Author : Dez Thomas

Instinctively I closed my eyes: I didn’t want to record my death. My heart pounded in my chest.

I landed with a thud on the surface, expecting the scorching heat of the baked earth to surge through me.

My legs buckled and I felt the unforgiving ground push hard against my knees as I rolled forward, tumbling. Momentum carried me onto my feet and my instinct told me to run, fast; I had no idea where, anywhere. I was off balance and disorientated and yet somehow upright.

I tried opening my eyes, the searing light caused me to squint.

“Quick, over here!” It was a male voice to my left.

I leant sideways and staggered his way. A hand grabbed my arm and then brought me quickly under control. I was being restrained but I didn’t struggle.

“You’re alive, you’ve made it. Now stay still. We wait here till dark.”

The ground trembled like the planet was shifting on its axis, again. There was a time, not long ago when the darkness visited just once a day. Now it was happened every other hour and descended in an instant. Whenever light returned, its dawn heralded a savage wave of searing heat, burning and igniting everything caught in its glare.

It was a miracle I wasn’t dead already. I had survived the landing but death was still waiting for me.

A man whose name I would later learn released me from his vice like grip. I was tapped on the shoulder, my signal to move. There were others around me, the darkness covered us all like smoke. I could barely see as I stumbled my way along the still burning ground, trying to staying close to the others.

I could hear mutterings, the shuttles were coming. The solar storms whipping the planet from space formed a deadly gauntlet, and yet still there were some who bravely defied the risk. I once opposed them: the Strays. Now they were my rescuers.

Around me now it was pitch black, an iced wind had cast away the heat of the short day. We had stopped. I assumed this was the rendezvous point.

“What’s your sign?” said a male voice.

“Are you talking to me?” I said, my voice trying not to sound objectionable.

“Yes, if you want a seat on that thing?”

“H” I said.

I wasn’t going to lie. There was a time when I would have done. Today it no longer mattered. If I was to die that day, I might as well dump the truth behind.

No one said anything, for an eternity.

“He comes with us.” It was the same voice which saved me from the firestorm.

“What’s your number?” This time a female voice from behind me.

The wind was picking up, I could feel it buffeting against me, the effect was to herd us all closer together.

“506” I replied.

The blue lights of the shuttle dazzled us at it descended. It struggled in the whipped frenzy which surrounded our huddle. For a moment I feared it might crash as it battled to remain upright on landing.

I was ushered on board to a softly lit, warm cabin. I was leaving Terra Cocta as disorientated as I had arrived, except this way round it was on a soft leather seat. I had hope suddenly. There was still uncertainty and fear coursed through my veins. I was one of lucky ones, chosen perhaps or maybe just by random chance.

I sat back, my mind daring me to relax. It wasn’t over but at least I’d made it this far.