Once, long ago, Wilma strangled her devil-conscience. Now her left shoulder is bare and she is immortal.
“Ow!” says Wilma.
Her angel-conscience is hitting her.
“What?” she asks.
“I’m hitting you to make you better,” says her angel-conscience. “Assault for empathy and battery for wisdom!”
“Ow,” mutters Wilma, again.
She’s on the arena planet. She moves through the crowds like a guttersnipe does, with her eyes downcast and her body language pulled in. People are roaring and mingling and mumbling all around her. They don’t notice her, because they’re all too important and too busy to notice someone like her.
She’s wearing a crinkling silver jumpsuit, like a futuristic woman should. She’s pulled her hair tightly back into a ponytail, and let it return—after many millennia—to its natural red. She’s blending in so that no one finds her.
And on the electronic billboard it advertises the fight between her lovers, the fight that their presence in the 25th century has made inevitable, a fight she cannot bear to watch:
Buck vs. the Flintstone Man, the billboard screams.
“It’s possible,” says Wilma, as she squirms between two knots of people, making her way steadily towards the dock, “that I have empathy and wisdom already.”
The angel hits her on her right shoulder.
There is a burst of sound. The announcer’s voice booms out:
“FROZEN IN SPACE . . .
“Frozen for millennia by a freak combination of gasses, the Flintstone Man awakens in the savage world of the 25th century! Here he must strive with his obsidian monoknife and his barbaric foot-powered starship to defeat his enemy. FLINTSTONE! DESTROY ALL SPACEMEN! MELEE!”
Wilma covers her head in her hand.
“What?” the angel says.
“I give him 38 seconds,” says Wilma.
“35,” argues the angel. Then the angel hits Wilma again.
The announcer roars over the shrieking of the crowd:
“FROZEN IN TIME . . .
“Coincidence—or destiny? Flung forward in time, frozen by a similar freak combination of gasses, this 20th century primitive found himself falling in love with the Flintstone Man’s ancient wife! Now, trapped on an arena planet, forced to battle for survival, he so far refuses to kill his enemies—but will he kill his savage rival for love? BIDIBIDIBIDIBIDI TO THE DEATH, BUCK!”
“Ancient?” cries Wilma.
“In fairness, if you hadn’t killed your entropy, you’d be grayer than a Balthusian dawn,” the angel says.
Wilma steadies herself. She sighs.
“You’re right,” she says. “I guess.”
So she resumes her walk.
“You could go back,” says the angel-conscience. “You could save one of them.”
“I could,” Wilma concedes. “But they’ve turned up a flash-frozen 23rd century feminist out by Aldebaran, and I hear he’s hot.”
“Oh-oh,” says the angel.
They move on.
These are a few of the shouts from the crowd, as Wilma picks her way towards the dock and the billboards count the time:
“He’s got a dinosaur! Oh God! The teeth!”
“Yabba! Yabba! Yabba! Yabba!”
“Orbital ballistics? Stupid primitives and your booster rockets! Get an inertialess drive!”
Then there is a horrible cauterized noise and all is still.
The billboards shine forth green numbers: “37.06. Buck.”
“Oh my God!” says one of the rich women in front of Wilma. She’s holding up a ticket. “37.06 seconds! I called it!”
She frantically stuffs the ticket in her purse. It does not stuff well, and as the woman runs towards the ticket counter, the ticket sproings out and flutters flutters flutters down to the bleacher floor.
“Punch!” says the angel-conscience.
“Ow! Stop that.”
“Punch!” says the angel-conscience. “It makes you better.”
Wilma is looking down at the ticket. She is warring with herself.
“Ow! Stop that.”
“It makes you better,” says the angel smugly.
But Wilma has picked up the ticket. She is holding it tightly. She is realizing that she has the chance to leave the arena planet not just free but also rich.
“Punch! Makin’ you better!”
“It doesn’t seem to be working,” Wilma points out.