When Rin awoke, it was still early morning. Luke was sitting beside the makeshift bed Rin had fashioned out of leftover sheets and pillows, absently cleaning his automatic handgun. He stopped when Rin rolled over, setting the weapon on his lap.
“Rin, you up?”
Something in his tone set off warning bells in Rin's head.
“Roger that. Something wrong?”
“I, uh... I've been trying to get through to the top brass, let em know we're still here, get us an airlift. They... they can't seem to hear us. I think our radio's broken.”
That wasn't it. Broken equipment was an aggravation, but Luke was a real soldier. Little things like that wouldn't get to him. There was something else.
“Luke... what happened.”
Luke tried to smile, but his face couldn't quite manage it. “Rin, the kid... Eran, he...”
“What? He what?” Rin already knew the answer, but he was praying he was wrong. Eran was a good kid, a bit wimpy on occasion, but still a valuable member of the team. There was no way...
“He... he jumped last night. Off the roof. He must've climbed over the barricade, and... I'm sorry.”
Even in the dim light, Rin could see the tears streaking the man's face.
“He killed himself?”
“Looks that way. He's... he's down there right now. You can see him from the window.”
“Any chance he's...?”
“Not with that much of his own blood on everything.”
Rin let himself fall back on the bed. Death almost seemed commonplace to him now. It had been only two days since project FireLight had launched from the UK, a group of highly-trained and combat efficient men and women laughing and joking around in the back of the heli-carrier. Two days, and already he had seen twenty-six of his lifelong friends and comrades die.
The group had fallen to overwhelming, superior enemies, man-made monsters from the pit of hell. They had lost, but somehow it was almost an expected loss. Eran was different. He had escaped the Freakers, only to be beaten by his own fear. An oddly useless death.
Luke spoke, his voice a whisper. “Rin, you don't think... it's because I yelled at him, wasn't it? I shoulda been more careful. He was so young...”
“Don't go there, Luke. You don't want to live with that. Eran barely passed psych profile. We all knew he had suicidal tendencies. The top brass chose to ignore it. They needed a good Synch user. Heck, half our team was psychotic. You gotta have something broken in your head to go toe to toe with a Freaker. Anyway, this isn't on you. Blame it on the guys who shoed him in when they should have sent him home.”
Luke still looked shaken, but he nodded anyway.
“What about the body?”
“Freakers usually ignore the dead. We'll give him a proper burial when we come back. Too dangerous now.”
“So, what then? With comms down, we got no way out.”
“Airstrip near here, saw it on our way in. Think they called it the JFK International, back when this place was a country instead of a Freaker zoo. They'll have a radio there.”
The distant clatter of heavy artillery made them pause. Rin listened with disinterest. The rhythm was off, old-fashioned combustion weapons. Not homeland soldiers. Some other country looking to cash in on the Quarantine zone's resources. It was foolish, really. Everyone knew that Freakers were immune to harm, and no amount of bullets or brute force would change that.
As the fusillade ended, Luke again ventured conversation.“You used to live here, right? Before they evac'd everyone.”
“Entire family. Mom, dad, grampa, and my little brother.”
Luke's eyebrows jerked upward. “Holy... I'm, ah, I'm sorry, man. Didn't know.”
“It's fine. That's why I joined up with FireLight. Wanted another go at the bastards.”
“Roger that. We'll get em yet. At least we know this Synch stuff works, kinda. We can beat them one-on-one, should be enough to keep us alive to JFK.”
With a grunt of effort, Luke got back to his feet, slinging the heavy equipment bag over his shoulder.
“You want to get Nia? It'd be a pain for me to have to carry her and all the equipment.”
Rin sighed. “The handsome, brave leader gets the girl, huh? Never thought I'd have to actually carry her.”
Luke grinned. “Hey, that's life. Let's roll out.”