I regain my senses, partly with time, mostly with discomfort on the cold steel decking of this rusted out barge. No one is helping me. A stalker in home-made armour with a modified surplus gasmask steps over me and heads down some stairs; luckily no-one stole any of my gear while I was out. Looking about I get my bearings and check the PDA.
It is very dark inside. All the portholes have been closed to keep the place ensconced in steel: making it safe from the blow-outs. I hear laughing and talking so I drag myself upright and walk over.
A familiar face behind the hood introduces himself as Nimble.
“I used to be a go-for at the Cordon camp. Then moved up to special orders of armour and AP ammo. Now I run big special orders, sniper rifles, exo-skeleton armour and others. You ever want something, let me know. I can get top quality gear but it will cost you.”
I ask about a few items and Nimble’s right: expensive. 20,000 for a sniper rifle. I keep it in mind.
Downstairs a technician named Cardan is the one that has the tremors. Tremor’s hands are rock steady. I trade with Tremor, the medic, for more bandages and med-kits as well as extra rad-recovery. I like lots of rad-recovery. Keep the jewels in firing order. Cardan wants booze so I give him a bottle of vodka from the stalkers who were killed by the hog. He drinks the whole thing and seems to straighten out. He gives me a small discount on repairing a Makarov so I give him another bottle, curious to see how much he can handle and how much discount I can get. Now he’s positively burning with greatness and I have a few more things fixed up. He has lots of upgrades he can do so I note that for later, particularly this suit I have. It’s one of the home-made stalker suits that are all pretty similar.
Owl the trader gives me some rough prices for the fixed up weapons but I turn a profit after Cardan’s fees. I could make some serious money this way. Owl seems like he wants to ask me something so I ask first.
“I’ve got two jobs I need doing. 1. Check on the mercenaries that have moved into the waste-processing station, here.” He points on my PDA. “2. Take 3 Veles detectors the scientists near Yanov.”
Veles detectors are top of the line that you can get in the zone. They triangulate the position of artifacts and make it a lot easier to find them.
“Maybe later. How about one of those Bear detectors you’ve got.”
We make the deal and I leave.
Downstairs there’s a bar. It’s run by a guy called Beard.
In one corner, a hard-ass looking guy, waves me over, “The boss wants to speak to you.” I walk over and find out what’s going on. Sultan wants me to ambush some stalkers on another wrecked barge half a kilometre from here. He doesn’t even say why. I smile and act like it’s a great idea then leave. I ask a few people about the stalkers on this other barge, the Schevchenko, and they have nothing.
So I ask Beard who says they’re his crew. Not liking bandits and thieves I tell him Sultan’s plans and he says to go along with them but turn on them at the last minute. Make it look like Sultan’s crew just lost. I like Beard.
I return to Sultan and let him know that I’m in. The hard-ass says he’ll meet me there at midnight or I can just wait with him. I figure waiting is easier so I do that. We assemble at the Schevchenko. There’s a washed out area of sand underneath the hull. We slip through there. I bring up the rear. Very trusting of them. Then we pop out in the hull and the firefight is on. I just hide and let them shoot it out. I can’t tell who is who in the dark anyway and I’m not putting my light on so someone can shoot me in the face. I snatch one of Sultan’s guy’s AK74’s and even manage to drag his corpse over to loot it of ammo, med’s and food. Then the shooting is over and Sultan’s crew are mostly dead except for the hard-ass; who’s moaning. I head over with the intent to patch him up but one of Beard’s barge crew shoots him in the head. No time for getting upset. I loot that asshole’s body very fast.
Beard’s crew lost one so it wasn’t too bad. After recovering dropped weapons and taking care of the corpses I head up the back to talk to the leader of Beard’s crew. He hasn’t got much to say so I head back to the Skadovsk to sell the stuff I’ve accumulated. I’m barely 100metres away when my PDA sputters out a broadcast. Another blow-out, emission as they call them, is on its way. Get to cover. Back to the Schevchenko. Most of Beard’s crew are gone. I don’t know where they went. I wait out the emission inside next to their toasty fire. I make it sound casual but it is not. Those emissions are terrifying. The sky goes dark red, there’s thunder and lightning, it sounds like the world’s about to end. Then there’s the psi-tremors that make it feel like an earthquake. If you’re outside the rad-count leaps up in rolling waves and you can’t see properly. The blow-out hits and you hear all the crows and birds fall out of the sky. Then it’s over: the rumbling of the blow-out rolling away. The sky is dark and everything is washed of all colour and finally the light comes back and it’s over.
I head back to the Skadovsk. Through the bull rushes it is very hard to keep quiet. The wet and puddles and flies. A flesh charges me from behind some bushes and I blast it with a sawn-off. It keeps coming. Luckily I get my PMm out in time and six rounds into its horrible face drops it. After that I make it to the Skadovsk okay and see Beard. He pays me a few thousand roubles and asks me to help his guys who are going to the Ranger Station; out past the Dock Cranes. Sounds good. I quickly sort out my loot and get ready.