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Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Yes. Just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Spoilers to The Truth. Post-col.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Post-col, angst, romance, Knowle/Shannon.
SUMMARY: As the lights go out over a dying world, the spark of human life lives on.
MORE STORIES: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org.
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2003 eligible.
Her name is Lola.
She is an unlikely companion for the apocalypse. Weak. Fragile. Feminine. Unlike him in almost every way. She has left one tribe and joined another, and she sits with a rebellious outcast, on the outside looking in. The irony is not lost on him.
"Why are we watching this?" Shannon wonders, lighting a cigarette from her stance by the window. She is illuminated against the ravaged landscape. He can see the wall of fire where Baltimore used to be. The lights are already out across the Bay. They still have power in Chesapeake, but not for long. The power grids are falling, one by one. It's just a matter of time.
"History lesson," he says. Nods his head at the documentary on the screen before him. It's a big-screen TV he hauled in from the shop down the road. He didn't loot with the looters, but now the looters are gone as well, and as of thirteen hours ago, electronics are disposable items. They might as well see out the technological age in style.
"We're a far cry from the australopithecus," she says, tossing the DVD case back to him. He catches it neatly and sets it down on the coffee table. "You're about three million years behind the times."
"I wouldn't say that," he demurs. The rebel, Hercules, pets Lola's knee, and Lola hoots her approval. "It's a whole new world out there. We just took a nosedive off the top of the food chain."
She takes a drag on her cigarette and releases it. The smoke lingers a moment, then dissipates. "You don't have to sound so pleased about it."
"Don't you think it's interesting?" he wonders. He watches as Hercules lowers Lola back into the grass and mates with her. Fascinated.
"Six billion people died today, Knowle. Interesting doesn't quite cover it."
"A few generations out of a three million year journey. Those peoples' lives would have passed in the blink of an eye, evolutionarily speaking."
"Evolution just hit a dead end," she says, waving at the TV screen. Her lit cigarette leaves faint trails of light in the air. "Extinction, Knowle. There aren't any humans left."
"There's us," he says. "Us, and others like us. We still have human blood."
She pitches her cigarette out through the open door over the balcony. "We aren't human. We haven't been human for a very long time."
"They called us human replacements - do you remember that? Hasn't occurred to you that we have replaced the humans in the food chain, Shannon? The alien race made us to purge humanity, but our humanity lives on."
She stares at him. "They'll turn on us."
"Yes," he says. "And they'll win for a while. Maybe a long while. But they can't kill us. The human race will continue to evolve as it always has."
"Will it?" she wonders. "Evolution comes from the cycle of living and dying. Each generation replaced by a better one while the older one dies out." Onscreen, the older leader fights Hercules for Lola, as though to demonstrate her point. "We can't do that, Knowle. We can't die."
"There are other ways of evolving," he shrugs. "There's love."
She turns to face him fully, eyebrows arched high with surprise. She musters a laugh. "I never picked you for an idealist."
"I'm not. I'm a pragmatist. Love is the great motivator. It's the drive to know another more deeply. It's what makes us grow and change to meet the things that are outside us."
She leans back against the doorframe in stupefaction, staring at him as though for the first time. "I've never heard you speak like this."
He takes a long draw on his bourbon, warming to his theme. "They call the australopithecus the missing link. Because they walked upright. But that was just the catalyst. When they started walking upright, it made their pelvises tilt the other way. That's when they started mating face to face." She listens, brow lined with thought, more attentive than he's ever seen her. "I think that's when they began to become what we are. When they could look into each others' eyes. When they stopped mating and started making love." Light flickers on her hair, on gleaming eyes as she watches him, enthralled. "Love is Darwin's missing link, Shannon. It's why the race will live on."
She shakes her head in wonder. "You never cease to amaze me."
"How so?" he asks her. Not sure whether to be flattered or insulted, or some combination of the two. Does it really surprise her that much that he ponders what they are?
She shrugs. "I just never thought I'd be standing here, listening to you talk about love."
Well, no. Somehow that doesn't surprise him. Theirs was never a fated love affair. They've tolerated each other all these years because there was no one else. They were alone together, bonded by their essential difference and nothing more. Their unusually diffident lovemaking at sundown was not lost on him. She means to leave here tonight, he thinks, and he doubts she will return.
"Like I said," he says. "It's a whole new world out there."
She begins to speak, but just then, the television flickers, once, twice, and cuts out entirely. He blinks, looking out the window at the new patch of darkness along the skyline. They're left there looking at each other in the flickering light of the fiery remains of the city.
"Bye-bye, Lola," she says dryly, and brings another cigarette to her lips.
He tops up his drink, and pours one for her. Gets to his feet and brings it to her by the window. "May she love and grow," he toasts, raising his glass a little.
She clinks it with hers. "Amen."
They stand there, smoking and drinking in the dark.
Presently, he looks away from her, out at the ruins, and says, "I know you're going. I wish you wouldn't."
She swallows hard on her drink. Doesn't deny it.
"The mission's over, Knowle," she says after a while. "We were made to destroy. And we did, whether we liked it or not, just because of who and what we are. And now everything that held us together is gone."
He shakes his head. "We have a new mission tonight, Shannon. To love and to grow." It sounds more like a cheesy pick-up line than the exhortation he was shooting for, but he goes on with it anyway. "Are you really going to stand there and tell me there wasn't any love between us?"
"Of course there was," she says impatiently. "But it was built on us being outsiders together. That's all. That's not the kind of love you're talking about."
"That's all Lola had," he says. "And she became us. It's enough to go on with."
She stands there, looking out the window with him, shrugging. Frowning a little.
"It is," he insists, urgency filtering through his voice. "It is." Whatever the hell it's built on, he needs her. Maybe he didn't before, but it's a whole new world out there.
The corners of her lips curl upwards. "We owe it to the species?" she says, lightly mocking, but fondness filters through her voice, as well.
He smiles in spite of himself. "You know what I mean." He turns to face her. "We owe it to ourselves. And to everyone who came before us."
That affects her somehow. Remorse flickers over her features, and she glances back out the window at the devastation outside.
He seizes the opening. Takes her arm with his hand. "We can evolve, Shannon. Please." He recognises his own inadequacy, his inability to phrase it as a feeling or a need, but it's all he has. Armchair philosophy of the history of a dying world.
"Knowle," she says. Lips trembling. Visibly torn.
"Please," he says again. Cradles her shoulder with his hand and turns her to face him. Holds her eyes with his. Wills her to see the things he hasn't learned how to say. Wills her to want to watch them take hold and grow.
She stands there with him, hands held limply beside her, but finally, sighing, she raises them to his chest. He doesn't know whether it's to bring him closer or to push him away. Her eyelids are lowered, as though shielding her from his gaze. Passive. But she doesn't pull away.
He leans in, dipping his head a little to find her lips with his. Her kisses are brief and brusque at first. But then her mouth grows soft and opens for him, and when she finally looks at him, her eyes glitter with unshed tears. She clutches at his shirt, tugging him hard, holding him close to her. He trails his palms down over her arms, and she shivers, releasing his shirt to grasp at his shoulders with her hands.
He still doesn't know whether this is her yes or her goodbye.
"Stay," he whispers against her lips. "Please stay."
She closes her eyes again, but she doesn't let go. Doesn't answer him either. Just kisses him - he can taste her indecision as well as her tears - and works his buttons free.
He doesn't say it again, but he thinks it, parting her clothes to slide his hands over her flesh. He transmits it with his palms at her waist and up over the planes of her back. A message imbued in the path of his fingertips, from her neck, down over her breastbone, and into the valley that falls between her breasts. She breaks the kiss, leaning in to him, breathing his name in a sigh. Leads him backwards to the couch, eyelids lowered. More tentative than he's seen her before. More raw.
She doesn't look at him when he eases her trousers over her hips, and she bows her head to his neck when she does the same to him. He cradles her, teasing his fingers through fine dark trails of hair, and he wishes she would meet his gaze. She finally looks at him when she tugs him close, ready to draw him inside her, but her gaze is hesitant. Unsure. He doesn't think she's going to stay, and it hurts him, and he rests his head against her shoulder so she can't see how much. It's all gone to hell out there, and he doesn't want to be in hell alone.
He feels the change in her. Just a ripple, a spark of resolve in place of her indecision. "Not like that," she whispers, teasing her fingers through his hair. Tugging him, gently, to look at her. "Face to face."
Hope flares within him. It isn't the answer he was hoping for, but it's a start.
She never gives him his answer, but she stays, making love with him there, and as the lights go out over a dying world, the spark of human life lives on.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The documentary Knowle is watching here is based on the BBC doco/drama Walking With Beasts, specifically the episode Next Of Kin. Does this make me the only person to have written an XF/Walking With Beasts crossover? *grin*