New Zone Fiction, Part 2

stalker7

 

Part 2 of the latest tale from the Exclusion Zone

(READ PART 1 HERE)

 

  1. LOOSE BOOTLACES

 

Nikolai Sokolov, the accountant from Vladivostok, was an idiot.

To be honest, Yuri hadn’t actually met Nikolai yet – another thing he had neglected to tell Zakhar –  only two thick necked byki named Kaspar and Gleb who wore silk suits and said they were acting ‘ex parte’ for their boss. Their fancy clothes hadn’t covered all the temhota ink but Latin in their mouths was like a diamond earring on a pig. Yuri had been five seconds from making an excuse to turn them away but then Kaspar had tossed over that wad of bills as a ‘retainer’, and Yuri had decided he could overlook such inconsistencies.

But now Mr. Sokolov and his two shaved head associates were late, which made Yuri angry.  Being disrespectful to the Zone was not a quirky incongruity; it was the kind of mistake that landed you in a shallow grave.

Of the half-a-dozen unofficial routes into the Zone, Yuri had decided to bring them in through the ‘Gazprom Gate’: the service track for the old gas pipeline that ran through the Northern cordon fences. It was one of the known weak points in the perimeter, so the area was under regular surveillance, but it was a straight shot to exactly where Sokolov and his bulked-up assistants wanted to go. A brisk hike, they could be there before sunset with low risk.

Besides, the local Zone Security garrison commander was notoriously strict about patrol times and routes – punctuality he was no doubt well compensated for – which was precisely why Yuri had specified a 04:30 start; it was dead center of a twenty-five minute window between drone flyovers. Several other stalkers who had been waiting nearby were already gone.

Yuri glanced at his watch and peered down the logging road for the twentieth time. His old Vostok read 04:41 but he didn’t need it to tell him morning was near. He could feel the sun creeping toward the horizon, bringing exposure with it. The heavy, pre-dawn darkness would only last a few more minutes.

Normally he would have breathed in these moments as ballast for the journey. Pungent soil and pine sap, the last of the night’s wind in the trees… these things centered Yuri against the strangeness on the other side of the fence. But this morning there was only bitterness in his mouth like cigarette ashes he couldn’t spit out, and that made him doubly angry. No ballast and a delay. Two problems and he hadn’t even begun.

Yuri wondered if this was an omen – a bad start to a bad idea that could only end badly. Delays, he’d learned, were like loose bootlaces: comfortable at first, but guaranteed to trip you later, always at the worst possible moment. Backing out was not an option, the retainer was spent. But if the accountant didn’t arrive soon, Yuri would have no choice but to reschedule.

It occurred to him to do it anyway, to teach these Vladivostok boys some manners. Problem there was Kaspar and Gleb had been very explicit about Mr. Sokolov’s ‘itinerary’, and they hadn’t come off as the flexible type.

The Vostok’s illuminated hands were passing 04:43. No accountant. Suddenly everything Yuri was carrying got slightly heavier.

Saint Strelok…

And then, as if the devil had heard instead, there was music – the throbbing, thumping, shouting, nightclub kind.

It grew louder, closer. Its beat shattered the cool morning stillness. White headlights flared between black tree trunks as a civilian car raced up the logging road toward the stand of pines where Yuri waited.

His jaw dropped.

Seconds later, a dark, sinuous sedan skidded to a stop in front of him. It crouched in the swirling dust, sleek and shiny, beaming incandescent white-blue light into the forest, pulsing noise like a giant alarm clock teleported from a robot future. The grill emblem was Mercedes. The windscreen sticker had a Vladivostok registration.

mercedes-benz-amg-gt-s-2016-silver-wood-night-front-view-mercedes-benz-40214591-1366-768

Хера се, Yuri groaned.

As he spoke, the music cut, the lights snapped off, and out stepped Kaspar and Gleb. They were swathed in brand new Halti foul weather gear. Fur ushankas covered their bullet smooth heads. Neck-tattooed Kaspar came around the hood and nodded at Yuri. Pointy nose Gleb stepped back and opened a rear door. A young man emerged with a sneer and a tan. He immediately held up a phone.

“No fucking bars out here. How am I supposed to log on VKontacte in this place?” he said.

The byki folded their arms and waited as the young man huffed and stomped beside the car, waving his phone.

Gleb tried. “Mr. Sokolov,” he began. “This is Yuri Bonyev. I want to — “

Nikolai Sokolov looked Yuri up and down, then scowled. “This? This is all I get for my five thousand? One wrinkly ostolop?

“Boss,” Gleb continued, “He was recommended. He’s made the trip dozens of times. Best in the area—“

But Nikolai Sokolov was back jabbing at his phone screen with one long, manicured finger. “This is a fucking joke. Take me home. Who cares about this irradiated cow-shit place, anyway?”

Little alarms were blaring in Yuri’s mind now. He opened his mouth to speak, but Kaspar motioned with one hand for him to hold back. The byki shrugged his bowling ball shoulders as if to say, This is how he is. Give it a moment.

Another minute of phone waving before Nikolai Sokolov heaved out a sigh. “Fine, fine. Let’s just get this fucking over with and get out of here, so I can tell my father I did it.”

He made a show of sliding his phone back in his pocket.

“Well?” he snapped. “What are you waiting for?”

Kaspar and Gleb moved to the Mercedes’ rear and pulled three digi-cam rucksacks from the trunk. Yuri couldn’t help but notice they were new issue, Russian military. Slouched against the fender, a sullen Nikolai radiated the indignant resignation of a man forced to pay a heavy speeding ticket or undergo a doctor ordered colonoscopy.

There was a slam, the chirp of a security system, and the three men stepped away from the car toward Yuri.

Yuri was incredulous “What are you doing? You can’t just leave that there.”

Nikolai looked at him like he was soft. “Of course I can.”

“No, you can’t. The security patrols go through here four times a day. It’ll get spotted.”

Nikolai Sokolov shook his head at Kaspar and Gleb. “This is the best guy in the area, hunh?”

He sneered at Yuri. “We paid that piece-of-shit Major enough money, he should wash and wax the fucking thing. Now can we go into your Ukrainian Dead Disneyland or whatever the fuck it’s called?”

Yuri’s blood went cold. “The Zone. It’s called the Zone.”

“Whatever,” the accountant said, and shrugged past him into the tree line. “First thing we’re going to do is put up some cell towers.”

STALKER4

 

***

to be continued…

 

For those who are interested in Yuri Bonyev’s first Zone run, “A Prayer to Saint Strelok” is available as an ebook at Amazon and in audio at Amazon/Audible.

New Zone Fiction

356306-admin

 

Another tale from the Zone.  Expert Guide Yuri Bonyev is back, this time handling a completely different kind of creature.

 

***

  1. ACCOUNTANTS FROM VLADIVOSTOK

 

It’s an old photo, faded and water stained. Yuri has seen it on the wall behind Zakhar’s counter for years. It was taken with a cheap Polaroid early on, maybe a month after the first Incident: three men in the amusement park right outside the city, wearing faded military jackets, carrying backpacks and weapons. The sky is clear and morning is so bright, the ferris wheel’s yellow buckets swoop down behind them filled with sun.

A boyish Zakhar stands flushed with excitement, a big grin on his face instead of a moustache. Toma is smiling too, but his eyes are open a little too wide as if he sees something startling beyond the camera man. Pavel kneels, eyes half closed, grinning. His mouth is open in mid-sentence. Probably making a joke. Yuri doesn’t know who is taking the picture. Zakhar has never mentioned him.

The three are by the ride’s sign, the one that reads ‘You must be this tall…’ Someone, probably Pavel, has propped his AK-47 against the post, crossed out the rest of the words and written ‘to enter the Exclusion Zone’ above them. There’s a new line scratched where the muzzle touches the wood. They are all friends, three rascals on an adventure.

Joking Pavel was torn apart in an Anomaly the next day. A tornado of pieces and blood. Toma soured over what had happened on that first trip. He spent the next two years obsessed with artifacts, penetrating deeper and deeper into the Zone to hunt for them. It was all so new back then and such souvenirs fetched huge money. Toma made enough to retire several times over but kept at it, disappearing for days, weeks at a time – until one trip he didn’t come back. A month passed and everyone was sure he was dead.

Six weeks later a Zone Enforcement patrol found Toma stumbling down the middle of Highway 3. He was emaciated, dehydrated, all his gear gone. The soldiers brought him to Zakhar instead of prison and now Toma sits in the corner of Yakov’s bar and drools in his soup, shitting himself when he forgets to get up. No one knows what happened; he doesn’t talk. Of the three, only Zakhar is still around in one piece, although he is ‘The Turk’ now and doesn’t smile much anymore.

Every time Yuri sees the photo he tried to recall if there is such a picture of him somewhere and wonders if one day people will look at it and ask what happened to the young man he was.

Will he still be here in the Zone, a survivor like Zakhar? Will he die like Pavel? End up lost like Toma? Or worse, Yuri muses. Will he be the picture taker? A name no one wants to say, his fate unmarked even by shame.

The world is not fair. Yuri accepts this. When he is honest with himself he knows this is part of the reason he stays in the Zone; the Zone seems to run by different rules, its own ones. Is the photo a sign that it makes its own justice as well? If so, how would its scales weigh him?

Zakhar coughs and breaks Yuri’s reverie. The Turk, as Zakhar now prefers, stands behind his counter with one bushy eyebrow arched. “Leading another tour?” he asks. “So soon?”

Yuri’s mouth crinkles into a bitter line. “No more scientists. Never again.”

“Never again,” Zakhar the Turk echoes, nodding in sympathy. “No good comes from those bastards. They almost got you killed.”

“They did. But to lie like that, bullshit me into bringing them to that cursed bunker…” Yuri lets the rest of the thought hang in the air unfinished.

The Zone is dangerous as it is. This is a daily truth. But to lure someone into a death trap with lies is beyond criminal. There are no words for such depravity.

“So never again,” the Turk repeats. “Until you need the money.”

Yuri reddens with anger but he catches the curse in his mouth before it escapes, tightening his lips in a frown because he knows in his heart what Zakhar says is also true. And because swallowed words are bitter.

Zakhar watches silently until the little skirmish in Yuri’s head is over, then. “So, what do you need for this trip?”

The shelves in the rear of the shop hold expensive gear, the kind Yuri usually does not consider: German military sleeping bags, Russian Army IRP food rations, cases of French bottled water. The Turk has a policy of buying back any item returned undamaged for half-price, which will put even more money in Yuri’s pocket when this is over.

He slides a paper list across the worn counter with a sly grin. “This should do it.”

Zakhar surveys the items, arches the other eyebrow. “Big spender. These tourists must be important.”

Yuri digs a wad of crisp 1,000-ruble notes from his jacket and pretends to be nonchalant. “They have money – which makes them important to me. They pay for comfort so how can I refuse them?”

He hands Zakhar the wad. Zakhar in turn flutters one edge with a thick finger, peels off half the bills and sets the remainder down on the counter. The list is passed to one of Zakhar’s ‘nephews’ who heads back to gather the order. “And now, what about weapons?”

“They’re bringing their own shooters.”

A pause. “Really?”

n273wty

The Turk’s voice is quiet but his eyes are hard with concern. Yuri would like to think it is for his welfare but likely it’s because most of the weapons flowing into the Zone these days pass through the Turk’s hands.

“That’s a different kind of tourist you have,” Zakhar the Turk notes.

“They are businessmen,” Yuri counters.

“Businessmen with their own shooters?”

“And accountant and his associates on holiday,” Yuri explains. “From Vladivostok.”

Zakhar is definitely not smiling. “This is a long way from Vladivostok and the Zone is a strange vacation, no?”

Yuri tries to joke. “Perhaps the Black Sea is boring this time of year?”

He’d been hoping to avoid this part of the conversation – partly because he knew Zakhar wouldn’t appreciate men who think nothing of bringing their own guns into the most quarantined place on the planet. And partly because Yuri himself doesn’t want to dwell on the idea of heavily armed Vladivostok accountants.

“Bratva.” Zakhar says the word and Yuri winces.

“Just because they’re from Vladivostok doesn’t make them gangsters,” he protests. “They’re playing at tough guys, paying for a tour of the northern edge.”

The northern district was the most populated before the Incident. Many people, families. Now it’s a haunt of abandoned villages, vacant workshops, and empty buildings. The cement factory is there, a shopping center, and the old gas pipeline with its maintenance stations. Lots of unoccupied places.

“Accountants from Vladivostok sightseeing in ghost towns,” Zakhar says. A flat statement. Plain. Short. Zakar utters it and Yuri hears how implausible it is.

Yuri glances at the wad of bills on the counter, at the Turk’s face. “Better than scientists,” he offers sheepishly.

The Turk considers this. “Perhaps.” He nods after a long pause. “We all do what we have to, no?”

Yuri lets out a small sigh of relief. The accountants will have their tour.

The nephew has arrived with two bundles. Zakhar motions with his chin and the boy sets them on the counter. The rest of the rubles lay on the faded linoleum, bright as new autumn leaves.

Behind the counter and below the old photograph is a locked glass case. Inside is a set of shiny black BN-4 Night Hawk binoculars: military-issue night vision. Hi tech. Very nice. Very expensive.

Yuri nods at the bills then at the case. “Add that too.  And four boxes of 5.45mm for Sasha. One can never be too careful in the Zone.”

“One can never be too careful in the Zone,” Zakhar agrees, and reaches for his keys.

bnvdg-featured

TO BE CONTINUED…

***

Yuri Bonyev’s previous Zone Run – A Prayer to Saint Strelok

Also available as an audiobook, here: At Audible

 

Thanks and have a good weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hardwired: a free cyberpunk game

firefight_in_a_corporate_lobby_by_klauspillon-d83vk9o

 

Anyone remember the PC game Syndicate? The little trench coat and mirror shade corporate cyborgs running around causing mayhem? Well, I played far too much of it back in the day.

Wanting to offer more fast-play options at our weekly game sessions, I wrote up a set of rules in hommage; a cyberpunk skirmish game where you and your friends play a team of Agents tasked with various missions of questionable legality and high lethality.

It’s called HARDWIRED. Click there to grab the pdf. We’ve play tested it. It works. It’s easy to learn. Plays fast once you get the hang of it. And it’s fun.

If anything, it’ll give you an excuse to paint up (or buy and then paint up) some cool cyberpunk figs, gather your gaming buddies, and infiltrate the nearest top secret, gene-tech research facility.

Good Luck, omae

***

Pix from some of our Cyberpunk games below.

 

Miniature Clearance Sale

Clearing the Overflow Shelf and sending these off to a good home.

FANTASY FIGS  SOLD

12 assorted metal Reaper fantasy figs and 7 Reaper Bones* Orcs. Tabletop-level paint jobs, satin sealed, 40mm bases. Terrain not included.

$50 Includes USPS Priority Shipping in the ConUS.

 

 

MODERN/NF POLICE AND CRIMINALS  SOLD

Mix of Assault Group and Foundry Street Violence. The Police are Westwind figs led by an old Rezolution Marshal supported by an RAFM Drone.

All metal, decent brushwork, satin sealed.

$50 Included USPS Priority Shipping the ConUS.

dscf2383dscf2374

 

KRYOMEK RETRO SF  SOLD

All metal figs with funky, old-school vibe. Predator Marines and two flavors of Corporate Marines.

$25 Includes USPS Priority Shipping in the ConUS.

 

 

Contact me here. First Come-First Serve. I will combine shipping on purchase all three lots. PayPal Only. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Kill and Zombie 6 – Free Stories

HardKill-Book-Cover-FINAL

Wanted to inform anyone interested one of my Military Sci-Fi shorts “Hard Kill” will be available free at Amazon August 8 – 12. Here’s the Link. 

Also, I’ve been serializing another story, Zombie Six: Planetfall over at my author’s blog. It’s up to chapter 10. Click HERE for the start.

z6team

 

And hey, if any of you have read one of my books, could you do me a solid and fire off a quick review at Amazon or Goodreads? Doesn’t have to be a book report, a few honest lines will do fine. Every one helps and I’d greatly appreciate it.

Thanks much. Have a great day.

 

Free Mil SF Fiction: Zombie 6

z6team

For those of you that aren’t aware, I write spec fiction. I’ve been serializing a Mil-SF piece over at my writing blog. Sort of a mistress project while I finish up my next novel.

Titled ZOMBIE 6, it follows a small Spec Ops team tasked with eliminating insurgent leadership on a war-torn colony planet. It’s up to Chapter 8 now, some 13K words, and hitting its stride. If you’re interested, the link will start you at the beginning.

I should have it finished Q3 this year, then I’ll commission a cover, hire a copy editor, and kick it out the door where it’ll join my other titles at Amazon.  Until then though, it’ll be free.

Enjoy.

P.S. Rogue Stars game slated for this Tuesday night. Three crews scour a deserted military outpost in search of the last of the deadly, autonomous war machines.