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Dark Field: A tale of the far future

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  • Dark Field: A tale of the far future

    Rating: PG

    Characters: No one you know.

    Setting: The Buffyverse.

    Disclaimer: The universe belongs to Joss...if he still wants it afterwards.

    Summary: Everything that has a beginning, has an end. We have seen the First Slayer. But who is the Last?

    She has no speech. Not, at least, that you would recognize. Sound is not a useful transmission medium in the vacancy between the stars, nor a very effective one in denser fluids than our air. In the hollow where her larynx might have been is a radio narrowcaster. The code it produces might, just possibly, be identified as language by someone of our era. Of course, she'd have as much trouble understanding you.

    She has no name. In any case, none you could pronounce. For that matter, she might not recognize the concept. She knows others by many facets of their nature--genetic code, skin patterns, the precise spectral hue of their eyes. What use, to one such as her, is a name? So we may call her what we like. Any sound or symbol we use for her has meant many, many things in the eons that have passed between her and ourselves. "Ayenis" seems euphonious enough; it will serve.

    Does she look strange to you? If anything is strange, the fact that we can recognize her as human is. Blame light, beneath whose speed our descendants crept out into the universe. There are doubtless still colony vessels crawling on toward dead galaxies with humans more human yet. She has muscle, blood, DNA. She has two arms, two legs, a head. If this last is bare and shiny, if her outermost skin is metal patterned with swirls of color, if her eyes glow dim like pale camera lenses...well, what of that? She is more like you and I than anyone living closer to home--save perhaps in simulations run in the quantum-computing hearts of neutron stars, if we knew where or how to look. Is a virtual ghost more like us than her?

    She is, no doubt, stronger and faster than you or I merely by virtue of the subtle engines that augment her limbs. We can be certain she is more perceptive; her eyes at least should hint to us of that. Is she smarter? More than likely, though her ancestors eschewed most neural augmentations. Still, what does the word "superhuman" mean when humanity itself has changed? Yet she is.

    Is it cold here? Blame the sun. We are hanging close enough to it that this worldlet's rotation halted long, long ago. The atmosphere does circulate, contrary to what physicists a few short years before our time believed, so there is no simple boundary at the line between darkness and light. The color of life here is deep, deep indigo--not green--but it thrives as much as can be expected. There simply is not enough energy in that dull red burn to make us comfortable.

    If we could breathe the air that fails to color her sky, we might look up searching for the stars. She could point a few out to us, still glowing dim at the red tag-ends of light, but we would not be able to see them. Or we could travel some distance beyond the terminator and gaze up at the sullen crimson dome hanging above us. This is, you see, the end, or as close as makes no difference. This is the whimper that ends the world.

    One might think that there is no point of contact between Ayenis and ourselves, save perhaps her origin. Our era is lost in the bright prehistoric glow of a yellow sun. But where history fails, legend sometimes lingers on. If it seems that, on other worlds, there might be another like Ayenis--well, that would be both right and wrong. Remember light speed: by the time you reached such a girl, both of them would be dead, and the final stars with them. By any reasonable measure, then, Ayenis is the last.

    The Last Slayer.

    Call her movements "boneless" and you may confuse her. Figurative speech often falters across the narrowest of language barriers, and bones she still has, though the joints have changed. A blade flickers in her hand, slicing through the neck of the last of her foes. Save one.

    Ayenis has no Watcher, and no need of a Watcher. Her awakening triggered dormant codes left in the neural implants that pass from mother to child; they roused, and spoke to her, feeding her knowledge. Of the first of her kind, the girl who might have been named Nikki or Buffy or Darla, who was augmented by the Shadow Men at humanity's dawn. Of the ancient skills and weapons that still serve her, even now. Of her purpose, the long long fight against the vampires and the demons and the forces of darkness.

    He is old, old, old beyond imagining. He bears glints of metal too--a radio voder wired crudely into his throat, for one--but they make him less, not more, strange. His skin is green, scaly, furrowed, and nubbly horns sprinkle his forehead. Shark teeth ring the red portal of his maw. One of his hands has become a crab's pincer; the other bears slender, crowded fingers like the legs of a spider.

    "You don't understand," he rasps. Or so we might imagine him to speak. Any translation we produce will be crude, but we will do our best to convey the essence. "Damn you to the black void! Stop and listen to me!"

    Do we know him? Well...

    We call vampires immortal. No one has ever seen one die a natural death. There are creatures, though, which are born and die in the space of a single summer, to whom human lives are eons. Even the stars go out. Even black holes evaporate. We have seen the undead age, have we not? Perhaps they too will perish...given time.

    And if not...if this is one we have seen before...imagine a life longer than geologic eras, if you can. Where would you put it all? Imagine the slow change of personality wrought by time. Even in our short lifespans, our thoughts can alter beyond recognition. And our time is as lost to him as the moment of your birth is to you.

    No...we do not know him, whoever he is.

    "I understand enough," Ayenis tells him. "Nothing ever changes with you. Open the hellmouth--"

    "End the world," he finishes. "You're out of your mind."

    "Am I?" She swings the blade again. Wood enough like that of Earth is scarce, scattered across galaxies; piercing his heart is useless. The cross? Religions have risen and fallen more dedicated to the hunting of these creatures than any form of Christianity ever was. And as for the sun...his skin steams amiably and tans a little under its scarlet illumination. Beheading will have to do.

    "Look up!" he snarls, leaping easily aside. "What do you see?"

    She has no need. She knows the projections. In another fifteen years the expanding shell of gas around her sun will be close enough to burn away the atmosphere--to kill everything that lives here, even her. And even him. And then? Cooling stellar corpses and black holes. Where there is a will, there is a way, it was once said. But amid the universe's ruins, humanity's will is all but gone. To every generation...but there will not be another. She has no answer for him.

    "If I wanted to end the world...all I have to do is wait."

    And what good is their war, here at the end? Slayer against vampire...when time is about to devour them both.

    "Every moment counts," she mouths, and perhaps she believes it. Or perhaps not.

    "Yes," he sighs back. "And if you allowed me a few more..." He reaches up to parry, half-distracted. "The energy's too great, but--" Her feint is not a feint. His dust settles slowly through the thin air.

    And what was the point, anyway? Her battle is with the forces of darkness, yes...but the darkness is about to take them all, whether with force or with none. A remnant reflex comes to life somewhere in her heart, and Ayenis shivers.

    There is a data solid on the table, a medium a few decades old. Change has slowed, here at the end, but stopped? Not yet. To Ayenis' eyes, though, it is readable, if archaic. His plans. His dream.

    If temptation is the very thing one desires, but at too high a low must the price drop before it ceases to be temptation? How high must the cost of inaction rise?

    Ayenis swallows hard and sits, thinking. She is not much for contemplation--few Slayers have been--but she can manage it when she must.

    Far beyond the farthest stars, or meters beneath her feet, the eternal fires burn on.
    DeadWar: Burden of Proof
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