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Hammer's Reach

By Ben Chatfield All Rights Reserved ©

Horror / Scifi


“Gone. They're all gone. Just like that, man. I thought we couldn't lose. We're built to not lose. How does that happen? Tell me that, man. Tell me that.”

Eran's voice was high-pitched, bordering on hysterical. The youngest of the group, he could be forgiven for the jumbled flow of sentences tumbling from his shell-shocked brain, especially after what they had just been though. Rin did his best to ignore him, focusing on stitching up the bloody gash on his own arm. No one had expected this outcome. Fifty years of planning, and everything had just... fallen apart.

“What do we do now, man? They know we're here. They'll follow us. They're gonna-”

Luke, stationed by the room's only window, finally snapped. “Shut up! Damn coward. Just shut your mouth. ”

Eran froze, his terror-stricken eyes locking on Rin's face. With both Commander Hollis and Lieutenant Lael dead, Rin was the leader now, by rank. Not that there was much left to lead. Just the four. Eran, Luke, Nia sleeping in the bedroom, and himself. Four left.

Four left out of thirty. It had been a massacre.

Luke left his post, navigating the maze of broken support beams and dead cables to Rin's side. When he spoke, his voice was somewhat calmer, but anger still colored his tone.

“Nothing moving out there. To be frank, we're pretty high up. They don't climb if they don't have to.”

Rin sighed, then slid the needle under his skin one last time, gritting his teeth against the pain. He didn't mind it much. Pain was something to be appreciated. Pain meant you were still alive enough to feel. Sometimes, that was all he had to keep him going.

“How is Nia?”

Luke threw a sideways glance at the bedroom door. “Still asleep, last I checked. Whoever used to be here must've evacuated in a rush. Everything's still in place, beds, TV, food supply. Power and water's out, of course.” He paused. “I, ah... I don't think she's going to recover soon. She was in Synch when the other two snuck up on us. She may have gone in too deep, fried her brain.”

Rin frowned, placing the red-stained needle into the small sanitizer bath his med-kit provided. “No good. With her out of the picture, we'll have a tough time fighting even one of the hostiles.”

Luke blinked in surprise. “Fight...? Rin, we can't fight them at all. Our training, our numbers, the Synch... they were all lies. Our superiors have been playing us for fools.”

Rin rose to his feet, a flash of anger replacing his customary blank expression. “No. We were overconfident, yes. Commander Hollis was reckless, but if we'd waited instead of jumping right in, we wouldn't have been overwhelmed. “

“That's crazy. You've seen what they're like. Lieutenant Michaels was wearing that special armor, the new stuff that you can't break through with a jackhammer, and the Freaker went through it like it was paper maché.”

“If we'd thought it out, if we'd waited-”

“We would still have died! Those things can't be stopped. It's a suicide mission.”

Rin turned so they were face to face, keeping his voice under careful control. “What do you want to do, then? Sit here till you starve? Wait for the Freakers to find you and pull your heart out through your throat? I don't care if it looks hopeless, we'll find a way out. All of us. I'm bringing this team home alive, end of story. All of us.”

A tiny sob escaped the dark corner Eran had retreated to. He wasn't a soldier, really. He'd been pulled into the FireLight program for his high response numbers in Synch testing. Synch was a mind-weapon, burning out the brains of whatever the user was looking at when he or she turned it on, but it needed someone unusually intelligent behind the 'trigger'. Eran had the smarts for it, but when it came down to matters of life and death, he tended to stall out.

What they had been prepared for, what the top brass had told them, was that their first assignment would be an extermination mission. Air-drop into the Quarantine Zone, mow down everything that moved, and go home for the celebration. Estimated enemy kill numbers would have been in the thousands, and the Q-zone would have been accessible for the first time in almost sixty years. Billions of dollars in resources and land, and all that stood in their way was a little thing the news had nicknamed “Freaker”.

Rin glanced towards the room's only entrance, blockaded with a variety of heavy furniture. It was just protocol, completely pointless. If the Freakers wanted in, they would get in, no matter what was stacked in their way.

“It's starting to get dark. We're bad enough off as it is; we don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of fighting them at night. How are we doing on ration packs?”

Luke slung his backpack off his shoulder, flipping through its contents. “With just the four of us, six days' worth. If we do two meals a day.”

“Give one to Eran, and see if you can get Nia to eat. We're going to dig in here, wait for morning. The mission's still a go, but our priority now is getting Nia back for medical attention. We're getting out of here tomorrow.”

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