Prologue

Radiochemical Company: Red Conspiracy

 An Unofficial S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Novel

 by  Jason Unruhe

Hector unleashed another three round burst from his AN-94 “Abakan” at the mercenaries. He swore a colourful course at them because of their commanding position. A group of mercs had been holding a building under construction in the Wild Territory. It was only a concrete skeleton with some improvised barricades, but it was proving to be a constant difficulty. He swore that they had to go in once a day to clean these guys out. In no time they seemed to magically reappear holding the position again. His squad had already been sent out twice this week to do it.

            He looked back at his squad and yelled at them to move forward and advance towards the building. The other five men got up from their positions and made a dash for other pieces of cover. To his right, his comrade Daniil was trying to shoot between two of the trains in the yard to give them cover fire. For a moment he thought he’d taken one of the mercs down, but it was a false hope. He’d merely grazed the man’s shoulder. It seemed they were getting better at holding the building each time they took it. Daniil shot Hector a cocky smile to let him know it was his turn to move.

            Without hesitation, he got to his feet behind the cement slab he was kneeling behind. In a quick move he dashed out into the open trying to make his way to the employee’s stairs of the small station. His foot caught one of the rails, and for that moment he thought he was going to fall. Back first he slammed into the wall using it as cover. The Geiger counter on his belt started crackling. He’d forgotten that there was a source of radiation in the building station office. Quickly he pulled out his magazine and checked to see how much ammo he had left, and determined he was still in good shape. Hector whipped his head left and right to see how his squad was managing. They’d all made it to new cover without a scratch on them.

            Bringing his attention back to the building, he noticed one of the mercs make a jerking motion and then fall from the third floor into the construction yard. A laugh could be heard off to his right. It sounded like it might have been “Knuckles.” There was a brief increase in gunfire from the building in retaliation for their loss. It was good to hear him laugh; they were all tired of storming this building only to have the mercs take it back. He couldn’t understand why their commanders kept ordering them to abandon the place after they’d cleared the mercs out. Frustration was building in all of them because of it. In fact, they’re been a lot of grumbling from Duty members recently.

            Hector wiped his sweating brow on his jet black Duty uniform sleeve. Why did they have to take this position again? he asked himself. Holding up his assault rifle he took careful aim at one of the mercs trying to take a shot. All around them, fire was being exchanged by the two grounds in sporadic patterns. Seeing his moment he took the shot and dropped the merc with a shot through his eye. The merc’s rifle clanked on the cement floor. Scoping out their position he noticed there were two Duty men with their backs right against the building the mercs were occupying.

            Hector picked up his radio and contacted them, “you two, get ready to storm the building once you have two more men with you.”  Affirmative acknowledgements came across the line in response. It seemed as though they were getting better at taking this build back from the enemy. Hopefully, the mercs hadn’t noticed the two men who had made it all the way to their position yet.

            This is god damn insanity, Hector raged to himself inside. It was normal to go through the motions when you were a member of Duty. They had a big fetish for routine and discipline, but this was nonsense. There was a big difference between morning wake up drill and exercise, and getting shot trying to take the same position over and over again. Hector removed his magazine and slammed a fresh one home in his assault rifle.

            A hundred meters to his left, he saw Daniil and another man snaking their way between railroad cars trying to catch up to the other two that had already made it. Daniil dove out of cover as the other man, what was his name? provided the covering fire. Hector held back and adjusted his position to give him a better angle at the mercs on the top floor. Now that Daniil was at the front he could count on him to lead the assault while he kept them busy with shots from elsewhere. Looking off to his right about fifty meters he could see the last member of his squad using a shed as cover. Together they could lay down enough suppressing fire to force the mercs to deal with two fronts.

            “Daniil, wait for my signal, then lead those men up the stairs and take this thing,” Hector announced into the radio. “You there, behind the shed, on my mark lay down some covering fire,” he ordered the man. “Aye, sir,” he answered.

            “Now!” Hector stuck himself out from around the brick corner of the office and lay down some serious fire. The man by the shed opened up with his Abakan as well managing to wing one of the mercs on the roof in the leg. A low howl of pain could be heard over the exchanging fire.

            With the distraction firmly in place, Daniil led the squad up and into the building. It was wide open, it was only a concrete skeleton with little cover. Fortunately, there was no one on the ground floor so they could take it easily. For the first time today Daniil noticed the wind howling through the hollow corpse of a building. The four men formed a semicircle around the stairs in anticipation of a counter attack. After a moment, no one came. He signalled the man on his right to scout ahead to check the open air stairs. He stepped forward and scanned up the stairs checking for any enemy activity. He reported back that there were none. As he began to back away, he took a rifle round through the top of his head, dropping him to the ground with a sickening plop.

            “Bastards!” screamed Daniil.

            Vile curses spewed from the mouths of the Duty squad. Daniil rallied the other two men and charged forward. Quickly he moved backwards up the stairs, keeping his Abakan aimed upwards at the top floor. His squad was getting as reckless as he was. In their fury over the loss of their comrade, coupled with the repetition of taking the building, they began charging the mercenaries. Up the stairs, they ran, letting loose shots freely. In their haste they managed to catch the mercs off guard gunning them all down, leaving six of them lying on the concrete. That same haste caused two of the Duty men to get hit with minor flesh wounds.

            “All clear,” Daniil called to Hector over the radio.

            Hector marched double time from his office cover to the building. His blood was beginning to boil at the loss of another man taking the same building they had already twice this week. This was madness and he needed to give the officers a piece of his mind. When he reached the top of the stairs, he was greeted by Daniil, who held some documents in his hand.

            “We’ve managed to get some info from them,” he said, waving over to the merc’s fallen bodies, “but it doesn’t seem like much to me. These look like simple, straightforward orders, nothing tactical at all. I don’t think we really got anything from them.” He handed the small pile of papers over to his squad commander.

            Hector shuffled through the papers seeing if anything stuck out to him right away. Nothing particularly caught his eye. It seemed the mercenaries were ordered to hold the building until additional orders were sent. It didn’t make much sense. They’re almost as crazy as we are, he thought. As far as they could tell, the mercs had been repeatedly sent on the same mission for no apparent reason. The knowledge of this made Hector angrier at the sacrifices that had been made. He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that they were going to be ordered back to the Duty base at Agroprom, abandoning this place once again.

            Hector clicked on his radio to headquarters, “HQ, this is squad Sunrise 4, do you copy?”

            A few moments later a voice came back, ” Sunrise 4, this is HQ, we read you.”

            “Objective B-9 has been captured, awaiting further instructions.”

            “General says to return to base immediately with any intel.”

            Hector felt his face turn hot, “Understood, we have one casualty, KIA.”

            “Understood, over and out.”

            Hector stood alone in his own world trying to absorb the fact he’d been ordered to abandon the location once again. He squeezed the radio in anger until he heard a cracking sound come from its plastic case. He slung his rifle over his back just to get it out of his hands before he broke it. The other men in the squad noticed the very visible anger radiating off of him. It wasn’t common for Hector to lose his temper like this, so they knew something had to be up. Already he could feel his temples pulsing with an oncoming headache.

            He surveyed the surrounding Wild Territory. It was a railroad yard for industrial supplies back in the day. Open carts of coal still remained linked to each other, no furnace left to fuel. Tonnes of it just sat in suspended transport, maybe hoping to be sent back to better days when it would have been useful. Empty tanks, which probably used to be filled with fuel lined the tracks, many of them broken down and empty. The old trains and cars were of no use to anyone anymore. Aside from being rusted out and useless from decades of abandonment, the rail entrance was covered with electro anomalies. One misstep into them and your body would be overloaded with angry electrons looking for a fight.

            Daniil approached his squad commander with concern in his eyes. He’d never seen his leader so emotional before. Coming close he moved his head close to Hector’s to start a private conversation. Maybe he could get to the bottom of the problem and help patch things up.

            “Sir is there a problem?” he asked.

            “Yes,” Hector said as he scratched his chin, “HQ wants us to abandon the position and return to base immediately.”

            Daniil started at him in surprise for a moment, “we have to go back and just leave this position empty?” He threw his hands on the top of his head in disbelief. He paced back and forth a few times and suddenly lost the ability to bite back his tongue. “Sir, are they serious? We’re expected to abandon this place that we just lost a man for? That was Gerasim, we came into Duty together. We were lone Stalkers until we got fed up with the miserable life and decided to find a family. They’re asking me to just ditch a family member’s sacrifice.”

            Hector’s face was still hot with anger. “I don’t like it either, but we’ve got orders.”

            Daniil dropped his arms down to his side and pointed at the radio in frustration, “bullshit orders!”

            “Yes, I know,” Hector said, scratching the palm of his hand, “I’m getting real tired of this shit, just abandoning positions when we’ve lost men over them.” He slammed his into his palm in anger. “They keep sending us on these missions to clear mercs or Freedom from a position and then just call us back with no follow-up, or holding. It’s stupid.”

            Daniil moved closer and lowered the volume of his voice, “what if I told you that there were other Duty men who felt the same way?”

            Hector looked at him suspiciously. After a long moment he spoke, “tell me more.”