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"They'd never do it," Carrie kept saying. Her eyes never left the dust plumes on the horizon, and her hands never stopped clutching the binoculars to her face.
"This is Neutral Territory," said Denise. "I thought there was a Truce--"
"Get to the weapons, all of you! MOVE!"
The women scattered. "What do I do?" Rosalie called nervously. She had not expected to be involved in combat so soon.
"What are you talking about!" Carrie snapped. "Go hide! You can't use a Matrix, you can't fight--go hide!"
"No!" Rosalie tried to stand but stumbled, her legs stiff from hours of sitting. Her abrupt rise and fall made her dizzy. "At least," she said, gasping, "Give me a gun!"
Carrie removed a large, silver handgun from her belt and approached Rosalie, pulling the pistol chamber as she did so. "You think you can handle this, Sister? Try not to shoot your head off." Rosalie grabbed the gun.
It felt large, heavy and foreign in her hands.
"Stick with Denise," Carrie commanded, as the flurry of activity round them mounted. "She's big and vulnerable, but she's the only Matrix Tech we've got, so we protect her. Stay with her and maybe some of that will rub off on you. And make sure that you keep your Matrix ratio normal!"
Rosalie struggled to her feet as Carrie ran to join the melee. Anxiously she scanned the tiny, rickety camp--there was Denise, huddling behind several well-armed princesses. "Denise!" she called, stumbling toward her. Denise turned and held out her hands for Rosalie, who almost fell into them.
"There, there, child!" Denise exclaimed. "Watch that--don't ever fall with a gun, child!"
"Sorry," Rosalie almost sobbed. She hated herself for crying.
"What's that car--it's coming from the East!" Denise shouted at her guardians. "I thought they were all coming from the North!"
"Shh!" one of the women said. "There's a single car coming from the east--must be some fucking hotshot!"
"Not for long," said Denise. "We can take out one car easy--"
Her words stopped when the car swerved drastically to the North. "What's he doing?" Rosalie asked. They watched the car speed away in a swirl of dust, toward the approaching dots on the horizon.
"Okay, okay!" Carrie sounded almost frantic, something Rosalie found discomforting. "Everyone to the North, now!" Her orders were promptly obeyed.
Then there was nothing to do but wait. The desert became whisper silent, as they waited for the distant, approaching cars. Rosalie swallowed thickly against the bile in her throat and tasted fear. Only moments ago she had felt as if she had controlled the world. Now she was shivering in the cold morning air, clutching a weapon she did not know how to use, and surrounded by strangers.
But the sun was still shining. Nature was oblivious to this little showdown. Rosalie felt she could take an odd comfort from that. Especially when she remembered that earlier, she had controlled the sun itself. . .
And then strangely, very strangely, Rosalie began to feel numb, as if the fear had thrust behind a large wall. She felt somehow separated from herself--
An explosion jerked her attention to the foreground. On the horizon a puff of black smoke and flame spouted to the sky; a tiny gray car twirled through the air. Another boom, and a second skidded, then flipped over, to be engulfed by a belch of flame.
"That car," Denise said, "the one that swerved North--it's fighting the others."
"Maybe it's a Princess!" Rosalie cried.
"Shush, child, shush!" Denise warned, as some Princesses glanced at her darkly.
Yet two cars avoided the attacker and continued bearing toward the camp. "Okay," Carrie said. "Everyone get ready." Rosalie clutched the heavy gun tighter, felt her sweat mingle with the warming metal. "We'll let the machine gun loose first," Carrie said nervously, perhaps as much to herself as to anyone else, "Then break out with the small arms fire. . ."
The cars screamed through the dust--
". . .hold it, hold it--Fire! Fire! Fire!"
The brilliant lightning of the machine gun blinded Rosalie. The cars swerved wildly. "Short bursts, short bursts!" Carrie shouted, hardly able to make herself heard above the thunder. "We have no ammo for sustained fire--"
The machine gun went silent.
"Shit!" Carrie screeched.
And the cars were still coming. They growled while the sun glinted over their hoods. Rosalie watched in terror. The sun glinting over the windshield--over the windshield--like a cold flash--
Rosalie stood, raised her gun and fired at the light on the glass.
The car swerved, spun in a wild circle, then stopped. Denise gasped, then pulled Rosalie down. "My Lord, child!"
Rosalie was still staring at her handiwork. The car doors opened, men leaped out to ran furiously to the driver's door. "I, I got the driver," Rosalie said.
"Everyone get down!" Carrie screamed.
The second car bore straight into the camp, impervious to the bullets. Women scattered. Denise screamed--and so did Rosalie as the car flashed past them. Rosalie's face was in the dirt, she was tasting sand and blood. "Rosalie!" Denise cried, reaching over the several feet which now separated them--"It ran over your dress!"
They heard Carrie shout a war cry, an Amazon scream. Her blond hair flashed in the sunlight as she withdrew a knife and threw it--and the knife flew through the open door window of the turning car.
The car stopped as the other one had.
They heard cries and looked behind them. Four men had left the car Rosalie shot, and they were approaching the Princesses, rifles and automatic weapons in their hands. A car door slammed, and two men leveled guns over the hood of the vehicle Carrie had stopped. Six Princes against twelve Princesses. But the Princes were better armed.
The four men stopped. "Surrender," one drawled.
"Never," said Carrie.
The men behind the car opened fire. With a scream the Princesses slammed their heads against the ground, some firing their hand guns from the dirt. One woman's face flew off; Rosalie screamed as the blood splattered her. From behind the Princesses the four men were charging, some letting loose with their weapons. More Princesses died. Others huddled the ground, desperately avoiding the bullets, seemingly trying to borrow into the very ground, yet they only made themselves flat targets for the men now in their midst. And Rosalie saw the sun, gleaming obliviously on everything, smiling upon the blood, the slaughter--
Before she knew what she was doing she raised her gun and fired at a man standing above Denise. The butt of his weapon dropped from his hands, the back of his head popped like a burst fruit. A second man charged at Rosalie and got it in the chest.
She felt no fear. She felt nothing.
Carrie screamed and threw her second knife. It plunged into the throat of the third man--then Carrie buckled, the flesh on her arm abruptly tore away from a passing bullet. Rosalie ducked, as suddenly the bullets from the second car focused on her alone.
Then the bullets stopped. A foot landed beside her head. She looked up to see a scowling man and the barrel of his rifle, in front of her face.
An powerful pop pierced the air; the man's chest and heart exploded, he screamed, flew back. Rosalie looked over her shoulder. Standing against the light was a tall, dark man, shotgun leveled in his hand. He calmly cracked open the weapon as the men from the car began fired again, hitting the Princesses surrounding him, as if somehow they had not seen what this man had just done-- maybe they had not. Another two Princesses fell before the shotgun cracked upward, and aiming at the distant vehicle the mysterious man let loose both barrels.
The shot was a long one, especially for a shot gun, so Rosalie could not explain what happened next. Maybe the man used special ammo. Perhaps the truck had already been pumped too full of bullets. Or perhaps the man was smiled upon by the Angels.
The truck flared into a blinding halo of exploding flame.
Rosalie's mouth fell open, as pieces of debris fell from the wreckage. Then once again, the desert fell silent.
Clutching her gun, Rosalie rose and whirled, to aim her weapon at the man's torso. The glinting sun flashed on his blond hair, and for a brief moment, he shined. . .before once more his face became encased in relative shadow, as his back was toward the sun. "Drop it!" she shouted.
"I just saved your lives," he said, calmly.
Then perhaps he reconsidered the thought. Most of the Princesses were dead.
He was looking around, realizing this, when Carrie struggled from the ground. She shoved aside corpses with her good arm, to uncover Denise who was sobbing in the sand. Carrie helped Denise upright. Rosalie looked quickly around, trying to find anyone else alive--and failed.
The man finished his scan of the surroundings and now looked upward, ominous black Matrix glinting in the morning light. Rosalie kept her weapon focused on his chest.
He shrugged, almost helplessly. "I tried," he said.
Rosalie felt confused, but her gun never left him. "Drop it," she said again.
She watched him consider it. His gun was probably empty--she wondered how many bullets a shotgun held. Then suddenly she wondered the same about her own weapon.
"I'll lower my weapon," he said, "If you do too."
Almost, she did--but the gun was her only weapon, her only defense if this man decided to-- "No," she said.
He stared at her.
Her grip on her weapon tightened. True, his shotgun was not quite pointed at her--but that could change fast. So she looked him in the eyes, trying to let her determination show. She had promised herself earlier that she would not be afraid again, and somehow, somehow she had succeeded. So she was not about to start being scared now. "Drop it," she said forcefully.
The man just stared. Vaguely she could see his eyes through the black plastic of the visor. She realized he could see her eyes through her visor, too.
"Rosalie," she heard Carrie say raggedly, as blood flowed from her arm. Denise hands were trembling as she opened a bottle of pills, probably pain pills, and dropped them into Carrie's mouth. "Rosalie," Carrie said thickly, "Shoot him."
Her resolve faltered. Shoot a man? Shoot another human being, not in self-defense but in cold blood?
"He saved our lives--" Denise started to say.
Rosalie's trigger finger tightened.
"Hey," the man said. His gaze was directed over her shoulder. Rosalie flicked her eyes to the side, and saw the stake, slumping toward the ground, the body tied to it dangling and riddled with holes. "That's me," the man said. "That guy looks just like me. . ."
He made a grab for her gun. She dodged with a shout, leaped back, holding the gun outstretched in both hands. Now his weapon was aimed at her, but he could not have any bullets in it, she had seen it, he had loaded two, he had fired two. But how many bullets did she have, did she have any--she circled round him, toward Carrie. There was no way she could take him in a hand-to- hand fight, no way--
Carrie gasped and fumbled from her boots, where Rosalie was certain she kept a knife. She moaned in pain, and then her attempts stopped.
The man kept staring at her.
Rosalie thought frantically for her next course of action--and realized she had none. She could not lower the gun, but if she fired the gun and nothing happened, she would probably get killed. All right, she thought, So I'll just stare him out.
She settled into the fiercest, most intense glare she could manage. And waited.
The man stared back, right into her eyes, coldly, brutally. He was ice, he was a glacier. He chilled her. But she remembered the sun, and withstood him.
Minutes passed like hours.
Rosalie began to panic. The man's gaze never wavered. Perhaps he too, speculated that she lacked bullets. Yet who could be sure? Who could know? So they simply waited, waited to see who would break first.
But he never stopped.
Sweat trickled down Rosalie's face. Her arms began to ache, and her back. The gun weighed more, and more. How heavy was it? How much lighter was it than when Carrie had given it to her? How many bullets has it lost? Surely she must still have one. . .
She was becoming his eyes. . .
Then she realized it. He had to be using his Matrix. No wonder why no sweat appeared on his brow, why no strain passed through those cold eyes--all he had to do was quicken time, and these long, passing minutes would seem but mere seconds. He had all the time in the world. So instantly her urge was to speed her time sense, to make these moments pass--
Instead, she slowed time, slowed time as much as she dared. If she increased her sense of the pace of time, she would make herself vulnerable. Like Carrie said, she had no idea how to handle herself with a Matrix, but slow time had to be less dangerous. . .
She felt her every breath; each one lasted forever. She became frozen in a state of unchanging being, and eternity seemed to sail past, like an ocean. But the pain became endurable. The utter slowness of everything made her to settle into herself. She became a watching predator instead of a panicked hare. She learned patience in a thousand seconds. And her eyes withstood his gaze.
The shotgun dropped from his hands.
She watched as it slowly fell, inching from his fingers, and she realized she had won--She had won! She had won! Elated, she normalized her time sense.
The gun was slapped from her fingers, and the man's hand seized her throat. The shotgun was clutched in his hands--but she had seen him drop it--how, how--
"You're one hot little bitch, aren't you?" he said. She glared at him defiantly, but that was all over now. He forced her onto her knees, then released her and backed away.
It was with the utmost bitterness that she watched him crack open his shotgun, and calmly insert two new shells. "Let me teach you a trick, little baby," he said, as he snapped the shotgun shut. "When you're on slow time, things that in reality just take a second, seem to take forever, see?" To demonstrate, he dropped the weapon--then he snatched it out of the air before it fell two inches from his fingers. "You fell for it, huh?" he said, grinning. "Actually thought I'd dropped it."
She looked away from him, to the ground. Her face felt hot, flushed with shame.
The man grabbed her fallen gun and tossed it away, far from any possibility of her retrieving it.
"Look," Denise said, "Please, just leave us alone. We've never done anything to you." Her eyes were clouded with tears. "Can't you see Carrie's hurt? Please, don't hurt us, please. . ."
"Shut up, Denise," Rosalie snapped bitterly.
"Please, please," Denise kept begging. Her hands were clutching her stomach, in a sort of misplaced gesture of supplication.. "Rosalie-can't you see how young she is? Or Carrie--she's hurt- -"
Rosalie gritted her teeth as Denise continued babbling, begging for everyone's life but her own, not a trace or iota of dignity in her being. Bitterness and rage settled into Rosalie's stomach like a rock, and she looked up to the man, and suddenly hated everything about him, suddenly wished every goddamned man in the whole fucking world was dead. . .
"I'm not going to hurt anyone," the man said.
That said, he raised his shotgun and leaned against his shoulder, before walking away.
They all watched with disbelief as the man receded past the bodies and the camp. Rosalie and Denise looked at each other, then Denise's tears redoubled. "Oh, thank God! Thank God!"
"Shut up," Rosalie said, startled by her cold voice.
But then she felt sorry for her statement, and rose, to kneel by Denise's side and put her arm round Denise's shoulders. "Carrie's going into shock," Denise sobbed. "I don't have anything to give her--find the medicine kit, find the medicine kit!"
Rosalie left them and started scrambling through the remnants of the camp, so she was the first to see the man stop and turn. "Hey," he called. She froze. "I just want to know one thing. Who's that guy on the stake?"
Rosalie looked at the stake, and felt startled. The dead man's face looked exactly like. . .the man before her. "I-I--" She heard herself stammer, felt ashamed of her stammering, "I--I don't know."
"He looks just like me," the man said.
He started to approach again. Rosalie's heart fell, and suddenly she wished she could roll into a ball and just vanish, just disappear. Yet then the rage surfaced again, and she watched him through narrow eyes as he grabbed the corpse's hair and lifted up.
In the shining sun the two faces were exactly alike.
Rosalie watched as he fingered the man's clothing--then fingered his own. Both he and the dead body wore the same black leather jacket--and the man said, "This is my Matrix." Both devices did look the same, except one seemed older, more worn. "This is. . .this is me." The man looked upward. "This is me--did you do this? Did you kill me?"
Mutely, Rosalie shook her head. "I tried to stop them," she said, her voice sounding small and tight. "I--he just appeared in the middle of the desert a couple of days ago, his leg broken and. . ." The event she described seemed ancient history, so much had happened since then. "I gave him something for the shock and then. . ."
The man was digging through the corpse's clothing. "And then?" he prompted.
". . .then Carrie said I couldn't help him. That he was a Prince and that he violated Neutral Territory. I mean, I think she assumed that he had just been left for dead. . .she hates Princes, so she didn't kill him, she just. . . let him die."
"After tying him to a stake." The man had stopped in mid-search. He was looking at her, straight at her.
"No, no," she said, "Well. . .yes, but, but--she was trying to teach me a lesson, she was trying to teach me not to help a Prince--he was going to die anyway--"
"Oh, shut UP!" The man slammed his fist against the stake, it upturned the soil at it to the ground, crumpling the body beneath it. "You're all alike!" the man screamed. "Everyone had to kill everyone else! Well, FUCK this! Huh?" Suddenly the shotgun was in her face, she was staring up its double barrels, staring into pitch black--"You wanna kill me, baby?"
"I tried to help him--I-I"
The man grabbed her shoulder. She struggled and he hit her across the chin. Rosalie saw stars. "Here you go, baby." His breath was raspy, it was beating against the back of her neck--he thrust her against something. Vaguely she heard Denise start crying again, start begging at the top of her lungs. The stake, he had lifted the stake. Now from inside his jacket he produced and knife, and, taking the rope which secured the corpse into his hands, cut the knot.
He put the knife to her throat. She stopped her struggling. "That's it, baby," he said. His voice was trembling, yet whether it was from rage, fear or even lust she could not tell. "Now ya gonna see what's it like!"
He tied her to the stake, shoulder to shoulder with bleeding corpse.
Backing away, he spread his hands, admiring his handiwork. "How's it feel, bitch?" he asked. "Now, you said his leg was broken."
"Look. . ." she said.
"What? What, you want your leg to get broken?"
"No, no. . .it wasn't like that--I tried to help him, I tried to help him. . ."
"Don't lie to me."
"I'm telling the truth, I swear! I didn't do it! I didn't do it!"
"Uh-huh. You didn't stop it." The man raised his shotgun.
"I tried, I tried--Don't shoot me--please, please, don't SHOOT ME--I beg you--don't-don't- don't--"
The blast of the shotgun shattered the oblivious silence of the desert. She screamed to high heaven.
Then realized the shot had missed her leg. . .by mere inches.
The man's knuckles were white around his shotgun. "You know something," he said. "There ain't no point to this shit." Suddenly Rosalie wondered if the man was not closer to tears than she was. "No fuckin' point."
He dropped his gun. He reached into his jacket, removed some shotgun shells and dropped them. Then he removed his knife, and dropped that, too.
Then without a weapon on his body, one more time, he walked away. Rosalie watched him leave, watched his slumped shoulders and his awkward gait. Her body was shaking, and she could not stop it. The fear had consumed her. She had begged, just like Denise, just like, like a child--
Just like anyone else.
"Damn you!" she screamed after the man with all her might.
She looked away from him, saw Denise cowering over Carrie's body, tears falling from her eyes. Rosalie swallowed. "Denise," she whispered, "Get over here. Get me out of this. C'mon, please. . ."
Yet several moments passed before Denise finally freed her from the stake.
She came waddling close, her hands still clutching her stomach, to stumble behind Rosalie and the stake. While Denise fumbled weakly with the knots, Rosalie asked, "Is Carrie still--?"
"Yes. . .maybe. . .I think. . .don't know."
"We got to find a medkit, we--" Rosalie sank to her knees, exhausted, empty. "It must be. . .around here. . ." She started blindly patting the empty sand before her, looking for something she knew she would not find. . ."Gotta find the kit. . ."
Her hand touched something unfamiliar. She frowned.
A shiny silver disc rested beneath her hand. She lifted it into the light for inspection, puzzled. Patterns were etched on its surface, and she traced her finger over them. It had been below the corpse's feet; it obviously had fallen from the body. She touched the patterns again, and felt momentarily dizzy. Dropping the disc, she began vaguely patting around again--
"Oh, my Lord," Denise whispered tremulously.
Rosalie looked upward.
The sun was gone. The stars were winking in the sky, and the horizon was glowing bright, vibrant green. The night sky had a purplish hue, and the air smelled funny. . .metallic. Above the horizon floated a green sphere of light. Though it seemed quite far away, the desert glowed just mildly under its influence.
"What. . .?" Rosalie asked helplessly. "What, I--" She raised her hands, and clutched them against her head. "What the--"
Denise touched her arm. Her tears were gone, and her eyes were glowing. "Don't you see," she whispered.
Rosalie saw something she had not noticed before. Denise's stomach--it was all red. The cloth there was soaked through and blackish fluid was pooling in the lap. "Denise," Rosalie said, startled again by the tone of her voice, startled again by the horror it held, "You've been shot."
"Don't you see? Denise looked from the glowing ball in the sky and said, "God's just taken us to Heaven."
Then her eyes closed and she crumpled to the ground.
Rosalie slowly took Denise's hand in her own. "I'm so sorry," she said, as the tears touched her eyes once more. "Denise, I'm so sorry. . .you kept begging but no one listened, did they? No one listened. . .not even me."
With eyes filmed by tears Rosalie looked up to the greenish stars.
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:firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
About the Artist: "J. Rex is an engineering student who was kind enough to do some exceptionally nice graphical titles for 'Time Matrix.' He has an eager interest in 3D art, and I hope to have the privilege of receiving further work from him for TM in the future. All email for J. Rex should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, from where it will be forwarded to the artist.
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