Awen: Tongue of Flame

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They were injured, and they were tired, yet discovering another seven survivors was no small feat. If only they could forget about the thousands of missing colonists across the planet, they might come around to being appreciative of the victory.

The ground beneath them rumbled, and an avalanche of debris crashed through the weakened ceiling of the mine shaft. A brief explosion of gases and dust belched outward, smothering the seven in an instant.

A tide of uncontrollable wheezing and violent coughing grew louder, as panic took hold. 'We're running out of air!' Grace wailed.

Following a partial collapse, the mineshaft was lacking in oxygen. Blockaded by a massive boulder of slag, their only way out was no longer a viable option.

Peering through a tiny eight-inch hole, where solid stone met steel, the petrified whites of eyes were vainly searching for a glimpse of their rescuers. Fearing the worst, Grace and those with her who could stand, began maniacally clawing away at the surrounding layers of soil.

'This thing will take some shifting!' Jensen said.

'We can... help from this side.' Grace offered, clearing her throat.

'Save your energy, Grace; you're going to need it.' Hal said.

'Hal, if we can ply that gap with something, then we can create an opening large enough to get them all out.' Jensen suggested.

'Spread out and look, there's junk everywhere, who knows, we might get lucky.' Hal ordered.

Whilst the others were off scavenging for tools, Rachel and Connor both stayed with the trapped survivors. Cluing them in on the details of their journey left them awe-stricken.

Grace did not believe her. 'You saw an alien creature?' she asked.

'The remains of one, yes.' Rachel replied with a straight face.

'Fascinating.' The older man blurted.

Grace laughed. 'Don't tell me you that you believe in aliens James?'

'All I'm saying is, we are on another planet, in another galaxy... we have to be open-minded Grace.' he lectured.

Grace walked away. 'Aliens, I wonder what's next?' she muttered without turning around.

'I've found something, give me a hand, will you?' Kelly said, immediately regretting her attempt at picking up the massive piece of split rebar.

Folding his arms, Jensen stared at her with a blank expression. 'You do realise that this is still attached to the wall, right?' he sneered.

'Everything else is too small! Just help me, will you?' she asked.

There was a great struggle with moving the steel beam, but eventually, it broke apart. Time stood still, the effort seemingly taking hours when, in reality, it only took a few minutes.

At last, the wedge was in place. ‘Again. One. Two. Three. Push!’ Hal called.

Four of the seven began to push against the blockage from the other side, although their contribution was only slight.

Greasy palms were thrusting aggressively against the beam, gripping it tightly until the slag barricade began to tilt on to its side.

'It's falling back!' Jensen yelled.

The slag began to swing back at a frightening pace, metal crashed with metal, and the striking vibration made everyone jump.

'Come on, again!' Hal repeated.

With a bewildering inner strength, they pushed once more, and startling war cries sounded to a show of brute force.

The ruined vehicle appeared to sway in place for several unbearable seconds. Frightened that it would fall back again, they give it a final jolt. With a thunderous crash, the heap of slag toppled over onto the floor, and at last, the trapped survivors were free.

'We should leave them here.' One of the seven argued, looking at the unconscious survivors.

'What are you talking about? We can't leave them.' Rachel interrupted.

'Thank you, Rachel, and you, you wouldn't even be here if Jasper hadn't thrown you out of the way of that blast!' Grace bellowed.

'We need sheet metal, tree branches, and some rope.' Jensen listed.

Holding both arms out in defeat, Kelly sniggered. 'Hell, let's just wish for three intact stretchers while we are at it, we'd have more chance of being teleported to safety!'

Jensen laughed. 'You're right Kelly, but there has to be some more junk left out there for us.'

With more eyes searching for scrap metal, their task was less tedious, and half an hour later, a proud-looking Jensen presented his creations.

'I'm impressed.' Kelly admitted.

'What'd you expect? My talents know no limits!' he boasted.

'Neither does the size of your ego.' she whispered, covering her mouth.

Fashioning two and a half stretchers with what he had to work with, was a miracle. Jensen had outdone himself. The third stretcher lacked a supporting head-rest though, and as luck would have it, one of the injured would be drawing the short straw.

Hal and Rachel lifted one stretcher, whilst Grace and James carried another. Grace had insisted upon helping, as a matter of payment for their rescue. Dragging the incomplete one was Jensen and Kelly, and to their dismay, rickety supports threatened to buckle already.

Choosing the least injured survivor to ride the incomplete stretcher had been the better option, or so they thought. The poor fellow's body performed a wild dance, as the bottom half skipped across uneven ground. Thankfully he was still unconscious, and would not raise any complaints about receiving a few more superficial bruises.

'I see smoke!' Jensen yelled.

'The whole damn planet's on fire.' Kelly sighed.

Dropping her end, as the heavyweight nagged against exhausting muscles, she stopped walking. 'We can't move any faster Jensen.' Rachel said.

'As quickly as we can then.' Jensen agreed, every sign of life only reminded him of his missing family.

Reaching the summit of a particularly steep hill, they were met by a horrid sight. Charred remains, human and animal alike were frozen in place amidst endless grassy plains of fire and ash.

Small spindly fingers clung around his neck once more, and Hal felt Connor stir, his curiosity was peaking. 'Don't look.' he said.

A sullen silence ensued, and they trudged on without speaking. Offering to switch places with James, Hal was immediately told not to by Connor. 'Sorry James.' he apologised.

'We're almost there!' Rachel promised, her landscape reading skills were still proving their worth.

'That's right kid, not much longer now.' Hal repeated to Connor.

A cruel warmth crept over them once more, and it was becoming harder to breathe. The unbearable sensation was starting to worsen as daylight approached.

'It's coming in waves!' James said.

'What do you mean? The heat?' Hal asked.

'Yes, every few hours, another heatwave approaches. They're very unpredictable in terms of temperature and duration, though.' James replied.

'You don't say.' Jensen commented.

The sarcasm was lost on James. 'It's true, they'll continue to get worse as well.' he reasoned.

'Perfect.' Kelly blurted.

'The sun is rising.' Rachel noted. They could somehow hear the crackling, as beams of wicked light began to flood over the already crispy burnt blades of grass.

'Pick up the pace!' Hal screamed, amidst the fluttering of a catching breeze. If the prevailing winds were to be worse than last time, they would not survive for long out in the open.

They ran, they stumbled, and the stretchers were becoming a crushing weight. Rachel fell but got straight back up onto her blistering feet; they had to reach that ship, no matter what was coming.

Holding out his flat palm, Jensen crouched to one knee. 'Get down!' he whispered vehemently. Their first sight was not that of the ship. Lying before them were several fresh bodies, of which were soaked in crimson red blood.

Dropping the stretchers in a panic, they all dove for cover. Gazing further ahead, they noticed the stolid presence of the ship at last. What they did not expect to see, however, were fourteen civilians lined up in a row outside, each of them bearing a variety of untreated injuries. Limp hands were tied tightly behind their blindfolded heads, and suspicious figures leered over them with ill intent.

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