Yuri was going to kill me for this. I smiled at that thought, as I crept through the dark hall of the old cinema.
It was still quite early, but the wooden planks nailed over the open windows, blocked out most of the sun light, leaving large areas of shadow. Spears of mottled, white light streamed in from the gaps around the planks. They were broken momentarily as a human-shaped shadow flickered across them. I readied a throwing knife, listening hard, trying to hear the guy's foot falls.
But all I could hear was the stupid jingle of whatever they were watching on the big screen, somewhere ahead. It was hard to pinpoint exactly where, as the racket echoed terribly through the mostly empty building. Whatever it was, was so loud that the idiots wouldn't be able to hear me sneaking up on them if they tried. Indeed, I could hear the damned gunfire from outside as I approached. I actually thought that there was a fight happening inside, until I realized what was going on. So I decided to use it to my advantage. It was a wonder the damned fools didn't bring every mutant in the place, down on themselves. They had gotten far too comfortable here, too complacent and as I was about to remind them, complacency kills.
I moved swiftly to the end of the long hall that was littered with debris and broken chairs. I hugged the peeling wall, coming to where the hallway opened out into the large foyer. I paused at the corner and felt, rather than heard, the presence of the roaming guard.
At least they have enough brains to post watches.
I could just hear the scrape of the man's boots against the concrete floor, above the din of the movie. He was very close. I cautiously peeked around the corner, careful to stay in the shadows.
He suddenly swore, making me withdraw quickly, in case he spotted me.
"Damn rats!" He yelled in disgust.
The rodent squealed, as he kicked it across the floor. It skidded along in front of me and hit the wall, before skittering away in panic. I peered around at the guard again, as the rat disappeared down the passage I had just come. The jerk was standing with his back to me, clearly visible in the orange glow of the fire that burned within a metal drum in the centre of the room. Such an easy target. I wouldn't even need to throw my knife.
I prowled away from the wall, silent as a whisper. He didn't even move as I swiped the blade of my knife across his throat. He stood there for a few seconds, paralyzed in shock, then I felt him start to drop. I grabbed his hefty bulk and slowly lowered his body to the floor, as to not make a sound. Although, I doubt anyone would have heard.
I dragged him by an arm around the corner, into the shadows to hide him from plain view, not bothering with the smear of blood he left behind. Whatever.
I took a moment to consider my surroundings. The foyer was large and open. There was only one other guy in the room, and he was fast asleep on a lounge chair behind a large stack of bricks and a....rusty anchor? Who knows how they managed to get that there. It was massive.
Besides the bricks and couch, the space was empty, and its only source of light was the fire pit in the middle of the room, as all the windows here were boarded up as well. The fire cast flickering light over the concrete columns and ornate balustrades of the second floor. I could see several doorways on the ground floor, leading into other rooms that I would explore later, and I imagined it would be the same upstairs.
Yes, this would do nicely as a base camp. So much space. It really was going to waste with these idiots.
I glanced up at the two rusted chandeliers, hanging from the tiled ceiling. They were big, ugly, circular hunks of metal that held no lights; completely useless. I decided that I really didn’t like them and made a note that they would have to go when we took over.
I then noticed another bandit seated at a desk on the second floor, staring at something straight ahead of him. He wasn't paying attention to me right now, but likely would if I just wandered out into the light below him. So, I left the sleeping bandit be for now and edged forward until I reached a stair case.
The noise of the movie was louder now, damn near deafening. Next door was the screening room I guessed, and peering through a side door confirmed it. I paused long enough to see what they were watching. It was some black and white film that I had no interest in, so I turned away and continued up the stairs. The racket was really getting on my nerves.
At the top of the stairs, I found a dark, narrow side passage. I crouched low at the corner of the door, the shadow concealing me. There was a guy standing at an old screen projector, back lit by the blinding light that it shot into the theatre below. Above the din of the movie, I could hear one of the bandits yelling complaints about having already watched this movie and that he would come up there and kick the guy's ass if he didn't change it immediately.
I chuckled quietly to myself, then turned my amusement on the projector guy and watched as his face visibly paled. He stammered that he would run and fetch a new movie.
I watched him bolt from view and chuckled again. Time to have some fun.
The corridor was now empty, so I moved towards the projector, staying low. When I reached the device, I glanced up and grinned as I ejected the tape.
"Hey!” Came an immediate shout of displeasure. “You had better be putting that other movie on, Sasha,”
I stifled a laugh, throwing the tape aside.
"Hey you in there! Put the damn movie on now! I'll come in there and ram it somewhere!"
I almost laughed out loud, but managed to catch myself. I moved to the other end of the passage and walked out into the adjoining hallway, as the bandit continued to hurl insults at an abandoned projector.
There were two more guards on the way to the bandit sitting at the desk upstairs. One was wandering around aimlessly and the other, asleep on a wooden chair in a corridor. Two more throwing knives made short work of them.
I sighed, as I pulled my knife from the dead bandit. The lack of challenge in the stealth approach, always bored me and my patience was growing thin. I wiped the blood off the knife blade on to the bandit's jacket and searched him for spare ammo, before moving off towards the bandit at the desk.
I paused, as I peeked around the corner at him. His desk was littered with empty alcohol bottles and paper, and had an old tuna tin with a lit stub of candle sitting on one corner.
Oh, good, a drunk. He certainly won't be quick to respond.
I grinned. Time to have some fun.
He was still staring at the wall and I could now see what it was he was looking at. It was a series of large, brightly coloured pin ups of size eight models in bikinis, photographed in suggestive poses. I rolled my eyes. Not even the nuclear apocalypse could erase man's filthy behaviours.
I skulked away from the wall, slipping into the shadow beyond the reach of the tiny candle, stepping closer, without so much as a whisper. Even though I hated stealth, it had it's uses and I was very good at it. He had no idea I was there.
I stood there for several seconds waiting for it to dawn on him, but the inebriated oaf wouldn’t take his eyes away from the whores on the wall.
I sighed and leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "You know those tramps up there are probably dead, right?"
The brute nearly jumped a foot in the air, knocking some bottles off the table to smash on the floor. Shards of glass fell around my feet. I heard the man in the foyer below stir.
"Now look what you've done. You know, you really should pay more attention. You never know when someone is going to sneak up on you. Those whores aren't going to save your ass."
"Boris?"came an enquiring voice from below.
"Boris is busy," I said, casually striding over to the balustrade, looking down on him.
"Ah...who... are you?" His voice was suspicious, but tainted by a hint of interest.
Ah, men. So damn predictable. You wave a nice, feminine body in their face and they turn to mush. All logic flies out the window. If I had been a man, I'd have been attacked on sight.
"Me?” I said in my most alluring voice. “Oh, well. I'm taking over management here,"
"Huh?” The half wit below questioned.
They never expected this, because I was likely the only woman game enough to wander around out here, away from the safety of the settlement over at the Port. At least I hadn't seen any others. These guys would be craving a woman’s company. Of course, I know I'm sexy as hell. I wear this leather armour better than anyone and these fools confirmed it. The idiots were almost drooling. I still thought they were disgusting creatures and I'd have never let them near me, but messing with them was far too much fun.
"Let me put it this way," suddenly serious, I drew my knife and before Boris could react, slashed open his throat. I let him fall.
His warm, sticky blood poured over my hand, as meathead downstairs, finally got himself together. He grabbed his Kalashnikov and sprayed the wall above me with bullets. I ducked behind the desk, pulling my own Kalash from where it hung from my shoulder on its strap. I waited until the bandit paused to reload, then raised the reflex sight to my eye and squeezed off two rounds when his head appeared again.
He took both rounds square in the face. Blood exploded onto the floor, and spattered a near by column, letting everyone else know I was there.
Four more of his buddies decided to join the fight at that moment, bursting into the large room from various directions.
Bring it on.
I was certain none of them actually knew where I was, as I crouched in the shadows by the desk. With a grin, I grabbed one of the half full moonshine bottles from the desk, stuffing a crumpled sheet of paper into the liquid, to act as a wick. I lit the end with the tuna tin candle, inverted the bottle so that the paper was soaked in alcohol, then hurled the Molotov over the balustrade. It erupted into a small fireball upon impact with the floor, making the new comers scatter. I slipped away from the desk, as they dove for cover. One of them fired at me, but I quickly finished him off with a few controlled shots. I stood up again to line up a new target when I noticed a Watchman trot in from an open door, immediately darting after one of the bandits.
I had to admit that I felt kind of sorry for the guy. He was so focused on me that he never even saw the beast coming, until it had him on the floor, ripping at him with its wicked claws. I picked off the last bandit as he tried to shoot the canine-like mutant.
Finally, the creature turned its ugly head towards me and I watched it disappear under the balcony. Coming for me next.
I hunkered down with my back to the balustrade, waiting for the inevitable skittering of claws on concrete. I didn't have to wait long.
The mutant reappeared on the far side of the room, where it paused to consider me. I was be no means a stranger to the monstrosities of the dead city, but there was no denying that this creature was an abomination. Half way between an ape and a dog, it had a short, slightly flat face, protruding eyes and pointed ears. It had a small patch of bristled fur on its head, but the rest of its body was covered in a grey, leathery skin. The whole thing reminded me of those goblin characters from the old fantasy stories people used to tell.
One lone Watchman would be no problem for me, but I knew enough about them to know they hunted in packs. This one might be a scout and could call the rest at any time. Instead of being mindless beasts like most of the mutants of the wastelands, they knew how to adapt to their situations and use their cunning to their advantage. I was not at all surprised to see this one, taking a moment to check me out. It flicked its stubby tail as it studied me. The way it crouched was very human like, almost mirroring my own posture. I kept my reflex sight trained on the creature. It lowered its hands onto the floor and walked forward as one would expect a dog to do. But nothing about how it moved was even remotely the same as an ordinary canine. It was more like an adult human wandering around on all fours. The whole effect was disconcerting.
I watched the beast slowly move into the light, cautiously sniffing the air. As it turned its head, I noticed the leather strap around its stout neck. I lowered my Kalash and smiled. "Seraph!" I exclaimed.
The Watchman grunted in acknowledgement and trotted up to me.
"Ah, you had me for a moment there, girl,"I said, scratching her behind a mangled ear. "That is why I put this collar on you after all. Don’t want to mistake you for one of your wild cousins, eh?” I relaxed my Kalash and stood up.
In truth, I wasn't actually sure if she was really a she, but without anything to contradict me, the term was as good as any other.
"Thank you for helping. You can make a feast of those idiots,"
As if she wouldn't anyway.
I brushed some concrete dust off my trousers and glanced around. The building was now completely silent and still. No bandits left here. I would have a quick look through the upstairs rooms then return to the swamp to report my success, and hopefully convince Yuri to move a detachment here to make sure no one else tried to move in. I would need to use my powers of persuasion on him.
I left Seraph to eat her share of the dead bandits while I explored. I moved through the upstairs rooms, scavenging what useful supplies I could.
It was far brighter upstairs, as none of the windows were covered and there were some large, quite beautiful picture windows that flooded the hallway with afternoon light. There wasn't really much of interest, just some empty rooms with dusty furniture. Until, about half way down the hallway, I came to a broken window at the front of the building, overlooking the entrance courtyard that was enclosed on three sides. Just outside the window, I noticed a wooden plank connecting to another open window around the corner. I climbed out and carefully balanced on the plank, ducking in through the window.
I emerged into what appeared to be a music room, with old, prewar music memorabilia pinned to the crumbling walls. There were a variety of musical instruments lying abandoned around the small room, which caught my interest. Immediately to my left was a beautiful grand piano of mahogany wood and an old chair with pin striped cushions. I ran my fingers over the piano's ivory keys and peered at the worn accordion that sat on top. I remembered fondly my childhood music lessons in my Mother’s music room, which was similar to this one. If it wasn’t for the thick blanket of twenty year old dust and desolate appearance, it could have been the same room.
I would sit for hours watching her play her violin, then try to mimic her movements with the bow of my own instrument. After many hours of horrific screeching, that Mother stoically sat through, I actually became quite good. At least in a childish way.
I suddenly felt an unexpected pang of sadness at the thought that it could never be like that again. That my Mother and all of my other family were lost forever. Pity that Yuri was all I had left now.
I shook my head. I had found a new family. I told myself that I was to never dwell on any of that, if I was to cope with such things. So, I distracted myself with searching the room, pushing the past to the back of my mind, where it should stay.
On the wall by the piano, some dusty guitars were hanging from a row of hooks. Some had fallen off and were piled on the floor beside a worn wood desk. There was an abandoned Kalash there, just sitting on the desk. What an odd thing to find in such a place? Someone had obviously made a good observation post for themselves here and left their gun behind. I could see the appeal. Looking right out over the main entry into the building, they could see anyone who approached. Not good enough to stop me though, especially when there were so many covert ways one could gain access. The sewers had been a particularly effective entrance.
I stripped the weapon for parts, stashing them in my pack. Then I continued looking about the little room. The only door in to the room had been barricaded from this side, so no getting out that way. There was nothing else of interest here, but an empty notice board and a tall bookcase with some music books. So I turned back towards the window.
Just as I was leaving, something in a dark corner caught my eye. I stopped, and saw it was a small violin case, worn from the rough years, but intact, with the violin still inside. The instrument looked barely touched. Its panels gleamed and the strings looked new. I guessed it hadn't been taken out for a long while before the bombs fell. None of those idiots would appreciate it, that much was certain, especially now they were dead. It would be a waste not to use it, so I strapped it to my pack. It would be good to continue learning to play it.
Judging by the sickening crunch of bones from downstairs, as I returned, Seraph was still enjoying her meal. It would always turn my stomach, but I did choose to have a Watchman as a pet. Despite her being an immensely useful companion, I would never change my opinion that her entire species was a crime against nature and by all rights shouldn't even exist. Really, I should be disgusted by the creature, like Yuri kept reminding me, but I kind of liked the thought of having a Watchman at my command. Not to mention how everyone back at the swamp looked at me when she was with me. They all thought I was mad. I definitely liked that. It meant no one would cause me trouble.
Seraph glanced up as I trudged down the stairs, but quickly returned to her macabre meal with disregard as I headed towards the door open to the front courtyard. She would find me on her own. Watchmen were a lot of things, but they were some of the best trackers in the business. Seraph was definitely that.
Outside, the bright sunlight assaulted my eyes, blinding me for several moments as they adjusted from the gloom of the cinema. Finally, I was able to take in the familiar surroundings. Knee high grass, swept down the rise past rusted hulls of vehicles, and into the distance. Next to the flooded street, the remains of a high rise apartment block foreshadowed the city of ruins that stretched out seemingly forever.
I started down the hill, where a path had been worn in the grass by the bandits. I caught the glint of the sun off the surface of the floodwater a few hundred metres ahead. I still remember how the surge from the devastating tsunami that followed in the wake of the bombs, flattened this once great city. I was barely ten when it hit. Sirens blared as the bombs lit up the horizon in blinding light, one by one. To my child’s eyes, they were beautiful. Of course I had no idea what they were. They were just strange, pretty lights in the sky that kept growing and spreading upwards and outwards, with rings of cloud encircling them.
Then, I recalled as I trudged on, those pretty lights became a nightmare. Those rings of cloud were radioactive and would reach the city within minutes, and destroy electronics, communications, and power, and dust everything they touched in radiation. Pockets of it still existed twenty years later, and I expected it would last another twenty or more.
It was the last time I saw Mum. I was wrenched from her side by the surging crowd as we all tried to escape what was coming. Somehow, Yuri, nearly fifteen years older than I, found me and pulled me into a concrete building just before the fallout reached us. He saved both us from receiving a fatal dose of radiation.
There we found a group of other people who had the same idea, some of which were still with us twenty years later as trusted members of our clan.
Only a few minutes after the first bombs fell, the ocean rose all around the city, like a raging river around rocks. The water swallowed buildings, gardens, parks and people. Hundreds of thousands of people, gone in a few moments. As the water crashed all around, our small group were forced to flee from our shelter to avoid drowning. I will never forget the sight we emerged to. Our Vladivostok, was a city underwater, twisted and broken. Never to be the same again.
I didn’t know whether it was the radiation or the flood that took Mum from us, and I would never know. All I knew, was that she wasn’t there anymore. What did it matter now anyway? She was gone, and so was that world. Those pleasant years before the war, spent in childish fantasy, seemed so far away, like they were just a dream I had once.
Those devastating floodwaters would never receded, leaving Vladivostok with a completely new waterline. The wide streets, restaurants, cafes and stores of my childhood, were now flooded forever, or lost entirely under feet of stinking, brackish water.
I found myself returning to the dark place of memories and a life long gone.
Damn it Natasha, get a grip. Bandits don't feel.
That was a long time ago. A lifetime away.
I shook off my reverie just as Seraph trotted up beside me. "Oh, you’re done, huh?" I asked her, as I continued to the water's edge to get my barge.
Most travel nowadays was done by boat, as more than half the city had been transformed into something akin to a Russian Venice. I scolwed at my junk heap. It was basically a raft of scavenged metal, spot welded together over some pontoons, with an outboard motor slapped on. It was hideous, slow and noisy, and it didn't have much in the way of protection from the predators that lurked in the water. So I had to always be prepared for trouble.
With my, Kalash, shotgun and knives, I was more than prepared. Plus, I had a bad-ass Watchman on my side. Not much could match those teeth. She gave a nasty bite infused with all manner of infections.
This I knew well. She had bitten me once during training. I was sick for days and thought I would lose my hand from the infection that followed and maybe even died of blood poisoning, if our scouts hadn't come across the antibiotics at the pharmacy. The scar would be there on my left arm forever, as a reminder.
I cautiously surveyed those teeth, jagged and protruding, as I stepped onto my junk heap to start the motor. I really had to find a better boat. Maybe I could steal one from Tom Cat's goons. I rolled the thought around in my head, and it became more palatable with each pull of the start cord that failed to fire the motor.
Piece of junk.
I stopped to catch my breath, scowling at the wretched thing, just as the surrounding buildings reverberated with the crack of semi-automatic gun fire. I paused, listening, trying to hear where it was coming from. I noticed Seraph cock her head, listening as well.
Another burst boomed through the cool air. "I wonder what that's about," I asked aloud, looking at the Watchman. "We need higher ground," I hefted my Kalash and stepped off the barge. "Let's go have a look, shall we?"
Author Notes: I love the Metro games, and love fan fiction.This story is based on events of the video game, Metro Exodus-more specifically, the downloadable mission that follows after the end of the main game, about the American, Sam, as he tries to find a way back home to America.
Natasha is an original character, and her story is happening around the events of this mission. Her story overlaps with these events and some of which I am writing about happened in the game, but I am telling them slightly differently, to accommodate for Natasha's point of view. I hope you like it.