Chapter 5 A walk in the Wild Side

When the Stampede ended, the sun was low on the horizon. I cursed. " Well, kids, we're going to need a place to hold up for the night. We can't make it to a bunker before dark. "

Most of the larger bunkers are primitive Inns and trading posts. There are many small places where you can hold up for safety, such as culvert and basements. I decided to explore this building. It appeared to have been a vehicle maintenance facility. Empty wooden crates and dead vehicles littered the floor.

This wasn't a bad place. The electrical glitches stretched across the front of the building , but there was a small corridor to access the back of the building.

Further in, I found another field of Glitches - this time , flame glitches. They gave off an intense heat, like a perpetual fire. Unless you had a Thermostat Gem out, you would burn to death if you brushed into one.

I found a muffler trench. It was basically, a small concrete pit in the floor. The idea was to drive the vehicle over the trench, and you could access the bottom of the vehicle. The bottom of this trench was dirt, but there was a metal plate on the dirt.

When I moved the plate, a hole was revealed with a ladder, down into the darkness. I took out my Light Gem and descended.. I looked around and hollered up the ladder, " C'mon down, boys. It's fine. "

It was a cozy little dugout, with some wooden bunks, a table, and some rickety chairs. Now that I thought about it, I'd heard of this place before. An old Muzhik had told me about this place. I hadn't realized it was this far west.

"All the comforts of home." Smiled Ivan.

" Da" agreed Piotr. "The orphanage was about like this, except not a dirt floor."

We set out our Fire Stones, and heated some cans of food. The cans were old, the labels illegible, but the food was...edible...I mused a bit. Why did I get sent here? This was like "Sword Art Online" or "Log Horizon" where the food was lousy. Why hadn't I been sent to "Restaurant to another World " or "Isekai Izakaya" ?

"Nandomoni" I muttered.

"Huh?"

"Nothing" I replied. "It's just a Japanese phrase for "It can't be helped".

" You know Japanese? " asked Piotr.

"A little," I said, " enough to get me in trouble. " I laughed. "Some day I'd like to go there."

I wasn't going to tell them I was born there in a previous life. They probably already thought I was crazy...no need to confirm it.

We set up a watch rotation and the boys went to sleep. Me?

I had a lot of things to ponder -what the hell had happened.?

I had personal concerns to wonder at. This seemed much too detailed to be a hallucination. Smell and taste were rarely part of dreams and hallucinations. That left Isekai.

In the manga and anime, the protagonist is usually a kid, middle school or high school age. I've always had a problem with that, since I've seen a lot of young folks die, due to lack of experience. Theoretical knowledge is good, but experiences count a lot in dangerous situations.

I - rather the gestalt personality of Carl and Ivstan - had lived a long time in dangerous circumstances. While nobody was unkillable, the two of us were pretty durable. On the other hand, I was pretty sure Ivstan had almost died yesterday. The Healing Gem could do almost miraculous things...but Ivstan had no memories of anything between his mission briefing and being in that meadow.

Had those men been bandits, Bushwacking a lone Adventurer? Or had it been tied to the mission?

This mission was simple...on paper. Hike to Laboratory A51, and see why they had stopped responding to their daily radio check. I mean, It might be as simple as a burnt tube - electronic systems didn't last long in the KEZ. Or, they may have been wiped out by some strange phenomena.

I started mentally identifying our equipment. We had plenty of ammo. All of us had AK-74s although I had an AK-74M variant, all in 5.45x39. I had the only GP-34 grenade launcher. The boys had RGD-5 fragmentation grenades as well as some flashbangs. All three of us had Storage gems, giving us 150 extra liters of carrying capacity.

The food situation was fair. Potable water is always a high consideration in the KEZ, due to contamination...that was the tall pole in the tent. Right now we were good, but sweating in these protective suits, five liters a day was a minimum.

I woke up Piotr for his shift, and dropped off to sleep. The nice thing about heater gems is that they keep you warm and comfortable. Both Ivstan and Carl were used to sleeping anytime, anywhere, in their clothes, so all was good.

In the morning, we got up, ate, cleaned up as best we could in a dry camp, and headed out.

One piece of luck had happened. It looked as though several Beast had gotten scorched by the Electrical Glitches, Then, they had retreated and died. We butchered the carcasses, just enough to harvest gems. We scored another Storage and some smaller Gems.

I took the Storage Gem and dropped my other storage inside it. Not that 800 grams is much weight, but the contents of the Inner Storage would not be visible to a Detector. When returning from a mission, Ivstan had to turn over any Gems or Materials. He was however, allowed to keep a Storage Gem - and the FSB Inspector didn't check the contents of it.

He generally turned in a reasonable store of Gems, especially Battacitors. He always kept what he called a "basic set" of Gems in his nested storage, as well as rations, armor, weapons and Chem gear.

Since he always turned in more Gems than any of the other Agents assigned to the KEZ, nobody in his chain of command suspected him of smuggling...and he was cautious of who he sold Black Market Gems to.

Being paranoid was part of the Russian mindset, after all is said and done.

The part of me that was Carl had no argument, just a wish that he'd had something so convenient in his world.