Prologue

"Hoi Wolf…hey Wolf, You there?"

"What is it Sidorovich?" Wolf replied back to his PDA.

"I have a mission for you. Interested?"

"Depends…how much?"

"Enough for you to last about a month."

"Ugh…"

Wolf let out a long sigh, he knew the greedy old fart got him by the nuts. This is probably because he was getting low on his wealth, only a few hundred hryvnias and a couple of kopiyoks won't make him survive the rest of the month, especially when Clumsy kept sucking up Wolf's money drier than a bloodsucker draining a whole chubby guy…like Sidorovich.

"What is it Sid?" Wolf asked, doubting the pay was going to be anything but adequate thanks to Sidorovich's insatiability.

"You in?"

"Yeah,"

"I knew I could count on you my boy! I need you to escort two new recruits by the name of Timur and Petro from the military outpost to the Bar, and don't worry I already bribed that slime army dog Major Kuznetsov."

"Hmmm…" Wolf thought.

"Sounds good?"

"Just two questions,"

"Shoot,"

"One, who's gonna take my post? These rookies are fucking useless without me. Second, are these new recruits gonna be one of us?"

"Ah, Fanatic will take your post, but in a moment Tolik's gonna come out of the bunker with some equipment you need to hand to these new recruits, and no, they're not gonna be you Loners, they're not here to scavenge anomalous rocks for petty little cash…" explained Sidorovich with a smidgen of slur.

"Why are they here then?" asked Wolf, getting a tad curious.

"Why don't you ask them, bloody hell I'm not in the mood to chit-chat, anyways just go wait for Tolik, Kay thanks bye."

Sidorovich ended the call, Wolf stuffed his PDA back into his right pocket and waited for Tolik.

"Tolik eh? Of all people…" Wolf pondered.

---

"I'm as clueless as you are," confessed Tolik, who knew nothing about these new 'recruits'.

Wolf became vaguely frustrated because of the fact he was escorting some un-loner stalkers, fearing that they would be some low-life criminal thugs who would before long join the bandits, or some stuck-up newbies for the Duty Faction. Tolik handed the veteran loner two bags contained two Fort-12Mk2s, twelve cartridges of 9x18mm Makarov ammo, some med kits, a binocular, three cans of tourist delights, and a bag of brand new bolts.

Wolf slung the two gears on both of his shoulders; it has been a long time since he did anything beyond Cordon. He remembered the days where he had expeditions deeper within the zone with other stalkers equivalent to his rank and along with his brother Hound. 'Ah good times,' he remembered, reminiscing back when his life in the zone when it was more adventurous.

"Let's go," invited Tolik.

"You're coming along?" Wolf asked astonishingly.

"I'm curious, just wondering how they look like or something."

"Just go back to sleep, the army will kill you just for sport." said Wolf in a matter-of-fact kind of tone.

"You can't scare me man, you suck at that…" Tolik knew even in his common sense that Sidorovich gained Wolf the rite of passage of not getting in harm's way but when there is going to be an extra stalker in the vicinity, it is Rambo time for the military. Oh well, curiosity kills the cat, Tolik thought, true to his words he was actually nosy for once, let alone being willingly enough to risk himself to the hands of the army just to know how these mysterious stalkers look like. Despite having an irrefutable probability of getting shot, something was telling him to go, was it that sign? The sign of a different dream, a good dream. Other than the usual haunting nightmares that kept taunting him, torturing him every time he laid his eyes to sleep. The two loners headed to the road uphill of the Rookie Camp, and went south opposite of the barrier where Major Kuznetsov is located. The army outpost was a few a kilometres to the camp and fortunately the armed forces were tolerably indolent to bother them.

The grassy fields of Cordon created a surging wave that can only be seen above, the crows cawed and circled on a fallen mutated boar having that stench aftermath. A pack of blind dogs rested beside the shaded trees, but failed to realize the presence of Wolf and Tolik. As the outpost appeared in the horizon, one lieutenant in the watchtower spotted the loners with his colossal binoculars.

"Stay put stalker, the package is coming," the lieutenant buzzed through Wolf's PDA.

For a short moment, the barrier outpost lifted and made way for an Ural-4320 off-road truck, and then the lieutenant came down from the watchtower and gave orders to the driver whilst pointing towards the horizon. The Ural was used in the Russian army as either for weapons cargo or troops transport, for this truck it was the former. The 6x6 vehicle traversed its way towards north of the faded boulevard. Wolf step aside beside the road and motioned Tolik to do the same, the motor vehicle stopped where Wolf is, the driver leaned towards his opened window.

"You with Sidorovich?" he asked, ignoring Tolik's presence

"Obviously," Wolf replied, thinking the question was silly.

What Wolf didn't notice is that the driver had a partner with him, the partner smiled at Wolf and shook the driver's hand, and he stepped out the car, looked under the truck and called out:

"Roksana, get off, time to walk,"

"Roksana? Isn't that a girl's name?" Wolf questioned and gave Tolik a confused look, Tolik just shrugged.

"Obviously," muttered the driver under his breath.

There were many grunts like 'oomph!' and 'uumph!' as she unclipped the hammock attached under the truck. Everyone except the driver looked under the vehicle, watching her struggled and fell on the road with a bump! She crawled out of the truck, covered with the vehicle's oily lubricant. She threw a nervous smile and wry chuckle while attempting to tidy herself from the mess. It was never common for a woman to be in the zone, but it was a sight for sore eyes. The two loners looked at each other and gazed back at the woman, her appearance was like any other Ukrainian woman in their 20s, with only one exception, her lush ginger hair were vivid in appearance, but it did not outmatch her lambent hazel eyes. Wolf didn't react as awestruck as Tolik did, his mouth laid wide open, scanning from her face to her slim overalls.

"You guys look like you've never seen a chick for ages…oh right." said the second acquaintance abruptly, break off Tolik's long-lasting awkward gaze.

Tolik then paid his attention to the other client, he was a chubby-looking man in his mid-30s with a proud and self-assured look on his face. His hair was roughed-up and black, with visible strands of grey hair standing amongst the black.

"The name's Yadviga, here they call me Hacky" he greeted, offering his hand, "and this is Roksana."

Tolik took his hand and introduced himself, "Tolik,"

Wolf on the other hand retorted, "Hold on a sec, what do you mean people call you Hacky here, have you been here before? And I was expecting more of a Petro and Timur to be here, not Gingy and Fatty."

"HAHAHAHAHAHA," Hacky burst out with a mocking laugh, "I totally get it! Come on brother, walk with me and I'll explain everything." he assured Wolf with an arm on his shoulder.

When the truck disappeared into the north and the two customers wore their gear, Tolik observed the two men, Wolf and Hacky, wandering off together while leaving the poor lady unattended. Tolik felt an urged to follow them, although he knew he wasn't getting rewarded for this but it is somehow going to be worth it. Tolik turned to Roksana, he donated her a smile, a hand and two encouraging words:

"Come on,"