Dust

(Originally posted on Sweet Little Bad Girl, after DUST514 was announced in 2009. Obviously, the released game bears little resemblance to this footslogger’s story, but very little was known about it at the time.)

 

What sort of person do you have to be, to turn your back on everything you ever knew?

The tip of her knife drags through the thin layer of dirt, blade grating harshly against the stone beneath.

When your life is ruled by the almighty ISK, what do you cling to?

The lines she draws form a map. She doesn’t notice; the map is etched more permanently in her mind than it is in the dust: we are here, they are there, and soon, we shall be there, too. And they won’t be.

She could be Intaki, Civire, Ni-Kunni, Sebiestor… with her hair shaved back to stubble, dressed in a sleeveless shirt and fatigues, distinguishing marks erased when she gave up her name for a number, it no longer matters.

The toe of her boot, scuffed and weathered, broken straps replaced slapdash with a strip of elastic splint wrapped around her ankle, rubs the map from the ground.

Her detail only arrived here this morning, but already she’s been here forever.

When she first started, every place was new to her; she had never before left her homeworld.

Staring too much lost her an arm. But that was alright, because she died later that day, victim of an enemy groundsweeper run.

After too many iterations, the field shrinks. It becomes little more than a game on paper: your location, your target, your obstacles, your support. Circles and crosses; everything else becomes circumstantial.

She stares with grey eyes across a field littered with the detritus of human civilisation, canyon walls of chrome and crystal rising away to form a deadly labyrinth, mined and riddled with traps. She sees through these, only focussed on the target three miles away.

It will be gone tomorrow, or she will be.

The pay is good; it would have to be, for all the risk they take. She used to save it, hoarding against the day when she could buy that little apartment in the city; now, she spends it on better armour, better weapons. New iterative clones of herself, her memories preserved and injected into each new body as the old one is killed.

She remembers every death.

It no longer traumatises her as it did in the beginning. Too many iterations have inured her to that flash of light, that moment of red agony as parts of herself move in directions they were never meant to, mingling on the ground with parts of her comrades before her last memory ends.

Her comrades used to be people, once. And still there are nights when she and another will take comfort in each other, reassuring themselves that they still live. But like thousands of others, she and they have become faceless ghosts, pieces of meat directed to live and die by iron-clad gods who stride the night skies, whose only concerns are their personal loss and gain, heedless of the souls who scrabble for their will in the dust.

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