There are women in Tarkov. Rare beasts made of the world, perhaps rarer than honest souls. Especially so in that place, gone mad and brutal in a way that one would imagine the soul of Humanity had fought its war and lost upon the breaker of glass and steel of post-Soviet skeleton turned the way of the West.

There are women in Tarkov, and they are here because they choose to be.

Shapes in the dark, victim and prey all the same. They die. They are death. They walk along the long curve of a place in the world that has become home to warfare that becomes personal, and impersonal. There are no armies here. There are no great militaries or great leaders vying for the world in the heart of Norvinsk. Just men. Just women. Firearm cowboys and ultimate soldiers and mercenaries in a place that has become their own, without a divide save for the winner and the loser, the dead, the dying, or the killer.

There are women in Tarkov, and although they are rare forms, they are existent in a world falling apart.

They call one such woman Kennedy.

"We get a secret option. You know." A Kurdish woman speaks to her in the dark. They're huddled in a penthouse not too far away from the general hospital, squatters in a city that has become abandoned saved for rats, and they are in that city; they are rats all the same.

"Hm?" Kennedy, she peers out, thin eyebrows curved like the horizon at the end of days. She peers out along the dark city and fires yet to go out as gunfire erupts and dies like the beat of the wind. She's not silhouetting. The windows were tinted. She looks for her own knowledge, looking down on the world and pretended that she can be one to look down on it.

"We fight, or we fuck."

"What?" Another woman speaks out, annoyed, half asleep, but put upon by the idea.

There they are, Mother Marys, at least a dozen, together in one night because safety in rest and sleep only comes in herds and packs like in the animal kingdom that Mankind seemed to have left behind. Nothing ever changed. Instincts remained.

"Old Ranger fuck from D-Company, I ran with him during the first few days of this." The Kurdish woman spun her hand up in the air as if conjuring the image of a timeline. There was no light in that penthouse save for the dim glow of candles behind angles so as not to bleed out into the night before them. "He said I could keep with him and his fireteam. Wasn't so subtle about why he wanted me around though. Him and the four others."

Fuck or fight. Kennedy knows which one the Kurd means as she laughs the memory of hers to an end.

"They're all dead now. Seen his head pickled in one of Fence's drop box, two weeks ago."

"Dead?" Kennedy asked, craning her head around for one last look over. She spoke in a level tone. Others like her had taken to couches, to thermal mats on the floor, to beds dragged in from other rooms.

"Worst shit I've ever seen. Even worse than what we did to Daesh. There was a jar and everything."

The Kurd was a Peshmerga: as translated in layman, it was one who had been willing to die for the just cause. There was no just cause here, so she had no longer been that type of fighter, who learned to war as her ancestors did: by warring. All of them there had learned.

There were women in Tarkov, and all of them had been, become, or turned into warfighters.

Kennedy is one of them.

There sits a stocky, but broad and well-trained woman from Los Angeles, sleeping against the cool steel the refrigerator. A bodyguard of Russian filmmaker who had done time back and forth between Hollywood and Tarkov. When he had been evacuated she was left behind, and what had been survival for her had turned into a new day-by-day that spoke in the currency of gunfire.

Another woman is slouched quietly on a stool by a plastic bench: A former Filipino guerilla, spared an execution in exchange for contract work for the SEA mercenary group that found her. Her scars cut lines like a rake across her skin, and she wears them; they match the abrasion scars on her 5.45 rifle, currently being worked over by her in the dark. She doesn't speak much of a common vernacular, but the action and violence of gunfighting is a common tongue all the same. In that, they all get along well.

Bodyguards to men who like surrounding themselves to women, contractors from countries not in the west where the idea of a woman picking up a gun and serving is not uncommon, if not expected, and those with something to prove. Those are the types of women that find themselves sharing a penthouse turned hideout. But not the why.

The Kurd's silent laughter melts in the dark, because in it she finds the truth of who they are funny:

They are victims all the same.

Fuck or fight.

Get raped or run.

Die or kill.

They are victims to the world, the situation they're in.

"Why are you here?" The Kurd is upon Kennedy. Those awake wear gear. It's their turn for the night shift. She leans upon that wall and it is an invisible barrier: outside and inside. The dirt from her kit immediately smears that perfected clarity.

Kennedy reflexively turns away. It was her turn on shift, but didn't mean she was happy about it. The skull crusher mount that clamps down snow white hair grinds a certain burn into her scalp but it's needed because she wasn't about to stand for several hours on standby with the weight of a helmet and night vision.

"Wrong time, wrong place." She answers. It's the same answer she gave the Kurd, and then every single person who asked in the unknowable weeks, maybe months, maybe decades they've been there in Tarkov. Everyone not currently engaged, not tearing the life out of each other, who find common forum with fellow survivors, always ask that question of each other. The answers range from long to short, tragic to benign to no answer at all. They came to Tarkov, or maybe Tarkov came to them. The wife took the kids and the kids hated me and the girlfriend slashed my tires and the military fucked me out of benefits and I really just like hurting other people and this is my one last job and this is personal and I'm just helping out and I intend to die out here. It's all a long running story shared between faces that blur out of lack of memory or the gore of their demise. All the excuses, their reasons, don't seem to matter when they die the same.

In fact, may seem to be happy that it's over with.

"You seem to be right where you want to be." The Kurd was snide, as all people who had toed the line with death before had been. She had a big mouth, and Kennedy had detested it. She didn't even know her name but no one there had found use for the articles. Her mistake was that her name tape had been on her gear: her original kit that is, now long gone and left in some god forsaken dip in nature where she had dropped it, ceramic plates shattered and exchanged for a plate carrier taken from a man who had put five Makarov rounds into her torso and got three twelve gauge slugs in return.

The Kurd smells. They all smell, but Kennedy smells a certain stench on her. It's more than sweat. More than grime. More than gunpowder burn and carbon and septic.

Kennedy knows that women are beast because deep inside her she smells that stench and her mouth waters and she feels the need to use her teeth to tear and rip and bite and take it within her and put it deep down.

In the dark her reflection in the window is a ghost, but the Kurd does not move and Kennedy looks back out upon Tarkov at whisps of fire and rumors of life.

At night Scavs bunker, much as they do now themselves. This city had once nearly a million people and now only a fraction of a fraction of that. At night the only population are ghosts, the stupid, or the bold.

"Don't you get vertigo? Standing here? All night? Not the first time too you've taken post, right here." The dust beneath Kennedy is imprinted with her mark.

"No, I don't." She answers promptly, looking down several dozen floors and denying baser instincts. If morality had been so easy to stretch, so too had been the Human disposition toward falling.

She had been falling for a long time now.

"Serious." The Kurd presses on. "Why are you here?"

The why of people being there in Tarkov is ahead of another question: What was that day like for you? The day when it came apart. The day when downtown Tarkov realized the poison beneath its streets and it bubbled up and over into gunfire that the world desperately tried to stamp out but could only contain. It bubbles now, like the depths of a monster waking to a new world.

Whispers come across USEC camps and survivor enclaves in shadowed corners of the world where firelight of combat doesn't touch them. She is welcome in USEC camps, at least, and they generally have their own answers, their own version of a reality that transpired that day.

In all of the denial, they reveal the truth:

I wasn't there that day in TERRALABs when orders came down from Command to liquidate all assets and terminate the staff. I wasn't there that day facing off against the local police. I wasn't there in a shootout with Russian Spetsnaz as our convoys were intercepted at the border. I didn't put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger and left her white lab coat stained crimson.

For others their answers are to the point:

Everywhere but in a place that was good for them.

For her, it was on assignment in Tarkov. The great metal trucks that ferried money, cargo, and other unspeakables for the TERRAGROUP needed their security guard inside, and she had been in it that day as gold, literal gold and gold artifacts, had been trucks from the offloading station at Customs all the way into downtown Tarkov and the front businesses for entrances to the labs below. When trouble came, it came as Russian police waved down her truck, she opened the door for routine, and instead of cops it had been the Russian Military Police.

Kennedy was still here, but she did not remember how. All she knew is that someone died for it.

But that wasn't the why. That was the process, the mechanism, the context and complex and consecration of her from one world to another.

"The old world is dying," Spoke her last CO. "A new one struggles to be born. This is a time of monsters."

Kennedy doesn't answer still, tight lipped, tight jaw. Her form is massive against those she rests with. She stands as a man, heads taller, arms more broad. God had made her intended for warring, for fighting. God had never intended her for anything else.

"There's not any why about it." She spoke to the reflection but the Kurd took it as an answer.

The Kurd's front sight post of her FAL tips against the glass, and there is a quiet reverberation like a drum. The sleeping are like the dead, and they do not stir. This is quiet and serene, for many have fallen asleep in firefights before. "There is. For you. For all of us." The Kurd blows out tiredly, breath condensation against the glass.

"You don't know me from Adam."

"I come from Eden." She growled. She came from west of biblical Eden, and it had been a warzone. "And I know. I know because you're here."

A long silence stretches out before them. Zero dark thirty. Three more hours of watch before the home grown bouncer picks up her double barrel shotgun and takes the rest of the shift with the whore from Azerbaijan.

"You know, this deep in." The Kurd speaks again. "It comes down to wanting to stay. You can walk out of this city in three hours. Get to the borders underneath a day. And we know how to go beneath border security because it's the same fucking routes Terragroup used to smuggle in their genesplicing shit before the Contract Wars. Alpha-Six even blew a hole in the RUF barricade that the fucking Russians can't man because half their damned army got plugged in Ukraine."

Finland is a stone's throw to the west, and greater Russia even closer.

"You only want to stay because there's a strong why, in you."

Fight or fuck. Words echo in Kennedy's head. They're alike more than they aren't for her.

They're alike because of a sin unspoken of true desire. To say it would be to speak from texts that are more damning than the SSDs or diaries that pass their way through drop boxes to drop boxes of accusations. They're damning because they're not about entities or people. They would speak about her: the ferment of her. The why of her.

"You want to be here." The Kurd speaks. It's not an accusation. It's an observation.

Kennedy turns, and her plate carrier touched upon the window in a lean. Behind her Tarkov burns. She looks down on the Kurd and she remembers she's killed before for less.

Not for nothing.

But there's always a reason.

Russian firearm laws mean's there's an overabundance of twelve gauge and she flourishes with her own weapon because of it. But the Kurd does not see the threat. She's faced down radical Islam and the world had pointed her toward, called her a progressive hero of women and freedom and liberty everywhere. Then the CIA turned on her. Left her to die.

The Kurd cocks her head, and it touches upon the glass as well. "You want to be here, don't you? I know I do. I want to be here because here I can kill white men for a change instead of them making us kill each other. Now why do you?"

A woman rumbles from the warmth of the sleeping pile at the edges. A gun rubs against nylon bagging. The American, a former Marine, she growls at them before going back to bed. "Bathroom's free just fuck in there. Jesus Christ."

Too many times had many of them walked in and at least two of their unnamed, unorganized, unspoken party had been in lip lock, leg lock, and down on the floor in some sort of fleeting moment of reprieve.

Fuck or fight.

That was not the relation between her and the Kurd. There is no such relation between her and the rest save for the fact of pragmatic utility and the fact that they were women in Tarkov.

The question has been put to Kennedy, and for that there is an answer brewing in her, whether or not she wants it. That's enough for the Kurd, shuffling. She goes to her pocket, a pen light and a small rectangle of paper brought out with it. She motions for Kennedy to move in, and she does. She recognizes it. It's script from one of the Traders, the lifeblood of Tarkov. The only speck of civilization left, or at least a facsimile.

"Elvira had another task for me. Gave it to me, but I'd like for you to do it." The Kurd speaks softer, hiding it away from avarice. Working with Traders meant pay, meant sustenance, meant opportunities. Some had been better partners with the Traders than others.

Kennedy raised her eyebrow. "Therapist gonna like that?"

"She doesn't care," The Kurd shook her shoulders dismissively. "As long as the job's done."

Cyrillic cursive is an abomination, but she knows it. Her checks were once written in such a script.

Therapist, she likes to write out jobs as if writing out prescriptions. It's clinical. That divide that she must imagine she has between being a medical professional still, perhaps the only, or the most senior, in all of Tarkov and a director of the mercenaries that now infect it is yet another back and forth. A duality. Fight or fuck. To tamper with the infection itself must be a slow death, a moral death.

The script says this, she finds choice words, underlined, asked for.

She looks at the reward. It's enough.

"Why does Therapist want us to go hunting down a small package?" Kennedy asks, looking at the orders. "She has half of the PMCs here in Tarkov already working for her getting stuff."

"Thought you been here long enough not to ask."

"You know, though? You know things."

The Kurd does, clicking her tongue. "It's for her family or something. Is all. All I know, at least."

"Shit. All her connections and she still got family in?"

"It is what it is."

"Hmph. Why not you, though? This seems like your type of beat."

The slow stalk, the great usurpation. The ambush. Death in a way of war, and not in the way of door kicking, as Kennedy was more familiar with.

The Kurd shook her head, pursing her lips for a moment. "Skier's got me going the opposite direction. A few of his people went rogue and I have to take a fireteam down to go put them in line. You can take the job. Even the reward. I'll let her know I've subcontracted."

"This a favor to you?"

Again, the Kurd shook her head, pushing herself off the window, probably off to patrol the hallways of their building on the bottom of the hour as she did. "Not a favor. Not nothing. Just something you could do. Something I think you'd want."

Kennedy's not hurting for amenities, or supplies. She's, as far as Tarkov is concerned, well off for herself. Her locker, her stash is in that main room of that penthouse, out in the open for all to see same for the others that have come to be there. So, what is left then?

Unspoken, unsaid, but understood.

The prescription has been left in her hand, and the Kurd sees the matter settled.

What's done is done.

Before the Kurd turns completely, Kennedy speaks, feeling the fiber of the paper beneath her fingertips and running the smallest circles. "You want to know the why?" The why of things. The why of her.

The Kurd turns over, standing before the bodies of the other women like a writhing mass where she alone is still. Of course, she does, tipping her ear toward her.

A voice from beyond is in Kennedy's instead. Like a game of telephone.

Kennedy hears: I want a family. The fear still remains to this day.

She says instead. "I'm here because someone wants me to be here."

In the morning Kennedy wakes up in the pile, and the sun almost has made it around Orion. Some of the women have gone already, including the Kurd, the others are lounging, biding their times, speaking plans or theories as they often do. The Filipino is still toiling over her rifle. It is dark still, but the morning always comes with light.

Her hair sticks, the showers still run, and she douses herself down as it is free. When she emerges she is hardly fresh but she is clean of her own stench that is warded off but reapplied by her own making. The prescription note remains close to her, back in the combat pants she has been wearing for several weeks straight, and safely in her hand after her shower.

Several greetings, terse, good mornings. It's not about morning, but it's still something. It's 9:30 going to ten, and if what she was asked to do was to be completed that day then she needed to spend no time at all in that safe penthouse with the other women.

Package lost. In the hands of the scavs at Interchange. Killa's men. Need it back ASAP.

Need and ASAP are underlined, bolded. It must be important, and such tasks are not outside of her repertoire. She knows what true, important orders are: QRF for units under siege, hostage situations, casualty extractions. She knows the color of importance and the part of her gut that tells her bearing in life tells her that there is something fairly important within those lines. It were orders for family, supposedly, and family was a God there like any other for those in Tarkov. There was no Family, no God, none that could reach out and affect. Their presence had been missing from Tarkov and everyone had felt it.

Her stash is on the floor line a toppled over locker, the giant case that had been a closet turn over and locked tight with a lock. She trusted most there enough, but it always took one.

Even now she looked over her shoulders as the locker was thrown open. She was not alone in gearing up for the day. Some had taken their time, savoring the gear up, savoring their kit awarded or taken out of their own effort or dumb luck. Boutique brands, proven names are worn like lingerie in pride, but they are not as flimsy, and far more deadly.

A South Korean woman savors a cigarette with now forever shaking hands as she places on her own plate carrier and follows out the door with her MP5 almost dragging behind her. Another: another American, her tongue of Texas, lugging a Remington bolt action rifle with a polished action out with her as she was off to the natural reserve borders of Tarkov. There were as easy pickings of meat as there was for the smugglers who had entered and exited in those wilds with goods from the outside world, now so distant they might have as well been another planet.

Kennedy is a big woman, broad shoulders, long arms, long legs wide palms, feet marbled like that of Greek statues. She is sturdy, and yet the impression that God had laid her flat and pressed down on her remains. Her gear reflects that.

As it opens her stench is added back into the room as the grid like organization of too many items to even remember look back at her.

She's already wearing the inner Velcro belt needed for her first line gear: her battle belt, and the crisp binding of hook and loop of a black layer of binding that wraps around her hips, adorned with pistol magazines and rows of shotgun shells hint toward what they support. Above her left ass cheek an IFAK sits in line with a dump pouch, leaving her more direct rear more open for sitting, for maneuvers if she needed it. On her three o'clock as she rounds and settles the binding, the hard shell of a pistol holster sits half-way down her thigh at nearly drop leg height.

A Beretta in nine-millimeter, 120 grain. Standard. Good enough for the US military, and good enough for her. She press checks it. Still loaded. Still good, the flashlight that hangs off the bottom of its barrel still good before she holsters it with a snap.

Next is her plate carrier. She's not sure if it's a copy or not as is so popular in that area of the world, but it's a plate carrier she's familiar with as far as the dressings of operators who matter far more than her own past military service was concerned. She hasn't got big enough tits for it to matter, and the stitching holds up well with her ceramic plates. It's a slick carrier, and on top of that she wears a minimal rig that holds the long ribs of red and various other colors. Her tools of the trade allow her to run light.

Hoisted as where it always been had been the shotgun that had survived as long as her here in Tarkov.

Another Italian weapon. Benelli M3. Semi-automatic. It's successor had been the M1014 which had made its way into the American service much like her tan pistol. It's unloaded out of safety habit, but inversely perhaps the safest way to be was to have all weapons loaded and ready to go at all times. There would come a day and time when the Scavs, or perhaps other mercenaries like the collections of Russian service agents dressed in the camouflage of BEAR would lay siege to them.

One day this would all come to an end, but that was, for some who would die, exist a forever in between then and there.

The shotgun is plain, save for the throw light that sits at ten o'clock of the bore within easy thumb reach distance. She grabs some more shells from the stash, eight millimeter magnum, loading it, two at a time into its cavity before as practiced a hundred times over she drops one into the chamber before sending the bolt home and forward.

Those unoccupied glance at the metal sound, but then look away. It was impolite to stare.

Along the tan sling, loops for more twelve gauge shells exist and they fill out. She becomes a rainbow of red, cast upon a form of darkened hues and greens and Multicam from bits of gear that has been collected and taken and killed for. They all look the same. No one's gear there is completely their own, perhaps the articles and the items all using the women, and indeed all who held onto them, as transport to their final destination beyond perhaps Human hands. For now, however, they serve Human ambition all the same. Every civilian item, every knick knack, every piece of ammunition.

A can of sardines catches her eye, wrapper half ripped off. Before she rises to let her gear fully settle on her finger hooks in the bronze colored tin and pulls back. With her fingers she reaches into the fatty, frothy layering of fish, ripping one out, and then another, and taking and biting and swallowing until an entire can is devoured in less than a minute with the juice and the bits of white meat. There is no taste. Taste was given long ago as she downs an energy drink to wash it down.


These motions of what it meant to be normal exist within her, and all of them there in Tarkov. Eat, sleep, shit. That is what living is, and yet it does not feel like living. It's something else, an other.

There is something of a ringleader there. A native Russian, out from the east of Siberia. She is a hardy woman, wiry, but hardy, and knew her way with a shotgun perhaps more naturally than herself, a former door kicker.

"Going out today?" The Siberian asked her, arms crossed.

Kennedy rose, standing over a foot taller. The Siberian had been used to her presence. "Affirmative." They spoke in a common vernacular. Broken English, broken Russian.

"Come back." She told her, and she turned and ticked her name from the clipboard she carried and that was that. Her helmet is last, the night vision that attaches itself to the horn of it kept in her day pack taken from a local sporting goods store. Standing, she looks like many of those that remain in Tarkov: all that she needs to kill, to not be killed, and then to carry what could be taken like unholy bounty.

She's ready to go on a mission, and the sun finally rises across the skyline of Tarkov promising, damning them all, that another day has come and they have to keep as they were.

The morning is red, and Human language comes alive.

The Filipino, she stops what she is doing with her rifle, taking it with her to the windows, facing south. Her footsteps are like wet plops against laminated flooring. A routine, one that no one comments on save for those like her. Before her is a country so far away from what she was born for, and yet closer still is ritual that keeps her alive far more than her body can manage. She wipes herself down with a wet towelettes, her hands, her face, her arms, her hair, the white cloth turning from pure to black with each swipe. The towelettes are put asides, and she faces the world, rifle in hand as whispers leave her mouth, and her arms cross herself as words of another language fill the space quietly. Some look, some care not, some even jeer, but Kennedy looks and sees that procession of faith play out before her.

The Filipino bows down, her hair draping like a curtain before she prostates before a distant place. She recites words, and prayers, and wishes, and faith before a world turned red before her. She prays to God's messenger on Earth, to God themselves. She prays, as she can, Kennedy knows, five times a day in ritual that does not beat upon the matters that is so defiling that many think prayer is beyond them.

Allahu Akbar. Is the word many of the women there hear above all of the Filipino's whispering.

Allahu Akbar, and the memory of another woman comes to mind. Not a different individual, though that could be argued with the case. Kennedy thinks temporally. She thinks of moonlight dawns along eastern sands where old empires rose and fell. She thinks of mountains that have seen History play out before them and melt into the dirt they're made of.

Tarkov bleeds red in the dawn of Russia, and here, it seems, Allah speaks to the Filipino.

She prostrates herself for several minutes murmuring and praying and speaking to higher powers.

And then it's over.

Kennedy has been ready to leave for several minutes now, but she looks, and watches the Filipino pray as she had for as long as she had been there, and then when it's over she returns to the bench and continues to work on her guns all the same. When she finally fixes what she's working on, Kennedy is long gone.

Tarkov is a city like any other, it smells of urban decay and yet no people live in it. They exist perpetually through the remnants, the functions of the society that used them. Cars wait for drivers that will never come. Lights go on and off to illuminate corners that none go in. Welcome signs to storefronts imagine commerce. There is no such thing. Kennedy steps out into the lobby of their building where perhaps parties or fireteams of the day would congregate and no one is there, but it is not unusual. A thousand boots have made the marble flooring below her scuffed and dimmed from its once shine, no staff left to polish and clean. Out those doors perhaps one could trick themselves that this was any other day in a Russia at ever odds against the West, but that is a façade to return to, not the nightmare that it is now in quiet haunting as the morning comes over them.

She presses upon glass doors, and the air of that city attacks her. She breathes in, and then she's out. Her shotgun finds its place firmly, ready, laying across her plate carrier as she acclimates to the day and the day to come.

Her task will take her south, out of the city, along the highways that in theory reach out to greater Russia but now are clogged arteries and transport ways for those on foot, and lesser chance by armored vehicles that still have fuel. Distantly in her ear she hears the great swallowing sound of distant turbofans. Cargo aircraft, no doubt doing their runs over Tarkov and dropping off supplies. To whom, and called for by whom, she doesn't know. Some she knows theorize they're meant for the UN Peacekeepers that have taken over the main ways in and out of Tarkov, at least on the western side, who sometimes send groups of soldiers out to try and win back parts of what was lost here. Others theorize there are PMCs other than USEC and Bear out there, coming from the outside, in, to pick up at TERRAGROUP's remains. The most sane seem to imagine that special forces who are allowed flights within Russian territory are simply getting resupplied for shadow wars. The Contract Wars seemed to have never ended then.

To the other borders of Tarkov are occupied by the Russian military. Lake Ladoga, an inland sea by any other definition, forms the southern barrier of Tarkov's domain, and with it Tarkov's smell perpetuates an odd saltiness.

She follows its source as she takes the old ways down the street as if she was a local. She might well as been, with the shortcuts she knew down the streets of Tarkov, beneath European arches and stone developments that feel antiquated but are instead an approximation of western Europe. Tarkov has always been like that: an imitation, born when the Cold War melted and the wall went up. After the invasion of Ukraine however, the surrealness was put upon even more. Chains that had once been Western in origin had been pulled out, replaced by the approximations and parodies born of local equivalency: Tarducks, FCK, Burger Spot, Underway, McDaniels, Samsang, Dony, etcetera etcetera. Here she was in a world that was so much and yet unlike the world she came from in form and function. A parody of itself: a city made for living, now turned to dying.

Kennedy stalked along the shadows like she was wise to do, the snipers of the streets were more active in mid-day when it suited them, but this late on enough indirect munitions had been carried enough by all who had accounted for the snipers to send munitions into their windows, their floors, and their buildings. Rumors of the American special forces squad lead by the skull-faced operator gone rogue being taken out by the local populace at the Lighthouse had put a glut of forty millimeter grenades out on the flea market.

Slowly, day by day the Tarkov arms race had been racing higher and higher, and the drops of supplies from above by unmarked cargo planes only created the conditions for more bloodshed.

Along those streets Kennedy walked, and she tried to remember the last time she had walked down urban roads like a normal woman, a normal person, needing not to think of firing positions or cover every few dozen meters, constantly looking over her sectors as a one man fireteam. She could not recall, but that was quite fine.

Her answer was true to the Kurd. She was here because someone wanted her to be, and for her credit, she acted as if she belonged to her.

In the morning light the smart scavs stir, waiting for the first fights of the day to break out between PMC operators to go to their fights like vultures, picking off the injured survivors and feeding from what was left down. Sometimes the scavs fight each other, sometimes they recognize that the differences between them are smaller than the differences between those PMC operators they could not take on alone. The smart scavs fight together, die together. But more often than not they could win or at least force off those with years more training.

She found a Scav once. He was a teacher once, the raiser and educator of children.

He had killed three, two Scavs and a Bear PMC. She traded with him for the PMC's utility tool.

It had been two days since she had killed last. Tore out a man's heart with a twelve-gauge slug as he tried to pry open a safety cage in yet another TERRAGROUP safehouse. She had finished his job and took what had been valuable, pawned off on the informal, forever amorphous flea market for someone to take and profit off of themselves.

She knew today she would reset the timer.

It was an easy thing to do in the end: recoil and return fire withstanding. She could not remember the first, supposedly the hardest, and therefore all those that followed, dozens, maybe a hundred, had been as natural to her as the mechanical actions of the manual of arms.

Dark shapes the size of her are down the street. She in her shadow ducks down behind a car, peering up. Her hair is tucked beneath a gaiter and her helmet, brought up to cover her mouth as she peers through the glass of an SUV.

Five figures, individuals. They walk like they're well-fed and in morning red light they're confident. They don't even bother to hide as they walk down the intersection going the opposite direction.

She whistles sharply, and the five figures break and seize immediately, their silhouettes birthing new angular shapes: weapons.

Before they all break for contact, however, she whistles out another tone, rising, falling, rising, and then rising again before stopping.

One figure of that group stops them all with a hand wave, and he whistles a tone back.

She rises from the car, hands up.

Just as cowboys of the past called out to unknown parties that they were white and Christian to affirm their safety to one another, there had been a call and response tone for those that flew a different American flag.

By instinct alone, one of the figures snapes to her shape as she rounds the car and goes to the center of the street. She pauses, hands coming down resting around her waist. Time is frozen, and others turn to look at her aimed with their guns. Seconds, moments, a lifetime passes. And nothing happens.

She approached.

More USEC.

She walks, and she is the one that approaches as the group relaxes but is not too assuming.

A man from the group, or at least one of the men for all of them are, angles himself to meet her at the five feet divide. She is his height at least, and even with a balaclava on it does not hide the tightness of his crow's feet. They shake hands.

"B-Company. Third section." She says, and the men are spooked by her voice. Indeed, a woman exists, and she has the stature of a man.

"Delta. Team twelve." The man answers back in a British voice. He motions for the nearby building on the corner, its overhanging structure giving them cover and shade. They agree, and with a motion of his hand the squad moves down there.

"You boys going feet wet?" she asks as they make it, ducking behind a pillar with the Leader.

He nods, patting down his SR-25 with an LPVO that has seen much use, either by him or its last owner. "Hm. Down south." He doesn't say much more than that. Being USEC alone does not guarantee allyship, and everyone had their agenda.

"Mind I tag along?" She gestures to her gun, her kit. "Not all the way, just half, about."

"Where, exactly?" The Leader looked at her with some skepticism.

"The ULTRA, off the South Interchange." She answered simply.


"Something like that."

The Leader had taken a long look around his men, and her eyes followed. There had been a man with a long German made designated marksman rifle, and another with an underslung grenade launcher to his AR-15. Another, a black man, he held onto an AK with a large drum magazine, tallies etched on the ribbed side facing him. The last was one who wore the clothing that was completely not his, for they were mis-matched so much like wet paint intermingling upon the artist's board.

"Alright." The Leader said. "Another gun's not so bad, even for a bit. You get mid-formation."

She nodded, and the deal was that.

Safety in numbers, among like kind. Tarkov was a game of pragmatism and utilitarianism that defined what it meant to be a modern warfighter. The Squad had gotten their fill of her upfront, the novelty of someone like them being a woman prevalent, but she was used to it. Conversations in the wild were sparse, at least among the uninitiated. Conversation meant connection, and they spoke in the language of actions anyway for a time, moving through the city where flickers of eternal fires mimicked Human movement in the haze, and where distraction cost moments and moment cost lives. She scanned rooftops and alleyways, wordlessly she had taken point around close corners, and she had fallen into the squad as easily as the squad had accepted her. USEC as they were, there had been an understanding, an expectation.

Five men and one woman walked along the streets of Tarkov as if it had been Kandahar or Mosul, and although there was threat, there had been no danger, and when they connected to the main highway bridge out of downtown Tarkov they rose, they climbed upon it, and were offered straight concrete south between gridlocked cars.

The presence of that perpetual danger had been everywhere, and gunfire had been heard, deeply echoing in the city, but that long in Tarkov those learned to not worry about gunfire unless it was close, unless it was erupting, or unless it was aimed toward you. Otherwise they were just mental notes for later. Opportunities maybe, but areas to avoid probably.

They climbed up on the sea of cars that were leading south out of the shadow of Tarkov, and the path had been simple. It was almost relaxing.

"So, Lady you-" The man with the underslung grenade launcher spoke. Same questions, same answers Kennedy gave. They went through the motions. Where, What, Who, When, Why.

"Alright." The Grenadier was satisfied and returned to a conversation seemingly left behind from earlier to now. The Grenadier, who spoke with a Half-Italian, Half-educated accent, turned to the Marksman. "But what I'm saying is if God really got his chosen, does that mean he made the world for them? That makes sense, right?"

"He made Eden for them." The Marksman breathed out tired. "Everything else was just…" He spun his hand around. "Scribbles. Edge of the page. Sorta like here."

"But obviously," then the Grenadier went on. "Is paradise made for the chosen, or are the chosen made for paradise?"

"Some shit." Drum Mag had spoken out annoyed either at the topic or the man going on about it. The Leader had been quiet all the same, taking point down rows of cars as they would for at least the next two hours. The highway bridges were a paradoxical sort: people too scared to take them because of the perception of them being taken up by raiders, but raiders were people too, scared of the same. An interesting parable that made that travel slow, but safe.

Every once and a while a door would be open, and one of them would poke their head in for some left behind knick knack of value. Snickers bar. First aid kit. A phone left behind. A natural impulse now for any and all who remained. Items became representation of the ruble, the euro, the dollar, the favor, or their utility outright. What something was was not what they were.

"I mean, think about heaven. We go to heaven, we're told it's paradise, but is it the heaven for God that we just so happen to call paradise, or is almighty God accommodating." Grenadier seemed so ready to tempt the place all of them there had a fair share of encountering sooner rather than later after, presumably, a lengthy enough stay in purgatory. Go along the thought like a road, and the Grenadier had led them to this: "You think God made this world for someone in particular?"

"He ain't make it for his son on Earth, at least." Drum Mag scoffed at the idea. "Why would He care about making it for anyone else?"

"Accident. Coincidence. There's an idea that Heaven itself will be made on Earth." The Grenadier explained.

"Well, maybe our heaven is here on Earth." The Raggedy Man, silent for the whole time, finally spoke, revealing a dark voice as if he had been the devil himself. He twitched his shoulder behind him at the city receding. "Maybe it's Tarkov."

The Grenadier chortled. "Yeah, Lady, what do you think?"

She's fast to answer. Fast on the mind means fast on the trigger and she's beat many other guns to the point. "When God made the world, he didn't have me in mind. I can tell you that." She spoke, and that was all she had to say.

She could feel eyes on her, saying that. As if they doubted this woman they had hardly known for a half-hour now down to her core, but none would call her on it as she walked ahead, forward, beneath a blood red dawn.

She learned a little bit more about them, not that she had asked. They were USEC regulars. All but one of them new-timers, as in those recruited after the Contract War, beneath the old breed, that is one that had been there for the Contract Wars. It had not even been his first time fighting in Tarkov. The Leader was one such man, walking along those roads like old memory.

Kennedy was not such a woman. She had been a new timer, not that it mattered much to her, and not that USEC was her first choice. It paid the bills, however, it built up her legal stash that had been somewhere else, and, perhaps, it kept her completely away from the banality of the regular world. She had a particular set of skills and excelled in it. She spoke the speech and fought the fight. She had bled and killed for the Western world through Western armies and because of that she had been of a pedigree desirable.

This Squad was the same. All of them former troops from other militaries who sought more payment in exchange for the messy work that, even from the outside in, TERRAGROUP would more than likely send their way: Assassinations of union leaders in the Global South, Resource Extraction in Africa, HVT and high value material transportation across hot zones. It was the gamut, unhidden by former patriotic or political lines. Simpler that way. So simple that such an arrangement survived into Tarkov, as was what they were doing that day. A five-man arrangement in Tarkov was a very strong proposition. Five guns, five trained guns, were stronger than perhaps even an entire building of Scavs, but not enough wielded enough trust to take such an arrangement.

Trust was necessary for a better world, and here Tarkov had been example of that lack.

ULTRA rounded itself on the horizon like the distant shape that the Filipino prayed to, massive and blocky, a mirage that became solid as they approached it, appearing off to their left. Mega centers of commerce like the malls of American invention. A former Ikea store, now named Idea, had been off on its left wing while its right had hosted a local chain akin to Walmart. Sporadic cars made out the vast parking lot in front of it, a go-kart track even off in front of the Idea half-broken into by a van gone astray. There had been an off ramp that would've led her down, off the interchange, and before ULTRA.

"So, what is your task, exactly?" Leader spoke, half-heartedly as the squad stopped at the lip of the ramp, some distance of their own to go for their own deeds for the day. The Marksman had set up on the concrete barrier wall, peering out with Kennedy as she held a monocular to her eye.

"Prefer not to say. It's for Therapist though."

"Mm." He rose an eyebrow behind his anti-frag goggles before shaking his head, looking over to the Marksman. "What'd you got Gavin?"

The Marksman was silent at first before his rifle swept across the angle looking at the location. He finally answered, having taken the survey.

"Got heads, moving in the garage. Some movement, shifting lights. Not much else." Kennedy swept her monocular in that direction and confirmed. Scavs always looked the same. The smart ones wore hunting camo, the dumb ones wore track suits that had been oh so popular in that place. And there had been life as if they were wild animals, those dressed with stolen guns and stolen gear that never quite fit right grazing upon a building. "Twelve up front, but they're the usual stock."

The Leader glanced down the road and the way they were still to go, but turned back his attention to ULTRA as the rest of the men took a knee to hydrate. "Killa's still in there, last reports said over the wire. Some wild dog always reports the man dead but he's always around when people who thinks he's dead try to set up shop in there. Never ends well."

"Yeah well, maybe this time." Kennedy had chamber checked the shotgun shell in her weapon's chamber. Still ready to go. "Thanks. This is my stop."

"Right." The Leader huffed, and so she split off from the group as the rest moved off and on.

Her origins were as indistinct as mirages now in distant landscapes, who she was once before let on only by her body, bearing scars, and her name, bearing the truth that once long ago someone had named her that, had loved her for it. She becomes the mirage as she drops down from the highway bridge, onto the construction below on top of piles of concrete and machinery before she hits the ground. She glances back, and the Squad has already left on their way to their own aims for the day. No doubt they too had killing in their mind, or, at least, she thought.

Killing was instinct and killing was necessary for the path of where she was to go and to exist. No one thinks of breathing as morality.

She adjusted the black sling of her shotgun, her gear tight around her as she could feel herself slipping into the mode, the mission, the zone.

Therapist had a package here taken by Killa's Scavs, and she was to take it back to her.

A simple task on its face, but simple prospects always turn sour at some point.

The fiber of the sling brushed against her bare neck in a burn, but she ignored it, looking at the building still out in the distance past a buffer zone of construction, another road, and the parking lot. Cordoned off into its own place in the world it had been a place for Russia's EMERCOM to state arranging for the initial wave of refugees and survivors from the fighting that embroiled downtown Tarkov to gather, but even then, the fighting had spread out before anyone had known what was happening. American and Russian operators clashing in gunfire that seemed all so surreal that those there had perhaps though that the Third World War had begun without them knowing.

Her first days had been spent out toward the coast after fighting out of the city, by the shoreline and the coastal facilities awaiting any instructions by USEC Command. No instructions ever came, and as the days turned to weeks, whoever else had come down to the shoreline awaiting extraction or just orders had found themselves running low on supplies. This had been the revelation, apparently, throughout all of Tarkov.

No help was coming, and Tarkov had been blockaded off.

A distant Russian Navy ship seen only through the highest of magnifications patrolled in the inland sea, and from there, the game was set.

She had been to ULTRA several times before, early on, before the Scavs arose from the world like stubborn weeds, unbothered by the pruning of the world. Back then she, among others, had cleared out the Goshan section of it of canned goods and food. It was a quick, sparse job as others showed up to challenge them for it.

That was back before the guise of civility came down. Before shoot first had become the law of the land for the uninitiated.

Nowadays she intends to.

She stalked up from the construction site, her boots tracking mud before being brushed by road and grass between them, looking up at the mall, approaching from its north-west end. The great IDEA store sign and the blue portion of the mall staring at her as she approached its corner.

It's a mockery of her senses.

It teases her, and she can feel her jaw tightening. Approaching this place is a mockery of what it meant to live in a society after all. She could've imagined herself walking up to a store like this in another life, or perhaps even earlier in the one she lived now, hand bag beneath her shoulder, sweats and hoodie, off to do the shopping of the day of perhaps a new piece of furniture or banal item that had made modern living tolerable.

All of her time in Tarkov is a surreal moment, dragged out forever.

Who was she before that could've lived a domestic life? Who could she be after?

She does not know. All she knows is what she is capable of now.

ULTRA is occupied, and out from, Scavs sun bathe it seem in the sun above which has shed its dawn light and turned to a bleach white. Even in that late winter she can feel herself sweat by the concrete heat before her, sun bearing down. The edges and curves of the grass between the roads conceal her approach from any that would see her move.

ULTRA speaks, the closer she gets to it. Hollow noise that combines with the gentle drift of the wind delivers to her disco synth rhythms of the Russian sense, ancient by decades but still singing a song.

She does not know the language well enough to understand past the solid words of a man speaking more than singing over its morose upbeat, but the mall's PA system blows out the sound any as distantly a Scav against a car slowly bobs his head like a fishing lure.

She's not close enough to engage, nor would she.

Her plan is simple: get into the mall and work it out from there. Inside anyway is where she does her best work.

Why a shotgun? A question asked to her a lifetime ago.

Any modern projectile, be it 5.56 or .308 or even a sufficiently loaded pistol caliber would've been enough to do the job she did. A shotgun was an archaic design. As said an officer, long ago.

Kennedy was a believer in the shotgun and how it could rock a room rancid with each shot. It was complete and utter annihilation in a way that another gun could not account for. It was complete, not precise, and although she knew how to shoot another gun, in Tarkov she relied on the shotgun, and it had made her deadly where others could not anticipate a lethal mistake.

Still, there were downfalls. Armor penetration. Range. The amount of fire she could put down range in a fight.

Tarkov was accommodating, however.

The shadow of the building still cast upon her in the late morning light as she approached, and like greeting her she melted into its shade as if she was abandoning a covenant with the material world. When did she learn to fight like this? To walk like this? The shadows of the world became host to her, and she accepted it.

The mutterings of the modern Russian language were carried in her ear from those that did not know she was, stepping upon parking lot ground, a go-kart tracking between her and them with several dozen meters in between. There would be more. They held their guns lax, speaking of something or another she did not know. Idea and a great sign that towered over all rose into the sky, speaking of deals, of commerce, of where those that looked on could get it.

Discount furniture in modern styles.

She hadn't slept in a bed in months.

She hadn't been home in years.

She stopped, concealed by wire fencing of the go-kart track and other distortions as she peered into the front glass doors of the IDEA, a great glass promenade and wall hiding nothing behind revolving glass doors yielding to escalators taking customers into the IDEA. Besides on the outside wall, great openings like caverns mouth themselves, shimmers of other cars in the ULTRA's garage beneath itself revealed. More people too. More Scavs, walking about inside.

The song goes on.

I know you need my love

Leave and don't come back

I'll find something to do with myself

Run away, fly away from me, anguish

Who is she?

She catches her face in the reflection of dusty glass, making her way fast past the revolving doors that have long since been broken in.

Her name is Kennedy. She thinks she's almost thirty. Born somewhere in the West where she spoke English and had served them in an army that required her to kick in the doors of those in the global south. She did it for money, for stability, and for…

Her name is Kennedy, she walks through those broken glass doors, past the Rubicon, and she has returned to ULTRA, and the IDEA attached. Inside the world is clashing dark and light, bright light filtering through from the great skylight above. It sucks the light from her irises, and those inside can't focus as clearly because of it.

She enters, gun up, and directly before her the entrance of IDEA and the escalators up, as if delivering her to the light above. She scoffs privately. If she was going to some divine above, she would have to drag herself there. She sweeps across, gun painting an angle for her to safely settle herself into a corner, back covered. Glass cracks beneath her feet and she cringes at it, but no one hears, and she breathes out safely. The parking lot entry to her right is empty, and the music that is omniscient rumbles, covering any sound she makes unhooking her NVG pouch on her side and in a practiced motion attaching it to the mount on her helmet. The extra weight is negligible on her neck, and what it grants her is worth its weight in gold.

An entire mall, and here she was, going to find a package in there. No details about it specifically, but the assumption at least was that she could carry it out.

What made her good at what she did?

Dumb luck, pure skill. The propensity, the mindset, the right arrangement of neurons and atoms in her brain that made her outwit, out shoot, out kill any who would come against her.

She walked up those long dormant escalators as music blared, and before her, facsimiles of facsimiles.

The operators around her talk of expeditions like this as raids. Pillaging and killing and raping are the connotations. Though what they do is somehow more violent and less. It is simple, what they do: go to a place, take what they need or want, and fight if any stand in the way. They fight because it's defensive, they fight because one party needs it more, supposedly. They fight, because that's what they do, with training and guns and desperation.

The memory of man spreads before her as she passes by the registers and the checkout lines, alone in Idea it seemed. The hollow sound of ULTRA at large echoes, and she cannot afford to beat the harshness by turning down her ear pro. Her footsteps have melted into the ambient noise, and she holds her shotgun low ready as she enters IDEA and stands among slices of home life.

Scenes from somewhere else: a living room, a bed room, a kitchen, a dining room. All cut out of their places somewhere in the world and replicated here. Wooden tables, stainless steel appliances. Couches, cushions. Name tags are attached to them, prices in rubles, names in Swedish. These are the ideas of a domestic life which are packaged and sold and yet here, they are not. They are images, reflections of preconceptions.

Kennedy walks among them, disturbing dust of a frozen scene.

She thinks she remembers a table, a kitchen, a contract. She signed it on a table, and then she became a killer of men.

Worse still are the mannequins that make her do double takes each time she rounds a scene or a corner, starkly white adorned in the clothing of people arranged as if living in those images, bent over, sitting on, taking part in a scene.

These are ruins of mystery, these mannequins playing their part in a nameless destiny all in service to selling themselves but not themselves.

A golden chain catches her eye on a table, a dining table. Four mannequins. Two adults, two smaller ones representing children. They are arranged around the table as if at dinner, and the plates before them hold plastic fold with metal forks and knives. A TV plays nearby, not on, but a plastic image playing a still. She walks from one flooring to another, and she is out of place there as she enters that slice of life that she never would have. The golden chain catches her eye by the hand of one of the adults, and she takes it as if the mannequin would become alive, into her pocket without second guess, backing off.

The song goes on.

I'll be happy to lose you

Don't see any obstacles, although there is one

When you left

Why did it feel so good, anguish?

Friends, family. She takes from them all the same because what she takes from them is a mercy of what she takes from others: their whole lives.

Her ring finger aches, but she brushes it off as she continues to walk through the IDEA bereft of living things save her.

It's not an endless store, but it is endless in its scope, rolling dioramas with numbers promising that those scenes could become the customer's, but there is no service there, not anymore. Just a stage, left-behinds waiting for a world to return to them that would not come now, soon, or perhaps ever. Particulates of dust float like forgotten stardust, and she finds a bed in one corner. Right before the backroom access where storage was.

She sits on it, and she cannot fully feel its softness before her battle belt gets in the way. The sheets are crusty, but the layer gives way, and the mattress caves beneath her.

Another life, Kennedy tells herself, another life.

Quilted sheets paint roses upon white, disturbed now by her.

She gets up, and leaves behind her grit, her dust upon them.

The remains of gunfire and confrontation are everywhere, but they are no more notable to her because the entire world sports them: bullet holes, carbon blast marks from grenades, shrapnel, chunks of architecture taken by sustained fire. She pays no mind to them unless they were obviously recent. Blood dries in an hour, and none of the blood strains she sees on floors or painting the impression of bodies there are wet.

She only pays to the old motions of her: She becomes a scavenger, in the back rooms, where they store the furniture, the offices along the back. She enters rooms, shotgun up, having made her silent way in, but she encounters none but an empty skeleton of the mall's structures in their offices and storages. So, she picks, she thinks, she surmises where Therapist's package might be. Therapist gave no hint, no note, other than that Killa's goons had taken them.

It meant that she had to more than likely take it back, but she was in no rush, no hurry. Not now at least.

She holds a flash drive, ripped from the back IO of a computer in the dark office sections, the world turning green for her beneath her night vision. Flash drives, especially in these office spaces were always useful. Russian sensibilities when it came to network security had always been not up to par as they were in the West. This had meant certain banking info, personnel files, and other such valuables were often appreciated by the traders of Tarkov especially along the more illicit skew.

She feels safe, in those hallways and tight spaces. Her shotgun adds credence to that, so she sits, and she thinks, setting herself in an office chair and turning the flash drive in her hand like a fidget tool.

The middle of Ultra was a hot bed, more space, less broken windows, more comfortable, at least according to other PMCs that have come here and survived. Even though many others have come and gone and taken their chunk of meat out of that place, the Scavs always came back. Killa too, apparently.

Killa, by all intel's indication, had been a small-time Russian celebrity. An Olympic athlete, former, prior to Russia's barring from the Olympics after their invasion of Ukraine, years ago. A track and field star who had easily taken to discus as he had to putting on armor and brute forcing his way to a small kingdom here. Hard to kill, naturally skilled, and with the gear to match apparently. The tri-stripe mask of his taken from Russian special forces that had tried to lock down the mall in a last ditch effort a trademark that many of those knew in Tarkov.

She had a few AP shotgun rounds in her kit. Not much, but all she needed was one to put him down for good.

The center of the mall, most likely, was where she would find what she was looking for.

The center of the mall meant a Scav horde, more likely than not.

It only took one, and that had meant her as well. It didn't matter if it was a bullet from a former American SOF operator turned Mercenary or a teenager wielding a Makarov with one hand. If it landed right, she was dead anyway, and more guns on her had been perhaps more dangerous than a Chris Kyle.

The basics then:

Take any advantage she could.

Height was the first.

A plan was forming in her head, rudimentary and simple, but a plan, nonetheless.

As it turned over in her mind the urge to bury her face in her palms became too great, and she did, putting aside her night vision for now as she rubbed her eyes with gloved fingers.

The Kurd returned to her in her memory.

Why are you here?

The answer she gave was true: Someone wanted her here.

Though it was a technicality, and there were many angles on the truth.

It was said once that if it could be destroyed by the truth, it deserved to be destroyed by the truth.

Kennedy stands, and she walks towards that absolution.

There was an employee access stairwell that took her up to the second floor of the mall, and up and out, she finds herself among smaller stores and boutiques. They are broken, most of them, glass broken everywhere, industrial fittings and supplies from a different effort placed upon. Fights had taken here just the same. Over what, she can guess. Electronics, gear, respect. There was a weapons store in the middle of Ultra which had been warred for constantly. A brutal cycle. PMCs would go there, take weapons, Scavs would come into the place after it was cleared and used it for storage, and then PMCs would return, and then again and again weekly.

The song goes on.

Don't wait by the window

Give me the keys, it's time for me to go

Better kill yourself

Don't make me, anguish

In the mall the PA system is loudest, and it hides her movements above, even as she hears tons below.

She spots a pair of figures down the walkway she finds herself in, two scavs, shotguns, occupied with themselves. It gives her reprieve to duck into a dark storefront as they pass. Their discussion is heated, distracting. They pass, and she emerges behind the counter of the Adidas store turned Abibas.

The stray thought that she could pocket a few of the remaining track suits in there into her pack and sell them off to Ragman flares for a moment, but it was a distraction. She pokes her head out again, glancing left and right, and she is free to move closer to the heart of the mall, dodging and ducking similarly from other scavs. As big as she is, she walks lightly and true, and the music helps.

She stalks among other animals, for that's all these Scavs were. In the wild, Russian became to her just a sound, like the slobbering of dogs. When language was attached to gunfire Human tongue became gibberish to her. She is the only civilized Human there, for she understands herself.

Again, the Kurd comes to mind:

Fight or fuck.

Even animals understand this parable, and she detests it so, thinking about it now.

In the end, they both feel good for her.

Down to her stomach she finds an open view to the floor below, a balcony above a plaza in the ULTRA, below, at least a dozen Scavs. In this corner below, EMERCOM had turned a storefront into a mobile lab for treatment and asides. TERRAGROUP had run some choice experiments that all bubbled up on that day when the world went to hell, and no doubt some sort of infection, some mysterious illness had necessitated what was below.

Below her stood a dozen or more Scavs, all of them armed, all of them answering to a man in black, with a tell-tale helmet.

Killa had been pacing, back and forth in front of the metal, stainless steel doors of the EMERCOM medical post, another Scav, leather jacket around him with a thick head of hair wavy like Christ himself arguing. Christ angles himself, back and forth as Killa stands, arms crossed, but his great dome helmet shakes back and forth denying these words.

Kennedy cannot listen or hear. All she can do is look as she crouches and barely dips her head, perpendicular to Killa and Christ.

It was probably a personal, medical item that Killa's goons stole, and therefore, stored inside a medical unit made sense.

She has a grenade, several. No VOGs, nothing instant, but a well thrown grenade might've netted her multiple kills right there and then. Too risky, however.

Christ had continue to yell, arms out and wide as the Scavs behind him started to get unruly, but Killa stood still, an RPK in his arms that had been lesser in power to a long string of rebuttals that came out from him. It cut across the hollowness of the mall and the sound of the music, and Christ fell silent.

Kennedy had been all fine to just slink away, back into a dark corner and wait till a better opportunity to go in. But Tarkov was not a silent beast forever.

Unmistakable: the chattering of gunfire coming from the opposite direction: OLI.

Killa and Christ took a shared look together, and the Scav gang behind them had already taken off in that direction, guns ready and at hand. With a nod, Christ went with them as Killa turned around, the steel door locked with a key, pocketed by him.

Keys, keycards, and locks was how Tarkov operated. Even her shotgun wasn't always a master.

Gunfire erupted further down the hall and the screams of combat rose, the music stopped, and the clarity that only the veteran and the grizzled knew by heart:


Staggered firing pattern. Trained. Not wild.

She had waited a minute before rushing over herself, long after Killa himself made the run the long way over the mall on the second level. The red glow of the tech store was her beacon, crossing over the middle as Scavs throughout the mall converged on OLI. The building shook with each burst of fire, and soon, punctuation to it: bursts of grenade.

Heavy firepower.

Each volley of fire was followed by the less concentrated turn of firing back from the Scavs, the occasional long RPK burst undoubtedly from Killa, but shotguns too. She had caught the back of a Scav, rushing down the escalators toward the hall that would collect them to the OLI, but by the time she had approached in carefully, shotgun in a high ready, muzzle fire illuminated a body in slow motion: a body collapsing along the escalator sent up like a blast from an atom bomb, frozen forever in that moment. Then came the fleshy sounds of them falling upon metal.

Russian speech after. Kennedy tracked the sound beneath her. Shouts, commands, all of them she had put to memory. Cover. Bounding fire. Suppress.

BEAR PMCs had arrived, and below, Scavs cried out in fighting agony until no more.

She peered over the glass walkway for the shortest moment, and the little green men storied in the Slavic world had appeared as she ducked her head down, catching the image of three men rushing across in front of the escalator toward inner the mall from where she just came from the second floor. They skipped over the escalator, pushing on through the first floor. She waited, listening for footsteps: two more pairs rushed over after a cry of coordination, half-way through one reloaded their magazine.

The fire shifted below her to further down, and this active situation was going.

Everything within her tightened. Her jaw clamped, her asshole puckered, her very bones and blood electrified as she felt the familiar rush that came with close gunfire.

She loved it so.

It made her feel.

The fighting continued below her, and after several minutes of careful listening to determine that the fight had set itself up in such a way that she would be behind it safely, she rounded the corner, down the escalator.

Hopefully Killa would've been taken care of by this group of BEARs, but she had no illusions, racking the bolt back and holding it open as she loaded an AP slug.

Making her way down wet, bloody steps, red running through grooves, the Scav she had seen was face first at the bottom of the escalator, his blood pooling as his AK deftly laid thrown out several feet in front of him. She ignored it, stepping over his body, looking right, left, and seeing bodies taken and shot and left by the new attack force. These BEARs stepped in blood, and they left prints, so easy for her to follow as she hunched herself down with shotgun ready, toward the fight, toward action. Like a rat, she slunk in the dark making her way through a mall turned firefight, hot shell casings annotating bloody footprints of a Russian fireteam who knew what they were doing.

Quick flashes of illumination from gunfire spilled down the hall at times, while suppressed gunfire rang out too in that direction. Impacts of bullets on sturdy walls echoed, and every once and a while as Killa's RPK became a long message of hostility, it would only be stopped by a thrown grenade.

She stalked these Russians, from behind, following them out of sight, but right on their heels all the same with their trails. Face down, hugging their shadows in the already dim interiors were those that they had put upon, shot and killed, curled up as smoke and gunfire rose in the air like ill-omens made manifest.

The smell, the stench, its source had been revealed.

She walked those lines with caution, for all of them may be dying, but not all were dead.

"Pazhalusta…" It came from below her where she walked, and she did not notice the shape of a man as it rose its arms up at her like from the underworld. It was weak, it was crying, and it spooked her more than she could reckon because her instincts and body took over and she stepped back, right arm tightening as her hand found the trigger to her shotgun and pulled it automatically, bore pointed at the source of the sound:

She barely saw the face of Christ before it was blown away, completely, her shotgun reverberating louder than any other gunshot there.

"Shit!" In a wet slam, Christ died, and she would be revealed. Any operator worth their salt would know when a gunshot came not in front of them, but behind. Before she could even think of putting in another AP slug she saw the white face of a man turn the corner several meters down, a ballistic helmet giving his face frame as she threw herself out of the line of fire into the closest store: Yet again another clothing line, a table kicked over as her momentum threw her at a counter and then over.


She heard one of the BEARs yell in between further gunfire. She had barely gotten steady footing before she heard the tell tale pop of a pin, the blur of a black, ball shaped object being thrown into her store barely the size of a classroom propelling her again to her feet, off her feet, and then over the counter as her bones screamed on impact. All was muted as the grenade popped, and her entire body rang in the concussive ring. She fought through it, covering her head as the store around her came apart and tiling from the roof collapsed, letting dry wall dust down.

She knew what she would do if she had just popped a grenade: she would push.

She had taken an oblique angle down the counter, rushing, running, shotgun stock in her shoulder as she peered around in a crouch and saw the leg of the BEAR pop in first. She held her breath as the entire body came into view, a Russian with Kalashnikov and full body kit coming into view, flashlight on his rifle scanning once. He started on the wrong end, for on the other had been her.

She lined him up in ghost ring sights and the trigger was pulled. Another concussive blast shot out as a ring of fire erupted from her gun and the Russian was off his feet, twisting. She could see the puffs where buckshot had landed and broken ceramic or steel. His AK, held in his hands, fired wildly as he stumbled onto the floor, back turned to her as if half in a bend.

Her aim took the shotgun to his ass, and she pulled the trigger, armored plates not covering his lower half that was immediately answered with a body that seized and dropped to the floor in a crash, a chunk of flesh and blood sent out to the floor. Lights fixtures above came loose and began swinging as she felt that hit of numbness, and then invigoration took her mind and body to a place that could only be met in this.

Fighting or fucking, and this was what it was all about: feeling and emotions so blinding it nearly took her vision. It was why her body moved to her plate carrier and ripped three more shells into her fist, thumbing them into her Benelli as she stood up and held the angle.

The man lay dead as his body exhausted his last breath, face down, like a deflating bag.

Gunfire continued as another flashlight ray crossed the wide opening of the storefront, and once again she heard distantly the sound of a pin being pulled.

Ancient training arose at the very least: Die closer to the enemy. She rounded the corner, shotgun up as she ran, trading places with a grenade thrown in as she burst out into the hallway of the mall and swung to the corner facing right, a BEAR PMC caught off guard as she came out.

He tried to get his own rifle on her first, awkwardly held by its sling on their body, mouth and teeth open half in a shout but it didn't matter when she came gun up first. The first shotgun burst as she swung around had pattered his torso and the gun he tried to use, metal sparking as he was planted against the wall. The second shot, riding the recoil kick, took a chunk out of his neck, and then the man was dead before he hit the floor with spine and neck severed, collapsing.

The grenade went off, but she was already gone down the hallway to push the offensive. Particulates of a firefight on going remained as Russian screams and crying combined to become theatre and soundtrack to her as she went to the closest corner.

Was she smiling, was she smirking? The feeling from her body drained as her sense of self became eyes and ears and the feel of the gun in her hand and that sixth sense that came with knowing a battlefield.

Above, the music glitched, the PA popped.

The song goes on.

I'll be happy to lose you

Don't see any obstacles, although there is one

When you left

Why did it feel so good, anguish?

Memories return, every fight like this, every equivalent situation brought up like a plan of action at a speed beyond mortal men that was the difference between her choking on her own blood and taking tags from the dead she had killed. But more memories, behind that:

Chestnut hair. Dryer sheets. Spring flowers and blue skies. Lavender scents. Coffee. Laughter. Twinkling stars and the impression that life was worth living, for all the world. Peace on Earth, strings on a guitar. Kiss me, you're beautiful. Don't leave me. Look at all you have.

The memory cuts, the present returns. It's cold.

In and out. Kennedy breathes.

Why was she here?

"I'm here because someone wants me to be here."

That person was herself. She wanted to be here.

She, solely, was responsible for this.

Two slugs of AP had been in her palm and shoved in before she pushed herself off the corner to peek the angle wide. Behind her on the wall that extended to her right and beyond gunfire still peppered it.

The Russian word for behind was screamed, and in that she peeked before she could lose the speed of aggression. Set up on a turned over corner two BEARs were putting fire down the long hall that bisected the center of Ultra, the weapons store Kiba off to the right as, down the way, flashes of white, pops of muzzle flashes of a still worthy Scav army.

Not her concern for now. On the far left, a BEAR, half turned, trying to get his long gun around, offering his profile to her as she took aim.

In dim light, briefly flashed by her gunfire, a chunk of something came off his arm before she ducked back in, gunfire coming toward her and chipping that corner. Shrapnel touched her face, stinging, but not taking away from her attention.

She could make a bigger hole on that stone barrier, pre-emptively putting a shot into it clearing just a little more angle for her from safety. The backs of the two BEARs who had only just started to notice what was happening were offered to her as she let loose the rest of the tube. In muzzle flash and smoke and the tunnel vision of the fight she did not know what happened to them as she backpedaled again to the second man she killed pistol out and shotgun freely dangling from its sling as she took cover.

Last handful of AP slugs. They all went in, and then still one short to her at five + one capacity. Regular magnum buck went in to top it off, she pumping once before peeking the corner again out. Nothing.

She assumed her position again, and the two BEARs looking down were gone from their cover, spread of impacts and red drippings where they were. Her head sprung back and forth on the close angle. Nothing.

Looking across the hall to the opposite corner she dashed, nearly tripping over as gunfire followed her against the wall leg a dart board.

Before she had fully made it around, she felt a push, a sledgehammer on her back that stumbled her, a searing pain along her spine that dulled out as she felt pieces of ceramic drop behind her.

Someone had landed a shot on her back, and she wasn't going to see how bad it was. It hurt like fuck, but she didn't know that, not when her adrenaline was going.

As she recovered her breath, turning back around to hold the corner, she had quickly gone to her belt: two items.

Her hand had felt for its ridged plastic cap and the insanity it represented: courtesy of TERRALABs. She didn't see the red tipped stimulant pen at all before she jabbed it into her leg and let the low hiss dissipate, she didn't feel her other hand palm for the F-1 grenade in one of her pouches out, her thumb hooked on the ring. Revisualizing the hallway again she had imagined that the man she shot first had ducked into a close store left.

She ducked out as she felt the fire in her veins spread out like a burning piece of paper, thumb yanking the pin and sending the grenade into the vague store front next to where she had seen the first man she shot.

The thock of it hitting was heard after she ducked back in, another grenade readied by her again as she blindly threw it around the corner just in the center of the hallway.

She heard a Russian swear, scream after it landed, but then no sound at all when the grenade popped off and shook the world. She heard only the stomping of feet afterwards, and then the other grenade pop as she readied her shotgun again, its barrel smoking.

Voices. A carnival. Oh my god! You're such a good shot! Is that what they taught you in the army?

She peered out again, gun up, and a new body had appeared in the center, half-blackened, half brutalized by a nade going off at its feet.

If she were the men on the right- she didn't have time to theorize, seeing their blood trail not go for cover, but push forward. At the other end the abstract scav resistance had disappeared, but gunfire continued.

The two BEARs had pushed instead of hide, and they had pushed all the way across. She followed in a rush, bodies left behind by them as Scavs continued to scream insults and gunfire.

She crossed over to the center and bodies had been smoking and blown apart. A Scav tried to crawl away, but his body was a paintbrush, dragging red smears across white tiles. She put it to memory, but it was not her concern now as the sound pulled her to the muzzle flashes of inside a store labeled Mantis, turned into a makeshift patient care center. No walls inside, just dressage of medical curtains. The blood below followed. She pushed in and it was a maze, but people were in there with her. The second she stepped on plastic ground she heard a fire selector at the opposite end of the store click, and she had immediately gotten down on the floor, her entire front of her body splashed with grit and dirt and viscera from those that had bled. She would take it, however, as a line of tracers cut through the entire store without regard for concealment. Her shotgun had been kept beneath her as she drew her pistol instead. Footsteps to her right and then revealed to her as it they backed up around the corner, speaking Russian, unsure of who he was talking to. He held a Saiga semi-automatic shotgun at his hip, stovepiped to hell even as he desperately tried to pull the trigger in the direction of the blind fire through the store which he avoided by ducking down.

When he turned over to who he had assumed like him, he only got a bullet, through his chin out his brain as Kennedy fired her pistol into him several times, collapsing, toppling over some of the curtains as she brought her body in and angled her pistol toward the sound of fire, emptying the magazine as she used her feet to kick her away into more curtains. Steel rods came falling down around her as she got onto her back, magazine release depressed and her hands finding the Beretta magazine kept as a spare on her belt. More gunfire kicked through the store, but then more from outside, silencing it, but not the man shooting.

She rolled in the momentary lull, tangled in medical dressings until she hit a medical table, stopping her. Any cries of frustration she had muted by the clanging metal that she had kicked her way out of, ripping her shotgun out and standing again as she let loose a blind hail Mary of shells into the curtains already tattered. Glass and steel were impacted, breaking, as the world became roulettes of round table fire around her.

What little concealment remained in that maze she pushed as her shotgun ran empty, pausing at a corner behind a metal cabinet to thumb in any shotgun shell her hand could find at that moment, topping up as she could hear the wheezing of men dying.

She focused then on the sound of a Kalashnikov magazine paddle being hit, and then a clattering on the floor.

She triangulated it, put it to her twelve, even through curtains and temporary walls, and barreled through. It was if the entire store moved as she pushed through, furniture caught up and medical instruments and tools clattering on top of the fallen, the yet to be pulled. That store that had been no more than several dozen square feet had seemed a mile wide in a fight, but even then Kennedy had pushed through all of it until she broke through, and in the corner of it the two Russians: One in the middle of a magazine reload, the other, tying a tourniquet around his lower leg.

Dead ahead, straight ahead. The two green men had scrambled, trying to stop what they were doing as their uniforms dripped damp and red from themselves, but nothing could be done as she aimed at the man reloading first.

The two of them died, violently, blasted.

She only pulled the trigger once, however.

Revelation. She snapped her head right before the bodies fell to the floor, guns and all clattering violently, and there, before her, had been Killa himself, suppressor on his RPK glowing red hot. She saw his white eyes behind the slit of his mask, barely five feet apart and having killed together.

"Shit!" She turned her shotgun over by Killa had swung first with her long barrel gun, the red hot instrument impacting her arm and searing it immediately. She screamed but held it as she kept the gun on her and not pointed. Steam and smoke came from her flesh as she drew her pistol again and brought it to her hip as Killa pushed, chest to chest, her pistol finding his stomach and the steel plates beneath it. The sun sparked between them as Killa collapsed on her, his RPK sent to the floor and she falling on it, bolt level stabbing into her back unkindly as Killa brought his arms up, tanking the pistol rounds. The front of his helmet crushed the night vision and its mount sending it askew as he rolled back his head again when they hit the ground, sending it forward. Only the lip of her helmet saved her from her skull being crushed, even as the impact sent her head back into the cushion. She let go of her pistol, unable to get into battery with Killa on top of her, going for the knife on her belt as Killa's hands found her face, thumbs pressing her cheekbones, into her mouth, trying to find her eyes.

She thrashed about, rolling, sideways dragging his hands as she bit his finger, whether he screamed at that or the knife finding just below his arm pit she didn't know as she used all her might to roll away and break the cage of his arms. With the remains of her night vision, she whacked it against his helmet like a horn and left the knife in him, unable to angle it into his heart with armor in the way. Her pistol was left behind and she rolled, making him fall over on his side as she came across her collapsed furnishings again, trying to get to a stand with her shotgun. Before she had even made it half-way up Killa had been there, kicking her shotgun first, yet unable to completely rid of it before that boot found her midsection, pushing her down into the metal cabinet she had reloaded behind, the corner impacted as she lost her breath and collapsed again.

She wasn't going to have a chance to get up again, and less so to shoot. She took her chances, falling on her back as she concentrated on spreading her legs to clear the shotgun's barrel between them, grip in her hand as she held it askew and-

Killa had in that time turned around, and the tan armor he wore over himself had taken the first blast of her shotgun, sparks and smoke coming off of him as he rose up from what he was doing. He didn't move. He didn't care. In his hands: two pistols, his, and hers.

He twisted around, and hellfire sprouted between the two of them.

Killa didn't feel the shotgun blasts that careened into his torso or his helmet, making his body twitch. He didn't see the buckshot tear through his arms and ruin his tracksuit. He didn't see how his body was ripped through nor did he care as he, with two hands, fired back with two pistols, two hands in a flurry of fire.

Kennedy didn't feel the first hits land square of her plates, nor did she feel the hot rounds tear through her thighs, her arms, the side of her face and her ear. She didn't feel one bullet miss her forehead square but continue up and tear her helmet from her in shrapnel that left her white hair and pale skin bloody. She didn't feel the shattering of herself as she felt a bullet graze through her right arm, bouncing off her humerus.

They both felt nothing. Because Tarkov had turned them into nothing.

Please, don't go. You're safe and loved here.

The song goes on.

I know you need my love

Leave and don't come back

I'll find something to do with myself

Run away, fly away from me, anguish

Pistols and shotgun lock back, and the holes in them begin to bleed and shine.

Only by TERRALABS in her blood stream does Kennedy will herself to stand, even as the floor keeps pieces of herself. Skin, bone, blood.

She stands, and there is not a place on her that does not leak, as if she emerged from a bog of horror and he witness across that several feet divide. No shots missed, nothing was wasted, they both were still standing.

As she stood the remains of her helmet clattered to the floor and the puddle forming beneath her in drops at a time. Her left eye stings as red runs into it and she closes it, weakly holding a shotgun whose bolt is open.

He stands across from her, and they mimic each other's movements: no movement at all save for the heady, hearty breathing.

Beneath his mask: release, like a bulb of blood popped out from behind it dripping from within down. He does not fall. He mutters in his modern language. Kennedy's grasp of Russian is fleeting, and not while bells ring in her ears and she herself tastes the blood in her mouth. He's talking to her, cursing himself, but there is no cry of combat like he had been. Just conversation, talk. They fought with modern tools and yet they had been ancient in their understanding of each other.

Instincts take over again and she palms for ammo on her plate carrier, ruined and torn up by pistol shots to her body. She looks down onto her hand to find nothing but herself, and through a pain that lights her on fire that left hand of hers moves to her belt. There's still shells there, their carrier secure as her fingers tear whatever she can grasp out. Her hands are too wet with herself, and the shotgun shells all tumble to the ground.

Killa remains, unmoving, but his arms despite how he tries to curl them limply hang at his side until the pistols come tumbling down and out to a wetness of his own.

Again, Kennedy tries to go for more shells on her belt, but her hand shakes, crumples, as she tries to tear them out. Killa does nothing save look at her through a mask that has buckshot embedded in it.

The two of them are broken in form and function.

The two of them collapse together.

She tried leaving. Once. Early on. Through bodies of those that too wanted to go on the coastline, all of them chasing rumors of one man who watched over everyone and everything, who all could see his light.

She climbed up his high tower through bones and blood and hope and found him. When she arrived, she told the Lightkeeper this:

"I want to escape from Tarkov."

The Lightkeeper, an older man who had seen perhaps more than a single man could, dressed in the clothes of those who explored the old frontiers and the new frontiers alike, looked at her, rose an eyebrow, and pointed back to her. He knew better. He knew who she was, what she was, why she was, better than herself then at that moment.

He told her the truth.

He told her this:

"Tarkov is who you are. You cannot escape from yourself. Just as I could not escape from myself."

She doesn't know why she's alive when she comes to, she doesn't know what part of herself remains after what had been done to her. But she does, and she barely has enough life in her to cognate herself as alive, to flutter open an eyelid and be staring at the ceiling of where she was. Still in ULTRA, still in the Mantis she pushed. She remembers who she is, and she stays still when she hears footsteps around her.

She creeks her eye open for a second and sees familiar forms.

The Squad from earlier, patting down, sorting bodies. Two stand over her. The Grenadier and the Raggedy Man. The other three are going through bodies.

"It's a shame. She looked like a good fuck." The Grenadier looked down on her, Raggedy turning around and looking to Killa. "Eh. Maybe she still is." He decided to himself.

"She was a good fighter, at least. Taking him down it looks like." he said roughly, spitting on Killa as he lay where he last was.

The Leader, patting down bodies, had gruffed. "When I told Dima and his people that there was an opportunity here, I didn't fucking know the idiot would just throw himself into it."

"Dead Ruskies are good Ruskies." The Marksman had been behind her, cutting the chain to dog tags. "I'll just say we took care of them."

"Sure." The Leader spoke, turning to Drum Mag. "Jordan, can you go check Killa? It looks like he might have your type of stuff."

"Shit, I'll take his armor." Drum Mag spoke instead, putting his gun down as they all attended to the bodies of a fight they had come across on and didn't deserve, unbuckling his own plate carrier. But in Tarkov, no one deserved anything.

Kennedy was alive, and she wasn't quite sure why. But it didn't matter, not as Grenadier crouched before her as Raggedy Man went to the BEARs to loot. The avarice in his eyes was not complete technical avarice, she knew, she felt, as her plate carrier was unkindly ripped off of her by knife.

She felt his hand snake beneath her combat shirt.

His gaze fell on her chest, not her face, for if he had been looking, he would've seen her, blood stained, wide eyed, and then pulling the arm that had been trying to cop a feel to bring him closer to her. She did so, yanking him down and over herself as she found his pistol holster and ripped it out of him. Everyone hadn't noticed until he yelped his last, and she had been half deaf as she brought the pistol up to the side of his head next to hers and pulled the trigger.

His body collapsed onto hers, but it was no matter as adrenaline again kept her alive, and she pivoted her head against the floor up, looking upside down at raggedy man.

Thank God that the Glock she held was loaded, thank God it was cocked, thank God it was full.

Damn the devil she lived, for between fucking or fighting, she chose to fight.

Raggedy might've been able to do something but his hands had been deep in a BEAR's pack. The shot went through between his eyes as he collapsed, bringing her gun to the turned back of Drum Mag as he tried to turn around, but three rounds found his lungs and he was on his back on top of Killa choking on himself.

She felt Grenadier pulse on top of her, but it was not him, it was gunshots from Leader, who had brought his gun around but to no avail as a meat shield saved her, five rounds impacting around his upper torso and neck that sent him to the ground.

It was Marksman, the last, that had failed them all. He had thought the shots were coming from outside, and so Kennedy found her shot true: right in the back of his head.

She again slid out from another body, her shotgun still nearby as scrambled for it, not one bit of her untouched by the events of the day, the shells on the floor where she left them.

She was not the only one crawling: Leader had been trying to leave, and he had, making his way out of one of the wide openings of Mantis. His death, his doom, was spelled in the sound of shells being loaded and a woman finding her feet.

She walked with a limp, behind him, and he did not turn as if not recognizing her would be enough. But eventually her footsteps came too close. This was it.

He backpedaled, dragging himself along until he could no longer, rolling onto his back finally with the skylights of the center of ULTRA above, propped up by his pack. His arms raised to his side, up and down once before they limply hit the floor, his chest and clavicle were splotchy with red that he struggled to speak through, bubbling up. "Alright. Alright." He said, as if she had wanted him to agree. So, he did, closing his eyes. His last sight was of a woman, drenched in blood both of hers and others.

She raised her shotgun and the spread had been packed so tightly it blew dinner plate holes in him as if he had been wax. The first shot revealed his heart, and the second shot took out his head. He had been dead then, before the shotgun stopped echoing.

Her body alone controlled her. She was not Kennedy, just an animal trying to survive. Her kit and carrier had been torn out of her when she lay presumably dead, but it meant her medical supplies were easy access. Bandages, syringes, splints. She did not care how much this would cost her to replenish. She did not care about anything, but her body told her to do what it needed to do to survive, to stay awake. More syringes, more bandages, more fluids, pumped into her as her mind was kept awake only by medicine alone. It helped, being in a makeshift medical center already.

A half-hour passed. Those Scavs that might've survived had long since run away. They'd be back. They'd always come back like winter: unstoppable, and a part of nature.

Why was she here again? A task. Yes. A task.

Killa had used a key on him to secure the EMERCOM unit.

As her legs shakily made his way back to him, she had kicked over Drum Mag, whose eyes were so wide that he had truly been surprised, perhaps not the fact he had been shot, but maybe that he was going to die.

Life didn't flash before her eyes. She didn't want to see what could've been, continued, after all. She would've been okay with the nothingness forever.

Drum Mag was kicked over, and Killa was uncovered.

He lives.

It doesn't surprise her that if she survived, he could. His armor speckled like alien landscapes with her effect, and what did hit flesh he had was a strong man of muscle and sinew. He bled, and she knew why he was always reported KIA. Half of his gear removed but he still lives on himself. The gentle rise and fall of himself still a testament to the beast of a man he is. She sits besides him shakily, her bleeding, her loss of herself stymied for now. How she was going to make it back to Tarkov she doesn't know, but at least her destination would be the hospital with Therapist.

He is not in any mind to speak, and he might very well be alive in body alone, but he persists, and Kennedy finds no mind to bother her as she pats down his pockets

A TERRAGROUP Keycard, Red, is in her hand, and she cares not for it as it collapses to the ground blood stained. Pistol mags, grenade pins- she finds what she's looking for deep in his magazine rig.

A single, silver key.

She had what she needed, but she did not move, looking down upon him as he lived and breathed and did her no more harm than perhaps she would do to him, or rather, did to him. They were doing what they were put there to do, but powers they couldn't understand. Destiny, fate, need, wants. What was his why, she wondered. Now here she was the one asking, but like before they did not speak in words.

On a whim she crawled back over to her pack and remaining medical supplies, and in her hands, her syringe case. Back to him.

Different PMCs see the world in money and utility, forgetting life itself. Her nihilism is different than money, of usage, and most people she knows nowadays would think this a waste. But she does it anyway:

It's the purple one that goes into Killa first, the hiss of a needle being injected into him whining, and then ending as she tossed it away. It leaves the next one: green. Same hole.

What good it'll do to him she doesn't know or care, but it's enough to assuage her soul, if not her curiosity.

An hour later, she figures it's time to leave. She's as good as she can be, and the adrenaline and the medicine won't last that long. She needs to be back in Tarkov at least by sundown, and from there she can ask for support from those who would bother. Maybe the Kurd.

She has her pickings of new gear. Spiritus. Haley Strategic. London Bridge. BNTI. FAST. But she isn't of mind to really consider and choose as she chooses what gear seems the most intact and places it on her. New plate carrier. New helmet. Raggedy had an interesting machete to him, and Drum Mag's pistol was gold. She took them, but her shotgun remained. The rest of her remained, and she limped out to EMERCOM leaving Killa to himself.

The song goes on, and it follows her out.

I'll be happy to lose you

Don't see any obstacles, although there is one

When you left

Why did it feel so good, anguish?

I'll be happy to lose you

Don't see any obstacles, although there is one

When you left

Why did it feel so good, anguish?

The medical facility is untouched, and she walks with a limp to there, shotgun dragging across the floor as her boots leave prints of herself to it, but when she enters it is sterile. She doesn't even bother to clear it. It's still dark, and her eyes sting. She checks the time and it's 4PM. Tarkov has late sundown. She can make it home yet, but not without getting what she came here to get, the identity of which was anyone's guess.

But she looked, slowly, until the low hum of a running appliance drew her to a tabletop fridge instead. Some power must've still run, and her it led into a stainless steel box she had opened carefully. The mark of Tarkov's general hospital was inked onto a small palette of shrink wrapped bottles, white fluid within.

She had seen TERRALAB's mystery chemicals before, their gene experiments sloshing around in vials and containers. This was different, however.

Attached to the bottles had been a small can, also marked with the same.

She would've peered into it, but another sound, another noise.

She closed the fridge, and her new golden pistol was up and out. The sound was coming from inside the EMERCOM unit. Though it was a sound unfamiliar to her. It was a sound that was not dangerous, but odd, a curiosity. She walked, her metal steps gentle as she approached a large plastic object sitting atop a table.

Horrible things were born of Tarkov. She had seen men and women blown apart to pieces or die slowly because of the lack of medical supplies. Starvation, depravity. Mankind at its worst.

The most horrible thing Kennedy had encountered in Tarkov then was not what she found, but everything surrounding it.

The sound was babbling.

It came from a baby.

There it had been, sleeping away despite the war outside, thumb sucked like a missing pacifier, dressed in a onesie. It was a novelty onesie, one that spoke of Olympic ambition for a man she very much had been very acquainted with recently.

So, Kennedy stood there before them.

A second, a minute, hours, days, months or years. She could've stood there for the rest of her life, but it could not prepare her for when they opened their eyes and looked at her.

A/N: A story written on a whim.