The buildings on the horizon were his destination. The meeting was five minutes from now, and she would be waiting. Yet he did not hurry. Driving was a source of unadulterated pleasure for him. So he let time dip to a slow crawl, and the luxurious drive continued for hours. . .
Five minutes later he rolled onto the dusty, desolate streets. That was the longest drive he had ever taken. After returning the flow to normal, he glanced at his chronometer.
Standing tall and erect under the sun, he looked to the burning desert sprawled around him. He started walking with the practiced swagger, designed to intimidate, and warn. He was a Prince.
Speaking of which, where was she?
An old man sat on a nearby bench. The old fool apparently had no matrix modulator, so he could be ignored. He spotted her by the water fountain, seated under the cloudy blue sky. She cast her gaze his way: a beautiful woman, with glittering eyes. If they had not belonged to rival gangs, he would have smiled at her. As he neared he raised his hands, indicating his intention to frisk her for weapons. She made no motion at his touch.
Laying hands upon her gave him a potent, intoxicating rush. He remembered once holding a butterfly, feeling its supple body, feeling its powerful, flexing wings. . .yet just above her bosom were the Colors, meaning that this was only business, could only be business. So he forced himself to sit calmly beside her.
She wasted no time. "Eight?"
"Six," he replied.
"I can have ten tomorrow."
"But the sooner you get it off your hands, the sooner the heat's off. The cops are swarming after this. Time is danger."
She paused briefly, before asking, "How did you know my modulation?"
Behind his sunglasses he blinked. Somehow he had not even noticed--how foolish of him!. Perhaps he had been overcome by her beauty. "Obviously, my information is superior to yours."
"Hmm. You knew it was exactly 6.7455:10. Amazing."
His pulse quickened. She really did know his standard modulation--She must have set hers to match his! So devious--was she toying with him?
"I suppose I could go for 7," she said.
Suddenly she was holding a knife to his throat. She must have concealed the weapon very, very well. "Don't screw with me," she warned.
He smiled for the first time. "You threaten a Prince?" he asked, more calmly than he felt. "My lady, you have balls."
"I get seven or I get nothing." Her eyes gleamed. Ashame the gun in his gauntlet would rip her body to shreds--
They both turned their heads sharply. He was startled to see the old man waddling toward them, the one he had noticed earlier. The geezer halted. "Your name is Tyler, correct? And yours Rosalie?"
He and she were both silent. "I can tell the future," the man said.
Tyler burst into laughter, and while doing so he pushed her knife from his throat. She let him. "Who are you?" she snapped at the old geezer.
"I have come to say that your son shall heal the world."
"His son and yours. Both of yours. The son you both shall raise will one day save the world."
"Crazy fool," she snarled. "Leave! Now!" Yet suddenly she paused. "Where's your matrix modulator?" she asked. "How come we can understand you so clearly--"
He took a chance and snatched the knife from her hand. She whirled, anger in her eyes--
"I am an old man with a message," the man said firmly. Tyler noticed that the old man did speak clearly--how? Suddenly Tyler was curious. If the old man was not on the same modulation as themselves, his speech should have been unintelligible.
". . .was born thirty years before society became modulated." The old man nodded to the West, with its cities. "I came from there. Present day society just does not take with me."
He was an old fuddy-duddy, Tyler thought. Someone unable to cope with inexorable future, and so came here, where the Network was sparse. At least he had more guts than the city people. "Why don't you go back where you came from, old man?" he asked. "Before we decide to kick you into this waterfall."
"Perhaps," the old man smiled, "I should use another method to gain you attention." And with a wave, he deactivated their matrixes.
A sparkle of electric green, and suddenly Tyler lost his controls. He checked his sunglasses, checked them again, yet the computer was implacable: MALFUNCTION blinked continually on his retinas. She was looking about in shock, stammering, "What happened--what happened--" and then she clamped her hand over her mouth, and vomited.
Tyler rose unsteadily, knife in hand. He put the dagger to the old man's throat.
"Stop!" she gasped. "You idiot! If we don't know how he took it away, how will we get it back!"
She had spoken an instant before he had nicked the man's throat. Blood trickled down the blade, warmed his fingers. Yet she was right. Shakily he withdrew the blade, as the world spun dizzily. . .
And frantically, he tried to control his perception of time: 10:05:34--10:05:35--he tried to make his time sense faster, to speed himself through this dreadful experience--Yet without the matrix he was powerless. He was stuck in Real Time, in a suffocating, merciless pace of reality where all he could do was wait--
He screamed. "Not much without it, are you?" the old man asked calmly. "Time changes things, son, even itself. Who's the helpless fuddy-duddy now?"
He seized the man round the neck. "No!" she leapt upward and blindly seized him, chopping vaguely at his hands. In the struggle the man was knocked very forcefully to the dirt.
There he lay as they both struggled for the knife. Yet in his increasing dizziness he dropped it, and instead of diving for it she knelt beside the old man, to cradle his head. "You've almost killed him," she said accusingly.
He bent double and puked, heaving his guts across the desert sand. Everything was wrong. He tried desperately to zip through the vomiting, to make it rush past without feeling it--yet it continued mercilessly, and he had to live through it--
"You two shall have a son. . ." the old man moaned.
"Shut up!" she snapped, sweat streaking her brow. "Give us back the Matrix! NOW!"
Feebly the old man fumbled at his pockets. Tyler fell beside him, and somehow opened his jacket. He found a flat, silver disc. On its shiny surface he saw the time rhythms--"What is this?" he demanded.
"In that disc is everything I have ever done, everything I have ever created," the old man gasped. "I am Witherstone."
She mouthed the name. "Witherstone? You mean--the, the man who invented the time matrix?"
The old man nodded. "I invented the mechanism which separated conscious thought from perception of time, in other words, a device which allowed people to control how they perceived time. So you only have an hour to spend with your kiddies, eh--buy a Matrix, and it will seem like ten! They called me a genius. Some even said I had discovered virtual immortality." He coughed, then grinned. "At least, they did until it caused the Collapse."
"I remember those textbooks," she said. "'Time is perception, and is not separate from consciousness--'"
"I was wrong," the old man said. "Time actually is separate from humanity. Now I have discovered that humanity is in great danger. Now you two must have a son. . ."
"He's crazy," Tyler said.
"No!" the man gasped. "I have continued by work--I have discovered how to control time--" And snatching the disc--
The disc glowed.
Suddenly the sun was flying dizzily toward its western bed. The afternoon lasted one second, and then the sun set--
The device dimmed. She looked round in amazement, up to the stars in a cold night sky.
"You see," the man sighed, "I am Witherstone."
"Holy crap," Tyler stammered.
Raising his trembling arm, the old man held the device toward Tyler. "I have to make you both the guardians of Time."
Tyler simply stared. When he did not accept it she did. With a wheeze, "My life would have ended four days hence. I had to give this to someone, and I chose both of you. You must guard time, Humanity's Time--and not let it be polluted by Them. Guard it until your son can fulfill. . ." The old man coughed blood. ". . .the disc is completely preprogrammed. It will activate--and activate your matrixes--as soon as you fulfill my one, one condition--" The old man was breathing with great difficulty.
"Without the matrixes we're dead," she hissed. "We have no money, no supplies. Without one I am dead," she almost pleaded.
"Don't beg," said Tyler imperiously. Though she was right. A matrixed opponent could think a thousand times "faster" than one without a matrix. . .in the desert, he would be a goner. . .
"Shut up!" she snapped at him. "You're a man, what do you know?" To the old man, "Tell me!"
Raising a trembling finger, which pointed at Tyler's chest, "Rosalie, you must. . .make love to him. . ."
The hand fell.
Slowly, she let the old man's head sink to the sand. She looked upward. For a helplessly uncontrolled moment they simply stared at each other.
After a moment, he said, "Well. . ."
"Don't you lay a hand on me."
"But we need. . ."
"I'll die first."
"All right, then." Shakily he rose, then crumpled again. Crouching weakly against the ground, "Give me the disc."
" Cause if you don't, you'll die."
He tried to force himself to his feet. She scooted from the body and also attempted to rise. She managed to stay on her feet, but her walk was only a stumble, and she could obviously barely maintain her balance. He fumbled for the old man's shoe, which he managed to wrench from the foot and throw at her.
The shot missed, yet it came close enough to distract her, and make her loose balance. Instantly he crawled to her, and threw himself over her as she tried to rise again. They struggled in the dirt.
"Look," he grit, as she clamped her hands round his throat. "I have a car--do you--ouou--"
He punched her in the jaw. The blow only seemed to make her more fierce, and suddenly he was unable to breathe. Grasping her hands, he pulled them from his neck, suffering deep scratches in the process. "Hold. . .still. . ." he gritted.
Her body spasmed. Suddenly she was gurgling blood. She pushed him, hard, then pivoted onto her stomach and vomited again. As she did so, he searched her clothes and removed the disc.
Now he stood unsteadily above her, watching in the cold, desert night air as she moaned on the ground. He should just leave now, go back to his Tribe, and use this disc to get a new Matrix. Surely they would give him one, if he brought the disc. And she could go back to her Tribe, assuming they did not kill her for loosing her Matrix and not closing the deal. . .
Looking down the road, he saw his black car glinting in the starlight. "Are you coming or not?" he asked.
She said nothing, just lay in the dirt. "C'mon," he said. "I don't want you to die. You know your people will punish you. Besides, the old man said we should. . ."
"Never," drifted weakly from her lips. "Never, never, never."
"No harm in trying," he said. He considered taking her right there--she was certainly in no condition to defend herself. Yet he had never really enjoyed it that way, even through he had tried it numerous times with the other Princes. Shrugging, "Hope they don't kill you, sister."
"Maybe. . ." her speech was slurred, "Maybe your gang would. Not my Tribe. Not my tribe--in my tribe--we respect each other." She stirred, yet could not rise.
He started slowly toward his car. If she thought she could take care of herself, let her. He just hoped he could drive.
The walk to his car seemed to take forever. For a moment he thought he heard a roar in the distance, yet he felt so sick and confused he was not sure at all. He wished he could speed up time, wished he could just do that simple act. . .
Finally, he reached his car. He was opening the door when he looked to where she had been.
She was gone.
He looked round, yet the little town was deserted. Unless she was hiding behind one of the buildings, she should have been in sight. "Ah, who cares." He entered his car. Someone grasped his shoulder and put a knife to his throat.
The voice was unrecognized. Slowly, he raised his hands. The voice was female, and that was bad, very, very bad. "The only reason I haven't killed you yet," the speaker continued, "Is because our sister says you got something on you. Where is it?"
This bitch was dumb, he realized. She should have killed him first and then searched his body. That gave him his cue.
He slammed his fist backward, and was rewarded by a sudden, almost guffaw-like choke of agony. The knife dug only slightly into his throat. Turning, with a quick motion he finished the job. The body became limp, never to move again.
Taking the knife, he started his car. It made coughing noises but was otherwise silent. "Shit!" Who the hell had done that? How the hell could there have been here in time to screw up his car?
Twisting, he started yanking the Matrix wiring from the woman's head. If he could just fit it on his own. . .she certainly had been a dumb bitch. She should have set her Matrix to a high speed--and maybe have stopped that punch long before it landed.
The matrix sparked, he dropped it with a shout as something made it spontaneously self-destruct. With a curse he opened the car's glove compartment. It was empty. "What the--"
He opened the woman's jacket, he searched all the pockets, yet found no weapons. A noise outside his car attracted his attention. Looking through the windshield, he them, roaring down the roads: The Princesses.
"FUCK!" He tried the car again: nothing. He wrenched open the door, ran along its side. Not far from it was a motorcycle. Beside it lay Rosalie, blouse soaked in blood. He stopped by her side. Her eyes were glazed, but she was still conscious. "What happened?" he asked.
"That bitch--" she coughed, shook her head from side to side, "--she was sent to check up on me. I told her everything."
Tyler looked over his shoulder. The bikes were drawing very close. Some were stopping. One blond Bitch had stopped her bike and was removing what looked to be an automatic shotgun. "I thought she would help me. . .we were supposed to be a sisterhood. . ." said Rosalie weakly. "You know?"
More coughing; Tyler was searching the woman's bike, and he found a 9mm pistol. Shit, she could at least have been carrying a laser, he thought. He popped the ammo clip, snapped it in place and cocked the weapon.
"Help me. . ."
Tyler swung his leg over the motorbike. "Here." He pitched her the knife. "So long!" and he gunned the motor.
"Damn you. . ."
"HEY!" He looked up to the motorcycles.
He saw the Head Bitch, the leader of the Princesses. She was a buxom, tough looking lady. The first sight about her which attracted the eye was awesome axe strapped to her bike. It was huge, the heavy iron reddish from blood. In the moonlight she looked like a cross between a crazed Amazon and fire goddess. She snarled, revealing missing teeth. "It's a Prick," she growled.
Tyler looked to his bicep. Tattooed over the bulge of his muscles were the colors of his Tribe. Looking up, he saw the colors of the Princess Tribe just above the Head Bitch's breast. "What's the matter, Prince-boy," one of the other women cooed. "Don't ya know we're about to kill you?"
Laughter; The Princes and Princesses had been fighting for years, in a sworn duel to the death. He was now about to become another victim. Yet the motorcycle was vibrating and growling between his legs, offering maybe a meager possibility of escape. So he smiled, and tipped his head toward the Princess Leader.
Then he twisted the bike one-eighty degrees and catapulted himself into the flat desert with a shower of dust.
As if it were the roar of a thousand screaming tigers, he heard the scream of their speeding bikes. Crouched over the handlebars, he saw them zipping over the spot where Rosalie had lain. She was probably little more than puddy now.
The first gunshot zipped over his head like a demon. Now more than ever he wished for his Matrix. He could have thought of a thousand plans by now.
He started weaving the bike side to side. They were far from the town now, into the midst of the night under sprawling stars. And it sounded as if banshees were following him.
A flash of a laser gun: the resulting light revealed the ground in burst of vivid detail. He saw color spots afterwards. He pitched his bike to the right, the wheels at a crazy forty-five degree angle to the dirt. The chill wind screamed across his face. He heard the chatter of an uzi. Through in the rear-view mirror he could see none of the bikes or their riders, he could see their headlights.
Removing his pistol, he methodically aimed just above individual headlights. The pistol's harsh pops were satisfying. They were greeted by the sudden response of counter fire, and the darkness was vanquished by the harsh flares of laser lightning. His pistol was the thunder. A rider was struck from her motorcycle by a bullet and her mechanized steed veered into fellow rider. "Turn off your lights!" the Head Bitch screamed, "Turn off your lights--"
He fired at the Bitch Leader. She flew off her steed.
Suddenly the motorcycles were screeching to a halt. He fired another shot, just to remind them to deactivate their headlights. Suddenly darkness befell the desert, and he sped away, free--
He laughed, the air rushing through his hair. "Who needs a matrix!" he shouted jubilantly.
A sudden, sharp retort cracked the desert silence. His motorcycle bucked and slammed into the dirt.
Slowly, the dust settled over his face. The stars looked blurry, very, very blurry. . .
A motorcycle was rumbling nearby. He was gasping. He felt pain from somewhere, harsh pain, excruciating pain. Instinctively he reached for the matrix, trying to hasten time, yet he could not, could not. . .The crunch of footsteps, coming closer. He looked upward. The pistol lay in the sand.
With a sick moan he reached for it, yet it remained just beyond his reach, just beyond his fingers. . .with his other hand he searched his jacket. . .Above him appeared the blond-haired warrioress he had seen earlier. She was holding her shotgun.
From his jacket he removed the old man's disc.
"Hey," the woman said in a deep, husky voice. "Give that to me.". She set foot on his broken steed and reached--
Suddenly she was gone.
He gasped. The disc fell from his hands, and he closed his eyes. The pain, it was coming from his leg. He grit his teeth, and then suddenly let loose a long, wailing scream.
For a long time all he remembered was that scream. Yet it must have ended, because a second later he was opening his eyes, to squint under the harsh light of the desert sun. "What?"
Above him was Rosalie. She had a First-Aid kit beside her, and in her hands was a minuscule field syringe, probably full of the normal goop. "Rosalie?" he said with disbelief. The disc was just beyond his hands, yet she made no move to take it. "Rosalie? I thought--I thought you were dead."
A look of puzzlement crossed her face. "How do you know my name?" she asked.
Suddenly he realized she did not look quite the same. And she wore different clothes. Slowly, weakly lifting his hand, he tugged the flaps of her blouse. "Hey!" She swatted his hand, yet not before he had glimpsed her bosom. It was bare. "Rosalie," he said, "Where are your Colors?"
For a moment, he squinted at her face. Suddenly he realized that this Rosalie looked as if she were five years younger.
He lost consciousness.
Biography:"D.K. Smith is an aspiring young writer who lives in Los Angeles. He has been published in several Webzines, including Aphelion, Cosmic Visions and Writer's Block, and in the latter he won runner-up status in their Anniversary Contest. His hobbies include sketching, painting, music, computers and computer games, and his most pressing goal is to complete his schooling. Finally, he is still recovering from the Abduction, and he writes to help relieve the stress of the Visions." He can be E-Mailed at:email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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