February 26, 2009

Chapter 17: Antechamber

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

{Excerpt from Phantom’s PDA}

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

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

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

February 5, 2009

Chapter 16: Highway to Hell

[Audio enabled]
*The terrain before them is torn and ripped, deep crevices and rugged juts of land shoot up out of the ground in random locations. The area around Chernobyl looks as if it’s been through hundreds of earthquakes, making the land look like a deformed piece of Swiss cheese. The sky above them is dark and overcast, a blood-red light reflecting off of the impassable clouds and filtering back down on the ground below.
A plume of red smoke pours from the large smokestack on top of the main complex, hinting at signs of activity inside - whether man-made or not cannot be determined. The power plant itself is darkened with decay and ashes, large holes pocket the sides and top of the building, revealing several floors in some places.
The wind picks up in their direction – their Geiger counts slowly start to climb as radiation is blown in their direction as a warning to turn back now or face certain doom. The Stalkers continue on.*
Nimbus: What… what the hell happened here?
*Jargon looks on in shock and dismay.*
Jargon: Hell has taken over… this place will be our deaths.
Gremlin: Hey! Don’t talk like that… we still have a job to do, and we’re here to finish that job and get the hell out – and I intend to do exactly that.
*Jargon looks at Gremlin; the look in his eyes says that the mission is hopeless. The look slowly dissipates as he remembers his fallen comrades.*
Jargon: You’re right. There is a way in, and we’ll find it.
*Gremlin gulps as he looks back towards the NPP, then slowly towards the ground in front of them. He looks around in despair, quickly regretting his words.*
Gremlin: OK… let’s just… let’s try this way.
*Gremlin begins to lead the group down the main road leading to Chernobyl. The road is dotted with dark potholes and larger holes that seem to go down forever. The Stalkers weave around the holes as they continue to follow the road towards the entrance of the NPP.*
Gremlin: Careful, the gravel ahead looks loose; it might crumble if we step on it. Watch your step.
*The road beneath the Stalkers feels shaky as they step over it. It almost seems to sway back and forth the further they walk.
Suddenly, the ground beneath Virtue gives way, and he disappears from sight as a gaping hole forms where he was standing.*
Enigma: Yuriy!
Nimbus: Virtue! Oh my God!
*The group falls back to the hole where Virtue was standing, finding him hanging on to a small ledge within the hole. The darkness below him seems to slowly crawl up towards him, threatening to take him with it.*
Phantom: I’ve got a rope! Hang on!
*Phantom pulls a rope out of his backpack and feeds it down to Virtue. The rope reaches the ledge Virtue is holding on to and he takes hold of it.*
Phantom: OK, help me pull him up!
*The Stalkers grab hold of the road and help Phantom pull Virtue slowly up to the top of the hole. Before he reaches the top, the ground gives way again. Phantom, near the edge of the hole, plunges in head first, knocking Virtue back down into the hole. The group yells as they are quickly pulled forward toward the hole.*
Gremlin: Phantom! Virtue!
*There is no response.*
Gremlin: Hang on to the rope!
*Gremlin drops the rope and runs up to the edge of the hole. Virtue is hanging on to the bottom of the rope, staring back at Gremlin like a deer in headlights. Phantom is collapsed on a ledge further beneath Virtue.*
Gremlin: Virtue… thank God.
*Gremlin looks back at the group and yells:*
Gremlin: They’re still alive! Pull!
*The group pulls with all their might, hauling Virtue out of the hole. He is dragged across the road towards the group, hanging on for dear life. The group rushes over to him – he remains frozen.
Gremlin ties the rope around his waist and runs around to the other side of the hole.*
Gremlin: Come on guys! Lower me down!
*The group quickly runs around the hole to where Gremlin is standing, leaving Virtue in his state of shock.
They grab on to the rope and slowly lower Gremlin down the hole. Gremlin descends to the ledge Phantom is resting on and shouts for the group to stop.*
Gremlin: Phantom! Hey buddy, say something!
*Phantom stirs as Gremlin lightly hits him in arm.*
Phantom: Am I dead?
Gremlin: No, but you almost were. Come on, I’ll carry you up.
Phantom: I’m dizzy…
Gremlin: I got you man, just hold on for dear life.
*Phantom nods and falls into Gremlins arms, nearly missing. Gremlin grabs a hold and tugs on the rope, signaling for the group to start pulling them back up.
The two Stalkers slowly rise out of the blackness below them and back onto the street above. Gremlin releases Phantom from his arms where he rolls over on to the street in a daze.*
Gremlin: Thanks guys. Come on, we need to make sure Virtue is OK.
*The group runs around the hole again, back to where they left Virtue. He’s now on his knees, both hands forward on the ground in front of him, trying to breathe slowly.
Enigma reaches him first:*
Enigma: Yuriy… Yuriy talk to me!
*Virtue looks up at Enigma with a confused look on his face.
He sees Emelia looking back at him. She smiles as her hair shines in the sunlight outside of their house. In her arms, is their newborn son – taking in the sights of the world around him that he has just seen for the first time. He smiles back as she kisses him softly, letting him know that everything is alright.*
Enigma: Virtue!
Virtue: It’s OK Emelia, everything will be fine.
*Enigma looks back in confusion. A look of concern crosses her face as Virtue’s smile slowly fades and reality re-enters his mind.
The group approaches quickly behind Enigma, trying to asses the situation.*
Nimbus: Virtue? You OK, man?
*Virtue thinks hard about the question.*
Virtue: No Nimbus, I’m not OK. None of us are. But none of that matters now.
*Virtue stands up, indicating to the group he’s ready to move on.*
Gremlin: Alright… we need to keep moving.
*The group continues on, trying to stay positive as they continue down the dangerous road. Gremlin glances back at Virtue and tries to smirk.*
Gremlin: You’re welcome.
*Virtue smiles back, thanking Gremlin for coming to his rescue. Enigma is staring at Virtue, her eyes red as tears streak through the dirt on her face. Virtue stares at the ground ahead, closing his eyes and gripping his firsts as he attempts to fight back his own tears.
The road stretches on for what seems like hours before finally curving left behind a group of trees. As the Stalkers round the corner, the NPP lines up directly with them, their path becoming more clear.
Thunder and lightning roll through the sky ahead of them, giving off the impression that a war is taking place just ahead of them. Nimbus breaks the uneasy silence of the group:*
Nimbus: So… I’ve been wondering; why is there smoke coming out of the chimney?
*Nimbus gestures towards the NPP, where the smokestack up top is still coughing out a steady red stream of dark smoke.*
Jargon: I don’t know… there are too many unknowns here now. I can only guess at what evil is going on in there.
Nimbus: Could it be the Monolith?
Jargon: Possibly. That would make sense seeing as they were able to survive in Pripyat and they did call Chernobyl their mother.
Gremlin: I’d almost welcome seeing those guys there… it would beat being there alone. God knows what we’ll find there if it’s not them.
*The Stalkers look amongst themselves uneasily, imagining what could possibly await them in the NPP. Suddenly, they find that their question may be answered sooner than they thought as they approach a gate blacking the road.
The gate is bent and twisted, bending inward toward the NPP. Abandoned cars and military vehicles line the road opening up before them – the gate to the Chernobyl complex.*
Jargon: This is it; we’ve reached the gate.
*As the Stalkers pass the twisted remains of the front gate, their Geiger counters continue to climb as they encounter large pockets of radiation before them. A deep rumble emanates from the complex in front of them, shaking the earth around them.
Old, rusted high-capacity power lines lead out from the NPP in all directions, line veins outward from the heart of the Zone. Smaller buildings fill the complex stretching out in front of them - remnants of the sub-facilities supporting the main NPP.
The terrain is jagged and rough in places and crumbled in others – deep holes are randomly placed all over the complex.
The NPP itself looms dark and ominous over them; its dirty white outer walls are covered in ash and other filth. The sarcophagus covering the remains of Reactor 4 stands as a reminder of the tragic events that took place there in 1986.*
Gremlin: So this is it… the center of the Zone.
Phantom: This is where all the shit outside is coming from.
Jargon: Once the pride of the Soviet Union - now twisted and perverted into this monstrosity.
Nimbus: I never thought I’d see it this close up…
*Virtue and Enigma refrain from speaking, and just stare on in fear and awe.
Gremlin, bringing his attention back to the mission, starts looking around for a suitable place to take shelter and prepare for the coming journey before them.*
Gremlin: Come on, follow me. We need to make sure we’re completely ready before we try to get in there.
*The group follows Gremlin to a small building nearby; the remains of one of the many workrooms supporting the main facility. The group checks their supplies, making sure that everything is good and making note of their current ammunition, med kits, grenades, and other supplies.*
Gremlin: Let’s take a quick rest. Have some food, water, whatever. Phantom and I will stand watch outside.
*Gremlin motions for Phantom to join him as he steps outside of the building, leaving the circle of Stalkers within the building.*

{Excerpt from Gremlin’s PDA}

Phantom: Any word?
Gremlin: No. I shouldn’t have expected as much with all the interference anyway. Any sign of our “friends”?
Phantom: Not yet. I know they’re back there though.
Gremlin: Shit… this is the last thing we need. We go in there, we’re dead. We stay out here, we’re dead. The way I see it, all we can hope for now is an answer to our questions and a quick death.
Phantom: I would have liked to see the motherfuckers responsible burn, but it doesn’t look like there’s any hope of that now. If I can find out what happened to my father I can die in peace.
Gremlin: What about Kateryna?
Phantom: If doubt she’s alive anymore. Look around you. Nobody could survive here alone.
Gremlin: What about those Monolith bastards? They survived.
Phantom: Yeah. I doubt the Zone was as kind to her as it seems to be with them.
Gremlin: Just remember what Jargon said: there are too many unknowns. Anything can happen… maybe she is still alive and she’s in there right now, waiting for you to find her.
Phantom: If you’re trying to make our situation easier for me, I appreciate it – but it’s not working.
Gremlin: Hey, I know how you hate to feel helpless – I do too – but the fact is that we ARE helpless. At the best – the BEST we can hope for is to die fighting. Time is against us here.
Phantom: So how long will you give them?
Gremlin: I’ll give it as much time as possible before those bastards catch up to us. I’d hate for their deaths to be meaningless like so many other good Stalkers I’ve known.
Phantom: They deserve as much. When I go down I’d like to have them on my side - and you on the other.
*Gremlin smiles and embraces his friend, knowing it will probably be the last time.*
Gremlin: I know man, I know. I promise you I’ll be there. We’ll die together at the hands of overwhelming odds.
*Phantom nods and looks back towards the NPP – towards their doom. Gremlin taps him on the shoulder from behind.
Phantom turns and looks toward where Gremlin is pointing. He squints into the distance, making out the outlines of a group of Stalkers.*
Phantom: Here we go.

{End excerpt}

Nimbus: What about you, Jargon? What will you do if we make it out of here?
*Jargon thinks for a minute.*
Jargon: I hadn’t really thought of it. the Zone is the only life I’ve ever known. Once I avenge my colleagues I guess I really won’t have a reason to be here. Maybe I’ll go retire somewhere far away from here – somewhere tropical.
Nimbus: That sounds really good right about now. I’ve had enough of the darkness in this place. I think I’ll try to open a business. Make a reputation for myself, you know. I’ve gotten into enough trouble in my life; I think I’m ready to make things right for myself. What about you, Virtue?
*Virtue looks back at Nimbus, his initial answer quickly forgotten as he is forced to remember the fate of Emelia.
Nimbus immediately withdraws the question.*
Nimbus: Fuck… I’m sorry man. I’m just trying to keep my spirits high…
Virtue: No, I understand.
*Virtue thinks for a moment. Enigma looks at him expectantly. Finally, he answers:*
Virtue: When I get out of this hell hole, I’m going to dedicate my life to defending those weaker than myself. I will fight injustice and oppression without mercy. I will hunt down and kill murderers and criminals, making them repent the error of their ways before they die a slow, painful death.
*Nimbus nods slowly, somewhat disturbed at his response. Then, he smiles back and says:*
Nimbus: Well, when we both make it out of here together, you’ll always be welcome to visit me where I’m working. Hell, if I become a successful businessman, I might even make you my partner!
*Virtue smiles, trying to look hopeful.*
Virtue: When you’re rich and famous, I’ll be your personal body guard. That way, when you’re under the pressure of other businesses, you can know that I’m right outside the door, watching your back.
*Nimbus nods back, acknowledging his offer.*
Nimbus: I wouldn’t want anyone else.
*Gremlin and Phantom return from their guard outside the building and stand in front of the group. The look on their faces speaks of another danger beside their current one.*
Jargon: What is it?
Gremlin: We’ve got a slight problem.
Nimbus: What? What’s the problem?
Phantom: Them.
*Phantom points out a window near the west end of the room at the road they came from.*
Jargon: No…
Virtue: Not them again.
*The Stalkers look into the distance at the road they came in on. Stalin, Martha, Bubba, and Slayer are approaching rapidly. Their suits are scuffed and dented all over – several pieces are broken or missing.*
Enigma: What are we going to do?
Gremlin: The only thing we can do. Run.
*The Stalkers retreat out of the building, onto road in front of them. They start to run down the road leading toward the front of the NPP, being as careful as possible not to step on unstable ground.
Stalin and company break into a sprint behind them.*
Phantom: They’re coming!
Gremlin: Stay with me, we need to get inside the NPP; we might be able to lose them inside!
*Bullets whiz over the Stalker’s heads and ricochet off of cars and gravel near them. The group behind them starts shouting incoherently behind them.
The Stalkers reach the front of the NPP, tracing the outer wall in search of a way inside. Their anomaly detectors beep as they go, indicating they are entering a field of anomalous activity.*
Gremlin: Fuck! We’ll never make it through with all these anomalies in the way! Find cover and lay down fire – their suits are pretty beat up from their run through the Monolith, we might be able to hit some weak spots!
*The group acknowledges and takes cover behind cars on the road and concrete pillars nearby. They ready their weapons and ready grenades in their opposite hands.*
Stalin: They’re up there somewhere... How the hell should I know! … Yes, we’ll kill some mutants after we kill them, now come on!
Gremlin *whispering*: Get ready…
*The Stalkers pull the pins on their grenades, cocking them behind their heads in preparation to throw them.
Stalin and his Stalkers round the corner outside the inner gate to the courtyard in front of the NPP, directly in line of sight of the concealed Stalkers in front of them.*
Gremlin: NOW!
*The Stalkers throw their grenades directly into the path of the oncoming Stalkers, sending them scattering. Multiple explosions shake the area nearby as Stalin’s group is forced backward from the force of the explosions.*
Gremlin: FIRE!
*Gremlin’s group opens up with their weapons. Bullets fill the air between them and the other Stalkers, pinging off of the metal around the Exosuits, some of them impact exposed parts of their suits making the Stalkers grunt in pain.*
*Stalin’s group returns fire, diving for cover around cars and pillars opposite Gremlin’s group. A barrage of gunfire and explosions is exchanged for several minutes before Stalin’s group finally ceases fire.
The area is deathly silent for a few minutes. Gremlin’s group looks at each other uneasily.*
Nimbus: Did we get ‘em?
Gremlin: Shh! I don’t know…
Phantom: I’ll try to sneak around and flank…
*Before Phantom can make a move, a roar like a dinosaur from a movie freezes him in his tracks. The group turns around towards the source of the noise to see a giant creature of some sort looming behind them. The creature appears to be just a head attached to a round body, with two legs attached to the body at the side of its head.*
Gremlin: What the fuck…
*The creature looks towards the source of the noise that drew its attention, spotting the Stalkers hiding behind cover. It roars again and begins stomping towards them.
The Stalkers immediately flee cover, running for dear life. As they do, Stalin’s group – groaning from behind cover, gets up slowly to find the source of the loud noise. Once they see the large creature heading towards them, they scream and begin firing.*
Bubba: Holy shit! I didn’t sign up for this!
Slayer: Shut up and kill it!
Martha: Where did those little shits go?
Stalin: Forget it! Kill that thing; we’ll get a huge sum for it!
Bubba: How we gonna do that?
Stalin: Shut the hell up and fire you dumbass!
*Gremlin and group scatter behind Stalin’s group without drawing the attention of his group or the creature heading towards them. They watch from behind cover in amazement as the creature continues to take on a storm of bullets and continues to stomp towards them.*
Bubba: It’s still comin’!
Stalin: No shit, Sherlock! Take it down!
*As the creature continues to rumble towards them, a hoard of mutants made up of Zombies, Snorks, Bloodsuckers, and many unknown types follows in its wake, like a freak parade. Stalin’s group ceases fire and stands up in horror.*
Stalin: Uhh… I think we’ve met our match boys! Run for it!
*The group turns to run. They make it near the inner gate of the complex when the creature roars again and comes to a halt. As it does, it stomps one of its massive feet on the ground, sending out a huge shockwave that sends everything in the area to the ground.*
Martha: Wha… was… that…
Stalin: Come… on… move…
*The Stalkers attempt to move forward again, but find that they are completely incapacitated.*
Bubba: Why… can’t… move…
*A sickening crunch comes from Bubba’s leg as he attempts to stand up. He lets out a blood-curdling scream as he hits the ground in pain. Stalin takes off one of the leggings on his Exosuit and feels around his leg. His finger goes straight through the skin as he screams out in pain. The bones are shattered. The group looks from one person to another, all sense of power previously felt by their enhancements is now gone.*
Stalin: Well boys… I’ll see you in hell.
*Stalin laughs manically as the horde of mutants rushes over them. Gremlin yells at the group through the various screeching and roaring noises coming from the mutants:*
Gremlin: Come on! Run while they’re distracted!
*Gremlin leads the group from building to building like a moth attracted to several lights. They dare to look behind them as Stalin’s group is torn to pieces. Their yells and screams turn into gurgling noises as they are eaten alive. Pieces of their high-powered armor fly off like shrapnel along with pieces of their bodies.*
Phantom: There’s a door ahead! I think it leads inside!
Gremlin: Keep running!
*The Moonlight artifacts accelerate them towards a large door on the side of the NPP. Train tracks lead in, suggesting that it leads to a shipping facility of some sort.
The mutants at the inner door in the distance finish their fiasco and begin combing the area for other sources of food. A large group begins running/crawling/hopping towards the Stalkers.*
Jargon: I think our friends are on to us back there!
Gremlin: Head inside!
*The Stalkers run behind the two large doors opened outward from the power plant, frantically looking for a way in or at least a place to hide.*
Nimbus: There!
*Nimbus points to what appears to be a service ladder leading downward from the sheltered train yard into a facility beneath them.*
Gremlin: That’ll do. Get inside!
*The Stalkers rush towards the small hole, shining their flashlights inside then sliding down the ladder to the bottom of the shaft.
Gremlin is the last one in. As he enters, he attempts to slide a large piece of discarded metal nearby over the hole.*
Gremlin: A little help here!
*Virtue stops descending and climbs back up to the top of the shaft, pushing his back towards the opposite side of the shaft to support his weight.
The mutants outside skid around the corner; entering through the doors in search of their targets.
The metal plate screeches with a sickening sound over the top of the shaft, immediately attracting the attention of the various mutants.*
Gremlin: Shit… hurry!
*Virtue and Gremlin push with all their might as the plate slowly slides into place over the hole. Finally, just as the mutants reach the hole, the plate slides into place – sealing the shaft from the outside.*
Gremlin: Whew… we did it.
*The metal plate above them takes a beating but remains in place as the mutants pound and claw desperately at it in an attempt to get in.
The dinosaur-like roar sounds from someone near above them again as a loud boom shakes the facility.
Virtue and Gremlin are knocked off of the ladder and tumble down the shaft on their way to the bottom. They come to rest with a crash at the bottom.*
Gremlin: Unhhh… my head…
*The rest of the group rushes up to help Gremlin and Virtue up. Virtue remains unmoving on the ground.*
Phantom: Virtue! Virtue talk to me!
*Phantom rolls Virtue over. He is bleeding from the head and is not responsive.*
Phantom: Shit… he’s not responding. He’s got a nasty bump on the head.
*Enigma gasps*
Enigma: Is he going to be OK?
Phantom: I don’t know… I think he’s got a concussion. He’s not going anywhere on his own for a while.
*Gremlin crawls over to a corner and props himself up with a grunt.*
Gremlin: Then we’re waiting right here for him. We’d all be dead is he hadn’t helped me seal the shaft, and he’s dead if we leave him alone here.
*Nimbus walks over to where Phantom is applying bandages to Virtue’s head and kneels down next to him.
Nimbus: Come on, man. You can pull through this. You NEED to pull through this. We can’t do this without you.
*Phantom looks at Nimbus, unable to reassure him of Virtue’s recovery.
Nimbus looks at the ground, hurt and angered.*
Nimbus: Dammit! I should have stayed and helped them!
Phantom: You were one of the first ones down; you couldn’t have made it back up in time. Don’t blame yourself.
*Nimbus sighs*
Nimbus: You’re right. I just wish I was up there with him or there to catch him… something! Anything!
*Phantom puts his hand on Nimbus shoulder, reassuring him.*
Phantom: He’s lucky to have a friend like you.
Nimbus: No, *I’m* the lucky one. He doesn’t need me as much as I need him.
*Nimbus gets up and walks toward a corner and sits down.
The rest of the Stalkers catch their breath as they take in the room around them.
Gremlin is the first to venture over to the door leading out of the room.
The door leads to a long, dark hallway. A deep, dark mist seems to hang in the air and piles of dust and parts of the walls and ceiling littler the floor. The hall seems to stretch to infinity on both directions. A deep rumble comes from somewhere in the facility, echoing throughout the empty halls. Creaking noises can be heard somewhere down the hall beyond, the cause of which can only be found in Gremlin’s imagination. Gremlin quickly ducks back into the room.*
Gremlin: Well… the halls ahead seem clear, but there’s some sort of fog or smoke all over. It’s going to be pretty tough to see anything in it. We’ll only be able to see about 10 feet In front of us here, so we’ll need to be extremely careful.
*The group nods in agreement as they sit in the silence of the dark room, awaiting any sign of life from Virtue.*

[End audio]

{Excerpt from Jargon’s PDA}

My thoughts have been disturbed as late. I remember waking in X16 when I thought that surely I was dead. The images the Controller sent to me about the Soviet experiment here, the mutations, the explosion of the reactor, and the aftermath. I still can’t help but wonder if there is any truth to these images. What happened here? How is all of this happening? Who was in charge? What will we find? What will we do? What happens then? Too many unknowns.
I remember at the end of the disturbing dream where I saw my friends turn to mutants and push me to my death. Waking to see the faces in my dream incarnated, under the power of that Controller was enough to make me spend another lifetime in this place if that’s what it takes to avenge them all.
The Stalkers I travel with, all younger than myself, have been through so much already in their young lives that I believe they now match me in skill. Their dedication to this mission, their families and friends, and to do what is right is unparalleled in this world. How they continue to fight for a world that rejects and abuses them so, I’ll never know.
It’s this place; the Zone and its evil is a paradox that both destroys and unites. My only hope is that through us, and our mission here, the world will finally know the truth, and we will finally find our own.

{End excerpt}

{Excerpt from Phantom’s PDA}
This is it. Everything in my life has come to this point. Here is where I will finally find the truth to my father’s death and my mother and sister’s disappearances’.
Could Kateryna still be alive? Every fiber of my being hopes and prays that she is… but it’s stupid of me to think she could be. That brings the next question; what happened to her? What did she see before she died in this place? Did she discover what happened to my father? Maybe I’ll never know…
My goal should be to stay alive long enough to find the truth for myself. As much as I respect the Stalkers in my group, I know they won’t all make it to the end. All I can hope is that somehow, something will get leaked out about what happened here, and somebody will take over where we’ve left off.
Gremlin, my partner in crime. I regret that we won’t be able to share in any more adventures with Freedom or any other Stalkers ever again. We go now to our graves. I just hope that fate will be kind enough to lay me next to the rest of my family… all of whom found their final resting places here.
Here’s to the truth.

{End excerpt}

{Excerpt from Nimbus’ PDA}
The last few weeks have been the most exciting and dangerous I’ve ever had and can ever expect to have in my entire life. I’ve learned so much and come so far in such a short amount of time, and I know I owe it all to the men (and woman) I’m with.
But most of all – Virtue. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. When he punched me and pointed his weapon at me, threatening to shoot me if I gave away his position, I thought it was the end in my life. Little did I know it was actually the beginning.
Now he’s lying on the floor, unconscious. He’s got a serious head injury that might even prove fatal. If he doesn’t make it out of here… I don’t know what I’ll do without the support I’ve come to rely on from him. Even though he’s extremely depressed and distant form the death of Emelia I can still feel the good in him like an aura affecting everyone around him. I owe him my life, and I would gladly just to give him a chance at living happily to the end of his days.
Come on Virtue. You’ve gotta pull through…

{End excerpt}

{Excerpt from Gremlin’s PDA}
We’ve made it this far. I’m filled with feeling of regret and sorrow at the fate that awaits these brave Stalkers following me.
I can’t help asking myself; is what I’m doing wrong? Am I forcing these brave warriors to their deaths? I might have already forced one to his death. Virtue caught me on the way down that shaft and took most of the fall for me, and now he might not even survive to find the peace that has been stolen from him.
As the former leader of Freedom, it is my duty to see this through to the end. If we expose a government cover-up, then anarchy could reign throughout the entire remnant of the Soviet Union. I can imagine what a little taste of freedom could do to a nation that used to be so prosperous!
We all have our own goals, but the success of them all depends on blowing the lid off of this and exposing the government as the wolf it is. I will lead us all to victory. For freedom!

{End excerpt}

{Excerpt from Enigma’s PDA}
I can barely stand to see him lying there like that in this dark extension of hell. I’ve seen so much inner light in him and now to see it extinguished so quickly is heart-breaking to me.
I’ve felt feelings I’ve never felt before in his presence. It’s almost like reassurance that everything will be OK no matter what, and all the evil in the world can’t bring him down. He is a good person, and a brave man, the kind that any woman would kill to have – and I have killed to get him.
All those years alone in Limansk I felt that there was something calling to me just beyond the barrier – I know now that it was him. He will make everything OK again; he will bring life back to all the dead in the Zone.
Everything depends on him; I just wish I was able to tell him how important he is, not just to the Zone, but also to me. The loss of his wife has been hard on him; I can feel the void in his soul. I can only hope that he will be willing to allow that void to fill, and that the light will return to him now when I need him the most.
Everything depends on him. Everything…
{End excerpt}