Predator. Escape from Tarkov
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The novel based on the video game «Escape from Tarkov»
Drip. Drip. Drip. The drips of water fall into the saucepan, already almost a third full. I have no idea where this pipe comes from or where it’s going, but there’s water in it! Perfectly good water, in fact – clean, even. I send a silent prayer of thanks to the unknown bungler who’s to blame that the pipe joint leaks. If he’d been a decent welder, I’d have had to look elsewhere for my eau de vie… So, that’s one problem solved. Just one, and there are plenty more. And water’s not the most important of them. Top of the list is survival, then finding something to eat. Everything else comes after that.
Looking back, I remember those beautiful books with vivid covers showing burly, virile, for some reason always bare-chested men with one arm thrown around a sexy blonde (why were they always blondes, I wonder?), and the other holding a heavy machine gun. In the background, all sorts of bad guys would be flung around in unseemly poses. And everything always worked out alright for those heroes. They always found a stash of useful loot at just the right time, and their mandatory special forces training meant they always knew the right moves. And need I mention their ability to hit a gnat’s eye from 100 meters with any type of weapon? Of course not!
Yup, those literary heroes had it good. Shame that I’m not in a book, and not ex-spetsnaz (They’re never maimed or shellshocked either, mind). I don’t have the massive muscles, or ten years of action in difficult circumstances behind me.
I do know how to write computer programmes. In all honesty, I’m quite good at it. And I’ve always kept myself reasonably fit. I can walk, run and jump. For now, anyway. I went camping and hiking often enough, too, so I know how to make a fire. I even slept under fir trees in a sleeping bag a few times. I can probably manage to put up a tent, too. And I always cooked for myself, so there’s no need for a personal chef
I look at the saucepan – the water hasn’t even reached the halfway mark. Have I got time to run upstairs? No, I’d better wait until the water reaches the top. Then some goes into my water bottle, and the rest goes to filling up the bucket. Sadly, the bucket doesn’t fit under the pipe, otherwise I wouldn’t have to keep watch.
God alone knows when the water in the pipe will dry up. It may only last for a day or it could turn out that it keeps on dripping for ages. Nothing is predetermined, and nothing is clear. Nothing at all. Except for one thing – you and your life are of no interest to anyone. The stuff you carry with you, that has a value.
So, what do I have of value? My water bottle? It’s a good one, no doubt about it.Bought in a proper shop. It’s a solid can with a little cup for a lid, all wrapped in a good camouflage case.
A pocketknife. Also, basically, not bad. Bought in the same shop. I was an idiot – you should always stock up on things like that, and all I got was a water bottle and a knife. Back then I was trying to make a good impression on a new girl in the office. I took her out to dinner, and that’s where all my money went. What a prat! What was her name, by the way? Nina? Or Ninelle? I can’t even remember. Damn, it’s weird how fast such vivid memories fade…
* * *
How did it all begin? Kind of mundanely, really. For several days our office went nuts trying to fulfil an urgent order that came down from on high – straight from Terra Group headquarters. Couriers ran up and down the corridors, dragging folders of documents here and there. The bosses required us to perform an urgent inventory of warehouse stock and industrial equipment. And as the holding was not small, everyone’s nose went to the grindstone. If anyone should naively think that for this we had to crawl through workshops and warehouses with lists in our hands, then they’re absolutely wrong. What do they think digital inventory was invented for? Exactly for that purpose, although as it turned out, it couldn’t completely replace the heaps of papers and the running down corridors.
To speed up the working process, all our team along with the computers and documents was loaded up into buses and taken not just anywhere but to the C?te d’Azur Hotel. They’d rented out a whole block to accommodate us. True, I was a little concerned by the armed guards on the ground floor. At the doors and around the block, there were USEC staff on guard in full battle dress. What the hell? After a barrage of uncomprehending questions, it was explained to us that there had been several outbreaks of criminal activity in Tarkov, that the authorities were not coping, and that the management had no desire to risk the life and health of their valued personnel. So stay here and be happy! Plus, it’ll be easier to work here, with nothing and nobody to distract you from your labours. They even took our mobile phones away. Which came as no surprise to anyone – that was standard practice.
In the final week there was no time off at all. We were at our desks all day and all night. They might as well have put camp beds by our computers. Water, coffee, and all kinds of instant soups and porridge pots were laid on in large quantities. For female staff, they even kitted out special shower rooms with some kind of whirlpool baths. Anything to keep us working! And we did. We managed to finish the project on time. They even promised us some kind of special bonus. Not that they paid anyone at the time – don’t worry, it’ll be in your account. Later…
And when all the rush was over, they led us outside, put us back on the buses, and took us back under heavy guard. They dropped us off by our offices, and drove off suspiciously fast.
True, there was one strange moment. At first they didn’t want us, the IT and admin staff, to leave – said there was more work to do. But something didn’t quite work out, the head of security was called off elsewhere, and we took advantage of that to get on the accountants’ bus – nobody was holding them back. So, we left with them, and our minibus remained standing in front of the block.
We all got off the bus, took a look around, and headed straight for the pub. Actually, it was the caf? that we normally dashed to for lunch. True, some of us were desperate to get home, which was quite understandable. Masha, for example, had a cat, and how long had it gone unfed? But those of us who had nothing to feed or water at home but ourselves – we stayed at the caf?. We settled in, moved a few tables together, looked around, and only then did we sense that something wasn’t quite right. Nobody was rushing over to take our orders, which was definitely odd as we were longstanding and popular regulars. Not cheapskates, either – we always tipped well! But there wasn’t sight or sound of a waiter, just the noise of someone opening and closing cupboards in the kitchen.
“Hey, is anyone alive in here?” Pasha Galperin asked impatiently.
In response, a face was stuck out of the kitchen.
“What do you want?” asked its owner unceremoniously.
“We’d like to eat.”
“Well, go and eat then,” shrugged the man. “What’s the need to shout?”
“Well, where are the waiters?”
“Who the hell knows?” answered the owner of the face uncertainly, and then vanished.
“I beg your pardon? What on earth does that mean?”
We searched but found nothing. There were no staff on duty anywhere. In the service areas we saw a couple of guys who gave us not remotely friendly stares but, seeing the extent to which we outnumbered them, said nothing and then left the place, again suspiciously quickly. Again, weird. What’s going on here? The mood was ruined. Nobody wanted to hang out anymore. Everybody just wanted to get home.
After waiting patiently half an hour for a bus, I give up and call a taxi. Much good it does me. “Number not in service.” And not just one number, I tried three different cab firms. To hell with them. They say walking’s good for your health.
If we’re talking about physical health, that’s probably true. But during that walk home my mental health deteriorated significantly. The city was gripped by some kind of commotion. People where hurrying here and there, almost running. There’s something disturbing about a high-end SUV crammed to the gills with all sorts of household junk, and I saw several cars like that. Before my eyes, cars were hurriedly being loaded up with anything at hand. Thank god nobody was carrying pot plants or washing machines, else one might have thought a war had suddenly started, and everyone was rushing to evacuate the city. A stupid idea, where are you going to run to? There’s nowhere missiles can’t reach.
Anyway, here’s my house. It’s a modern building, but not too tall. Just six floors. They say it was some kind of cutting-edge project. There must be some reason I pay Tarbank all that money every month! The lift was working, so I got to the third floor no problem. I opened my front door, flopped onto the couch, and barked “I want a film!” My home electronics responded appropriately – I am a coder, after all. Something clicked in the system, and the TV came on. So, what’s been going on? My home system’s smart, high-end. It’ll give me the latest news straight away. And it did.
For a while I sat in a stupor, grinning dumbly for some reason. Although there was really absolutely nothing to smile about. My brain stubbornly refused to put two and two together. It just didn’t want to soberly process what I had seen.
It turns out that all that time we were sitting in the office performing the inventory, terrible things were happening in the city. For some reason, all the different law enforcement agencies were up in arms, coming down hard on the management of different companies and plants. We, by which I mean our holding, were far from being an exception, by the way. A huge number of the top managers of various firms “unexpectedly” went on the run – thankfully for them the current border is no Iron Curtain. Then hot on their heels everyone else started running, like they were all suffering from some colossal communal hangover.
It was one thing for the bosses. There’s always something to grab them for. Modern business… well, you know what it’s like. Not always easily differentiated from certain crimes. Tax evasion in particular. That there’s a real mess. No wonder everyone jokes that it’s safer to kill someone than not pay your taxes. After all, murder actually has to be proved, while the taxman can just go ahead and freeze your accounts without any evidence whatsoever – go and prove you’re innocent! So yes, I understand the bosses. Who’d want to swap their cosy bed for a bunk in a Pre-trial Detention Center? That’s what they call the county jail these days, isn’t it? Or is that somewhere else?
But the rest of them – where were they off to? If you’re an accountant, fair enough. You’ll be first to do time after the managers. But if you’re the average engineer or programmer, then what the hell are you running for? The police will mess around for a week or two, make a great show of locking someone up. What’s the problem? They’re not going to put everyone away, are they?
It seems not everyone shared my optimism. The same news report informed me that it had all ended up in sporadic shootouts. It came as a nasty shock. I had no idea that losing your shit was such an infectious condition. That was when the ordinary folk started running. Gunshots outside your window tend to ruin a good night’s sleep. They left in all sorts of ways – in their own cars on the highway, on ships out of the port, and there were even some special evacuation buses.
And so it had gone on up to the present day. The authorities, as always, were making announcements to calm the people. But from what was going on outside, it didn’t seem like anyone was listening.
Basically, it was all some kind of bad joke. The caf? had closed down. Or opened up, depending how you looked at it. Remembering the guys, we saw hanging round there, I doubt very much they had anything to do with the staff. They’d mentioned on the television that that sort had started looting caf?s and shops in these troubled times. Sounds about right
Hang about… What do I have in the way of food? An inspection of cupboards and the fridge brought little joy. A few instant soups, various grains (about three kilos altogether), a few tins, and couple of bottles of whiskey. That was the lot. I would normally get my meals delivered, and what I kept was only for snacks. A few attempts to order dinner ended up much as expected – nobody was taking calls. Something’s very wrong with the network. Grabbing a big bag, I head for the shop.
Well, aren’t I the clever one? The first shop I came to greeted me with locked doors and heavily shuttered windows. Never mind, there’s more than one shop. Ah, hell – the second one’s also closed. As I approach the third, I hear some kind of noise and shouting. I turn the corner.
Ba-bam! Here we go then! I drop to the ground (as they always tell you to on TV) and take a look around – what’s going on here?
Nothing good, that’s for sure. Out of the smashed shop window, two tough-looking guys in camouflage are dragging somebody’s cold dead body. Clearly, it’s a corpse, just look at the blood dripping on the tarmac. And those guys are definitely law enforcement. Look at the assault rifles, the identical camouflage, and the walkie-talkies. Time to move, I’d say.
“Stand where you are!”
Now, there’s an interesting question. If you’re trying to crawl away, how best to respond to that kind of order? Just in case, I decide to freeze on the spot and refrain from asking. Who knows if they share my sophisticated sense of humour?
I hear their footsteps approaching. They kick me in the side, but not hard.
“Get up and keep your hands where I can see them.”
I show them my open palms (and who’d have thought, they’re barely shaking), trying to move calmly.
“What’s in the bag?”
“It’s empty. I was going shopping. For food.”
They tug the bag from my shoulder and turn it inside out.
“Show us some ID.”
“I’ve only got my work pass with me.”
“Let’s see it.”
I pull the pass in its plastic cover out of my pocket.
“So… Karasev, Denis Viktorovich?”
“The photo looks like you. Where do you live?”
“Larch Alley, 5. Flat 15. On the third floor.”
My interrogator turns to his comrades, who have now finished searching the corpse and are slowly moving towards us.
“Hey, Commander! This guy’s a local. Lives near here. He came out to do some shopping, would you believe?”
“Are you shitting me or what?”
They surround me, go through my bag again, and pat down my pockets.
“Absolutely empty! Where do these morons come from?”
“Why, what’s happened?” I ask carefully.
“How did you get to be so naive?”
“We had a work crisis… Didn’t leave our desks for nearly a week. We even slept there.”
One of the new arrivals, judging by the attitude of the others towards him the commander himself, laughs.
“All hell’s broken loose!”
“Is it war?”
“Not yet, it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be. Nearly all the civilian population’s gone already. Today they closed all the exit routes.”
“But… What should I do? They have to get us out of here!”
“The powers that be have already moved everyone who needs moving. Come on, boys. We’ve still got two stops to make.”
They’ve lost interest in me. The officers returned my work pass and turned to go.
“Wait! What about the shop? Where can I get some food?”
“Vasya, give the poor sod something.”
A couple of tins are dropped at my feet. Without turning back, the assault rifles disappear around the corner.
It’s all a bit too much… They’ve just killed a guy! Surely the police should be here, examining everything, writing up a report of some sort. And what about me? What am I supposed to do? Am I witness? But then I didn’t really see anything.
Having picked up the tins, I step round the dead body and take a look through the smashed window. Not much left for me, then. Looks like the shelves have been stripped of everything. All that remains are a few bottles of mineral water lying here and there. Does that mean the dead guy refused to share something with the officers? And they killed him for it without a moment’s hesitation. Christ, it’s kind of scary just going into the shop. But I have to. According to those guys the situation’s the same everywhere.
I climb through the window, trying not to cut myself on the shards of broken glass. So, the bottles go into the bag. What else have we got? Hey, cigarettes! But then, I don’t smoke. Still, a sneaky little voice inside of me keeps saying “Go on, they’re free! And there’s no one around!”
My eyes search for the till as my hand reaches for my credit card. “Idiot! What are you thinking? What use is the bloody till when there’s a dead man in the doorway!” Well, yes. Really, what am I thinking? The card goes back in the wallet, the wallet back in the pocket, and a carton of cigarettes goes into the bag.
There’s no bread, nor are there any more tins. From the look of it, it’s not the first day they’ve been poking around in here – the place has been ransacked. They didn’t take the water, but I guess nobody’s worried about dieting right now. So, what about baby food? Well, if it’s alright for babies, then why not for adults. I can just see myself eating Baby Mum-mum for breakfast.
A loud bang from around the corner tore me from my daydream. Idiot, there’s serious shooting going on out there! Time to get moving.
As I run into my building, I remember what it is that’s been bothering me all this time. The insignia on the commander’s sleeve. During my brief military service, we had all sorts of visitors to battalion headquarters. Officers and other ranks, infantry and all the other more obscure branches. They wore all sorts of different emblems and badges, but one thing they all had in common was that none of them featured foreign letters. But that badge was waving right in front of my face, so I got a pretty good look at it, and the lettering on it was definitely not Russian. A shield with a sword turned with the hilt up, and the inscription BEAR. What branch of the Russian army does that come from? I doubt very much it refers to a police division, either. And as for all those special services agencies, what can you say? Seems unlikely they’d stand for it, either.
On my way home, I noticed that there were far fewer cars in the courtyards. Seems like while I was sitting on the couch watching the news, those with more brains than me were getting the hell out of Tarkov. Well, well, we’ll see. I can’t think of many places where they welcome refugees from distant climes. Or from anywhere, for that matter. This isn’t Europe, and even there they’ve been having trouble recently.
My own building greeted me with darkness in the entryway. Have they turned the power off? But wait, no, the lift’s working. What’s going on? By the light of the torch on my phone it becomes clear – someone’s unscrewed the bulbs. So that’s what we’ve come to, already stealing lightbulbs.
Back in the flat, I lock the door behind me and begin to lay out my spoils on the couch. I didn’t manage to get much, but thank the lord for what I did find. It’s enough to keep the wolf from the door for a day or two.
I put the kettle on the stove, then heard the mellifluous tones of the doorbell. Pasha Galperin’s face appeared on my monitor. What the hell was he here for?
“Door’s open!” I shouted, and the system, ever obedient to my command, unlocked the door.
“Greetings and salutations! Come on in, I just put the kettle on.”
“Now’s not the time. Did you hear they killed Misha?”
Our system administrator. My colleague. A good-natured goof in round glasses who looked a bit like John Lennon. A totally easy-going, excellent guy. Who could have a problem with him?
“You’re kidding…” I say uncertainly. “Wait, who told you?”
“Don’t you know what’s going on out there!” asks Pasha, his voice rising to a shriek.
I wasn’t expecting such an outburst of emotion, and couldn’t work out straight away how to answer.
“It’s chaos… Some guys with assault rifles shot a bloke right in front of me, and the police never showed!”
He starts to pace nervously round the flat. From what he’s saying, I gradually begin to understand that the situation is much worse than I assumed.
Chaos, or more accurately organized disorder, had already taken hold of the whole city. Shootouts on the streets. The police had vanished somewhere, and nobody was doing anything to stop these sudden skirmishes. It wasn’t at all clear who was fighting who. On his way to my place, Pasha had also been shot at, and only the speed of his car had saved him. He’d gone to see Frolov first, and found his corpse in the doorway. Someone had shot Misha several times in the chest, then finished him off on the floor with a shot to the head.
“I knelt down beside him, and suddenly I hear someone moving around inside. I legged it!”
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