Time Matrix: Part Eight

Part 8

The Conclusion

By D.K. Smith

Special thanks to: Joe Rex, Dan Hollifield, and the Readers

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 click here for part 7.

Today on every wrist a watch, so sad a sight and thought

* * *


* * *

The rising sun made the city glow red.

During the night their red robed bodies had exploded in fiery thunders of time, their death halos aging surrounding doorways and walls. A silver rod was the weapon which had destroyed them; it tapered to a fine point, a rapier but stronger. The handle cuff fit easily round the forearm, and curved metal blades fanned the blade, which sparked and spun violently when the weapon was fired.

Nothing stirred. All had been silent for several hours. In the florid dawn light lay the floor, littered with debris and chaos. The ruddy sunlight shone bloody round the strewn figure of a woman. A flickering yellow forcefield surrounded the body, which lay undisturbed in the silence.

On other tables were miscellaneous items, most unidentifiable. One object was a bright, reflective disc, and when touched, it glowed.


Across the room appeared an elderly man. He stood empty-handed, his face relaxed but his demeanor betrayed a trace of tension.

"Who are you?"

The man answered, "I am a computerized artificial intelligence programmed to closely emulate the personality patterns of Professor Alfred Witherspoon. When activated, my express purpose is to guide and protect you and Rosalie."

"I guess you've failed."

Witherspoon scrutinized the person before him. "You're Tyler. But Rosalie. . ." The man stepped round a table, and discovered the fallen body. After a moment's silence, the man said with a taunt voice, "Well, at least you have her in a stasis field. There, there may yet be a chance."

"A chance of what?"

"Don't you know where we are?" the old man asked. "Son, this is the City of Time. Don't you see the Eye of Time symbol plastered everywhere?"

As the man spoke the morning slowly brightened, the sun gradually illuminating another stasis field at the room's rear. Inside the immense field stood frozen a black figure, swathed almost completely in red robes. The button to deactivate the imprisoning forcefield was broken, and occasionally the field sparked and snapped, before returning to seamless stability. "Do you know how to turn off this field?"

"What, and free that monster?" Witherspoon glanced at the creature in red, perhaps noting that the motionless prisoner was also armed with a silver weapon. "It may have been stupid dealing with you before, Tyler, but it won't be again. But listen to me--we have to get out of here. The field's unstable, it could break any moment. Just grab the disc. With it I can get us out of here--the disc's a time machine, you see. With it a man can travel from the end of time to the beginning, or to any point in between."

"What is 'this monster?' And how do I destroy it?"

"Listen to me," Witherspoon said strongly. "That creature's an abomination. You can't destroy it--not by any means we have now. Just keep it trapped. Besides, we got better things to do--I know how to travel through time, Tyler. I can take you to a place where they might save Rosalie."

"Rosalie is dead."

"If you're so certain she's dead, then why did you put her in the small stasis field?"

"She told me to."

"She told you. . ." A moment's silence. "Either way, Tyler," the man slowly continued, "I can take you both to a time where they maybe can revive her. It depends on how long it took you to apply the field. . ."

"Who are you? Where did you come from, and why are you here?"

The man heaved a heavy sigh. "As I said, my name is Professor Witherspoon. Sound familiar? It should. I'm the man who invented the Time Matrix--the very one. In fact, many call me the Father of the Time Theory itself. But my work has opened humanity to great danger." The Professor nodded at the caged creature. "That. It was an alien force--something dark and hungering. But at first I didn't know that, at first. . ." Pain touched the Professor's face, "At first I thought I had found a friend. . ."

"You were friends with this?"

The man blanched at the question's dark tone. "During my preliminary investigations I made contact with it. It was as if it had been waiting for me. 'Professor,' it said, 'There are some things I can teach you about time. . .' And it helped me, I swear, it was brilliant. Whether it already knew the science or discovered it with me I'll never know. But it became, well, frightening. Very frightening. And when it wanted to help me build the City. . ."

The Professor's face became pained and drawn. "Suffice to say, it killed me," the old man said. "I am not the real Witherspoon. That man died giving you this disc."

"What man died?"

"You don't remember," Witherspoon said, "How could you? But yes, I gave you the disc. . .Rosalie, Tyler, we must get Rosalie to saftey. I think I can save her. . ."

"Rosalie is gone. Tell me how to disable the force field. Now." The man blanched when the silver weapon was abruptly pointed at him.

"It's not too late, Tyler." The weapon never left the wavering hologram. "I can take her to a place where they can heal her. There were some things I managed to hide from One, Tyler--like the time matrixes. One only has power inside a special containment field, a field just like the one that envelopes the city. If we just leave here, this nightmare you're living can become a dream. Besides Tyler, what good do you think that weapon is against a hologram?"

"If it's do no good then why do you care?"

"Tyler. . ."

"What's your real angle?"

"I told you, I discovered a danger--I discovered One. I can help you--wait a minute."

Silence settled in the empty air, and concentration tightened the old man's features. The large forcefield at the back sparked and crackled once more.

Then it suddenly deactivated with a harsh, sputtering snap.

Whirling around, the silver rod found itself in the middle of One's black face. The blades sparkled and lit with mini bursts of lightning, black light shot from the tip and darkened One's red cowl. But One vanished just before the blast hit--

--and reappeared elsewhere, brandishing its silver weapon like a thorn--leap aside--and a wall crumbled to dust, aged instantly beyond centuries. Through the tables, dash, dive--"Tyler!" the old man yelled, but crashing debris and dust muffled his words. The old man's disc was on the table near One, and One was firing its weapon--

"Get out of here!" the old man shouted. Abruptly the hologram vanished, and the disc glowed bright white and rose into the air, hovering without apparent support. The affect was startling enough that One froze.

So leap through the hole in the wall, out of the building. Land running, run toward the river--"Duck!" the old man screamed

Hit the dirt, and the red bridge above the river soundlessly warped and twisted, writhing visibly beneath sun as it aged decades in seconds. Over the sight zoomed the white disc, glowing and flying. "Don't just lie there," shouted the old man's voice. "Move!"

"No." Hoist the silver rod against the blue sky and rise, "I'm gonna to kill it."

"You fool--you can only do two things to that devil! Put it in a stasis or flee! One's not human--it's evil, Tyler!"

The walls of the building beyond the red bridge disintegrated, revealing One to the dawn.

Its presence trembled with repressed rage. The river water slipping calmly past became agitated and angry, and One's bristling silver rod hung at its side, naked and gleaming. "Compared to me," said One, voice harsh and hellish, cracked and scarred, "You are a black, infinitesimal hole!"

Yet the enemy One insulted remained implacable, and instead returned the insult with a palpable emanation of hate. "But," One continued, voice slowly becoming smooth and silky, "If you bow before me now, and scrape and beg, maybe I won't torture you before you die."

The glowing disc shouted, "Don't do it--"

Aim the silver rod at One and fire. The blast of black light struck One's cowl squarely--and harmlessly, for it remained unmoved. One laughed, and the river water roiled.

"Shit!" cried the little spinning disc.

The laughter stopped. Slowly, One floated off the ground, until the black apparition hung in the pink sky, evil in a red cowl.

"Listen to me, Tyler," the disc demanded, "The way I see it, we gotta get out of here!"

Aim at One in the sky and fire. One momentarily glowed, then became a shade so black it seemed to suck light from the air.

"You idiot! Think of Rosalie if nothing else, she's still in there!"

A snap, like a crackle of invisible lightning, and the light surrounding the river polarized, rendering everything into a frightening negativity. One no longer held the form of a man. The cowl had fallen and flown with the wind. Now instead a giant black hole hung in the sky, engulfing the sun's light, sucking the energy from everything. The negativity became steadily darker, as the ground and the river slowly ebbed away their energies to the void in the sky.

"I told you!" the disc shouted, "One's nothing--One's a void--follow me, c'mon, run!"

Turn from gaping black wound above and run, but the world was blind, and the once lustrous buildings crumbled into lifeless matter, decaying before the overshadowed sun. The air had died, there was no energy in breathing, only lifeless, like breathing stone--

"Speed up the Matrix!" the disc faltered. Another shift in the darkening polarization, and the final hits of light were ripped from the grasp of perception. The disc lost all color and form, became nothing but a skeletal remain of its former luster. The skeleton of reality itself had died, and in the decay even stone lacked pride, it was energy starved matter collapsing slowly into itself. . .

"Wi-itherspoon?" but the flying disc was on the ground, "My. . .my flesh's dying. . ."

"The armory. . ." crackled the disc, static-ridden and sputtering, "straight ahead. . .speed up the Matrix. . ."

The morning sky had become black.

+14:1 SET

A surge of sudden energy, as the speed of perceived reality escalated--now running, grab the disc, run, run, run over this desiccated ground, toward that building, darkness and nothingness chasing behind. The disc flashed briefly in hand, and the massive door to the armory zipped open--engulfed in its hallways--

-3:1 SET

The sudden shift of time's pace--from super speed to molasses--was like hitting the water in a full body dive. "Listen to me," appeared letters upon the matrix's visor. "It's me, Witherspoon. Don't have enough energy for audible communications, find the short, silver, handgun weapon--get it and quick--"

Into a vast armory, walls so high, endless shelves of every inconceivable weapon. Set near the door on a polished wooden table was a small hand pistol. "You found it," appeared the letters again, "Now get out of here and fire at the black hole, move!" Already the armory's walls were polarizing. Reset the matrix--

1:1 SET

--run through the door, aim and fire! A multi-hued lance of light struck blackness. Nothing happened.

Then with an abrupt, thunderous ripple, the lifeless matter below One exploded with light, flying into the air, before landing molten from disrupted energy, forever ruined. Other rocky chunks glowed and fell softly, and to any observer's utter surprise, started morphing into the trees and structures they had been originally. Yet others morphed into things utterly alien, some unsightly blemishes, others beautiful works, stolen seemingly from another dimension.


The sun again shone in the sky, but it was swollen, pink and ruddy. Yet the stars were unnaturally shining behind it, as if from some hellish miracle.

A weak flicker, and the old man appeared again, features haggard and lined. "We have about five minutes before it regenerates," he said. Even as he spoke, the burning rocks melted into a slick, oily liquid, and flowed into the empty river bed, where they slowly returned to their original watery state. Other items simply wafted into the air, as if they had been nothing but symbols.

"We gotta grab Rosalie," the man wheezed. "If she's still around. And careful with that weapon, son--if you fire it again you'll kill us all."

Dash past the dust, the living dust and the dead trees, for nothing below One's explosion seemed real, like the sky were the ground. Into the decimated temple, toss aside the rubble, turn over the overturned tables, search for the body of someone gone--A flicker in the darkness.

The portable forcefield protecting Rosalie was buried in the fallen temple's heavy rubble. Barely Rosalie's face could be seen through the field's argent light; pull away the rocks, brush away the dust. Her beauty lay reposed, a forever rose, untouchable, never to love with her beauty again--

"I'm getting us out of here, Tyler," said the spinning disc.

Behind the disc, something black sprung from the ground. In it's hand was a silver rod--pointed at Rosalie--black--"No--"

A drastic, undefinable shift, and darkness was replaced by light.

* * *


* * *

All things were white.

Ceiling, walls and floor were barely distinguishable from each other. Even the white bed would have been impossible to discern, except for the black clothes of the person upon it.

"Please do not be alarmed. No harm shall come to you here."

The voice had no body, but it came from the foot of the mattress. The soft and lilting tone belonged to someone female.

Something snapped, something rushed and hopeful, "Rosalie?" said Tyler suddenly, hoarsely. "Rosalie, tell me it's you. . ."

Something stirred. He looked down to see pure white fingers upon his hand; the touch was cool as the voice became warmer. "You are safe here."

"But Rosalie's dead--"

"Tyler? How are you feeling, kid?"

Witherspoon sat on a white bed corner, a shocking splash of color amidst the whiteness. The elderly man smiled through a weathered face.

"Where are we?" Looking up from the white hand, he searched for the face to whom it belonged, but all was white, everything white.

"Rosalie is. . ." the old man hesitated. "You put her in that stasis field--that was a good move, son."

"The field was just to protect her body," said Tyler. "I thought I was gonna bury her. Don't play with me. I know she's dead." And for the briefest moment he changed, and before them suddenly became a young man lost in tears.


"He's quickening," said the white woman quietly

The Professor leaned forward. "Tyler, have you sped up your Matrix? Are you running from something? Tyler?" But the sad young man's had fled. Cold lips again set in a straight line, and an expressionless countenance regarded them. The Professor shook his head. "He's run away."

"Come now, Tyler," murmured the white woman softly, hidden by the light. "Fleeing will help you none."

"All during that in the city it was like being with someone disassociated with reality," said the Professor. "He never referred to himself once, or even gestured at his body. Maybe the shock of Rosalie's death blew away his own picture of himself, and now it's like he doesn't know his name. What do we do?"

"We give him time," said the woman. "It's all he knows."

"Tyler," said Witherspoon insistently, "Speak to me, son. Are you okay? What do you see? C'mon, talk."

"Speak," rejoined the woman.

"I. . .see. . .white."

The Professor chuckled. "Well, that's normal at least. You have some challenges to face, young man."

"But now," said the white woman, "He rests. Let him sleep."

The figures drifted away, and perhaps left. The next sound came after a long period of sleep, startling slumber into wakefulness. What? How? Where was the door? Where was the floor, everything was a single color--A sound, not unlike a door opening. "Tyler? Are you awake?" The woman who sounded like Rosalie was here again. But she was not Rosalie, Rosalie was--"How are you feeling?"

"Where am I? Tell me, now."

"It's hard to tell you where you are, if you can't see it for yourself," said the white woman gently. She neared, her presence suffusing the room. "Do you ever remove your Matrix, child? It must be difficult, to wear it all the time."

"Don't come near me. Don't touch my Matrix."

"Do you think I wish to harm you?"

"I don't know who or what you are."

"You may call me Joy. Think of me as a nurse, and consider this a hospital. Do you know what these things are?"


"You will. Do you mind if I call you Tyler?"

"Why do you want my Matrix?"

"Everything appears white to you, yes? If you would allow me to place some lens on your eyes, you would see your surroundings more clearly. Simply lift your Matrix, I will not take it."

"What lens?"

Momentary mirth lit the air. "Obviously you could not see them, for they are what would help you see. Thus they must be given to you by another." The woman paused. "We all need help sometimes, Tyler. In a hospital, we help people. We help very many people, many like you."

"What do you get for it?"

A silence before she spoke. "What do I get for it? I come here to help people and afterwards I feel good. Does that answer your question?"

"If you feel good, then you must getting something from it. Even if you don't know how, you're obviously getting paid off."

"I'm not being paid off," said the woman, and the room's light darkened. "I came here to help on my own accord, young man, and now I'm here. Will you accept my help or not?"

"But why would someone offer help without reward?"

"It makes me feel good."


For a moment the light and air round him seemed confused. "Perhaps you do not understand. But will you let me help you?"

When she was unanswered, she approached slowly. In a strange, luminous gesture, she laid both hands of pure white light upon the black pants leg of her subject. The heat bled through to the flesh. "See?" she said, "My hands are open to you."

Removing her hand, gently she lifted the matrix visor and touched each eye, lingeringly, as if her fingers guided light pure and white through a reality unseen. Afterwards she rose, smiling with rays of sunny energy. "Did I harm you?" she asked gently, with perhaps amusement.

The room slowly gained definition around them, one encompassing shade of white breaking into many. Though no color appeared, furniture and corners were whitely delineated, and the room's snowy spaciousness was revealed. Several meters away was a wide window, with billowing curtains, letting in a white sunshine and breeze.

"I can see."

"Good," said the woman softly, but strangely, still none of her features could be seen. It was almost as if she were the polar opposite of One. "Come," she said, offering her arm. "I will take you to see Rosalie."

"Rosalie is dead."

"Come." The woman's voice was firm. "Come see before you deny. And I am not an automaton, so you may refer to me with my name. As I said, call me Joy."

She lead him through white hallways which steadily gained definition, past half-open doorways where were hidden tantalizing glimpses of unknown things. Finally Joy stopped beside one door, and carefully opened it, revealing the interior.

Upon a plush white bed lay Rosalie, who colored the pale sheets with another gratifying splash of color. The window and curtains were open and inviting, and wind drifted through the sunlight, stirring Rosalie's hair. Start forward, to the bedside--"Rosalie?" said Tyler anxiously. Her eyes fluttered open, to reveal soul. "How. . .it's, the. . .it's her. . ."

"Tyler?" said Rosalie sleepily. "You're here, too?"

"Yes--yes--" Impulsively he grabbed her hand. "I'm right here, Rosalie--I thought you were dead. . ."

"I was." Rosalie yawned. "Are you dead, too?" she asked with sudden concern.

"Me. . .no, of course not. And neither are you--" Tyler turned. "Where are we?" he demanded hotly of Joy. "What is this place?"

"This is a hospital, of sorts. We who care here like to call it Seven."

"Seven." Tyler looked at Rosalie. "Rosalie, I think we should get out of here. C'mon." He made to lift her from the bed.

She stopped him. "Oh, don't be silly," said Rosalie. "You're always worrying. There's nothing scary here." She smiled, a dreamy gaze. "Why, I've been fed, warmed, loved, bathed. . ."

"Rosalie, don't you remember? You died. The City of Time--they killed you--One slit your throat!"

A momentary cloud crossed Rosalie's face. "I--I. . .Ty-tyler?" Her eyes widened, and for a moment, reflected sorrow. "N-nothing I could do, Tyler. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't breathe, it was all going out of me, dripping down me--sun help me, Tyler, I was dying. . ."

"Okay, okay, look, don't you worry." Tyler grabbed Rosalie's hand in both his own. "Nothing's gonna happen now, Rosalie, nothing but good things. From now on, everything's gonna be good, okay, I promise. Hey--" Tyler grabbed at his matrix, thrust up the visor, and stared her in the eyes. "See, I'm right here." He cupped her cheeks. "See, Rosalie? See?"

Her sparkling eyes in the sunlit room, her white smile reminiscent of the moon, "It's okay, Ty," she said dreamily. As she spoke her eyes grew clearer, crystal, and yet she yawned. "Oh, Ty, I'm so sleepy. You want to play with me?"


"Mommy's making bread. With the white flour. We found it on an abandoned trailer in the flatlands. Now's she making us patticakes. Doesn't smell good, Tyler?" Rosalie's searching hand rose, touched his grizzled cheek. "I can just smell them. . .oh, so sweet. . .come on, eat, eat. . ."

Rosalie fell into sleep.

"Rosalie?" He shook her. "Rosalie?" He looked from her, to Joy standing in the shadows. "What is this place?" he asked again. "And what's happened to her, she's--" he looked to her hand limp in his, and spasmodically clutched it "-she's turning white."

"Indeed," Joy murmured.

"She's turning white!" The wisps of hair on Rosalie's brow were whitening, as was her brow. Now from her emanated a soft, whitesh cast.

"There's something you need to understand," said Joy. "Rosalie is conscious, but she's no longer exactly alive." Leaving the door, Joy walked across the room to another pale door in a pale wall, to reveal a strange new, darker room. Another Rosalie lay in there, confronting Tyler with two images of the woman he loved.

He stood stunned.

Joy beckoned. "Come see what matters," she said.

With uncertain steps Tyler followed her, into the new room. In this one Rosalie lay in her blood soaked dress, body sprawled and unmoving. Heavy white cloth covered her neck, and her flesh was frighteningly pallid rather than pale.

"Rosalie," Tyler choked, for it was clear this Rosalie was dying. "I don't understand," he said brokenly. "What's this for? Why isn't Rosalie okay? Why can't Rosalie be okay?"

"Come here," said Joy.

"I'm tired of doing what you say, damn't!"


Walk from the bed, where the wounded Rosalie was slowly turn black, walk to the woman composed of light. "You're disassociating," said Joy. "Focus, focus, lost one. Tell me your name."

"What about Rosalie? Tell me what is happening to her."

"Focus, stranger, focus," said Joy gently. "Slow time just a little. Slow it down so that reality stops hurting you." Joy stepped forward. "You couldn't tell me your name, could you? You're not Tyler anymore, you're just someone lost behind a mask of time, just another lost soul. But you can't hide, Tyler. This time calls for strength. Now," and Joy's voice strengthened, "Tell me your name."

Finally, "Tyler," he said. "My name's Tyler."

Joy brightened, as if from a smile. "Ty," she said. "I'll call you Ty." She took one step closer and hugged him.

The embrace was long and lingering. "Ty," said Joy eventually, her voice as if through a dream. A haze had fallen over his vision, a joyful haze. Yet across the room the black Rosalie remained. "You're not looking in the right place," said Joy. "Look at her belly. See? It glows with light. Do you know what that is?" Tyler said nothing. "Tyler, that is mate's unborn child."

Tyler looked from Joy's embrace, and looked at Rosalie. And indeed, in Joy's grasp he could see the glowing womb of his dying wife. "What? You mean. . .she's going to have a. . ."

"A child," said Joy. "Do you remember children? For you, too, are still a child, and that child will be yours. You are the sole parent. You'd best grow up, Tyler."

"If she's dead the baby must be too--

"She's brain dead," Joy said gently. "Her body lives only with external aid. But her child was saved by the portable stasis field, the field which you used."

"Why does everyone keep commenting about that stupid forcefield?" Tyler asked bitterly. "It helped me none."

"It helped you become a Father," said Joy.

"A father?" said Tyler. "How can I possibly be what I never had!"

Joy laughed. "We can help."

"No. Just save Rosalie, okay? Just make her okay."

"I cannot."

Slowly, Tyler's embrace of Joy faltered, and he stepped back from her light. "I don't understand," he said. "I just saw Rosalie, she just spoke to me--"

"That was Rosalie's essence. It was not her physical existence. As I said, this is a hospital," said Joy calmly. "But we don't deal with death. We only deal with what comes after."

"What comes after?"

"Yes," said Joy. "This is Seven." And she smiled. "Rosalie is in no pain. To the contrary--she is quite happy. It is simply that you shall never see her again."

"No," said Tyler. "You're wrong!" He dashed past Joy and out of the dark room, to the lighter one where Rosalie rested white and unscathed. "She's right here!" he shouted, "and she's just fine!" Rushing to the bed, he shook Rosalie, gently but with fervor. "Rosalie, wake up, it's Tyler. C'mon, speak to me--we gotta get out of here, Rosalie, I don't trust them."

Rosalie stirred, but did not awake. In a act of desperation he tried to force open her eyes, gently touching the eyelids and pulling up. The eyes which confronted him were pure crystal, layers of transparency stacked upon eternity. Exposed to the outside light, they started to glow.

Shocked, Tyler released her and stepped back, saying "No." Rosalie's eyes slowly closed, and she re-assumed an air of complete restfulness with the slightest of sighs. "This isn't happening," Tyler said. He turned quickly away.

"Ty?" said Rosalie quietly. He froze his rapid pace, but did not turn. "Ty, do you know what the sugar is?"

He turned in response to this strange question, but Rosalie was silent and white, and unmoving. Slowly, he approached her silent body, and with a gesture taking strange courage, touched her. His hand slipped through flesh without resistance, as if she had become nothing but light.

The room brightened as Joy entered. She looked to Rosalie's glowing body, and said, "She has died."

Silence as Tyler looked from Joy to Rosalie's fading white body.

Finally, "I don't get it," said Tyler. "There was nothing you could do to prevent this?"

"No," said Joy gently.

"Yeah?" Something was wrong inside his head, very wrong and getting worse--he could not remember his name, what was his name. . ."Nothing you could do, huh? You're trying to tell me there was nothing you could do?"

"You were lucky to have this moment with her," said Joy.

"Lucky? Fuck you, you white bitch!"

Joy did not look away, nor shrink from the force of his rage. Instead, she smiled, a glowing, radiant light, one momentarily dazzling. "What is your name?" she asked.

But who remembered names? Throw open the door, run from the room, run from the white woman. All these doorways in the hall, start throwing them open. In each was a white bed, complemented by white curtains and a white sun--and on each bed was a body glowing white--"No!" Tyler screamed. "This is a place of death! This is a place of death!"

"No," said Joy calmly, who had stepped into the hallway, "This is a place leading to another place. This is only a waystation."

"Don't give me your bullshit! I don't care about your goddamned light! I don't care about your fucking perfection, my Rosalie is dead!"

"But you must have faith that life will continue--"

"I don't want my fucking life to continue!"


"But if I fucking shoot myself, you white bitch, you're saying I'll end up here! Where you killed Rosalie!"

"No," the white woman said sharply. "It was not I. You saw who killed her."

"But you didn't save her!" Grab the hair, pull it out--"I can't take--" everything seemed to be spinning, "can't take it, can't take--gonna blow it all away--"


Suddenly the air softened, the soul smoothed. Look up from the ground, to the smiling white woman glowing in the hallway. Watch her lips move, watch her say, "What is your name?"

For a long, hard moment, in the eyes of Joy Tyler had no choice but to be calm.

"Ty--t-y-Tyler," he spat.

And what remained of reality returned.

Tyler took a deep breath. "How do I get out of here?" he said harshly.

"The Professor can tell you how to depart," Joy said. "He will merely make arrangements to take you back in time."

"Take me back in time--you mean this is the future?"

Joy nodded. "Seven is the future," she said. "We are the gateway to the next Time, which is 8, infinity. We have Rosalie is with us now, and she is safe." Joy glowed. "She says hi."

"Says 'hi'? What, you think that's fucking cute?"

Joy's smile only widened. "I understand your loss and rage," she said simply.

"Understand--" Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck "--you understand?"

Smiling more brightly, "Yes. Would you like me to rid you of your pain?"


"Would you like me to take away your grief over Rosalie's death?"

Tyler took a step forward. "No I know you're not here to help me. You don't understand, because if you fucking did, you never would made the offer you just made. No matter how much it hurts, not ever, never!"

"No," agreed Joy quietly. "So you see, I understand your loss and rage. I understand your wounded love. But there's nothing I can do. I did not kill your beloved, Ty, but you must believe that I was as helpless as you to prevent her death."

Bitter tears stung his eyelids. "And you call yourself Joy," Tyler said bitterly.

"Yes," Joy said. "I remember my name."

* * *


* * *

Tyler lay on the white bed, staring at the white ceiling. He was alone.

After a while he sat, and searched through his clothing until he found the disc. Upon his touch it promptly glowed, and the image of Witherspoon appeared again on the bed corner. "Yes, Tyler, what is it?" he said, tone friendly.

"I have to go back."

Witherspoon hesitantly nodded. "Yes. Joy said you would."

"What is this place?" Tyler asked strongly. "Why are we here?"

"When I was experimenting with the Time Theory, I made a decision--a rather bold and foolish one, I'd admit--to see what was at the end of time. Naturally I did not go to the end of time itself, just pretty close--as close as my figures approximated, anyhow. Time math is incredibly tricky. Most humans just can't understand it."

"So?" Tyler asked.

"Have some patience, son. Well, you're seeing right now what I discovered way back when. This is the end of time, or near it, anyway."

"The end of time is a white hospital?"

"A white hospital? Is that what she told you this place is?" Witherspoon broke into a long laugh. "I suppose she's right--though it's certainly not the description I would have used. You see, Tyler, there's something you got to understand. Time is a human concept. Other races may have it, maybe not. But it's very likely their perception of time will be different from ours. What's interesting about it, Tyler, is the idea that time exists only in our own heads."

"Okay," said Tyler, seeming confused.

"Yes, it is difficult to comprehend. But think of time as existing only in our own perception. What if in reality, time does not really exist?"

"Then there would be nothing to speed up or slow down," said Tyler.

"That's right. In fact, there would be no time at all. Think of it, no waiting, no hurrying--no slow times, no fast times. It all just is. Drop time from the equation of reality, and the quality of perception and conception increase ten-fold!"

"But we couldn't exist," Tyler said.

"Ah, that's just what people think. Perhaps time is a permanent aspect of reality--but it affects human beings quite powerfully. Either they are coming or going, waiting or dying, for time herds them on like a flock of sheep. If time, however, was done away with like the nuisance it is, humans would be free. Perhaps other races, if they exist, would not find it this way, but for humans I am convinced this is so. It's the tyranny of time, Ty, that's what it is."

Tyler was quiet for a long time. Finally he said, "So in a way, time killed Rosalie."

"Um. . ." Witherspoon hesitated in answering. "Yes, I suppose. Time killed Rosalie. As it will kill us all." He gestured to their surroundings. "Then we end up here."

"I gotta go back," said Tyler.

The Professor sighed heavily. "Tyler, you're a father now. You need to concentrate on your obligations to your son."

Tyler was silent before eventually saying, "It's. . .a boy?"

"Yes, Tyler. A little boy. He isn't here yet, but he will be. In just a little time." Witherspoon smiled broadly. Tyler was silent. Witherspoon clapped him on the shoulder with an insubstantial hand. "If I were corporeal, I'd give you a cigar, Ty. Heh!"

"I have to go back," Tyler said again. "You want me to look my son in the eyes and say I never avenged his mother? I gotta go back."

"Now Tyler--"

"Why can't you just take me back in time, to before Rosalie was killed?"

"You think I haven't thought of that?" asked the Professor. "You don't know anything about the City of Time you should know. It's completely in the control of One. And in it, One controls time. We only made it out alive because we took One completely by surprise. Now, One's ready. And One is not limited by such puny barriers like the past, present and future. He controls them all, in his little city. In a very abstract way, he's controlled them since Eternity, even though in my memory the City was constructed only twenty years ago. If it were possible to destroy it, some say the tyranny of time would be ended."

"Why?" Tyler asked.

"Okay." The Professor took a deep breath. "Do you know what the City of Time is?"


"Of course not. Why do I even ask? Quite simply, the City of Time has only one geographical location--Boise, Idaho. But the City of Time knows nothing of the limitations imposed by the time--by the past, present, and future. The City is a actually a vast time machine, and at One's whim, the City can travel instantaneously to any Time it's directed too. Want to visit the 1940's? Program it in, and the entire city will warp to the new Time. Want to visit 3340 BC? Program it, and the entire city will go. Each time it stays in the same geographical place, just like in the old movie. Except in this case it's not a little machine, but a gigantic city that's does the traveling."

"A time traveling city?" Tyler said.

"Right. It is the city that floats on Forever."

"Wow," said Tyler. "How come no one's ever seen it before?"

"Who says no one has? Let me explain--do you know what an orbit is? Well, the City of Time has a time orbit, that is, it regularly cycles through human time, sort of like an incorporeal moon, or a time satellite. It can do this as quickly or as slowly as directed. Since it rarely stays in any one Time for more than a millisecond, it is very difficult to find. Sometimes in deserted areas One docks the City to perform maintenance. That is the only occasion people can contact the city.

"In fact, lots of people have been trapped in force fields surrounding the city, and become doomed to be One's specimens. Even those who might escape, with the ability to travel back and forth in time, what mistake could One not undo? Don't you understand, Tyler? One has the powers of a limited god."

"But why can't I save Rosalie?" Tyler insisted. "We can go back in time!"

But the Professor shook his head. "Only One could do that," said Witherspoon. "As long as the fields in the city have power, he controls all."

"Shit!" Tyler smacked the nearest wall. "She shouldn't die from my mistake!"

"It wasn't your mistake." Both men looked up as Joy slowly entered the room, brightening the air with her presence.

"It was my mistake," said Tyler. "I couldn't save her."

"Exactly," said Joy. "It was not your fault, child."

"Why don't you just shut up?"

"Tyler!" Witherspoon said sharply. "You can't speak that way!"

"I just did."

"Damn it!" For the first time, the Professor livid and angry. "You--"

"Enough," said Joy, her tone kind, and the Professor silenced. "I did not mean to interrupt," she said warmly. "Please continue."

The old man opened his mouth, but Tyler rose before he could finish. "Get out of this room," Tyler told Joy.

"Tyler!" exclaimed Witherspoon, the anger returning to his eyes. "How could you speak like this, to. . .a woman, a--"

"It is okay," said Joy. "He is in pain."

"I don't want Joy in my room!" Tyler shouted at her, "Because I'm not feeling any joy!"

Without a word, Joy turned and left.

"You fool!" Witherspoon said strongly. "Don't you understand what Joy is?"

"I don't care," said Tyler. "I simply don't care."

Silence as Tyler sat on the bed. "Tell me again about One."

"It's because she reminds you of Rosalie, isn't it, Tyler?" said the Professor. "She's a woman, her voice has a slight similarity, she's beautiful. . ."

But Tyler only looked cold. "I don't trust her," he said. "No one's ever kind unless they got an angle. That's just the way it is."

"That's not true," said the Professor.

"Prove it."

"A lot of people are kind because of the good feeling it gives them. . ."

"Then they're getting something for it. How's a good feeling any different from good food or good weapons or money? It's just less tangible, that's all. You wait and see--she's got an angle, she's getting paid off somehow."

"She's not getting paid off," the Professor said. "I've known Joy for many years, young man. I know kindness when I see it. Besides, why are you so suspicious of her? Why don't you distrust me, too?"

"Because you don't got a body." Tyler raised his hand and waved it through the Professor's image. The fingers penetrated the mirage with ease.

"Your thinking," the Professor said, "Is very black and white."

"Whatever. Can you take me back to the City of Time?"

"I can only take you back to the exact moment we left," said the Professor coldly, "But that's only because One might allow it. It'd be a trap, Tyler."

"I don't care," said Tyler. "One's gotta answer for it. Because if he doesn't. . .then I'm gonna blow myself the fuck away."

"Tyler. . ."

"You heard me, damn't. What sort of Father would I be? You think I haven't killed? You think I haven't done evil? I couldn't save his own mother, and now. . ."

After a long silence, "I've got a grudge against One myself," the Professor said. "One's still out there. . .and someday, I know One's will leave the City. What might happen then I don't care to know." Slowly, the Professor placed an intangible hand on Tyler's knee. "If you get Joy's permission," he said, "I'll take you back. But it will mean doom."

"We gotta go back," said Tyler.

"You heard me," the Professor said firmly, "I'll do it if you get her okay."

After a silence Tyler rose and left the room.

The hospital hallways stretched in multiple directions, but one path seemed whiter than the others. After a few turns, it lead him to Joy. She sat in the middle an empty room upon the floor, and seemingly was involved in deep contemplation. Yet as soon as he saw her she called, "Come in, Ty."

He entered the room slowly. "I need to go back," he said.

"Haven't you been told it's useless?" Joy asked. "That even if the Professor could get you back, One could not be defeated? All weapons are useless against such a foe."

"But I have to go back," he said again.

"It would be foolish," she dismissed.

He entered the room, walked close to her. "Are you listening? I said I'm going."

Joy slowly looked up toTyler. "Why? You can't save Rosalie's life. Only One could, and why would it? And the Professor can only take you back to the moment you left. Quite frankly, I suspect One would be waiting for you. That would indeed," Joy said succinctly, "be a hellish fate."

"I don't give a shit about hell or heaven," Tyler said. "I care about being able to look my son in the eye and tell him that I at least tried to avenge his mother! How many more Rosalies are gonna die? Huh? Are you content just to let evil lie, Joy?"

"No," said Joy. "But why should I send you as my warrior?"

"I'm not your warrior," said Tyler.

"Then why should I send you at all?"

"Because--" Tyler shouted, stopped. He took a deep breath. "Do you want me to strike you?" he asked evenly.

"If you must."

He raised his hand, aimed at her face. She waited, silently.

"Fuck!" Tyler screamed. He turned away, stomped from the room.

"Perhaps there is a way," she called over her shoulder, and he stopped by the door. When she said nothing further, , he slowly approached again. This time she smiled, for the room became far brighter. "If dealing with an opponent," she said, "who is omnipotent inside its own realm, then you may have only one hope of defeating it."

"How?" prompted Tyler. She waited, smiling, saying nothing.

Tyler clenched his fists, hard, hard, until the knuckles cracked. "Please tell me how," he said through grit teeth.

"Destroy its will," she said.

"I don't understand."

"An enemy is only as powerful as its will to fight, Tyler. Can you not see? You cannot defeat One by means of force. You can, however, make him surrender. Do you understand?"

"I'm. . .not sure," said Tyler, abruptly terribly confused. "I--how do I--I have to make him give up?"

"Exactly." Joy smiled widely, brightening the room to an almost unbearable white.

"You mean--fool him into thinking I'm more powerful?"

"No," said Joy. "Simply convince him to give up."

Yet it was obvious that Tyler did not understand. "How? He's got everything he could ever need--he's got a whole fucking city erected for his glory. He's probably waiting for me back there. He killed Rosalie, he--why would he give up? What the hell would he get from it?"

"There is bitterness in your voice," said Joy.

"You're fucking brilliant."

"So much swearing, Ty," said Joy, her voice mildly scolding, "What's the point of verbal negativity? It only makes the moment worse."

"Fuck, fuck, fuck."

The room darkened. "You don't think you like me, do you?" Joy asked softly.

"I don't have to think about it." He turned to the door, which closed.

Now ostensibly trapped in the same room with her, he asked her angrily, "What, now it's time? Now's when you're gonna get me, isn't it?" he asked. "Now's when you're gonna stab me in the back. I knew you were up to something."

"No," said Joy, "I am trying to decide whether or not to show you something. Each imprecation, Ty, only takes you closer to One."

"I want to get closer to One."

"Not in the way I mean." Joy rose, her white robes swirling through the air like living light. "Tell me why you hate me, Tyler. I have done nothing to you."

"I don't hate you," said Tyler. "I just give you the suspicion you deserve."

"Why do you fear me?" Joy asked.

"I don't fear you."

"I can tell. In your mind it is as clear as day--'Tyler fears Joy.'"

"I don't fear Joy." Joy took at step toward Tyler-- "Don't start getting closer!" Tyler warned.

Joy laughed, an utterly fearless sound. "I will ask one final question, before I decide your fate," she said. "Who was the one person who showed kindness, Tyler? For each time I see you, I can tell someone gave you kindness. There is good inside you, Tyler, evident for anyone to see. Did you strike me a few moments ago? No. Did you forsake Rosalie, even when she neared death? No. Did you not clutch her hands, and say only good things to her? This is not an evil man before me, Ty."

"What do you know?" Tyler asked.

Joy shook her head sadly. "So many humans react to me like you do," she said, and suddenly sorrow clouded her voice. "They all ask what's in it for me. 'Why are you so kind, Joy?' ask the frightened ones, cowering when I smile. 'You're so kind you must be evil,' they say, and run. Sometimes I wonder if humans can even stand to feel joy, for they have so little of it, and from what I've seen, true kindness frightens them. Have you not killed your kindest man?"

"I've never killed a kind man," said Tyler confusedly. "I've never met a kind man."

Joy took another forward step. "Who gave you kindness, Tyler?"

A long silence, then, "Rosalie," he said. "Rosalie. . ." He turned abruptly away from her, and slammed his fist against the wall. "I'm going back," he said, through the salty bitterness of unbidden tears. "I'm going back--she can't have died for nothing, she can't have died for nothing. . ." A hand touched his shoulder, and he turned blindly, reaching, searching--and he was embraced.

"Don't worry," sighed Joy, as he wept while she held him. "Oh, sad one, grieve, grieve. . ."

"My son," Tyler sobbed, "There's nothing I can do for him--oh, God there's nothing I can do for him. . ."

"I'll watch him," said Joy.

Tyler grasped her shoulders, tight and hard, "You promise?" he said, "You promise?"


She smiled.

And when she did, Tyler's tears fell unfettered. Again she held him, in unbearably consoling arms. "You'll be back," she whispered. "You'll be back."

* * *


* * *

Light was replaced by darkness.

Tyler leapt from the ruined temple, onto the grassy knoll near the river. Above the sun still looked swollen in the dark, blood-red auspices of the City of Time.

Whipping out the disc, Tyler touched it, watched it glow. "Slow your matrix," commanded Witherspoon.

-5:1 SET

"Can you hear me?" the Professor asked. "I made some alterations to the Matrix--I can now speak to you directly through it. What's more is that I can communicate with you at any speed I want, slow or fast."

By the river, remains of One were still slowly solidifying, just as when Tyler had left. Yet the last thing Tyler remembered had been One, firing the silver rod at him. "Where's One?" Tyler asked the disc.

"You were hit by the black light," said Witherspoon, "as indicated by the personal forcefield we gave you. Look at your power indicator, you'll see it's gone down."

"It's gone down forty-five percent," said Tyler.

"Jesus, those silver rods are powerful. Better turn it off. Remember what I told you, Tyler--if that power indicator dips below fifty percent, there's a chance that it could implode from repeated fire, killing you and everything else within five meters. If this danger is imminent you should deactivate the field and let it recharge."

"Okay." Tyler deactivated the field, and the two were plunged into darkness.

"What the--" Tyler lifted the silver rod he had stolen earlier. His other hand withdrew the small, silver pistol which had originally disrupted One from his pocket. "What did you say this little gun was called again?" Tyler whispered.

"It's a hueiter," said Witherspoon. "It emits a ray which splits atoms--sort of a hand held, long distance nuke gun."

"So you came back?"

Tyler whirled, to find One not a meter away. "Wait on the weapons!" the disc warned through Tyler's Matrix. "You know what Joy said!"

"You know," One continued, never moving, never wavering below the blackening sky, "I hoped you might come back. It was simply a matter of how foolish you might be. But then I remembered the man in black with the funny mask, and I remembered how much fun it was to kill his mate, and I thought, 'Yes, that little nothing will return.'"

"Give up," said Tyler.

"Excuse me?"

"Give up."

A little charge of electricity crackled round One's cowl. "Give up? " A sound suspiciously like laughter came from One's blackness. "Give up?" Now peals of terrible mirth took off for the sky. "Give up?"

"Yeah, you little fuck. Give up."

The laughter abruptly stopped. "Oh, my," said One. "How I'm going to give you such pain."

"Yeah," said Tyler.

"I'm going to make you beg so hard. . ."

"Look forward to it," Tyler said.

One hesitated. "Are you by any chance insane?"

"Yes," said Tyler. "But who could possibly be more insane than you?"

Chuckling, "I like that. What was your name again?"

"They call me No One," said Tyler, and he grinned. "And I ain't got nothing to lose."

"How about her?" One gestured, and beside him appeared Rosalie.

"Tyler!" she called.

"Don't fall for it!" Witherspoon shouted through Tyler's matrix. "--It's a trick!"

"Tyler, what's going on!" Rosalie cried again, obviously frightened. "He said he's gonna torture us!"

"Go ahead," Tyler invited.

"What?" Rosalie cried.

"Go ahead and torture her, One, I don't give a fuck."

"Don't you?" One asked.

Tyler slowly lowered his silver rod, then suddenly tossed it aside, over the grass. "You know," he said, "A lot time ago, I made a promise to never pick up a weapon again." Removing his other hand from his vest, he revealed the hueiter. "Look,my nuke gun, see?" With an outrageous toss Tyler sent it fl

"Tyler--" Rosalie ran near him, as if for protection. Tyler sidestepped her and stepped directly before One. "You see," said Tyler, "I realize its useless to fight you, One. So I've come to understand more about. . .your power."

"You have?" One said.

"Yes. It's so. . .'great'. It's so. . .'magnificient.'"

"Really?" One said, seeming gratified. "It was all my idea, you know. Erecting the towers was hard, but once I got the fields working--"

"But I don't need any weapons to destroy you," said Tyler.


"All I need is to spit in your face."

"Spit in my face?" One taunted. "Like you'd have the courage."

Tyler spat into the black cowl.


Right into the cowl.

Into the face of darkness.

A motionless moment, then One screamed, "How dare you--how dare you--"

"I just did!" Tyler screamed. "So what are you gonna do about that, huh? You're so magnificent, but you couldn't even stop me from spitting in your fucking face!"

"You want to see me stop you?" One roared. "Just watch me--"

"Shut up!" Tyler yelled. "You gonna go back in time and stop me? Screw you, you'll stillbe nothing! Because even if you go back and stop me, it will still have happened. I got the better of you One, because no matter what happens you'll always remember that I once briefly got the better of you."

"And I killed your mate," said One cruelly. "So who's even now?"

"Damn you--" swing at One, One caught his arm--

and broke it.

Fall to the ground as Rosalie screamed--"All ready on your knees, aye?" One laughed. "Now crawl!" Never saw the blow coming, but felt the nose break, felt the head slam the dirt. One let go--name-- and lorded over his victim, "Guess where the next one's going to land," he mocked--could not remember--what was the name--

Another blow, a wrenching snap of a rib bone--"You call me nothing?" One yelled. "You're not even a man! You probably don't even know your own name!" A kick to the kidney, pain, pain, pain, "Nothing!" shouted One, "You're the nothing--you couldn't even save your own mate, you waste!"


"You think you're a man? Let's see how many you are when I crush your balls, you piece of shit!"


Name was Tyler.

He was Tyler.

In agony Tyler reached quickly to his jacket and reactivated his defensive field. One's blow for Tyler's crotch met a shocking flash of light and energy, One screamed and jumped back. Tyler used the opportunity to slam his feet into One's chest.

One slid back--but did not fall. It was as if Tyler had pushed a ball, and now One came bouncing back, hideously enraged--Rosalie stepped in One's path, and One thrust her aside with a curse. "What's going on!" she cried, but One silenced her with a quick blow.

Tyler clambered to his feet, then fell again. "Tyler," came the Professor's voice through his Matrix, "The medkit--on your built--activate it--"

He hit the red button, and pain dissappeared.

One was roaring across the grass, but seemed surprised when Tyler leaped away with the sudden fleetness of a animal--then landed a terrible blow against One's back. One zipped about uncontrolled for a several seconds before regaining stability.

"Give it up, One," Tyler shouted.

"Give up!" the monstrosity raged, as the wind whipped past. "What are you, some sort of fool?" A sudden blast of black light hit Tyler squarely in the chest. He fell back, his forcefield flickering. "You give up, you shit!"

"No!" shouted Tyler, "I'm a man, One, I'm a man, and I've got something to fight for! What have you got, huh? Nothing!" he screamed with all his force. "Nothing!"

"What have I got?" One shouted. Twisting in its own black force, it laughed. "Look at my glorious creation--look at my City of Time, you fool!"

"It's nothing!" Tyler shouted. Above the giant towers which surrounded them, the sky began chasing, the clouds upon it rushing eerily by at tremendous speed. "This is what I think of your city!" Tyler spat, making his forcefield flicker with spittle and blood. "Yeah, it's a big city--and you're the only person it!"

"No!" howled One. "I have my acolytes, I have my victims, I have my specimens--I'm a scientist, don't you see--don't you see! I am the Master of Time!" And the clouds above One spun even faster.

"You're the Master of Squat!" Tyler yelled. "You're not a man. You're a coward--a coward! And I'm betting you can't take it!"

"Don't tell me what I can't take--I'll show you I'm something--"

The blast of black light threw Tyler across the grass, into the river. He clambered out of the water, his forcefield flickering sporadically--another blast of black light, and Tyler hit the dirt hard enough to leave a deep impression as his forcefield reacted violently to the blast--

"How much you got left?" One taunted. "What's its power level--twelve? Ten?"

The power level was five, and the forcefield was hot, the ground was smoking--"How much longer?" One laughed hysterically. "You're as good as dead--"

A loud thunder shook the towering buildings. "What?" One said, spinning from Tyler. And above the towering buildings, above the empty, sprawling metropolis, the voluminous flickering forcefields which encompassed the City faded.

The clouds stilled. The hum of the City stopped, and everything became silent.

"No," said One.

Tyler rose, his forcefield sparking dangerously. He looked round the buildings, looked round the sky. "Hey," he said weakly, "What's all that in the distance?"

"I don't know," said One, taking a forward step. "I--" One looked up--"The fields!" he cried. "They're gone! Someone turned off the time mechanisms!"

"What?" Tyler asked. His forcefield was flashing, crackling and smoking--

"The city's undefended--the time fields--the time fields--without them I'm powerless!" One spun toward its city, only to find Tyler.

"Powerless, huh?" Tyler asked.

One tried to flee but Tyler tackled him. "Get away from me!" One screamed, "Get away from me--"

But of neither of them spoke ever again when Tyler's forcefield exploded.

* * *


* * *

Rosalie's hands fell from the controls. "That's it?" she asked the strange, glowing disc.

"I think that it," the disc said, "I think that's it--Tyler managed to distract One long enough for us to do it--damn, I never thought One would be so conceited as to leave this place unguarded. One's defenseless now, let's go find Tyler. Quickly, follow me."

Rosalie followed the disc, through the winding corridor which led from the Control Tower in the middle of the city. They were running through the streets toward Tyler's last known location when they heard the explosion.

Afterwards, by the river they found a crater in the ground, parts of it covered with blood. "Where's Tyler?" asked Rosalie slowly.

Below the disc appeared the image of an old man, tired and worn. "Wait while I scan the place," he said. The disc shimmered. "I'm not sensing One anywhere, but. . .oh my god. Tyler's forcefield. It must have blown. . ."

"What forcefield?" Rosalie asked impatiently. "Where's Tyler?" When the old man did not answer, "Where's Tyler?" she insisted, more strongly with each moment, "Where's Tyler?"

* * *


* * *

In a white room.

"Rosalie," Tyler kept saying, "Rosalie. . ."

"It's okay," Joy whispered. "You rescued her, Tyler. One went back in time and retrieved Rosalie before he killed her, I suspect with the notion to torture both of you at once. But he end up only rescuing your beloved, Tyler. You won."

"Rosalie. . ."

"She's alive."

"That's. . .wonderful. . ."

"Yes," said Joy, though with perhaps a hint of sadness. "Your forcefield, Tyler. It blew, taking out One. . .and you. But Tyler, do you know what you've done? You killed One. The Professor said that was impossible, but once he and Rosalie deactivated the fields. . ."

"One's dead?"

"Yes, Ty. One is dead. Now dream, Tyler. You've had a long run, so just dream. Dream of Rosalie, Tyler."

"My son. . .I want to see him. . .I can teach him something now. . ."

"Don't worry, he's fine."

"My son, my. . ."

"He's fine. Dream of him, Tyler, dream of him."

"Yes," said Tyler, a slow smile beginning on his face, as his flesh turned white. "Dream of my son and Rosalie. . .what could be better. . ."

Tyler drifted away.

"Welcome home," said Joy sadly to his smiling face, while the room slowly darkened. "It's all going to be okay now. Only good things will happen now. Yes," she said to the dreaming face, "All just masks behind time, Tyler, all just masks behind time." Reaching, she slowly lifted his visor, then gently removed it from his head. Cuddling him in her arms, she said or did she weep, "Just masks of time, just masks of time. Welcome to Heaven, Tyler. Welcome to Heaven."

* * *


* * *

"Why did he have to die!" Rosalie screamed. "There was no reason--no reason! You can't just trade one death for another! You can't, can't, can't!"

"Don't you understand?" said the Professor helplessly. "He died for you."

"No!" Rosalie screamed, "It's not fair, it's not fair--"

"No, it's not," said a strange, musical voice. Witherspoon and Rosalie turned, and behind them stood a woman who glowed white.

"Who's. . .that?" Rosalie asked.

"They call me Joy," said the woman. "I have come here to live up to my name."

* * *


* * *

They had fixed the red bridge.

Near the river side grew flowers, sweet pink ones and reds. By the river was a bench, and on it sat a young woman, admiring the roses. And behind her rose red towers which amazed the height of the sky.

A man in black walked through the lush greenery, past the babbling river. He sat on the bench beside the woman, and touched her yellow dress. "It's all been arranged," he said. "Joy will be along in a moment."

"It's going to be ours?" Rosalie asked with amazement. Tyler nodded slowly. "Wow," said Rosalie dreamily. She put her arms round Tyler, and in a sudden move which made Tyler bush, snuggled close. To complete the gesture she touched his Matrix and lifted the visor.

"Why do you do that?" Tyler asked. "It's disconcerting."

"I like your eyes," she said.

"You don't even bother wearing your Matrix anymore," Tyler complained. "Don't you want to control time."

"Tyler," said Rosalie gaily, "If I never see a watch or clock or matrix again it will be too soon." She laughed. "But you'll learn. Someday you'll toss that Matrix aside and just forget about time. That's when life's at its best. When you just forget about time."

"I watched you die," said Tyler. Rosalie's smile faded. "I saw you die right inside your eyes, Rosalie. Sometimes I still remember."

"Oh," said Rosalie, seeming troubled and confused. Then she smiled. "I'm here now."

"She's here now," said a musical voice. They both looked up, into the sunlight. Joy stood before them, bathed almost too perfectly in its rays. "Ohhh," Rosalie moaned, and seemed to go into a slight trance, as she always did in Joy's presence.

"Why does she do that?" Tyler asked.

"She responds to Joy," the white woman said with a smile. "Perhaps someday you will learn, too."

"What, so that things like One can get me unawares?"

Joy laughed. "Ever the man, the warrior," she said. "You two compliment each other perfectly. When will you be married?"

"Married?" Tyler asked with confusion.

But Joy simply laughed. "Never mind. Let me perform but one more ceremony, and then I will shall leave for a while. I leave the Professor with you. He is now in the laboratory, and he will serve you well."

"Thank you," said Tyler.

"And now," said Joy, her smile and demeanor subdued, yet in the sun she seemed somehow breathlessly glorious, "I have one last ceremony to perform. Tyler and Rosalie, do you both agree to become Guardians of the City of Time?"

"Yes," said Rosalie without hesitation.

But Tyler did hesitate. "Guard it from what?" he asked. "And why?"

"Someday," said Joy, "This city shall be used for the good of human kind. That day will come. Until then, you must maintain it, and promise only to use it for the benefit of Good. There is a story in this city, and someday, it will be told. But not today." And if possible Joy glowed more brightly. "Today is the story of Tyler and Rosalie. Today is a new day. Tyler, will your guard the city--and your bride?"

"My bride?"

"Rosalie, you silly fool."

A long, silent pause.

"Yes," said Tyler finally. "Witherspoon has showed me around. This would be a good place to raise my son."

"Yes," said Rosalie eagerly, "A good place to raise the sun."

"Then may it be," said Joy. And she vanished.

Rosalie shivered. "God, I love her," she moaned.

But Tyler was silent, musing. "You realize we can never leave here," he said. "If we do, the time fields won't protect us. We'll die. The only reason we're alive now is because of some time trick of the city--but if we leave. . ."

"The same is true for our son," Rosalie said gently. "For if I had died, he never would have been born."

"Damn, that's right. . ."

"We're stuck here," said Rosalie. "But that's not bad, Tyler. This place is better than we've ever known. Maybe we can start a life here."

"Yes," said Tyler. "In the red City of Time."

"Silly you," said Rosalie, "So depressed all the time. Don't you realize, Tyler? We're in Heaven, that's where we are. We're in the City on Forever. And we'll watch the stars birth and die, for time is meaningless now, Tyler. Here we have all the time in the world."

"All the time in the world," said Tyler. And briefly, he smiled.

Rosalie put her arms around. "It's just like in my roity tales," she said, looking him in the eyes. "Or fairy tales, as the Professor calls them. He bluntly told me that my life and yours was nothing but a time travel fantasy. You believe that?"

"No," said Tyler. "He was just pulling your leg."

Rosalie laughed. "Well, you know how all time travel fantasy stories end, don't you?"

"No, how?"

She kissed him, long and hard. "Well," she said, holding him while he gasped afterwards, "They all end with 'Once upon a time.'"



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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