Disclaimer: I do not own any characters relating to either Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Stargate SG-1. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only and does not provide any financial compensation.
Return To Normal
After all they'd been through, they only had nine months together before Dawn had to bury her sister.
Nine months after the defeat of the First, Buffy Summers died for the fourth time.
They'd chosen a spot on the outskirts of Santa Barbara for the funeral, in a location where the geography was similar to where they'd buried her the last time, in another reality. It wasn't a graveyard, but the owner had sold them the land when their mother's boyfriend had asked. The Boyfriend was a very nice, very quiet, very polite gentleman who spoke with a distinguished French accent. So far as Dawn had been able to tell, he wouldn't hurt a fly. The owner hadn't wanted to sell, but when her mom's friend had asked a second time, even more politely, he had rapidly changed his mind.
Buffy had liked the new beau, and he'd liked Buffy, even though she had teased him unmercifully, usually referring to him only as 'The Boyfriend.' Entering a relationship later in life could be difficult, but was made far easier when the adult children of one partner made it unequivocally clear they enthusiastically supported the pairing. Their mother had been given ample evidence that both her daughters thought her new man was a 'keeper.' If Dawn said this was where Buffy would want her final resting place, he intended to see to it that this was where she would rest. No matter what it took.
The funeral was private. The media were kept well back by Jaffa guards who brooked no tolerance for the slightest violation of their rules. Even the cops stood back when the alien bodyguards glared. Everyone knew that no matter what the media had been saying about Buffy Summers, the Jaffa thought she could walk on water. These men were armed to the teeth, almost livid with rage, obviously looking for a fight, and had diplomatic immunity. They were there to honor someone who had derailed the ambitions of a god. Such an achievement resonated with the Jaffa. No one would be permitted to disturb the sanctity of her funeral.
Least of all those jackals who had hounded her to her death.
There had been no warning. No psychic hints, no overt threats, no feelings of impending doom. Dawn had been shopping for groceries with Faith when the younger girl abruptly froze, seemed to stagger at bit, before drawing a deep breath. It took a few seconds for them both to understand what had just happened. Dawn recognized it first, but they'd been preparing Faith, just in case, and the joy of her new-found powers was quickly buried under the horror of the sudden realization of what they also meant. She and Buffy had been doing good, their relationship still tentative but more honest and real than anything Faith had ever known, and being with Buffy meant far more to her than becoming a 'hot chick with superpowers.' So as soon as she realized the full implications of suddenly being Chosen, she'd run away, ignoring Dawn's shouts, and had never returned. But it wasn't hard to follow where she'd been ever since. There was pretty much blanket media coverage of her rampage as she punished those responsible for Buffy's death.
Even though she was now the only living Watcher and would have to go through the hassle of locating the next one following Faith's inevitable demise, Dawn couldn't find it in herself to regret Faith's actions. State Security had asked her to make a public broadcast demanding that Faith had turned herself in. Not only had she point-blank refused, she'd engaged a small army of lawyers to ensure they stayed away from her and their bullshit charges of aiding and abetting. Any political damage resulting from Faith's rampage was their problem. They had refused to deal with the Trust out of fear of discovering just how high up the penetration of their government went, how deep the rot extended. Now they would have no choice but to deal with the results of Faith discovering that information for them, and letting the world witness her deadly revenge.
In truth they'd all suspected that Buffy was working on borrowed time. It had been imperative that they get the new Watchers Council set up before anything happened to her, so she had resigned from the SGC shortly after returning from the mission where they had finally defeated the First. The government hadn't wanted to release Dawn until they were certain that she did not represent a threat… not to mention, both Summers' sisters suspected, in order to keep a firm leash on Buffy. Unfortunately for their plans, when an Asgard transport beam removed her from custody every time they tried to confine her, people started getting the message. She and Buffy had returned to LA to move in with their mother after a short stay with this world's versions of Willow and Tara. It had also taken Dawn some time to recover from meeting the younger, more innocent version of Xander working on their house on this world.
On top of dealing with the emotional trauma of re-introducing herself to a Xander who was nearly a decade younger than she remembered, and a mother who she remembered as having been dead for almost as long, Dawn also had to deal with the fact that the politicians and media in this reality knew about her sister and seemed to despise her. Only the fact that the Key had proven not to be an instrument of God, but the creation of a demonic beast known as the First Evil, kept them from demanding her head. The government was still angry that she had exceeded her orders and almost brought about Armageddon. But with the Key no longer part of their agenda, religious extremists around the world returned their attention to slaughtering each other over their traditional reasons for strife. Buffy had shrugged it all off as politicians covering their collective asses, but seeing her sister humiliated in the media infuriated Dawn. As it had their mom.
Buffy might not have paid too much attention to what was being said about her, but she made damned sure that Dawn got the underlying message. The government wanted control of the slayer, and the Watcher's Council was going to have to figure out a way to work with them despite that, or they would find themselves crushed before they could ever start doing their job. The Asgard were not a panacea. They would help out when they could, but that would not be often enough to be able to count on them to bail the Council out every time it ran into trouble with some government agency or another. The old ways were still the best: wealth, power, and the art of the deal. It would be Dawn's responsibility to do whatever was necessary to set up the Council, and it would be unwise of her to start out by attacking everyone who insulted her sister before she had the clout to make it hurt enough for the lesson to stick.
Knowing from her own experiences with the Ronin that it was good advice, Dawn struggled to reign in her temper—silently vowing that a day would come when she would no longer have to do so—and discussed things with Buffy and their mother's boyfriend. Dawn also discovered that her talents in the stock market were just as effective in this universe as they had been back home, and it wouldn't be long before her portfolio enabled her to fund the required organization. Daniel Jackson had been a wonderful source of information and had been able to open doors to the academic community, and The Boyfriend had provided an entrée into the upper echelon of corporate society. Partly due to their efforts Dawn was well on her way to creating something built on a far superior foundation than that of the old Council when Buffy got shot and made the whole damned thing seem pointless.
Looking around at the funeral party, all of them standing near the memorial site as the reverend gave his benediction, all wearing muted shades of black and many looking as emotionally crushed as she felt, Dawn wondered if she had the strength to continue. Her whole life was mapped out already, with no options to follow a different path. Only without Buffy around she just couldn't find the motivation to continue. Although she would never have condoned it ahead of time, Dawn was uncomfortably aware that had Faith not reacted to the murder the way she had, there might not have been any point in continuing. Governments wanted to control the slayer, and had been molding public opinion in order to ensure they got their way. Either Buffy hadn't seen the danger, or hadn't seen any way to stop them. If nothing else, Faith's extraordinarily lethal rampage was showing the entire world what a slayer could do when pushed too far. It was very unlikely that any future group would conclude that murdering a slayer was a better option than any alternative they might have otherwise chosen.
It had come as quite a nasty surprise to those in power just how dangerous a slayer on a homicidal rampage could be. Four billionaires, three Senators, two generals, and a whole lot of collateral damage later, the survivors were collectively shitting bricks in their armored fortresses over what they had unleashed. Faith hadn't been exactly shy about the precise reason why she had gone after those she had targeted, and the sheer brutality of their invariably painful deaths had ensured there was no way it could be covered up. The Trust had enormous power and influence, but when it came to political survival, they found that those they had once held in complete control were suddenly more than willing to toss them to the wolves rather than take one for the team.
Dawn still had no idea how she'd gotten hold of Thor's Hammer. It had been confiscated by the SGC when Buffy resigned, but a few days later had showed up at their mother's house. Soon after the start of Faith's small war it had disappeared again, only to show up in her possession, several state borders away, with no indication of how it got there. It was amazing the sort of damage that little hammer could do in the hands of someone who was really, really pissed off.
There was only one politician at the funeral. A Congressman from California, accompanied by his son. Others had considered attending for political reasons, but their security details had forbidden it. Dawn had also made it abundantly clear that aside from Kessleton, they weren't welcome anyway. She couldn't prevent her father from attending, but Bra'tac had taken him aside and quietly described in precise clinical detail exactly what he would do to Hank Summers and his testicles if he attempted to disrupt the services in the slightest way. The reporters he had brought along were unceremoniously tossed out by Jaffa guards. The camera he had secreted into his pocket had been confiscated during a search more thorough than suspected drug smugglers enjoyed at the latex-glove-wearing-hands of prison nurses. He looked sulky and frustrated and nervous, the latter probably because Bra'tac was standing beside him holding a six foot tall axe and glaring at him with an expression which suggested he was looking forward to finding the slightest excuse to test it out.
Surreptitiously checking her watch, Dawn could only sigh as how slowly time seemed to be passing. It gave some indication of her state of funk that not even the watch could bring a chagrined smile to her lips, the way it had been able to the past few months. At first she'd been almost angry to discover that Buffy had lied about how she had known when to spring her trap. If was only when she reminded herself that she'd had to 'fudge' the truth a few times herself when she'd led the Ronin that Dawn could see the amusement in what had happened. Buffy's entire strategy for fighting a god had been dependent on a wristwatch that cost less than a hundred dollars. She had managed to sell everyone on her 'visions.' The First had fought with completely inept tactics in order to negate those mythical visions. The SGC had accepted her leadership and strategy because they trusted those visions. And Dawn herself had found a way to force the Key to 'see' a higher-order dimension simply because she 'knew' that Buffy had done so.
None of it had been true. Buffy had known the exact time it would all happen because when he pulled her into the portal, Angel had seen the exact time on her watch. He'd told Buffy, and she'd adapted her entire strategy around it.
Timex would have been so proud.
But today, not even that memory could bring a smile to her face.
Although this world was more urbanized than the one back home, the area surrounding the site was agreeably free of buildings or roads. There were a few trees and plenty of brush, on a ridge overlooking a small dry valley, the afternoon sun shining brightly in a cloudless sky. The preacher's voice fit in well with the surroundings, a deep bass reminiscent of James Earl Jones without the intimidating Darth Vader undertones, easily heard over the swooshing noise of the gentle wind. He was African American, no longer young, his hair streaked with grey, his eyes almost misty with compassion and regret, his lined face showing a deep personal pain and sorrow. He had known Buffy, and his voice trembled occasionally as he described her heroic accomplishments.
Jack was also there, in his uniform, the new stars on his shoulder occasionally sparkling in the sun. Sam Carter stood near him, a deliberate separation maintained between them to ensure that everyone would knew that even though they were there together, they weren't 'together' together. Teal'c and General Hammond stood not far away, both looking stern and disciplined, standing at rigid attention, only their eyes showing the pain of losing another friend. More SGC people stood around them, most of whom Dawn didn't know and didn't have the energy to even learn their names. Only one stood out. Laura Fenton was Ash Fenton's widow. A few weeks after they'd returned to this world, Dawn and Buffy had gone to her house to offer their condolences. They'd had the privilege of meeting his son, a five year old terror who went by the name of Tyson.
Laura had looked devastated and exhausted that day, even though it had been nearly a month since she had been informed of her husband's death in the line of duty. Dawn had silently wondered if having to look after a hyperactive child had made things easier or worse for her. At least there had been something to divert her attention, as young Tyson had been quite a handful. At one point, when he was running around, carrying an open jar of juice precariously balanced in one hand, his mother had screamed "If you drop that young man, your name will be mud!!" Buffy had smiled in a sort of un-amused way Dawn that had noted instantly. When she asked her about it later, Buffy had claimed that several hundred years down the road, Tyson's great-great-great-whatever granddaughter would marry someone whose last name was 'Mudd.' She had looked contemplative for a few seconds before adding that with a surname like that, it was completely unfair of the parents to further burden their offspring with a first name like 'Harcourt.' It was no wonder the kid would turn out bad.
Little Tyson was either on his best behavior or had been OD'ed on Ritalin, because he was standing beside his mother, silently watching the ceremony while struggling to unobtrusively pick his nose. It was cute enough to almost bring a smile to Dawn's lips, before she suddenly remembered why they were all there, and any fleeting amusement died a quick death. She had hoped to be distracted by taking care of her devastated mother, but The Boyfriend was doing a good job of that and Dawn didn't want to interfere, knowing what this meant to their relationship. He would have backed off if Dawn had wanted it, but even if she had Dawn wouldn't have just for the pleasure of watching her father squirm as he was forced to witness his ex-wife turning to a better looking, more successful, and far more respected replacement. Joyce had barely noticed that Hank was even there, and had immediately dismissed it from her mind once she did.
He'd tried to talk to her, once. It had looked like Bra'tac might interfere when Hank made a move to approach her. Before he took more than a few steps, they had both suddenly noticed the man standing beside her, his hitherto polite, gentle, kindly face looking at Hank with an expression that had even Bra'tac consider taking a nervous step backwards. The Jaffa Master had been quite happily telling everyone who would afterwards listen that the slayer's mother had obviously learned from her earlier mistake and chosen a far superior specimen the second time around. Hank had been humiliated, and offended, and otherwise ignored at an event where he, as the 'grieving' father, felt that he should have been the center of attention. Amazingly, very few people at the ceremony felt sorry for him.
Not all of the people attending were SGC personnel. Tara and Willow stood together, both unable to hold back their grief. The young local version of Xander, who still made Dawn wistful over what she had lost, stood behind them, supportive and looking far more mature than he had only weeks earlier. The local version of Rupert Giles, representing the British government, who had been somewhat surprised to be called out of the blue at his office in the British Museum several months before by the famous inter-dimensional refugee Dawn Summers to work with her on a special project. Aside from them, however, most of the mourners worked at the SGC.
It was still in business. The President had promised to give up the StarGate once there was a binding international treaty in place, but the UN had barely started negotiations. Even preliminary discussions had been so acrimonious that O'Neill had quietly been informed that it was likely to be years before they had to give up the 'Gate. It meant they had plenty of time to get the X-30x program in development before they would be forced to work exclusively with starships. Even so, the President was being excoriated in the media for agreeing to give up the 'Gate in the first place. He was already fighting for his political life, and having a slayer on the loose, hell-bent on a vengeful rampage which was taking out some of the most powerful people in the country was not helping. Unfortunately for him, all of Buffy's friends thought he'd given her the shaft and were in no mood to bail him out.
The Boyfriend had sprung for the funeral expenses, which was why the memorial was something far more elaborate than anything Dawn could have afforded. There would be a marker, but no grave. They knew that magic didn't work in this universe, but after her previous experience Buffy had issues with being reanimated. She had written an iron-clad Will giving explicit instructions that her remains were to be cremated. Dawn found it difficult to look at an urn filled with grey ashes as something connected to her sister. As she helped her mother lift the urn, slowly pouring out the contents to release the dusty particles into the wind, she tried to find a connection, any psychic link, but there wasn't one. Only the breeze, and the sun, and the endless sky. If Buffy was there in spirit, she wasn't making any effort to communicate that fact.
Afterwards there were condolences, meeting people she didn't want to talk to, listening to platitudes she didn't want to hear. Buffy had been more than her sister. Dawn had quite literally been made from Buffy, and losing her was roughly equivalent to the feeling of some demonic being reach in and pull her beating heart right out from her chest. It hurt, and it sucked, and it seemed that nothing would ever be good again. She wanted to scream at these idiots that her sister wasn't in 'a better place,' and who gave a rat's ass if she had been such a goddamn hero when she was fucking dead!
But it would have embarrassed her mom, so she simply smiled tremulously and nodded, like you were supposed to do at times like this.
But it was really hard, because with the end of the funeral there was nothing left to do, and suddenly it was all too fucking real. All that was left was to get on with a life where she was a stranger in an entirely new universe, where her mom was alive and wonderful but knew she wasn't really her daughter –although her real mom had known that too—and even if she was treating her like a real daughter she had a new love and a new life to enjoy, and the last thing she needed was her alternate-universe-not-real-sort-of daughter getting in the way. Granted that she had a lot to do, a lot of stuff Buffy was counting on her to do, but right about then it all seemed so damn pointless.
She was the damned Key –although she didn't remember a whole lot about it—so she was effectively immortal. She wasn't like Buffy. Her body could die, but the Key would remember everything, create a new avatar, and it would all start over again. Would the new avatar remember Buffy? Would it be a new version of Dawn, or would the Key start over, with a new identity, a new body, a new life, when this avatar was through?
Dawn had given a lot of thought to the matter of her 'soul.' If she was immortal, did she have a soul? Would she go to heaven? If the Key recreated her as someone who had no idea as to her actual identity, would they share a soul? Did she have any control over it? Did her wishes count at all?
Would she ever be with Buffy again?!
Finally all that was left was the preacher, and Daniel, who hadn't left her side. The Boyfriend had given her a glance, silently asking her if she wanted them to stay, but obviously wanting to get her mom out of the sun. Surreptitiously nodding back to him, neither of them wanting Joyce to know that they were worried about her, Dawn couldn't hold back a slight smile as she watched them leave. The Boyfriend's arm was around her back in a comforting embrace. Nothing would ever make this day 'good,' but seeing her mom in the arms of someone who so obviously cared about her made it slightly less bad.
Finally it was only the reverend, and Dawn was too physically and emotionally beat to take any more platitudes. "Thank you, Father. It was a lovely service."
He smiled gently. "I doubt if you heard a single word of it, my dear. But I thank you anyway. It's the thought that counts."
She nodded, refusing to apologize. She'd just buried her sister. She could be as bitchy as she damned well pleased. "I'm a little tired of people telling me that Buffy is 'in a better place.' I'd rather she was in this place, thank you very much."
There was a bit of an uncomfortable pause while the preacher tucked his hands inside the wide sleeves of his vestments, arms crossed, watching her eyes steadily. Finally he gave a small sigh and spoke. "I'm sure you would. In truth, so would I. As a man of God I'm supposed to believe that a Heavenly reward is far better than any merely human existence could possibly be, but there are times when I have, well, doubts.
"Especially in a case such as this, where I don't believe that your sister has gone on to her Heavenly reward."
This time the silence was more than 'uncomfortable.' Dawn was glaring angrily at the padre, who met her eyes without fear or intimidation. "Exactly what do you mean by that?" His words had infuriated her so much that her response sounded as if the words had to beat their way through clenched teeth.
The chaplain gave her a gentle smile, being very careful to maintain his non-threatening demeanor. "Your sister was a hero, Miss Summers. Heroes by their very nature tend to feel that it is incumbent upon them to take care of others. Your sister's friend Angel consistently chose the path of 'the greater good,' no matter what it cost him personally. You might want to consider that if Buffy was given a choice, say, between receiving the Heavenly reward she had more than earned, or the opportunity to do something difficult, but something important, something for the greater good, how do you think she would choose?"
Eyes almost flashing, her sudden anger pushing aside the pain and lethargy of the previous few days as her heart started pumping and her fists clenched, Dawn glared at the man, ready to become violent if she didn't get the answers she wanted. "What did you do?!"
"Me? I did nothing." In a surprisingly graceful gesture, he used his head to point to her left. "Take a look over there, Miss Summers."
At first she didn't see anything, and it was just as apparent that Daniel didn't either, until suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she was just barely able to make out a vague shape. Buffy. Older. Bleeding. Hands clenched, focused expression intense with barely-leashed rage. Fading in and out of sight, ghostly, never attaining anything close to corporeality.
The chaplain could see her eyes go wide, and knew she'd finally seen what he had been keeping an eye on the entire ceremony. "Evil never dies, Miss Summers. It can be temporarily defeated, perhaps, but like the proverbial bad penny, it always comes back. Its power has been depleted, but over time it will gradually reassume its former hideous glory. It won't forget what happened to it. It won't forget what Buffy did to it. It won't forget what you did to it.
"It won't forget what you are."
Both Dawn and Daniel turned to face him again, her eyes wide in surprise, his in confusion. Both ignored her companion for the moment, although Dawn knew that he would question her later. Unlike everyone else, Daniel would no longer forget who she really was. She even knew why he wouldn't. The padre… him, she could not explain. "You seem to know quite a bit more than I would have expected, Father. Who are you?"
He bowed his head slightly, a small smile on both his lips and visible in his eyes. "A simple man of God, Miss Summers. Nothing more. I do however tend to… remember things. Very well."
"So what do you 'remember' about me? And the First."
This time he shrugged. "The First will never attack you in so direct a manner ever again. It has learned its lesson. Alas, as usual with such individuals, that doesn't mean it won't use other methods to hurt you. Usually these methods involve harming your family or friends or even the friends of those you love. Even reduced to its present degraded state, it remains a god, and as your sister learned to her horror, even 'the Taunter' can do immense damage. It is also a defining characteristic of such beings that they tend to take such setbacks personally, and will actively seek retribution even when it serves only to distract them from their true goals. It cannot harm the Key, but it can kill you, if you can be made to fall prey to its blandishments, and cause emotional trauma to those who care for you.
"Unfortunately this would be true even if you left this reality for an alternate universe, or left this planet to explore alien worlds as a non-human being. Given that the Key operates on a time-frame so much slower than our own, creating an Avatar and absorbing her life experiences is its best option for personal growth. It needs someone like you, and anyone like you can only be considered a target for the First's wrath."
When he paused to look into Dawn's eyes, his expression was gentle, sympathetic. "Your sister knew this. She made her own arrangements to do something about it. There were strong hints that she would not survive the encounter with the First, or would die shortly afterwards. She made, well, essentially she made a 'deal' to be returned to the blissful state of limbo she had previously entered following her death sealing Glorificus' portal. There she could be happy. Content. At peace.
"But available to be reanimated should you need her in the future."
Dawn was horrified. "No! She has done enough! She has paid enough! It anyone deserves Heaven, its Buffy!"
Shrugging his shoulders, the preacher tried to make it clear that this wasn't his doing. "She was a hero! Nobody made this choice for her. Nobody imposed this decision on her. She simply felt that her work wasn't done yet, that she might be needed again. Not today. Not tomorrow. Perhaps not for years to come. Centuries, even. But she felt certain that one day, someday, you would need her again. Emphasis on 'you,' Dawn Summers. There is no witchcraft in this reality, no Urn of Osiris to be abused by meddling fools in order to reanimate her against her will. What there is… well, only the Key will be able to find it. Only the Key will be able to use it. Until you need her, Buffy will be… resting. Content. Happy.
"But she'll also be waiting for your call."
Dawn shook her head in denial, horrified. "Never! She had been through enough! More than enough! More than anyone should have to pay. Let her rest!"
Once again, he simply shrugged. "Your call, Miss Summers. I promise you, no one else can or will bring her back if the Key does not. She will remain there, happy, for all eternity if need be.
"But keep in mind that your sister is a hero. She chose to do this because she is a hero. To heroes, even perfection can eventually become… boring. If you never bring her back, you will never give her the opportunity to decide that she has done enough, and can finally accept the reward the rest of us already know she has more than earned."
Holding tightly to Daniel's hand, Dawn could only stand there, silent, considering his words. This wasn't what she wanted for Buffy. And yet, she could now see that it was something that Buffy would want for her. After she'd been brought back by Willow, Buffy had been so dispirited and unhappy that she had ignored Dawn for months. She had pushed away the sister she had died to save. Buffy had never gotten over the guilt of something Dawn had long since forgiven. She had promised that she would never abandon her sister like that ever again. She'd meant it.
Even beyond death.
Except this time, they had cremated her. In fact, Buffy had insisted on it! Willow had reanimated her actual body; only this time there was no body to be reanimated! When she looked up at the preacher with horrified eyes he understood her concerns before she could put them into words. Removing his hands from the opposite cuffs of his vestments, he waved with an elaborate gesture towards the vista in front of them. "Your sister is here, in the air and the water, in the earth and in the trees. When you are ready to bring her back, she will still be here. You will know how to do it when the time comes.
"It is in the blood, after all.
"As for her reasons for being cremated, they are simpler to explain. There are scientific ways to bring a body back to life, as your friend knows from his experience with the Goa'uld sarcophagus. They all tend to have adverse side effects over the long-term, and lead to interesting moral questions in the short term. For example, a sarcophagus could have been used to heal your sister when she was shot. This was not permitted. It might be rather interesting to find out who is sufficiently important to be granted access to the device. Who chooses, and what criterion determines who is eligible to be chosen.
"It won't be long before that and similar questions are asked as the population at large learns more about the discoveries being made by people like your friend Dr. Jackson. Up until now the military implications have taken precedence when discussing the practical necessities of implementing StarGate-derived technologies. Soon the medical and industrial aspects will take priority during ongoing negotiations. Moral questions such as access to limited sarcophagus resources, or providing hosts for the Tok'ra will also need to be debated. Alas, I for one am not especially confident they will receive the sort of public discussion such decisions truly require."
When it appeared that both people facing him wanted to interrupt, he shook his head sternly and continued. "I should note that particular issue is one of the many reasons the remaining Elder Gods deliberately provoked this crisis between the Key and the First at this point in time rather than any other time in the past few billion years." He ignored the wide-eyed expressions on the faces of his audience as they heard that news. "The Human race is at a cross-road. This is a critical moment in its evolutionary progress. Even they recognize it, and accurately refer to it as the 'Singularity.' In a very short period of time, even as humans measure such matters, they will decide their racial destiny. Either they will grow, mature, and accept their responsibilities as The Fifth Race, or they will turn their back on this destiny, turn insular, and become the sort of backwards tribal cultures too many nation-states on this planet have already embraced because they were unable to adapt to the required cultural changes."
For a moment it looked like Daniel would speak, until he realized that this really wasn't intended for him, so like the chaplain he turned to face Dawn, to see what she would do. As usual with Daniel he was listening, observing, and reaching his own conclusions. He would discuss them with Dawn afterwards, but in the meantime he resolved not to interfere. This wasn't about him.
There was too much to consider, too much to process, so she went with the most obvious, most ego-centric question. "What do you expect me to do?"
The elderly man, if he was in fact a man, responded quickly. "The Key is immortal. In the eons to come, it will witness many such moments of racial destiny unfolding. This, however, will be its first such experience, and because of that unique circumstance become the standard by which all others are measured. Rightly so, in this case. The Human race has the potential to cause an immense change in the political evolution of a significant section of this galaxy. If they succeed, the Goa'uld, the Ori, and even the Replicators will be defeated. The static political structure which has survived for thousands of years will be toppled, and a new, potentially far superior, development track established. Many of the worlds in this galactic neighborhood are populated by inhabitants who are biologically quite similar to humanity, since many have evolved from imported earth-based human stock. Farther out, this is not quite so true. For obvious reasons these alien races have tended to keep their heads down, but once the Goa'uld are defeated it will be up to Humanity to come up with an alternative arrangement for working with such races.
"For far too long it has been incumbent upon the Asgard to maintain a roughly stable balance of power in this corner of the universe. For thousands of years they have been ready to Ascend, but there was no one left who could do what needed to be done to save the younger races had they done so. They needed to await the coming of the Fifth Race to take up the burden for them. It won't happen right away, but if Humanity chooses the harder, more rewarding path, the Asgard and all traces of Ancient technology will slowly disappear. Within a few decades the StarGate system will be shut down. Borrowed Asgard technologies will cease to function. The ZPM's will fail. It will be up to Humanity and its allies to come up with technological replacements for these.
"What arrangement they come up with, and how they implement it, will be critical, and quite the lesson for an immortal being just learning the ropes, so to speak. It doesn't matter in terms of this educational purpose if they choose empire, or a loose confederation, or an even more ad-hoc arrangement of virtually independent planetary states. All will be an important lesson in sociology, and politics, and, perhaps of equal importance, on the limits of power. Your sister, your friend Willow, and even the First received very personal lessons on this particular subject. You may be about to witness it on a vastly larger scale."
He paused for a second, to see if Dawn was following. It was apparent that Jackson wanted to say something, but even more obvious he was determined not to. So the padre continued. "I think you'll find the lessons scale rather closely. Power might corrupt, but it is not inherently evil, until combined with arrogance and stupidity. The reasons for not accepting their destiny as the Fifth Race are selfish, and foolish, and ultimately counter-productive. Unfortunately you can see a similar manifestation of the same sort of situation in Africa, where tribal cultures are maintained in defiance of all logical reason. It seems blindingly obvious to us that they would be much better off were they to adapt to the new cultural reality. But it isn't so obvious to them. You will soon discover, however, that this is not something unique to African cultures. Far too many humans are willing to act against their own long-term interest, so long as it benefits them personally to do so, even though they are condemning their children to destitution and irrelevance. Or, even worse, doing it because it costs them less than it will cost another tribal grouping they despise for whatever reason.
"One of the defining characteristics of a true 'hero' is the willingness to act for the greater good, to put aside his or her personal beliefs and prejudices, in order to act for the benefit of the community as a whole. It will be interesting to see how many 'heroes' arise in the next few years as alien technologies are assimilated, and the options debated. Will humanity consider the long-term benefits to their entire species, or selfishly demand that the majority of the benefits be enjoyed only by a selected few? Will those doing the deciding be seduced by the instant pleasures of individual rewards? Humans don't tend to do very well when challenged to think beyond their own immediate gratification, but if they seek the non-trivial benefits of leading something like an entire federation of politically aligned planets, they must break the evolutionary mold that has trapped them into tribal thinking for most of their history.
"Unfortunately, what I have so far seen of humanity has not been encouraging. Although they are undoubtedly capable of greatness, all too often they settle for mediocrity rather than pay the price required to act in their own long-term interests. Short-term solutions are continuously implemented when permanent resolutions are possible, but not in the political interest of one selfish group or another. Even those actions most obviously required are deferred as long as possible, forcing someone else to pay vastly more to fix what could have been inexpensively prevented. Negotiations fail because anything less than 'complete victory' has been reinterpreted to mean 'total failure.' The art of compromise has failed under the extremist doctrine of 'victory at all costs.'
"This has been repeated, time and again throughout human history. Leaders exploiting subtle differences in order to gain ever-increasing power over their fellow men. Differences in race, or religion, or culture, or the most subtle doctrinal opinions are exploited in order to deliberately separate an identifiable enemy. Every time such measures are used it leads to failure and misery. Yet everywhere leaders use these tools time and again because followers allow them to get away with doing so. The lessons of Rwanda and Zimbabwe should have been learned centuries ago during the similar experiences of medieval cultures which also permitted extremists to dictate the policies that drove them to ruin.
"I love humanity, Miss Summers. I truly do. But sometimes I despair of it."
Dawn shrugged at the speech. "Nice sentiment, but you'll find that a lot of people have their own interpretations on what is needed, what is important, and what should be done. Usually it's the people screaming the loudest demanding unity and comity and harmony and all the other lovey-dovey words that end in 'y' who turn out to be the most extreme, dictatorial elitists. How do you know if you're dealing with royalty, or just a royal pain in the ass?"
The chaplain smiled. "It's often rather difficult to decide ahead of time, I agree. In the end it comes down to character, I suppose. Or perhaps simply results. One can suppress considerable personal animosity towards a leader so long as the object of that irritation is successful in his or her endeavors. It might interest you to know that all of this, everything that has happened between you and the First and this epic battle being finally fought to a conclusion was because your sister demonstrated a character so noble it surprised even the Elder Gods. None of this would have happened had she simply done the obvious, and killed you rather than risk the world just to try to save you. It was noble, and foolish, and brave, and insane, and in the end, it was successful! One cannot judge her for the lunacy of her decision without also noting that it worked!
"So really I cannot offer you a fool-proof way to judge men, or their ambitions, or their dreams. Knowing what is truly in their hearts is reserved for gods, not other men. But I can tell you how Humanity as a whole will be judged. In the end, when it comes down to a final decision on how successful humanity had been, that decision will be yours."
Eyes wide with surprise, Dawn tried to figure out where he was going with such a suggestion. "Mine?! Uh… go me! Why would it be my decision?"
He shrugged. "Over the eons to come, the Key will use millions of avatars to keep it abreast of events transpiring among the non-Ascended races. When they die all of those millions of avatars will be combined into the gestalt of its emerging personality. But right now it is a child, with only one imprinted pattern, and that pattern will determine the template for its future growth. A few thousand years from now you won't recognize it –no human mind could possibly understand what it will become by then—but the Key will still likely refer to itself as 'Dawn Summers.'
"You, as the Key, are immortal. Long after humanity had grown beyond its physical limitations, or been exterminated by a more adaptable species, you will remember humanity. Long after the last human breathes his last breath, or the final descendant of what had once been human forgets her true origins, you will remember. You are humanity's legacy. You will be the Last Human. It is your decision simply because nobody else will be around who is in any position to argue with your conclusions. Right or wrong, you get to make the final call, if only because there will be no one else around who remembers to argue either way.
"So live out your life, Dawn Summers. Any children you have will, genetically speaking, be Buffy's children as well. Be happy… and be yourself. Do not fear taking a stand on matters you think important. On the other hand, do not throw your life away foolishly. You are establishing a template which will shape the destiny of galactic empires, and that template will be far superior should it have personal experience with love and loss, friendship and enmity, life and death. Live, like this was your only shot at life.
"Live, because for every moment you do, humanity's legacy will be that much greater. And at the end of time, when there exists only you and the First and whoever else can adapt to such conditions, it is humanity's legacy which will determine what happens next."