50 years ago the world changed. There now exist 6 Visitation Zones across the world where the reality itself is dangerously distorted, where wonderful and deadly artefacts can be found by those who dare to venture forth. These are their stories.
Transcript of interview with Colonel Artyom Krasnov by William Abbot, BBC.
Name: Colonel Artyom Krasnov
Occupation: Commander of Expeditionary Patrols, Visitation Zone, 100km southwest of the city of S-, Russia.
Krasnov: “Where do you want me to start? I know plenty; you’ll just need to prod me in the right direction!”
Abbot: “Perhaps you could just tell me about your work, I’m sure our readers would like to hear about that.”
Krasnov: “Ah yes, I sit behind a desk for the most part, but it’s still more interesting than any other desk job. Most of the time I take down reports from troops and researchers who go in; where they found bodies (how they appear to have died, who they were, anything odd about them), where they spotted scavengers (if they were armed and with what), and other things that happen or that they see. In short, I get detailed information from the guys who come back, translate it into streamlined information that the guys going in will need to survive.”
Abbot: “And I’m sure there is plenty they need to be careful of. I’ve heard that the so-called ‘traps’ that exist in this Zone are different from the ones in the other Zones, is this true?”
Krasnov: “Yes and no, each of the six Zones is different but there are similarities. There are traps that are common to each one, but the names differ depending on where you are; for example, we here have one called the presser. It’s a localized area of high gravity that can crush people flat, drain them dry too… in other parts of the world they call the same thing ‘mosquito’, ‘gravity spot’, names like that.”
Abbot: “Yes I have heard of that, but is there anything here that is radically different?”
Krasnov: “Of course there is! Our Zone has gasses that rise out of the earth with no apparent cause, and many of these gasses are very dangerous. Anyone who values his life will at least wear a full face mask with a good filter, although an air tank is better suited for the job. Sometimes you’ll be walking along and suddenly your little meter will go wild, saying that the air is full of some chemical or another. The effects range from irritated eyes and nose to effects similar to mustard and nerves gasses; there are even ones that rust metal and eat away at flesh in a matter of seconds! We prefer to give our patrols full suits made of rubber and Kevlar, although that isn’t always much help. The looters have to make their own protective gear, some of it works better than others, but it is through their mistakes we learn the effects of the traps…”
Abbot: “And what are the stalkers here like?”
Krasnov: “Stalkers? We usually call them scavengers and looters; once you start giving them names like that you’re more likely to make them folk heroes. But what are they like? What are they like anywhere? A random assortment of guys (and occasionally women), young and old, who either can’t find work, want to get rich quick, or just like the work (although those ones are always a few cards short of a deck). Like anywhere else they go in illegally, slipping past patrols, collect artefacts, and slip back out to sell them. The artefacts are a real problem; some are little more than fancy trinkets, some are pretty useful for things I suppose, but are otherwise harmless, but there are plenty that are nothing but trouble. I heard tell of one that cooked the organs of anyone who wasn’t wearing a lead suit.
“The problem with the scavengers themselves is that they know where they stand with us in the military. We have orders to arrest them if caught, but we are authorized to use lethal force at our discretion, and since most soldiers are afraid of getting contaminated by the scavengers they often shoot them on sight. Since we tend to conduct research expeditions on foot, and usually guarded by soldiers the scavengers have learned to arm themselves so they can defend themselves if a patrol spots them. Although it’s actually rare for them to open up on soldiers or scientists, they usually carry weapons in case they come across something living in there that’s not too friendly towards people.”
Abbot: “So there are animals and mutants living in there, colonel?”
Krasnov: “Yes. Only ours and one of the other Zones have confirmed wildlife, the others only have rumours. We don’t often encounter animals in there though, and animals from outside rarely go in, they just watch us stupid humans go romping around like idiots!
“I used to go with the patrols on occasion, up until a few years ago, but I stopped because of the stuff living in there; I got one good look at something and that was it for me.”
Abbot: “What do you mean?”
Krasnov: “What I mean is that something scared the hell out of me and I’m not going back in! We sometimes saw things wandering around from a distance, but they were good at avoiding us humans, they understood that if we got close enough we’d kill them, dissect them to see what makes them tick. But one time we went about 20 kilometres in and had to stay the night, dug in on some mounds by the old cement works. We could see around us pretty well, and we had some guys posted as lookouts too, just around the main group in a loose perimeter, and I went to check on a soldier watching to the south. I sat down and talked with him a bit, and as he was turned towards me I noticed some shining behind him, over his shoulder. I leaned my head a little bit and sure enough, what looks like the shape of a big, black dog is standing there, it’s eye were shining like dull white lamps, as big a tea saucers…we were too scared to do anything at first, but then it started moving towards us. We could hear it breathing, then we could smell it (like rotting meat), then we opened fire.
“We couldn’t see much because of the muzzle flash, but it just seemed to disappear; to one side was a 20 foot gulley, which we checked, to the other was the rest of the patrol, behind was open ground so we would have seen it if it turned and ran, and in front was us! That raises the question; if there was no way it could get out of there without being seen by us or the others, how did it get so close before I saw it? Did it really just appear and disappear? That’s why I don’t go in there again; I won’t ever see that thing outside of my dreams unless I’m foolish enough to go back into the Zone. I think I dodged a bullet then, and with my luck as soon as I stepped back in that thing would appear…”
Abbot: “I see, just one more reason for people to stay out, eh? Many people believe that the Visitation Zones were created when beings from other planets visited Earth although everyone has a different opinion about why they came in the first place. What do you think about it?”
Krasnov: “I’m not sure what to think. I don’t believe we were visited by aliens at all, just by something they made; I think they fired a big gun at us. It’s been proven that, despite all of the Zones being on different latitudes and longitudes due to the Earth’s rotation, and if we assume that it was caused by something being shot at the Earth, they would all originate from the same place. I think that these aliens were just testing weapons, weapons that rip a hole in reality. At best they didn’t notice humanity scurrying around on the face other this planet, and at worst they fired the weapons know that we’re here, wanting to see the effects on living beings. People are convinced that aliens would want to talk to us, to share technology, but why us? Why bother with petty, evil humanity? We flatter ourselves with the notion that we’re important enough that they would want to talk to us, like some spoiled child who always expects to be the center of attention. I know that all sounds stupid and silly, but it’s different once you’ve worked around the Zone for so many years, it gives you a different perspective, it just so happens that mine if pessimistic.
“Once you cross into the Zone you can kiss your idea of real goodbye; nothing in there is really a part of our world, nothing but blood, pain, fear, hate, dirt, and death. All human things, really, although… I think… this place can make them even more strange and terrible than they already are…”