtue looks over his shoulder to see Nimbus coming up behind him.*
Virtue: You’re going with the wrong guy – go back to the group and finish your mission.
Nimbus: I will finish the mission, but not without you.
Virtue: Fine, it’s your funeral.
Nimbus: Look… I know you’re having a problem remembering things – but you spared my life when you could have easily taken it and nobody would have cared. You’ve also saved it more times than I can count – I owe my life several times over to you. You might not remember that, but I do. I’m obligated to come with you.
Virtue: Fair enough. I guess we’ll…
Enigma: Virtue!
*Virtue glances over his shoulder again to see Enigma jogging to catch up.*
Virtue: Another one? I didn’t realize I commanded an army…
*Enigma catches up to Virtue and Nimbus, standing to Virtue’s right as Nimbus shifts to the left.*
Virtue: What’s your story?
*Enigma glares back.*
Enigma: If I didn’t know you fell on your head I’d slap you right now. I can’t believe you would go and do that to Gremlin, and then blow the rest of the group off like they haven’t been through what you have.
Virtue: They haven’t. They all remember who they are and what their goal is. I don’t have that luxury at the moment, and in this place that’s not exactly a good thing.
Enigma: That’s why I’m here. I’m going to help jar your memory.
Virtue: How will you help?
Enigma: I… don’t know. But I’m staying with you until you remember.
*Virtue looks into Enigma’s concerned eyes, having a small flashback of a memory but unable to retrieve it after its gone.*
Virtue: Thanks.
Enigma: Don’t mention it. Now where are we going?
Virtue: I think I’m getting my senses back… I’m getting this sick feeling in my stomach and it’s been getting worse as we’ve been talking. I feel there’s something above us that we need to see.
Nimbus: I think I’ve seen enough of this place for a lifetime – but lead on fearless leader!
Virtue: Right. Follow me.

{Excerpt from Gremlin’s PDA}
*Gremlin and Solitaire follow behind Zombie, who uses his superior tracking skills to follow in Phantom’s footsteps.*
Solitaire: I really hope we find him. If it wasn’t for him, I might be back at Command right now and you two could both be imprisoned or dead.
Gremlin: He’s always had his demons. He’s been a great friend but there were certain subjects that were always touchy for him – his family was one of them. Now that the answers are finally within his grasp I know that he’ll do anything to make things right again, even if that means sacrificing everything in the process.
Solitaire: Well, I hope he’s OK. If we ever get out of here I’d at least like to buy him a drink.
Gremlin: Me too. If you decide to join Freedom you’ll get the chance. When we’re not working we’re partying.
*Gremlin sighs.*
Gremlin: Amazing how this place is the deadliest on earth and yet there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Solitaire: You must see it through different eyes; everything I’ve seen so far makes me sick to my stomach.
Gremlin: You get used to it after a while. Once you do, you’ll be able to see the beauty in it.
Solitaire: I hope so. I’ve seen enough of the alternative.
Zombie: Up here.
*The Stalkers stand next to Zombie, following his eyes to the floor.*
Zombie: Look there.
*Zombie points to 2 sets of footprints on the ground.*
Gremlin: It looks like… someone is following him?
Zombie: Not quite… it looks like he was following someone else. His footprints overlap the other set.
Gremlin: Kateryna?
Zombie: I don’t know… but there’s a good possibility.
*Gremlin steps inside the room. He analyzes it quickly, stopping as his eyes meet the closet. He lowers his head in sadness. Zombie and Solitaire approach. Zombie whispers:*
Zombie: Who was she?
Gremlin: His mother.
*The Stalkers stare into the emotionless face, she smiles back at them.*
Gremlin: Rest in peace.
*Gremlin turns and leaves the room.*
Gremlin: Come on, we’ve been here too long.
*Zombie continues to follow the tracks up a few flights of stairs and into a large open hallway – both ends seem to stretch forever. He continues on until the tracks reach a doorway. He peers inside, stopping in his tracks.*
Gremlin: What is it?
Zombie: The… tracks lead inside here.
*Gremlin looks around Zombie and into a sea of blackness.*
Gremlin: How did they cross that?
Zombie: He must have had some additional anti-radiation protection.
*Zombie opens his backpack and pulls out a small box of pills.*
Zombie: Here – take some of these. They should protect us from most of the radiation… at least until we get to the top and can gauge the situation.
*The Stalkers take a couple of the large tablets, chewing them up and swallowing them dry – nearly choking them back up as they do.*
Zombie: Here… doctor’s orders.
*Zombie pulls out a bottle of Vodka and hands it to Gremlin who takes a swig, swallowing hard. His face contorts as the burning liquid goes down his throat. Solitaire repeats the action, coughing something fierce as the alcohol enters his body. As they finish their performance, Gremlin puts his hand on Zombie’s shoulder to steady himself and says:*
Gremlin: Do me a favor: never do that again.
*Zombie just snickers, turning back to the graphite-filled room before them, takes a deep breath, and steps out onto the surface. All the Geiger counters on them tick rapidly in protest. Zombie approaches a ladder on the far side of the room and ascends to a ledge somewhere above before crossing over to another ladder that leads to the top of the reactor shaft. The Stalkers proceed in awe as they take in the sight of the dead reactor around them.*
Gremlin: As I live and breathe… I never thought I’d actually get to see this thing up close.
Solitaire: I saw it once, a long time ago. It was sometime just after the explosion. It was only on camera though, the reactor was still too hot and the radiation too high at the time for human presence.
*Gremlin and Solitaire reach the top of the reactor and join Zombie who is just off to the side, staring at the other end of the room in confusion.*
Gremlin: What is it?
*Zombie doesn’t say anything, but instead looks around for a better vantage point. Finding a ladder behind him, he climbs it quickly. Gremlin and Solitaire quickly join him as he dismounts and stands at the top of a large concrete structure, peering out over the room. They quickly scramble up to join him at his vantage point.*
Gremlin: What, Zombie? What is it?
*Gremlin follows his line of sight and quickly ascertains the cause of the confusion. A large monolith-type structure dominates the other end of the large room. A gaping hole to the right side of the sarcophagus is allowing a flood of rain in that side of the building. Mixed in with the rain is a stream of blood coming from a giant mound of flesh resting on top of the ruins of another building nearby. On one side of the platform is a giant pile of rubble, on the other, the silhouette of a person standing near the edge.*
Gremlin: What in fuck’s name happened here?
Solitaire: Who’s that standing there?
Zombie: It’s Phantom!
Gremlin: Are you sure?
Zombie: Positive – come on!
*The Stalkers quickly scramble towards the light, finding a convenient array of boards and concrete slabs laid over the islands of concrete structures, piles of debris, and mounds of solidified graphite from the exploded reactor. As the approach the platform holding the monolith, they cautiously jump down the pile of debris, passing up a newly unearthed body of a woman in the debris.*
Gremlin: Oh no… Phantom! Phantom, it’s Gremlin!
*The silhouette slowly turns to face them, it’s facial features still masked by the extraordinary light of the monolith. Zombie and Solitaire pause, distracted by the light while Gremlin continues forward.*
Gremlin: Phantom! We’re here man – what in God’s name happened in here?
*As Gremlin draws closer the silhouette slowly becomes recognizable as his friend – but something is different.*
Gremlin: No… my God…
*The skin on Phantom’s exposed face is rough and cracked; streaks of dried blood are coming from his nostrils and the sides of his mouth. In his hand is his knife, covered in blood. His body armor is full of punctures and slashes. He stands and stares at Gremlin emotionless as Gremlin stutters in horror.*
Phantom: I made a wish… and it came true.
Gremlin: A wish? You mean that…
Phantom: The Wish Granter knows all. It granted my wish.
*Gremlin laughs uneasily, not sure whether the tears coming are due to joy for finding his friend or sorrow for the state he found him in.*
Gremlin: What happened to you? You look like hell man.
*Phantom doesn’t react to the question. The other Stalkers approach and see Phantom’s hellish state.*
Phantom: I wished that there would be no more pain in the world. And now there is no more pain. I feel nothing.
*The Stalkers stare in disbelief, too shocked to do anything but stare. Finally, Gremlin finds the words.*
Gremlin: Phantom… I know you’ve been through a lot today. I know about your family, and I just want you to know that words cannot express my sorrow for your loss. But you need to come with us now so we can complete the mission.
Phantom: My mission is complete.
*Emotion chokes up Gremlin’s words.*
Gremlin: Then help me with mine!
Phantom: Your mission will never be completed. Your quest is futile. Nothing will ever heal the injury here. All you can do is allow it to bleed until it stops itself.
Gremlin: That’s the most defeatist thing I’ve ever had the dissatisfaction of hearing you say! Get a hold of yourself and let’s get out of here.
Phantom: I can’t.
*Phantom runs his hand over his face, indicating the radiation’s effect on his body.*
Phantom: My life belongs to the Zone now.
*Gremlin breaks down, falling to his knees in front of Phantom.*
Gremlin: You’re killing me Phantom! Everything will be OK! We just need to get you back to home, back to the Freedom base. I’ll buy you a drink and we’ll party just like old times and forget all about this!
*Phantom steps backwards towards the ledge.*
Phantom: I am nothing but an empty shell now. I’m dead like the rest of my family. I give myself to the Zone so that I may rejoin with them. Only then will the pain in the world truly be cured. That is the way of the Wish Granter.
Gremlin: No! It doesn’t have to be like this! Please friend… I beg you… don’t do it.
*Phantom continues to step towards the edge. Gremlin keels over under the crushing weight of the moment. His voice comes out scratchy and weak:*
Gremlin: Please… don’t…
Phantom: Goodbye, friend.
*Phantom steps over the edge, smiling as he does. Gremlin reaches out as he falls and cries:*
Gremlin: NO!!!
*Zombie and Solitaire rush to the edge as a loud thump comes from below. They peer over the edge as Gremlin crawls over slowly, shaking as he does. He reaches the threshold and peers slowly over in agony. Below he sees the body of his good friend, his body punctured by twisted metal rods amongst a pile of debris. He slowly reaches his hand over the edge, stretching it towards Phantom as if to pick him up off the ground. Zombie and Solitaire hold him back to prevent him from falling off, both trying their hardest to contain their inner pain. Gremlin screams in anguish and yells down at Phantom:*
Gremlin: Dammit you fucking fool! Fuck you! FUCK YOU!!! Fuck! If you had stayed with us you would have been fine! Damn you! DAMMIT!
*Gremlin collapses on the ground, resting his head on his arm as he sobs heavily. Zombie and Solitaire hold him steady, averting their eyes and holding back their own tears as Gremlin continues to shake. He clenches his fist and drags it slowly across the contaminated dust as if taking out his rage on a murder victim. The grinding turns into pounding. Then, in one swift move, Gremlin flips onto his back, un-holstering his rifle before Zombie and Solitaire can react. They jump out of the way as he unloads a magazine directly into the large crystalline monolith behind him. He screams unheard profanities while the muzzle flashes illuminate the rage in his eyes. Zombie and Solitaire wait until the magazine is empty and the gun starts clicking, then quickly disarm Gremlin and sit next to him on the platform. Gremlin sits up, crying in a way only a man who’s lost his best friend can do.*
Gremlin: He… he was everything to me… I trusted him, related to him… we just got each other. I shared things about my life I would never share with anybody, and he did the same. We were the same, him and me – the same. He was always there for me, and I for him. the Zone was always a little more alive when we were together, and I always knew that no matter what the danger, we could do anything together.
*Gremlin puts his head in his hands and shakes silently.*
Gremlin: Now I’ll never see him again. We’ll never go shoot at targets again and I’ll never get to hear him brag how he always nails the bulls-eye and how I can’t hit anything unless it’s right in front of me. I’ll never get to convince him just to have one more drink against his wishes, knowing that that one more will send him over the edge and turn him into a drunken fool. I’ll never get to go explore the Zone, find loot or some place that hasn’t had human presence in it for years knowing that as long as we’re there for each other everything will work out fine in the end. It’s all gone… gone forever…
*At length, Zombie speaks.*
Zombie: You’ll see him again, if not in this life, than in another. There is so little we understand as humans, it does no good to assume that everything is finite. You two are destined to roam the Zone together. If that Zone is somewhere else, in another time and place, then so be it.
Solitaire: I… I know it won’t make a difference right now, but… I saw a little bit of what you saw in Phantom in the short time I knew him. I feel like I’ve lost a good friend too. I just want you to know that even though nobody can replace him, I’ll still be here, and I’ll follow his example. The type of friendship you two had was one that is rarely seen anymore – he was a great, inspiring man. Any man should be jealous to share the adventures you two did.
*Gremlin continues to shake silently, but manages to mutter a “thank you”. The Stalkers remain seated on the platform, watching and listening to the rain fall slowly outside the hole in the sarcophagus. They join the Zone in mourning the loss of another soul within it.*

[Audio enabled]
 *Virtue stops, a wave of emotion hitting him like a punch to the stomach.*
Enigma: What is it, Virtue?
Virtue: Something’s wrong. Very wrong.
Nimbus: What is it?
Virtue: I’m not sure. I feel pain – both physical and mental, it doesn’t make sense.
*A tear rolls down Virtue’s cheek.*
Virtue: We lost something… someone. It hurts.
Enigma: What are you saying? Is someone dead?
Virtue: Yes, I think so. That’s the only thing that can explain the pain I feel.
*Virtue stands up, holding his stomach in like he’s about to vomit.*
Virtue: Come on, we can’t focus on it now. I feel that whatever is calling me forward can stop this once and for all.
*Enigma and Nimbus follow, saddened and questioning of the validity of the news.*
*Virtue leads them up a few flights of stairs and into a large hallway, both ends appearing to stretch endlessly. Multiple sets of footprints lead off down one end of the hall.*
Nimbus: It looks like Gremlin went that way… but what are those weird marks in the dust?
Virtue: They’re being followed.
Enigma: Mutants…
Nimbus: We’ve got to help them!
Virtue: We can’t. Now… we’re too close to the end, I can feel it.
*Virtue leads them down the opposite end of the hall. A light mist masks the end, if an end even exists. Finally, through the mist they can see where the hall turns to the left. They follow the turn and continue down the hall until they reach a small room. The door is ripped off its hinges and lies on the ground next to it. A sign on the door reads “DANGER! KEEP OUT!”. Inside, a ladder leads to a room just above them. Virtue looks up and begins to ascend into the room above them.
After doing a quick check of the area he motions to Nimbus and Enigma. They follow behind him, taking in the area above them as Virtue scans the room with his headlamp. The area appears to be a small storage area of some sort. Boxes line the hall. The Stalkers continue cautiously through the unlit room, their lights shining over old crates storing unknown items. As they continue onward, they encounter a door at the end of the hallway. The door is sealed with a padlock attached to the handle. Virtue approaches the door and analyzes the lock.*
Virtue: Stand back.
*The Stalkers comply and Virtue pulls out his sidearm. He shoots the lock, the sound echoing through the room. The room is deathly silent after the sound has passed. Virtue looks at the two excitedly as he slowly opens the door. It creaks open, revealing a dark hallway in front of them.*
Virtue: We’re close now.
*Virtue continues inside, his headlamp illuminating walls and dust particles in front of him. The halls are covered in a thick layer of dust and the air is thick with a musty smell. The Stalkers breath through their gasmasks slowly, wary of every sound coming from them.
They twist and turn through another series of halls, seeming like a labyrinth designed for rats. Finally, they enter a room at the end of one of the hallways. The room is filled with ancient-looking machinery. To the side of the room is another sealed door. A dim light shines underneath it. The Stalkers look at each other inquisitively.
Virtue walks slowly up to the door, putting his head against the door and listening intently. Suddenly, a look of satisfaction crosses his face. He whispers aloud to himself:*
Virtue: I found you, you motherfuckers…
*Virtue kicks open the door, the light of the room temporarily blinding them. They hold their hands above their eyes to shield them from the light. A voice comes from somewhere in front of them:*
[Unknown]: Hello Yuriy. I’ve been expecting you. Hello Boris. I’ve been expecting you. Hello Anastacia. I’ve been expecting you. I can see you have many…
*Another voice yells form somewhere in the room:*
[Unknown 2]: Shut it off! Shut it off!
*Feet scurry around the room, the voices of men yell frantically as various beeps and whirrs sound in the room.*
[Unknown 2]: Seal the door!
*The door slams behind them and an electronic locking mechanism clicks on.*
[Unknown 2]: Drop your weapons!
*The Stalkers un-sling their rifles and un-holster their side-arms, dropping them on the floor. There is a pause. The Stalkers strain to see but the bright white light continues to glare directly at them full-force. A new voice addresses them. There is something oddly familiar about it.*
[Unknown 3]: So… you finally found what you’ve been searching for all this time. I knew you would. I always saw great things in you.
Virtue: Do… do I know you?
*The voice chuckles.*
[Unknown 3]: Yes. But you’d never believe me if I told you, and it’s not time for you to know right now. Not until the others arrive at least. Your friends are in Sector X… or “Reactor 4” take your pick, mourning the loss of their dearly departed friend.
Virtue: did you have anything to do with that?
[Unknown 3]: No. Not directly at least. He became victim of our programmers’ ironic, twisted sense of humor.
*Muffled snickering and laughter comes from the room.*
[Unknown 3]: But enough questions. Everything will become clear for you soon enough.
*The voice shouts at someone behind him.*
[Unknown 3]: Hold them, and retrieve the others!
[Unknown 4]: Yes sir.
*The Stalkers’ hands are bound behind them with handcuffs and they are lead blindly away, unable to see from the intensity of the light shining on them.*

{Excerpt from Gremlin’s PDA}
*After retrieving Phantom’s belongings and supplies, Zombie and Solitaire return to Gremlin, who is still sitting on the platform, staring into the Wish Granter.*
Zombie: We have everything. Are you ready to go?
*Gremlin doesn’t respond and instead continues to stare into the Wish Granter. Zombie reluctantly kneels down in front of him, blocking his view of the Wish Granter. Gremlin continues to stare, then responds:*
Gremlin: It’s funny how in the end, it’s the simplest things that matter in life.
*Gremlin points to the Wish Granter.*
Gremlin: Whatever evil dwells within that thing speaks the truth as well. I’ve been watching my reflection in it, and around me I swear I can see old places and people I used to know, from a time when things in life were simpler. Even though I’m only seeing a distorted view of something that’s probably just in my imagination, I can feel it in my soul. The raw happiness of those times when we were all innocent and had our entire lives ahead of us and not a care in the world. Before we learned of the corrupt truth and evil in the world. It’s worth dying for.
*Gremlin sighs and stands up.*
Gremlin: Phantom was a martyr for that cause, and once he achieved that state of happiness he had so long ago by finding his family, he ended his life on that note.
Zombie: You might be giving him too much credit. He had to be extremely unstable after the loss of his entire family, and being under the influence of that damned thing was just the push he needed to step off that ledge.
Gremlin: Maybe you’re right. But he did see at least one thing clearly; what we know and accept as truth on a day to day basis can be swept out from under us without a word and change the way we think about everything. Nothing is finite; there are too many unknowns. It’s the search for your own truth that makes the adventure worth taking, whether that adventure is modern live, or roaming an abandoned nuclear wasteland.
Zombie: I believe you’re right.
*Gremlin stares a while longer into the light of the monolith before finally accepting Zombie’s outstretched hand and allows him to lift him up on his feet.*
Gremlin: Speaking of finding the truth…
*Gremlin approaches the Wish Granter and stands directly in front of it.*
Zombie: Gremlin… don’t do anything stupid…
Gremlin: It’s OK, trust me.
*Gremlin reaches out to touch the surface of the crystal structure. As his hand touches the surface his faces changes to surprise as his hand continues to travel through the object.*
Zombie: What the…
*Gremlin retracts his hand in surprise. He looks up and down the structure before finally taking a step forward. He takes another step until he is standing inside the monolith itself.*
Zombie: It’s…
Gremlin: Fake. The Wish Granter is a fake.
Zombie: But how does that explain what happened to Phantom?
Gremlin: I’m not sure. There’s another force at work here…
*A series of growls, snorts and moaning come from nearby. Solitaire comes running across the walkways and slides down the pile of debris onto the platform where the other two are standing.*
Solitaire: We’ve got company!
*A swarm of Snorks erupt from the reactor shaft in the floor below them like frogs escaping an unseen predator. A storm of floating eyes rolls over the mounds of irradiated debris below them, roaring as they move nightmarishly fast towards them. The wall of the sarcophagus with the gaping hole in it is suddenly swarmed with a plethora of mutant freaks of all kinds – all moving directly towards the light of the Wish Granter and the freshest meat in ages.*
Zombie: Well shit…
Gremlin: Yeah… I like a challenge, but I think you just bit off more than we can chew.
Solitaire: I don’t know where they came from. They just found us somehow!
*Gremlin, throws off his backpack and most of his protective gear. Zombie follows and does the same, Solitaire after him. The three of them stand together with their weapons out like a trio of Rambo, ready to meet their maker.*
Gremlin: Well boys, we’re pretty much fucked. It was nice knowing you.
Zombie: Yep.
Solitaire: Likewise.
*Gremlin looks up at the ceiling into the dark red sky.*
Gremlin *shouting*: Phantom! Hold the gates open, we’ll be there soon!
*Zombie reaches into his backpack and grabs the bottle of Vodka, drinking a good third of the bottle before passing it off to Solitaire and Gremlin. Gremlin finishes it and throws it into the crows of mutants. The bottle shatters with a satisfying crack across the head of an incoming Snork. Gremlin keels over with a hearty laugh.*
Gremlin: That’s 10 points for me. You boys better start shooting if you want to catch up!
*The other two laugh as they begin firing into the oncoming mutant rush. Gremlin gets back onto his feet and joins in the fun, laughing as blood sprays up randomly from the sea of flesh. As the mutants draw closer, a loud whirring sound comes from somewhere above them.*
Gremlin: What the fuck is that?!
*The group looks up. Their jaws drop in disbelief as a helicopter comes into view through the hole in the roof. A voice comes over a megaphone on the chopper:*
*A loud humming noise rises in volume from the chopper. A few seconds later a loud stream of bullets erupts from the side of the helicopter, sending a deadly stream of hot lead into the swarm of mutants. Pockets of blood explode as the mutants howl and scream below them.*
Gremlin: Holy shit! I guess the Wish Granter does work!
Zombie: Well I’ll be damned!
*A series of ropes come down from the helicopter, after which men begin sliding down, guns blazing as they go. As the men from the chopper approach, Gremlin can easily make them out.*
Gremlin: Freedom?
Freedomer: That’s correct sir. As a former leader you should know we never abandon one of our own!
Gremlin: Not in a million years would I expect you here though! Impeccable timing too, props to your commander!
Freedomer: Just stay put sir, we’ll set up a perimeter!
Gremlin: Roger that!
*The Freedomer kneels in front of the group, laying down suppressing fire as the mutants continue to advance despite the hail of bullets raining down on them. Two more stalkers descend the ropes from the helicopter to the ground below. They are easily recognizable as they approach.*
Gremlin: Lukash! Reaper…?
Reaper: ‘ello mate! I see you found yerself in a right dandy situation eh?
Lukash: Reaper here told us everything. He saw the Stalkers following you after you left his cabin and thought to report it to us. We knew you’d need our help so here we are!
Gremlin: Thanks… it’s good to see another friendly face. God knows we need it now.
Lukash: Any final orders, sir?
Gremlin: Yeah, I’ll take a double-cheeseburger with a side of fries.
Lukash: How about a nice helping of roasted mutant?
Gremlin: That was my second choice. Make it so!
Lukash: Aye aye, sir.
*Lukash salutes, then joins his men in holding back the mutants assaulting them. The exchange continues for a few minutes, most of the mutants are stopped before they reach the platform but the occasional stray gets through, tearing into a Freedom soldier and killing him before he can react.
Suddenly a large whoosh and whine comes from above them. Some of the Stalkers look up. An RPG comes from somewhere unseen above them, slamming into the helicopter. It explodes, illuminating the room with fire. The light reflects off of the wet armor of the Stalkers and the blood and slime covering the mutants.*
Lukash: Shit! That was our ride out of here!
Gremlin: I guess we’re getting out the old fashioned way…
*Suddenly the mutants grind to a halt below them. The Stalkers mow through another line of them before Lukash gives the command to cease fire.*
Lukash: Hold your fire! What are they doing…
*The monolith behind them starts to hum deeply. The Stalkers direct their attention to it. It pulses light, the humming getting louder and faster as the pulses increase in speed. The mutants in the room scatter and flee the room through whatever exit they can find. Then, a loud electric discharge erupts from the monolith, sending out a shockwave and a blinding white light. The Stalkers grunt in pain as they are forced to the ground. Their weapons are thrown from their hands. Blinded, they feel around on the ground for anything to assist them in escaping the platform.*
*The sealed doors within the sarcophagus burst open and an unseen force enters into the room.*
[Unknown]: HA! We got you, you anarchist scum! Everyone down on your knees and put your hands behind your heads!
*The shuffling in the room indicates that the Stalkers comply with the demand. After the shuffling concludes, Lukash speaks out:*
Lukash: Who are…
*A high-pitched hum sounds from something nearby, followed by a wave of energy directed in Lukash’s direction. He screams in pain as he is knocked to the ground.*
[Unknown]: Now is not the time for questions. You will come with us, or you will die. Although it would be a shame to waste such potential.
Reaper: And what about the option where you come up ‘ere and I put me foot up yer arse?
*A suppressed shot rings out from the back of the room. A loud whizzing noise followed by an impact and a grunt come after.*
Lukash: REAPER!!!
[Unknown]: Huh… lucky guy. It looks like his balls aren’t the only thing made of steel.
Reaper: Ye gotta aim for the ‘ead if you wanna put me down ya wankers!
[Unknown]: That can be arranged.
Lukash: STOP! What do you want from us?
*The group of unknown assailants laughs at the ridiculousness of the question.*
[Unknown]: Oh… what indeed. We want you to come with us. What we’ll want after that is determined on how you… *react* to the pressure.
Gremlin*whispering*: I don’t like the sound of that…
Solitaire *whispering*: If he’s referring to what I think he is…
[Unknown] Stay where you are and don’t move. We are coming over to retrieve you.
*A group of men come and force the Stalkers to their feet. The Stalkers, still blinded from the light of the Wish Granter, are pushed along over mounds of debris until they reach a hallway. They are lead down a series of seemingly unending hallways until they are finally thrown into holding cells. The doors slam shut behind them. They hear the sound of boots retreating down the hall and a large door slamming shut and locking behind them. Silence overcomes them.*