Chapter 4 Manticore encounter

I headed out, my two greenhorns in tow. Ivstan's mission was to investigate a secret laboratory that had been researching power jewels. Those were a rare jewel that appeared in lightning glitches. They appeared to be an an excellent battacitor - a capacitor that could be used like a battery to store large amounts of electricity in a small package.

The lab had fallen out of contact after a particularly intense plasma storm two weeks ago. Ivstan 's mission was to go to the laboratory , near the KNPP and investigate what happened.

I wasn't going to tell the boys my mission - unless it became absolutely necessary, but at the very worst, I might need a meatshield or two.

Coldblooded?

Yes.

But hell.

These two tenderfeet would be dead meat soon if someone didn't educate them soon.

They might as well die in service to the Rodina.

\\

The 1986 Zone of Alienation was thirty kilometers. The 2012 KEZ was a hundred kilometers. Not all that far, in terms of distance, especially to an infantryman.

But in the environment of the KEZ, those hundred kilometers could be measured in lifetimes.

The first twenty kilometers was dangerous, but not terrifying to a frequent visitor like Ivstan. But the next forty was a purgatory of ever-increasing and the last forty was hell on Earth, a never-ending battle of survival.

We were laying prone on a boulder, overlooking a marshy meadow. A pack of seven hounds were attacking a boar. It was a fierce battle. One hound was down and not moving. Two others were injured, limping and circling the beast, but not attacking. Three were attacking, nipping at it to keep it in the marsh.. while another leapt at it's throat.

"Wait for the battle to be over." I cautioned. " we'll go after the survivors. "

Normally, I would have circled around, but these boys were in it for the money.

The boar went down in the mud and a Hound rushed in and tore it's throat out. The beast moaned, tried to struggle to it's feet, but the wound was mortal. It rolled over and breathed its last.

The hounds sat up and left in our a triumphant howl..

The rifles cracked and two hounds fell dead. The other howled in agony and snapped at it's flanks. I killed the remaining Hound, while the boys shot the wounded ones.

The boys started to get up, but I waved them down. Better to wait and make sure the beasts were dead. Also, other beasts might come to check out the noise.

Since these things came from a different world, they weren't afraid of gunshots. Apparently, there was nothing like humans to hunt them in their own world.

Nothing moved but the grasses in the wind. We waited a few minutes then got up to get the Jewels.

Jewels were harvested from the chest of Beasts, short for "trans dimensional beasts"

I split open the chest of the boar and got a " lifter" a midrange gravity stone Those are popular, since they reduce gravity by about 10% in a two meter radius.

The FSB had started requiring Ivstan to turn in any jewels he gathered instead of selling them on the market. He normally sold them inside the KEZ, even though he got a lower price, money was much easier to sneak out than jewels. He normally kept his good equipment at Sokolov's bunker, just up t road from the Miilitsiya post at the Entrance to the KEZ.

This time, I'd joined Ivstan ten kilometers into Zone, still in the crappy gear the equipment section issued him. I had no memory of why Ivstan had not re-supplied before coming deeper into the KEZ.

Ivan and Piotr came over. " We got four light stones and three thermostats. "

"Excellent. All low-level stones, but R5000 each"

the light stones emit light, kind of like an eternal glowstick. Thermostats will maintain a 17 Celsius environment for a one meter radius, no matter how hot or cold the ambient temperature is.

" You guys keep the stones. I got a Lifter, and I'll keep that. " The Lifter was a popular stone, worth at R15,000, but I Could either carry more load or run faster- both important considerations in the KEZ.

We boogied on out of there, since scavengers would be after the mass of meat.

/

We moved on, but our progress was slow. The Perun detector was working fine. It was a good radiation detector, and it's ten inch screen showed both glitches and jewels. Not every dead monster was harvested for jewels, so there were loose jewels waiting for the taking.

I halted as I saw a jewel pop up on the screen. "Piotr!" I barked " two and half meters to your ten o'clock. ! "

" Da" he replied. The jewels in his ruck shone brightly on the screen as he walked to the jewel in the grass.

"Bojemoi!" He exclaimed. "A Storage! "

Storage was a great find. They were about the size of a hardcover book, and rated by capacity. A small one might be the same as a 40 liter pack, but despite the weight of what you put in, it only weighed about 800 grams.

We 're-arranged our loads.

"Heavy items, ammo, food, water - we put into storage" I advised them. "But keep some on you - we don't want to be in trouble if anything happens to the Storage Jewel. "

we rearranged the packs and wound up putting about half our loads in the Storage. The other nice thing about storage is it reduces the volume of your load as well as the weight.

I should have gone back for the things I stored at Sokolov''s , but then I wouldn't have run into these kids - and I was starting to feel like a Corporal with two earnest, if inexperienced recruits. They were fairly smart, but the death rate among rookies was pretty high.

I still hadn't told them about the mission. As far as they were concerned, we were doing a deep trip into the KEZ, hunting for valuable jewels. The further you went into the KEZ, the more valuable the Jewels, but also, the more dangerous the monsters.

\\

I heard a deep growl from the weeds. I looked over to see what looked like a gorilla with a beard. " Hit the dirt! " I barked. "Manticore!"

" Shit! " they both yelled. The KEZ beast called a "Manticore" is a little different from the old Persian legends.

I mean, it looks like a lion with an ape like head,, but the tail is more reminiscent of an alligator. Thankfully, it doesn't throw spikes, poisoned or otherwise.

Piotr tried to get back up.. "Stay down, dumbass!" I yelled, " I need to draw it's attention ! "

He gasped, but dropped back down.

The Manticore has a fearsome reputation, but I'd learned an easy trick to take it out.

Like the old legends, the beast has a tough hide . It will shrug off anything less than a 12.7 mm round, It can't fly, but it can make enormous leaps. Ivstan had learned it's weakness.

It will always land about 40 meters from the prey,,rise upon its hind legs, , roar, and run the rest of the way to the target.

I spun around, carefully keeping an eye on the beast.

"Yes!" I exclaimed, as it landed, reared up, and opened its mouth to roar.

With a characteristic "Plonk!" The Under barrel GP-34 launcher popped a VOG-25 fragmentation grenade into the Beast's gaping maw. A burst of smoke, a muffled "thump" , and the Manticore was dead before it hit the ground.

" Holy Mother of God. " breathed Ivan. " I thought we were dead. "

" Why do you think I told you to keep a grenade launcher equipped.? " I commented. " For megafauna like Manticore and land gators, the 40 mm is vest pocket artillery. "

"As soon as we can, you boys need launchers and ammo." I said pointedly . "From this point and further in, we start seeing Manticores, Extresances and Land gators. Keep at least five rifle grenades handy at all times."

" why did you have us lie down? " asked Piotr.

" Animal behavior . " I replied. " Manticores leap to confuse the prey. By getting it to concentrate on me, I ensured it would attack me. "

"Gutsy" murmured Ivan.

" Nope. " I replied. "They always roar and leap before they attack. You just need to have your timing right."

" What if if you don't have a rifle grenade? "

"Attack the mouth." I advised . "Hand grenade down the throat is a good desperation move, but I don't recommend it, myself." I shook my head. "First time I got attacked by one of those, I had a Saiga12 and slugs. Dumped 10 slugs into the mouth as fast as I could pull the trigger. "

We moved forward. My Detector told me the corpse held a jewel, but it couldn't identify it. Luckily, the fragments from the VOG-25 ripped open the thick, bullet-resistant hide. Cutting it open would have been a pluperfect bitch.

I reached inside and drew out another Storage jewel. " Excellent! " I proclaimed. I handed this one to Ivan. " You and Piotr, crossload and make sure you keep enough immediately action gear out to get through an emergency. "

"Eh" I shrugged. " You guys are wiry, but scrawny. We'll all lose muscle mass in the KEZ, but I'm in better shape than you boys. " I chuckled. "I'm going to take it slow and easy, but there are only two types of people in the KEZ...The quick and the dead. If you aren't quick, you will be dead."

Ivan scrunched up his face. "I'm beginning to wonder if this was a bad idea to come here."

I shrugged, " You're here now. Might as well make the best of it. " I wagged my finger at him. "If you're smart, you'll make a score, get some money and never come back."

" You've been here and gone out a bunch of times, right? "

" Who said I was smart, lad? " I laughed. " Throw the dice too many times, they are bound to come up snake-eyes. "

\

The KEZ became slow going. We had to detour around multiple fields of glitches, accumulations of radioactive waste, and toxic chemicals accumulations like land mines - only the detector can spot them before you trigger them.

My Perun detector stayed in my hand anytime we weren't under attack. Glitches normally occur in a group, but can also occur at random. Fields are easy to spot, because the glitches interact and make a crackling noise, as well as throwing sparks of energy. Individual glitches are like land mines.

Monsters propagate from the glitch fields as well, making it an even more high threat environment.

\\

I pointed at a decrepit warehouse ahead. It was a large metal shed, what Carl would call a "pole barn". A small of ozone, flashes of actions light, and a constant crackling belief the presence of electrical glitches.

" Okay guys" I said. " this is your first experience with electrical glitches, so stay back, watch and learn. " I instructed. I looked at my Perun. "Looks like about ten battacitor jewels in there."

" A veritable Klondike. " breathed Ivan.

Battacitor jewels were very popular - even small ones could hold megajoules of charge. The Navy was particularly interested. They had replaced the batteries in a diesel-electric submarine, and sent it from Murmansk to Havana, submerged, without having to run the engine.

Of course, Western Nations were even more interested in obtaining Battacitor jewels, since they were considered a strategic resource by the Rodina, which dictated my action.

"Keep your eyes open lads." I need to concentrate on not getting shocked. "

The Perun detector was a godsend. With lesser models, you need to keep a pocket full of stones to trigger glitches. Glitches are usually invisible unless triggered. Therefore smart Adventurers throw pebbles at suspected Glitches to trigger them first.

The screen on the Perun detector has a plot position indicator - kind of like a radar screen - which lets you see the Glitches and the Gems. This let me calculate a safe route in the field of densely packed Glitches.

Scientific researchers had measured the electrical glitches as several kilovolts and several kiloamps. Since 100 milliamps can kill, several million times that can get you fried to a crispy crunch

It took me several minutes to make my way into the maze. I stuffed the Battacitor Gems into my bag. As I began to trace my way out again, I heard Ivan's voice. He sounded scared.

"Sir, there's a bunch of Beasts coming. Looks like a Stampede."

In the KEZ, a "Stampede" is a phenomenon where a bunch of Beasts, often several varieties, will gather together and run for kilometers. Along the way, they will gather more Beasts, and attack any earth mammal in the way. It's unknown what causes a stampede, and it's unknown what causes them to fall apart.

All you can do is get to cover when you see one coming.

But we had the perfect cover. If I could bring my lads into the Glitch field with me, the Beasts could smell us, but destroy themselves trying to get at us.

" Scheisse! " I swore. "Okay guys , remember what I told you about throwing stones to detect Glitches?""

" Y-yes? " came the quavery reply.

"Get as close to the place I entered the field, and wait for me. I'm coming to get you."

I tried to move as fast as possible, but getting fried would help nobody.

I could see the boys as they advanced to the edge of the Glitch Field. Lightning flashed and roared as they probed the edge of the field.

A Boar charged into the shed. It charged at Ivan. He stepped aside at the last second, as we discussed, and inertia carried the Boar into the Glitch.

Lightning flashed as the Massive beast was incinerated to a pile of ashes.

I made my way to the boys and led them into the maze. " watch where I place my feet lads, and don't bump into the Glitches! " I yelled.

"Da" came the scared voices.

There were multiple Beasts in this bunch. Not just Boars, but Hounds and Zeecees. They relentlessly crashed against the Glitches, trying to get at us with a suicidal bloodlust.

All they accomplished was a pile of ashes along the periphery of the field. I reached an empty zone in the field. "Okay boys." I said. " There's enough room to lay down here. Stretch out, we're going to be here awhile. Watch for lucky ones that get through the field and be sure to kill them. "

It was good we had our respirators on. Not so much for toxic chemicals, but the stench of incinerated beasts.

My main gripes were;

A) being delayed here, and

B) the Glitches were incinerating the Gems, as well as the Beasts. Hundreds of thousands of Rubles were being incinerated before our very eyes.