Disclaimer: Max Brooks foresaw the Zombie menace with remarkable clarity in World War Z, Joss Whedon knew that the Slayers would help save us from it. For those unfamiliar with World War Z, it's a collection of interviews about the Zombie plague that swept the globe. The formatting is from the book. "Zack" and "G" are both slang for Zombies.[This is not the first blindfold that I’ve had to put on, but it is certainly the strangest. Not only can I not see, but I cannot smell nor can I hear: there is nothing but the sound of my heartbeat, and for some reason I cannot keep track of how many of those go by. I know that I’m walking, but can feel nothing beneath my feet. I cannot even tell if we made any turns along the way; the effect is so disconcerting that when they remove the blindfold I immediately vomit. My host has a bucket ready in front of me. She sets it aside with a smile as I settle into a chair. We’re sitting in a white circle of light surrounded by darkness. My host is a tiny, slight woman, and impeccably groomed. I don’t know her name or where we are, only that this is where my inquiries into her near-mythical organization have led me. Her name, she says, is unimportant, what is important is that she speaks as a Slayer.]
Sorry about the motion sickness, but we can’t be too careful. Want a mint?[She offers me a small white wafer that I gratefully accept.]
They’re a lot better now that we don’t have to use beet sugar anymore. Sugar beets and adrenaline, that’s what kept most Slayers going through the war. But that’s probably not what you’re here to ask me about, is it? You want to know about the secret army of super heroes: what did we know, and when? Are we genetically engineered to fight the zombies, or even part of a conspiracy to take over the post-zack world?
The answer is no: Slayers existed long before the zombie threat, and with any luck, we’ll outlast the ghouls. This may come to a surprise to you, but the zombies you all know and fought, they weren’t the first undead creatures to prowl the Earth. Just the latest kind. And before you ask, no, we don’t know what caused them, just that it wasn’t magic. They aren’t demons, they’re not invaders from some hell dimension. That’s the kind of undead that Slayers were trained to fight, and it just so happened that the same sort of tactics worked on Gs.
Yeah, we figured out what was going on a lot earlier than the rest of the world realized it. Word traveled through the supernatural underworld like wildfire, and none of it good. Most of the time, if there’s apocalyptic fun coming down the road, some demon or seer would figure that it’s worth it to drop a line in our direction, make sure that the world keeps on turning, if only to keep their own food supply alive or to protect their little fiefdoms of power. But this time, the demons, the mages, even the damn vampires, they were all running scared. Got out of this dimension but quick, with nothing but a “sorry, your planet’s fucked, you were a good nemesis while it lasted.”
A couple of the old demons who we were on friendly terms with, they offered to take us with them. The Immortal, he was a real old bastard, but a romantic and a softie when it came down to it. He had the wealth and the power to take all the Slayers with him: and all of our families. Broke down in tears, trying to convince Buffy that this was the only way any of us had a chance. She finally sent along a couple of the Slayers that had kids, and maybe three dozen or so families, plus her younger sister. It was a one-way trip, you understand: they won’t open up another portal to this plane for five hundred years.
For the rest of us, it wasn’t an option. Not quite two thousand girls between the ages of twelve and thirty-four, plus a hundred or so associated regular humans, fewer than a dozen with some magical abilities. But the Slayer line goes back millennia, and none of us was going to be the link in the chain that let the apocalypse finally happen.
I’m not going to lie and say we couldn’t have done any better. Fucking China. One sixth of the pre-war population and a total of three active Slayers in the whole country. Hundreds of girls who should have been Chinese Slayers didn’t speak a word of the language because they all grew up in the West. Mu, Diaochan, and Gan did the best they could: they were three of the bravest girls in our whole little group, because not only were they fighting the undead, but they were constantly on the run from the MSS and the Chinese army. It’s also hard to stay popular when you’re constantly lopping the head off grandma’s walking remains. So we bulked up patrols in Mongolia and Thailand and the old Soviet Republics, even had a couple of teams get into Tibet and the Xinjiang provinces, but never made any serious penetration into the country until well after the Great Panic. But the five hundred or so girls on those fronts, they bought us time and saved who knows how many lives. [You were still operating in secret at that time?]
A lot of people would say that, but this was the most exposed we’d been in our entire history. Just twenty years earlier, and there would only have been one Slayer in the whole world to do the work. For the first two years or so, we were still dealing with what we thought of as the normal supernatural problems, before they all split for greener pastures. Not to mention that the only military and intelligence organizations that didn’t dismiss us right away as kooks were the ones that actively hated us. The U.S. Army, in particular, there was bad blood from way back with them. No one was willing to listen to us, not even the Israelis, their little plan didn’t start until long after we started putting out feelers. We tried bribery, blackmail, everything we could, but our own history worked against us. Slayers had never played politics before, and we sucked at it. So we wound up biding our time by setting up the supply depots.
A lot of the girls balked at it: not too many farmers or miners among the Called. The smithee chicks had a lot of fun with it though, forging machetes and halberds and arrowheads. The rest of the world had to relearn medieval warfare, but the Slayers had never left it behind. I was one of the people stuck buying antibiotics and malaria pills in bulk, and then dragging them to whatever cave or fort or bunker that the council had managed to secure within a given region. At least I wasn’t stuck buying seeds and protein bars, or the poor girls stuck with the livestock and fish tanks. The storage depots wound up saving millions, mind you, but they did always stink to high heaven.
We’d finally gotten our supplies up to what we thought of as minimal levels, both in terms of distribution around the globe and sheer quantity, when Phalanx was introduced. That’s when we started really pulling out, hunkering down and making sure that each depot was as fully stocked as we could get it. Because there was only so much longer that the denial was going to hold before the panics hit.[So what was your strategy?]
Hold and supply. Train and fortify. There were occasional larger forces, but most Slayers worked in teams of three. And then there were the tough choices. We’d already lost more than a hundred Slayers in Central Asia before anyone else in the world knew what was going on, and the girls called to replace them were mostly under 15 and under-trained. Add to that three hundred supply depots scattered around the globe, each of which had three Slayers assigned to them at all times: that left only eight hundred girls as strict combat troops, and that number whittled down with every engagement. So do you try to save New York or Buenos Aires or Tokyo or Paris or Mumbai?
It came down to two strongholds: New Zealand and the British Isles. Big islands with decent infrastructure that could provide farmland all year round. There was a lot of debate about Britain: the population density made it a riskier proposition. But Slayer HQ at the time was already in Scotland, so it was almost a matter of personal pride. Rhona was in charge of the Kiwi defenses, Faith took responsibility for Ireland, and Satsu held the fort in Britain, each of them with 150 girls at their disposal. They also made occasional strategic strikes into Australia and mainland Europe when they could.[And Buffy Summers?]
She led the wedge forces every where else in the world. They followed the panics, cleaned up the worst of massacre sites. They rowed across the Atlantic no fewer than six times. They were the last ones out of Buenos Aires, which was the last time we tried to clear out an urban area on our own. Two hundred slayers just wasn’t enough: we lost thirty girls there. After that was the I-35 campaign, and that one was its own kind of hell.[You’re referring to the Dallas Incident?]
You mean the reason that Slayers are still in hiding? Yeah, that’s the one that I’m talking about. Stupid cowboys and fundies. Going to the States in the first place had been a major argument. There were lots of other countries with less developed militaries and survival strategies. A lot of Slayers had wanted to do another Africa push that season, maybe clear out Algeria, gain us some more acceptance in the Muslim world. The Malaysian campaign that first winter did wonders for us – suddenly the clerics were declaring that, “No one knows the armies of God save for God himself!” and pointing out all the places in the Koran where it says women and men are equal, even if they have different responsibilities. And who were they to question God for making “kicking zombie ass” the responsibility of women? Ha, by the time we were done, there were enough Malaysian women wielding machetes that we only had to leave half a dozen Slayers behind to help patrol the coasts.
But at that point, our African lines were holding fairly steady, and the stories coming out of America after the first winter, well, they weren’t pretty. Add to the mix that a disproportionate number of Slayers were Americans who had families that didn’t bother to evacuate. Buffy figured that Interstate 35, it ran up the spine of the country, it was one of the roads worst hit by the Great Panic, it was the most generous move we could make. So we started off in Texas in January.[You were in that campaign?]
I’d been running supplies out of Marble Falls before then. Our supply territory went as far north as Waco, so I was shifted into the campaign to act as a scout. It was time for me to be rotated out anyway. So yeah, we marched up I-35, doing a lot of long pike work – it was how we took care of grabbers. It was slow going, and if we couldn’t find refuge, we’d have to make one by clearing a bunch of cars off the road, and circle them up like wagons. But that was fine: the folks in my territory knew me, and they were mighty relieved to have the Zack population taken down so hard, it gave them a chance to expand their fortifications and scavenge from the countryside a bit. [You managed to make it safe enough to leave the barricades?]
Of course. Wait, you’ve never seen a Slayer in action, have you?[No.]
So, you’ve been doing this little interview under the assumption that Slayers are pretty much like the Alpha teams were: specially trained Zack-killers with slightly more medieval tactics?[Sort of. There are rumors that Slayers are abnormally strong.]
You have no idea. Slayers are living weapons. The swords and crossbows just make us more efficient. Do you have any idea how many zombies I killed by ripping off one of their arms and then knocking their skulls in with it? Gross, but effective if you got caught without anything else handy. Sorry. Bad pun.
A standard march was thirty-six hours long before we looked for rest; after two or three hours we were fresh and ready again. We could get by on fewer than eight hundred calories a day without any drop in performance. And all of us were trained to dance with death. There were hundred of us on that march, and sometimes we’d kill a thousand Zacks in the matter of an hour. So yeah, we put a pretty sizable dent in the population.[And then you hit Arlington.]
Yeah. The highway forks there, between Dallas and Fort Worth. We weren’t supposed to be clearing out cities, but Buffy insisted that we needed to free up the Cowboys’ Stadium settlement. We didn’t know why at the time, but seeing as there was no real way to get past Dallas without hitting some suburban sprawl, it didn’t sound like too bad of a detour. That was before we saw the reef of zombies around the stadium, probably about a quarter million of the damn things. At first we just hung out on roof tops, pelting the Zacks with stones and bricks while bitching about how long this was going to take. If you got bored, you got together a group of ten, hopped down, massacred everything in sight for an hour or so, then jumped back up to safety. On Wednesday we leap-frogged to an abandoned CostCo, and we got the chance to stock up on all the processed foods we’d started to miss. It was almost like a party.
Then, after two weeks, we’d finally cleared enough of a path to approach the stadium. Buffy took me and eight other girls along with her, while the rest kept up the slaughter. People were lining the stairwells, cheering us as we approached, waving American flags and Texas flags. It felt good. But then I noticed Buffy wasn’t smiling. She called up, asking for a leader. I recognized him, he was the head of one of the megachurches that used to advertise on T.V., but he’d lost a lot of weight. He wasn’t smiling either, but he thanked us for easing the siege. That’s when Buffy asked after the six girls who’d been in charge of the North Texas supply lines. At first, the leader denied knowing anything about them. Slayers have excellent hearing. We could hear safeties on guns being quietly switched off. Buffy told him that she’d been getting regular dispatches until the previous autumn, that the last she’d heard from the girls was that they were getting ready to deliver a couple crates of antibiotics.
The pastor backtracked, said that the girls had probably been caught by Zack, but they never made it to the stadium. That’s when Noor caught sight of the bodies hanging off the walls on the other end of the field. They’d hung our sister slayers from the battlements. The leader started denouncing us as demons, saying that we were colluding with Satan and Zack and the New World Order against all good Christians. I didn’t catch most of it, his little guards weren’t waiting for him to finish preaching before firing on us. Another thing about Slayers: we hate guns, and we really hate being shot at. There was nothing dignified about our turning tail and running the hell away. Back at the CostCo Buffy told us that she’d had her suspicions about the North Texas girls, but she’d wanted to make sure. Then she assigned Noor and two other girls to take over the territory. There were lots of other blue zones in the region that needed the supplies we could provide, and they’d suffered through four months without because of those morons in Arlington. Noor didn’t even have to ask: the stadium was no longer part of the route. The rest of us kept on marching.
When the Army reclaimed that part of Texas, six years later? Cowboys Stadium had starved out. More than five thousand people. The reports said that they’d cannibalized each other by the end. But what else were we supposed to do?[She pauses in her story, pops a mint into her mouth, and sucks on it silently for more than a minute.]
Took us another ten months to make it up to Minnesota. We only had twelve casualties during the entire campaign, but we lost something else. I transferred over to Scotland for the rest of the war. Still haven’t gone back to the States.
Arlington wasn’t the only place that turned on us, just the worst. There were plenty of other folks that welcomed us with open arms and offered every bit of help they could. I’m embarrassed by the number of parents in my old territory that named their daughters for me. But even now, lots of people talk about Slayers in that same tone of voice the pastor used.
Then there’s the folks who think we’re a myth, or an exaggeration, a fairy tale that kept up morale in isolated blue zones. They won’t be wrong for long. I told you that this world got sealed off from the other dimensions. What most of us didn’t know, until much, much later, was that because of this quarantine, no more Slayers are going to be born. Not until after the barriers come back down. The last new Slayer of our lifetimes activated more than four years ago.
I won’t tell you exactly how many of us there are left: more than a few hundred, but not by much. Not the worst percentage in the world, but not the best either. The oldest of us is in her early-fifties, the youngest just turned eighteen. Our life expectancies are quite a bit longer than our predecessors, unlike most people on this planet. We don’t seem to age quite as rapidly as other women. Some of us have kids. All of us are still working, quietly, to help clear out the remaining white zones.
That's not all. Most of the mages cleared out of here before the worst of it, but those that remain? Shells of what their power used to be. I'm not one of them, so I can't tell you exactly why, but with access to the other planes cut off, the only source of power to draw on was the Earth, and all the living creatures on it. What with all of the ecological destruction and death, there's not enough energy left for them to do much of anything. We noticed the problems early on, it's why we never relied very heavily on magic in our defenses. A woman I knew who once had the power to put out the fires of the sun now can barely levitate a pencil. She says the power will come back, but not in my lifetime. Of course, she didn't mention hers.
And then there’s Buffy. Last time any of us heard from her was five years ago. She was fifty, the World’s Oldest Living Slayer. She and Faith had one last spar; there was nothing else like watching those two go at it, even though both of them had gone grey. Buffy handed her scythe to Faith when it was over, then said she was going to go change. She never came back from her room. To this day, none of us knows where she went. But I like to think she had struck a deal with the Immortal, that she took the last trap door out of this plane, and she’s back with her sister and the friends she sent on through. Lady like that, she deserves some peace. We all do.[The Slayer stands]
There isn’t much left to tell. So go on, let the U.N. know there’s nothing to fear from the dreaded Slayers, except for when we’re not here anymore.[She replaces the blindfold over my eyes, and her fingers rest on my shoulder, the last sensation I feel before I’m led out.]
Which shouldn’t be too long now.