Author's note: I wrote this piece in 2016 for Tor.com, and revisited it this morning. Loss, death, and tragedy have been on my mind. Considering the news from Florida, how could it be otherwise? So, I decided it was time to pull this over to my blog, and share with you today.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? At best that was a hollowed-out truth. What failed to kill you still exacted its own pound of flesh, and not even sleep offered an escape. The nightmares were definitely getting worse.
Surely there was a gaping hole in her heart that must have turned black by now. Perhaps all that remained of it was a deathly hollow, carved out by the worst kind of flesh eater. Survivor’s guilt."
Death and Mechsuited Marines. Nothing wreaks havoc like them. Indomitable is as much about the one as it is the other. My protagonist, a young Marine named Promise, has a habit of storming into trouble. With the help of a plucky AI assist, she cuts a wide swath. Death’s her second shadow. But the fallout haunts her. And the pain slowly fades.
Charles Dickens christened death “Our Mutual Friend.” It has certainly been for me. I’ve buried a sister and a daughter, all the grands, and a cousin of mine named Jack. Death reaped each of them at inconvenient times. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Absence has made a poor bedfellow.
Promise is no stranger to loss either. Her full name suggests as much and, for good or bad, it’s a bit on-the-nose. Promise. Paen. I’ve caught flak for her name. Flak flak (like the shells thrown by the German Flugabwehrkanone, or anti-aircraft cannon). When I named her I was playing with words, sure. But I also meant to convey something deeper…that life is dualistic…both tragic and hope-filled, like yin and yang. We will all be wounded by something and probably by many somethings in this life. Many someones too. Loss is unavoidable. Death has a habit of being on the nose. But life is always ahead. Hope is out front, out there. It has to be.
Promise first came to me at age seventeen. Orphaned. Jaded. Congenial like a rusty bayonet. She was mad at the universe. She enlisted to start over, to slake the pain, and to maybe dish out some cold-served retribution as a mechsuited Marine. But war had other plans. It kept taking the people she loved from her. The pain only grew worse and to continue she had to turn and face it. What Promise didn’t anticipate was that she’d learn, while pivoting toward mortality, to care again and to let the women and men she served with scale her walls. Turns out death’s sting is not something to be shouldered like a rucksack, on a solitary march through life’s tempest. Death is our mutual friend. We’re meant to greet the reaper together.
Sometimes we write for our lives. For me that’s involved marring my love (truth be told my guilty pleasure) for military fiction and mil-speced battle scenes with a need to draw out the deep waters of my soul. I had to crank the well-wheel to find out what was down there. Up came a traumatized character who talked with her deceased mother on a regular basis, a centuries-old, semi-automatic GLOCK named Janie, a suit of interlocking armor that begs for a 3D printed cosplay, and a veritable band and of sisters and brothers as real as any family.
Up came the reaper too. He likes to howl and gnash his teeth. But I’ve seen the fear in his hollow point eyes. He has a spot at the table, over there, where he sulks while I share a meal with friends. The food is good. The company, better. Reap sulks because death doesn’t frighten me so much anymore.
(article originally posted at Tor.com, July 25th 2016)