Time Matrix: Part Six

Part 6

By D.K. Smith

Title Illustration by J. Rex

If you haven't read the beginning of this story yet then click here for part 1, click here for part 2, or click here for part 3, or click here for part 4, or click here for part 5.

Or you can click here for a brief synopsis.

Rosalie did not need to hear Tyler’s thoughts to comprehend them. Something deep inside her understood.

She sensed he was hungry, though not with the same pain wracking her empty stomach. Yet she was not sure how she understood. Perhaps the necessary intuition had been formed early in life, when as a girl she had seen her Mother and Father touch and kiss. Or maybe it was a natural sense--something deeper, more subliminal.

Independent, however, of sensing his emotions was knowing how to react to them. Here she was more ignorant. Suspicion and fear still lurked--in fact, were ingrained--in her mind. Most of her saw him through a much polished lens of distrust. She was unsure if she liked the way the Prince kept looking at her. Something about his black gaze. . .avarice in the cold desert air. . .made her uncomfortable. Yet she sensed no real hostility from him. Who was he? And would he ever take his eyes off her?

She shivered and waited for the rising sun to lighten the air. As time passed he made no move toward her, and the sun climbed, making her feel warmer and higher. Soon she was no longer in the depths of depression, and she realized that in some mild way she enjoyed his presence. With a series of surreptitious glances she studied him, saw him passing through the sunlight. And in that bright heat she saw him and saw no threat at all.

“My name’s Rosalie,” she said.

Somehow she could not shake the impression that he was amazed that she would speak to him. . .perhaps in some way amazed that she could speak at all. Again, she wondered at him. Who was he? Where had he come from? And what was he? This thought aroused her, more than all the rest. What is he? she wondered, as they spoke under the grace of the sun. What is he?

She told him the sun would protect them and was startled when he doubted. She grew suspicious and questioned him, then felt startled again when she found no answers to his questions. Never had she thought of things in such a. . .strange manner as he did. What was true was obviously true; why question it?

Yet he did and it perplexed her not to have answers. She tried, though. She told him the tales her mother had told but they made no impression. So she began to think he must be a very logical person, a very smart man. Then he started talking nonsense about avoiding the City, when any fool knew that was their only possible food supply. He kept talking about getting captured and enslaved but he had to know that keeping alive came first, and to do that she must eat. When he insisted the contrary she grew angry and decided she had been all wrong about him. That contradicted the sun, though, which contradicted her stated belief in the sun--

“Fuck you,” she said, and started walking 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!”

He had called her crazy, how could he have called her crazy--he kept calling her and she kept on walking, intending never to look back.

She was not at all prepared for what happened next.


The breadth of the city was beyond anything Rosalie had ever seen which was manmade. She and Tyler were only half a day from the buildings, but she had seen no people nor activity. In the afternoon sunlight the structures and buildings shimmered green, like a magnificent desert illusion, or like water diffusely reflecting light. This image was accompanied by the fierce heat of the dessert. Rosalie’s sweat covered her whole body, but the sun was her friend and she guessed the sun desired her present state. Tyler seemed not to view it this way, however. He spoke little but she could sense his discomfort, and he had stopped looking at her, too.

They would reach the city by nightfall. Rosalie had kept her gun--contrary to Tyler’s obvious opinion, she was not so naive as he surmised. She even had some extra ammo--and she had kept his hands off the weapon, had she not?

When she thought about this accomplishment, however, she doubted whether her will had actually kept the gun her own. Tyler had seemed rather disinterested in taking it. In fact she had almost forgotten then gun--why was she worrying about Tyler now?

He had scared her.

Suddenly she noticed that Tyler no longer walked beside her. She stopped and turned.

Tyler’s gaze was focused on the horizon. He stood motionless.

Rosalie hesitated and her muscles involuntarily tensed. Was he about to shout her name at the sky again? Was he about to fall to the ground? Last time she had thought he had been hurt; but after one long, long moment, he pushed her roughly away and had not spoken since. Now he seemed mesmerized by the city, which undulated softly in the light. She waited for some motion, some action or sign to signal his thoughts.

Finally, he said, “Do you see what I’m seeing?”

She peered at him oddly. His lips were a thin, straight line beneath his visor. For a moment she wondered what he looked like under his Matrix. Then she realized he might wonder the same. “What am I seeing?” she asked confusedly.

He nodded toward the splendor on the horizon. She turned and gazed at the structures intensely. “Slow it down,” he said.

Obviously he meant her Matrix. She hesitated, then followed his instructions.

A ripple of something passed through her vision. Her eyes watered. Beneath the desert sky the city seemed to be wavering as if under a spell from her Roity tales. Somehow these ripples warped the sunlight, and inside this flickering hemisphere the city seemed to glow black.

She felt a chill.

“Ty-Tyler,” she said, “I--I wonder if maybe you weren’t right about going to the City.”

His gaze was fixed on the horizon. The tiniest of breezes flickered over the hard desert sand, the water-starved weeds; then utter stillness, except for the unholy glowing of something black.

Tyler stepped forward and grabbed her arm. “We’re going,” he said intensely, his voice, his smell ending shivers up her spine--and again, she was unsure how she felt about them. She distrusted him, feared him. . .a sort of pleasant fear, actually--

She wrenched her hand from his and without thought, slapped him.

Then she burst into tears. The man stood there, tall into the sky. He was thin and wiry but not without muscle, not without presence. She sank to her knees by his legs and sobbed. He just stared at her. His lips remained thin, but his hands remained motionless in mid-gesture. Not a word passed his lips.

She wept in silence.

Her tears soon stopped. She looked, to see Tyler staring at her.

Without a sound she rose, passed him and continued toward the city. He followed. And the sun climbed and passed the sky.


Rosalie first felt it when the sun began to set. The ground resonated with it. The sand trembled with it.


The sound had begun without warning. She could feel grains of sand shifting below her feet, as if the sands of the hourglass were flowing beneath her, as if she stood in the sea of time. They were almost close enough to the city to touch it, now.

Tyler stopped her with a hand to her shoulder. She almost jumped at his touch. He stared at the city again, for a long, silent moment. “Do you see the pattern?” he asked finally.

Through the great bubble which encompassed the city she could hear that pounding noise, coming from some unseen origin. She did as Tyler and slowed her time sense once more. Again, that image of an upside down bowl-shaped field became apparent, and once more the buildings glowed black.

Tyler parted from her and walked into the field.

As his body passed through Rosalie felt a jump, as if her heart had skipped a beat. A message flashed before her eyes, startling her. “Hey!” she called to Tyler. “Something just happened!”

He did not respond; he stood motionless inside the field, as if a statue. “Tyler?” Rosalie called again. Nothing happened, and so Rosalie waited, fearfully and impatiently. After several moments she was near panic. “Tyler!” she screamed. “Get out of there! Get out!

He made no motion. Inside Rosalie turned to jelly. All her body’s needs--hunger, thirst, rest--tripled in their urgency. One last time with despair, “Tyle--” before she fainted.


In her dreams Rosalie danced with the sun.

It never occurred to her to wonder why the sun had suddenly become so central a figure in her life. Yet ever since that morning, on the desert sand, when it had changed her, she had know that, “I live in the sunlight. . .please, help me. . .”

In her sleep she chanted these words, and slowly, the sun started to fade. Her dance and her pleas stopped, and she watched with growing horror. “No. . .don’t fade. . .don’t die. . .” Rosalie began to feel lifeless as the dark closed in--

Then the sun was shining brightly again. But Rosalie saw the city in the distance--though she was not sure from where--and she sensed it. A bad smell, something black, something wrong, all coming from that city.

She paused, then said clearly, “I understand.”

Now she was no longer with the sun. She was sitting around a campfire, at night, talking to the Princesses as they laid sprawled casually around the heat. They were on their way to Rosalie’s initiation ceremony. “Time counter,” she whispered to herself, beneath the stars while her sisters-to-be laughed. “Time counter, time counter.” Now why was that phrase so important? Why was she--

“A time counter,” said one brown-haired woman close to Rosalie’s age, “Is an independent timing device. It is one of the Matrix’ more ingenious attributes. Basically it’s a time checker--a time stabilizer, so to speak.”

They were talking with her. . .and she could talk with them. Yet she remembered that they were now all dead, and she almost--she choked back a sob. No, now was not the time for that. “What is it used for?” Rosalie asked with difficulty.

“Think she’d understand?” one of the Princesses teased.

“Of course I will!” Rosalie insisted.

They all laughed. “What is the most basic part of a Time Matrix?” the brown-haired woman asked. When Rosalie hesitated, she said simply, “The clock.”

Again, everyone laughed, and Rosalie dropped her head. The woman smiled gently and continued. “Each Matrix has a mini-fusion battery powered clock made from frictionless conducting materials. The clock’s accurate to ten to the negative twenty-sixth power of a second. But a Matrix has two ways of telling time. It also uses a subjective time clock--a device that measures the general length of a minute from the user’s perception. Take this over-simplified example: when I’m relaxed and at a normal time ration, I generally perceive a minute as being one hundred and twenty-four seconds long.”

“What?” Rosalie asked, confused.

The woman laughed. “A minute’s sixty seconds, right?” Rosalie nodded. “Well, time ‘passes’ at different rates, subjectively, depending on mood. When I feel relaxed, the temporal center in my brain slows my subjective sense of time, so that a minute feels longer, better. But make me angry, and my subjective to actual perception ration goes to 60:30. In other words, subjectively, when I’m angry a minute seems half as long.”


With a grin, the woman said, “The Matrix can measure time just as accurately using the subjective measurements.”


“If you deactivate a Matrix’s fusion battery clock, it will still accurately tell time, using its owners subjective time sense.”

Rosalie’s mouth dropped open. “But if a human’s time sense is completely subjective, how can the Matrix still accurately determine the time. . .”

“No one knows,” said the woman. Rosalie remembered a wind from beyond the campfire rustling her brown hair as she spoke these last words. “It makes you wonder, huh? The time counter only works after the same user has worn the same Matrix for long while. But eventually the device begins to take account of the user’s subjective time sense, and somehow finds in it enough regularities to continue displaying an accurate time.”

“How accurate?” asked Rosalie.

“Completely accurate. In fact, some argue that a well worn Matrix can tell time better than anything else ever made by man. Others argue the opposite. But because no one really knows how the subjective clock could possibly tell correct time, the subjective clock is called a “counter” instead. But whatever you call it or however you feel, you should try hard to be careful.”


For the first time, the woman shifted uncomfortably. “Well. . .sometimes Matrixes that have been working fine for years--even decades--develop a glitch in their counters. No one knows what causes it, but for some reason. . .the counters start counting backwards.”

“Backwards? Back from what?”

“I don’t know. But when the counter reaches zero, the person wearing the Matrix dies.”


When her eyes opened again they saw nightfall. The city and its field still glowed warm, undulating green. One by one through the purple-blue night sky stars appeared. Rosalie lay in the sand.

She felt warm. Though a chill was seeping into the desert’s twilight air, inside she felt deliciously warm. While unconscious she had been dreaming of the sun--

Where was Tyler? She sat upward, and was horrified to see him in the exact same place. . .“I won’t panic,” she said to herself, firmly, tremulously, “I won’t panic. I’ll, I’ll. . .” What would she do? Helplessly she looked at Tyler’s motionless body and wondered if she should throw herself in after him. . .wait a minute.

She screeched as a little creature ran out of her dress. Immediately she scrambled to her feet as the tiny creature dashed off--toward the force field. So she followed it. The little creature had gone wandering away one some course that might have taken it into--Rosalie stumbled along the line of the force field, until she found it. A lizard, having traveled through the barely visible green aura of the field, was now motionless.

Rosalie felt perplexed as to why a city, in which she knew many, many people were supposed to live, would have a force such as this one hanging over it? Kneeling, she scooped a handful of sand and threw it into the force field.

The grains of sand coasted slowly to a stop, until they floated still in midair.

She experimented with other things, a small rock, a piece of her hair, even her dress. The results were eery. The rock stopped flying and hovered. The hair floated erect and straight inside the field, while outside it wilted. She twirled and her spinning dress sliced through the field- -and stopped, tripping her. The flair of her dress remained spread in mid-motion above the ground.

With a little effort she pulled her dress from the strange green force and studied it. It seemed entirely normal. Exasperated she let the dress fall and rose.

Only recently had the setting sun eased its light down the force field’s slope. Rosalie walked round the field’s perimeter toward the east. The air became brighter as she did so. She was approaching a glow powerful enough to illuminate the sand with splashes of light despite the darkness. Curiosity and apprehension quickened her heart as she took another few quick steps forward--

And gasped.

The field was radiating light. Its surface was shimmering with a gleaming image of the setting sun, an image so brilliant it made the night disappear. Yet she was horrified, for suddenly she understood: the field had captured the sunset. It had absorbed it just like Tyler. She shrieked and hopped back, and suddenly had the urge to run, run, run--

No, she demanded of herself, No, I will not be afraid--I will not be afraid--

She had been able to pull her dress out of the field, she realized. Maybe she could pull Tyler out, too. Yet how? Rosalie pondered this for several long, agonizing minutes, then she almost began crying again. No, said a voice inside her, a strong sounding voice, No. You must think.

Think, she had to think. She looked quickly round the desert floor, but there seemed nothing of any possible use. What about her gun? Could she use her gun? How, the bullet would just stop. Should she run screaming into it? Maybe it would not effect her. Or maybe it was different if one was inside the field, rather than outside it--But that field had eaten the sunset, just as blithely as it had eaten everything else--

That was it. She would run into the field, right into the sunset. Maybe she could actually meet the sun. In her starved, thirsty state it seemed reasonable. With a tired gasp she turned, and then remembered.

That message which had appeared on her Matrix--she had read it, simply not understood it. What was it again? Time disturbance fault at— then a whole series of numbers, and another message. It had seemed as if the Matrix was indicating a fault in its time counter.

Time counter?

She looked around for a while, until she came across a rock larger than usual. Lifting with an effort, she tossed it through field.

The rock halted in flight, as expected. Still, it was a rather heavy rock, and it served her purpose as the field rippled with distortion. At the height of this rippling the error message again flashed across her eyes:

Time Disturbance Fault at: 090787986

The Time Counter contradicts the Time Clock by 10-27 of a second.


Just as quickly as the message appeared it vanished. But she had the clue she needed.


Was she crazy?

She knew Tyler would call her so. He had been right about this city being dangerous, and now she knew just how right he had been. Now she had to free him. Yet she was somehow sure that if he had been here to question her about her plan, she would have had embarrassingly few answers.

Taking a deep breath, she leapt into the force field.

At first, she felt a slight difference, as if something were popping in her ears, and-- somewhere else, too, she felt a strange discomfort. Otherwise she was fine. She walked to Tyler, who stood frozen and unmoving, took his arm in hers and started dragging him from the field. It took a good long time, and she hardly had any strength. Her Matrix kept flashing error messages over her eyes, distracting her and making her dizzy. All her will was devoted to freeing Tyler from the--

The error messages stopped. She looked upward.

Behind her the green field undulated and rippled, then blithely stilled. Only thirty yards away or so was the entrance to the city.

What a city it was.

Long, red poles with sharp points reached into the sky. Around the thick body of the poles were enormous rings of many colors, which floated and turned in the air round the poles inside them. Some big poles had smaller poles sprouting from them, with smaller discs surrounding the branches. The city seemed like a giant, geometric pine tree of a thousand colors.

Tyler groaned.

Not another soul was in sight anywhere, and the city looked deathly still. She turned and cupped his face with her hand. “Tyler?” she asked softly. “Are you okay?”

“. . .mpf. . .what happened. . .”

“You were stuck inside the field for a few hours.”

“. . .mfpph. . .huh?”

“Are you okay? Are you?”

“. . .fine.”


“Fine!” Tyler irritably batted her hand away and looked across the short expanse of distance between them and the city, now fully revealed. While looking at its size his mouth dropped open.

It took him a few minutes to recover. “Rosalie. . .”

“Yes, Tyler?”

“How did we get here?”

“You stepped into the field, and then you froze, and I had no idea what to do, and so I fainted and I dreamed and then I understood and then I tried and saved you but I’m sorry and please don’t be angry with me or ask me anything, because I won’t have any answers, I’m really sorry.”

Tyler said nothing, just sat on the sand in his black clothes, clenching and unclenching his fists. After a few minutes, “Want to try again, Rosalie?”

“Please, I don’t have any answers.”

“Don’t have any answers to what?”

“The way I saved you.”

“Saved me?”


“I just stepped into field, and then I stepped out, but I don’t remember you coming with me.”

Rosalie nodded wisely. “That would make sense.”

“Rosalie, tell me what the fuck is going on now!

“I don’t know!” she shrieked.

He cursed and covered his face with his hands. She realized she was not really answering his questions, so she tried harder. “I saw the sunset trapped in the field,” she said.

“What?” he asked tiredly.

“Everything--the field traps anything that touches it. It, it--slows them down.” Tyler uncovered his face and peered upward at her. “Here--look.” She spun, and her dress flared round her legs and got stuck in the field, where it stayed, motionless. “See?”

Now she seemed to have his full attention, so she must have started answering his questions right. She pulled her dress from the field and let it drop back over her legs. “So when you went in there. . .”

“I was. . .stuck?” He pointed over his shoulder at the green light.

She nodded vigorously.

“But I, but I don’t remember--”

“What was your time sense when you went inside?” she asked.

“I had it slowed down so I could see the field, but--”

“The field already slows everything down,” she said. “In fact, it slows it down to almost nothing.” She pointed to a distant rock she had thrown into the perimeter. “See--it’s still in the air, but it’s falling ever so slowly. See?”

“So I just hadn’t had enough time to realize that I was trapped,” said Tyler.

“Right,” she said happily. “Once you knew that you were trapped, you could just speed up your time sense. Though in real time it took us forever to get out of there, with the Matrix it seems like just a walk in the park.” She smiled dazzlingly.

“How did you know the field slowed time?” Tyler asked.

“The time counter contradicted the time clock.”

“The what contradicted what?”

“Never mind!”

“If the field is so dangerous, why did you push us toward the city rather than away from it?” Tyler asked. “I mean, like, now we’re in even deeper shit.”

His point astounded her. Of course, it was so obvious. Why had she not thought of it before? “You’re right,” she said.

“I sure as hell hope so! Maybe you’ll start listening to me!”

“No, not about that,” she said. “About me pushing us toward the city. Look, Tyler, we have to be here.”

What? Oh. You mean for food and water?”

“No. Because the Sun says so.”

“Oh, shit. . .” Tyler covered his face in his hands again.

“Look, I just realized it,” said Rosalie. “There’s something wrong about this place. Don’t you feel it?”

“Yeah,” said Tyler. “It makes me want to run screaming in the other direction, like I told you we should have!”

“No,” said Rosalie, shaking her head. “In my Roity tales brave men always confront evil. So we have to, too.”


Rosalie hesitated, then brightened and said, “Because otherwise we wouldn’t be a Princess and a Prince. How can we be Roity if we don’t even try to--”

“Look, we’re just two people, Rosalie, just two half-starved, thirsty, exhausted pieces of shit who live in a crapped-out desert. You can take your Roity and--” Tyler abruptly stopped.

Rosalie pointed. “Look.”

Tyler looked. He looked for a long time. Finally, he said, “There’s light in the field, I-- can’t quite make it out, but. . .”

“It’s the sun,” she said. “It’s trapped sunset trapped in the field.”

Tyler looked away; she noticed he seemed pale. “It’s--it’s just an illusion,” he said, wiping his brow. “There’s light trapped in the field, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or anything- -” Tyler rose. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.” He grabbed her wrist.

She shook him away. “I have to find out what’s going on here,” she said, eyes glinting. “It’s my duty.”

“Your what?”

Turning from him, she started toward the peculiar buildings, the strange lights--”Hey, wait!” Tyler shouted. “Look, it’s not our job to get involved in things we know nothing about! We don’t belong here! Who knows what’s around here--what, just because the first trap didn’t kill us you think the next one won’t either? Who made you a leader? And who are you to say we should tackle problems that aren’t even ours!”

Rosalie stopped. “Anything under the sun is there to be seen,” she said heatedly. “And it’s my sun, the sun of this world of ours--and yours, too. In fact, it’s the one thing we all share. How could you not look? How could you not be a leader? And whose problems are they if they aren’t ours? If all men were like you the Earth be nothing but a desert!”

“The Earth is nothing but a desert!” he roared as she turned and marched away from him, toward the buildings. Inside she was burning with pride--she had actually won an argument! Oh, it might not look like it--but somehow she intuitively knew that she had won--

“Nice speech,” said a new voice.

She and Tyler spun to orient on the sound. They saw a figure swathed in a golden robes. The face was not visible, but the musculature and the build was obviously male. Inside the hood was a blackness which jarred Rosalie, a something that made something in her painfully ache. From time to time this blackness seemed to ripple, but perhaps it was just the fleeting arrangement of the cloth’s folds.

“Who are you?” Tyler asked.

“Excuse me?” said the figure. The voice sounded normal. . .yet condescending, supercilious.

“Who are you? What’s your name?”

“Oh, we evolved beyond the need for names long ago,” the voice said assuredly, the blackness under the cowl seeming to ripple amusingly. Rosalie squinted at the figure, who stood cautiously several yards away. The robe had so many ripples and folds and it seemed so fine--it was almost hypnotizing.

Tyler shook his head. “Where are we?” he asked.

“Ah.” The man took a step forward, causing his golden robe to flicker and flash. “You want a name not for me, but for my city. My city has no name either, but, seeing as you are some of the first who have ever made it pass the barrier, I’ll allow you to name it, if you wish.”

Rosalie looked at Tyler. Tyler looked at her. The robed man’s cowl rippled as he glanced at both of them before saying to Tyler, “I don’t know how you managed to make it in here, but I’m fairly certain that you won’t be making it out, however.” Though the man’s words seemed threatening, and Rosalie almost drew back, Tyler made no move at all. He simply stared at the man coldly through his black visor.

Rosalie took a step forward. “We need food.”

“Rosalie, shut up,” Tyler said through gritted teeth.

“Why?” she asked.


“Food? Very well.” The robed man seemed amused. “But I wouldn’t recommend standing close to the force field much longer. You might get killed.”

Abruptly the green field flickered and cracked. Rosalie shrieked as Tyler grabbed her round the waist and ran forward. She was not doing the running, so she saw over Tyler’s shoulder as huge shudders of lightning flashed through the field, causing it to glow with a blinding light--until it faded and was calm once more.

Then Rosalie realized something. “Tyler,” she said, “The desert--it’s gone.” Tyler put her down, then looked past her. Not a grain of sand did he see, for now, rocking beyond the green force field were the gently rolling waves of an ocean. . .”What happened?” he asked.

“We changed when,” the robed man answered simply. “Now, will you come with me?”

And the robed man started, like a pilgrim, up the glorious stairs which lead to the rising spires. Rosalie looked up at Tyler. Neither spoke.

Rosalie smiled, hesitantly offered her hand.

Tyler took it. At the touch of her fingers he smiled, too--a brief smile, but a smile. It was a smile that, unbeknownst to Tyler, filled Rosalie with a strange joy. “Well, now,” she whispered to his ears only--perhaps playfully, she was unsure-- “Welcome to the sunlight.”

"Come Back Next Month, When Time Matrix Returns With A Bang!"

Copyright 1997 by D.K. Smith

Biography:"D.K. Smith is a young, aspiring writer who lives in Los Angeles. He has appeared in Aphelion, Cosmic Visions, Titan, and is also the Science Fiction editor of a multi-genre zine named "The Little Read Writer's Hood."

The URL of the Hood is: http://www.summit.net/writers_hood/

He can be E-Mailed at:tinydk@juno.com or tinydk@hotmail.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 tinydk@hotmail.com, from where it will be forwarded to the artist.

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