Harran fits him like a well-measured suit.
Kyle Crane admits to that readily. On his best days, he’s a man with an unquenchable thirst to do the right thing. On his worst, one with a defective sense of self-preservation.
I’m here to make a difference, he tells himself when he rises morning after morning, sometimes to his body aching since he’s slept on naked concrete and with a draft antagonising his joints; others—when he’s real lucky—to the reasonable comfort of that dusty room the Tower let him have.
He’s confident that, if he gets this right, he’ll save lives. And he will get it right.
He has to.
Kyle’s knuckles bleed, torn open in a fit of frustrated agony. He heaves in air and clenches his fists. The rain washes his blood off a metal wall. Blood he’s left there after he’s traded it blow after blow.
That kid had been too young to die.
He’ll get it right next time.
When Zere dies and Rais throws the GRE’s crooked lies at Kyle’s feet, Kyle wonders who he pissed off and just when his life had spiralled so far out of control. When he’d been bitten? When he’d accepted the contract? Or when he’d been born upside down, doomed right from the start?
He won’t give up. He can’t. There’s too much at stake. Harran will burn if he doesn’t get it right.
Day and night turn to a blur. Kyle wakes up screaming one night. His heart is in his throat and the vivid memory of a weeping—wailing—child he’d choked to death because it hadn’t been a child anymore is so real then, that he stumbles from his makeshift shelter and vomits off the edge of a roof.
He’d been the one who’d come to save her. Not the other way around.
But Kyle knows death, and so he wraps the memory of her in a quilt stitched together from red-hot fury and vengeance-yet-had. He’ll cut Rais’s heart out, he vows.
Tahir dies. Kyle feels a little better.
Rais is next.
It’s not enough.
I’m here to make a difference, he reminds himself as he drags himself back to the dusty room they let him have, night after night. Day after day. It’s home now. It’s his. It’s where he hangs his clothes. It’s where he collects the quirky bits and pieces he picks up as Harran runs him ragged. A hotel room sign here. An odd rock there. A wizard’s hat given to him by a pack of smiling children. And all he had to do for that hat was kill a troll (and kill a man’s already-late-wife).
In the mornings, when he’s ready to leave, he pauses at his door. His fingers tremble. His throat bobs. It takes a while, but he stills the shakes. Then he summons a smile and shoves the door open.
Rinse and repeat.
One night, Kyle slumps into the chair belonging to the rickety desk in his room. He ditched his shoes at the door. His clothes stick to him, glued on by sweat and blood. There’s a persistent ache in his back where a muscle won’t heal after he’s pulled it one too many times. His left knee feels like it’s filled with hornets. Kyle shoves his tongue between his teeth and works his sidearm free from its shoulder holster. He slams it on the table. Got to tend to it. Clean it. Make sure it won’t give out on him; like he fears his body might. Soon. His fingers shake. He hasn’t even worked the gun’s slide off yet when his head hits the desk and the world turns comfortably dark.
Waking up hungry is normal these days. The headache behind his eyes has become a near-constant. He hears a ringing in his ears most every day now.
But I’m here to make a difference.
Harran needs him. His friends need him.
“Crane, we lost Jeff, do you mind looking for him?”
“Crane, there’s a Volatile nest we need to blow up. Yeah, you need to go there at night.”
No has become a word he’s kicked from his vocabulary, even as rotten luck pummels at him. Relentlessly.
Or maybe it’s not so rotten after all.
Because how many men are out there who can say they’ve survived Volatile nests and rampaging Demolishers? And how many get to wake from nightmares, drenched in sweat, because they’ve climbed that fucking antenna again for the hundredth time and it only ever gets taller and taller and taller—and sometimes in that nightmare he does everything right and Harran still burns?
There are times he returns to the Tower with his clothes soaked through and his shoes waterlogged. Squelch, squelch, his steps go as he makes his way to his room. He smiles. The kids find it hilarious. The other Runners poke fun at him. He smiles some more and then the smile dies the moment he’s through his door.
Wet clothes are a bitch to get off. He’s a shivering mess under the blankets, but exhaustion drags him under quick.
The night he climbs the Infamy bridge, with a cold wind biting down his lungs, he stumbles. His shoulder cracks against a concrete strut. If he’d fallen an inch to the left or right, he’d have toppled off the side of the bridge.
Yeah, he’s gotten criminally good at falling, but this would have been it.
Kyle heaves in air as he stands propped up against the strut. His heart hammers in his chest. Hammers so fucking hard, he is convinced it’s about to fail him.
No, it aches.
He’s in agony as he turns himself around clumsily, his back scraping against the concrete as he slides down along the strut until he’s sitting on the hard floor. There, Kyle closes his eyes. He waits. His breathing steadies. His heart keeps twisting uncomfortably, but, eventually, it falls back in step. Tha-thump. Tha-thump. Tha-thump.
He grits his teeth and hauls himself up. The Tower needs those UV bulbs.
The Tower needs food. Medication. The fishing village needs help finding a thief— and some kids lost their mom— and she got held by a monster— and what’s left of Rais’s men won’t stop hurting the people he’s meant to protect— and he has to find a way to make a difference.
Kyle wakes one early morning to birdsong near him. His eyes crack open, weary. He’s cold. There’s cardboard under him. Wind whistles by, and the antenna around him groans softly in the breeze.
A bird perches near the edge. It’s tiny. Round, with a cheerful, yellow belly, blue wings, a blue cap on its head, and a friendly mask. A blue tit, he thinks, and there’s a moment where he puffs out a juvenile kind of laugh. Well, more of a huff, really. His lips pull into a smile. That smile is genuine. It’s real. The bird hops up and down, left and right, and keeps on singing its morning song, even if its audience—Harran—is a bit thankless.
But the bird doesn’t care. It’s untroubled. Bubbly, even.
Kyle remains still until the bird flies off. Only then does he get his feet under him. He stands. Vertigo tries to muscle him back down. His ears ring. The headache pounds at him. He’s hungry. His feet ache. And he doesn’t notice the tears until he’s stepped up to where the bird just perched. The tears have washed out his vision, and have blurred Harran’s sunrise to the point where it looks like someone smeared watercolours across the horizon.
Kyle wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. The tears sting at fresh scrapes from last night. Harran hones itself in his vision again, its skyline too familiar. The city-state stretches on forever.
At the end of that forever stands the wall.
He inhales sharply. Exhales even sharper, and pumps his hands into fists. They’re not shaking anymore. His eyes cut down, to where his toes jut out over the antenna’s edge. The concrete at the bottom waits patiently.
All he has to do is take one more step.
He’s ready to.
CLACK, says his radio; the one permanently fused to his side.
Kyle’s eyes flutter shut.
“Can anyone hear me?” a voice—tinny, distant, frightened—calls from the radio’s tiny, beat-up speakers. ”We got trapped overnight— can anyone—“
Kyle’s jaw sets. He clears his throat. Steps back. And reaches for the radio, his thumb riding down on its worn-out button.