The good folks at WOTF have OK’d me to produce an ebook version of my winning story.
Here is the first scene:
“Ash,” Brother Copernicus says.
I rub the substance between the thumb and fingers of my gloves. It’s fine and powdery, and white, unbelievably white.
A thick layer of it covers the field of tree stumps and broken branches, all the way to the wall of rain forest in the distance. Heat shimmers above the brilliant surface.
Yesterday, when arriving from Solaris Station, I saw these tracks from space. They looked like scars, as if a deranged soul has taken a knife to the planet, cutting scores in the cover of forest.
“The Hern burnt these tracks wherever they destroyed the Pari villages.” There is raw hatred in Brother Copernicus’ voice, even when filtered through his rebreather mask. “They stacked up the debris from the houses and the bodies and burnt the lot. Always at night, so we wouldn’t notice.”
I let the powder trickle from my glove, fighting the impulse to rub my hand on my protective robe. I can’t. The action of rubbing might trigger a spark that will lead to all sorts of trouble in this high-oxygen atmosphere. Those warnings played in the cabin of the landing craft have etched themselves in my mind.
“Why is it so white? Has anyone analyzed this?” The color intrigues me, and I wonder why the ground underneath the patch where I’ve picked up the powder is moist and cool.
“I’m sure someone has. Is that important? It’s ash, Envoy, human ash.” Brother Copernicus brandishes the word human like a sword, challenging anyone who dares to disagree. “You’re standing on the biggest murder site in all of humanity.”