He looked up from the map and darted his gaze into the window. I, too, darted my gaze into the window. Our windows' panes are very thick, armoured, and behind, the good old Zone, here it is, within reach, from the 12th floor you can see the whole of it....


What I mean is, when you look at it, it seems to be a land like the others. The sun shines on it and on the rest and, at first glance, nothing is changed there, everything is like thirteen years ago. My late dad would have looked at it and wouldn't have noticed anything particular, except he would have asked : why is it that the factory doesn't smoke, is it on strike or what?...
Cones of yellow rock, rails, rails, rails, on the rails a small locomotive with platforms... In a word, an industrial landscape. But, no people. Nor dead, nor alive. The garage, you can see it too : a long grey tunnel, gaping doors, and the trucks on a tared ground.
They've been here for thirteen years and nothing changes. What he said about it is correct, so, he understands. God forbid you to stick yourself between two trucks, you have to skirt them... Here, there's a crack in the asphalt, if the spines haven't grown into it... One hundred and twenty two meters, but where does he start counting them? Ah ! probably from the marker on the edge. Correct, it's no further.
Still they progress, these spectacled guys... Here ! The road is suspended right up to the slag-heap, and jolly well suspended ! Here it is, the small gutter where Mollusc swallowed his birth certificate, just beside their road... Yet, Muscles told him, Mollusc : you fool, stay away from the gutters, or else there won't be anything to bury... That, that's just like if he had read it in a book : there was nothing to bury...
Because that's the way it is in the Zone : if you come back with some scratch, it is a miracle ; if you come back alive, it's a success ; if you ducked the patrol's bullets, it's luck ; and all the rest, is destiny...


Stalker, Pique-nique by the road side
Arcadi et Boris Strougatski,
DenoŽl Editions, 1981

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