A LONERS STORY 3 – Anomaly, that shortcut

The loner had expected to meet with a different stalker here. Perhaps he misinterpreted last night’s messages. A simple mistake, one could blame on inexperience. The loner was still not sure what other features made the device so special and so costly. He was mildly disappointed, but pleasantly surprised to see friendlies traveling Zaton, so he lowered his weapon and hurried over to meet with them. As he approached, only the leader would speak, and brief introductions were all that occurred. Then, they quietly went on their way.

He finally caved to his nagging curiosity and bought one of Owls new PDAs this morning. The thing brands itself as version 3.0 and not much else, the guide, less intuitive. Decided against buying the latest version available, since he also learned that one of his kits would allow him to do the upgrade himself. Just need to gather the right components, something else to look forward to.

The loner stood and watched the team as they marched on down the hill headed towards the swamp, then slowly turned his attention to Zaton and all its glory. The early afternoon sun shone with delight over the toxic vista, illuminating the abandoned structures boasting rusted and hollowed out pride. Not a mutant in sight, almost a paradise.

He turned his attention to the PDA and found more chit chat about Strelok sightings, everyone is having fun, and he’s stranded out here, go figure. He then activated the local map which was tweaked for enhanced communication, it would indicate, via dot icon, the location of friendlies. Appears limited to your current area of operation and faction members only. Took for granted the icon belonged to someone else, he now wondered what that odd stalker was doing.

As he gazed down at the map, and at the single icon moving forward. He hoped to see more of them litter the screen. More comrades meant more information, more information could increase his chances of finding that exit. At least that was the idea.

“Wait!” A mild panic quickly set in. “I didn’t clear the Ranger station ahead”.

He quickly closed the PDA and rushed to catch up with that team, there could be trouble ahead and thought it best to escort them along the way. You see, he did not travel across that toxic expanse to get here, did not have the opportunity to check that base for unfriendly occupants as he traveled by. No sir, he was in a hurry and took that amazing shortcut, ignoring all the drama.

It wasn’t until he felt more confidence with his equipment did he dare. That farm on the hillside engulfed in flames was simply not approachable, not until then. While exploring the burning inferno, he found a few artifacts scattered here and there among the remaining structures, then came face to face with what he considered a disturbance in the zone. The anomaly he encountered expressed a constant ominous hum. He could not only feel it, but it drowned out the roar of the towering flames shooting out of the ground just next to him. He could see it shimmer, like boiling water floating in the air, hovering just beyond the edge of the cliff ahead. There was definitely a physical presence though it only occupied so much space. The loner did, what any self-respecting stalker would do when faced with the strange. Throw something at it.

To his amazement the bolt disappeared. He threw another, it too disappeared. Couldn’t tell you how many bolts he threw at the anomaly or how long he spent goofing around but it was near sundown when he finally squeezed his eyes and sphincter tight, held his breath and took that leap of faith. Worst case scenario, he falls and breaks his legs. Nothing a kit or two couldn’t fix.

He did not fall as was anticipated. Instead, he discovered something else. A secret cave on the hill southwest of the plant. Imagine that, finding a teleporting anomaly. Too bad it doesn’t take you beyond this area, that would have been nice. Today marks the second instance of him using that shortcut, at least this time he has company for the trip back. Three loners marching strong, trudging through the swamps, all day long.

This ragtag team of travelers didn’t stand a chance at all. Of course the Ranger station was occupied and yes it was an ambush. Even though it was three loners against two fanatics, the monolith held their own. It was exoskeletons versus leather jackets, assault rifles against, whatever these guys had on hand. The moment they were all inside the building, the first fanatic appeared and immediately opened fire.

The loner referred to the first fanatic as Mister big helmet. He was located by the door up ahead and he absorbed the loners initial response like a sponge. Mister helmet responded in kind, rupturing the loners gear and killing one of the travelers. The remaining crew scrambled for cover behind the machinery and returned fire best he could. Bullets flew by, slamming into the walls behind them, some ricocheting dangerously close. It was then the loner realized his cartridge was inadequate for this occasion, but there was no time to change munitions. He crouched low, leaned around the side and squeezed a few more rounds into Mister helmets dome. That made the target flinch and seek cover.

Good, it feels.

Then there was an attack from behind. This took them both by surprise. But then the attacker disappeared behind cover, way before they could respond. It was bad. He should have scouted ahead before this band of travelers arrived. Now, everything is a cluster. He leaned out once more but mister big head was nowhere to be seen.

“They are flanking us,” the loner shouted. “Move now!”

The loner ran towards a section of the wall to the right that had collapsed long ago. It offered an alternate escape from the building. The remaining stalker didn’t seem to get the message and he was busy firing at the wall to the left. But why ?

The loner paused by the crumbling concrete and trained his rifle in that general direction. Just in time to see mister helmet stick his unusual head up. Three shots were fired at the target, one found its mark, no more mister helmet.

Another attack from the rear of the building took them both by surprise once again. The remaining traveler, the unfortunate victim. The loner wasted no time readying his Hammer, and marched steadily towards the attacker firing one after the other. The first blast stunned the target, the second threw him back a few, where he remained sprawled on the concrete.

There had to be more of them he thought, if not close, most definitely on the way. There was no time to waste. He chugged his one bottle of the Hercules brand “liquid cocaine” and braced himself for the effect. As the artificial energy reached peak intensity, the loner felt, like a god among men. He then began the not so manly task, of looting all that he could find.

It wasn’t until after he looted mister helmet clean, did he feel that dread. Like a sixth sense. His anxiety level shot up once more, as his pulse rate intensified. Someone else was stalking him. It was time to go.