Alright...I warned you it was kinda long...
Yuri pried open the sewer cover and surveyed his surroundings. What he saw was Red Square, but no one would recognize it any more. Most of the taller buildings, including the Kremlin, were now flowing glass pouring over their foundations, frozen in time. His geiger counter crackled and beeped as a gigantic metal spike slammed into the ground in front of him. He gasped under his gas mask and dropped under the lead manhole cover. He heard the gigantic spike-legs move off into the distance and popped his head back up from the manhole to pull up his backpack and rifle.
Scanning the area once more, Yuri heaved himself out of the manhole, pulling his equipment and trusty bag of bolts up to his shoulders. He headed down a side street, searching for a store likely to have a gift for his girlfriend Natasha. Jewelry was out of the question, the radiation on most of the metals would turn your DNA inside out.
At the end of an alley he came across an avenue packed with empty cars. The Kitai-Gorod lay across the other end of the square. Of course, Yuri couldn’t tell it was the Kitai-Gorod, as he’d never heard of it, and the signs on all the stores had long fallen off, more or less decaying in the bushes lining the building. He almost made the trek to the other end without a thought, when he noticed the beautiful and bright paint on the ancient cars. The glossy blacks and bright reds stood out in the orange radioactive haze. He scooped a handful of bolts out of his satchel and tossed them into the street. They crackled and fizzed, then caked over with rust instantaneously. “Damn” he swore to himself. Shortly afterwards his geiger counter started to crackle. Yuri stepped away, beginning a search for another route, believing the radiation to be coming from the mess of cars. In taking a moment to contemplate a way around the irradiated cars, he missed the first few thuds of an incoming strider. By the time he realized this, it was too late and the car nearest him exploded as it was impaled by a strider. He ducked just in time to dodge the flying shrapnel. The strider was gone in an instant, searching for hidden looters, but the danger wasn’t. Stalkers would soon follow the patrol.
Yuri scrambled to his feet, slinging the rifle over his shoulder and running the same way he came. After a few twists and turns he stopped right in his tracks. A Stalker stood at the end of the alleyway. The bio-mechanical being was rounding up the bodies of his fellow Foragers, to be turned into more melds of flesh and alien metals. Yuri unslung his rifle and aimed down the scope, placing the faceless head in his sights. The smooth silver plates apparently bubbling up from burnt skin sickened him, as well as the sharp spikes of rusty metal, protruding like broken bones. His geiger counter sensed the stalker’s radiation and let out a series of loud clicks. The stalker dropped the dead Foragers and reared back, giving out a ear-splitting screech in recognition of the interloper. Yuri took his opportunity and placed a slug in its head. The stalker brought its head back to bear, missing a good half of its skull, charging at Yuri. He stepped off to the side, bringing the butt of his gun down on it’s jaw. The stalker lay in a crumpled heap, its misshapen head resting on the wall of the alley. As Yuri nudged it with his rifle, it leaped at his face, screeching. The reactive metals of the stalker’s claws almost nicked Yuri’s gas mask, but the stalker left itself overstretched, and with his gun in the perfect position, Yuri unloaded a burst of lead into its chest. The stalkers momentum left it clinging to Yuri lifelessly. He pushed it off of him with disgust and shot it a few more times for good measure. Yuri then leaned up against the wall, giving himself a moments rest from the constant danger.
Finally, when the adrenaline rush had subsided Yuri reloaded his gun and looked for any tears in his clothing. His armor was relatively light compared to most other Forager’s armor, as it only consisted of a bulky leather
jacket sprinkled with lead and stuffed with kevlar over some light shirts to keep the poisonous metal off, whereas others wore special ceramic plates pieced together over kevlar to form a somewhat insect-like shell . Yuri spied such armor on one of the dead Foragers, and so, he began his looting. It was just how life was for those who relied on the “Topside” for income. Yuri started with the obvious things: The gas mask, weapons, provisions, ammunition, and he bundled as much of the armor as possible into his backpack, which was almost full, when he noticed a lead cross laid with blue-green gems cut like diamonds hanging from the dead Forager’s neck. Perhaps they were diamonds that were effected by the years of harsh radiation.
“Ah!” Yuri exclaimed, as he realized that this would be the perfect gift for Natasha. Tonight she would be mesmerized by the sparkling gems, and pseudo-thoughtfulness. In truth, they didn’t really love each other. Their little affair was just the result of years of being roommates, and needing an excuse to share more of their meager resources. Regardless, he unlinked the chain and dropped it in his jacket pocket. Natasha still deserved a little gift, anyhow, because she helped keep the country moving. She was a skilled mechanic; something rare.
The ground shook beneath Yuri’s feet, rousing the looted Forager’s partner, whom Yuri thought was dead. Yuri dragged the corpse around the corner into a nearby alleyway and returned to find the Forager curled up in a ball as the pounding got more incessant. Yuri grabbed him by the arm and tried to pull him up, but they didn’t seem intent on cooperating.
“Get up, idiot! What do you think you’re doing?”
He didn’t reply. Yuri lifted him to his feet and pushed him down the alley, in the direction of Red Square.
“Let’s go, let’s go!”
The Strider’s footsteps were drawing ever closer and they had reached the end of the alley, and Yuri’s manhole was in sight, but the shellshocked man wouldn’t go.
“What are you waiting for! GO!”
Yuri pushed him yet again in the direction of the manhole and this time he kept going, when suddenly Yuri was blinded by light and all he could hear was his geiger counter fizzing angrily. The man was gone. The road had turned into molten glass where he was standing. At first Yuri just stood there in awe, when the Strider continued moving towards the other end of the square, and the earthquake-like footsteps brought him back to his senses. He could have cared more about his fellow Forager, but he was worried more about his own life. As soon as the strider had moved on, he dropped his heavy bolt satchel, pulled out his crowbar and made a mad dash for the manhole. He jumped over the molten river, across the open square, between some long dead shrubs in the central garden and to the other intersection. He hooked his crowbar in the edge of the cover, and slid it to the side. Dropping his backpack down before him, he climbed down. He sat there for a moment, just looking at the grimy wall of the manhole, catching his breath. He’d kiss the cross he just looted, but irradiated lead isn’t very tasty. He slowly reached up with his crowbar and slid the cover shut. He let himself have another moment of rest before descending the ladder to the Burrows.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The sewers were no longer used for waste. There was a sub-sewer for that now, where mutants and outlaws of the new sub-society were put. The Burrows were cleaner, compared to how they were before, but they still had that dark grime that accompanies post-apocalyptic life.
Yuri stepped into the security ‘airlock’. This was about as high tech as it got in his Burrow. A heavy gate sealed closed behind him and his brother Nikolai sat in the security office behind thick glass.
“Ah, brother Yuri, you have returned! Have you brought back anything interesting?”
“Some new armor. Not much else. Might fetch a pretty penny. Don’t know what the point is. No matter what we do, we’ll always be stuck down here, stealing from the dead. Until when, I ask you? There is no more to find?”
Nikolai shrugged and punched a few buttons on his console and a blinding light passed over Yuri. He didn’t feel any cleaner, but he’d just been lightly scrubbed for radiation. He still had to leave his outer clothes and loot in his locker due to the secondary radiation on the lead, but he pocketed the cross, against the barely enforced “regulations”. Again Nikolai punched a few buttons, apparently at random, and the other end of the bulkhead opened up and Yuri stepped into a central ‘plaza’ that was once the meeting place of the many sewer lines which had long run dry. Now it was a marketplace, and the main square of a bustling, dirty town. Yuri slid into the crowd and made his way to the main pit, where sewage once ran. He opted for the ladder, rather than the stairs, which were always crowded. The aqueducts of the sewers were now lined with homes and stores, with giant power lines hanging overhead, powering flood lights and homes.
The homes were arranged similarly to prison cells. They were all lined up, and attached to a central catwalk with a main set of metal stairs going up or down. Yuri climbed to the row second from the top, to the only house with a lambda symbol on the door. His job as Forager earned him no respect, not to say people disrespected him for it, but it wasn’t quite as great as he thought it would be. He opened the double doors to his small apartment, and was greeted by a warm, inviting 20 watt bulb and the loud bass of his upstairs neighbor’s incessant parties. “What was there to celebrate?” Yuri always thought. He also wondered why he always had to hear about it.
“Natasha?!” He shouted over the pounding bass.
“YURI?!” Natasha’s voice was nearly drowned out by the music.
“Yuri! I can’t hear you! Can you do something about that racket?! The music isn’t even good!”
Yuri was getting more and more frustrated. It seemed like every day that idiot was blaring his loud music, with full power obviously routed to his house while Yuri’s apartment got a Christmas bulb and an alarm clock. Everything always seemed stacked against him, as though everyone benefited from his work but him. Even if Yuri’s looting had nothing to do with how much power went where that’s what he told himself. He picked up a crowbar that was leaning against the wall and ascended the stairs to his neighbors door and tapped on it. The skinny pale man opened the door wearing blue goggles, letting all sorts of fumes escape from his home.
“How...who….what can I do for you, my good pickle?”
This man was obviously in another dimension.
“ Turn down the music.”
“No can do, Ma’am...we need to smell the airwaves right now…you know...you’re too uptight...you’ve got to let loose. The system has a death grip on you...just take a-”
Yuri lifted the skinny man by the neck and threw him to the floor, making his way with motivation to the oversized stereo system.
“Don’t ya worry. About a thing! ‘Cause every little thing is gonna be alright!”
Yuri drove the crowbar home on the the large speakers and hooked the end into the tuner, whipping it to the wall. Everyone stared at him, exhaling all varieties of smoke in amazement.
“I can’t believe you people! C’mon man, you’ve got to be kidding me, I mean, why spend a couple thousand rubles for a single spliff when you could fix everyone’s phones with that money?”
Everyone just stared at him like he had 4 eyes and a spider’s body. To them he probably did. Yuri sighed and picked his skinny neighbor up by the shirt.
“I had better not hear you again. Ever.”
The man just stared at him.
“EVER! You understand?”
“Dude...you gotta chill out.”
Yuri threw the little man to the ground and left. Natasha was waiting for him with a worried expression on her face.
“Is everything alright? What happened?”
Yuri shut the door behind him and tried to lead her away, but she still peaked through windows.
“What did you do?!”
“He fell. Too much weed. He’ll be fine.” Yuri said bluntly.
Natasha just shook her head disappointedly and followed Yuri. Back home, Yuri nearly leapt into his favorite recliner, which he had looted out of an old furniture store many years ago. Natasha sat across from him at their kitchen/dining room/living room table and they both listened to an old radio.
‘I like to sing-a! About the moon-ah and the June-ah, and the spring-ahhh’
Natasha changed the station.
‘Bandits continue to raid trade routes between New Moscow and New Petersburg, and the Hellions continue to advance deeper into New Novgorod as our brave forces engage them in guerilla warfare around the ci-’
She again tuned the radio.
‘ The New Novgorod tram is out of commission after yet another Hellion attack’
This time Natasha turned the radio completely off and sighed.
“Oh I hope babushka is alright...I wonder if she’s made it out of Novgorod?”
“The fighting probably isn’t as bad as it sounds, I’m sure she’s fine. Why not give her a call?” Yuri said.
“We don’t have a phone any more Yuri…”
“Oh...right. I had forgotten about that, what with the fact I risked my ass getting you this gift.”
Natasha’s face lit up a little, assisting the dim bulb in illuminating the room. Yuri smiled and pulled the cross out of his pocket and placed it on the table. For a moment the power went out, but after a few seconds the lights returned, and now they were all on, not just the depressing 20 watt Christmas light. They didn’t even know they owned so many working lights.