'Julie, can you open up the hatch?' Hal pleaded once more.
Trembling hands reached for pockets that were no longer there.
'M-my... key card.' she said.
'Everyone, I need you to look for a key card. Quietly.' Hal instructed.
'It's not here!' Grace replied.
'That sounds about right,' Hal muttered. It would still be where she left it, inside the trouser pocket of her discarded legs. 'I'll be back.' he finished.
'No, I'll go Hal. You've done so much for us already.' Jen said, already dashing off into the night.
Several unsettling minutes past by at a slow pace and the gunfire which had followed Jensen came to a halt. 'Here, we go again.' Hal said.
Jen was not even out of breath when she returned, walking straight up to the hatch panel. After flashing the partially melted card several unsuccessful times, she started to fear the worst. Sensing this, Hal stood up, and taking the card off her; he waved it across gently one more time.
A beautiful pinging of electronics rang through their ears, and with a long whoosh, the shuttle hatch began to cycle open. 'They're closing in, Kelly, spool up the engines!' Hal ordered with a heavy heart.
'Quickly, everyone in.' Grace said, dragging in the remaining wounded with James by her side. After strapping Connor into his seat, Hal pulled himself back outside to carry Rachel.
Striving to keep his promise, he struggled to move her. Hal looked up dizzyingly to see Taylor helping to bring them both back inside. 'You've lost too much blood, Hal, sit down, please.' he urged.
Feeling faint, Hal collapsed into his seat and passed out.
'We have to leave!' James yelled.
'I'm not leaving until Jensen is back, and that's final.' Kelly answered.
'Dammit Kelly, they're right on top of us!' Jen said.
Performing last-minute checks on everyone, as they threw themselves into any chair that they could find. Grace and James were the only one's that were preventing the others from storming onto the bridge and forcing Kelly to take off.
'Where the hell is he?' Taylor demanded, his fist rapping against the inner bulkhead several times out of sheer frustration.
The shuttle was preparing for lift-off, and with the surrounding landscape illuminated in bright white light, terrifying shadows grew larger as they wandered closer. They only had seconds left to leave.
'Too late. We'll have to swing back for him.' Kelly said, trying to reassure herself. She knew full well that any journey back this way would likely mean suicide.
The shuttle began to lift gradually, and time suddenly stood still. Awakening to the keening of the shuttle's firing engines, Hal could hear his laboured breathing, and it felt much like being underwater. 'Where's Jensen?' he demanded.
'We had no choice.' Grace replied.
'Hal you need a blood transfusion, you shouldn't be able to move.' James said.
Ignoring them both, Hal unbuckled his harness with force, and he threw the straps back into the seat. Fuming, he charged towards the bridge. Only making it halfway, he turned spun around as something heavy clattered against the hatch.
'Let me in!' a strained voice grunted. Hal's first fear was that a Blackhawk had somehow managed to grapple onto the shuttle.
'Anybody there?' the voice repeated.
Rushing to the hatch, Hal reset the locking mechanism and forced it to reopen. Struggling to see who it was, as they covered their face from the stifling hot ash atmosphere, the camera lens was failing miserably. 'Can someone give me a hand for crying out loud? I'm running out of air!' the voice complained, looking up at the camera, they bore a look of desperation.
Hal recognised the face immediately; it was Jensen.
Specks of gold from heavy weaponry were streaking across the sky like shooting stars, trailing after them.
'These doors are way too slow!' Hal shouted, punching the panel.
With a goofy grin, Hal laughed with relief. 'Kelly, he's back!' he said.
'Nice one Jensen!' Kelly replied. 'He only has one minute before his air is gone though.' she added pointedly.
The smallest gap appeared as the grinding hatch opened slightly, and Jensen was already trying to hurl his legs inside first. 'What are you doing? Take my hand, you crazy bastard!' Hal instructed.
Lacking the strength, Hal nearly let go. Another hand grasped Jensen's and pulled him inside. 'I told you that you need treatment Hal, sit back down!' James said.
'He needs treatment? They shot me in the ass, Hal!' Jensen bawled.
'What are your blood types?' James asked, scouring through the ships medical supply.
'Well, I'm an AB blood type.' Hal replied, smiling. He was a universal recipient and able to receive anyone's blood.
'You lucky bastard.' Jensen remarked.
'Sit down, Jensen!' James repeated.
Jensen scowled. 'I got shot in the ass, remember?'
'Then lie down, and strap in with the cargo over there!' James suggested.
'I'm not some baggage that you can just throw around.' Jensen complained.
'Jensen, the sooner you strap in, the sooner they can sort out that wound.' Hal reminded him.
Whilst several wild gunshots continued to stray from their paths, others were right on target, crashing into the large bulkheads that lined the compartment. The hatch was still trying to close, and until it did, they would remain easy targets for further attacks.
Weaving to port, and then to starboard, before settling upon a port-side trajectory once more, the shuttle attempted to evade further attacks from the surface.
There were no signs of fire, no crippling heat, nor were there any signs of life at all from where they sat in silence. They had made it out of immediate danger, and Kelly set the shuttle onto autopilot.
Strolling to the back of the shuttle, Kelly assessed the state of the survivors. Everyone was banged up, some more so than others. Hal was asleep in his chair, with red tubes running into his arm, and a clear bag fastened to the ceiling above him, of which read AB on the front. 'We're safe for now.' she said.
Searching for Jensen, Kelly noticed stacked cargo containers; they had been transformed into a makeshift hospital bed. Lying on his front, she saw a white dressing, covering his left ass cheek. Trying not to laugh was a difficult challenge. 'How are you, Jensen?' she asked.
'Peachy poo and the dog slept all night.' he replied. Jensen was out of his mind.
'Morphine.' James said chuckling.
'He wouldn't keep quiet Kelly.' Connor added.
'How's everyone else?' she asked.
'We're fine, could be worse.' Grace replied, sheepishly glancing at the remains of Rachel and Julie.
'Julie didn't make it?' Kelly asked.
Grace shook her head. 'Lost too much blood, she was gone before we took off.' she replied. 'Jasper is still unconscious too. Why weren't there more survivors?' she asked, crying.
Connor kept glancing over to where his mother lay at rest, before refocusing on the flooring underneath his dangling feet.
Walking over to the boy, Kelly brushed her hand through his hair. 'She'd be so proud of you Connor, want to come and help me fly the ship?' she asked, smiling.
Gut-wrenching sorrow filled their hearts, and any memories of happiness seemed to be forever lost. The greed and selfishness of some had taken away too many innocent lives.
Hal awoke a few hours later, although he did not speak. Looking over at Rachel and Julie, he closed his eyes again, whispering a prayer. Breaking down into tears, Hal unsuccessfully tried to hide it. It was not fair for such innocence to be so easily plucked from this world when evil festered without hindrance.
Coming back to check on them, Kelly noticed Hal first. To console him, she hugged tightly, as he sat crying into her shoulder. Abruptly standing up, he yanked out empty tubes and began to pace backwards and forward, before tightening his fists and pounding the nearest wall panel incessantly.
'Hal, it's okay.' Kelly said.
'Is it? Is it? she died, they all died, and for what?' Hal spat.
Connor tugged at his hand. 'Hal, my mother... she wouldn't want to see you like this. She would want us to keep looking for more people.′ he replied, with wisdom which was far beyond his age.
If a seven-year-old child could bring himself out of his grief, even for a moment, Hal knew that he would have to listen to him. 'You're right Connor, if humanity has any hope of surviving out here, we need to band together.' he agreed.
'Where to first then?' Grace asked.
'The way I see it, we've got two choices. We can travel into space, or we can fly over to the southern hemisphere.' Hal suggested.
'I just checked, and we would have enough supplies on board the shuttle to last us a few months. If we can just...' Jen began.
'We've got enough fuel for a trip to the southern hemisphere, with a little extra leftover. Or there's enough for a one way trip to Awen's sister planet, Irtune.' Hal interrupted.
'Irtune isn't a planet Hal, it's a barren rock, with barely enough oxygen to support life.' Grace added.
'It's still better than where we just left, though.' Kelly argued.
'I can't deny that, but we have to think ahead long term now.' Grace replied.
'That planet has no readily available supplies, and we would be cut off.' Taylor chimed in.
'My brother is right; there could be more survivors on this planet. I vote for heading South.' Jen said.
Propping himself up against the port-side bulkhead, Jensen growled, the saliva dribbling down his cheek as he tried to talk. 'Me foamy, done there Hal!' he said, staring into an empty corner of the room.
Hal translated. 'His family is still down there somewhere, and we do owe him our lives.'
'Then it's settled, let's go.' Kelly said.
'Gord, than it's sorted, and she will fond those sloppers.' Jensen yelled, falling flat on his face.
Inhaling through gritted teeth, Kelly felt his pain. 'Ouch, help me pick him up, will you?' she asked. 'Why didn't you put him in the shuttle's medical bay?' she added, the thought had been bugging her.
'There was a medical bay?' James asked sniggering.
The vote was unanimous. They would head south in search of survivors and look for a new home. The entire northern hemisphere may well have been burnt to a crisp, yet there was always the possibility that the South could have been somewhat luckier in their sheltering from the calamity.
Skipping through static riddled video feeds of the planet below, Hal noticed the smouldering ruins of the once flourishing city of Thalia, dwindling steadily into the fiery horizon as they gathered speed.
Thick stretches of black cloud cover formed a veil, shielding their eyes from the cycle of fire and death which continued to ravage the surface below, and the shuttle's overheating computers sparked ferociously before finally shutting down.