Tyler and Rosalie are two people who live in the resulting futuristic anarchy. They know only of the Desert; for now, what lies beyond is a mystery. Territory is divided between two rival gangs, or tribes: The Princes, a tribe which consists of only men, and the Princesses, a tribe which consists only of women. The effects and use of Time Matrices have caused a separation of the sexes (See Time Matrix, P.2).
The story started when an elderly Professor Witherspoon, inventor of the Time Matrices, contacted Tyler and Rosalie when the two were alone at a tribal meet. He told them that he had invented a time machine--a machine literally capable of taking them forward or backward in time. When they disbelieved them, he demonstrated--by taking them several hours into the future. Once he had shown his capabilities, he told them that they must mate and have a child-- for their child, he said, would one day become the Guardian of Time.
Professor Witherspoon gave Tyler the Time Machine, a small golden disc. Then, due to some rough treatment Tyler dealt him, died. In spite of the sincerity of Witherspoon's words, neither Tyler nor Rosalie particularly cared about "Guardians of Time," and they fell to fighting over the Time Machine. Tyler escaped with the prize, but had a serious encounter with Rosalie's gang, resulting in him being wounded and in imminent peril. He used the Time Machine to escape five years into the past-- only to find himself captured by the Princesses, tied to a stake, and left to die. . .which he did.
Now the original Rosalie and Tyler no longer know of each other. The only connecting factor between the Tyler and Rosalie of five years ago is the Time Machine. . .a device they know nothing about and which is right now hidden on Tyler's dead body. Rosalie is in the middle of the initiation ceremony necessary for her to become a member of the Princess Tribe. Tyler is a recent initiate of the Princes himself. This section begins after a routine patrol, where Tyler and some other Princes stumble onto the camp where Rosalie is being initiated. There, Tyler discovers an eerily familiar body tied to a stake. . .
Tyler shook his head, as the other Princes screamed and hollered in the back seat. "Hey, Smiley, when ya gonna get the roof offa this car!" Jiks shouted. "There's barely enough room to breathe in here!"
"Open a window," Tyler muttered.
"Yeah, shut up, Jiks!" Hippo howled.
"I mean, she was beautiful," Tyler said again, abruptly swerving the car to avoid a coyote. "That woman, the one sitting in the campfire ring, you know, the one being initiated--I've never seen a more, a more. . ."
"Hold her steady, Tyler--hold her steady--" Tyler swerved the car again as a loud retort shocked the air. "Christ! Smiley, why'd you do that!" Hippo cuffed the back of Tyler's neck. "I was tryin' to kill that damned dog!"
"I'll get it!" Jiks shouted. A flash in the desert night, a brief, short yipe. "Tagged 'im-- got 'im--ha-ha!"
"You guys are a bunch of fucks!" Tyler said. "That coyote wasn't doing anything to you!'
"Tyler's a softy, Tyler's a softy!" Jiks sang.
"Yeah, whatsa matter, Smiley?" said Hippo, falling against the front seat, fouling Tyler's cheek with his drunken breath, "You don't got no guts--you ain't got no Prince in ya. Sometimes. . ." Hippo awkwardly raised his finger, "Sometimes I wonder why you even joined the Princes."
"Yeah, Smiley," said Jiks, "Why did ya?"
"I'm just as much a Prince as anyone else," Tyler said, turning from the rancid stink of Hippo's breath.
"Why don't ya prove it then?" Hippo drawled. "Why don't you turn this car around. . go back to that little initiation camp and pop the bitches between the eyes." Hippo somehow managed to point at his temples. "And then. . .we can all fuck that one you're sweet on!"
Yowls of agreement filled the small car. The sharp cries of laughter reminded Tyler of the coyote which had just died. "They're in Neutral territory, Hippo," he said. "We can't violate it."
"Ah, sure we can," Hippo laughed. "Samson wouldn't know. Shit, they gotta dead Prince tied to a stake, don't they? In Neutral territory. Meaning they deserve all the shit we can give 'em."
"We're only five minutes from camp," Tyler said firmly, as the faint flickers of campfires appeared through the windshield. "We'll talk to Samson about it."
"Why?" whined a new voice. Tyler looked into the rear view mirror, to see Hippo's lover. "Why do we always need to go to Samson?" said Twerny. "Samson's always mean to me."
"There, there," grunted Hippo soothingly. He reached and cuddled Twerny's cold, pale, runty little body against his chest. Tyler could feel Hippo' eyes glaring at the nape of his neck. "What are you?" said Hippo derisively. "Samson's little asskisser? Ever since he became our leader, we ain't had one good fight. All we get from Samson is shit!"
"He's the leader," Tyler said. "And that's final."
A moment later Tyler eased the car into the Prince's camp.
A giant bonfire roared in the camp's center. It was complemented by dozens of smaller fires scattered among the drab, gray tents. Vehicles of every description rested on the cold, desert sand. Muscular men, dressed in tattered leather, sported tattoos and brandished weapons as they meandered through the chilly night air. As he exited the car Tyler heard the raw, pounding beat of music. He could feel the tension, the excitement. Evidently someone else had already spotted the Princess camp in Neutral territory, with its crucified Prince. Whooping, Hippo leaped from the car, to pour his beer over his bald head and scream, "Blood!"
Tyler left them. He usually was the one who reported to Samson.
He walked through the heavy, smoke laden air, through the networks of carelessly pitched tents. Here and there he spotted half-hidden privacies. Men playing with their privates. Men playing with other men. When he found the largest tent he pushed aside the flap and entered.
Samson sat on his cot. Across the room was Samson's male, Joniathan, who sat strumming a guitar while Samson smoked a cigarette, listening.
"Master," said Tyler.
Samson slowly turned his head. His Time Matrix obscured his face, hiding his eyes. Tyler saw himself reflected in the black visor. "Welcome back, Smiley," said Samson, lowering his cigarette to blow smoke into the air. "What about these reports I've been hearing?"
"We skirted the boundaries," Tyler said, "along the Border. We saw a Princess Initiation circle in Neutral Territory. There was a Prince tied to a stake there."
"Was he dead?"
"Who was he?"
"I don't know." Tyler paused. "He looked. . .sort of familiar."
A loud scream and the flaps behind Tyler tore open. Tyler ducked aside as Hippo's huge, drunken bulk stumbled into the tent, followed by Twerny. The tent's bright light made Hippo's beady eyes water, while Twerny's eyes glittered like a snake's. "Hey, Samson," Hippo shouted hoarsely. "We just got back from that initiation shit going on in Bitchland. They gotta Prince tied up to a fucking stake, man! We gotta go over there and fuck the SHIT out of 'em!"
The guitar fell silent. Hippo's grin was wide, and Tyler could smell his hot, panting breath. Samson's eyes were cold.
Grin fading, Hippo took a backward step. "Uh. . .master."
"I've already heard," said Samson.
Hippo glanced at Tyler.
"I need proof that this Prince was killed in Neutral territory. For all I know he may have violated the rules himself."
"Who cares!" Hippo roared. "A Prince's a Prince!"
"If we start a skirmish over nothing, we get a full-fledged gang war on our hands."
"Let it be war!" Hippo shouted. He spun and pushed aside the tent flap. "Men!" he screamed. "Ya fuckers--listen up! Twerny and me just saw it--the Bitches got a Prince! In Neutral territory!" Hippo thrust his fist to the sky. "Revenge!"
Several dozen black Matrices could be seen beyond the tent's entrance--men, tough, bitter men, all half hidden in the flames and darkness, revealed only by the thin lines of their lips, beneath their cold, dark visors.
"Revenge!" Hippo shouted again.
Even the whispered crackles of the campfires seemed cold.
Hippo's shadow in the fiery light seemed to grow smaller, as he turned weakly aside to Samson. "Um. . .master. . ."
Slowly Samson rose, and approached Hippo, cigarette dangling from his lips. Grinning, drooling, Hippo stepped aside. Tyler swore Hippo was shaking when Samson studied him.
Samson turned. He raised his arm.
His cry was echoed by a righteous roar of spontaneous agreement.
For a split second Samson seemed like God. He shoved Hippo aside and reentered his tent. Through the swaying tent flaps Tyler watched Hippo slink away, dejected and small. How could Hippo have been so stupid? No one but the Master could order the troops into battle.
"Hey, Smiley," said Samson. "I want to talk to you."
Tyler turned. "Yes, Master?" Somehow, he doubted Samson was going to be real happy about Hippo's actions.
Samson had returned to his cot. "Tyler," he said, "I want you to kill that motherfucker Hippo and that piece of shit he calls his fag."
Nope, Samson was not happy.
"Master," said Tyler, "he was drunk."
"You defending him?"
"Um. . .Hippo isn't a bad sort. I mean, he might smell but he's a stand-up guy." Tyler looked at the tent door, after the dwindling figure. "Besides. . .why do I have to kill him?"
"You questioning my orders?"
"No. . .but he's a Prince," Tyler said desperately. "To kill him--that'd be murder."
"And killing a Princess isn't?" asked Joniathan.
Tyler looked at Joniathan, surprised. It was the first time he had ever heard Samson's male speak. Joniathan returned the stare, eyes cold and clear. And Samson was waiting for an answer.
"Um. . .I don't know. . ." Tyler stammered.
"If the Princes and Princesses go to war," Joniathan continued, "What good is it going to do anyone? We'll just end up with a lot of dead Princes, and a lot of dead Princesses. Have you ever seen a gang war between the two, Tyler? You ever seen a Prince raping the dead body of a Princess? Well?"
Tyler swallowed. He remembered the Princess he had seen at the Initiation camp. She had seemed. . .different, different from anyone he had ever known. She had seemed. . .beautiful. ". . .and you know what I've seen Princesses do?" Joniathan was watching Tyler very closely, as if he were trying to read Tyler's mind. "I've seen them castrate a Prince's dead body, and stuff the balls up his mouth. I've seen the wars, Tyler. I've seen them go on for years. But right now we're at peace. At peace. So let me ask you, Smiley. What's the point of another war?"
Tyler could not really find an answer; actually, the question had never occurred to him. But he could not believe Samson was letting his male bitch get away with speaking like this. He said, "But Master. . .They've crossed us!"
Joniathan slowly smiled, and looked back to his guitar. Tyler relaxed, slightly. Perhaps this had all just been a test.
"It don't matter what Joniathan thinks," Samson said. "Or what you think. Or what anyone thinks but me." Samson nodded toward the tent's door. "Out there, they're getting ready for war. I have to pick the strike force that's going to hit the camp." Samson leaned forward. "I considered you to be in charge of Hippo, Tyler. It was your car, wasn't it? And Hippo was in your car when you found that Prince on a stake. And you let Hippo come right in here, and you let him fuck with me. In front of everyone!" Samson screamed.
Tyler was silent.
"Now," said Samson, "I gotta start a goddamned war, or otherwise one of those fucking men is gonna shoot me in the ass because I didn't avenge our honor. You're supposed to report to me, Tyler, and make sure I get the news FIRST!" Samson threw his cigarette to the ground. "Now you go back out there, into that wonderful little shit desert of yours, and you plug Hippo's ass!"
Tyler reluctantly turned toward the door. "Oh, and Tyler?"
Tyler halted, to see Joniathan smiling at him. Something about those cold, blue eyes-- perhaps their clarity--seemed somehow prescient, and foreboding. "Remember, Tyler, when you're killing a Princess and standing over her dead body. . .remember that a woman can't rape. Tell me, you feel proud that you can?"
Tyler left the tent. Walking through the cold desert air, Tyler tried to think, but his mind did not seem to be working right. His thoughts were skipping and running and jumping--Had Samson just asked him to kill another Prince--yet killing a Prince was wrong--but killing a Princess was wrong too--another Prince, in cold blood--
Jiks came bounding to him, a heavy rifle in hand. "Isn't it great, Smiley, huh, isn't it great? Samson's already making arrangements for the raid!" Suddenly Jiks sidled close. "But it's a little bit disappointing," he whispered.
"How's that?" Tyler asked shortly.
"He's only assembling a small party--and not the really good Warriors, either. He's just sending ten crap boys. That should be sufficient, considering the weaponry they're taking--But it's almost as if Samson hopes they'll fail." Jiks laughed. "Of course they'll succeed, though. We're gonna have a whole gang war on our hands! Oh, and I just heard--Samson's assigned you and Hippo to go back and scout the camp again, to get Intel for the raid.. I wanna come with you. That way I'll be closer when the fighting begins--better pickings." Jiks grinned. "Besides," he whispered again, "I have a secret weapon."
Jiks opened his coat. Inside Tyler caught a glimpse of a three-pronged device--He looked away. "Ah, Jiks, where the hell did you get that!"
"I stole it from the armory. You know what this does?" Jiks attempted to stealthily show Tyler the device by stuffing it under his nose. "It deactivates Time Matrices. You can make it focus in on just one Matrix, or affect all Matrices within forty meters. It can make them stop or become twice as slow--whatever you want. That ought to get us up over on those Princesses once and for all, wouldn't you say?" Jiks giggled. "But don't tell anyone. The Master doesn't want the Princesses to even know we have it. . .it's a 'secret weapon.' But if we kill 'em all, what would it matter?" Jiks laughed aloud.
"That's cool, Jiks." Tyler turned away and started toward his car.
"Think about it--you know that cute bitch they had in the campfire ring? Imagine what she's gonna be like with her Matrix not working, that stupid dress torn open, all her breasts and things laid--"
Tyler grabbed Jiks by the collar and slammed him against his vehicle. "Hey!" Jiks yelled, raising his rifle, "What the fuck are ya doin'! You said yourself you liked her--I'll let you have the first go--" Jiks threw himself aside as Tyler wrenched the rifle from his hands and slammed its butt where Jiks' head had been. The windshield cracked, white splinters shot across its oblique surface. "SHIT!" Jiks screamed. "You tryin' to kill me!"
Throwing aside the rifle, Tyler jabbed his finger in Jiks' pale face. "No one touches her, you hear me!" he shouted.
"Hey, whatever you say, Smiley, whatever you say!"
"What's wrong, Smiley baby?" Tyler whirled, to find Hippo standing behind him, Twerny squirming at his side. "You ain't got the balls to share no more?"
"You keep your paws off her too, Hippo."
"And who's gonna make me?" Hippo asked. "You sayin' you gone lovesick with a bitch, Tyler? I heard they don't take too kindly to that--some say they cut off a guy's dick and all. . ."
"SHUT UP!" Tyler shouted. He pressed his hands against his ears.
"What the hell's goin' on over there?" someone shouted.
"Smiley here's a bitch lover!" Hippo shouted in reply.
"Is that right?" Tyler looked over, to see a dozen men, all in heavy combat gear, smiling and grinning at him. "Hey," one of them said. "You can't lose sight of what's important, you know." He hoisted his automatic, and walked away to his car, laughing.
"Are we goin' or what?" Jiks asked. "We're supposed to keep tabs on the Princesses, remember?"
"Yeah," said Hippo. "Remember?"
Tyler took a deep breath, then another. "Get in," he said.
"Good thing you broke the passenger side," said Hippo, chuckling at the broken windshield as he opened the car door, "Or we wouldn't be taking your car."
And so they started driving back to the Initiate's camp.
"Man, it looks like the attack's going to begin at dawn," Jiks said. "We'll get there with an hour to spare."
Maybe he had been wrong to become a Prince, Tyler thought. Why had he joined the damned Princes, anyway? Way back when, a young kid, parents dead, wandering around hungry and tired. . .he had seen those strong men on bikes and in cars. They had looked so damned cool. . .
"Shoot the bitches," Hippo was growling. "Finally get some action around here. Shoot 'em one by one, in between their pretty little eyes."
. . .so damned big and cool. "I wanna be like them," he said, wandering through the muck and waste of his squat little village. "I wanna have a family. I wanna be a big man."
"I hate bitches," Twerny whined.
After all, the Princes were on the side of Good, right?
"I once saw a bitch shoot a man right in the chest," said Jiks. "Just for following her around."
There had to be something to differentiate between right and wrong. He had always assumed that his gang was Right and the other Gang was wrong. But now, now he was all jammed up in his head.
"I'm gonna kill that bitch they were Initiating," said Hippo.
How could he kill Hippo, anyway? He had his knife. Get Hippo with one clean swipe, and after that Twerny would be no problem. Jiks might be startled but he would not care.
"I hate bitches," Twerny whined again.
Or maybe, Tyler realized, he should just do nothing. It would all blow over, he was no hero.
"You would," said Jiks. "The only place you can ever get it is from Hippo." He laughed. Tyler doubted that Jiks' statement was one Hippo would appreciate.
He was right. Hippo slammed his ham fist into Jiks' face, producing a sick-sounding thud. "There," said Hippo. "That'll teach ya to go insulting my Twerny."
This was right?
"Jesus, Hippo," said Tyler. Suddenly killing Hippo seemed like a better idea.
"Yeah," Jiks shouted. "What's with you jerks? What's wrong with you, Hippo? Damn you you broke my damn nose! HIPPO--"
Hippo wrenched open the car door and threw Jiks' body onto the sand. Tyler saw the body hit the dirt and roll into the sagebrush, quickly fading into the night as Hippo slammed the door. "Christ!" Tyler screamed.
"There," Hippo said. "You happy now? You little piece of shit?"
Tyler kept his hands on the wheel. Hippo leaned over the seats, and breathed into his face. "Yeah," said Hippo, breath making Tyler want to gag. "You're happy. Just like you were with Samson when he told ya to kill our asses. Can you see that, Twerny? He's real happy now."
Twerny laughed, a high-pitched giggle. "I didn't say I'd do it," said Tyler.
"You didn't say no," said Twerny. "I was listening."
"Keep driving," Hippo said.
Tyler was silent. The black car rolled over the streaming desert sand. The night grew colder. Hippo and Twerny whispered occasionally in the back seat, but he did not look back. Hippo had carried a gun back there; he bet Hippo was holding it now. He began to consider opening the car door, and leaping out, but Hippo would just stop the car, and walk out, with his gun--
"We're nearly there, aren't we?" Hippo asked.
"I'd say we have about an hour before the others arrive. I wanna know something, Tyler. Stop the car."
Tyler stopped the car. He waited.
"Would you have done it? Would you have killed me?"
"I. . .I don't know."
"You on my side now, though, right? You gonna help me kill all them Princesses. And then, we're gonna take all the weapons those bitches got, and then we're gonna go back and kill Samson. I got it all arranged in the camp. When they see me comin' back, that's the signal. You with me?"
After a long silence, he said, "Sure, Hippo, I'm with ya."
"Yeah." If he just lay low, Tyler decided, he might not get hurt.
"So. . ."
"Yeah, so?" Tyler asked.
"So. . .you wanna do it?"
Tyler began to feel cold. "Do what?"
"Ya wanna do it with Twerny and me?"
"Ya heard me."
"You know I don't do it with guys," Tyler said. He turned, to see Hippo's grinning face, and his leveled gun.
"Get out of the car," Hippo said.
"You mean. . .you wanna do me in the ass?"
"Yeah. In the ass, whaddya think I mean?" Hippo chuckled. "Ya see, Twerny likes ya."
On the seat, Twerny's eyes glittered like glass shards.
"I'm not. . ." Tyler said desperately, "I'm not. . .that would be like. . .that would be sort of like, like. . .rape."
Hippo laughed. Then suddenly his eyes turned evil. "Yeah. You're just like a bitch, Tyler. Now you're gonna see what it's like."
Tyler never saw the blow to his face.
Agony, and then his lips and nose spouted crimson. He grabbed for his knife, found his sheath empty, saw his knife already in Twerny's hands. Hippo grabbed Tyler around the throat, wrenched him out of the car, and slammed Tyler's head onto the hood. Tyler saw lights, saw red blood dribbling onto the black metal. Hippo's strength was like that of a monster's as he pinned Tyler's arm behind his back. "Here," Hippo drawled. Tyler caught a glimpse of something with three prongs, then saw the red flash of his Matrix's ALARM mechanism, the repeated warning of "Malfunction." "I'm gonna slow this down for us, 'cause I want us to have fun. . ." said Hippo, as he tossed the device into the car.
Suddenly time was twice as slow.
It took forever for Hippo to unzip his fly. It took him longer to pull down Tyler's.
Then Tyler's life changed.
*"Damn you!"* Tyler screamed for what seemed eternity. His fist slammed against the car, the blow ricocheted slowly off the metal, making the air howl unendingly with the vibration. Twerny was applauding, mouth open in a slowed, gruesome approximation of never-ending laughter. Tyler's fist slammed downward again, toward the windshield. Was there really moisture on his cheeks--was he really crying?
The already cracked windshield exploded into a shower of glass.
Horror began to enter Twerny's eyes. Tyler directed his hand to a glass shard. He grabbed it, cutting his fingers, before he stabbed backward with his dripping hand.
Hippo fell back.
Spinning slowly off the car's hood, Tyler watched himself fall to the dirt. During that time, he forced himself to become calm. He forced himself to cope with the pain. He planned his fall, deciding to land on his side. Hippo was running toward him. Tyler cooly performed a legsweep. Hippo could have seen it coming, but he was too busy screaming with rage, so he fell instead. Tyler leaped into the car. Twerny was in there, the little wimp, grinning like a damned skull. In his hand's was Tyler's knife. Tyler calculated the swoop of Twerny's arm and easily avoided it. With a snap he broke Twerny's neck.
"NO!" Hippo screamed, having already risen. Tyler started the car. As the engine began to roar, Tyler settled into a cold calculated rage. Hippo was running full at him, eyes glowing red in the headlights, revealing an opposite rage, a blind rage. Tyler reversed the car, then switched gears and hit the accelerator. He saw the realization enter Hippo's eyes. Then he had the unmitigated satisfaction of watching Hippo's torso be crushed as the car slowly smashed into him. The expression of oncoming death which inched across Hippo's face was especially satisfying.
Hippo vanished under the car with an echoing scream.
Tyler reached for the three pronged device lying on the floor. It seemed to take hours to find the "OFF" button. . .but then suddenly the perceived speed of his breaths was normal, though they sounded harsh, hoarse. On the desert just beyond the car door lay Hippo's gun.
The desert night had a peculiar stillness as he exited the car. Grabbing the gun, he walked round the hood. Below the wheels Hippo was obviously dead.
Suddenly Tyler laughed, a silly, insane laugh. He dropped the pistol. Blood was dripping down his body, his arms, in his pants legs--he looked up to the sky and fell against the car. Covering his face in his hands, he started to sob like a little boy. "Damn you, Hippo," he swore, remembering when he was young, the cool guys and the bikes. . ."Damn you. . .you were my goddamned hero, you motherfuck!"
He sobbed, and the desert's cold, black silence was the only listener, and it disdained to speak.
Eventually, though, the sun began to rise. Tyler looked upward when dawn was coloring the sky, revealing from the darkness the sprawled bodies, the blood, the shattered glass. Maybe he should just die here, in the middle of the desert, Tyler thought. Because he would never be able to look anyone in the eye again.
So he took the gun from the ground, and aimed at his head. His wide eyes hurt from the sun's burning rays. His finger tensed--
He heard something.
A cry, it was a woman's cry. It pierced the cold, frozen sky, as it was gradually alighted by the burning dawn. It was a cry of joy, rising into the sky like a rainbow. Tyler had never heard such a sound. No one could feel that much joy, such joy could not be expressed by a mere human voice.
What was it?
He had to find the answer. So he rose, awkwardly, stiffly. He took the keys from the car ignition, and walked stiffly to the car's trunk, and opened it. Inside were a pair of binoculars. By his calculations, the women's initiation site was about a mile away, and that seemed the only possible explanation for the noise. He activated the FARsensor binoculars and focused in the direction of the campsite.
He saw the Initiation campsite, and he saw the same beautiful woman he had seen there earlier. The sun shone upon her, and her hands were lifted, as if she were worshiping the sun like it was some sort of rising god. He had only barely seen her last night, in the darkness lit by flames. She had looked beautiful then. But now, she looked like a goddess. It was inconceivable to Tyler, that at this very moment, when his life stood in ruins, that someone else could be crying so rapturously to the sun.
They were going to come after her, he suddenly realized. The group that Samson was sending--they were going to do to her what Hippo had done to him.
The binoculars dropped from his fingers.
He looked down into the trunk. He saw a first aid kit. He also saw a shotgun and a hundred rounds of ammo.
Beneath the glinting sun, he broke open the shotgun and started inserting shells.
Two minutes later the car engine was rumbling as he backed off Hippo's body and roared toward the camp. The Princesses were already taking places along the perimeter when they spotted Tyler. They were aiming their weapons at him when Tyler swerved toward the oncoming dust plume on the horizon. Soon the Prince raiding party was visible. He counted-- five cars, two Princes in each. Tyler aimed straight for them.
He could see the faces in the nearest car; they looked shocked. "C'mon," said Tyler "Let's play chicken." He placed the three pronged device on the dashboard.
And, of course, he slowed his perception of time.
Suddenly he raced the whistle of the wind. It became all he heard; it was all encompassing, he felt disembodied. His hand raised the shotgun, and aimed out the driver's door window. He watched dispassionately as car one swerved to avoid him. When the car came around his left side, he waited for just the right moment before he pressed the trigger.
He saw the driver's blank expression of surprise as his head began to explode. Tyler concentrated on the second car. This guy had his mouth hanging open. Tyler calculated how long it would take to raise his shotgun, how long it would take to shoot--and decided they would crash first. So he swerved, and waited a little while until the cars were flush, before releasing another a blast from the shotgun. The back of the man's head vanished, his passenger screamed, and the car catapulted off its wheels.
The third car had already swerved. Tyler watched a shotgun blast flare from its passenger window. He concluded the other Prince had aimed wrong, so he returned fire before looking to the fourth car. It was swerving in the opposite direction, so Tyler ignored it. The rear-left window of Tyler's car exploded as the fifth car came into view. Its passenger had his torso stuck out the window; in his hands was a rocket launcher. Tyler's heart leaped to his throat. The man fired. The rocket's tail flame plumed. Tyler aimed--carefully--carefully--fired.
Then he could only wait. He did what all Matriced warriors did--planned the next move, counted his heartbeats, and prayed.
The rocket gradually exploded. He had aimed perfectly. By then his hand had finished rising the few millimeters necessary to fire again. The passenger got it in the chest. Tyler twisted the wheel, and so did the driver, and they passed each other with only the harsh ring of steel bumpers.
Tyler spun the car around. As the fifth car began coming into view, he saw that the driver had exited his vehicle. He was aiming a multi-barreled Gatling gun in his hugely muscled arms. Tyler aimed his car at the man and ducked, listening to the drawn out sound of explosive bullets and their harsh, slow "plunks" as they hit the metal. He leaped from the car, and for a moment, felt like he was flying as his body floated over the sand. His car exploded. Yet not before it was close enough for the flames to engulf the man with the Gatling gun. Tyler had finally hit the dirt by then. He enjoyed the explosion as it bellowed slowly like a hot air balloon--then the heat flushed against his body, and the singe--the pain--he screamed as reality sweltered into an orange hell.
But gradually, the immediate pain faded. He returned time to its normal flow. His leather clothes had protected him from the blast, but the car was obviously going to explode again. He rose, and looked at his Matrix's real time counter. "Well, Tyler," he said to himself, "Now bad for two minutes work."
For a split moment, though, he wondered. . .had it been enough? As he looked up to the flaming car, to the bodies on the ground, he realized that he had done all this to absolve himself.
Somehow, though, he did not feel as if he had.
There would be time enough later, he decided, to find what he needed. But right now he had to complete his task. He had to find anyone who might have survived this little skirmish.
Shotgun on his shoulder, he started toward the initiate's camp.
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
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 email@example.com, from where it will be forwarded to the artist.
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