Chapter 3: Into the Garbage

The Garbage; a rotting pile of irradiated filth that glistens like gold to anyone in search of artifacts and other Zone-spawned wealth . Nikita seems calm and confident, nothing like most of those guys back in Cordon. I travel next to him and glance over once in a while to gauge his reaction to this place. It seems to him that this is just a stroll through the park, but I notice at certain points along the way he looks around in a sort of self-induced panic, as if remembering something terrible that happened there.
The air here is stagnant and reeks of God-knows-what. At times I can hear distant gunfire – the person, source, and reason for which are completely beyond me. Averiy’s words about the “inhabitants” of the Zone are with me constantly and I see them around every turn… in my mind.
Nikita seems less-distant now; I’m turning on the recorder in case he has something to say.
[Audio Enabled]
Nikita: We’re nearing our destination, friend.
Yuriy: Where are we going?
Nikita: The front lines – to the Loner base in the northern part of the Garbage.
Yuriy: But… I’ve only fired a weapon twice, and the only thing I managed to kill was some other guy who just happened to be slow on the trigger-finger.
Nikita: What better way to learn then?
*Nikita chuckles slightly.*
Yuriy: I don’t know about this.
Nikita: Remember what I told you? It’s obvious you’re not here to sight-see. If you’re going to survive here you need to be thrust into the action. If you survive, fate will decide if you continue to live on in the Zone in your other encounters. Besides, skill can only get you so far - the other half of everything is luck. Maybe you’ll get lucky.
Yuriy: If I had any luck left in life I wouldn’t be here right now.
Nikita: On the contrary, my friend! You made it past the pigs at the gates, survived a few dogs, and you were still breathing last I checked.
Yuriy: Yeah, I guess so, but how many more of these “encounters” will go as smoothly as those first few?
Nikita: As many as the Zone allows.
Yuriy: Comforting.
Nikita: I won’t bullshit you: most Stalkers never make it out of Cordon; I’m just advancing you to the next test of skill in the Zone.
Yuriy: It’s just a lot to take in… I’ve already had to kill one man and that was hard enough to live with, I can’t imagine having to take on an army.
Nikita: Then take a deep breath and don’t think about it until we get there.
[End Audio]

Well, the guy is blunt, but he makes a good point. Every day I’m still alive in this place is a good day. Maybe chance is half of everything, but if the other half is skill then I’ve got a lot of work on my hands.
We arrived at a Stalker outpost in the Garbage. These Stalkers are unlike the ones I’ve seen. All of them have these specialized suits of some sort, I’m no expert but it appears to be some sort of Kevlar body armor on top of standard military uniforms, the uniforms being heavily modified with their own custom gear, logos, gas masks, and other things I don’t recognize. These guys have seen some action, their gear and the distant look in their eyes says it all.
I met with a Stalker, Andriy, who appears to be the leader of this “outpost”. It’s really more of an abandoned warehouse - and a really worn-down one at that, but it seems to hold some significant value to them. The outside is a wreck, but deeper inside the inner-walls have been repaired (more or less), and there are radios and PDAs scattered about.
There also seems to be some sort of inter-Stalker communication network setup through the PDAs on the tables. I hear communications (comm.) chatter over a few of them; just idle conversation for the most part but some of the words seem to be orders to other Stalkers. I thought I heard brief seconds of gunfire and screams coming over one of them…
Andriy has given me patrol duty on the west side of the complex. The area seems relatively open so it’s easy to spot anyone coming by that way… or it might just make me an easier target for anyone who may be watching. I was given a rifle to aid me should anything come my way – it’s a smaller version of an AK-74. My shift begins now.
Well… patrol duty sure is unexciting. But the tension in this place is enough to keep me on alert. The smell still hasn’t died away though; it smells like decay and something else I can’t place. This place is dark and dreary, despite the brightness of the sun shining down around me. There are some “vehicle graveyards” scattered around where the irradiated vehicles used in the evacuation of the area around Chernobyl were put to final rest. I’ve been tempted to wander a little off my patrol path to see what my Geiger counter reads but the closest one is out of the way and I have a bad feeling about it anyway.
It’s near dark and all is well… still. This place is silent as death and I don’t even know what my compensation for this menial task is going to be. I’m getting really anxious; I don’t think I’ve heard anything but the wind for hours now. I’m pretty sure I’m wearing a tread in the ground too, I don’t know if it’s always like this or if something bad is about to happen. I want to go check out that vehicle graveyard but I still don’t have the balls.
Fuck it; this shit is getting me nowhere. I have a wife to think about and all I’m doing is walking around aimlessly and soaking up the smell of this place. I’m gonna go check that place out; the things in there have been untouched for years. You never know what you might find in there if it’s all just abandoned junk. Maybe I’ll find one of those artifacts everyone is talking about too… if I do I only hope I’ll know what to do with it. Anything is better than just sitting around and not even knowing if the pay is worth it. I’ll turn the audio capture mode of my PDA on so I can refer to this later.

[Audio Enabled]
Yuriy: OK, so I’m approaching the scrap yard now. I don’t think anyone even noticed I was gone; my side seems to be the most barricaded so I doubt anyone could see my position.
Alright, I just crossed the fence surrounding the scrap yard. There are tons of vehicles in here, and all unusable for hundreds of years due to contamination. Let’s see if I can get a count off of one of them.
*The Geiger counter begins to click.*
Yuriy: There we go. Looks like this ones at about 20 “Rads”. According to the research I did before I came, the higher the levels of radiation, the higher the risk of possible symptoms and side-effects. The way I read it: the higher the level of radiation, the less time you have to live if you stay in that area - unless you can get to a place with lower radiation levels quickly. Let’s try another one…
*The Geiger counter clicks more rapidly.*
Yuriy: It looks like this one was closer to the action, about 55 Rads on this one. If I were to sit inside of it for a while I would probably start to feel sick afterwards. I think I saw a helicopter up ahead, if it was airborne at the time it probably has a massive amount of radiation on it since most of the radiation from Chernobyl was carried through the air.
*The Geiger counter clicks very rapidly, indicating dangerous levels.*
Yuriy: Wow, I’m standing about 20 feet away from it and it’s in the red. I don’t want to stand near this thing for too long, time to move.
*Yuriy walks around the vehicle graveyard for a little while, looking amongst the rows of cars, trucks, helicopters and especially the abundant emergency and military vehicles. Nearly all of the equipment here was used to evacuate people from Chernobyl and the cities and villages nearby and thus became highly contaminated and unusable afterwards.
After taking in the sight, he remembers his patrol path and starts to head back:*
Yuriy: Well, I should probably…
*Sounds of men shouting come from somewhere nearby.*
Yuriy: Wait… what is that?
*Footsteps swishing through the tall grass steadily approach, getting louder along with the voices as someone closes in on Yuriy.*
Yuriy: Shit! A group of people are coming over the hill; I think they’re Bandits if I remember what Andriy said correctly.
*Yuriy scrambles behind the front of an abandoned helicopter. Other vehicles are parked around it, forming two different paths around it. He peeks out of cover in the direction of the oncoming group of Stalkers and whispers:*
Yuriy *whispering*: Black jackets, some have masks… yeah, that’s got to be them. Looks like there’s five in total; four are following behind one in the front who has a special-looking black leather trench coat. I need to get back to base but they’re coming around both sides of the helicopter between the row of cars and trucks around me. I can’t go that way and I can’t run down the other end or they’ll see me. Dammit! I knew I sensed something bad about this. I should have just stayed out in the open where I at least I had a chance to run…
*Yuriy shifts nervously in the dirt, breathing heavily in desperation as he searches for a way to escape.*
Yuriy *whispering*: Where to go… where to go… they’re getting closer! Wait… maybe I can distract them!
*An object whistles through the air, hitting the headlight of a truck down one of the aisles, shattering it with a loud crack. The group of Bandits swivel towards the noise, the one at the front of the group holds up his hand, keeping his eyes on the path in front of them and says:*
[Unknown 1]: Wait.
[Unknown 2]: What the hell was that?
[Unknown 1]: Boris, go check it out.
*The Bandit known as Boris quietly approaches the truck while the others wait in anticipation of an ambush.*
Yuriy *whispering*: Well, that got one out of the picture - but there’s at least four more still heading this way!
[Unknown 1]: Boris! Did something eat you?
[Unknown 3 - Identified as Boris]: No Boss!
[Unknown 1 -Identified as Bandit Leader]: Well get out here then! If you mess around in there too long you’re dog meat. Some mutated shit probably calls this place home.
Boris: Sorry Boss.
Bandit Leader: Well, what was it?
Boris: Some headlight got smashed with a pipe.
Bandit Leader: And…?
Boris: And… broke it.
Bandit Leader: No shit?! Your detective skills must be the talk of whatever shithole town you came from. *What* broke it? Idiot...
Boris: I don’t know, Boss.
Bandit Leader: Well I suggest you put those amazing detective skills to the test and find out or this mission is over - and you’ll go back to trying to pull guns and ammo out of a dog’s ass to survive out here!
Boris: Yes, boss…
Bandit Leader: Well… are you waiting for the Zone to invite you in for tea? Move!!!
Boris: Well uh… can Hedeon come with me?
Bandit Leader: NO! Hedeon is more valuable that you. If you turned into dog food nobody would give a shit.
Boris: OK Boss...
Bandit Leader: The rest of you keep moving; we have an agenda to attend to. Let’s back out of here and find another way – something down this row smells and I don’t like it. Boris! Stay here and make sure nothing follows us! And for fuck’s sake, try to come back without a bunch of mutants up your ass again.
*The group of Bandits retreats from the aisle to find another way towards their objective, leaving Boris to cover their retreat.*
Yuriy *whispering*: Tough crowd… that doesn’t really help me sneak out of here but maybe I can jump this Boris guy and at least save myself the pain of the rest of the group.
*The sounds of the Bandits talking and laughing fades as they travel down another aisle of the vehicle graveyard. Boris remains on guard down one of the aisles beside the helicopter. Yuriy begins to sneak around the other side when realization dawns on him: this was the purpose for his patrol outside the Loner Stalker base. If he could help thwart whatever plan these men have in mind, maybe he’ll get a bonus…*
Yuriy *whispering*: I can’t see where they’re going without exposing myself… maybe if I can get to that Boris guy he’ll have some information on him about their plans.
*Boris sighs as he kicks at the tire of a vehicle near him, cursing as he does. He scratches his head through the light, tan hood attached to his black leather jacket. Finally, he begins to walk down the aisle – his eyes fixed directly ahead in a trance of some sort.*
Yuriy *whispering*: Here he comes.
*Yuriy realizes a bit too late that he has whispered a little too loudly in his excitement. Boris snaps out of his trance and looks directly at Yuriy crouched behind the other side of the helicopter.*
Boris: Hey… who are you?!
*Yuriy bursts out of cover, sending his fist directly into Boris’ face. Boris falls to the ground, grunting, and cries out in a panic:*
Boris: Shit! AMBUSH! Help me!
*Yuriy pulls out the pistol he was allowed to keep after his mission as part of the reward.*
Yuriy: QUIET! You make another sound and I’ll shoot you.
*Boris shields his eyes as he looks around in search of some invisible army.*
Boris: Don’t kill me! I don’t mean any harm!
Yuriy: What are you and your friends up to?
Boris: We’re… we’re raiding the Stalker outpost just north of here.
Yuriy: Why?
Boris: The boss wants to kill everyone and take all their weapons and artifacts. I’m just in it for the food I swear – I hate that they kill others for it!
Yuriy: Why not just stick with the neutral Stalkers then? There’s enough food if you get work done… at least I think there is, I haven’t any payment for my work yet.
*Boris calms down slightly, looking back at Yuriy as if he’s unsure why he’s telling him this. Finally, he manages to speak:*
Boris: I… I’m an ex-convict. I got out in a prison break and fled here. I heard it was the only place nobody would bother to track me. As soon as I got here, I was spotted by a military patrol near Cordon. They were going to escort me out of the Zone and into custody when my current boss came along. He saved my life and in return I work for him. He sends me on dangerous missions and gives me just enough food to survive on as a reward. I couldn’t ask for more…
*Yuriy looks down at Boris curiously.*
Yuriy: How long have you been in the Zone?
Boris: Only a few weeks.
Yuriy: I’m a new recruit myself. There’s got to be better out there what he’s giving you. the Zone may be hell, but it’s also an opportunity. That’s why I’m here.
*Boris thinks for a moment, then sighs in frustration.*
Boris: I know… but he said if I ever betrayed him, he’d kill me. I don’t know what else to do!
Yuriy: Then you might as well still be in that cell of yours. What he’s doing sounds like it’s no better than prison.
Boris: You… you’re right. I just feel like there’s always someone after me, and in here - with the stories I hear - you never know who… or *what*, could be watching you.
*Yuriy lowers his gun slightly, enough to remind the Bandit who’s in charge. He looks at the man beneath him, at his mercy, and remembers the words of the other Bandit in the house in Cordon.
“I bet you and I are not so unalike.”
The man looks back, his deep brown eyes shielding his thoughts and experiences from Yuriy. Could he really bring himself to shoot this man whose life seemed to be nothing but different pieces of Hell all strung together? Would he really end his life, taking away any chance of the peace he seemed so desperate to acquire at any cost? No – they were the same person from different realities; like a reflection in the mirror.*
Yuriy: Alright… if I let you live; will you come with me and warn the neutral base about the raid?
Boris: No! If He sees you helping me he’ll kill me!
Yuriy: The only thing I can offer is a fresh start with the neutral Stalkers. It’s either that or you go back to being his bitch… and probably get killed in this raid of yours.
Boris: How do I know you or your friends won’t just use me for your own benefit if I agree to help you?
Yuriy: You have my word, that’s all I can offer you here. The way I see it, we’re the same guy but on opposite sides of the fence. I don’t have all the answers and I’m not going to stand here and stop you from finding your own.
*Yuriy holsters his pistol in its pouch at his hip and offers Boris his hand. Boris is hesitant at first, looking around again for any sign of an ambush.*
Boris: Well… I… I’ll do it.
Yuriy: A good decision. In that case, let me help you up.
*Boris accepts his hand and Yuriy pulls him back up to his level. He smiles timidly, silently thanking him for sparing his life.*
Boris: Th… thanks.
Yuriy: Don’t mention it. But if you even think about betraying me…
Boris: No! I won’t… if what you’re promising is true I would be stupid to go back to the Bandits.
Yuriy: Good man. Here’s your weapon.
*Yuriy cautiously picks up the small sawn-off shotgun that fell to the ground beside the man and slowly hands it to him. He accepts, and quickly conceals it beneath his jacket to show his intentions.*
Boris: Thanks again. We need to be careful getting out of here, there’s a lot of radiation around the vehicles and dogs like to wander around here in search of food. I thought you were one at first.
*Boris shudders in recollection of an unknown memory.*
Yuriy: Noted. We should make for the neutral base and let them know that the Bandits are planning on attacking it – lead on, I’ll follow you.
Boris: O... OK. But the Bandits catch us and I’m in front, I’ll just be a meat-shield. The boss always says, “You sign with your life, break that contract, and your life is null and void”.
Yuriy: Then we’ll walk side-by side.
[End Audio]

Boris and I are heading back to the neutral base together, avoiding pockets of radiation and other bad-looking spots in the endless piles of filth around us. He seems to know his way around the Garbage pretty well. Under his timid skin there seems to be an intelligent man there. I guess he just got off on the wrong foot in the Zone and needs a fresh start. I hope my sense of compassion isn’t clouding my sense of judgment.
We’re on the outskirts of the neutral outpost now, I can see the south and east patrols on the perimeter. Boris is just ahead scouting for where the Bandits were supposed to prepare for the assault. I hope nobody notices I’m not where I was supposed to be, the last thing I need right now is to make an enemy of my employers before a fight breaks out here. I need the work, and the neutral Stalkers have provided some good jobs so far, I can’t afford to lose that or I might end up like Boris; working with a shackle attached to my ankle – my life as the price of failure.
Boris is returning from his expedition, I should see what he’s found out.

 [Audio Enabled]
Yuriy: What did you find?
Boris: There’s a bit of a problem.
Yuriy: What is it?
Boris: There are more Bandits than I thought there would be.
Yuriy: How many are we talking about?
Boris: There are four groups of four, totaling sixteen Bandits in groups around the perimeter.
Yuriy: Shit… where are they positioned in reference to the base?
Boris: They’re all located on the west side of the outpost at the moment, hidden in an arc formation. If they do what they normally do, they will close in to a point on the west entrance to the warehouse and force their way in. Boss called it “choking the resistance”.
Yuriy: If I had been out there in that field patrolling instead of in the vehicle graveyard I’m sure they would have killed me easily. I guess this is the one time in my life where skipping work actually paid off…
Boris: Yes; the point of the sweep is to eliminate everyone within the “choke” as it closes in, killing everything in its grasp for maximum profits.
Yuriy: How long do we have?
Boris: Not long… since there is no other patrol on the west side, chances are…
*A group of dark shadows emerges from cover west of the entrance, starting out in a wide arc as they run towards the base.*
Yuriy: They’re moving in!
Boris: Since they don’t see any patrols, they must think they have little resistance and are rushing in to kill and ransack the place.
Yuriy: We can’t warn the base now, if we run out into the open now they’ll see us.
Boris: Yeah. What the hell do we do then?
Yuriy: Wait! I remember a network of sorts they had set up using PDAs… but I don’t know the info to connect to it with.
*Yuriy pulls out his PDA, showing it to Boris as an example.*
Boris: I know what it is - we listen to it all the time so we can move in when a Stalker is in need of help and broadcasts over it. We… use it to pinpoint his location and rob him blind. Could I see that?
*Yuriy hands Boris his PDA. Boris types something on it and beings up a program of some sort on the screen.*
Boris. Ok, let’s see. Hmm… it looks like you’re recording audio right now, did you know that?
*Yuriy acts surprised.*
Yuriy: No, I had no idea…
Boris: It’s eating up your battery. I can turn it off for you.
Yuriy: No - it’s fine.
Boris: Alright… don’t say I didn’t warn you next time you’re in trouble and your PDA is dead.
*Boris smiles playfully, and then returns to his work. It’s obvious he has some skill in electronic devices as his hands soar over the touch-screen keyboard.*
Boris: OK... enter IP… hack password… and… bingo!
*Voices start pouring from the small external speaker on the PDA.*
[Filtering garbled audio]
Yuriy: Who’s that talking?
Boris: That’s the “lobby”, if you will. It’s a general server for all Stalkers, used for idle conversation mostly; it’s also used as a method for locating Stalkers since your PDA gives off a GPS locator be default. That’s another easy way of making a quick buck for the Bandits.
Yuriy: So how do I send a message?
Boris: Ever been in an online chat room?
Yuriy: No…
Boris: Uh… OK, I’ll set you up… there you go. I’ll send out a general distress signal. We might want to move afterwards.
Yuriy: Why’s that?
Boris: Because if we have any listeners on the Bandits end they’ll see the beacon as easy money, if someone finds it significant they’ll contact any nearby Bandits and they’ll be all over us.
Yuriy: But the Stalkers in the compound will see it too, right?
Boris: They should if anyone is paying attention.
Yuriy: Let’s hope they are then.
Boris: Here’s your PDA, all we can do now is wait.
*The Stalkers wait quietly, watching as the Bandits slowly close in on the Loner base. They move unhindered, as there is nobody patrolling that side at the moment. Suddenly, they stop in their tracks – looking at each other and whispering harshly.*
Yuriy: Why aren’t they moving?
Boris: They might have been alerted to the distress signal and are calling off the assault.
*The Bandits begin moving again. A small group breaks off and begins heading in another direction.*
Yuriy: Wait… something’s happening.
Boris: It looks like they’re going through with the plan… wait… my group is breaking from the formation and are heading this way!
Yuriy: Shit… what are they doing?
Boris: Tying up loose ends - I think they’re coming for us. Dammit! If the Stalkers didn’t get our message we’re fucked. On top of that, I’m out of ammo for my shotgun; all I have is a clip for my pistol. The Boss said if I survived this mission, I could have all the ammo I could carry…
Yuriy: Here, I got some shotgun rounds in Cordon - but I don’t have a shotgun. Take them.
*Boris’ eyes light up in giddy excitement.*
Boris: Oh thank you! These will come in handy.
Yuriy: Just stay close and we’ll work as a team. You hide behind this tree and I’ll stay low in the grass. If they come up here, wait for them to pass the tree then shoot them in the head, I’ll aim for the body and hopefully take out anyone still standing.
Boris: Ok… just promise me one thing.
Yuriy: What’s that?
Boris: Let me take care of the boss.
Yuriy: That might not be possible - we have to react quickly, or we could die.
Boris: Then, if we survive this, please tell the neutral Stalkers that I helped you. I’ve spent enough of my life being a coward; if I can make some friends then maybe I can start living my life the right way.
Yuriy: I promise.
Boris: OK… I’ll get into position.
*The split-off group of Bandits approaches stealthily, no doubt hoping to prey on a helpless victim, probably already dead from whatever caused him to raise the distress signal in the first place. They near the group of trees Yuriy and Boris are hiding near.*
Yuriy *whispering*: They’re coming!
Boris: OK!
Yuriy: Shh!
Bandit Leader: I know this is where it came from… there’s no way he could have gotten past us, he’s here! Hey little Stalker - come out, come out! We just want to help ease your pain!
*The Bandits around the leader laugh cruelly. The leader calls out again in a song-like voice:*
Bandit Leader: Where are yoooooouuuu? We got your distress call and we’re here to “help”!
*Muffled snickering comes from the group as they close in.*
Bandit Leader: Quiet you fools!
*The Bandit Leader motions for the group behind him to stop, looking around in frustration.*
Bandit Leader: OK Stalker - you have five seconds to come out here or the next part of the Zone you’ll visit is the inside of a mutant’s stomach!
*Boris cocks his shotgun, holding up three fingers to Yuriy and taking one down as a second passes. The Bandits hear the sound, and raise their weapons slowly.*
Bandit Leader: Ah, so you do want to play!
*Boris steps out from behind the tree next to Yuriy. The group looks at him in surprise.*
Boris: Hey boss.
*The shotgun discharges, hitting the Bandit Leader and dropping the Bandit behind him to the ground, covered in blood from a massive hole in his chest. The Leader slowly collapses into a pile of leaves on the ground near him, but not before yelling:*
Bandit Leader: Son of a bitch!!!
*Yuriy steps out from behind cover and discharges his AK-74S into the group. The two of them duck in and out of cover as they continue to trade fire with the small group of Bandits in front of them.*
[Unknown 1]: Ambush! Get the fuck out!
[Unknown 2]: He shot me!
[Unknown 3]: Alert the men! Alert the…
[Unknown 1]: Hurry and get the f…
[Unknown 2]: Shit! SHIT!
*The gunfire ceases. The Bandits lie over the blood-covered ground around them.*
Boris: Aha! We did it!
Yuriy: Yeah, I guess we did!
*Before they can celebrate, gunfire erupts somewhere in front of them. As they look towards the base, several flashes of light can be seen emitting from the field outside. The Bandits have begun their assault.*
Boris: They’re assaulting the base!
Yuriy: Well, if they didn’t get the warning message - they know now.
*Someone coughs nearby. The Bandit Leader raises his head out of the pile of leaves he fell into. Dirt and leaves are stuck to his face, adhered by the streaks of blood on it.*
Bandit Leader *coughing*: Boris, you aim like shit…
*Boris rushes to kick the gun away from his fallen former-commander, then pins him to the ground with his boot.*
Boris: Stay down! I promise I’ll hit you in the head this time.
Bandit Leader: Ah yes… this just proves you can’t trust anyone these days. After all I gave you I find myself bleeding on the ground - from the very gun I gave you even. Now I have to pay the price for your terrible accuracy… must you insult me more?
Boris: The only thing you taught me is that being a Bandit blows. Preying on the innocent doesn’t make you a leader – it makes you a coward!
Bandit Leader: No, no, no… you’re just a terrible Bandit.
Boris: Well then I guess I’ll just have to try my luck somewhere else.
Bandit Leader: Oh I doubt that very much. You paid with your life, and you just broke your contract. You’re “expired” by all meanings of the word. You’re nothing, Boris – and now you’re going to die for your mistake. I should have just left you curled up in the ball I found you in like the little bitch you a-
*A burst of gunfire comes from nearby. The Bandit Leader falls to the ground, dead before he can finish his sentence. Boris swivels in surprise to see the barrel of Yuriy’s rifle smoking.*
Boris: Nice shot…
Yuriy: I’ve seen that trick before. A Bandit on my first day here tried to pull a weapon on me the exact same way. I saw him going for a sidearm and reacted. I’m sorry you didn’t get to kill him, but I’m not sorry he didn’t get to finish his empty threats.
Boris: Well, I’d give a speech saying how in debt to you I am but we have more pressing matters at hand… thanks man…
Yuriy: Don’t mention it. Now we need to get into that base. We’re sitting ducks out here and they need our help now.
*Boris looks around at the bodies on the ground, then back at Yuriy.*
Boris: Well, I’m dressed for the occasion, but what about you?
Yuriy: What?! Are you crazy! I don’t want the Loners’ to start shooting at me!
Boris: Just use them to get inside the base – we’ll find cover and you can ditch the clothes then.
Yuriy: I guess if it’s our best shot. Let’s just hope we can find a hiding spot before anyone sees me in this outfit - otherwise we can kiss any chance of making it in alive goodbye.
Boris: How about you lead this time?
*Yuriy scrambles to put on the most un-harmed of the Bandits’ dark leather jackets on. When Boris is satisfied with the disguise, the two Stalkers run out of the small patch of trees and into the open field. The gunfire draws closer as they near the west side of the base, where already the Loners can be seen pouring out from the north and south side of the base to oppose the Bandits.*
Yuriy: We’re almost there!
Boris: It looks like the Bandits are too distracted at the moment, I don’t think anyone paid attention to us. There are some bushes up ahead just outside the south entrance, you can ditch your outfit there and we can make it in that way.
*The Stalkers make more the bushes near the south entrance to the neutral base. The Bandits nearby shout something at them but pay no notice as they disappear behind the wall to the south. Virtue quickly starts to tear off the leather jacket as Boris rips the tan hood from his own jacket for good measure, revealing prison-style short, brown hair. Before they can run inside the base they are confronted by two Stalkers with nice gear and menacing-looking rifles directed at their heads.*
[Unknown 1]: Stop right there!
[Unknown 2]: Throw down your weapons… and pull your pants up!
Yuriy: We’re on your side! I’m the new guy - Yuriy!
*The Stalker is unconvinced, shoving the rifle in Yuriy’s face.*
[Unknown 1]: WHO?!
Yuriy: Relax! I just had to disguise myself from the Bandits before I ran out in the open!
[Unknown 2]: What about him?
Yuriy: He’s with me - it’s a long story, but we’re here to help!
*The two Loners shoot a glance at the other, as if asking themselves if they should trust them or not. The first one confirms it verbally:*
[Unknown 1]: Should we shoot them?
[Unknown 2]: We need all the help we can get… come with us! We’ll be right behind you in case you try anything stupid.
Yuriy: Fair enough.
Boris: You have nothing to worry about, scout’s honor!
[Unknown 1]: Right… let’s move.
*The Stalkers run inside the base, through a tangle of walls lined with weapon racks containing weapons, armor, and other devices.*
[Unknown 2]: Make a left up here, then a right. The action’s on the west wall – but you would know that regardless of which side you’re *really* on.
Yuriy: What’s it look like over there?
[Unknown 1]: You’ll see when you get there.
*Gunfire and explosions echo through the wide-open area in front of them. Past the tangle of walls, the area opens up into a large hangar-like area. The ceiling arcs over them and there are three or four levels of metal catwalks encircling the room. A large door is chained shut to the north and a gaping hole smokes with recent activity on the west wall. A barricade is set in the middle of the room where the Loners fight amongst the various vehicles contained within – mostly fixed trucks and a few APCs from the nearby vehicle graveyards.*
[Unknown 2]: Andriy is just ahead. He’s pinned down in the upper levels and we’re fighting to him. The Bandits blew a section in the west wall and ran up the catwalks on the other side of the room taking us by surprise.
[Unknown 1]: If you so much as cock your weapons within fifty feet of him…
[Unknown 2]: Relax bro, they’ve made it this far, I don’t think they’re stupid enough to run through the middle of the firefight to the join the Bandits now.
*The Loners guide them stealthily under the notice of the Bandits holding at the hole in the west wall. They join the rest of the Loners who are locked in battle between the Bandits at the hole, and the bandits three levels above them where Andriy is being held captive.*
[Unknown 2]: OK - we’re going to make our move. The rest of the Stalkers behind the lines are on standby. We have an RPG launcher with a few rounds in the back. Our guy is going to start firing to give the Bandits to the west something to think about while we storm Andriy’s office.
*Yuriy and Boris take a deep breath, bracing themselves for their first real battle.*
Yuriy: Let’s do it.
Boris: I’m ready.
[Unknown 1]: Alright! Move out.
*The other Loner yells over his radio:*
[Unknown 2]: Do it!
*The whoosh of an RGP sings through the air. An earth-shattering explosion echoes through the room, shaking the rafters in the ceiling above them. The first Loner yells over the ringing in their ears:*
[Unknown 1]: Aha! That took out a chunk of them!
[Unknown 2]: That’s our cue! Make a break for it - kill anything in your path and get into that room! We’ll make sure no incoming fire gets close enough to you.
*The Stalkers run up the catwalk, unhindered by the Bandits as they attempt to recover from the blow. A couple of Bandits exit the room off of the catwalk above them to investigate the battle.*
Boris: Got two here!
*His shotgun discharges twice, followed by two satisfying grunts as the Bandits drop with a clank onto the catwalk.*
[Unknown 1]: Nice shooting! Keep going we’ll keep you covered. Hit it bro!
*The two Loners storm up the catwalk as the remainder of Bandits in the room roll out and exchange fire with them.*
[Unknown 1]: One to your left!
*The second Loner discharges his rifle, dropping a Bandit near him.*
[Unknown 1]: Down! One on the catwalk above you!
*The second Loner takes another Bandit by surprise, sending him topping over the railing and onto the floor of the hangar three levels below him.*
[Unknown 2]: Eighty-six-ed! Keep moving Stalkers!
*Boris rushes up ahead with his shotgun clenched tightly at his side. In his excited rush forward, he fails to notice a Bandit concealed behind a stack of crates outside the room between him and Yuriy.*
Yuriy: Get down Boris!
*Yuriy fires a burst of rounds - the bullets travel through the empty wooden crates and into the body of the Bandit hidden behind them.*
Boris: Shit… thanks man!
[Unknown 1]: Andriy is just through that door! Careful!
*The first Stalker puts his head up to the door quietly and motions for silence, then pounds on the door yelling:*
Yuriy: Andriy! We’re here to get you out of here!
*A muffled voice replies from inside the room!*
Andriy: I’m a bit “tied up” at the moment if you catch my drift!
*The first Loner kicks in the door, quickly scanning the room as he enters. The other Loner kneels outside the door, covering their flanks as Yuriy and Boris enter. Inside the room, a tough, but gentle-looking man sits tied to a chair. He has green eyes and graying brown hair. The first Loner proceeds to untie him as he exclaims:*
Andriy: There you are! I was wondering when you’d show up.
*Andriy squints at Yuriy before his expression contorts into one of recognition.*
Andriy: You’re that new guy aren’t you?
Yuriy: Yes, Yuriy’s my name.
[Unknown 2]: We weren’t sure whether to trust them or not, otherwise we would have gotten here sooner.
Andriy: I know, Oleksiy. You and Pavlo have always been dependable.
[Unknown 2 - Identified as Oleksiy]: Thank you, sir… now we need to get you back to your men.
[Unknown 1 - Identified as Pavlo]: We’re with you, sir. Lead on!
Andriy: Agreed, let’s go then!
[End Audio]

We’ve cleaned up the rest of the Bandits in the base with little problem once Andriy was back on the frontlines. I see now why the Stalkers here look up to him as their leader; he’s a master with a rifle! I told him about Boris and he welcomed him into the ranks of the other Stalkers with hardly a question. He obviously puts a great deal of faith in his men and seems to have the ability to sense the right ones when he sees them.  
As reward for our actions, we were both given real Stalker suits! This will provide much needed protection against bullets, dogs, anomalies, and hopefully whatever else the Zone decides to throw at us – not to mention they look and feel great!
As darkness falls, I have some down-time. Most of the dead Stalkers from the fight are being buried and the spoils are being divided amongst the Stalkers here. Boris is out helping out wherever he can – no doubt making up for the damage he was a part of for a while. I sense that he is a good person that just had a bad hand in the card game of life. But we all have our demons – the fact that he’s doing all that he can to atone for his sins says a lot about him as a person.
I’ve noticed some of the Stalkers around here whispering things about their “Stalker” names. I guess they use these openly on comm. channels, but some try not to associate themselves with them around other Stalkers because of all the “unwanted ears”. I’ve been trying to think of a good one for myself – assuming I ever earn the right to use it. It seems as though starting life over in the Zone goes even as far as your name for the men here, and I can see and respect the symbolism in it.
Well, Boris should be back from talking to Andriy… or “Mace”, as I’ve heard him called. He went up there to discuss a proposition Andriy had for him. I don’t know exactly what it was about but I know that he was extremely excited about it… something about turning over a new leaf. Whatever that means, I hope it went well for him.

[Audio Enabled]
*Yuriy waits by one of the fire pits within the structure as night closes in outside. Boris returns from the Andriy’s room in the upper levels of the warehouse, beaming over his new allegiance and official Stalker suit.*
Boris: All done!
Yuriy: Are you sure? You might want to ask for some extra light-bulbs before that beam of yours burns them out.
*He laughs a little over-enthusiastically, but it’s warranted given his newfound friends at the Loner base.*
Boris: Ha! You don’t look too bad yourself.
Yuriy: Yeah… if only I had a name to associate with the suit.
Boris: You mean those aliases I keep hearing other Stalkers whisper about? Something that our enemies will cower in fear when they hear it over the comm. chatter in our wake of destruction?
Yuriy: Yeah… I heard that Stalker “Oleksiy” call Andriy “Mace” earlier. I guess all Stalkers have their own that they go by as a symbol of who they are in the Zone.
*Boris’ eyes light up like a kid opening his presents on Christmas.*
Boris: I remember my mother telling me my name meant something like battle… or glory.
Yuriy: You seem to be a pretty good shot with a shotgun in the heat of battle – I won’t lie: that was pretty glorious.
*He smirks.*
Boris: How about Nimbus, then?
Yuriy: Nimbus… what’s it mean?
Nimbus: In Greek mythology, a shining cloud sometimes surrounded a deity when on Earth. It’s also more commonly known as a rain cloud.
Yuriy: That actually kind of fits; since you used to be a Bandit in a dark raincoat. It’s like it has a double-meaning for you.
Boris: Yeah… I think you’re right! Nimbus… nice! What about you?
Yuriy: Oh… I don’t know. I don’t know what my name means so I don’t really have anything to go off of.
Boris: Well I heard that most Stalkers just pick the name of an animal they are like, or something that means something to them personally.
*A familiar voice chimes in from nearby:*
[Unknown]: I might be able to help you with that one.
*Averiy, the old man in Cordon that saved Yuriy from the Blind Dog is mysteriously leaning on a wall nearby. He approaches the two and sits down next to them by the fire.*
Averiy: From what I’ve seen so far, you have an honest heart, and you’ll go out of your way to do what is right regardless of how dangerous it is. It seems to me that you’re made up of all different kinds of good, and that you’re the kind of man who fights for fairness. I would consider you both like a guardian angel and a judge… and those words just happen to share a common synonym; Virtue.
*Yuriy stares back at the old man, dumbfounded. Questions race through his mind, but all he can manage is:*
Yuriy: How do you know that?
Averiy: Back when I worked at the Plant I had a lot of reading time, I figured I might as well get some heavy reading in – what better than the dictionary? Nothing like raw, uncut information…
*Yuriy looks back, trying to read the man and his intentions.*
Yuriy: Well, I guess that’s one way…
Averiy: It earned me the nickname Jargon. I may know a lot about words, but it doesn’t mean it helps other people understand the words that leave my lips.
*He grins, slightly. Finally, Yuriy finds the question to ask:*
Yuriy: So what are you doing here, anyway? Have you been following me?
Averiy: I would say I have been monitoring you. I sensed good things about you from the moment I met you in Cordon. I guess I just wanted to make sure things turned out OK for you. And I see they have so far.
Yuriy: Yeah… but as you put it: this is just another entrance into the heart of the Zone. I haven’t really seen anything yet. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy for the work, but it just seems like there’s more out there I could be doing besides patrolling and killing other Stalkers whom I have no quarrel with.
Andriy: No, I suppose you haven’t. There are many paths from this point on, and all of them have terrible things at the end of them. I hope you made some friends today - you’ll need all the help you can get now.
*With that he stands up, and turns to leave. As he exits into the night he looks over his shoulder and says:*
Averiy: Good luck, Virtue. Keep your rifle close, and never lose sight of your target.
*Yuriy thinks for a moment on the word “target”. He’s not sure exactly what Averiy – or “Jargon” – meant by it, but he has a few ideas. Boris looks after Jargon as he leaves, then back to Yuriy in confusion.*
Boris: Who was that? You knew him?
Yuriy: Yes. He was a former employee at the Chernobyl facility.
Boris: No shit? How long has he been here?
Yuriy: Since Day 1… I think.
Boris: Wow! He must have a big set on him - I couldn’t imagine living in an irradiated wasteland all by myself while it constantly changed around me. He must have been completely and utterly alone if he was here before the first Stalkers got back in. It would have been just him and a few thousand ghosts…
Yuriy: Well, for whatever reason he seems to know his way around the Zone and has his eye on me. I don’t know…
Oleksiy: Hey, Stalker!
*Yuriy and Boris turn as Oleksiy comes down the stairs from the upper level towards them.*
Oleksiy: Andriy wants to see you and your friend.
*The two look at each other inquisitively, then get up from the fire and head towards Andriy’s office. As they approach the open door, Andriy waves them inside.*
Andriy: Good to see you alive, Yuriy. And Boris – I know we already had an extended conversation but this concerns you too. How are the new suits treating you two?
Yuriy: Very good, it’s a perfect fit, sir.
Boris: Incredible! It sure beats that shitty leather jacket – I looked like a gay biker in it.
Andriy: Well its one size fits all - so good for you! But I wanted to tell you that we’re indebted to you both. If we hadn’t picked up your distress signal the Bandits would have gotten much further inside and done a lot more damage than they did. I don’t know how you managed not to get picked off by their scouts and get to safety, but you did it.
* Andriy turns his attention to Yuriy.*
Andriy: Your friend told me about the whole encounter with you while on patrol and a little about his background.
*Yuriy glances over at Boris and mouths “Thank you” for not telling Andriy about his venture into the vehicle scrap yard. Andriy continues:*
Andriy: As you can see, I was sympathetic towards him and was willing to give him a chance on our side. I don’t know how you two managed it, but I decided I would like to thank you personally for your actions today. So I’ve decided to give you better than the standard armament for doing a service for me. I’d like to reward you, Yuriy…
Yuriy: It’s Virtue now, sir.
Andriy: Virtue eh? Very good! I can see you’ve overheard some of the other Stalkers then. Very well, I’d like to reward you with a modified version of the AK-74 most of the Stalkers around here carry. It’s lightweight and has increased recoil reduction. As for you Boris…
Boris: Nimbus, sir.
Andriy: Well… Nimbus it is. I managed to dig up a weapon that came in handy for me when I first entered the Zone; a modified Winchester pump shotgun - also modified to reduce recoil as well as a faster rate of fire than the standard model.
*Boris’ eyes go wide as he beholds the wonder of his new-found friend.*
Boris: Tha… thank you sir!
Andriy: Treat her well. You both should have our network information uploaded to our PDAs. Feel free to use it as a means of communication with other Stalkers as well as to call for help, should you ever need it.
Yuriy: Will do, thank you sir.
Andriy: Just call me Mace.  I never liked the whole title thing. I may lead the Stalkers here but they are not obligated to stay, I don’t consider myself any better than most, maybe just more conditioned to the Zone, perhaps. Good luck to you, Stalkers – and thank you again!
*The two leave his office and return downstairs where the other Stalkers are getting ready for the night. Fires are going up and there are conversations and some light music playing around the fires. Boris pulls a sleeping bag out from his backpack, which both of them had also been provided as well as some other things to help them along the way. They find a nice, quiet corner away from the main group and settle down for some rest. As they lay there watching the fire dance on along the walls and listening to the soothing music of the nearby guitars, Boris turns and asks:*
Boris: So why are you here – if you don’t mind me asking?
*Yuriy recalls the events of the last few days before entering the Zone. He swallows and closes his eyes in pain as he remembers seeing his son lying lifeless in his crib.*
Yuriy: My son died and I’m trying to get food and work to support my wife.
Boris: I… I’m sorry man. Sounds a lot better than my reason… at least you have something worth fighting for, I’m just fleeing the mistakes I made in my life.
Yuriy: What did you do?
Boris: Basically the same thing I’ve been doing in here; I was forced into crime when I couldn’t afford to pay the rent on my apartment and still buy food and other necessities. The owner just happened to be under pressure from a member of the Mob and called some of his dogs on me to “set me straight”. The rest is history.
Yuriy: Well, I think you’ve been given a second chance today, maybe now that you have your head above water you can find that thing that you want to fight for.
Boris: Yeah, maybe…
*Boris rolls over and stares at the ceiling for a while before announcing:*
Boris: Well… I’ve got a lot to think about and I think a good night’s rest is the only way to get started on that. The action today has still got me a little shaken up… I’ve known a lot of those guys we killed today since I first came here… and to have to look them in the eye as I took their lives away was not an easy thing to do.
Yuriy: I know the feeling – I can’t forget the faces of the people I’ve had to kill. It’s true that you see a man for who he truly is in the moments before his death… it’s not an easy thing to know that you’re responsible for ending it all.
Boris: No. It’s not…
*Boris rolls over and falls asleep. Shortly afterwards - Nikita, the Stalker who brought Yuriy all this way - approaches him from somewhere nearby. Yuriy sits up as he approaches.*
Nikita: Oh, sorry… I didn’t mean to disturb you - but after seeing you in action today I just wanted to let you know that I have some more work for you tomorrow. That is… if you’re still interested.
Yuriy: I am.
Nikita: Good. I’ll wake you in the morning and we’ll head out. Make sure you get all the supplies you need; it could prove quite a treacherous journey.
Yuriy: You got it, thanks for helping me make it this far.
Nikita: You may not thank me later, but you’re welcome regardless.
*Finally, Yuriy turns over and falls asleep to the sound of a guitar, crackling fire, and the torrent of whispered stories of Zone experiences that are impossible to make out from his distance away. Thoughts of the new relationships he has established and the excitement of winning the battle and the rewards fill his head – but the dread of moving deeper into the Zone casts a dark shadow in the back of his mind that threatens to loom over the good experiences of the day. He dreams through the night, only able to guess what experiences tomorrow could possible hold for him.*