The firefighters waded into the pond, heading for the waist-deep water at its center.
One by one, they removed and shook out their fire shelters, which flapped and billowed in the wind. Each man pulled his shelter over his head and down his body like a big upside-down sleeping bag.
The second-to-last to pass Pete was the crew newbie, Williams. Pete grabbed Williams’ arm as he ran past.
“Eric, where the fuck is your shelter?” Pete shouted.
The young man looked terrified. “Forgot to take it out of my pack,” he confessed. He cast a glance over his shoulder. “Fuck, man. I don’t wanna die!”
Pete didn’t hesitate. He shoved his blue pouch at Williams, who grabbed frantically for it. “Get in the water and deploy!”
He pushed Williams in the direction of the pond, and the kid took off at a stumbling run.
“Mayday! Mayday!”Gutierrez jogged by, shouting into his radio. “Deploying! We’re deploying!”
The only response from the radio was a blast of static.
Pete looked around, trying to gauge how much shit they were in right now.
Maybe he’d just screwed himself by giving his shelter to Williams, but as the lone shifter on this fire crew, he figured that his superior speed and strength gave him a better chance of escaping the flames.
He was just about to turn and follow the others into the relative safety of the pond when the smoke parted for a moment.
A flash of yellow on a nearby hillside caught his attention.
It was the other fire crew. They were working a line on a nearby hillside, apparently unaware that they were being encircled in a rapidly-advancing horseshoe of fire.
Pete looked at the pond, which looked like a weird modern art installation now, eighteen silver columns billowing and rippling in the gusts of burning-hot wind. No way to tell which one sheltered Gutierrez with his precious radio.
“Fuck.” Pete spotted a patch of unburned forest on the other side of the pond, and beyond that, the hillside with the other fire crew.
If he moved at his full natural speed, he just might be able to reach them before the fire did.
Without anyone to see him move like no Ordinary human could, Pete ran with shifter speed, easily clearing the width of the pond with an effortless leap.
Smoke burned his throat and filled his mouth with taste of ashes as he raced through the forest, trying to outrun the racing flames.