Chapter 22: Jailbreak!

*Virtue and Gremlin, in possession of two of the six shock sticks, lead the group down the halls, passing up rooms full of strange-looking equipment. The occasional scientist floats around the room, his head buried deep in research – keeping the Stalkers’ escape unknown for a while longer.
Screams and cursing pierce the hallway:*
Virtue: Reaper.
*Gremlin motions the group quickly, but quietly forward. They stay low as they flit between shadows in the corridor – the screams getting closer and closer with each step they take.
They reach another intersection in the hallway. Gremlin peers around the corner, then quickly pulls his head back in.*
Virtue: What’s the damage?
Gremlin: We’ve got four soldiers – two in front of the door and two standing in front of the observation room – they’re holding Enigma. They have guns.
Nimbus: My math may be rusty, but if there’s four of them with weapons and only two of us and they have the advantage of range doesn’t that mean we’re outmatched?
Gremlin: Normally yes, but like most soldiers they’re restless easily distracted. They’re all watching the testing in progress – we can use the opportunity to sneak up behind them and take their weapons. Then, we can find a way to shut down the experiment and get Reaper out of there – but we need to hurry, he’s not looking too good.
*The Stalkers nod in agreement and follow Gremlin’s lead as he peers around the corner, and slowly sneaks up behind the soldiers. He nearly reaches them when he stops suddenly, holding his side in pain.*
Nimbus *whispering*: Dammit, I knew I should have put more bandages on…
*He falls over in pain. The soldiers, sensing movement behind them turn slowly, expecting their long-overdue commander. Instead, one of them has the distinct privilege of taking a shock stick through the head. He yells out in pain as the rod pierces his skull and he falls to the floor. Nimbus, Zombie, and Solitaire rush the other soldiers, tackling them to the ground before they have a chance to un-holster their weapons.
Zombie pulls out a knife he had concealed, slitting the throat of one. Solitaire struggles to keep the soldier he attacked down, wrapping his hands around his head and gripping hard. The soldier’s eyes grow wide as he protests. Then, with a swift twist, Solitaire snaps his neck, and he goes limp. Nimbus takes a more brute approach and proceeds to beat the hell out of the soldier he’s on top of. The soldier starts to call for help despite repeated blows to the stomach. Zombie tosses his knife to Nimbus, who plunges I into the soldier’s heart. The soldier twitches a bit while blood streaks from the corners of his mouth. Finally, he stops resisting – collapsing on the floor with one last sigh.
Enigma, who took the opportunity to run as soon as she saw what was about to take place, reveals herself from around a corner, applauding the Stalkers’ efforts. Solitaire and Zombie assume the two shock sticks while everyone else takes the soldiers’ pistols.*
Enigma: Way to make me look like a damsel in distress… I was *just* about to make my move before you guys showed up.
Nimbus: We figured our approach was much more humane than what you would have done to them.
*She laughs as she approaches Virtue, reaching up and giving him a kiss on the cheek. The rest of the group stares at them awkwardly.*
Solitaire: Damn Virtue… ladies’ man?
Gremlin: I don’t mean to interrupt the moment but Reaper is still in there and needs help.
*Gremlin approaches the glass door to the lab, and yanks on the handle a couple of times. Being unable to force it open, he shoots out the glass – reaching his hand through and unbolting the door. The scientists inside looks up quickly at the disturbance, one of them quickly hitting a button on one of the consoles. A loud alarm sounds throughout the facility.*
Gremlin: Shit! They triggered the base alarm. I hope you found what you needed to Lukash…

{Excerpt from Lukash’s PDA}
*Lukash and his squad of Freedom soldiers quietly jog down the hall in search of weapons, explosives to destroy the facility, and a way to escape. They near an intersection in the hall.  His scouts report that two soldiers are approaching from the right hall. Lukash acknowledges with hand signals and orders his men to wait behind the wall and ambush them. As the soldiers approach, the ambushes quickly alert Lukash that two more soldiers are approaching from the opposite end of the hall. Lukash sighs in frustration, ordering his men to fall back. The labs closest to them are vacant for the moment, so they hide inside them and wait for the soldiers to pass.
The first two soldiers proceed on down the hall, their boots fading into the distance. As they leave, the other two soldiers approach – these ones turn in the intersection and into the path of the concealed Freedomers. Lukash alerts his soldiers to stand near the doors and jump out as the soldiers pass and kill them. The Freedom soldiers wait patiently for the sound of the boots on the floor to reach their apex and when they sense that the soldiers are as close to them as possible they spring their trap.
Two Freedom soldiers run out from either side of the hall, punching the soldiers in the face and grabbing their rifles as they go down. The soldiers protest as the guns are stuck in their mouth. The two Freedom soldiers with the shock sticks in the group come out and fill the soldiers with electricity, forcing their muscles to tighten. They clench their teeth on the barrel of the rifles, muffling the bullets as they pierce their brains.
Lukash gives them the thumbs up and they continue down the hall, two soldiers down and two rifles up. We motions for his men to gather in the lab he’s in.*
Lukash: Alright, since we’re at a crossroads here we should split up and look for anything we can use for IEDs so we can blow this place to hell.
*His soldiers acknowledge as half of them head down one end of the hall and he and the other half continue down the other. He stops suddenly as they approach a door marked “SUPPLIES”.*
Lukash: Jackpot - In here!
*He kicks in the door, the two of his soldiers with rifles rush in, checking for any hostiles or traps.*
Freedom Soldiers: All clear, Lukash!
*Lukash enters the room slowly, his soldiers following in behind him. His mood quickly rises as he eyes the contents spread around the room. Stacks of weapons, boxes of ammo, grenades, body armor, and other protective devices shine like gold in front of them. Hushed, excited cheers and laughter fill the room as the Freedom soldiers help themselves to their new toys. Lukash laughs with glee as his soldiers gear up like its Armageddon.
His laughter is cut off over the sound of a loud alarm. The soldiers stop in their tracks. He gets on the radio using his PDA and yells over the sound of the alarm:*
Lukash: Team Two?! Report!
Team Two [Incoming]: Alarm triggered… unknown origin. Found several gas lines that appear to feed most of the facility. Nothing more to report.
Lukash [Outgoing]: Good work. We found some toys here – get back here immediately and open your presents!
Team Two [Incoming]: Understood, on our way. Out.
*The Stalkers ready themselves and step out into the hallway, hauling empty boxes and crates out with them setting up a barricade in the hallway. Lukash designates another team, they fill backpacks full of grenades, C4, and other explosive devices to set up in strategic places around the facility.*
Lukash: Team Three, hold position and draw fire this way. Something tells me our friends are in trouble, and I’ll be damned if I leave them behind. Team One with me.
*The Stalkers acknowledge. Team Three continues to pile objects in the hall outside the door while Lukash and a small team of Freedomers head back down the hall they came from in search of Gremlin’s group. As they hurry along they hear shouting in the halls behind them. The sound of gunfire and shell casings hitting the floor fills the area and the hallway and muzzle flashes illuminate the hall.*

[Audio enabled]
*Solitaire rushes into the door to the observation room. The door bursts open as he plows through it, pointing his pistol at the two scientists in the room.*
*The scientists slowly comply, kneeling on the ground next to their chairs. He walks up to one and places the gun next to his head.*
Solitaire: How long has he been in there?
*The scientist says nothing. Solitaire pistol whips him across the face!*
*The scientist grins slowly.*
Scientist: You’ll never stop us.
*Solitaire tears the chair from the platform and delivers a blow to the back of the scientists head. The scientist lurches forward, smacking into the control panel in front of him, smearing blood over the controls as he collapses to the floor. Solitaire points the gun at the other scientist and releases the hammer. The scientist closes his eyes and begins to shake.*
Solitaire: SHUT IT DOWN!
Scientist 2: OK… OK, just don’t kill me!
Solitaire: MOVE!
*The scientist quickly complies, flipping a few switches and dialing down a couple of knobs. The lights begin to come back on and the hum from the machinery dissipates. The restraints release and Reaper collapses back into the chair. Solitaire looks back at the scientist, satisfied.*
Solitaire: Thank you.
*He hits the scientist in the back of the head with the pistol. His eyes roll back in his head and he falls on his side. Zombie enters the control room after the confrontation is ended.*
Zombie: Impressive.
Solitaire: I picked it up in school. There’s no such thing as excessive force. They eventually cooperate.
*The two head back out of the control room and join the rest of the group as they cautiously enter the room where Reaper is held.*
Virtue: Reaper…?
*Reaper moans and twists in the chair in front of them, holding his head in his hands.*
Gremlin: Reaper. We’re here to rescue you.
Nimbus: Is he OK?
*Reaper’s eyes burst open. He looks slowly down at them. They take a step backward as he does.*
Reaper: Ugh… my ‘eads bloody splittin’ like an ungrateful bitch!
Virtue: Reaper! Are you alright, can you get up?
Reaper: Not sure, lemme try.
*Reaper sits up in the chair, shifts over to one side and rolls himself off the chair. His feet hit the floor, buckle under his weight, and send him to the floor.*
Reaper: Negative captain. Reaper is down…
*The Stalkers help Reaper stand as he holds his head in pain.*
Reaper: Those bleedin’ bastards. Tryin’ to turn me into a proper gentlemen or some shit like that. Well I ‘ad none of it! Those demented sounds and fucked up pictures… I can still ‘ear the bloody noise in my ‘ead like an alarm clock in the mornin’. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Gremlin: That’s the base alarm. The scientists here triggered it when we came in. We don’t have much time before those soldiers will be all over us like moths to a light.
Reaper: Fantastic. Now not only do I have to suffer through a splitting ‘eadache, now I get to dodge bullets too!
Virtue: You’re welcome.
Reaper: Oh yeah, yeah… thanks and all that. Can we leave now?
Gremlin: This way – we need to rendezvous with Lukash and his team down the hall…
*Lukash rounds the corner as Gremlin speaks, nearly earning himself a face full of bullets as the Stalkers scramble to raise their weapons.*
Lukash: Gremlin!
Gremlin: SWEET JESUS! I just about shot you, man! Damn!
Lukash: Uh… sorry. We heard the alarm and knew you were in trouble, so we came to your rescue.
Gremlin: We’re OK now, but we need to make ourselves scarce and fast.
Lukash: Follow me – we’ve secured a weapons cache on the other end of the facility. Take these.
*Lukash and his soldiers hand each of the Stalkers a rifle they grabbed from the storage room – all a different model of AK. The Stalkers look over the weapons with satisfaction.*
Gremlin: I guess Santa Claus does exist!
Lukash: There’s more where that came from – follow me!
*The Stalkers turn and run after Lukash. They hear men shouting and running around the area near them, seeing the occasional soldier run past them down another hall on his way to the lab where the alarm sounded. One of the soldiers sees them running, pointing and alerting unseen reinforcements to their whereabouts.*
Lukash: They’ve seen us. Hurry!
*Gunfire erupts behind them. Bullets ricochet off the walls nearby, sending small puffs of pulverized concrete into the air as well as larger chunks, which fall to the floor behind them. Nimbus mumbles behind them.*
Nimbus: Not good… not good…
Lukash: Hang tight – we’re almost there!
*The soldiers enter the hall behind them yelling “STOP!” when the Stalkers are in their sights. The Stalkers ignore the warning and break into a dead sprint, running with all their might. Bullets fill the air behind them, creating a cloud of chaos around them as bullets collide and bounce off of the sides of the corridor. Lukash sees a split in the hallway ahead of them and shouts:*
Lukash: LEFT!
*He and the two soldiers with him slide around the corner running full force down it as the Stalkers follow behind them. Before they make it halfway down the hall, the opposite end suddenly fills with soldiers who look at the oncoming Stalkers with surprise and anticipation.*
*Lukash drops to the floor, sliding along the smooth surface while he opens fire with his rifle. His soldiers do the same, quickly rolling to the side and scrambling to their feet, laying down suppressing fire as they reverse their course. Gremlin’s group stops in their tracks and sprint in the other direction as Lukash regains his footing and sprints away.*
*As he shouts, a bullet hits him in the back, knocking him off balance and sending him back to the floor. His soldiers curse the oncoming force as their leader falls to the floor. They look at each other in agreement, turning around and running directly *towards* the oncoming force instead of away from it. They give their best war cries as they gun down as many oncoming soldiers as they can before their bodies are torn apart by the incoming wall of bullets. Lukash looks up once more and yells in desperation:*
Lukash: DON’T… STOP…!
*They don’t need any more convincing. They run like they’ve never run before, tunnel vision setting in as everything but their destination is blocked out of their minds. They can’t hear the words but they can still read Gremlin’s lips as he shouts:*
Gremlin: GO! GO!!!
*The forces behind them converge, shooting down the hall as they meet at the intersection behind them. Bullets whiz past them in slow-motion, the air distorting in a spiral around them as they zing past their heads, creating loud booming noises as they smash into the concrete walls next to them.
Nimbus yelps as a bullet pierces him in the back. Zombie grunts as his body is forcibly twisted by the impact of two bullets on either side of his own back. Another bullet whizzes past Virtue’s ear, this one slams into Gremlin’s shoulder. He winces but barely let’s a sound escape him as he presses on.
A sudden jolt of pain surges through Virtue as he realizes he’s been shot in the small of his back. Pain pulses up and down his spine like electricity traveling on a power line. But more painful is the sound from Enigma crying out in pain as a bullet travels through her. Her breathing becomes harsh and she slows rapidly.*
Virtue: ENIGMA!!!
*He yells as loud as he can but isn’t sure if anything actually escaped his mouth. She looks over at him, bewildered, as if she had discounted the possibility of being hit with a bullet. He grabs her hand, gripping it tightly and mouthing:*
Virtue: Don’t stop.
*She looks into his eyes, full of confidence and hope despite the situation. She smiles painfully and runs faster, blood dripping from her mouth as she does.
The end of the hall approaches after what seems an eternity. The sound of gunfire slowly comes into their senses. They look to the side, blinded by the flashes of warfare in front of them. A group of Freedom soldiers runs up to them, shaking them and yelling unheard words at them. They are quickly directed into the supply room and sat down. A group of Freedom soldiers quickly approaches them, cutting through their clothing and assessing the severity of their wounds.
Virtue can feel the adrenaline still racing in his veins, his heart beating over the sound of gunfire and shouting outside the room. Several explosions start to rock the area around them. The dim light of the room flickers on and off. Dust falls from the ceiling, causing him to sneeze painfully as he is rudely reminded of the hole in his back.
Words and eventually phrases eventually re-enter reality.*
[Unknown]: Need… stat!
[Unknown 2]: Too many… closing in!
[Unknown 3]: God… they’re coming!
*A familiar face snaps Virtue back to reality. He sits up, his head spinning.*
Gremlin: Virtue… there’s too many… you’ve got to push through them while the Freedom soldiers draw them off… this is our last chance to complete our mission… we do it now, or we die…
*Virtue swallows hard, taking in the severity of the situation. Everything depends on the destruction of the facility. He can feel every lost soul in the Zone waiting expectantly on his answer. He sways as his eyes begin to roll lazily in his sockets. Gremlin shakes him hard, a death grip on his arms.*
Gremlin: VIRTUE!!! You have to finish it!
Virtue: W… what do I need to do?
*The words come out painfully as he fails to comprehend what’s needed of him.*
Gremlin: The Freedom soldiers will lay down their lives without question to blow this part of the facility to high hell. But there is someone else who needs to pay for his crimes…
*Virtue looks at Gremlin confused, feeling on the verge of passing out.*
Virtue: Who…?
Gremlin: Dmytro! Commander Tann explained it all to Enigma… his part in this operation guarantees the ongoing cover-up and safety of the military’s operation here. He’s their insurance. He must be killed… and you must do it.
Virtue: W… why me?
Gremlin: Because you’re the only one with the strength and will to do it! We’ll hold here and fend them off as long as we can. I’m sorry it’s come to this… but we’re in bad shape and can’t make it past the military. I KNOW you can do it. You HAVE to do it!
Virtue: I can’t! I’m not strong enough!
*Gremlin grabs harder and gets in Virtue’s face.*
Gremlin: Yes you *are*! What you’ve been through in the time you’ve been here most Stalkers won’t see in their limited lives. Whether you know it or not, you have more experience than any of us! But most of all… you know that in your heart it’s the right thing to do. And I know you’ll do whatever it takes to do it when you know what’s at stake. Remember the martyrs… remember Jester, Nikita, Jargon…
*Gremlin’s eyes turn red with sadness.*
Gremlin: … and Phantom. Please… don’t let them die in vain.
*Those names… Virtue had nearly forgotten about them like they were just a chunk of the road behind him. How could he forget? They all died fighting in the face of overwhelming opposition, for a cause.
He remembers. A flood of images re-enter his mind like opening a memory box. He knows his name, where he’s from, and what his goal is. He remembers Emelia, but the events surrounding her are still cloudy. He feels pain remembering being told of her death. He looks frantically around the room in confusion, his eyes resting on where Enigma is lying on the ground, her breathing slow and pained.*
Virtue: Emelia!
*Enigma slowly turns her head towards Virtue in confusion. Her face, while familiar, still seems a haze. But he doesn’t care. He let her die once, he won’t let it happen again.*
Enigma: What did you say?
*Virtue runs to her, holding her in his arms. She weakly returns the embrace, her blood-covered hands shaking.*
Virtue: I’m sorry… I have to leave you again. I need to save my friends… save everyone. I’ll come back for you. Please wait for me, I promised you I’d come home and I will!
*Virtue takes her hands in his and squeezes tightly.*
Virtue: I love you.
*Enigma looks back at him, her lips move but no words come out. He leaves before the pain threatens to overwhelm him. Gremlin approaches him quickly, shouting:*
Gremlin: Virtue! We found an access hatch you can use to escape this part of the facility. We’ll have to blow it up behind you so they can’t pursue you. From there, you should be able to make it pretty close to Dmytro’s control room. Do you understand?
Virtue: Yes.
Gremlin: Good. We found one of the best rifles we could. It’s not pretty but it will shoot where you point it. Go find Dmytro, and put a bullet in his brain!
*Gremlin pats Virtue’s shoulder for good luck. We walks Virtue to the door. The firefight is still raging outside.*
Gremlin: Virtue…
*Virtue turns to Gremlin awaiting any final orders.*
Gremlin: I just want you to know that… whatever the outcome, I just want you to know that you’re one of the best Stalkers I’ve ever had the privilege of stalking with. It’s been an honor. Take care of yourself.
*Virtue wraps both arms around Gremlin and gives him a strong hug. Gremlin hesitantly returns the gesture, quietly remembering their adventures as they flash in front of his eyes. Virtue releases him as they walk out the doors together.*