David looked up from his scout-craft, marking the Desolation’s position. It’s scorch pattern would lead it to the left of his craft for a good hour before turning back this way. The Desolation was a hulking black shape on the horizon, wide as a castle, hovering high enough to break and burn a forest. Its wide, flat form left an empty trail behind it, a field of flaking gray ash. To either side, churning in the hot, ashy blasts, swayed the trees. They were amazing, twisted, organic compositions. But in the end, they were just beings who had not yet been disassembled to their barest parts: flakes of ash.
David turned from the Desolation, his grip tightening on his rifle. The Desolation would not be the only thing killing today. He stepped towards the trees, their rifted trunks rising high, open, strong. But they, too, would turn to ash. He disappeared into the forest.
As I begin the second draft of Dust to Dust, I am struck by the stark setting. The story has turned around to be from David’s perspective–Ash’s enemy from the first draft. And as we meet him, he is tethered to this giant, incinerating machine. His landscape is eternally half living, half ash.
David, as punishment for compassion towards an enemy race, wears an implant that deadens his emotions. And as he struggles to feel, to act, his world washes sideways in the effects of the implant.
And so it is that he finds himself, according to orders, standing with a gun over an unarmed “enemy.”
Every moment after marks the slow, dawning horror of what he has done. The implant may have turned his soul to half-ash, leaving his actions confused, but the consequences cannot be erased.
I have felt similar moments of dawning horror before. The act, at first, seemed normal. It fit every subconscious rule of society, every implied lesson of my childhood. But as the consequences played out, the invisible weave of our customs suddenly became tangible. As tangible as a bullet from David’s gun.
We are all shaped from the invisible constructs of our societies. But that does not need to stop us from waking up–from finding the strength to change.
After the dawning horror will come the sunlight of awareness, and the ability for action.