This Peaceful State of War

is my WOTF-winning story.

Far in the future, Bianca is the only planet where people have ever found any form of intelligent life. The planet has two species that look remotely humanoid, but none of the human scientists have been able to make much sense out of them. The creatures have nothing to trade, so human interest has waned, and the care of the planet’s human outpost has been left in the hands of a religious order. But recently, the two species have gone to war with each other. It is envoy Miranda Tonkin’s task to determine if it is worth human effort and money to try and stop the conflict.


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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.”

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