Escape Into Time
Bigwig chased after Hawkbit and soon had him cornered him on the edge of the cliff, close to where Robbins had jumped. But as the mighty rabbit closed in on him, preparing to tackle the reckless idiot to the ground and then drag him back by the ears, the desperate buck suddenly turned round, facing the abyss in a suicide gesture. Bigwig froze.
"Don't come any closer, Bigwig,” he called out in the most serious tone Bigwig had ever heard him use before, his usual grumpy, sarcastic demeanour completely gone, “I swear to Frith, I'll jump!" Still, the mighty veteran stood his ground.
"You damned buck! Stop this foolishness and get back here! I am the one who’s staying, not you!" But Hawkbit shook his head firmly, "No Bigwig, I've made my decision. They need you more than they need me. Besides, what do you even care?” he retorted, “You’ve always said what a useless rabbit I am… Now leave me and get going!"
"Not bloody likely! I’m not leaving without you!" Bigwig snapped back, silently cursing himself for always pushing Hawkbit’s buttons with his bullying and personal attacks, desperately trying to think of a way to get through to him, “Please, Hawkbit!” But Hawkbit would hear none of it. With the approaching danger of Black Inferno on one end and a suicidal buck on the other, stalling them, for once in his life Bigwig felt stuck.
"You've got to go, or you'll be letting me die for nothing," Hawkbit persisted, giving Bigwig a pleading look to just leave him and go, not daring to take his eyes off the burly Captain of Owsla for one instant, which was all Bigwig would need to spoil everything for him. At that moment, Alan, with Silver in tow, caught up with them.
"What in Frith's name are you two doing here?" demanded Bigwig incredulously, "I told you to get ready to leave…!" The man ignored him and turned to Hawkbit.
"Hawkbit, listen to me. You don’t have to do this; I’ve found a way to get us all out of here. Everybody." Hawkbit gave Alan a weird look, wondering whether this was only a bluff to trick him into coming back. Hadn’t he just made it clear that unless someone stayed behind, they couldn’t fly? He kept staring nervously at each of them in turn, almost as if expecting someone to try and grab him when he wasn't looking, totally unconvinced by what they were saying.
"How do I know this isn't some trick to take me along and sacrifice someone else in my place?" At this, Bigwig lost his temper.
"Frith of Inle, you’re the biggest nuisance I’ve ever met in my life, Hawkbit! Now shut up and come along, or I have a good mind to…!" But what he had a good mind to do to Hawkbit they never found out, when, suddenly, the apocalypse was finally upon them.
Staring overhead, they saw the clouds part, forming a rapidly growing circular patch of clear sky. As they stared at it, a superbright burst of plasma and microwaves penetrated, coming right down upon them.
"Everybody close your eyes! Don’t look at the flash!" Alan shouted, as they all ducked for cover. The energy wave hit the ground, exploding into a ball of blinding white light, coming down right on top of Silver, who couldn't dodge in time.
A painful scream pierced the air and then a repulsive smell of fried skin and burnt fur filled their nostrils. Opening his eyes, still seeing white spots from the flash, Alan saw a large patch of scorched earth and vegetation, with Silver's sizzled corpse lying in the middle of it. The energy flare had burned him to a crisp in the blink of an eye. They all stared, petrified with horror at their latest fallen comrade. Another wave hit, setting some nearby trees ablaze. Quickly regaining his composure, Alan turned to his remaining companions.
"Run for it! Back to the plane!"
Bigwig, also quickly recovering from Silver's gruesome death, realising Hawkbit would now be riding that flying hrududu out of here after all, turned to the grey-furred buck to tell him to run, only to see him crumpled to the ground, moaning in agony, "My eyes! I can’t see!" With sick dread, Alan realised Hawkbit hadn't been able to shut his eyes in time, and had seen the blinding flash.
Not pausing to think, he scooped up the injured Hawkbit and then he and Bigwig doubled back to the plane as fast as their legs would carry them. They found Hazel and Pipkin, also staring at the devastation unfolding all around them with expressions of absolute terror. A catastrophe unlike anything any rabbit could ever dream of, even in his worst nightmares, was being unleashed upon their homeland, incinerating everything.
"We have to get out of here now, or we all die!"
Helping the blinded Hawkbit onboard beside Fiver, Hazel and Pipkin, Alan and Bigwig pilled in. Seating himself in Julio’s seat and fastening his seatbelt, Alan slid the ignition key into the lock, just as another burst of microwaves fell from the sky, striking the ruins of Buxton Hall; the ancient structure instantly burst into flame, ancient stone and brick crumbling to pieces on contact and sending debris flying in all directions. More strikes followed in rapid succession, causing more fires to spring up all around them. Any second now, the plane would be hit with them on it.
"Jesus, come on!" Alan hissed, feverishly turning the ignition switch, urging the plane to start. The prop gave a wild spin before grinding to a halt, as the engine splattered and died. In his haste, he had accidentally set the throttle on full power, causing the engine to choke up. Resetting the ignition, he tried again but it wouldn’t go. The mixture was just too rich – it stank of it - to start up. At this rate, he would drain the battery on the next few tries, leaving them stranded. Should he risk trying the ignition with the mixture off, to clear the cylinders?
With them sitting ducks for the microwaves raining down like a fiery hail all around them, he cranked the mixture lever off and punched the throttle to full; hitting the ignition again, the engine gave a horrible whirring sound, followed by a deep splatter, as the air intake cleared out the clogged carburettor.
Praying he hadn’t fried the spark plugs with his experimenting, he reset the ignition back to normal and hit the starter one more time; the prop began to turn lazily, looking as if the engine was about to stall again. But Alan kept his finger pressed down on the switch, going rich on the fuel, until the engine finally fired up. Within seconds, the pistons were racing, the prop spinning wildly and steadily.
Wasting no time, he released the parking brakes and pushed the throttle forward. The plane taxied through the thick undergrowth until it reached the grassy plain where Robbins had originally landed it. At the far end they could see the edge of the cliffs with the tree line on the other side ablaze, like a wall of fire. Gunning the engine, he sped off across the plain, towards the edge of the cliff, gathering speed... 20 knots; 40 knots; 60 knots…
"Come on, up, up, up!" Alan urged his plane, gently pulling back on the stick, trying to get off the ground. If they were too heavy, they would stall and go plummeting down into the canyon or otherwise crash into the flaming trees on the other side, and that would be the end of it all. Just as they reached the edge of the cliffs, the airspeed indicator reached 90 knots and the undercarriage finally left the ground. The plane, overloaded and heavy, lazily climbed, barely missing the burning treetops, threatening to stall at any minute. Taking Silver along too would have no doubt been suicide. But it didn’t. They soared skywards, leaving the devastated and incinerated Efrafa behind them. They had made it!
Not too far away, Cowslip lay snoozing in his burrow in the Hall of Bones, lazily munching at a bunch of coltsfoot, feeling content. After Woundwort and Robbins had departed, he had been left with the reassurance that the ithe Johnson and his group of troublemakers, who had deceived him, would be hunted down and destroyed - even the traitors Strawberry, Nildrohein and Silverweed, who had deserted him in favour of those hlessil, would go down with them. How he wished he could be there to see them killed…
Suddenly, his dark thoughts were interrupted as he noticed, what looked like, bright sunlight reappear outside. Thinking the rain had passed, he stood and went outside, hoping to find more flayrah. But the second he stepped out into the meadow, a horrible sight met his eyes: the surrounding countryside was engulfed in flame; everything was being incinerated by some strange white blast coming from the sky. The horrible screeches of terrified or dying animals filled the air. As he stood there, transfixed at this horrible nightmare, another burst of microwaves hit him; instantly, a horrible, fire-like pain overwhelmed him, as his skin sizzled, his fur burned up, his very blood boiling away…
Before the flare had even passed, Cowslip’s fried corpse crumpled to the ground, his insane smile of revenge frozen on his charred face forever, even in death…
Alan and his five surviving companions flew over the region that was once the Meadows of Fenlo. Following his original flight plan, which he had scribbled down on his forearm from Julio’s charts, Alan plotted a southwest course back towards New Forest. Although they had cleared the sweep of the satellite, the devastation it had left behind was colossal; below them stretched an endless landscape of fire and smoking ashes which, only hours ago, had been the stunning natural beauty of the future world. Anyone down there was dead; an entire world destroyed by one madman. He turned to look at his five fellow survivors sitting cramped together on the floor of the small cabin. Hawkbit was blinking, trying to clear his injured eyes, which were bloodshot from the flash. Alan felt his stomach bottom out; had the buck been permanently blinded?
"How are you feeling, Hawkbit?" he asked the grey-furred rabbit, waving his hand in front of his eyes, to test the buck's blindness. To his utmost relief, Hawkbit seemed to see his hand, as he muttered, "It’s all dark and blurred. I...I’m not going to be blind, am I?" he asked fearfully, thinking his recklessness to play the martyr had cost him his eyesight, one of the most prized senses Frith could bestow upon a rabbit, other than the sense of smell. Alan however felt relieved, figuring Hawkbit wasn't maimed for life…at least he didn’t think so. Babysitting a blind rabbit would only add to their already overwhelming problems.
"It's probably just temporary flash blindness. You’ll be all right." Although the flash hadn’t done its worst and completely fried the buck’s retinas, otherwise Hawkbit wouldn’t be seeing at all, there was definitely still some damage done to his eyes. Hawkbit would also have to go on their list for medical treatment, along with Fiver, when they got back to 2012...if they ever made it at all. Bigwig turned to Alan.
"So what happens now?"
"We’re going to follow our original course backwards and hope that the time warp - or whatever it's called - that brought me here is still there. If it is, we’ll try going through and see it’ll reverse the time travel process. If it does, we should be back in my own time within an hour." He noticed Hazel trying to keep his comatose brother comfortable, looking extremely miserable. Alan turned around in his seat and placed a comforting hand on his Chief's shoulder, "He’ll be all right, Hazel. I promise you, everything will be fine." Hazel didn’t even acknowledge him, his eyes tearful, his hopes for Fiver dwindling by the second.
As they approached New Forest, the plane's electrical system suddenly began to flicker; the familiar phenomenon of electromagnetic interference caused by the invisible time warp, as they flew right toward it. Alan hastily tightened his seatbelt, his hands firmly clutched on the stick, as he turned the plane on a westward heading; the same heading they had been following when he and his original flight companions had been catapulted into the future. What few instruments remained on his hollowed-out, wire-trailing control panel starting going crazy, their readouts off the scale.
"Here we go, lads; everybody hang on as tight as you can! Things are about to get bumpy…" Before the words had even passed his lips, a blinding flash engulfed them, as the plane flew straight into the warp, disappearing from the 28th century as if it had never been there at all...
Flying beyond the space-time continuum, the group of six watched as the sun begun to spin rapidly through its quarters, forming a moving golden arc against the sky, as the plane flew through large portions of time. Alan could hear the gasps of his companions, as they watched the world outside change rapidly from the enhanced passage through time they were experiencing. But, to his dismay, he suddenly realised they weren't going back to the 21st century as he had expected – instead, they were moving deeper into the future, travelling through hundreds of millennia per second.
Through the twilight of the time tunnel, they watched as time changed the world at an alarming speed. The incinerated landscape sprang back to life; new vegetation thrived over and over, through countless seasons; the continents shifted, eventually turning the British Isles into the surface of a new ocean; even the constellations above them were slowly drifting apart. They watched as more asteroid impacts and Ice Ages came and went, as they plummeted deeper and deeper into the future, going faster and faster. They watched as the luminosity of the sun increased, as their star entered the final stages of its main sequence, until it became too bright to observe with the naked eye, indicating that the Earth was being cooked. Then it started to dim, as it entered its dying stages.
Just as Alan thought the ride would go on forever, they finally reached the end of the time tunnel. The flow of time resynchronised with them, as they were spat out into the world of the far, far future. They had travelled a long distance forward through time, probably hundreds of millions of years, judging from the awful changes that had taken place outside.
The sun was no longer bright, but instead had grown to at least ten times its normal size and faded into a glowing red giant, it's photosphere so dim it could be observed with the naked eye, shining down on a barren, desolate wasteland that was now Earth. The sky was no longer blue, but a brown, oxide-like colour, indicating the most of the oceans had long since dried up. An everlasting daytime starlight dotted the sky around the dying sun, slowly setting on the western horizon. Alan could see the stars had merged into completely new constellations over the eons. He could vaguely make out the constellation of Scorpio which had merged with Proximal Centauri, among other familiar patterns of stars. The Milky Way had long since disintegrated and scattered. There wasn’t the faintest trace of life to be seen on the ground, everything down the last mosses and lichen long extinct.
Staring at their dying sun, Alan saw a large black shadow moving across the red giant; the moon or another planet was causing an eclipse that could only hide a tenth of the enlarged sun. But then he realised it was far too big to be the moon; it was none other than Jupiter! It seemed the Earth had since left its old orbit around the sun and merged with the Jovian System, becoming a satellite of Jupiter. This explained how the planet had been spared from annihilation as the sun had expended over countless centuries, swallowing up Mercury, Venus and Mars. The rabbits were staring at the changed world with horror.
"Where in Frith's name are we?" gasped Bigwig, staring at this endless desolation, "This Frith-forsaken place is your home?" Alan shook his head, realising his big mistake, "No, we just travelled in the wrong direction; we should have penetrated the warp in reverse to get back."
“Well then, get us out of here, I’m freezing!” groaned Hawkbit, shivering from the bitter cold. Alan’s eyes darted to the small thermostat on the control panel, which read a chilling –50 degrees Celsius. Judging by their laboured breathing, the atmosphere was also drastically thinner, with a lower oxygen concentration; the ionisation caused by the Earth's magnetic field was slowly ceasing, allowing the lighter gases to escape into space, making it almost impossible to breathe. Even inside the cabin, now that the insulation was gone, the cold easily penetrated the fuselage, turning the plane into a flying icebox, which would soon become a flying coffin if they didn’t get out of there fast.
The cold and the thinness of the air getting to him fast, Alan activated the pilot heat and anti-ice system to buy them some time and did a 180, flying back towards the warp. The ice-cold, bone-dry, rarefied air, which was all that remained of the Earth’s once breathable atmosphere, was making his head spin, imminent blackout from oxygen starvation to the brain kicking in fast.
Struggling to stay conscious, he doubled back towards the warp at full speed. As they approached, the lack of oxygen finally got the better of them and they all started slipping into blackout, one by one. Alan struggled to fight the fainting sensation, knowing that if he passed out now and lost control, they would all be doomed. Don’t go to sleep now. Just think of flying…think of flying… But it was no use.
Just before the blackness of unconsciousness overwhelmed him too, in one last desperate effort, he reached to the pedestal and activated the trim, levelling the plane out, keeping it from falling out of the sky. The ghost Cessna disappeared back through the time warp and into the past…
In the next few thousands of millennia that followed, the enlarged sun started to shrink until it became a white dwarf. By that time, the dead Earth had fallen into a deep freeze, its remaining atmosphere frozen solid, as it entered an everlasting Ice Age of eternal darkness. Even its molten core finally cooled, reducing the planet to a lifeless sphere of frozen rock orbiting a dead star. By the year 5 billion A.D., it had become yet another lifeless, frozen world with an unknown glorious history dating back thousands of millennia, which no intelligent being recorded anymore.
By 8 billion A.D. the sun had became a black hole, swallowing up the Earth and every other orbiting celestial body still remaining, eliminating the solar system completely. By the year 17 billion, the secluded little corner of the universe that had once been mankind’s home was gone. The Earth was no more.