Life is precious.
The creature’s breath came in ragged gasps, the rhythmic rise and fall of its chest slowing with my approach. Two arrow shafts stuck from its side. I had aimed for the heart, but the shuddering breath told me I had hit the lungs. No matter. I drew the spear from my back, locking eyes with the beast as I pressed the blade into its neck. Its final breath shivered away, the light in its eyes dimming along with it.
Life is precious… when we decide it is.
Although it took Durango to make me understand this simple truth, it applies just as much to Earth. If there’s something to gain, snuffing out a few lives for it is incidental at best.
Don’t believe me? Fair Enough. But I have a simple question to ask: do you like eggs?
Then consider battery chickens back on Earth. These pitiful creatures are stuffed by the dozen into a cage the size of a phonebook, never once knowing the warmth of sunlight felt by their free-range cousins. I don’t think anybody can argue it’s humane… but nobody can argue that it isn’t quick, easy, and cost-efficient. “You have to crack a few eggs,” after all.
And there you have it. It was, still is, and forever will all be part of an inevitable cycle of life: somebody must suffer for another to gain. Even worse, sometimes another must suffer simply to prevent your own suffering.
I once came across a fat businessman sprawled out in a field. A wrong step into a ditch had left him with a broken leg. He told me he was an accountant, or had been; not that any of that mattered here anyway. He also told me that if I helped him, he’d get me anything I wanted.
I suppose the humane thing to do would have been to bring him to my bonfire, cook him stew, and patch him up. But instead I wondered of how much energy I’d have to spend just dragging his massive bulk across the snow. Then I thought of the food it would take to nurse him back to health, the precious hours lost foraging and hunting in the dead of winter. And what if he made it? I didn’t know this man. Might he turn on me? Would he shatter my leg, leaving me incapacitated in the same field, waiting for some fresh sucker to decide my fate?
So I left him there. It wasn’t worth it.
I could hear him yelling from where I slept, regretting only that I hadn’t given him a merciful death. But his voice grew hoarse as the cold night air came in, fading as the hours passed. I finally dozed off to silence.
I didn’t return to the area until a few days later. I had been following the tiny foot prints of a pack of diminutive dinosaurs, keen on either scavenging their prey or making a meal of them. Imagine my surprise when they brought me to the same field as before, including the same accountant… minus several pounds. The little beasts had just about stripped the man of every inch of flesh. All that remained was a clean skeleton in a suit, more reminiscent of a Halloween prop than the person I saw before. I know I should have felt pity, or perhaps remorse… but I could only think that at least now he was light enough for somebody to bother dragging him into a grave. Not me, of course… but somebody.
Some things just aren’t fair in life.
That one’s also as true in Durango as it was back home. The accountant had a stroke of bad luck– so what? There are plenty of people on Earth who have to worry about getting hit by stray bullets whilst walking home, whereas residents two counties over trouble themselves over whether or not they should get dessert. Could you really expect both places to share the same moral quandaries?
I once belonged to the latter group. My happiness hinged on the contents of my dinner. My favorite shrimp salad? Pure bliss. Some greasy burger at the last joint open after a long day? Somebody was going to pay.
Never mind that the money I spent on either meal could have fed a homeless man for a week. You trudge on through life, vision tunneling as you’re forced to rely on the most mundane items to keep you going. The outside world be damned, so long as I was content. Things were going well. I was due for a promotion, my blood pressure was down for the first time in a decade…
…Then my plane was swallowed by light.
It started with some turbulence. Harmless, I thought. Then the seats began to shake, the tremor rocking us so suddenly that whole rows popped free from the fuselage. Luggage exploded from overhead bins. Bags and passengers tossed around like the hand of God himself was shaking the plane by its tail. I regretted the time I’d wasted. Now I would never be given the chance to grow old… I could taste my tears as the streamed down my aching cheeks and between my clenched teeth.
My acclimation to Durango came gradually. At first, I just was grateful to have survived the crash. I kissed the ground like some holy man on a pilgrimage, clutching at the dirt, sobbing. I even adjusted alright to the wildlife here. Raw mammoth was a delicacy after not eating for three days. I thought a simple life living in harmony with nature wouldn’t be so bad.
It wasn’t until I was beaten half to death by a group of hunters for scavenging from their kill that I learned the true nature of life on Durango.
The taste of blood was a much-needed reminder of how violent my reality had become. I wailed and cursed in denial, thrashing in an impotent rage. But the truth before me never faltered. Durango was my life now.
So I got with the program. Live and let die.
I can still recall the face of the first thief whose hands I had to chop off. That I ever let it haunt me just embarrasses me now. Every transgression, every death stacks upon the other until you don’t feel anything at all.
Sometimes life is more precious when another has to suffer; that much is true. But when it’s your turn to hurt, you best believe you’ll run as far as you can to avoid paying the price. Life is precious? Please. MY life is precious. I just miss living in a world where I could take it for granted.
But as with every rule, there are exceptions to this selfishness. They exist, however rare, standing in stark contradiction to what every practical fiber of your being tells you is true. They tell you there’s another way when you know that path ends in ruin, forcing you to consider the impossible.
At least, that’s what the woman did.
I’ve come across many different people in my life here, but none like her. Strange doesn’t begin to describe her… in fact, I can find few words that would. Not that she ever struggled for words herself.
“Saying there’s no other way doesn’t make it so.”
How can she make it so simple? Imagine explaining your life philosophy, the mindset that pushed you through the hardest struggles of your existence, only to have it torn down in a single sentence. I wanted to should at her, to lash out, to ask what she could possibly know about my life… But she was holding a gun, and all I could hold was my tongue.
I’ll never forget that night. I was out hunting beneath the stars. Dangerous, maybe; but if you can trick your prey into thinking they’re hunting you, it simplifies things. The night sky of Durango is also something to behold. There are no city lights to dull the stars, no planes to rob them of their splendor. Beyond being easy on the eyes, they’re also vital for navigation. And not in just the “which way is north?” sense—tunnels of light precede each Warp, giving you plenty of time to plan your next move.
When the light opened up above me, my next move was to run.
Plenty of people chase the Warps. Commodities from Earth are scarce and even basic scrap metal can be salvaged into something useful. But you can never tell exactly what’s going to pop out. I knew one Warp-chaser who was always set on being the first one onsite. Lost touch with the guy for a few months before I finally ran into him… or his boots, at least, from where they stuck out from under a bus. Guess some people are just plain out of luck. I did stop to give him a moment of silence. I’m not a complete monster. But I didn’t waste much more than a few seconds before I got to looting. The haul was so good that I’ve been chasing Warps ever since.
This particular tunnel did not disappoint either: it brought in a whole damn plane. The pilot had somehow managed to reduce the plane’s speed and soften the crash, but that didn’t stop an enormous fireball from lighting up half the island when it hit. I became suddenly aware of the faces and bodies of other pioneers lit up by the fire, all of us drawn to the growing plume of smoke. We turned to regard one another in silence. My heart was racing as I unsheathed my sword and sprinted toward the wreckage.
I used my blade to push aside the dangling, limp feet of the unlucky passengers who had been thrown from the plane into the trees. They provided a macabre frame to an equally unnerving scene. The front of the plane had taken the brunt of the impact, leaving most of the body unscathed. One wing burned steadily. With the cargo all but crushed in the “landing,” I turned to my secondary concern: survivors.
The pilot and copilot had certainly died, but their final efforts had somehow spared the lives of most of their crew and passengers. Many were still buckled in, their unconscious forms limp despite the licking flames. Others were awake in their seats and all too aware of the approaching doom. The crew scrambled to help and restore order, but there were just too many people and not enough time. Knowing a lost cause when I saw one, I started to turn away.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
And there she was, standing right behind me.
A supernatural calm surrounded her. She seemed comfortable in the chaos; not that it nourished her, but that it was her element. I’ve never seen somebody stand with such purpose… and yet I couldn’t figure out what role she filled in Durango. Hunter, farmer, explorer…nothing fit. I tried to not show how unsettled I was, moving to push past her.
“I’m leaving. Get out of my way.”
I wasn’t much of a fighter on Earth, but Durango had bloodied my hands. Size, strength… I’d overcome that, and more, in the name of survival. Despite all that, this woman showed no fear of my blade. My stomach twisted in knots.
“You followed the Warp. You see there are lives here that can be saved, and yet you’re planning on leaving?”
Was she serious? I could hear the cabin crew in the background giving firm reassurances to the passengers that a rescue team would be here soon. To me, that was the exactly the kind of innocence that got you killed. None of them had a clue as to the hardships that lay ahead of them, and I wouldn’t be the one to babysit them. Besides, my life was too precious to wait around and see what dinosaurs showed up to pick off the survivors.
“You think these people have a chance? There’s obviously no rescue crew coming, and they need to find that out the hard way. You want to save a life? Save your own. That’s the way of things here.”
“Saying there’s no other way doesn’t make it so.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I raised my sword… as she raised her gun.
“You value your life, right? That’s what makes you endure? Then it’s time to earn your right to keep it. You say there is no help coming… wrong. You are the rescue crew.”
It’s funny how being held at gunpoint can make you see the world in a whole different light. I had fought to the death over scraps of food, been hunted by enormous creatures capable of tearing me apart in a second… and yet the biggest threat I would face was a woman who would put me down in a second for not lending a helping hand. It suddenly seemed she had a valid point.
A single shot in the air. That’s all it took to gain not only the attention of every soul there, but their obedience. Those who came in search of scrap turned into rescue workers, while the plane’s crew took advantage of the confusion and gained control over their hysterical passengers. We managed to save almost everyone still trapped in the plane, using the flame’s once deadly fires to then warm the injured.
The dinosaurs soon came, drawn by the scent of blood just like I thought they would be; but the only thing they ended up eating was bullets from the woman’s gun. Turns out there was a damn good reason she looked so comfortable with that weapon. I’m not sure what was more remarkable: her humanity, or her aim.
The woman approached me once everything settled. She sat close and laid a package of food on my lap. I was hungry, so I ate.
“Thanks for showing me a bit of your compassion. Perhaps you won’t be so slow to show it in the future. Never forget that it’s what makes you human. It’s what makes you precious.”
I wanted to ask if she was being sarcastic, but I already had enough of being held at gunpoint for one day.
The threat of violence can make you forget who you are. If nothing else, it has reminded me how important my life is to me. I suppose my opinion hasn’t really changed… though I also admit I think twice about turning my back on those in need.
Later that morning I was helping survivors pull the bodies of the deceased off the plane when the woman rode over to us on her motorcycle. She removed her helmet, addressing us with a look of satisfaction.
“I’m K, by the way… Strange name, right? Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you all later. Take care.”
If you ask me, her name was the least strange thing about her.