Lost to the Zone: Edik Dinosaur Is Dead
It wasn't cold, but it looked like it might have been. The night was coming, and that was sure to be cold, but I had vodka and a sleeping bag--what more did I need? Besides, I'd just entered The Garbage and stumbled across a friendly Stalker base. They hadn't welcomed me with open arms, but the only people who did that were Freedom or Clear Sky. Stalkers, by nature, are not the most trusting bunch. They can't be, because ultimately, trust is antithetical to their vocation.
Paradoxically, trust is also the only way to survive in the Zone. Save a man's life, and one day, he may save yours.
Friends, you see, are the people who don't shoot on sight, who might trade with you, who might sit down at a fire next to you and chuckle at the white-knuckled determination with which a Stalker such as yourself holds his gun. They know you'll become more confident over time. Stalkers are united, too, against not just the military, but the twisted world that allowed the Zone to happen. There is camaraderie in the shared experiences of The Zone. Those who haven't been there can never really understand, try as they might--but it's not friendship. You feel a profound sense of well-being just in recognizing someone.
So it was that I met my friend Edik Dinosaur entering The Garbage from Cordon. He looked tired, but I didn't say anything. The guy always kept his balaclava on, so reading his face wasn't the easiest thing to do. For all I knew, he was as happy to see me as I was him.
We talked for a while. I asked him what was new in the Zone, and he, thankfully, didn't ask me anything. Perhaps he knew just how green I was, or perhaps he didn't care. Insofar as I knew him, Dinosaur enjoyed sausages. He'd trade me practically anything for sausages, so we traded, chatted a little more, and then I climbed into a truck bed and went to sleep.
That was when the snorks attacked.
It's hard to explain what a snork is. I can tell you what they look like--Ukranian soldiers who crawl around like spiders, skin and clothes equally tattered. You can see their spines, exposed to the open air, but the open sores and visible bones seem not to matter to them. The bastards are tough. They remind me, somewhat, of lepers, but I've never cared to look under their gas masks to see if any trace of the humans they must have been still remained. Every encounter with just one snork leaves me shaking.
I wasn't prepared for six.
But we killed them, Edik Dinosaur, Nikita Martian, myself, and a few others. They, more experienced Stalkers than I, sat down at the fire, or took watch again. One of them had died somehow, and I'm embarrassed to say that I don't remember his name, much less his face. Such is life in the Zone. Just as I was settling down to sleep again, bandits attacked.
Have you ever killed anyone at three in the morning? Have you ever hunted a man, waiting for him to call out to his friends? It's hard to see, you know. You can't turn your flashlight on, because it's like a beacon--everyone sees you and starts shooting. I'm fairly certain that I've had Stalkers shoot at me in the night, mistaking me for bandits.
So I started firing--not wildly, of course. I might have been green in the zone, but I've had plenty of experiences in more Middle Eastern countries than I'd care to admit. I know how to handle a firearm. I know how to kill. When all was said and done, the bandits were dead. I started looting the bodies, picking up what supplies I needed or thought I could trade--a shotgun here, some bandages there.
That's when I stumbled on Edik Dinosaur's corpse.
Do you understand the sadness of loneliness? It is one thing to lose a friend or family member at home, because you have more family and friends to support you. In the Zone, losing a comrade is like losing a limb. It's like being torn apart from the inside out. You'd think that Stalkers are loners--and, by and large, they are--but they're human, and humans still crave human contact.
I felt like puking.
Edik Dinosaur? Gone? But I knew him. To me, he was the definition of a Stalker. He was the man I secretly hoped to be like some day. And now he was gone, shot dead in the middle of the night in The Garbage by some horrible monster of a man.
It was then that I resolved to do two things:
First, I would kill every scumsucking bandit I ever came across. They had made this happen. I would commit factional genocide.
Second, I would bury Edik Dinosaur.
Carrying a hundred kilos of dead human and forty kilos of gear is next to impossible, so I grabbed Edik's corpse and drug him across the Zone. It was an ignoble treatment, but the best I could offer. Knowing the other Stalkers, I was fairly certain that they wouldn't take kindly to my lugging a corpse around, so I decided to avoid Stalker camps. While guides could have made the travel faster, I doubted they'd let me drag a corpse along; guides are fairly fickle as it is. For all I knew, they'd try to charge me extra for Edik.
Then I heard them: bandits. I wasn't scared out of my head this time either, so it was with ruthless efficiency that I dispatched them. Unaware that I had been coming, these bandits had their flashlights on. It was too easy. I got in two headshots with my AKM-74 before they knew what happened. They tried firing back, but I wove my way around to the right, putting a gravitational anomaly between us. Unfortunately, radiation made staying around long enough to shoot an undesirable proposition, so I kept shooting, reloading, and moving, shooting, reloading, and moving, like a machine.
I broke a gaggle of bandits up with a grenade, then switched to my sidearm and took out the last guy.
It was a bandit. Apparently, the grenade had injured him, and, given a few hours, he might die. Of course, some of his bandit friends might come to reinforce the position, and he might survive. Best not to have a man with a vendetta on his hands. The Zone already had me, after all. I picked up a sawed-off shotgun. Maybe his, maybe someone else's; didn't really matter. Whoever had been holding it hadn't even managed to fire before he went down. All the better.
He moaned something in Russian, but I barely spoke the language. Most likely he was begging for his life. Briefly, my human side resurfaced, and I thought about giving him a first aid kid, but no--the man was a bandit and not likely to be forgiving. In fact, as soon as I turned my back, I was likely to get shot in it.
Besides, bandits had killed Edik.
Where did I stash him?
I started looking around, but it was to dark to see anything. The bandit moaned again, and I unloaded the sawed-off shotgun in his face, then reloaded and fired again. Then I did it once more, not so much to be sure--because I was already damn sure--but because he deserved it.
Then I started looking for Edik. It took me ten minutes or so, and a gravitational anomaly nearly killed me in the process, but eventually, I found him and carried on. The trip was uneventful until we finally made it to the swamp. Confronted with a suspicious-looking ruined farmstead, I stashed Edik near what I hoped was a memorable landmark and proceeded to methodically eliminate any and all resistance. Grenade here, bullet there, shotgun to the chest... and it was over.
Edik was proving exhausting, so I elected not to loot the corpses I'd just created.
After that, Edik and I slowly made out way to an abandoned church I'd helped capture earlier, skirting Stalker emplacements and keeping to the roads, where we were less likely to come across any mutants. I did shoot a boar, I think.
Eventually, we found the church, and I found a radiation-filled hillock where Edik could rest comfortably. It was all I could offer him. Stalkers, soldiers, mutants, and whatever else inhabited the Zone would leave him alone here in the radiation. I wanted to say something, because people are supposed to say things, all I could do was take a swig of vodka I'd found on a dead guy and say one guilt-riddled word.
See, I shot Edik Dinosaur.
I could give you an excuse. It was dark. I couldn't see. Things were chaotic. Edik fired at me. I'd be lying, though. I made a mistake and killed the only man in the Zone I could call anything close to a friend. I had done all this because I felt compelled to do so, not out of vengeance or integrity, but shame and regret.
I stood there, in the radiation, and let the Zone take me. It was only fitting.
STALKER prompted me to reload, so I did, and lost myself to the Zone once more.