Silence reigned on the battlefield as Kali assessed the scene. The people outside the combat area were still streaming through the wormhole as fast as they could, but they were also moving as silently as thousands upon thousands of people could move, as if they sensed that something was wrong and dangerous here. The only human sounds besides their movement came from further back down the line, as word began to spread of the danger ahead, and from the occasional wailing, frightened child.
“Kali…you don’t have to do this,” Ryan said. He knew he sounded like he was pleading, but he didn’t care. He was pleading.
“No. I don’t.” For a moment Ryan dared to relax, but Kali fixed eyes on him that burned like flame. Metaphorically, although given the fury in her gaze, it wouldn’t have surprised him if that was literal. “That was supposed to be your job.”
Ryan swallowed hard.
“The unbridled arrogance you have displayed, Eschaton, is beyond words to fully comprehend. There is a cycle to the universe. This cycle keeps entropy at bay. You want to save humanity now, but at what cost?” In spite of her apparent rage, Kali’s voice was the calm, measured tones of someone speaking to a child that didn’t understand the hot stove would burn. “No one knows how many cycles can be broken before entropy reigns supreme and the universe starts to die in truth. Is it a thousand? A hundred? A dozen? Do you see what you’re doing here? You’re securing the safety of billions, at the cost of the entire eternity. Countless trillions upon trillions. More, even.”
“Those people don’t exist yet!” Ryan said, his voice desperate. “I’m not sacrificing real people who are live and here right now in exchange for the potential people that might one day exist.”
Kali shook her head, and she looked so…sad. She wasn’t insane like Enki or a monster like Bast or Moloch. She seemed so reasonable. “You’re what they call a millennial, right?”
“Yes,” Ryan said, confused by the change of topic.
“One of the biggest things you millennials spoke out about was climate change. The scientific likelihood that humanities actions were slowly killing the planet. You likely would have died before that came to pass, but why?”
“Because it still would have harmed people that…crap, I walked right into that one,” Ryan said, grimacing as he saw the line she was starting to trace.
“Exactly. Your actions right now, Ryan, accelerate the time when the Universe will die. How many people do you believe that’s worth?”
“It’s different. I’m stopping humanity from going extinct?”
Kali shook her head. She was walking over towards him, and everyone tensed, but she made no threatening moves besides the sheer fact of her approach. “So human life is worth more than whatever life comes after it? So human life is worth more than the lives on other worlds? Is that what you’re saying?”
“No, of course not,” Ryan whispered, although he already knew what was coming next.
“That is exactly what you are saying, Eschaton. You have decided these lives are worth more than the lives of future generations. Of future species. You have decided these lives are worth more than the entire universe.”
“Ryan-” Crystal started to say, but Kali cut her off.
“Crystal,” she said, her voice soft. “I cannot imagine how hard things have been for you. An Eschaton from a bygone age, having to live millions of years with the grief of a billion souls. I…when I learned the truth of what you were, I wept for you.” She put a hand on Crystal’s shoulder, an affectionate gesture. “Truly. Enki told me, and I wept. The burden you carry has been immense. But you are the greatest proof that I am correct. These people only exist because you did the noble thing. The correct thing. You sacrificed the people of your world so that these might live, and now you want to save them. Can’t you see the people of the next world will be as worth saving? Can’t you see the people of the universe beyond that are as valuable as these lives. Human had their time. It was mostly good. At times it was terrible, but I imagine that’s true for every species that has ever existed. You, Crystal, are proof humanity is not special. Just another beautiful race that had its time, and needs to pass away to allow for the next.”
When Crystal went silent, Ryan spoke up. “We aren’t entirely starting from scratch, Kali. We cannot take any records with us, or the sun will still explode. But we can take the knowledge in our heads. We can recreate it there. And from there we can help other races. Maybe even find a way to reverse or undo entropy. Or extend our lives for countless eons using black holes as power sources. We could persist beyond what would happen if the cycle broke and slowly species succumbed to entropy – and we could save those other species, too!”
“Could you?” Kali asked. “It took millions, if not billions, of years for life to re-emerge after Crystal ended the last world. Do you really think that if humanity obtained the stars we would respect those species we found that emerged, when we had eons of advancement on them? What, in all of human history, has given you reason to believe we would do that?”
“Of course nothing,” she continued. “You’re American. You live in a country that was built after an apocalypse destroyed civilizations that you’ve never even heard of or barely remember from a few classes and monuments. You live in a country that was expanded by spreading that apocalypse with them. You should understand, better than here, what humans do when they reach a new civilization they are more advanced than them. If you need more context, ask Coyote or Crow. Ask them to tell you what happened.”
“That was wrong,” Ryan said. “What happened there was wrong and terrible. I’ll grant that. But that’s something I can’t change. I can change what happens now, and I can try to do what I can to steer what we do in the future.”
Kali shook her head, and sighed deeply. “Ryan…I understand now. You aren’t willing to listen to reason. I thought you were driven by fear, and that you could be convinced your path was wrong. That fear shouldn’t rule you. But it’s not fear. It’s hope. A fool’s hope, but still hope. I…hate that you’re forcing me to do this, but I don’t hate you. Not anymore.” She raised the staff of Ra. “I hope you understand and won’t hate me either.”
Ryan closed his eyes then took a deep breath, dropping into a crouch. “Keep the fight to me,” Ryan said. “Not to these people. Spare them, and I won’t hate you.”
“Ah,” Kali said. “But that means letting them live when, for the sake of those to come, they must die. I understand, but no. I accept your hate as a small fraction of the price needed for the fate of the Universe. Your hate…and these lives.”
At the last word, countless bolts of lightning lept from the clear sky towards the crowd below.