Callum Fisher was a sociable, eccentric and impressionable teenager.
His interests in literature but creative failings led him to study journalism at the University of Essex. Not especially flung far from his birthplace and hometown of Norwich, United Kingdom: Even he found it strange that he should discover a passion and ambition for investigative journalism and war correspondence. He pored over reports of the Chernorussian Civil War in 2009, fascinated by the intricacies of rural warfare and the gross atrocities of war. In his final year of study he formed the basis of his dissertation around the war correspondence of the 2009 CCW.
Frustratingly for Callum, the early years of his career were spent doing freelance journalism back in his sleepy hometown. Things seemed to take a brighter turn when offered a job by a national newspaper in 2015, although this soon became dull with the same monotony. In Spring 2017 however, he finally thought he had found his breaking story; the embers of war in Chernarus were once again being fanned. In early May, upon his hearing of the declaration of martial law in South Zagoria, he handed in his notice and booked a flight to Chernarus International Airfield. In the latter half of June he finally got to see the countryside that had given him such inspiration in academia.
Martial Law in Chernarus would cause difficulties if Callum hadn't had been in contact with an old friend from his university days; a camerawoman covering events as part of the NATO presence in the region. Her name was Lucy Packham; a lucky twist of fate had brought them back together at an awards ceremony in 2016 and a close friendship that had drifted over the years was resumed. She had secured a NATO press pass for him, allowing him access to the country and safe passage within NATO encampments in the country.
The remainder of June and the first week of July didn't yield much of a story. Personal interviews with migrants from the east conducted at best in broken English and, for the most part; retreading the same stories of political unrest and mounting racial tensions. Working out of Vybor in the west; Callum decided that to really get that breaking story he would have to make his way eastward, toward the forming focal point of the coming conflict. One of the largest of the country's newspapers had its head office in Novodmitrovsk; that would be his destination.
Callum would never make it to Novodmitrovsk, concentrations of CDF moving north around Serevograd caught his attention and so he remained there on the night of the 7th; asking whatever locals he could find with enough English skills what they knew. The most he could glean from his inquiries was some sort of facility, something to do with the Russians; the expressions of those he interviewed were a range of caution to outright fear. That night in his rustic hotel room he happened upon a video on social media, a Soviet helicopter entering the base, his heart raced: This was it, this was the epicenter of coming conflict, his big scoop.
He was woken early the next morning by someone violently thumping on his door, two men in CDF uniforms stood in the doorway; one armed. The other explained in fairly competent English that they had heard there was a foreigner asking questions about their goings on, and they would consider Callum a Russian informant unless proven otherwise. He hurriedly rummaged for his press pass, the soldier's eyes focused on the NATO symbol for a time before passing back to Callum's. He was ordered out of the town, given five minutes to get dressed and get his belongings. From the little he saw on his way out west; the CDF were showing heightened presence in the town.
Cursing his early morning wake-up call he arrived in Ratnoe before long, one lane running through a tiny hamlet; on the other side of the small collection of houses he could see a NATO vehicle. Growing closer he could hear the sounds of heated argument, heavily accented Chernorussian and a female, speaking English: It was Lucy Packham. They appeared to be arguing over an object cradled in the arms of a CDF soldier, the man doing the arguing was between them, a NATO soldier stood wearily next to Lucy. The soldier said something to her sternly and she seemed to relent, eyes downcast, defeated. The two local soldiers turned north and walked into the treeline, joking and laughing in their native tongue. Lucy looked after them angrily as Callum finally caught up to the western pair.
His arrival didn't seem to calm her much, if at all; he explained the events of this morning and the previous night's video. Her knuckles tightened: The recording was hers, the object of the argument; her camera. Both their welcomes worn out and with the NATO soldier uncomfortably aware of the three of them being perhaps the only westerners north of Sobor, he ushered them both into his vehicle and started the long drive south. He felt dejected at his lack of tact and failure to come away from the situation with so little to show for it, Lucy at least had something tangible; even though it was censored very quickly. So much for his big break, so much for the big scoop.
Dichina was the northernmost military outpost with NATO presence, although it was a facility nominally owned by the CDF, the only natives on the small base were some of its civilian staff. Callum and Lucy spent the next day and a half languishing there, the former still in a malaise; the latter still seething. On the night of the tenth, the low grumbles of tactical bombing treacled through the air, and the distant northern horizon was aglow: Like a cautious sunrise that couldn't make up its mind. They took in this unholy opera from the mouth of the large tent they'd been quartered in, soldiers stood huddled in the center of the camp talking hurriedly amongst themselves. The journalist pair spent the rest of the night glued to social media, adding what little information they could ascertain to the growing global concern of reignited war in Chernarus.
The 11th seemed to pass uneventfully, almost eerily so. Vague and confused reports about soldiers attacking civilians in the North reached the base in droplets and dribbles: The NATO garrison grumbled about barbaric Russian tactics. The dark reality of the situation at hand finally became clear the next day; the outpost had been reinforced by a contingent of CDF. They spoke grimly of the situation in the northeast, biological warfare some dared to claim, and warned of a coming tide of refugees; far worse than the current trickle. This was a mass exodus.
The dark reality rose with the dawn on the next day, sounds of distant gunfire and explosions could be heard to the north, and the mixed combatant garrison was mustered, making preparations to head north to assist the eastern side of the airfield and defend the small town of Grishino from this wave of attackers who had come to be called 'Infected'. The journalists sought to join them, and the leader of the NATO group there reluctantly took them along in his squad, giving them a personal escort.
It was a short ride to the village, whose populace was in a state of abrupt panic; the CDF learned that there had been a couple of attacks in the night: Shaking hands motioned at Devil's Castle looming to the northeast. A frontline was established on the northeast of the town, centered on a small Orthodox church; this is where Lucy and Callum were stationed. Small arms fire rang out as the soldiers identified the shambling corpses; Callum watched in horror as more emerged from the trees of the great wooded hill, first in groups and then in droves. Both he and Lucy frantically tried to update the world of social media, initially met with derision in the western media until that of the Russian media started to show vast evidence of the truth.
Shouts of panic rang out through the town behind them, the noise of combat had attracted infected from the east of the airfield into the west of Grishino. Coupled with the growing numbers shambling down from the hills and the danger of a flank, the order was given to retreat amidst the screams of the remaining civilians, fleeing in panic. Callum saw the infected closer than ever before, and ever since he seems half-convinced that he is trapped in a hideous nightmare. Though he has seen many since, that first encounter would stay with him; two infected attacking a screaming man, his arms swung wildly as he was forced to the floor.
The mixed Dichina garrison were hurriedly mounting up into their assorted vehicles, pulling up those civilians who had the sense to join them and speeding off when they were full or the infected were too close. Callum had made it into the rear of a CDF transport truck, his heart pounded a rhythm to the tune of swearing and wailing from its mix of military and civilian occupants; a dread chorus. As they bore right back to the outpost at Dichina he noticed the NATO vehicles continued to speed southward, he looked about frantically: Catching the gaze of a single NATO soldier looking similarly bewildered.
The base was as calm as they had left it that morning, although the din of combat surrounding the airfield was much thicker now; joined by deafening overtures of low flying combat aircraft heading north. Callum sought the western soldier he'd seen on the journey, and discovered him easily by discerning the only English voice; screaming into a radio. The man saw his press pass first and then caught Callum's wide eyes, taking a deep breath, he rose to meet them. Despite his volume before, he calmly explained that the NATO contingent had been ordered to withdraw to Chernogorsk; an order he evidently hadn't been able to comply with. He was going to prepare an expeditionary kitbag, and then head south to the city; Callum was welcome to join him.
//More to follow!