иди ко мне
Natsuki blinked. The darkening shadows at the edge of his vision receding and bringing into focus the manga he was flipping through, some generic and uninspired isekai harem crap. Somewhat annoyed at his inability to focus on the page he replaced the manga on the shelf and turned towards the snack isle, scrunching his eyes with fatigue as the shadows. Maybe a snack would get his mind off how tired he was at least until he could get home and collapse.
иди ко мне
Blinking, Natsuki Subaru refocused on the dilemma before him, which flavour of chips he wanted to eat. As he was preparing to leave with his choice he abruptly stopped, replacing the natto chips and grabbing a green bag with a muttering of "Nah. Not natto." and proceeding towards the cash register.
иди ко мне
Having bought his snacks Subaru exited the store. A light rain had started, increasing the gloom of the darkened evening street as cars drove past sending up plumes of water as they hit standing puddles. The blackness still clawing at the perimeter of his vision. Guess I spent too much time gaming today he rationalised as his vision became even darker.
A sudden blinding flash and crashing boom caused Subaru to scrunch his eyes shut and cover his ears. "Huh, thunder?" he muttered. "Was the forecast wrong?" He thought that the forecast was only for clouds and light rain, not a major thunderstorm. Groaning he prepared to turn around and take shelter in the store until the weather improved…
… only for a sudden lurch to throw him to the ground with a yelp. To his surprise something that felt like a pile of folded clothes broke his fall, leaving him no injuries. Groaning he raised his head trying to determine where he was.
He was in a large, constantly shaking box of metal with what appeared to be a canvas top blocking out most light. Through an opening near the back of the basket distant lightning and the booms of thunder punctuated the torrential downpour. Beneath the dirge of the weather was the deep snarl of a loud vehicle engine.
He was in the back of a moving truck that was going down what must have been a very old and bumpy road, though not particularly knowledgeable on them it appeared to be some sort of military truck based on the dark fabric cover. At this he found his voice.
"Wha-What? Americans? JSDF?"
Turning he saw he was leaned against a pale cab with a dull light emanating from a window too high up for the boy to peek through. He was about to bang on the cab when a close lightning bolt finally illuminated what he had fallen on.
It was a tall man, far taller than Subaru himself, wearing some sort of dark camouflage jacket and pants with a strange vest and tall boots. His hood was scrunched down revealing a blank, Caucasian face with a slack jaw and unfocused eyes. Subaru's mind started racing "Hey, Wake up!" He yelled.
No response. "Come on get up!" he shouted louder, shaking the limp body to no response. He turned to bang on the cab and call for help when he came face to another body. This one with a shredded, noseless, and lipless face glaring emptily at him.
Subaru screamed and shoved the mutilated corpse away in a panic as another flash of lightning briefly illuminated the truck...
...along with the myriad of bodies Subaru was sharing the ride with. Almost the entire floor and lower section of the walls was covered with the camouflage attired men. Though he could not make out the detail he started to hear faint groaning and saw some of the bodies moving. Subaru froze in panic, hyperventilating as he took in the bodies. He was torn between screaming for help, keeping hidden from the driver who had to know about his cargo, and trying to escape out the back of the truck.
Before he could make a decision another deafening boom accompanied a blinding flash of lightning. Striking true the lightning bolt surged into the trucks fuel tanks and ignited the vapours. From underneath the truck bloomed a massive fireball that cartwheeled the truck off the steep embankment and sent it tumbling down the slope leaving a trail of debris and bodies in the muddy terrain.
As dawn came the storm subsided, the rays of sunlight piercing the scattering clouds like the pinions of angelic wings. From his vantage point atop the ridge Red stared down the ridge into the clearing. Briefly he took in the scenery before he focused on the rising column of smoke marring the view and revealing his objective.
The truck had left a large scar leading down the opposite slope before shattering and spilling its cargo across the clearing. A twisted and blackened mass of metal made up the remaining frame of the truck while a scattering its cargo and other debris in a large radius around the wreck.
"So that's the truck eh?" Red turned to the voice. Trout, his temporary teammate had arrived. He wore a tattered sunrise suit with an equally shabby AK slung on his shoulder. His face obscured by an old GP-5m with a cracked left lens.
"Yep." Red replied, lowering his hood to reveal short and surprisingly clean red hair and green eyes. "no idea why Sidorovich wants corpses, and frankly I don't want to know either, but he's paying well enough."
"I dunno man, I've heard all sorts of fucked up stories about those trucks and the people in em." Trout replied nervously, rubbing the cracked lens.
"Most of it is probably just jumpy rookies spewing horseshit they heard from older stalkers to fuck with them. Besides you said you need the cash badly. Sidorovich doesn't pay this well for jobs that aren't hits very often." Red replied, shifting his precious Vintorez to a more comfortable position.
"Come on, lets get this over with before we get visitors." At that Red took one last look for mutants or other hazards before heading towards the wreck at a brisk jog, Trout following close behind, sweeping the perimeter with his weapon as he descended the ridge.
Up close the damage was even worse then either Stalker had predicted. The cab was utterly destroyed with a driver burned beyond recognition. Peeking in the twisted remains Red noticed strange puddle like formations on the metal. Whatever happened had created enough heat to start melting the trucks frame. Annoyed that he would not be finding documents to sell to he shifted his focus to the myriad of scattered bodies. They were in a variety of conditions. Some had been dismembered or torn open by the crash, others appeared intact but with the unnatural kinks of severely broken bones. Still others appeared to simply be sleeping. One in particular caught Reds attention. Lying on his back the body appeared to be in good condition. His left arm draped over his torso with a partially rolled sleeve revealing that he indeed had the strange S.T.A.L.K.E.R tattoo on his forearm. Furthermore it was a short guy so it would be easier to lug him back to Sidorovich's bunker. Red briefly knelt at the body's side patting at the pockets on his uniform to check for anything of value.
Red briefly jumped back, hand on the grip of his sidearm as the body he was checking suddenly groaned. He appeared to open his eyes slightly and glanced at Red before slumping over, unconscious.
"This one seems to be alive. Heh, what a lucky guy. At least death would have saved him from the dreams."
As he turned to alert Trout the other stalker shouted out to him.
"Hey Red. I found a live one here, and he is a weird one even by bullshit Zone standards."
Perplexed Red made his way over to Trout, who was partway up the slope. Even from here he could see what Trout meant by strange. Unlike every other body, this one wore a black and white tracksuit with orange details that would have been visible from quite a distance, albeit now it was streaked with mud and grease stains. He lay facedown with his head obscured by what in the zone would be considered long and messy black hair.
"Huh? Some sort of Gopnik? Think he's a bandit?" Red questioned.
"Not sure, heard him groaning a bit but he slumped over and lost consciousness before you got here".The tracksuit isn't Adidas and its kinda… flashy for the Zone. Must have cost a fair bit." Trout replied.
Flashy, that's an understatement Red thought. "Huh, might be a New Russian. I'm sure the fatass would make a tidy profit off any finders fees his family would have put up. Lets take him with us. I found a survivor too, he's got the mark so the pay should be nice.
"Ok but you take the Marked One, this is weird enough as is." Trout said with a slight shiver.
"Fine by me, he's smaller then this guy anyway."
As Red returned to the Marked One Trout turned to his luggage and flipped the tracksuited body onto his back. Seeing the strange individual's face brought another surprise. He was not European but Asian. Furthermore he appeared very young, even by zone standards. Trout could have sworn he was looking at a high school student.
"Huh? Uzbek? Kazakh? Chinese?" Trout pondered as he shifted the kid to his shoulders.
"Come on! Lets see what value Sidorovich will put on their heads" Red called from ahead, his charge shouldered in a fireman carry. With that the two stalkers made for the Rookie village and Sidorovich's bunker.
As Red descended the stairs to Sidorovich's bunker he heard a wet smacking noise and the tearing of meat. It could only mean the fat Trader had somehow gotten another goddamn chicken smuggled in.
Putting aside his jealousy over the meal Red kicked the heavy door to get the mans attention.
"What have you got?" Sidorovich droned out as he licked his fingers and put his plate to the side.
"Two bodies we found in the death truck. One of them has the mark."
"Well you know the drill stick them on the-"
"These are LIVE ones." Red interrupted.
That certainly got Sidorovich's attention. He jolted upright immediately and turned to the stalker.
"Bullshit. You are lying."
Red met Sidorovich's gaze without flinching or blinking "Let the Zone take me if I am." He replied calmly.
Sidorovich huffed, getting up and unlocking the access door to his quarters. "Put him here." he gestured to his counter, sweeping a pile of newspapers, documents, and magazines to the floor. As Red got the man off his shoulders Sidorovich helped with setting him on the table. Red gave a roll of his shoulders as he turned to help Trout with his cargo.
"Just leave that one on the couch for now, I'm more interested in the Marked One" Sidorovich exclaimed as he started patting down the pockets. After a brief search he managed to find a PDA in a back pocket that Red must have missed. Turning it on revealed a single user made note: Kill The Strelok.
"Hmmm for this one I can give yo-" Sidorovich was abruptly cut off as the Marked Ones hand shot up and seized the PDA. looking down at the man Sidorovich noticed he had a tight grimace on his face as he struggled in his weakened state to pull the PDA from Sidorovich's grasp. Sidorovich simply released it. With that the arm draped over the Marked Ones chest and he lost consciousness again.
"8000 Roubles for the Marked One" Sidorovich exclaimed as he moved to the couch to examine the second body.
The pat down was very fast with the lack of pockets in the youths tracksuit, revealing only a nearly empty change purse that Sidorovich didn't even bother opening after a cursory squeeze told him nothing but pocket change was present inside.
"Huh. Strange guy, any ideas about him?" Sidorovich asked.
"Not sure. Thought he was some kidnapped rich kid." Trout said as he pulled off his gasmask.
"Well I can't verify shit right now. He's certainly not what any of my current clients are after. 1200, and only because there is a small chance you are right about the rich part. If your wrong then all i'm getting out of this is a damn gopher that i'll have to probably train from scratch and will probably last about as long as a hangover out there.
9200 roubles for a days work lugging the bodies back to the bunker. Generous by Sidorovich's standards but still total horseshit. Trout thought, annoyed. He knew it was generally hopeless to negotiate with Sidorovich. Then again, he had another idea. He was still uneasy about the Marked One but this kid seemed easy enough to handle.
"I'll be hanging around the village for a few days. If you make it 3000 I'll help get the kid up to scratch if it turns out he's not worth anything to the Big Land." Trout tentatively offered. "Once the others in the village hear about where we found these guys they'll probably not want to be around them any more then necessary."
"Bullshit. Your not that much newer to The Zone then sleeping beauty over there. If Red is offering then maybe but your not worth that much to be farting around. Especially if you don't speak the same damn language."
"2500" Trout offered lamely.
Sidorovich gave an exasperated sigh. "Fine. 2000 Rubles if your so called experience is included, take it or leave it."
"Done" Trout replied grimly. With a unintelligible muttering Sidorovich sat at his computer and completed the transaction with Red. Checking over his PDA Red nodded before doing his own inputs into the handheld machine. A vibration in Trouts pocket prompted him to check his own PDA and confirm Red had transferred the agreed upon 50% of the total pay to his account.
"Well if that's all then I'll be going. " Red stated as he turned to leave the bunker.
"If your that desperate to save some money I got a few Bizon magazines that need loaded." Sidorovich said to Trout. "I'll give you a few tins of food if your up for it. Besides, it means you can help out with the sleeping beauties if they wake up."
Trout sighed as he took his seat for the tedious job. "Fine, but i'm not gonna play prince charming and kiss these fucks for you." Grabbing a container of ammo he began feeding the first insatiable yet finicky cylinder round after round.
This was going to be a long day.