Coats huddled against the wall, clutching his gun in the crook of his arm like a child with a scruffy teddy. Blood trickled down the side of his face. It had pooled in his collar and dried there. The itch in his neck was maddening. But with one arm dislocated and the other occupied with staunching the flow of blood from yet another wound, he was without a set of fingers with which to scratch.
And that morning had begun with such promise.
It was difficult to tell the situation, but he knew that the alley in which he had taken refuge would not remain secure for much longer. He winced against the growing itch and the pain in his shoulder. Combined, it produced a new sensation that somehow seemed to come from his lower back.
A few blocks away, he could hear the whine and compressed zinging blast of the enemy discharging their weapons. Coats shut his eyes and tried to ascertain their number. They could have been firing at anything. Abandoned vehicles. Stray cats too stupid or bewildered to have run away already. Survivors. One of his people.
The last two seemed unlikely. He had lost sight of his people hours ago, without even radio traffic for hope. Then his headset had broken. He had yet to see any survivors, even before he’d gotten separated from his people.
He checked the bleeding under his left hand. It had stopped. For a brief moment, he stared at it, daring it to start again as the sounds of weaponry and stomping feet grew closer. When it didn’t, he took the opportunity to set his other arm back in its socket.
His yell cut off the other sounds. He nearly bit off his tongue in self-reproach. Instead, he picked up his firearm and checked the clip. Maybe he could take three of them with him, but not more than that.
After dragging himself to his feet, Coats forced himself to exit the alley at a dead run. Away from the obvious presence of the enemy.
He hadn’t gotten far before he collided with someone.
He’d swung the pistol to bear without a conscious thought. A youthful face stared up at him, white with fear beneath a thick layer of soot and dirt. Another instinct lowered Coats’s arm so quickly that the ache in his shoulder increased.
The kid seemed too terrified to run. A bloody tear in the leg of his jeans suggested a supplemental reason.
Coats held out his unarmed hand and tried to speak reassuringly. “I’m here to help. My name is Ravi Coats.” His voice was raw, nearly unrecognisable to his own ears.
There was no immediate response, but the kid still didn’t run away. He allowed Coats to inch closer.
“What’s your name?”