The red sun refracted through the ancient glass bottle, transforming it into a stellated jewel. Zephyr ignored her old bones and laid on her stomach, across the wind worn stone and plastic gravel; she steadied her arm and aimed the matter gun. The glass bowed inward, the jewel flexed, and then was replaced by a gray smoking pop.
Zephyr sighed and rolled over onto her back. The pink sky enveloped her completely and she felt as if she would fall away into the endless void above. And then there was a thunderclap.
She inched herself up, looked around, saw nothing, no clouds in the sky, no 'truders on the horizon. No beasts roaming. She looked down into the entrance to her underground, hollowed-out home. Perhaps something fell off a shelf--another crack. Zephyr snapped to a crouch and sniffed the air delicately. It was definitely from above.
A large drop of water splashed onto her nose and then there were more, big gobs of water, buckets, thrashing down in weighty blows, as if the parched earth, now centuries without rainfall, was willing it from the atmosphere itself through sheer spite. Zephyr cowered, then scrambled for the safety of the hollow, climbed down the ladder and shut the hatch. She looked up through the window, finally becoming clean and clear. There was still no cloud, no source, just pink and the edge of the red sun.
And in a minute it was done.
"I'll be damned," she whispered to herself, since there was no one else there, and even if there were, those 'truders, they didn't understand her language.
Suddenly a shadow passed over the hatch and Zephyr screamed. There was a knock on the plastic hatch.
"Zephyr Alameda Smith?" asked the shadow.
Zephyr bit her lower lip and readied the matter gun.
"I gots you in my sights!" she screamed, her voice a shrill, menacing rasp.
The shadow backed away from the hatch.
"Well, there's no need for that," said the shadow.
"You a 'truder? You know what I do with 'truders?"
"I'm not sure. I don't think so? What do you think?"
Zephyr thought for a minute, blinking her veiny brown eyes. Her weapon hand started shaking. Her palsy was acting up.
"I uh..." she struggled in reaching a conclusion. Her memory of her previous life, before coming to the hollow, was hazy at best. It had been over three hundred years. "You don't speak like a 'truder. I hates their noises. All squeaks and squeals and retching. Isn't normal."
"Then I must not be a 'truder," said the shadow.
Zephyr squinted her eyes, doubtful.
"Maybe you're a different kind of 'truder. Maybe you're a 'truder like me."
"Look, you are Zephyr Alameda Smith, aren't you?"
"Um...what's it to you?"
"If you are, then I'm here to tell you that your sentence is commuted. I'm here to collect you as well. Open the hatch and we can talk about this."
Zephyr mashed her lips together and pulled at her thin hair and struggled to remember more. Her mind flashed back to snatches of the trial: the feel of the cuffs on her wrists, the judge's weeping nose and cold-affected voice, the wasp that was buzzing at the corner of the window.
She lowered the matter gun and climbed the ladder back up to the hatch, unscrewing and opening it. She poked her head up like a prairie dog. There was a tall, fit figure standing in front of her, dressed in flowing black robes. He or she looked to be genderneutral, but it was hard to tell. Behind he or she, about twenty feet, was a black obelisk, floating five feet from the ground. Zigzag stairs descended down. There was no movement.
"Who are you?" asked Zephyr.
"Your new lawyer," said the shadow. "My name is Asaph Roko. Esquire."
"Never heard of you."
"No, you wouldn't have. I'm from your former future. I was born about four thousand years after your incarceration. I wrote my thesis on your case, and discovered a discrepancy in the original evidence submitted for trial. Turns out you were innocent."
Zephyr scowled. She climbed up and out of the hollow entrance, and aimed the matter gun at several pebbles and removed them from existence. The shadow lawyer held up his or her hands.
"Been here over three hundred years!" screamed Zephyr. "Don't actually know how many because the counter down there gave out some time ago! Got started being afraid the other gadgets would go out too! I'd be left here to fend for myself against the mercy of the 'truders and the sun and the unending dry! And don't even get me started about not being able to talk to another single creature!"
"I'm sorry that--"
"What are you?!"
"Are you a man or a woman?"
"Oh. Oh yes, in your time gender was still a big deal. I'm currently a man. I've been a woman in the past, and a hermaphrodite in college," the lawyer chuckled, "but I was born a neutral. Does that bother you?"
"No. Four thousand years huh?"
"Why didn't you come here when I was first incarcerated? Why'd you wait three hundred years?"
The lawyer sighed, then sat down cross-legged on the gravel.
"If you recall, there were multiple charges against you. I was only able to clear the mass murder charge. Your sentence for conspiracy, hacking, and theft of government weaponry, still stands. Three hundred years covers the minimum time. I still believe you're innocent of all charges, but there wasn't anything I could work with."
Zephyr eyed the lawyer and then stowed the matter gun in her hip pouch.
"You're going to tell me I'm lucky to have you," said Zephyr.
"No, of course not. I have a lot of admiration for you. I wouldn't be so crass. This may sound empty, but the penal code that's stood for thousands of years is incredibly unjust, and you've been a victim of it. To be shipped off to the end of the Earth, in the centuries preceding the sun's nova, with nothing more than a self-sustaining shelter buried in the ground is bad enough, but to have immortality forced upon you, against your basic human rights and your will--well, it's barbaric."
"Yeah. Whatever. I don't care at this point."
The lawyer blushed and looked at his folded feet.
"I understand how you must feel--"
"No you don't. You have no idea," said Zephyr with a growling bite in her voice. The lawyer nodded.
"You're going to take me back to four thousand years in my old future, aren't you?"
"Yes. If you want to come. There's a fund set up for you already and you will have a place to live while you adjust and reintegrate."
"Hmmm. But the immortality can't be reversed."
"So I'll end up here again someday."
"We have star travel now. It was developed from the temporal displacement research. You don't have to stay on Earth."
"I was hoping that damn star would blow! Any day now!"
"Not for another four hundred years, actually. And you'd have to spend most of that down in your habitat."
"Do you know how cruel it is to sentence someone to a place like this, for an eternity mind you, and remove all ability to commit suicide? I tried, so hard, to have an accidental death, but that mind programming--holy hell that programming! I'd like to give the inventor of that a piece of my mind. He's probably dead and happy."
"I don't know who that is specifically--"
"Dead. And. Happy."
The lawyer looked at her and tried to read the expression on her face, but it was not one he'd ever encountered before.
"Really, you can't possibly want to stay here?" he asked.
Her face relaxed. She scanned the horizon, then looked back at the lawyer.
"You brought water to the desert," she said finally.
"What--yes. Well that's the from the atmospheric disturbance caused by the temporal displacement--"
"I know what it is. Physically. But I consider it an omen." She looked at him sternly. "I will return with you. To the past. To my future. To your present. But I will not thank you."
The lawyer nodded then stood quickly.
"I understand," he said. "Are there any belongs that you'd like to collect before--"
"Nope. I have some crap I scavenged from the last dregs of humanity's trash, but I can part with it. I'd like to leave immediately if it's all the same to you."
"Yes of course," said the lawyer, smiling.
"I'm happy to be rid of the 'truders. Hate the 'truders. Bane of my existence."
They walked up the zigzag stairs and disappeared into the face of the black obelisk. When they left, it rained in that spot for half an hour.