Viktor took another drink of pilsner from his mug. A man named Anton was seated across the table from him, waiting pensively for a response. “This is a very dangerous job, you know? 550,000 rubles doesn’t cover the risk involved. I will settle for 800,000, and that is still less than what this artifact is truly worth.”, Viktor replied. Anton shifted his posture, sitting upright, staring at the table expressionless for several seconds. ‘Very well, that is fair, you have yourself a deal. I will pay you half now, and half when you return with the artifact.’, replied Anton. ” I will set out for the Zone a week from today.”, Viktor said. They spoke so quietly that they could barely hear each other. Anton pulled out a cigar, clipped the end off, and lit it with the candle placed at the middle of the table. He exhaled, the smoke obscuring his face while he grabbed his drink, “To good business.”, and the two men toasted.
Viktor had several expeditions to the Zone under his belt as a private security contractor, but this would be his first journey into the anomalous wilderness alone. Anton had commissioned him to find a very rare variety of artifact, called “Honeycomb”. Artifacts were rare and valuable anomalous objects that could be found within the Zone, with special properties. They were created by the immense nuclear fallout of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, which fused together worldly materials in a supernatural fashion. He had actually seen a Honeycomb before, which the team had come across on his first expedition. He remembered examining it through the glass panes of the scientist’s containment chamber, marveling at the intricately entwined hexagonal structures that glowed with ethereal luminescence. He had never seen anything like it before.
The region referred to as the Zone was a restricted no man’s land within Ukraine, many square kilometers in size and encircling its catalyst of origin, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The Russian military had sole jurisdiction over the Zone, and enforced the border of the region with great force. Only government sanctioned expeditions were permitted entry. Viktor knew a secret way in that was circulated among the Stalkers, a term for artifact hunters – a highly illegal offense. He was about to become one of them. In a week’s time he’d return to the Zone, heavily equipped and ready for what would most likely be the most dangerous undertaking of his life. Artifacts were not the only unnatural creation of the Zone. Local fauna had been afflicted with bizarre mutations. Horrifically disfigured packs of wild dogs, giant rats, flesh eating birds, and bloated hogs with tusks grown out of proportion were just some of the things he had seen. Even the trees and vegetation were affected, but he had never come across any noteworthy examples. He had however once heard a story about a place within the Zone called the Red Forest, and promised himself he would never go there. He was told that the trees had turned into man-eating traps, ensnaring passers by with their roots and branches, encasing them within their twisted trunks beneath folds of fleshy wood, and slowly digesting them. He hoped it was just a rumor, and nothing more. The Russians kept a tight lid on any information from the Zone, but rumors still ran rampant. He found it interesting how the outside world’s impression of the zone was relatively mild compared to the reality that he knew, that he had seen with his own eyes. In the Zone, truth was stranger than fiction.
To be continued…