Time Matrix: Part Seven

Part 7

The City of Time

By D.K. Smith

Title Art and "City of Phase" illustrations by J. Rex

Black and White sketches by D.K. Smith

"Eye of Time" idea suggested by Branden Stage

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 click here for part 6.

Or you can click here for a brief synopsis.

Tyler had time slowed down, way down, in a struggle to maintain his sanity. Never before had so many strange, new things happened to him in such a short time. He hardly knew how to cope.

Rosalie seemed strangely at ease. Seemingly she had changed, and possessed twice the confidence. Where had she gotten it? And had he really been trapped in that forcefield? For a long time, as she said? And now they were mounting the steps which lead to buildings taller than mountains. So behind his bland, matrix-covered face, Tyler was desperately trying to process too much information, trying to assimilate too hard. He was having miserable time, and his thoughts were crippled by hunger and thirst.

The cowled figure they followed climbed a final step, and started quickly across a promenade toward an immense wall which encircled the tall city. "Here we are," the man called, stopping before a large gate in the wall. "Come quickly--a phase is about to begin." The man stepped through the gateway, and Tyler and Rosalie quickly followed.

The heavy gate clicked firmly shut once they were on the other side

No further obstacles blocked their view of the city. Consequently, they were silent for a time, marveling at it.

They saw the city unhindered, and beheld a display of brilliant red, a monstrous forest of trees without leaves, but rings, dozens of rings of dozens of colors, all poised like a construction of God under a dark night sky.

A sky which suddenly flared with light.

Rosalie gasped--in fear--and Tyler clutched her, holding her firmly in place, one arm on her shoulder, other on her waist. The sky started pulsating, cycling through hundreds of colors at once--a maddening rush of violet and orange and white and red and fire and hell--"Look away, Rosalie!" Tyler shouted, and he turned them from the overwhelming display.

Yet no sound accompanied this fantastic show. Though both were trembling, once they had turned away they found nothing to fear. Tyler looked cautiously from the ground. Resisting the urge to be fixated by the lights, he again concentrated on the city. The rings twirled and glittered on their spokes. Near them rested a vehicle--similar to a car in many ways, but not quite--and the cowled man sat inside it. Though the red hood obscured his face in shadow, he seemed quite calm.

"The sun," Rosalie groaned. "They've made it dark--they've swallowed the sun. . ."

Tyler ignored her babbling, and started toward the vehicle, bringing her with him. The man watched their approach with a face of implacable blackness, a darkness which Tyler strongly suspected might be malevolent. "Well, well," the cowled man said, "What have we here?"

Rosalie stepped closer to Tyler. They regarded the black man in red.

"Welcome to Phase," he announced. With an easy wave of his hand he indicated the towering city.

"The City of Phase?" Rosalie questioned tremulously.

"We shall let you remain for now," said the man, "While we decide your fate."

"Our fate?" asked Tyler. "What if we don't like our fate?"

"Let's deal with that when it comes," suggested the man smoothly.

"What's your name?" Rosalie asked.

A moment's silence, then he replied, "You may call me One."

"One?" asked Tyler.

"Yes. And. . .what may I call you?"

Tyler and Rosalie exchanged glances before answered. Yet once they spoke their names, One made no further remark on the subject, as if somehow the matter had been utterly unimportant to him. "Welcome to Phase," he intoned again. "You will follow me." One gestured that they should enter the vehicle.

Rosalie glanced at Tyler. "Should we?" she whispered. "We need so much. . ."

Without word, Tyler escorted her to the vehicle.


The cowled man stared silently at Tyler and Rosalie, who sat drinking from the water bottles they had found by their seats. The squat, black vehicle rolled under the towering buildings, and n the sky the pulsating colors were slowly disappearing, leaving the sky blue and clear.

"Wasn't it night when we got here?" Rosalie asked timidly.

"Yes," answered the man.

Rosalie awaited further explanation, but when none came she asked, "Why is your face completely black?"

Silence was her answer.

Rosalie touched Tyler's hand. "There's something wrong," she whispered. She took a long swallow from the water bottle.

"About what?" Tyler asked, eating the dry biscuits discovered with the water.

"About that man! And why are all the streets empty?" Tyler's expression remained bland, but he too, felt uneasy. He looked down at their hands, saw the water bottles almost empty. Following his gaze, she said softly, "We need more."

Tyler's stomach churned; the biscuits seemed to disagree with it. He could think more easily, but he knew the pale, empty feeling would return, like a monster. If Tyler could not slay it, the phantom would drive him slowly mad, killing him. And Rosalie had finished the biscuits.

"Where are we going?" asked Tyler. When no answer came, "I'm talking to you, asshole."

"Tyler!" Rosalie hissed.

"Cocky, aren't we?" the cowled man commented. "Very well. I will tell you where you are, if you tell me why you wear black masks on your face."

Tyler and Rosalie exchanged glances. "You don't know what a Matrix is?" asked Rosalie.

"No," said One. "I don't. Tell me what a 'Matrix' is."

"A Matrix is--" Rosalie started eagerly.

"--eye jewelry," finished Tyler.

"Eye jewelry?" asked One suspiciously.

"--beautiful eye jewelry, don't you think?" rejoined Rosalie. She turned her head one way, then the other. "Cool, huh?"

"It's a symbol of our tribe," Tyler explained.

"Hmph." One stared at them coldly. Rosalie hedged toward Tyler, then looked from the utter black beneath the dark hood. Tyler returned the stare.

One chuckled softly. "Sunglasses? Of course! Why hadn't I thought of it before? But still it does not explain the two cords circling the head, or the round ear part, but perhaps they are fancy sunglasses! Or maybe VR headsets? Tell me, are you afraid I'll take your headsets? Would you mind if I looked at one of your sunglasses? Your 'eye jewelry?'"

"And touch the symbols of our tribe?" said Tyler evenly. "I don't think so. Now we answered your question. Answer ours."

"I don't think you have answered my question," replied One.

"Are you calling me a--"

Rosalie looked from Tyler's shoulder. "Look," she pleaded, "we're guests, so why don't you treat us like some?"

Tyler gave her a harsh glance, then leaned toward the cowled man. "Are you calling me a liar?" he asked quietly.

A silent moment, then One waved at the dashboard and the vehicle stopped. "Your woman makes some sense," One said. "You are, after all, my guests, and should be treated accordingly." With this One opened the door and stepped onto the street.

Rosalie and Tyler followed, and stood under the towering edifices, the forest of rings and spokes. Yet for all the impressive size and color, the air was motionless, the sound still. Besides the barely perceptible rotation of the highest rings, nothing moved nor changed.

"This is the City of Phase," One said, voice muted and almost lost amongst the grandeur. "It was constructed ten thousand years ago, but it is still quite new."

"Ten thousand years?" asked Rosalie.

One began walking the silver streets, and Tyler and Rosalie slowly trailed him. He lead them to a boulevard, leading lead to a beautiful red bridge made of red, looping strips of metal, all twisting together, forming a platform. Rosalie ran her fingers slowly along the railing with fascination, and Tyler scanned the vista from the bridge.

"Do you see the silver tower?" One asked, at the bridge's apex.

"Yes," said Tyler.

"From there one can see all of Phase. But that area is reserved for special occasions. From this point, however, you can see the City's most beautiful parts. If you look there, you see the bazaar, where citizens trade goods. Over here, you see the theaters, the homes, the houses of commerce, of science and of art, plus the shrine of spirit, and of course, the shrine of Time."

"What's so important about time?" asked Tyler.

One laughed.

The noise was a crackling distortion, almost a cacophony, and Tyler looked to the ground, frowning. "What is time?" One asked, with almost painful glee, "Only everything--it is only one of man's greatest concepts, highest abstractions, yet it is so simple an aspect, so basic a premise. Time? Time! The meter of heart, the judge of fate, the blind man who sees all? Time? Time!"

And One ran from the bridge. Tyler and Rosalie hastened after him, until he came building which was utterly round, with fine, minute grooves twining concentrically round its silver surface. As the man mounted the many wide steps leading to the entryway, the doors opened, wide and inviting. But Rosalie and Tyler stopped when they saw the strange image marked above the threshold. "What does that mean?" asked Rosalie.

"I don't know," said Tyler.

The cowled man laughed again. "It is the Eye of Time," he said. "Come."

Inside the spherical building was a strange smell, one completely alien. The cowled man walked gingerly, as if afraid to touch anything. "Look," he said, and took something carefully from a counter.

He held a transparent, crystal cube, and inside was a cracked egg. Only barely visible was the small head protruding through the gap: a hatchling frozen while discovering the world. "Isn't it wonderful?" said One, his voice low and strange, occasionally sounding distorted. "A moment frozen in time. If I were to just make--" he raised a finger, hidden within the confines of a red glove, "--one gesture--"

The crystal disintegrated, and upon the palm of One's glove, the egg gently cracked; a soft cheep stirred the air. Rosalie touched her breast; Tyler frowned. More fragments fell from the shell, and the chick thrust out its body--

One snapped his fingers and the chick froze. Round it again formed the cold transparency of a crystal cube, and the hungry cry of discovery was silenced.

"I'm God," said One.

"Is that what you saw?" asked Tyler slowly. "Funny. I didn't see a thing."

One laughed, a loud, harsh laugh. "So be frightened!" he exclaimed. "It's too much to comprehend, for your simple minds." With that One dropped the cube.

It shattered on the stone floor.

Rosalie uttered a soft moan and tightly folded her arms. Tyler only looked grim. "How much water do you have?" he asked.

"Water?" asked One, as if it were a subject he had never considered. "I have water. I even have different types of water. And you can have all of it you want."

"And food?" Tyler asked. "Like in cans?"

"That and more," said One. He inclined his black head. "All yours, for only a small price."

"Which is?"

"Tell me how you got through the forcefield." One took a deliberate forward step. "No one has ever escaped before, and no one could. They'd be frozen in time for centuries, their bodies and minds locked in place. How did you escape?"

"Luck," said Tyler.

"No!" One screamed, and with a harsh swing of its arm, knocked a dozen crystal cubes off a nearby table. They crashed with a tingling cacophony to the ground, the tiny creatures trapped inside momentarily animating before they died. "I know you are lying to me, now tell me the truth!"

The voice which thundered from beneath that cowl sounded like a demon scorned. It evoked pain.

"If you're so smart, figure it out yourself," said Tyler coldly.

"I don't know," One snarled. "Tell me."

"Guess you're not the genius you thought."

Silence in the room. Once more Tyler evenly returned One's stare.

"There's something about you," One said, "Something. . .peculiar." Then suddenly he straightened and said in a friendlier tone of voice, "Very well, I shall study you. Will you come with me? I shall show you the food and water."


One had taken them across his giant city, to a place with large, white tables and sumptuous food. Rosalie and Tyler had eaten, slowly at first, then with almost helpless abandon. The experience would have been heavenly--even though Rosalie vomited at the end--but it was ruined by the contemplative black gaze of One. He watched them too closely. And he had an air about him. . .like something dying.

After the meal One had taken them to a different part of the city, where the rings were more restrained and the green forcefield more prominent. Leading them into a giant red building with flat wheels encircling it, "Rest," he said shortly, and left them in a white suite.

The door shut behind them. Tyler and Rosalie stood speechless in the center of a large, white suite, wide and spacious. Laid upon a rich, white rung were tables, chairs and sofas, and the air had a soothing redolence. "Where are we?" Rosalie asked in amazement.

Rosalie released Tyler's hand and began exploring, while Tyler stayed still and inspected their surroundings cautiously. Rosalie touched the sofas and tables, uttering soft words of discovery and surprise. Eventually Tyler began following her. "Look at this place!" she kept exclaiming. "It's like a palace!"

"I thought you didn't like this City," said Tyler doubtfully.

She momentarily paused. "Well. . .yes," she answered hesitantly, and quickly glanced round the room, as if to rid the furniture of suspected demons. Then she spotted another doorway. "Oh! Look what's in there!"

Tyler remained alert and usually still, only following Rosalie when she moved from sight. Some minutes later Rosalie impulsively grabbed Tyler and hugged him. "Look at all we've found!" Then she blushed and quickly stepped back.

"I don't know," said Tyler. "Seems a little too good to be true, to me."

"Look what's in the other room!" she cried, and grabbing his hand, dragged him into a room with a large, flat rectangle in its center. Rosalie leaped onto the rectangle and, to Tyler's surprise, began bouncing on it. Just as quickly as she had started she leapt back to the floor and faced Tyler, flushed and glowing. "It's a bed, just like my mother had!"

"A bed?" Tyler asked. "You mean. . .like a cot?"

"No--this is so much better. See?" She pushed Tyler onto the mattress.

"Yikes!" Tyler started off the bed but Rosalie fell onto him with a laugh. "Jesus!" Tyler quickly disentangled himself and rose.

"What's wrong?" Rosalie asked.

"Nothing," said Tyler shortly. "I just don't think we should be playing around, that's all."

"Tyler?" asked Rosalie.


"What's your first name?"


"It's always 'Tyler' this and 'Tyler' that. Isn't Tyler a last name?"

"It's just what everyone calls me," Tyler said. "Except when they curse me."

"Oh." Rosalie was quiet before adding, "My dad use to call me Rosie. Why don't I call you Ti? Short for Tyler?"

"Why do you want to call me something else?" Tyler asked.

"Because we should call each other things other people don't call us. It just makes sense, right?"

"No," said Tyler, frowning, "It doesn't make sense at all. But go ahead, call me whatever you want. It doesn't matter."

A momentary silence, then Rosalie left the bed with an excited, "Want to see what else I found?" She led him to a door at the bed's other side. Opening it, "Look!" she said proudly, pointing.

Tyler looked into the small room. "What is it?" he asked, rubbing his hands over on object's smooth, white material. "What's the water in the bowl for?"

"I don't know. But it sure is pretty. Look what happens when you do this." She pressed a button and all the water drained from the bowl, only to be replaced.

"That's weird," Tyler said. "Almost looks like a chair."

"Look at this!" Rosalie squealed. She stood beside a large, rectangular container also of the white material, resting in the room's corner. She reached to twist a knob and screeched when a stream of water hit her. Instantly Tyler grabbed her, lifted her away. "Don't do that!" he said harshly. "Stop playing with knobs and buttons!"

He released her and twisted the knob, first one way then the other, until the stream trickled to a stop. Rosalie wiped her face with her hand. "It's just water," she said.

"What if it hadn't been?" Tyler asked, and thrust past her.

"Well, you wouldn't want me to waste water, would you?" she asked. "Remember when we were in the desert and you yelled at me for not scavenging the trucks for water? Well. . ." and she leaned over the tub and started twisting knobs again. "One said that we could have all the water we wanted--so we better get our fill. Look--it's filling up!"

So they watched the tub fill. The streams of water dissipated when the container was about to overflow.

"It stopped," said Rosalie, almost sadly.

Tyler snorted. "Why do we need so much? How are we going to carry it all? You're wasting water."

"Yes," said Rosalie slowly, "I guess so."

Tyler turned and left the room, muttering, "I gotta find something to eat."

He went to a room they had found earlier, where there was a drawer full of canned goods. He was searching for a can opener when Rosalie called, "Ti! Come back!"

Tyler dropped a can and jogged into the other room. He stopped.

Rosalie stood knee deep in the tub of water, all her clothes scattered on the floor. She knelt and splashed the water with a laugh. "Who cares if we waste it!" she shouted. "It's fun! Come on in!"

Tyler took a backward step, right into the bed. "What's the matter?" Rosalie asked.

He walked to the bathroom and shut the door. Safely on the other side, he gasped and clutched his head. His brow was moist. "Damn," he muttered.

The bathroom door opened. Rosalie stood naked and damp beside Tyler. Her dripping hair was plastered to her forehead, it ran down her shoulders to where some strands clung moistly to her breast. "Rosalie!" Tyler shouted. "Shut the door!"

"It's not Rosalie, it's Rosie," she said innocently.

"I'm a fucking Prince, Rosalie--get back in there!"

"That?" For a moment Rosalie looked doubtful. Then she brightened. "Who cares? You can still call me Rosie."

"Rosie, if you don't get back into that room right now. . ."


". . .I might hurt you."

Rosalie looked frightened. "Hurt me? But you're not like the others."

"I don't care! BACK!" Rosalie quickly shut the door.

Tyler gulped in relief, then sagged momentarily against the wall. "Thank God."

The door opened again. "Is this like that night in the desert when you went completely crazy?" she asked. "I mean. . .you're all stiff and everything--"

"YES!" Tyler screamed. The door shut. Tyler left the bedroom and started quickly toward the kitchen.

"Ti?" Rosalie called.

Tyler stopped. Hesitantly, he looked over his shoulder; the bathroom door was opened just a crack. Taking a deep breath, "Yes, Rosalie?"

"What if I want to get hurt?"

"Uh. . .huh?"

"What if I wouldn't mind getting hurt. . .if I was hurt by you?"

She had gone nuts, Tyler realized. He was having difficulty holding himself still, and he turned from her. He took a few breaths, and in a calm voice said, "Rosalie, I'm only going to say this once more--"

Her soft hand gripped his shoulder. He spun and grabbed the hand in a hard grip. "How many times do I have to tell you?" he said. "Leave me alone!" He pushed her away.

"Ti!" she called after him. "Don't go! I'll--"

"It's Tyler!" he shouted as he left the room.

"--I'll get dressed! See--look--look!--Tyler, I'm dressed! Come back already, you're being silly!"

"I'm not being silly!" Tyler returned swiftly to the doorway. "Don't ever accuse me of being scared!"

"But I never did!"

Tyler pressed his hands against the side of the doorway. "You call that being dressed?" he asked tonelessly. "You're soaking wet."

"Really?" she asked, pushing her wet hair from her brow and looking downward.

"How did you get so damned innocent, Rosie?"

"Who's asking who?"

"What are you talking about?" Tyler's grip tightened on the door jamb.

"Well, it's not like I'm going to hurt you," she said defensively. "If I were going to do that I would have done it by now. Do I look harmful? Look at me!"

"What do you know?" said Tyler. "How long since you were initiated? Two days? Three? I've been a goddamned Prince for years. You know what we do around there? You know what we'd do to a woman if we got her? You know what we do to bitches?"

She swallowed, then said, "That was before. You're different."

"What makes me different?" Tyler asked. "C'mon. I'm just another Prince."

"You saved my life," she said. "Right before you almost killed me."

Tyler looked away from her. "That was. . ." He turned away. "That was caused by something else. Let's not talk about it."

"But you saved me life. You made it so all those things didn't happen to me."

Tyler looked away. "I did that because. . ."

"Why?" she prompted.

"I couldn't have let it happen." Tyler folded his arms across his chest, in a grip so strong his body trembled. "It was real dark that night, and I didn't see anything. I don't ever think about it. But then the dawn came and I heard you singing and I knew I couldn't let 'em get you. And I won't either."

For a time both were silent. "I'm sorry," said Rosalie.


"I don't know."

"Sometimes it seems like you understand a lot more than you should." He waited for an answer.

She touched her matrix. "If I put this on Support mode, I can do this, right. . ." and she pushed up the visor.

"What the hell are you doing--"

"I'm trying to understand," she said.

She neared him, put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him.

"What did you do that for?" Tyler asked. He could feel his pulse pounding forcefully, even painfully through his body.

She smiled. "I don't know."

She kissed him again.

"This place isn't safe," said Tyler.

"I understand," she replied seriously. "But I want you to know something. I want you to know me, Ti. . .maybe we won't have another chance. . ." She reached slowly to his visor, and with a gentle tug, pulled it upward.

She stared.

"What is it?" Tyler asked, his pulse almost carrying him to the verge of panic. "What do you see?"

"Your eyes," she said, her own wide and bright, "are beautiful."

"Princes and Princesses don't kiss," said Tyler.

"In my fairy tales they do."

She kissed him again, and Tyler could find no more words.


Tyler had strange dreams.

At first he just felt the wind and the howling sand. They were all gray and murky and the sky was gone. And his knees were burning, and on his palms the flesh had become raw and bloody.

He was crawling, searching for something..

Strange how the air seemed to mirror all reflections, until they all became one and transparent, reflecting nothing but the darkness. He rose into a run.

The air chased him, sending of flurries of sand to engulf him. He tried to run from them, but run where? There was no one but himself and timeless dying whistle of the wind.

His face was covered by a black mask. A group of men had given it to him, men in black leather, with patches of scarred, tattooed flesh, and shiny weapons at their sides. And at first Tyler was happy, for when they gave him the mask, the howling had stopped. These men gave him shelter, gave him a way of living, of sorts. But the campfires of these men, they only kept out the cold, only made life possible, but never made it rich. Tyler somehow knew he had been raised a wolf, in a pack were wolves ate their own. The next one dead was left to chance.

Tyler's turn came.

And it all happened all over again, in the dreaming darkness. Hippo's leering face was the only illumination. In his mind he heard the howling wind, something he had not remembered. The sound of its fury drowned away any other noise, and it became all soundless, and endless.

Tyler's Matrix was burning a hole into his head.

It lasted forever. In the agony of the moment he became a statue, frozen by time. In darkness the dream of recalled agony lasted forever, never stopped, became a frozen hell, howling into the inky mists--

Then something changed. In darkness Tyler saw the sun.

He was not sure what it was, but he followed it, hoping. And he found this woman, this bitch. Who would have thought that a damned Princess--a member of a gang whose members he had killed--could provide such light, or seem so fragile?

Then light was everywhere, and he saw her, again.

Her lips were soft and warm against his. So was her body. But Tyler was not really sure what to do when she opened her blouse. And she did not know what to do when she opened his vest. They stared at each other awhile, and Tyler began to feel utterly embarrassed. He reached to his Matrix to close it again, maybe speed it up, but as if she somehow knew, she said, "No, no--don't hide behind time--" and came close. Her breasts pressed against him, and neither of them were really prepared, but they hugged, they touched.

He never would have killed a woman if he had known that their breasts were so soft and malleable, or how he could cup each one. Or that she would tremble all over if he kissed them.

But then he feared his nakedness, and looked down at himself, somehow frightened at having these hidden parts of himself exposed to her light. For a moment he almost ran back to his darkness, that safe dark place, where the pain was constant but unchanging.

"Come with me," she said, putting her hands on his arm--and she gasped. "What's that?"

"It's a scar," he said, scared by the sound of his own voice.

"How did you get it?" she asked, putting her fingers upon it, rubbing it gently.

"Knife fight." The words sounded alien.

"And--how did you get this one--"

"Gun shot."


"Whip. Look, whatever you do, don't look at my ass, okay?"

"Why not?"

"Just don't," he said, almost choking inside. But he tried to hid it. He could not let her know. She had not seen any of it yet herself, she had known no evil, she was only a backward child from the villages who came to the desert for glory. . .

"Who scarred your back?" she said, almost with a sob, running her hands down, "Who hurt you, Ti, who did this?"

"Just get away from me, all right?"

"No." And she drew protectively closer, her body smooth and unscarred. "You have beautiful parts. Like your eyes, or your chest--or your biceps. You're so strong. I know--c'mon--come here." He followed her tugging hand into that silly bathroom of hers. But he did not complain when she helped him into the tub. The water helped conceal his awful defects.

But then she found a cloth from somewhere and started to wash him. He thought she used her dress, taken from the floor where it had been strewn. She rubbed everywhere, chest, head, hard and rough, soft and tender, and though he watched her carefully, no derision came to her eyes, and no horror.

When she had finished, she said, "Now me."

"Why?" he asked disbelievingly. "You have no flaws."

But she stepped into the tub anyway, and laughing leaned over him, as Tyler looked up her legs. She sank down and their flesh touched. He kissed her the way he had before, but this time a stronger change seem to take her, and suddenly she looked at him with a powerfully intense light, and Tyler realized this was not the same embrace they had shared before.

And for one, all too brief moment, Tyler's dark plain glowed with light.

"I told you there was a sun, Ti," she said afterwards. "I told you."

But still, Tyler could hear the wind. It was blowing somewhere, through a crack, round a corner, and it was telling him something, or somehow trying to. The darkness inside Tyler was trying to tell him something, and again he was running, into the dark parts of himself, for something threatened. And the Matrix began burning again. And he was on his hands and knees, searching, begging the pain to stop, telling it that he had found something wonderful now, and all this could end.

"Not yet," said the wind.

He felt Rosie again. He felt her body, alive and twisting, her breasts taking the reflected light of water as they came together, splashing. And then he was her. He felt her body, felt her flesh, her seeming pride in herself, her love of her beauty that she hardly knew she had. And the light on water had gleamed. . .

Through the darkness came a loud, thundering bang.

And he saw Rosalie, in someplace he had never seen her before, slowly dropping, falling into the blackness of time.

The windy air became a scream--


Tyler awoke with a start.

Rosalie slept beside him on the bed. Her warmth and scent were a brief hint of comfort, but the anxiety consumed all. "Rosie!" he said, shaking her. "We gotta get out of here. We never should have done this! But it's all wrong, all wrong--"

They both scrambled off the bed and donned their clothes. "You still have that gun?" Tyler asked.

"Tell me what's going on," she begged in a whisper.

"You're supposed to be the sensitive one," he said, tightening his belt. "Do you have that gun or not?"

Rosalie reached under the bed and removed the black handgun she had carried all this way. "It doesn't have many bullets," she said.

"Story of my damned life. C'mon, we're getting out of here."

They eased open the suite doors. Beyond were dimly lit corridors, far less illuminated than Tyler remembered. "Why's it so dark?" he asked in frustration.

"Because it's night, of course," said Rosalie. "It just makes sense."

Tyler cursed, but pulled her into the corridor and shut the door. They started through the darkness. As they backtracked along the path that had lead them here, Rosalie touched Tyler's hand and indicated a nearby window. The two stopped beside it and looked outside.

Above, the sky was flickering again, but this time in black shades. "Look," said Rosalie, her tone tight with restrained fear, "The stars--they're streaming past the towers. We're at the edge of the city--look, can't you see? It's flying." Rosalie's voice became high pitched in awe. "The city's flying--we're flying--"

"Look down," said Tyler.

She did. Below, in a long, slow moving line, were hundreds of black figures hidden in red cowls. They seemed to float through the argent light emanating from the silver ground, and like ghosts they streamed toward the building which held Tyler and Rosalie.

"They're coming for us," said Tyler.

"Surely not so many," replied Rosalie, her voice taunt.

Down the long corridor a door opened, a loud, startling sound. In the revealed light stood a cowled shadow.

"C'mon!" Tyler grabbed Rosalie's hand and they ran, fleeing from shadows into darkness. A flat, crackling distortion, not unlike a laugh followed them, and Rosalie gave a sound of fear. "They can see us in the dark!" she cried. "I just know it! They're after us, Ti, they're--"

"Shut up!" he hissed, and forced her to run faster.

Behind them light began flooding the corridors, brightening them one by one in a harsh, blue flicker, a light in some ways worse than the darkness, as it seemed immobilizing, it seemed--"What are they doing to us," Rosalie whimpered, pale and shaking. "Tyler, we gotta get out of here--Get me back to the sun--"

Tyler skidded to a stop beside a strangely marked door and opened it. On the other side was a faceless black cowl.

Rosalie screamed. Tyler ripped the gun from her dress belt and fired into the blood red cloth. A distorted scream hailed from the blackness and it exploded in a brilliant flash, throwing the two against the opposite wall. As soon as they had landed Tyler forced Rosalie up again, and they started to the door--

And froze. The floor had decayed, the door was sagging. Dust fell from the walls, which now seemed fragile enough to break with a touch. "What happened?" Rosalie asked breathlessly. "It's like the whole door aged!"

Tyler leapt over the crumbled spot and Rosalie followed. Abruptly the floor gave beneath them, and they ran, the ground dropping away just as their feet lifted. They ran a twisty corridor lit by small, red lights, following strange glowing "EXIT" signs "Tyler!" Rosalie breathed as she struggled to keep up with him, "What if they're waiting for us?"

"Then we're fucked."

They came to a door which opened to reveal a long ramp gliding downward; behind them they heard the noise of approaching hunters. Without words, they leapt onto the ramp.

The slide would have been exhilarating, but every shadow--even the rush of air past their bodies--seemed to stalk them, and when they saw the swiftly approaching bottom Tyler and Rosalie gripped hands, thinking it might be the last time.

Landing was a breathtaking experience--literally. Yet despite the shock they quickly rose, and turned--

"Hello," said One. And he raised his finger.

They saw the crystal cube the moment before it encompassed them.


Rosalie did not look well.

Her Matrix had been half dismantled while still on her head. Tyler could vaguely see the inner, transparent mask hanging over her face, but the main hood was gone. She was remarkably stoic, lips a thin, straight light, her jaw taunt. She stared straight ahead and looked at nothing.

"Eye jewelry," chortled One.

Tyler had trouble focusing on him. The air kept changing, and through the distant windows night and day seemed interchangeable, for one moment dark, and another, light. The crystal cube floated above him, an imposing menace.

His hands were bound behind his back, and his spine felt frozen. Tyler was helpless.

"What a lovely pair you two make," One sighed, a strange sound. He waved at one of his minions--another red-cowled black face. "This is my associate," One said. "Named Two." He laughed, a dreadful sound. "Search them," he ordered Two, and strode toward Tyler. "Not so brave now, hmm?"

Tyler spat into the blackness of his cowl.

One seemed to find this amusing. "Your matrixes are ingenious," he said. "Where did you get them?"

"I invented it," said Tyler bitterly. "It just hit me one day, you damned fuck."

"Then you must be wise, indeed," One answered. "But somehow I doubt you capable of the. . .talents to do such an exquisite piece of work. Something which manipulates time by using the brain and mind! How ingenious!"

"Who are you?" Tyler demanded. "And what is this place?"

"Like you could understand," said One. And it turned away.

"Don't just leave me here!" Tyler screamed as One walked calmly away. "I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"

"Precisely why I am leaving you," One said carelessly.

"Ti," Rosalie whispered hoarsely, as One receded. She was not far from Tyler, and he looked at her. "I want you to promise me something," she said very quietly.

"What?" he said softly.

"That. . .you. . .do you. . ."

"Do I what?"

"Do you love me?"

Tyler's mouth closed. He swallowed.

"Do you?"

"Yes, Rosie," he said, "I love you."

She smiled.

"Well, it's time to put you two toys away," One said, approaching Rosalie from some distant control boards. "It's been fun."

"I notice you didn't take my other device from me," said Rosalie.

"What other device?" asked One suspiciously. His hand hovered over a button, one Tyler suspected controlled the crystal cube.

Moving her hand slowly, Rosalie removed something from her belt. "This."

"That? My associate was supposed to search you and run everything through Research. I'll have his hide--wait a minute. . .that looks like a--"

The gun shots flashed, their harsh bangs tearing the air. One ducked, but Two got hit--the explosion of blue light was blinding. Tyler was hurled against the ground, and momentarily stunned, he could see nothing, only hear.

"You damned bitch!" One screamed. Tyler heard the repeated clicks of a trigger striking an empty chamber. A muffled sob escaped Rosalie, and the gun dropped to the ground.

Tyler tried to move, and found he could--somehow the explosion had freed his spine. But his hands were still tied, and something heavy was on him, and so he thrashed--

Rosalie screamed.

Tyler's efforts redoubled. She called his name, but Tyler could not--he heard a slice--like a knife through flesh--and Rosalie's cries stopped.

The longs years in the desert had taught Tyler the meaning of gurgling sound Rosalie made now.

"Rosalie!" he shouted, the rage and horror expanding like a fire in his head, and in a burst of strength and will he tore rope from his hands, pushed off the heavy equipment and rose--

He was too late.

Rosalie lay strewn on the ground, blood flowing copiously from her neck. One stood over her, legs akimbo, holding a dripping knife. "You pretty little failure!" he laughed. "Nothing defeats One--"

Tyler's kick landed like a battering ram. One flew across the room, landed in a huddled heap. Yet he was already rising, and he withdrew an evil looking rod from his belt--Tyler pressed a button.

"No--" One screamed--then the crystal cube activated, and he became frozen in silence.

The cube button smoked, then in a shower of sparks disintegrated.

Tyler fell to his knees, to take and cradled Rosalie's head. She was clutching her neck, as if trying to stop the blood, trying to hold in her own essence, but her eyes were fading even as they saw his. "No," Tyler moaned, "You can't do this to me. . .Rosalie. . ." He reached for her bloody hand, grasped it, but felt no squeeze, nothing, in return.

Darkness descended on Tyler.

"Rosie. . ." Desperately Tyler slowed his time sense, and time became still.

If nowhere but in the perception of his own mind, he froze Rosalie's death. For an endless moment their eyes met, hers forever fading, his forever in tears. In the auspices of eternity, she died.

And hidden behind his matrix Tyler forever watched her fall. He broke into tears, drops of water which took eons to fall. "Oh, Rosie. . ."Clutching her bloodied dress and body to his chest--

"Oh, Rosalie. . ."

"Come Back Next Month, When Time Matrix Concludes 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/

You can also visit his new homepage at http://www.angelfire.com/ca/DKSmith

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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