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The new age is brought about through war and genocide, bringing about the elevation of one gender and the diminishment of another. The First Empress is ruthless, eradicating all stains of the past to bring about her vision of utopia.

Only one person stands in her way.

Submitted: August 07, 2012

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Submitted: August 07, 2012

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Baal was done running. She couldn’t run anymore. It had just sapped the life out of her, slowly but surely, over the course of a thousand years.

When they finally caught her, the women clad in white, they did not execute her as she’d expected. Clearly times had changed, that the age of brutality had slowly transitioned into the age of enlightenment. What they did do, though, was even more surprising than the pardon of her death sentence.

They brought her here.

The columns rose high, marble white and imposing, touching upon an arched ceiling smothered in frescoes of void borne vessels and their accompanying captains in brilliantly composed portraits that merged seamlessly into the background, a product of the period of grand architecture that inevitably accompanied a new age, every square unit painstakingly laid down by hand, atom by atom. The dark roof, like a star spun night sky, stood out in stark contrast to the white earth beneath it, lit so that it appeared as if one was outside and the images were engraved onto the heavens themselves. Between the columns ran a red carpet, carrying on until the end where it met a simple grey stone throne.

She kneeled, touching the soft red fabric beneath her feet before casting her eyes out and up. Beautiful, she decided. A monument to womankind; one that would undoubtedly last a billion years.

‘Move on,’ said a soft voice from behind, a hand tenderly grasping her shoulder, willing her to stand.

Baal shuddered. Even through the fabric of her clothes she could feel the inhuman touch of skin – no warmth and softness, despite the carefully measured grip so as to not accidentally crush her scapula and clavicle. She rose slowly, quietly delighting in the very slight burning sensation from the manoeuvre. It would be the last time after all; she was quite sure about that.

The protectors fell in around her, forming a diamond with her at the centre – they wore no armour and carried no guns even though their alert poses suggested the contrary, ready to kill at a moment’s notice. They marched in perfect step, the sound travelling easily in the echoing expanse, reminding her of a perfectly tuned printing press.

Baal made no attempt at hiding her scrutiny as she took each one in and, at one point, walking backwards. All alike. All alike and female. But they don’t feel right.

Within minutes they stood before the throne, a woman sitting upright in its great mass. The guards kneeled simultaneously, the clask! of their knees striking the floor at the same time hurting Baal’s very human ears. She did not follow suit, choosing to remain standing.

The First Empress Combine of the Empire, thirty thousand years into the Reign of Combine, made a very thorough show of gazing her up and down, the motion ever so delicate as her fist found her chin and rested on it.

‘Leave us,’ Combine purred, blue eyes locked on Baal. The troops obliged instantly and simultaneously, turning and marching in one fluid movement.

The Empress stood from her throne, dusting off her sleeveless white robes that bore no marks or insignia, the product of a future where such distinctions were imbedded in full names. The woman’s weighty title was the only vestige of an earlier age, one she had chosen to carry on once her successor took her place.

She approached and slowly circled Baal, studying her. Baal couldn’t say she’d been this close to the Heart of the Empire before, having only seen pictures and videos of her, but the Empress certainly exuded more authority in person than her nimble and fragile appearance suggested in said media. As far as a woman went, she was perfect in every conceivable way, ways Baal could only full appreciate were she to submerge herself into the between substrate that humanity had embraced many thousands of years ago. For reasons unknown to Baal, she’d chosen to keep the mole that adorned her left cheek.

The Empress wasn’t the only one who embodied perfection. No, they all did. Every single one of them and there was only one exception in the galaxy, nay, in the Universe.

Herself.

Combine inhaled through her nose like she was savouring a particularly fragrant dish. She said, ‘You smell of decay, your body withering away.’ She circled Baal once more before stopping in front, her robes briefly tugging in the previous direction before flopping to a rest.

The accusation, the one Baal had been aggregating for many millennia, flew from her lips. ‘You tampered with my memory, with all our collective memories, with our entire history!’ She almost screamed the last, stepping forward only to be held back by an invisible field, her fists pounding once against the imaginary glass.

The Empress stepped airily aside as Baal’s echoing voice faded into the quietude. ‘Correct and, as of right now, you and I are the only ones in the Universe who know of the existence of men. And, once we are through, I will once again be the sole bearer of the truth, the burden that will befall my successors until the end of time.’

Baal retracted her hands, pressing fingertips against her closed eyes. ‘But why? Why would you do such a thing?’

Combine sighed heavily and sadly, the expression sullying her ageless features, briefly casting her as a picture of an old matron or widow, eyes alert and brows closer together with a small droop to her lips.

‘They… ran out of expression.’ She looked around, from an invisible point to an invisible point, as if reliving images that only she could see, but then Baal could see them too, portraits of men that had otherwise been erased from history, their obviously different characteristics – angles, hair, muscle, and so on – easily setting them apart from females, though not so much so that they couldn’t be identified as human.

‘They had become a splotch of colour that was ever so slightly out of harmony. They were a single note played a microsecond too early. They were an actor on a stage of actresses, unable to fulfil their intended role because of a single stutter. That is art, Baal. They saw their time had come. That it was time to move on. I only eased that transition, washing the slate clean.’

‘But art is not about destroying…’ Baal quailed. ‘Art is about remembering… Preserving that which is right and beautiful; wrong and ugly.’

The Empress shook her delicate head, apologetic for all the difference it would make. ‘I once read, and I quote, “In an age where Nietzsche murdered God, Darwin reduced us to apes, Freud exposed our inner being, Einstein exploded our being and Hitler mechanised genocide against a backdrop of global mayhem and political turmoil... how can anything in art be considered avant-garde, or shocking, or apocalyptic? What truth is left for revelation when we have seen the true nature of humanity; when we have held the mirror up to nature and seen nothing? The fundamental truth remains: we are alone in a purposeless universe with nothing but ourselves to huddle with, in a cold and bitter wind of time.”’

‘Ely? The Revelations of Eli? I… I thought… I’ve never heard it before yet it’s like I know every word. Why would you quote this…?’

‘The human race has become our canvas, ready to be changed and moulded, to become something else. When you look at our bloody history, how can you despise what we have finally become? How can you despise our attempt at becoming something greater? How can you despise it when you know there is nothing out there in this vast, boiling emptiness?’

The Heart of the Empire’s demeanour changed instantly, a subtle rise in height and tone like that of a commander. ‘This isn’t about right or wrong, Baal,’ she pontificated. ‘They are still with us, though not in any form they would recognise. That they themselves recognised their own end only adds to the irony.’

Baal shook her head in disagreement, though it would be to no avail. The debate had been settled a long time ago and, even though the ramifications would reverberate for eternity, there was nothing they or she could do about it. Maybe except pointless resistance, but why would she turn herself in only to continue resisting?

Even if they did change, change is not in the eye of the beholder. Baal could become like them, in form, but still remain as herself. She knew what had magnified her terror of the change that had swept humanity: sitting on the side lines on the first row, able to appreciate it first-hand, fearing the unknown and being unable to partake. Her pride, while foolish, at least recognised that had she been there with the rest, experiencing the change herself, then things would’ve been very different.

Baal always thought of herself as a strong woman, but as of late she’d come to realise that it was not the nature of strength that defined anything. It was the absence of strength, the urge to give in before it was too late, like a half empty glass as opposed to a half full glass.

It made it a little easier to think of it like that. That she wasn’t giving up because she was weak.

‘You can’t…’ She paused, inhaling sharply, averting her eyes all the same. Moisture came to them, real moisture and not the fake crying she’d seen them capable of. ‘You can’t leave me alone… as a monument to the past?’

‘No. I cannot leave you as a remembrance of the past any more than I could stop their phasing out,’ Combine replied simply with a tone that brokered no argument. ‘Even if I were to humour your request, would it truly be what you would want? Martyring yourself for a history that no one will ever read or remember, just because the principle matters so much? You stopped resisting… only to continue resisting again?

‘No, Baal, you are not that woman. You wish to move on. Let me help you help yourself.’ The Empress grasped Baal’s hands in her own, this time warm and soft, just like human skin, her beneficent expression softening like inflexible plastic exposed to mere human warmth. ‘Feel this? I may not be human anymore, but I can still be human. No one is changing that and I doubt it will ever change. Even if, heaven forbid, it did change, who says any one of us would even notice it?’

Baal’s eyes widened with each spoken word as the Empress held her hands with infinite patience, a concerned curve upon her lips as she waited for her unwilling subject’s answer.

In the end, after minutes of deliberating, Baal finally said, ‘I guess it doesn’t matter, because when you change me I won’t care, will I? I’ll look back and think “Wow, what a fool I’ve been” and that’ll be that.’

Combine smiled for the first time, pleased at the final enlightenment of the last human in existence. ‘Something like that.’

Baal had singlehandedly consumed several minutes of Combine’s time, more time than the Empress had spent spinning the atoms of a segmented star, and more time than she had spent putting the final, delicate touches to the void fresco that adorned the ceiling above them.

The last human, redeemed and, soon to be, destroyed. The Universe cleansed from the all destroying touch of Man…

And final peace amongst the stars.

I am done, Combine though, as she’d done billions of times during Baal’s pause. I am done, she repeated, as if saying it again would add to her realisation. A successor can be appointed and then I can leave this place and Evanesce.

The Heart let go of Baal’s hands, stepping backwards until she emerged herself into the throne, indifferent to Baal and the world around as her considerable awareness returned to the burden of macromanaging a fledgling empire bound by the ever so cumbersome speed of light, one where it would take a message ten thousand years to reach its ever expanding periphery, and another ten thousand to return.

Baal didn’t care, basking in the light of the throne room, throwing back her hair and letting the ceiling rain its light upon her, enjoying the sudden sensation of absolute freedom from poverty and burden and…

Despair.

She hoped she would not know its kind for a long time.

Upon the realisation of the revelation did the world slowly drop away, picking up speed until Baal fell faster than possible, objects and worlds whipping by until suddenly she was somewhere very different, in a different time and in a difference place.

Dark clouds threatened above and it rained in a slow continuous beat as the wind licked at her hair. She sat on the crumbling cliff edge, the soft rock breaking away beneath her in mouth sized bites, feet dangling into the emptiness above an intruding sea eating away at her foundation. The Sun descended, touching the horizon, the threatening night it promised to bring a very reality, enveloping the world in dusk.

Change, serenity and continuity.

Home.

 


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