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With no weapon, he certainly could not fend for himself. Why, why, why, Tyler thought bitterly, he had thrown all his weapons away?
That damned bitch. Tied to that stake there--where he had tied her with the full intention of killing her. . .or at least, showing her what was what. Then that feeling had come over him, that sort of helpless, angry feeling. It was as if all the blood that had ever been shed in this goddamned world had suddenly covered him, head to toe, with its guilt, with its slime. He had killed too much, seen too much damn killing.
He could not even kill himself. What, should he beat himself to death with his hands? But then, he realized, walking alone in the desert with no food, or water would probably would do the trick.
Briefly he considered scavenging one of the nearby vehicles. He ought to find weapons in there, maybe water or at least a working truck. Still, his only urge was to keep walking, to take himself further and further away, from the camp, from the blood, and from himself.
Everything turned green.
Tyler stopped walking, confused. Casting about, he saw that everything looked the same--the trucks, the bodies--except that they were bathed in a green glow. Looking to the sky, he found the light's source. A giant green ball floated in the night sky--night? He did not remember the sun setting!
Turning, Tyler looked behind him, toward the Princess camp. By now he was too far away to see any details. His first urge was to return there, to the wounded and frightened women. He wanted to ask them if they saw this change, or was he simply crazy, crazy! He had to be mad!
Glancing at the sky, he changed his mind. Vaguely, wavering in the distance below the green ball, he thought he saw something. Something which looked peculiar and large, even massive. Were they mountains? Were they buildings? Perhaps--
Perhaps they were the Cities!
His pulse quickened. He had heard of the Cities, places of massive buildings and impressive technology. Myth had it that inside the cities the Time Matrixes had been invented, and that the people who lived there possessed many other marvels, devices which seemed almost magical. Those wonders, however, were overshadowed by suspicion. Rumor said that anyone who stepped foot into the cities were captured and enslaved.
Tyler had heard the stories. The Princes and the Princesses had escaped the Cities long ago, to find freedom. They had found it very difficult to survive outside the city, because in the desert, food and water were very difficult to find. Most food and water were stolen either from the villages, who farmed it, or from the city's dumps, were they threw great amounts of it away.
Stealing food from cities had been in decline lately, because of the Slavers.
Still, all Tyler could think was, how bad could it be? He took a hesitant forward step, then another. Then he started striding toward the distant light.
Distant towers rose above the desert; even at this distance their size impressed and awed Tyler. He had never seen anything like it. In the vast, empty desert the eye perceived only distance. The idea of large or small was dwarfed by the concept of far or near. Tyler sometimes could not differentiate whether the buildings were far away or just tiny little buildings very near. . .
To make the trip shorter he began to increase his time sense. Soon each step seemed a mile. The buildings steadily grew larger. . .and larger. . .and larger. . .until his heart started beating in fear. He could feel it hammer in his chest as the sun climbed the sky and glinted off the shiny silver and black towers. God, not just something that was far or near, or even big: it was tall! Tyler had never seen anything so high! They gained height with each step as if rising from the ground!
Tyler stopped. He could go no further, at least not now.
Stopping was a mistake. Tyler became aware of how hungry he was, and how thirsty. And how sleepy. Slowly, reluctantly, he slowed his time sense, then looked to the sand. Clumps of dried grass, withering in the rising heat, were blurred in his vision as he watched his shadow grow larger and large on the ground. He realized he was falling. . .
The smack of sand stung his cheek. He lost consciousness.
He lay on his back. The air felt cold, very cold. Struggling to rise, he realized he could not move his arms or legs. He looked over his body to find his legs tied together with a healthy twine of rope. Further investigation revealed the woman sitting on the desert sand, beside a fire. The look in her eyes was not friendly.
Recognition took a moment. Then he remembered the woman. . .this was the one he had tied to the stake and threatened to shoot. Perhaps that explained the woman's lack of warmth.
"I ought to kill you right now," the woman said.
That woman, that bitch Tyler had thought so beautiful. That woman Tyler had given up everything to save.
"Why don't you then?" he spat. He started struggling to free himself.
"Uh-uh." The woman raised a pistol.
"Go on," he said.
He watched the woman's trigger finger tighten. Ignoring her, he struggled against his bonds, then in a bold move sat upward.
"Stop!" the woman shrieked.
"Oh, shut up." With a tremendous effort the ropes snapped loose from his wrists. He groaned in pain, his aching muscles, his empty stomach and now bleeding wrists. Doggedly, he reached for his ankles--
The muzzle flash lit the night, the retort making Tyler's eyes water. As he squeezed shut his eyes from the ringing in his ears, he waited for the sensation of pain.
"That shot was just a warning," the woman said tremulously. "The next one's for real."
He slowly opened his eyes. "You damned bitch," he said tiredly. "Can't you do anything right?"
She stared at him, eyes wide, clutching her weapon. Her hands and her body were trembling. Her torn dress bellowed round her body, in the occasional cold gusts of the desert wind. Staring at her smudged face, into her eyes, he guessed that the trembling originated from more than the chill.
"You're scared, aren't you?" he said.
The fact perplexed him, almost amused him. Fear was unfamiliar to him. He usually killed his enemies before he saw their faces. His fellow Princes laughed about battle, they enjoyed the adrenaline rush. But fear. . .being scared. . .he remembered when he had joined the Princes tribe. A small, skinny kid, wandering without purpose, starving, and. . .scared. Terrified. That fear had prompted him to join the Tribe; that same fear had made him leave it. Maybe fear, though perhaps not recognized as such, had forced him to do almost everything he had ever done.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said.
"Scared?" She squared her shoulders. "I'm never scared!" she hissed.
She gripped the gun and aimed at his head.
"Okay, okay." He slowly raised his hands, fingers spread. "I surrender."
Confusion crossed her features. "W-what?"
"I said I'm not going to hurt you." He crossed his hands behind his head, and lay onto the ground.
She held the gun on him for several minutes, even so. He stared at the sky, studying the stars through the visor of his Matrix. In his peripheral vision he saw her finally lower the gun into her lap, and her shoulders slumped. Now she looked rather small, and obviously exhausted.
"Have you had any sleep yet?" he asked.
Her blurry eyes seemed dull, which fit her tired gaze. "No."
No one who knew anything about dealing with prisoners or prospective opponents would have revealed that to him. How could she be so naive? Yet he could answer his own question. A recent Tribe initiate, probably bereft of family or any source of food or shelter after some gang--his, probably--had destroyed her village.
"Do you have anything to eat?" he asked.
"Are you going to the city?"
"The city?" He heard the fear, the uncertainty in her voice again. "My parents--they told me never to go near them."
She remembered her parents? That was more than he did.
"They said. . .they said that people were just mindless zombies there."
He had heard that, too. "Why didn't you scavenge the trucks?"
"I--I don't know how to drive."
"For water, I mean."
He sighed. From where had this woman come? "In the trucks," he said impatiently. "They would have had water in the trucks!"
Licking his dry lips with a thirsty tongue, he stared at the stars. Whatever green ball had been there yesterday was gone tonight. . .a black window with white specks, stars so bright they seemed to engulf him.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"Near your camp."
"In Neutral Territory."
"Are you sure?"
He blinked, his star gazing interrupted. "What do you mean, ĎAm I sure?' Of course I'm sure!"
"Those big buildings weren't there before."
"You just didn't see them." She was right. Those buildings had not been there before.
"And first it was day, and then it was night."
"First it was day, then it was night. It all happened when I touched the disc."
He would have ignored her babbling if something she had not jarred his memory. The sun had seemed to just vanish yesterday. . .
Sometime during the night she had fallen asleep, gun drooping in her hand. He had watched her, her chin drooping onto her chest, hair falling over her shoulders, over her Matrix, over her breasts. She had seemed fragile, fragile and beautiful.
This image aroused strange, almost eery feelings in Tyler. He had never really gone for the men in his camp, and from afar he had often admired the beauty of the Princesses. But the Princesses were more likely to kill a man than smile at him. So he had learned to admire his enemy from afar, and kill them from afar, too. The more beautiful the enemy, the more dangerous they were. He knew--ugly Princesses were mean, but the pretty ones--they were just paranoid. He had once seen a blond-haired beauty shoot a man for leering at her.
Perhaps someday this woman would become ultra-dangerous. He ought to kill her now, when he had a chance.
He had thrown away his weapons, though.
So he just stared at her, fascinated. Why did he find her so pretty? Why was his only desire to get closer to her? Why did he keep having these images of touching her? It almost made him sick. Maybe he really was a Bitch Lover. Maybe he should prove that he was not, and do what all the other men did--kick that stupid gun out of her hands, throw her to the ground and rape her, just like they had taught him, just like he had seen other men do over and over again.
The thought sickened him. Still, if Hippo had not had his way with him, he would not have hesitated.
As it was, all he could do was stare. He ought to escape into the night, and never let her cross his path again. But when he tried to rise, he could not. He had to keep watching her, keep staring for just another minute, just another minute. . .
She reminded him of a butterfly. So delicate, so colorful. . .When the sun's rays touched her eyes she awoke with a start. She stared at him, eyes wide with fear.
Then she had looked around. "Why--why didn't you leave?"
"I told you," he said. "I surrendered."
With the Matrix set on slow motion, she seemed to float through time. Her dress curled round her body in the wind, flowing in the cold breeze like a banner of colors, mixing with her long hair and dark skin, hues and shades meshing like the horizon during sunset. The rise of her breasts, the curves of her buttocks, her eyes, her face, her chin, her hands, all slowly and holy and timeless. Inside he felt sick, as if he were about to throw up. He had never felt this way before in his life, never--
She started to say something. Reluctantly, he quickened his time sense and listened.
"My name's Rosalie."
This was the first time he had ever learned a bitch's name. If his friends ever discovered this, they would all line up, fuck him in the ass, then blow off his sorry head.
"Uh. . .um. . .oh. Tyler." Something about the dip and shadow between her legs kept demanding his irresistible attention. But there the Princes always raped women, so it made him disgusted with himself to be even think about it.
"You know why I untied you?" she asked.
Most of her fear seemed to have vanished. Though obviously cold, her chin stayed upright as if she were the Bitch leader or something.
She seemed confused by his response, but continued anyway. "The sun said you were okay," she told him. "The first thing I ever saw with my Matrix was the sun, rising. As long as it's daytime, nothing can happen to us."
"As long as I can see the sun, I can do anything," she said in a loud voice.
This bitch was not only beautiful, she was crazy. If he did not stay with her, she would get herself killed in under five minutes.
The thought of her dead sickened Tyler more than anything else.
"Look, maybe we shouldn't go to the city," he said.
She looked at him, eyes glinting in the sun like brown water. "Why not?"
"It's dangerous there." He stopped walking. "Why don't we go somewhere else?"
"We have no food, no water."
"Yeah, well, at least we're still alive. Look, why don't you just stay here and I'll scout it out, okay?"
"Why?" Her eyes narrowed. "Why should I trust you?"
"Um. . .didn't the sun say I was okay?"
She hesitated. "The sun said you wouldn't hurt me."
"Well then. . ."
"But what if you cheat me? Why should you go without me? I'm the one with the gun, after all."
"Yes, but. . .look, haven't you heard the tales about the Cities?"
She hesitated, but said, "No."
"They're dangerous. They take Princes and Princesses and make them into slaves."
That stumped him. "I don't know. They just say that."
"Well, if I'm a Princess and you're a Prince, nothing can harm us, right?"
"Because we're Roity," she said simply.
"You know. . .wings and qeens and lights and soars. My Mam told me about them when I was little, right before I went to sleep. Nothing can harm Roity, because my Mam said those stories always end right. Now, all the wings and qeens are dead, and only the Princes and Princesses remain. Mama said that I must never go near a Prince or Princess, because without their wings and qeens there is no one to control them, and so they run rampant in the desert and fight with each other."
"You're crazy, you know," he said impatiently.
She looked hurt. "Well, fuck you," she said, and started to walk away, toward the buildings.
"Hey!" He started after her. "Look, don't go there. I'm warning you, they'll do something to you."
"I need water," she shouted. "I need food. If you think you can find it elsewhere, go ahead."
"Rosalie!" he shouted. "Look, I know what I've heard!"
She would not listen. He stopped and watched her walk toward the rising buildings, dress fluttering round her, her fists clenched at her sides in determination while her hair flew round her body.
Black hair down her back, dress flying and bellowing above her bare legs, again and again, Tyler thought of a butterfly. Then the sun caught her in a brief, glowing light, and she walked through the its light like, like. . .something golden. . .something that belonged in the sky.
Then the moment was gone. Tyler wished his Matrix had been on slow time. He instantly froze his time sense--but it was too late. The moment was gone. If only it could have lasted forever he would have endured a thousand Hippos, a thousand hells. Yet the scene vanished in an instant, and then she was just walking through air again, and Tyler could not relive the moment, could not grasp it, could not hold it, could not change it, could do nothing--
He screamed in rage. "You can't do that to me!" he screamed, at the empty desert, at her, the sky, the sun itself. "You CAN'T! You CAN'T! Damn you!" he screamed to the Heavens as if someone were there, as if someone could possibly be listening, "You can't leave me with so little!"
She whirled, stared at him as if he had lost his mind. Tyler had bent double. He could hardly move, the thing between his legs was so stiff. He shivered. . .the wind blew past her again, raising her hair and lifting her dress, while she stared at him, perplexed and puzzled and innocent. He groaned aloud as the sun streamed past her, and fell to the sand, and there, promptly, started to shudder. His thighs become drenched and wet as she stood in the sun. . .
. . .and time was frozen in ecstasy.
As if one could take sand, and drop each grain into the sky, one by one by one, and fill the night with dreams. That was how time passed, as if the stars were glass and each sand was one hour, he held her image as he emptied himself, each shudder another grain of sand trickling through the opening of time. . .
Then the glass was empty, and all the sand had fallen. She was above him, her hands on his chest. Something must have normalized his time sense--himself? What? "Are you okay?" she kept asking. Her eyes seemed different--and her expression--different from any look or glance he had ever received, not from other Princes, from no one. It reminded him of an expression he had always hoped his Father would give him, when he was young and he kept asking his Dad to just pay attention to him, to just look at him as if he were there, just once, just once. . .
"Rosalie," he kept saying. "Rosalie. . ."
"I'm right here. What happened to you?"
". . .where ever you want to go, Rosalie," he kept saying. "Where Ever you want to go. . .I'll be there. . .I'll be. . .let's go to the City, Rosalie. Let's go to the city and. . .I'll be there. . ."
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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