Chapter 21: Imprisoned


*Virtue, Nimbus, and Enigma are pushed along, hands bound behind them towards an unknown destination. A large door opens in front of them and they enter another room. The room is cold and damp and smells of death.*
Virtue: Where are you taking us?
*The men holding them don’t respond, and instead throw them into a room of some sort off the main hall. They stumble inside as a door slides shut behind them. The sound of the men’s boots retreat down the hall; the large door slamming and locking shut behind them. The Stalkers scurry over to the door, trying to feel their surroundings. Bars.*
Nimbus: No… not prison again… anything but that…
Virtue: Relax; this is just a holding cell of some sort.
Enigma: A holding cell in the Zone… and somehow that’s an improvement? It reeks of death in here.
*Virtue sighs, collapsing onto the cold floor of the cell.*
Virtue: No, it’s not. I’m just trying to be optimistic I guess.
Nimbus: That’s more like the Virtue I know. Is your memory coming back?
Virtue: No. Not really. But it looks like I’ll have time to think now.
*The Stalkers are silent, sitting around the cell taking in all that has happened. Enigma is the first to speak:*
Enigma: Who do you suppose those men where?
Virtue: I don’t know for sure… but my instinct is telling me they’re the ones in charge here.
Nimbus: One of those voices sounded familiar to me.
Virtue: Me too.
Enigma: It was distorted, but I recognized it too.
*The Stalkers are silent again. Nimbus yawns from his corner of the cell.*
Nimbus: How long has it been since we slept?
*Virtue starts to respond, but stops himself when he realizes the memory is not there.*
Enigma: A couple days now I think.
*Nimbus yawns again.*
Nimbus: Well, since I still can’t see shit I think I’ll try to sleep it off.
*Nimbus shuffles around in his corner.*
Nimbus: Wake me in the morning. Good night.
*Enigma shuffles uneasily somewhere near Virtue.*
Virtue: I’ll keep watch… or at least listen for the soldiers if you want to sleep too.
Enigma: That wasn’t what I had in mind.
*Virtue shifts uneasily.*
Virtue: Enigma… this hole in my memory is very hard for me to think around, but I can’t help but get the feeling that your emotions towards me are misplaced.
*Virtue listens to the sound of Enigma slowly moving closer, tensing as she does.*
Enigma: Your memory is the only thing that’s misplaced. The feelings I have for you are exactly what they should be.
Virtue: Maybe for you, but everything about me… who I am, what I’m doing here, who you are is all based off of everything that’s happened in this place! I feel these terrible emotions within myself like I’ve lost something dear to me but I don’t know what the hell it is! And then there’s these abilities that only I seem to have that I feel are new to me… my head’s constantly spinning. I don’t know what to make of anything.
Enigma: That’s what I love about you. You’ll do anything to defend what you believe in. Even now, when all sense of who you are is stripped away from you, you still strive to do what you feel is right.
*Enigma inches closer, her cool breath hitting Virtue’s neck, turning his veins to ice.*
Enigma: I act on what I feel is right too. And you’re right for me… and deep down I’m right for you. The two of us could share so much together. We’re two of a kind; you and me – we could share things other people could never understand. We’ve seen and done things that would make others break down and cry like children. There is so much potential for the two of us, I can’t bear the thought of not being with you.
*Enigma’s lips touch his neck and she kisses him gently, her lips are soft and smooth. He shivers as the sensation travels throughout his entire body. It feels like he’s on fire. He gently pushes her away.*
Virtue: I… I don’t know what I feel. There is so much I don’t understand… about past, present or future. What you’re saying sounds amazing, but the emotion is all I feel. I can’t think straight without knowing where the emotions stem from.
Enigma: Then don’t think.
*Enigma’s arms come from under his and she wraps them around him. She puts her head on his shoulder, her hair gently caressing his face. He clenches his fists as another wave of emotion shoots through his body.*
*A memory surfaces in his mind – a tragedy. “It’s Emelia… she’s dead.” Sadness and rage course through his body. Her face flashes through his mind as he runs out into the rain. More faces flash in his mind, the faces of lost loved ones in the form of zombified remains. His rage dissipates as his bullets pierce their skulls. He is pulled away and back into the bunker… the lab at Yantar.
Another face flashes in his mind, this one covered by a mask. The same voice comes back to him: “It’s Enigma… she’s...” His head hurts are he tries to make sense of the thoughts. All he can see is the masked face and the feelings associated with it. The mask – the face shield on a protective helmet slowly flips up to reveal…*
*Virtue jumps suddenly, Enigma releases him quickly. He pants in desperation, trying to establish reality. His vision is blurry but he can make some things out. A concrete room, a barred door, two figures behind him, one curled up in a corner, the other sitting looking at him. He approaches the sitting figure. It’s blurry at first but as he draws closer to her he recognizes her face. She’s the one in his memory, the one who was always there for him, the one he loves.*
Virtue: Oh Enigma! I remember now! I remember!
*Enigma stares back, slightly confused but happy. Her eyes go wide with amazement as Virtue grabs her head with his hands and pulls it towards his. His lips lock with hers as he plants a fiery kiss on her lips. He releases her as she falls backwards in shock. She pants heavily, attempting to catch her breath.
Enigma *panting*: Where… did that… come from?
Virtue: I love you, and I never want to lose you again.
*Enigma looks back at him, still panting. A fire begins to burn behind her eyes and a smile spreads across her face. She lunges at him, knocking him onto the floor. Her body presses up against his and she squeezes tightly, threatening to force all the air out of his lungs. He gasps for air as she sucks it from his lungs. His lungs burn as they cry out for air, but he ignores it as she holds his face in her hands, moving it and contorting it around as she pleases.
When he feels he’s on the verge of passing out she releases him, the air is sucked back into his lungs like a vacuum. His heart is racing as he remains on the ground paralyzed. Enigma is still on top of him, looking down at him with a satisfied smile on her face. Virtue returns the smile and sits up quickly, sending her falling backwards. He catches her head as it falls back, moving beside her and holding it in his lap. Her chest rises and falls quickly as he repeats the maneuver, refusing to let his lips leave hers.
To his surprise, she manages to roll him over and pin him on the ground once more and kisses him passionately while his lungs scream for air. Finally he taps out, hitting his hand against the floor beside him, his other hand reaching into a pocket to draw out a small, white strip of cloth. Enigma notices and takes her lips off of his. He gasps for air, waving the piece of cloth in the air with a smile.*
Virtue: I surrender! I surrender!
*Enigma bursts into laughter, rolling onto the floor beside him. The two of them laugh together as they stare at the ceiling above them. Nimbus awakes from his catnap. He rubs his eyes and looks over at the two laughing next to each other on the floor.*
Nimbus: Did… I miss something?
*The two look up at him, then at each other, then back at him.*
Nimbus: Oh God… you didn’t.
Enigma: In here? Hey, I may come off as that kind of girl but even I have my standards.
Nimbus: Sure, sure. It’s not like I haven’t seen my fair share of prison sex. Although a female partner would be a first…
*Enigma throws a grenade playfully at his chest. Nimbus laughs and plays dead as the imaginary fuse goes off.*
*Virtue sighs in relief. Seeing the smiling faces of his companions brings new purpose to his mission… or was it always there? He’s not sure, but that’s good enough for him.*
Virtue: Thanks for helping me remember what it is I’m fighting for – what we’re all fighting for.
*Enigma smiles hesitantly, then responds:*
Enigma: Just remember that I’ll always be here for you.
Nimbus: Make that two of us.
*Nimbus smiles from across the cell.*
Virtue: Thanks buddy. I’m sorry if I’ve been an ass lately.
Nimbus: I understand. Apology accepted.
*Nimbus gets up and assumes a seat next to Virtue, giving him a firm pat on the leg. They sit there for a while in silence as their vision nearly fully returns. Outside the door they can hear loud voices as feet shuffle towards them. The door unlocks and the voices turn into a roar. Several Stalkers are lead inside the room, each bound with handcuffs behind their backs. The Stalkers stand up and walk up to the bars to see what the commotion is about.*
Nimbus: Gremlin!
*Gremlin, Zombie, and Solitaire emerge near the center of the group, all turning their heads towards Nimbus in his cell.*
Gremlin: Nimbus… that you? Can’t see shit…
Nimbus: Yeah! Virtue and Enigma are with me.
*Gremlin looks at the floor in mention of Virtue’s name.*
Gremlin: Well, looks like we’re in this together whether we like it or not…
Virtue: Gremlin I’m sorry!
*Gremlin smiles as he’s lead further down the hall.*
Gremlin: No sweat, man.
*The soldier behind him hits him in the back of the head.*
[Unknown]: Shut up and keep moving!
Gremlin: OK, honey.
*Amongst the Stalkers coming in – a large number of which are wearing Freedom suits – Lukash and Reaper are also recognizable - especially Reaper who is cursing up a storm.*
Reaper: Aye, yer mother was a pig wasn’t she? I reckon that explains the choice of profession eh?
[Unknown 2]: You foreigners and your big mouths. We’ll have to put that to good use later on.
Reaper: Oy, that’s disgusting mate! Reaper don’t swing that way. Sorry chum.
[Unknown 2]: That’s not what I meant you sick fuck.
Reaper: Well I certainly ain’t pleasuring your mother with it. I don’t like raw pork.
*The exchange goes one as Reaper is lead to a cell near the end of the hall, apparently earning himself the one furthest away from the rest of the group. Gremlin and Lukash are placed in the cell across from Virtue, Enigma and Nimbus, while the others are dispersed through the rest of the cells. The doors close and lock. The guards turn and exit the room, the large door at the end of the hall slamming shut and locking once more.*
Virtue: Gremlin! What the hell happened?
*Gremlin goes on to explain the story of their pursuit of Phantom, the fate of him and his family, and their rescue and capture at the hands of their mysterious captors. The Stalkers take in the information, saddened by the news, then exchange their own story.*
Virtue: … and then they threw us in here.
*The Stalkers pause, allowing the new information to sink in.*
Nimbus: I can’t believe it… Phantom is… dead…
*Gremlin sighs.*
Gremlin: We can’t allow it to hinder us now. We’ll have time to properly mourn him and Jargon when this is all over.
*Lukash points at Virtue.*
Lukash: You. You said you’ve regained some of your vision – can you describe what the soldiers look like?
Virtue: Well, they have standard camo. Most were wearing red berets and had a patch with an eagle on their arms.
Lukash: Ukrainian Special Forces. They litter the Zone like flies.
Virtue: There were some other ones. Some had tan uniforms with the Soviet hammer and sickle on it. And I think I saw a couple with a sword and shield emblem on them.
Gremlin: Sword and shield? Did it have a hammer and sickle on it too?
Virtue: Yeah, in the middle. Who are they?
*Gremlin and Lukash talk quietly between themselves before replying.*
Lukash: The Red Army of the Soviet Union.
Gremlin: And the KGB.
Nimbus: The KGB… didn’t they dissolve with the Soviet Union?
Gremlin: That’s what the history books say at least. I can’t say I’m surprised after everything I’ve seen so far. It makes sense that they would go to the extreme of secretly involving their nationalist dogs who aren’t even supposed to exist anymore. Why not, right?
Lukash: If this gets out, we could put away everyone in charge for good.
*Gremlin throws up his hands in disbelief, speaking sarcastically:*
Gremlin: Oh yeah, that’ll work! A bunch of anarchists speaking out against the government and even going as far as saying the Soviet Union is still alive in secrecy. That’s real believable!
Lukash: Maybe you’re right… but they can’t keep it a secret forever. We’ll let the people know somehow.
*The large door clicks and swings open with a bang. The Stalkers look towards the noise, unable to see what’s going on. Virtue, Nimbus, and Enigma are the only ones able to see the men with the gas masks come in. A Soviet commander steps through their midst and stands in the front.*
[Unknown]: My, my, what lovely specimens we have today. I am Commander Tann. Some of you may know me. If not then you’ll certainly know of my work.
*He raises his hand outwards, motioning to everything around him.*
Lukash: What do you want?
Commander Tann:  Such manners!
*One of the men with the gas masks holds out a long rod, the end of which sends out a stream of electricity. Lukash yells as the electricity courses through his body.*
Gremlin: Hey! Knock it off you bastards!
*A second rod comes out. The soldier holding it jams it into Gremlin’s side, sending power through his body as well.*
Enigma: Stop it!
*The men stop and look. The commander in charge turns in amazement.*
Commander Tann: Do my eyes deceive me? A woman?! Shouldn’t you be playing with dolls or working a corner somewhere.
*Enigma says nothing.*
Commander Tann: Got shy all of a sudden eh? Guards!
*Two of the men come up to the cell. One of them opens the door while the other stands to the side with his shocking stick pointed towards it.*
Commander Tann: We haven’t had a woman in our presence for a very long time.
*He grabs Enigma’s chin, turning her head over and analyzing her.*
Virtue: Don’t even think about it. She’s with me.
*The commander looks back at Virtue with a smirk, grabbing her by the chest and pulling her into his arms.*
Commander Tann: She appears to be with me now.
*Virtue jumps into the bars, teeth bared.*
Virtue: If you lay a hand on her…
*The guard next to the door turns and reaches towards Virtue with the stick, sending a shock into his body. The commander laughs as Virtue grunts in pain, falling to the ground. The cell door slams shut and the soldiers continue onward. Enigma goes with them silently, winking back at Virtue. Virtue whispers to Nimbus:*
Virtue: They don’t know what they’re getting in to…
*Nimbus chuckles in agreement, replying:*
Nimbus: We’ll see who the bitch is…
Virtue: Yeah… I just hope nothing happens to her.
Nimbus: She lived alone in a deserted, mutant-infested city for years… and SHE was the predator. She’ll be OK.
*The soldiers continue down the hall until they reach the end. The commander stops in front of the cell.*
Commander Tann: I heard you were the one with the mouth.
Reaper: If yer lookin’ fer a wank I suggest you try one of yer own men.
Commander Tann: Ah… such a refreshingly disgusting man. Take him.
*The guards open the cell, prodding Reaper out a door opposite the one they entered at the other end of the hall. Reaper shouts back as they depart:*
Reaper: Don’t worry boys; I’ll bite ‘is balls off so ‘e doesn’t try to teabag ya.
*Muffled laughter comes from the cells as the door slams and locks behind them. The room is silent in the commander’s wake for a few moments. Gremlin finally speaks to Lukash, but loud enough that Virtue can hear:*
Gremlin: Lukash, you didn’t tell me how you managed to get here. And in a chopper no less… how did you pull it off?
Lukash: You can thank Reaper for that – his navigation skills are unmatched. The bastard managed to run all the way to base in just a few hours. When he got there he was panting and nobody could understand a word he was saying through his accent. But we could tell it was urgent so we said we’d help. Before we knew what was going on he ran into one of the hangers and jumped in the copilot’s seat of one of our helicopters. We jumped in and started flying – he gave us directions as we went.
Gremlin: But how did you cross the barrier and enter the NPP through the storm.
Lukash: Nothing short of luck… but when Reaper told me it was you I was willing to take that risk.
Gremlin: I’m touched.
*Lukash smirks.*
Lukash: I hope so, we went through hell. The higher above the barrier you are the easy it is, but it was like a God damn aerial minefield. Once we navigated through that maelstrom it was relatively smooth sailing to the NPP. That is until we tried to land on the roof anyway…
Gremlin: Your courage knows no limits, I was right in making you leader I see. Thanks for coming to save me.
Lukash: You and your friends it seems. Who is it you travel with these days?
Gremlin: Well… I’d give you a proper introduction but it’s not like we can shake hands now, and I don’t know about you but I’m still blind as a bat.
Virtue: I’m Virtue, and this is Nimbus.
Nimbus: Pleased to meet you.
Lukash: Likewise, I am Lukash. Leader of Freedom. Who was the woman they took from you?
Virtue: Enigma. She’s my… my…
Lukash: Your what?
*Thoughts swim in Virtue’s head. He can see her face, he can feel her in his soul, but he can’t remember the details. Then he sees a little girl form a childhood, and the experiences flood his memory. She is his childhood sweetheart. They had a baby. He’s dead now. He went into the Zone for her. He thinks hard as he tries to remember the face on the little girl he sees. As she gets older the face evolves into a more readily familiar one. It’s hers… it has to be.*
Virtue: My wife.
*Gremlin arches an eyebrow. Nimbus scratches his head.*
Gremlin: Right… well uh… you know Zombie and Solitaire. Phantom and Jargon where also with us.
Lukash: Gremlin… I know I can’t change what happened but I want you to know that…
Gremlin: Stop. I can deal with it myself. It’s the price we pay as leaders. You know that.
Lukash: You’re right… you’re absolutely right. I’m sorry.
Gremlin: Now we need to start looking for a way to escape if we’re ever going to finish our mission here and get what we know to the public.
Lukash: Right. I’ve been in my fair share of military prisons, but since I don’t have the ability to see my surroundings that doesn’t help us at the moment. And we certainly don’t have enough time to learn the guard’s schedules or look for weaknesses elsewhere. We may have to do this the hard way.
Gremlin: What are you thinking?
Lukash: We overpower them.
*The Stalkers are silent as they ponder the proposed course of action.*
Lukash: There may be some casualties, but you know our Freedom boys will fight and die if it means kicking some military ass.
Gremlin: It may be our only option. God knows what they have planned for us, they obviously don’t intend for us to stay in these cells for very long. And they already took Enigma and Reaper, so time is against us.
Lukash: Virtue, it may be up to you and your friend to be our eyes. Look for anything that might help us force our way out of here. Be observant, and report anything that may be of used to us next time they come in here.
Virtue: I’ll do what I can. Nimbus, I know you’ve done this before so I’ll need your help, alright?
Nimbus: It would be my pleasure. These bars are starting to bring back feelings I’ve been escaping for years.
*The Stalkers don’t have to wait long before the door where Reaper and Enigma were lead out of opens again. Commander Tann and his soldiers re-enter the room.*
Commander Tann: You’re friends are showing some positive results so far… but we need a few average Joe’s to test them against.
*The commander walks up to a cell of Freedomers, placing his hands behind his back as he leans in and observes. A smile crosses his face.*
Commander: Ahh… look at you! All so young and rebellious, your entire anarchist careers ahead of you. Willing to blindly follow the orders of an international terrorist. You’ll do just fine. I’ll enjoy watching you break down and cry like little girls.
*The cell opens up and the Freedomers are herded towards the door once again. The commander looks back as they go.*
Commander Tann: Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon. I give these men a life expectancy of about 15 minutes or so.
*He laughs as the door slams and clicks behind him again. Gremlin and Lukash scramble up to the bars in their cells excitedly.*
Lukash: Anything?
Nimbus: That Commander Tan likes to parade around with his key ring slightly visible on his right hip. It looks like it would be easy to lift from him. He also has a limp in his left leg – any blow there will keep him down for a while.
Gremlin: Good, good. Anything else?
Nimbus: Yeah – none of the soldiers seems to have any weapons on them – just those shocking sticks. If we get into a brawl all we have to worry about is a jolt or two. If we can take them down fast without alerting anyone outside we should be able to get away without a firefight.
Lukash: Excellent! We might just get away with this…
Gremlin. No. We WILL get away with this. Everything depends on it. I didn’t get this far to fail. When he comes back in, get him to come to you so you can grab the keys. The door outside is electronically sealed so you should be able to unlock every cell in here before he realized they’re gone.
Lukash: What if he uses those keys outside the cellblock too?
Gremlin: That’s a risk we’ll have to take. We’ll just have to hope he doesn’t so we have the element of surprise when they re-enter.
*Lukash thinks the plan over for a moment.*
Lukash: OK. We’ll do it.
*Lukash whispers the plan to the Freedomers in the cell next to him, who in turn pass it along to the cell next to them. Virtue and Nimbus repeat his actions, passing the word to the cells next to them. The room is full of whispers and excitement fills the air as the Stalkers tense in anticipation.*

{Excerpt from Enigma’s PDA}
*Reaper continues to talk loudly and curse in front of her as he is lead down one of the halls in front of them. They enter what looks like old break rooms turned laboratory. Arrays of odd looking chairs with wires and machinery attached litter the rooms before them.
Commander Tann, who is walking uncomfortably close to Enigma, holds his hand in front of him as if presenting a show to her.*
Commander Tann: How about the grand tour? You see these rooms here? This is where all of our human experimentation takes place. There’s a lot of history behind these rooms, in fact, this is where the “Zone” as you Stalkers like to call it was born.
*Enigma stares ahead silently.*
Commander Tann: I remember it like it was yesterday… over two decades ago I marched down this very hall with a mission straight from High Command. My mission was to execute Project X, something I’m sure you know much about by now. My part of the assignment including rounding up some of the top minds here and psychologically testing them to see if they were compatible with our new ‘biological assets”.
Enigma: You murdered them.
Commander Tann: Murdered? No, no… not at all. Mother Russia calls for certain “sacrifices” you see… something that all of its citizens should always be ready to do if called upon. Well, these men were called upon. They were irradiated with radioactive materials and we studied the effects on them. They were our first human samples. Their bodies rejected the experiment horribly… but their minds showed great results.
Enigma: Those men had families before you decided to play God with them.
Commander Tann: They accepted their sacrifice in time and forgot all about their families becoming perfect little pets for the Red Army. Unfortunately, politics happened and the great Soviet Union didn’t exactly maintain the appearance we had hoped for, but it was still very much alive after the so called “collapse”. We staged the explosion in the power plant and used it to cover up any evidence of our work here. After that, we moved most of our files to other facilities for safekeeping, leaving only our command station here.
Enigma: The X labs.
Commander Tann: Precisely. I believe the Stalkers you were with have visited X16 themselves. Frightful place now, I wouldn’t want to be there alone. There are other ones dedicated to other studies placed throughout the Zone, all of them surrounded with various other defenses; radioactivity; anomaly barriers; psionic defenses. Oh! And my favorite –mutants. Our failed subjects. Although they didn’t pass the mental tests they have still been invaluable in deterring you annoying Stalkers.
Enigma: What do you plan to do with us?
Commander Tann: You will all be tested. If you pass the test, you will become a Controller and will lead our army of super soldiers when the time comes to paint the planet red with the Soviet flag. If you fail, you will become a freak of nature, and you will either aid in the defense of our base here in the Zone, or you will be sent into battle and your physical superiority over humans will help us in our war.
Enigma: Why are you doing this?
Commander Tann: Ahh… the most universal of all questions – Dmytro’s favorite. Oh, he’s our ears in the Zone – the nerd behind the computer making sure Stalkers stay out of our business. I heard you had the pleasure of meeting him. I hope his appearance didn’t sicken you too much. You see… the occasional mutant does escape our grasp; he had the misfortune of nearly becoming Bloodsucker food. We quickly got the situation under control, but by then his legs were completely drained of blood. Lucky for him our team of biologists are the top of their field – they saved him and even added some “enhancements” as a sort of apology. He hasn’t complained since.
Enigma: You didn’t answer my question.
Commander Tann: My dear girl… do you really understand so little about Mother Russia?
*Commander Tann takes off his officer’s hat, revealing horrible burns and scarring over the surface of his head.*
Commander Tann: As soldiers in the Red Army, we sacrificed so much for our great motherland throughout the years. Every other nation of the world has always been jealous of our power, and they spy on us to see what secrets we might be brewing next, ever suspicious of us. I became a victim of torture in one of their camps. They tortured and burned me saying that they would “force the secrets” out of my head. It wasn’t long after that the Soviet Union collapsed and the motherland grew weak. I vowed then that I would live to see the motherland regain its former power, and make my enemies feel the pain they had caused me and our mother.
Enigma: So all of this is just some sort of mass-genocide as a form of revenge to those who hurt you and toppled the corrupt Soviet government.
*Commander Tann stops. He turns to Enigma and slaps her across the face with the back of his hand – the force of which is surprisingly strong. The soldiers escorting her catch her before she falls to the floor, lifting her back in front of the commander and holding her in place. Commander Tann breathes deeply, a low growl in his voice:*
Commander Tann: I am a patriot. I love my country and I fight for it. Mother Russia has been crying out from the grave for over two decades now. Too long has she waited. We will help her back on to her feet and place her back on the throne where she belongs. Nothing will stand in our way. NOTHING! The rivers will run red – our Mother’s color – and the world will quiver in fear at our power!
*Commander Tann shouts some commands at the soldiers in Russian. They comply and force her up to one of the windows looking in on a lab. Several Freedom soldiers are strapped to chairs in the room. Scientists in lab coats inject various liquids into them with needles and tubes are fed into them. The Freedomers yell and grip the arms of the chairs in pain.*
Commander Tann: Watch, and witness our progress over the last two decades. We have sped up the time it takes for a specimen reach its full potential. I give each of these men a maximum of 15 minutes before they are fully bound to our will.
*The scientists finish their preparation and leave the room, entering an added on observation room nearby. The room darkens. An image flickers on to a wall, mirrored all the way around the room. An old-fashioned movie countdown timer starts counting down from 10. Commander Tann claps his hands and snickers.*
Commander Tann: I love this part!
*When the timer hits 0, the image reflected around the room shifts into millions of violent ones, all displayed extremely fast, but slow enough for the full image to be apparent and register in the mind. The Stalkers in the chair look on in disgust. As they watch, a yellow-greenish liquid is fed down the tubes into their arms. As it enters their bloodstreams, they lurch and twist in their chairs, crying out for the men to stop.*
Commander Tann: That’s our special ingredient – a type of radiation that’s not readily found on earth. But we’ve harvested it, and learned to duplicate it. But the best part is, we’ve learned how to attach it to existing types of radiation. It duplicates itself in the presence of radiation and multiplies until the molecule or radiation is effectively “irradiated” itself. It’s like a virus for a virus… and it is strong.
*Enigma watches in horror as the men gradually stop struggling. Their eyes become dark and empty as they watch the images flash in front of them. Their physical appearance also starts to change. Their skin becomes dry and cracks like dirt without water. Their hair begins to fall out in patches on the floor, and their muscles and craniums increase in size.*
Commander Tann: You see… we’re increasing the capacity of the part of the brain that allows the use of telepathic and telekinetic skills. Like forced evolution, the cranium naturally evolves to accommodate the increased capacity in that part of the brain. As an added benefit the front part of the brain – which contains the parts that set us apart from animals such as judgment, reasoning, emotions and speaking - all collapse and are filled in by a strong form of bone, making them completely obedient and erasing everything that gave them individuality. The only problem is the part of the brain behind it, responsible for memory, remains intact. But without the ability to act on those memories they are not a threat.
*The commander leaves Enigma away as the Freedomers twitch in chairs, mere shells of the beings they were not minutes ago. Enigma weeps silently inside herself, horrified by the inhumanity witnessed.*
Commander Tann: If you think that’s great, you’ll love what we have in store for Reaper. We think he was great potential to become one of our top dogs. The kind of physical skill and mental stability he has are above average, making him a good candidate for our advanced program. He will retain everything that makes him human, and his physical appearance for the most part – but his mind will be ours to do with as we see fit.
*The commander and the soldiers stop in front of another chamber, this one looks as though extra effort went into its construction and security. The walls are made from armored plates, and there are several mounted turrets trained on the chair in the center of the room.*
Commander Tann: We call this room the “Dentist’s office”. The only difference between ours and a real one is if you don’t behave, we shoot you.
*Commander Tann laughs heartily, his soldiers joining in with him. Enigma stares at him with disgust, resisting the urge to kick him in the balls and run. Dissatisfied at her reaction, the commander shouts into the room:*
Commander Tann: Flip the switch!
*Reaper looks around him as the lights dim slowly, his angry cursing unheard through the soundproof glass. Commander Tann watches in delight until his wristwatch beeps. He looks down at it and smiles.*
Commander Tann: Well, the first group of your friends should be out of the oven, time for the next batch.
Enigma: You’re a monster. I promise as long as I’m alive, I’ll see you suffer for your crimes.
*Commander Tann laughs as he departs down the hall. Enigma is forced to stay and watch as the testing begins on Reaper.*

[Begin audio]
Gremlin: I think my vision is finally coming back… instead of one big blob of light, now it’s just a bunch of little blobs.
*The sound of boots outside the door approaches as the heavy door clicks and opens. Once again, Commander Tann marches in with his escort of soldiers, stopping in front of another holding cell containing Freedom soldiers. The commander looks down the hall, gleefully announcing to everyone in the room:*
Commander Tann: I just want you all to know that your friends made an excellent batch of mutants. They all screamed and cried as I said they would. I guess the 15 minutes I gave them as a bit too much, I think the last one took about 11 minutes to completely accept the treatment. I guess you “soldiers” are a dime a dozen these days. Pity…
*Gremlin bursts into rage sticking his head out of the bars in his cell and shouting at the commander:*
Gremlin: Those were my men you’re referring to you son of a bitch! They dedicated their lives to stopping injustice and killing corrupt men like you! I don’t care what you say – they went out fighting for what was right while you hid behind your walls and guns! Let me out and face me like a man you coward!
*Commander Tann approaches the cell slowly. A dead silence falls over the room besides Gremlin’s heavy breathing and the slow sound of Commander Tann and his soldiers’ boots. Gremlin winks at Nimbus signaling him to make his move while the commander approaches. Nimbus nods in acknowledgement and kneels near the edge of the cell. The commander stops in front of the cell and turns slowly towards Gremlin, staring him dead in the eyes.*
Commander Tann: Now why would I so such a thing when I clearly have an iron grip on you? Why let you even think you have a chance of getting into my head when I know that in a few hours from now I’ll have your complete and utter obedience. Your insults mean nothing to me, they are as empty as the lives of your so called “friends” here who think they can just roam around my Zone doing whatever the hell they please without repercussions. Everything is owned by someone, even an ecological disaster Zone. The fact that I don’t kill each and every one of you the second you step foot in here is a privilege that you should be thanking me for.
Gremlin: Yeah, I guess it really distinguishes you as a person to mercilessly extinguish the lives of other men when they don’t even have the chance to defend themselves. And for what? So you can have a world-conquering army? What then? I know what. You live a cold and meaningless life alone with only your thoughts to bring you comfort. I hope you can live with yourself knowing the lives you’ve destroyed in your quest to rule this broken shell of a world wrought by the destruction of your hands. The lives of those men may be gone, but their souls will remain forever to haunt you. You’re nothing but a mindless fucking pig.
*Gremlin spits on the commander’s face. The Stalkers peer out of their cells excitedly to see the repercussions of their former-leader’s actions. Commander Tann pulls a small handkerchief from a breast pocket in his uniform and wipes the saliva from his face. He stares emotionless as Gremlin pants in anticipation, a smile crossing his face.
In one swift move, Commander Tann forces his palm towards Gremlin who flips backwards through the cell, slamming into the wall. The air distorts around the commander’s palm like the heat from a fire. Gremlin slides down the wall and onto the floor with a crack. He yelps in pain as he rolls onto his back, his breathing is strained as he tries to breathe. Lukash rushes over to assist him. Commander Tann address the cellblock:*
Commander Tann: Let that be a lesson to any of you who think that your life means a damn to anyone. Soon, you’ll all be pawns in my army; merciless, faithful, and without regret. Your willingness to cooperate is irrelevant, you *will* join our ranks.
*Commander Tann smirks in satisfaction down at Gremlin, still gasping for air, then turns to take another group of men to their dooms. He stops suddenly, noticing something out of place. He takes another step forward and stop again. He looks down at his pocket, expecting to see a key ring. The key ring is not attached to his belt. He turns in time to see a long object cutting through the air, impacting the side of his head with extraordinary force. Saliva flies from his mouth as his body is forced around and his face goes numb. He blacks out, collapsing into an empty cell next to him.
The soldiers spin around. The two closest to Virtue and Nimbus are instantly impaled on their missing shock sticks, blood spilling on the floor behind them. The sticks continue through them and out the back of their body’s, a stream of electricity pouring out through the ends and into the soldiers behind them. The soldiers convulse as the electricity courses through them, then collapse on the floor.
The Stalkers close enough to see the action look on in amazement, then break into hushed applause and cheers. Lukash rushes up to the bars of his cell and pokes his head out, whispering:*
Lukash: That was fucking incredible! There’s no turning back now boys – get us out of here!
*Nimbus rushes over to Lukash’s cell and unlocks the door, then proceeds down the line freeing the remaining Freedom soldiers as well as Zombie and Solitaire who were located out of hearing distance of Virtue. After being filled in on the plan, they hurry to clean up the blood on the floor where the soldiers fell. Lukash runs to retrieve one of the shock sticks, running to secure the far door where the other Stalkers were lead out. Virtue runs into Gremlin’s cell to assess his injuries further.*
Gremlin *wheezing*: I think I might have overdone it a bit. God that hurt…
*Virtue carefully un-straps Gremlin’s suit and lifts up his shirt.*
Virtue: This may come as no shock, but you’ve got a couple cracked rips. The best I can do is bandage it a bit and hope that it eases enough pressure to allow it to heal properly.
*Virtue gets to work bandaging Gremlin. Once he’s done, Gremlin painfully stands up and hobbles over to where the Stalkers are gathering in the middle of the room. They drag the four soldiers into the cell with Commander Tann, stripping them of anything they could use to escape, and lock them inside. Lukash leaves his post at the far door and approaches the group.*
Lukash: We’re ghosts for the moment, but I doubt we have more than a few minutes before they wonder why their commander hasn’t reported back yet.
Gremlin: OK. I think our best course of action is to wait for them to come investigate so we can get that door open. We’ll wait in the cell closest to that door and fry the soldiers who come in. Once they’re done we should secure the next room and see what options we have available to us there.
Lukash: Good enough for me.
*The Stalkers take up their positions, dispersing through the cells. Virtue, Nimbus, Lukash, and Zombie take up the shock sticks and hold in the cell closest to the door. It isn’t long before they hear a casual knock on the door. They ready themselves as the soldiers behind the door call for their commander. The door unlocks and two door guards step inside. The shock sticks protrude from the cell next to them, sending them into a violent fit of shaking before they fall to the floor. Gremlin whispers:*
Gremlin: Go!
*The Stalkers quickly emerge from the cell. Lukash runs down the hallway motioning to his men that it is time for action. Two of his men take the shock sticks from the fallen soldiers and they continue on behind Gremlin’s group.
The room beyond opens up into a lobby of sorts, 3 hallways branch off from it, forming an open 4-way intersection. The lobby is clear, but voices can be heard down the halls beyond. Gremlin turns to Lukash.*
Gremlin: Alright. So far, so good. We need to go retrieve our friends, and you need to find a way to destroy this facility.
Lukash: I couldn’t agree with you more. They didn’t bother to take away anything but our weapons so we can communicate via PDA – I’ll open up a voice chat server and we’ll all interface that way.
Gremlin: Sounds good, let’s plan to meet here in 15 minutes – we should try to secure weapons, find a way out, and have explosive devices of some sort planted throughout this side of the facility by then. Hurry.
*Lukash salutes in acknowledgement, then turns and jogs quietly down the hallway, his men following in his wake.
Gremlin turns the other way and calls over his shoulder as quietly as possible:*
Gremlin: Good luck! Come back alive!
*Lukash waves behind him as he and his men disappear down a hall on their mission. Gremlin leads Virtue, Nimbus and the re-united Zombie and Solitaire down the opposite hall in search of Enigma and Reaper, hoping with all his strength that they won’t be more casualties on the Zone’s ever-increasing casualty list. *

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