To Sapphire & Steel Hub

Sapphire and Steel

by P. J. Hammond
Episode # 6, Final by Default

"The Trap"

Transcripted by Jill





Roundabout 1980

Garbage, paper, dead leaves... all blew along the cement lot on which the service station sat. Empty. Silent. All the lights were on and shining welcome into the night. There was a stand of Castrol Motor Oil, there was a poster advertising India Tyres. There was a large white placard saying 'no smoking' in red letters, and a sign for 7up. The sign in the window of the cafe said 'open' and within the service reception room stood a blue eyed woman, her face expressionless, her golden hair feathered soft and dusting over her fine-drawn eyebrows, the back of it well past her shoulders.

She was beautiful as the sunset, as still as a statue until she blinked. She wore a dark blue summer dress with a scoop neck, and blue nylons, and it was comfortable in the evening warmth. She moved away from the window. She opened a door behind her and looked into the area beyond. The garage work area was empty, with only a bicycle, some automobile tires and assorted equipment along the walls. There were two cups on the counter, one green and one white with blue stripes, and a clear plastic bag full of some material sitting beside them. She crossed the room, still looking around.

"What is it?" spoke a man from behind her.

She answered quietly, "A service station, some kind of halfway place," and turned to join him where he had appeared near the bike, staring at a poster of a monkey, and the words at the top of it which said, 'don't monkey around.'

He wore a dark gray business suit and stood stiffly, his back straight. He had gray eyes in a pale, square face, eyebrows down as though he was perpetually troubled. He was handsome, but in an ordinary way. It was the watchfulness of his eyes that lent to his appeal.

He glanced around the silent room, puzzled. "And the time?"

"The present," she informed him. She smiled at him as she moved in front of him to the wall to pick up some of the bits and pieces lying around.

She was Sapphire and he was Steel, and they were there because something was very, very wrong.

Steel's lips twisted in consternation and he crossed to where a calendar graced the wall, full of images of lovely, bikini-clad women. He was only interested in looking at the dates. He flipped the pages. July. August. September. There was a poster beside it of feet walking on a sidewalk, garbage lying on the ground and a hand reaching for it. The heading said 'Pick it up.' He moved away, frowning. "Inhabited?" he asked her.

She shrugged slightly, still studying the walls. "I don't know, I haven't looked yet."

Steel glanced inside a cabinet and found nothing of interest, so he slammed it shut. "Well, let's look." He turned and stalked out of the room. Sapphire smiled slightly and followed him.

They stood outside under the bright lights of the station. Beyond, the sky was dark from horizon to horizon. He asked, "Time of day?"

"8:54 PM," she replied calmly. They glanced inside the empty building, then she turned to look out of the property.

"What is the time of year?" he asked pensively.

"Summer. Mid-July." There was no breeze and the air smelled dry.

"I wonder if there's anybody running this place," Steel grumbled, then jumped as an unexpected male voice spoke.

"There isn't." They both turned in surprise. The other man wore a light gray jacket, a silver breastcoat, a tie that matched the jacket on a very light gray shirt. His hair feathered about his face, dark red and soft. This was Silver, who leaned against the doorway to the reception and regarding them solemnly, then smiled and came to join them. "Apart from us, there're only two other people here." Sapphire smiled back at him and clasped her hands happily behind her back. He raised a hand and pointed beyond them. "And they arrived in that." 'That' was a silvery classic car, license plate OXL 481. It sat beside the service island, gleaming under the lights. He laid his left hand familiarly over Sapphire's nearer shoulder. "I've given it a quick visual examination, but I'm sure you -- "

Steel was studying the vehicle intently from his position behind them. He cut in firmly, "And the result of your visual examination?" He turned his gaze questioningly on Silver, who peered back at him briefly over Sapphire's shoulder.

The red-head considered the vehicle for a moment. "I'd say the car was manufactured in 1946." Sapphire nodded agreement with an amused 'mmhmm,' and a small, approving smile that turned to astonishment when Silver added with trepidation, "But it's no more than two years old."

Steel asked sternly, "Where are they?"

The question startled Silver out of his bemusement. "Hmm? Oh. They're in here." He moved forward to where they could easily see inside the cafe, through the window over the 'no smoking' placard. There were the two people, seated together at a far table. Their hair and clothing placed them firmly in the late 1940s.

The man had thick, curled dark hair and a swarthy complexion that had been out of the sun too long. He wore a gray tweed suit, white shirt and striped tie. He clasped his hands together on the orange tabletop in front of him, and his lips moved as he spoke to the young woman seated next to him.

Her hair was so dark brown as to be almost black. Her skin was fair enough to be ashen. Her clothes were a pale peach, her cap sat at an angle on her head with a bit of netting to fall over her forehead. Her eyelids sagged, below and above, both making her eyes appear wide, and half asleep. And when she looked at them, her pale eyes were wide and desperate. Her lips were slightly parted, looking bitten, to show the gap between her even, white teeth.

The three observers stood in the room between the service entrance and the cafe. Sapphire stared in at the two people through the double door of the cafe and said, "They go with the car."

Silver affirmed worriedly, "Yes."

The sound behind them, of something knocked loose and falling, drew them around. Steel had set a jackpot machine going. He was watching it cycle, and Silver came over to see what he was doing. Not looking at him Steel asked, "Have you questioned them?"

Silver looked down at the machine, rubbing his hands. "No, not yet. I thought I'd leave that to you." Steel glared at him with mild annoyance and started to move away towards the doors. Silver threw mockingly over his shoulder, "I'm not very good at intimidation." Steel paused in mid-step to look back at him, raised his eyebrows and turned away. Sapphire smiled at Steel teasingly as he passed her, and she moved to join Silver, folding her hands behind her back.

Steel stared in at the couple, disturbed. He watched the woman smile as she talked to the man. "Are they real? I mean, do you believe them?"

Sapphire watched quietly, her face pensive, as Silver put a coin in the machine and answered, "Well, I've been given no reason to disbelieve them. So far, that is." He drew a tool from his pocket and considered the machine

Sapphire shook her head and stared thoughtfully at nothing in particular. "A couple and a car. Two people and a machine, driving here from 1948. To this place? To this time-period?" She met Silver's embarrassed look with a frown and he flushed.

"Well, I did say so far," he pointed out, and set the jackpot machine going. He used his small tool and forced the machine to jackpot, grinning smugly as he gathered up the released coins. "After all, perhaps this side could be wrong!"

Steel, distracted first by the sound of the falling coins, turned and came to him at his words, stiff and nervous. He watched Silver intently. "What do you mean, this side could be wrong?"

Silver was happily putting another coin in the machine. As he spoke, he set it going and caused another jackpot. "Well, why not? After all, this seems just as perfectly set in its period as these people do in theirs. But one side has to do it."

"And this side?" Steel demanded.

Setting for yet another jackpot, Silver glanced at Steel. "Well, that's also a little odd."

"Tell us."

He did not answer right away as he started gathering the coins from the last jackpot, this one on yellow bells. Sapphire grinned at him and moved around to his left. "Silver, you're supposed to gamble."

Startled, he looked at her, lips parted in confusion. "Gamble?"

She nodded, her eyes twinkling. "Yes, sometimes you're supposed to lose -- well, most times you're supposed to lose."

He stared at her in total astonishment, then understanding crossed his features and he grinned. "Oh! I wondered why I wasn't enjoying it." He bent down to gather the rest of the coins.

Steel sighed in exasperation and glared at Silver. "I said tell us."

Silver flicked a coin to Steel, who caught it automatically and then glowered in frustration as the red-head spun on his heel and hurried outside, long strides eating the ground. Sapphire was right on his heels, forcing Steel to take up the rear. Silver stopped out in front of the door, running his finger thoughtfully along his upper lip. Sapphire stood beside him. Facing the car and gesturing to indicate where he stood, he said, "Now, I was standing here -- Now, I was told, uh, you were told there was going to be a time break." Silver glanced over to Sapphire once as he spoke. Steel came up to look between their shoulders at the vehicle parked at the island. "So I was sent here to watch and to wait. And then the car arrived. But I think the time break had happened quite a time before that."

Steel asked grimly, "Did you see it arrive?"

Silver met Steel's eyes with slight distress before turning back to the vehicle. "Well I... I should say it appeared. I didn't hear it approach!"

Steel touched Sapphire's arm gently. "Could you do it?"

She nodded. "Yes."

Steel moved past her, closer to the car. He fiddled with the coin Silver had given him and stared at the vehicle. "Show me."

Sapphire turned to Silver, who had raised his brows in realization of what was to happen, and he smiled a warm, welcoming smile, saying to her, "I'd love to," as she reached out and placed her hands tenderly on either side of his head. Now was not the time to indulge in the warmth of his hair or the perfect curve of his skull under her hands, but she could acknowledge them even as she used her power. It had been increasing as she and Steel worked together, and her eyes shone violet as she used Silver as a touchstone to bring back exactly what he had seen.

First the intense brightness of the headlights, then the car coming into focus as the sound of its engine reached his ears. The vehicle stopped, its driver and passenger looking at each other, then the man opening the door, which swung out from the front end of the vehicle. Silver's faint bemusement as the two stepped onto the cement and stared up in amazement at the curious, bright lights above them. The woman looked around then exclaimed, delighted, "What on Earth is it?"

It finished, Sapphire releasing Silver's memories with a tender caress of her thoughts. Before she could lower her hands he took her left in his right and kissed her palm tenderly, then pressed his cheek into it. She smiled and turned to look back at Steel, who was still staring at the car.

Steel was considerably perplexed. He did not even look their way as he asked, "What's your opinion?"

Realizing Steel's question was for him, Silver gave Sapphire's hand a slight squeeze, then gamboled to Steel's side. "Opinion?"

"Yeah, you've been here, you've been watching. What do you think's going on?" He turned his head to see Silver reflecting his own bewilderment.

"I think..." Silver turned to face Steel directly, his emotions writ large on his face, the confusion and wonder he felt. As Sapphire joined them, he gestured sheepishly, "Well, I'm almost sure... that there's no time here." He stuck his hands in his pockets and met Steel's somber gaze with pursed lips. "Not anymore."

Sapphire passed around behind him and commented, "You mean it's stopped." She disappeared around the side of the island.

He shifted to follow her movement, gesturing his explanation in waving hands. "Yes. Well it's a kind of a... a pocket. Like a vacuum. Yes, yes, you could say that there's no time here anymore." He moved around the side of the shining vehicle.

Steel raised his voice slightly. "Evidence?"

Pausing, Silver waved out towards the distant road. "Well, the traffic. You can hear it...." He stepped around to the other side of the island, where Sapphire leaned against one of the cubed pillars.

She prompted him gently, "Yes?"

He stared into the darkness and pointed, squinting his eyes. "You see the through-road would be ah, well right about there." Then he waved out towards the distant highway. "Ah, but listen to those sounds."

From beyond bushes that lay past the white picket fence with the 'no exit' sign, beyond the post with the red and yellow sign saying, '2 star 133, 4 star 135, cash & credit cards' came the rumble and buzzing of vehicles passing. In the space of each second the sound rose and fell, then repeated.

Sapphire understood at once. "It's the sound of the same vehicles passing."

Silver nodded, waving his finger across the air in front of him to indicate the road. "Yes, you see the ones that would have been passing when the time break occurred." Beyond them Steel was studying the car, and he looked up at their words.

Sapphire frowned. "There's still traffic, but they're not going anywhere." Steel stepped up onto the island and listened beside them, while Silver pursed his lips in frustration. Sapphire's senses shifted and picked up a clue she had not been listening for. "The time!"

Steel looked at her, frowning. "What about it?"

"It's still 8:54."

Silver grinned from in front of her and chuckled. "Yes, it's been 8:54 for the past six hours. Ever since I got here." He turned to them and pointed beyond to the cafe. "But all the clocks are still working. They don't tell us what the right time ought to be, but they are still working." He pulled his pocketwatch out and held it up to show them. "You see?"

Steel came over and took the watch from Silver's hand. The hands showed 8:54. He gazed at its white face in some perplexity before frowning up at Silver, then glancing at Sapphire and spinning back towards the service station. As an afterthought he hurled the watch back to its owner..

Silver leaped for it with a dismayed cry, and caught it with relief. "Thank you," he told Steel, refusing to be angered.

Steel led them into service reception, with GTX and other odds and ends for sale. Sapphire followed him in and stepped to the customer side of the white counter, reading items on it with her power. Steel looked up at the large clock on the wall, the white hands on the red face at 8:54. The second hand kept flicking back to the same place. He stared at it for a moment, then asked, "What's normal time?"

Sapphire questioned him softly, "Normal time?"

"Yes, time as it is." Nervous, he turned around and met her eyes where she stood behind the white counter, where service orders hung below and Silver was beyond her, his back to them, looking through the things on the shelves. "You remember that. What is it?" He came over to her and looked curiously at the old cash register.

She was setting some pamphlets in their stand and paused just for an instant to retrieve the information. "Three minutes, twenty-three seconds after midnight."

Steel hit the cashout key on the register, and with a ring the drawer came out. He studied its contents curiously and began lifting out some of the paper money. He turned his voice to Silver. "And you've been here for six hours."

"Roughly, yes," replied the other agent, still absorbed in the shelves.

Steel counted the bills and grumbled, "So what does that tell us, that it happened at 8:54 PM yesterday? The day before? When?" He glowered at them.

Sapphire smiled slightly, playing with some dark red knitting she had found on the counter. "I don't know."

Silver had finally abandoned the shelves and stood at Sapphire's side. He met Steel's eyes and suggested, "Well perhaps the radio can tell us."

Steel blinked in surprise. "Radio?" Silver nodded upwards and Sapphire's smile broadened as Steel turned. There was a speaker sitting atop the cabinet on his left. Ah. He caught sight of its cord, taped firmly against the door jamb, and reached up to trace it into the next room. He opened the door and found another speaker at the end of the wire, fastened to the gray painted, brick wall. Surprised, he quickly found the other speaker wire at floor level and began to follow it.

Sapphire had begun to work on the knitting, enjoying the puzzle of making the scarf. She glanced over her shoulder at Silver and hooked her head. He nodded understanding and moved to the other side of the counter, even as Steel came out of the other room following the wire.

It went around the back of the cabinet they had found the first speaker atop, and Steel pounced to open the doors. There at the bottom lay a radio, atop some dusty boxes. Steel knelt to turn it on. First some jazzy music, repeating as the second recycled. He switched stations and heard an announcer saying "the referee's mo -- " each station repeating the same second over and over. He felt a certain hopelessness when something else invaded his other ear.

A tinny voice said, "54. Be 8, 54. Be 8." Silver was holding a telephone and had the hand piece solemnly out for Steel. The voice repeating on the phone caused a sense of sheer unease in all three of them, for why should it be that phrase? Steel met Silver's eyes with wide distress.

Sapphire had set the knitting down and stood against the counter, her arms folded at her chest. "Time as it should have been at this place," she clarified.

Silver pulled the hand piece back to his chest. "Is this for us?" he asked uncertainly.

"No," she answered him softly.

He replaced it on its cradle, and felt the first curling of his own fear.

They stared first through the doors, then finally made their way inside the cafe. The man and woman looked up in distressed alertness. The wonder of the place had worn off in the confusion they felt. The man's expression combined distress with a kind of haughty determination. He had a mole over his right eye, was probably close to forty years old, and he kept his lips pinched worriedly shut. There was a faint hint of Asian in the lay of his features. His suit was tweed, his tie brown.

Though the music they had set going still played, it did not reassure him as the three strangers came in. He saw first the puzzled frown in the eyes of the shorter man who came in and stopped still behind the first table. The strange style of his clothes and hair made the man nervous. The second man, familiar from earlier, was taller, with gingery hair far longer than a man should wear it, a face constantly in motion with character. The woman in blue who came in last had the oddest hair style, but she was lovely and golden.

The ginger-haired man came closest to them and began playing with the pinball machine next to their table. After a moment the woman came to sit in the chair next to the machine and watch him play. The other man finally stopped staring at them and sat down.

Unnerved by them, he took out his pocket cigarello case and fiddled with it, feeling his woman beside him lean slightly closer. They did not speak to him, and that was upsetting. He shifted slightly, automatically shielding his woman from them, and opened his case to take out a cigarette. It gave him some small comfort as he held it between his fingers. His voice was loud in the silent cafe when he asked, "Are you going to show more surprise than your friend?"

His woman looked at him, then at the three strangers. The blond man sat calmly with his legs crossed, looking totally relaxed. The ginger-haired man whom they had met first stared at them, along with the golden haired woman. At last, the blond man asked, "Surprised?"

"Yes. He didn't show any."

Steel did not blink, but watched the man steadily. "Well, suppose you tell us why we should be surprised?"

The man tapped his cigarette to pack the tobacco, and looked as steadily as he could at the man. "Because we're here."

"And where is here?"

Oh good heavens. These people were stringing him along. "Oh, come on now! I've no doubt you represent authority, and I suppose he sent for you!" He put his cigarette in his mouth and eyed them suspiciously.

His woman kept her hands folded tight in her lap, but leaned close to him. He could feel her trembling where their shoulders touched. "It's not a crime," she said urgently. He turned to her and she stared him desperately in the eyes as she continued, "Whatever's happened to us, it can't be a crime, can it?"

He swung his head and agreed, "No."

"Well then, reason with him. Don't argue with him." She pressed the thought upon him as he defiantly lit his cigarette and took a drag of it. Sapphire watched the interaction with calm interest. The pale-eyed young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, looked Sapphire desperately in the eye. "This is the future, isn't it?" Steel watched the young human without saying anything, for they seemed inclined to speak to fill the silence. She shivered and began again, looking away from them. "We were driving. Minding our own business. Suddenly we arrive here, into the future... without warning." Silver listened, raising his eyebrows at the words the girl used. She was controlling herself remarkably, though tears threatened. "That's why we're sitting here. We're not making a fuss. We're just sitting here, waiting. So that perhaps we may go back without warning." At their continued silence, her gaze swept each of their emotionless ones and she lifted her chin, trying to look confident. "This isn't a trick on our part, you know. It's not some sort of a game. I mean... you may think it is -- "

Sapphire cut in gently, "No. No we don't think it is."

The young woman stared at her, relief evident along with a fear she was obviously fighting with all her being. She clenched her purse tight against her stomach and said, "Good. Because I know that this place isn't a game. It's... well I suppose it's how the future would feel, I mean, it even smells and tastes like a different time. It scares me." Her man looked at her as she sounded more and more anguished. He reached out and put his arm around her.

Steel drew in a long breath, sensing that she was finished speaking. More learned, but not enough. He shifted in his seat. "When you were, uh, driving along and minding your own business... what happened?"

Haughtily, the man replied, "Well she's already said!"

Steel glanced at him. "Well, explain it. Explain it to us." At the man's rebellious expression, Steel stood smoothly and came over to him.

With a kind of stoic indignation, the heavy-lidded man began, meeting Steel's steady gaze with a brief, false smile. "We'd taken the Long Toll Turning... it's an old tollbridge road. There's a small garage I know there. It's only got one pump. They sell eggs and fruit, milk. Most people wouldn't know it was a garage." Steel, sensing a long story coming, sat down across from the couple. The man watched him on and off. "Grass and weeds growing all over the place. Chickens running under your wheels. But you can knock on the door any time of the day or night. The old fellow will always serve you." He took another drag of his cigarette, closing his eyes as the nicotine rush hit him.

"So you drove in there?" Steel asked.


Sapphire asked from her seat beside Silver, "Then what?"

Startled by her voice, he turned and looked at her, his brows climbing towards his hair line. "Well then it became this place. Suddenly. Without any kind of warning."

"Were there any people here?" she asked him gently.

He looked away from her, his brow furrowing in puzzlement. "No." He met her eyes again before glancing over meaningfully at Silver who was watching him pensively. "Then he arrived. And he wasn't very helpful."

Silver was too troubled to even be amused. He forced a smile and simply said, "Sorry," and continued to watch the man.

Steel had turned his eyes to the tabletop. "Time of day?" he asked.

Startled again, the man looked at him. "What?"

Steel drew in a breath of impatience, but held. "What was the time of day when you drove in here, through the grass and the weeds and the chickens."

The woman leaned forward, her shoulder brushing the man's as she said quickly, "It was nearly midnight."

Seeming slightly disgruntled, he drew in a breath, looked down then up and said, "Yes. It'd be almost midnight."

Steel eyed him. "And the date?"

The woman answered again. "The 25th of July."

"And the year?" Steel prompted sternly.

The man looked startled by the question and stared at Steel. "1948!"

Perhaps it was their certainty as to the date that alarmed the three agents. Sapphire stiffened and eyed them intently. Steel asked, [Do we believe them?]

She answered him with considerable suspicion, {We can always do tests.}

Silver added, |Even on the car.|

Steel stood up and so did Sapphire. She moved to stand more directly behind Silver, to get a better view of the couple, who watched the three of them with nervous, frightened eyes. Steel started, [Because if they're not what they say they are....]

Silver continued the sentence, rubbing his upper lip thoughtfully, pulling his chin down to stare at the couple intently, |Victims of the time break....|

Steel finished, [Then they could be a part of it.]

|Or all of it.|

Sapphire smiled at their nervous suspicion. {I don't see that.} She turned from them and walked through the door behind her.

Steel searched the service station. There was a brightly lit office across a yard at the back with a sign on the door saying 'private' that of course he went right into. There was a small, orange alarm clock on the neat table that read 8:54.

Silver had gone into the kitchen with Sapphire to look around. He opened the service window, which let him have a clear view of the two people waiting in the main room. He said over his shoulder, "There's quite an age difference between them."

Sapphire smiled slightly. "Yes, about fourteen years."

He turned quizzically. "But they are married?"

"Oh yes, they're married." Silver smiled at that, then bent quickly to look at the two again. Then Sapphire added, "But not to each other." Startled, he looked at her again, caught her small smile and they both stared out at the couple.

In the office, Steel rifled idly through a file cabinet. Closing the top drawer he checked the next one down, which had a kettle, some glasses, and a half-filled bottle of Scotch-Whiskey.

The man and woman were striving to be patient. They looked up when they heard Silver and Sapphire approaching. The man held up his belligerence like a shield, even in the face of Sapphire's smile. He dragged on his cigarette.

Steel turned next to the typewriter on the desk behind him. He sat in the chair and opened drawer after drawer. He found some invoices and then he heard a startling noise, as of metal clashing against metal. He lifted his head and stared towards the cabinet-lined wall to his left. The wall had changed to be covered with posters from the WWI era. There was a little old, bearded man bringing a tire down from a pile of them against the wall. Then, as quickly as it had begun, the scene faded out even as the little old man was turning away with the tire. There were only the filing cabinets against the wall. And the clock beside Steel had advanced almost a full minute.

Sapphire leaned half-sitting against the table nearest the double door. She watched the couple, bemused. The man was a smokestack, continually puffing on a cigarette. A noise of things sliding against each other caught Sapphire's attention and Silver popped up from behind the counter, blushing and saying sheepishly, "Oops." He made his way around to the front near the pinball machine, and smiled disarmingly around at the others. "Well, as the catering staff seem to have deserted us, I'm, uh, quite prepared to cook some food." He looked eagerly back and forth. The man stared at him with an expression of superiority, still blatantly angling his body to block the woman's. Silver was unperturbed and asked him, "So, can I get you something?"

The man had finished his cigarette and packed his case back in his pocket. "No thank you," he said coolly.

Silver put on his best, injured expression. "Well, surely -- "

The man folded his hands together and said with reluctant civility, "We... don't trust it." He seemed to recognize that he was being rude, and flicked his eyes to meet Silver's then away. "We prefer to wait until we get back to our own time."

Silver half-nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but Sapphire's voice overrode him with a touch of amusement. "That might be quite a while."

The man raised his eyebrows at her and said with utmost dignity, "We'll still wait, thank you."

Silver half-shrugged and then moved to settle in the chair opposite the couple. He looked to the woman and asked, "What about you?"

Startled by his attention she stuttered, "Me?"

Silver was intent upon her, however innocent he looked. "He didn't really ask you."

She laughed in surprise. "He doesn't have to." Under the table she brushed her arm against her man.

Silver widened his eyes in innocent disbelief. "Surely you must be hungry?" The man blinked, a faint frown on his forehead, and looked down.

Pink stole across the woman's pale cheeks. "No, I'm not."

Amazement, show amazement. Do not let them know you suspect they are not real. "After that journey?" He glanced at the man, then back to her with laugher in his heavy-lidded eyes. "I mean, thirty-odd years!" He grinned charmingly and encouraged with warmth and laughter she did not seem to know about, "What about an omelet? I can soon get an omelet together. A nice ham omelet." She stared at him, faint disgust on her features, the color high in her cheeks. Her eyes drifted to Sapphire and away.

Smiling, holding back her laughter, Sapphire got to her feet and walked over to them, her hands folded together neatly at her waist. "I'm afraid that would constitute a meat meal away from home."

Silver turned his head to her in confusion. "What?"

She explained mildly, looking down at the couple, "Page 3 paragraph 9 of their ration book, RB1. Half a coupon per person."

"Oh, yes. Of course." Silver was not really certain what she was talking about, but he could feel the discomfort it generated in the man across from him. He turned quizzically. "You do have your ration book?"

The man's lip twisted in annoyance and he narrowed his eyes slightly at Silver. "We don't want the food so you don't get the coupon."

Shrugging slightly, Silver said, "Fair enough," and got up to move away from them.

Glancing up at Sapphire, who still watched them, the man began digging in his pocket and said, "But... if it'll satisfy your curiosity." He drew out his ration book. Sapphire took it, nothing that a few of the coupons from the first page were gone. Silver peered over her shoulder as she flipped through it, neither finding anything wrong. The man watched them, his fingers toying with his lighter.

Steel crossed from the garage, through the door that said 'staff only' and to a position where he could look at the couple sitting in the cafe. He could see nothing new about them and turned away in mild exasperation. Passing the jackpot machine, he could not help but stop long enough to set it going, then forced himself on. Of course he did not get a jackpot, but he had not waited for one. He was staring out at the couple's car. After a moment's hesitation he went out to get a closer look.

Silver had curled into a chair at the table across the way, resting his right hand on his raised knee and rubbing thoughtfully at his lip as he looked about the cafe. Sapphire sat across from the couple, her hands clasped loosely on the tabletop in front of her. The young woman suddenly leaned forward anxiously over her glass of water and said, her voice trembling slightly, "You talk about food. What about those? Those plates? Some haven't even been touched. Those cigarettes and matches on that table. There are coats over the chairs, but there are no people." She stared urgently at Sapphire. When the other woman's expression did not change, only the ginger-haired man in the far chair shifting position to stare at them, she dropped her eyes then raised them again. "And you expect me to eat something. Touch food here. A glass of water is all I want from this place. Because this place terrifies me." Yes, she was very hungry. But she was also very frightened. She glanced down at the glass in front of her and clasped her hand around it anxiously.

Her man turned his head and watched her, the emotions he seemed to hold under such tight control barely flickering. He did not reach out to her, but seemed concerned. Sapphire watched them both with intense, calm interest.

Steel sat in the driver's seat of the car and opened the glove compartment to the right behind the steering wheel. He reached in and drew out a small, yellow box. Tossing it back as useless, he studied the interior. The lights worked, he flicked them on and off. The odometer read 2010 under a speed gauge that counted miles per hour. Steel opened another glove compartment on the passenger side and found three pairs of gloves inside. A black, an orange and a white pair. Among the gloves was a small, silver box. He opened it and brought out a razor blade, silver inside the velvet purple padding. He put it away, closed the glovebox, then twisted in his seat to look into the back. There was a yellow and black plaid blanket, and sticking out from amidst it was a folded newspaper. Steel opened it and patted it flat to see what the date read. It was a Sunday paper addressing 'Opera Nationalized' as the most important heading. The date read July 25th, 1948. Disgruntled, he looked around and got out of the car. He walked to the back and opened the trunk from the handles at the top. There were suitcases inside. Steel opened the compartment in the door that held the spare tire and a jack. He lifted it, feeling the solid weight of its reality, then returned it with mild annoyance.

Silver had hooked a calculator up to the more modern cash register in the cafe. Playfully acting as though he was performing magic, he opened the drawer. Nothing unexpected, only money. He sighed and picked up the calculator. He crossed past Sapphire and sat down in front of the nervous couple. The man eyed him suspiciously, a dark frown on his face. Silver held up the calculator. "This."

The woman asked uneasily, "What about it?"

"Uh, do you know what it is?"

"No," she said softly, and watched it warily as Silver set it down.

Cheerfully Silver began, "It's a simple calculator -- "

She closed her eyes and said, "I don't want to know."

Silver went on, tapping at the small machine. "See, all you have to do is -- "

The man cut him off with controlled belligerence, hands cupped half across the table. "Didn't you hear what she said? We're not interested." He raised his eyebrows determinedly at Silver's bland, innocent expression.

Silver looked down at the calculator in surprise, then up into the man's eyes. "Not even in this?"

The man closed his eyes for a moment and pasted a false smile on his face. "Not even in that."

Across the room, Sapphire leaned against the counter and watched the exchange with amusement. Silver cocked his head, lifting the calculator into his hands and waved around, asking, "Well what about all the other gadgets in this room? Aren't you curious? Don't you want to know what they are, how they work?"

The man answered him simply, "No."

The woman was studiously looking down at the tabletop. Silver gazed at both of them in amazement. "They're things you'll never had seen before! You do surprise me."

The woman jerked her shoulders and looked Silver in the eye intently. "We are interested in only one thing. Getting back to where we belong."

Her man said firmly, "Yes."

Sapphire crossed the room and looked down at them with a gentle, merry smile. "I think what he's trying to say is, why don't you take this back with you to 1948. You could invent it. You could make a fortune," she said laughingly. Silver made an affirmative noise.

The man smiled coldly at her. "We're still not interested."

She looked down, her own smile slightly forced. "That's good. The future should be left intact."

"Quite," he snapped firmly.

"But how many people would consider that?" she asked him, her suspicion of him almost hidden. She met his expression of faint surprise calmly. "I would expect people to take what they could from the future. To make the most of the experience." She paced around Silver and bent to gaze steadily at the young woman. "But not you. All you want is one glass of water." She reached for the glass and, as she spoke, lifted it to hold at the seated woman's eye level. She still remembered the excitement in the girl's voice when the couple had first arrived, and watched her.

Blinking slightly, her voice ghostly, the woman said, "Yes."

Her man reached in front of her and put his fingers on the glass to block whatever it was Sapphire was doing. He set it down on the table. She did not look at him, but continued to stare into the young woman's eyes. Then Steel's voice touched her. [Out here.] She said nothing, simply turned and exited the cafe. Silver smiled at the couple and took the calculator with him, following her.

He passed her as she held the door for him and came to Steel's side. Steel was staring out past the island and asked him, "When you arrived here, did you switch any lights on?"

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Silver answered him, "No, no, they were already on. Why?" He waited questioningly, staring at Steel's face.

Steel's troubled thoughts were clear as he asked, "Well if the time break happened on what was a bright summer evening, why was every single light left on in this place?" Oh, yes. That was definitely odd. Silver sniffed in surprise, frowning. Then Steel glanced at him worriedly. "And there's an image." He moved towards the door where Sapphire stood, next to a poster advertising Marlboro cigarettes and the Grand Prix.

She asked, "Of a person?"

He looked at her and said grimly, "Yes." He led them through the service entrance and indicated the brightly lit office. "An old man. In there. In another building." Somewhat sheepishly he clarified, "Well a part of another building."

He was about to lead them into the office, Silver following on his heels when Sapphire heard a noise and said "Wait," very softly. She joined them, brushing nervously against a post as she turned to watch the area beyond. Both men stopped in mid step and turned. The faint sound of someone moving, then at the far door marked 'private,' they saw the half-visible little old man.

He wore brown clothes, a white scarf. He seemed to have just closed the wide, windowed door behind him, and now bent to pick up a bucket. As he shuffled around, he faded away and only the thinner, plain modern door was there.

Sapphire asked, "That was the image you saw before?"

Steel could not quite affirm that. "Same man, different background." Sapphire moved forward to the next post and stepped into a pocket of cold sensation that tumbled into identifiable sensation with something familiar. She froze and opened her mouth in astonishment. Steel asked softly, "What are you getting?"

Her eyes wide she answered him, "A sense of fear. And violence." She looked at her two companions, her face white.

Steel stepped forward and leaned against a post, his fist clenched at a level with his chin. Silver moved to the other side of the post and Steel asked him with low worry, "It is possible isn't it, for a time break, either by accident or design, to pick up some powerful emotion from the past?"

Silver, his hands deep in his pockets, moved around to meet Steel's eyes, frowning. "You mean like a sort of a side effect, or a follow-through?"

"Yes," Steel met his eyes, questioning, pleading.

Silver pursed his lips and ambled over to where Sapphire stood. He stared towards where they had seen the old man, his brow furrowed. "Hmm, I'd agree with that. A small garage that sells eggs and fruit and milk."

Steel frowned, watching them alertly as they fell into alignment. Sapphire looked at him and said softly, "With grass and weeds growing everywhere." Silver shifted uneasily. There was something very strange about this time break.

Steel pushed through the door into the cafe, past the coatrack with heavy sweaters hanging upon it. He stalked towards the couple who still waited. He said accusingly, "July the 25th was a Sunday."

The man refused to be intimidated. He answered coolly, "Yesterday was a Sunday, yes."

Behind Steel, Silver and Sapphire came in and wandered across the front of the cafe. Steel continued, studying the man. "This small shack of a garage that you drove into...."

Looking slightly puzzled, for every expression he showed was slight, the man asked, "Yes?"

Steel's eyes pierced him. "Was it open on Sunday?"

He shifted. "I've already said. It's open at all hours, any day of the week."

Steel looked down, thinking. "Provided you knock on the door and get the old man to serve you."

He nodded. "That's right."

"What about at midnight?"

He pursed his lips and shook his head, staring at Steel. "It's no different."

Steel shifted his stance. "The old man. How did you know if he was in?" He sat, with an automatic tug on the hem of his pants to keep it set right.

The man regarding him with mild exasperation. "Because he never goes out."

Steel blinked and looked sideways and down, aware of Silver sitting behind him. "I see."

The man shrugged slightly and tilted his head. "Anyway, he always leaves his lights on." Steel looked up at him, surprised. He continued, "All night long. A light, burning in every room. He's a sort of a local joke."

Steel shifted uncomfortably and stared at the man, brow furrowed in confusion. "What?"

"Well a... character." He smiled, somewhat more relaxed than before at the thought of the familiar old man.

Only vaguely understanding, Steel nodded and said, "Ahh," then bit his lips in thought.

The woman spoke, a weary smile on her face as she stared at him. "Why are you asking us this? I mean we're stuck here in the wrong time, in the wrong place. We don't really need unnecessary questions." She looked at him urgently, begging for understanding.

He kept his head hunched between his shoulders and asked, "Where were you going?"

Startled, the man repeated, "Going?"

Steel was getting more and more frustrated. "Yes, where were you going when you drove in here for p -- " he broke off and pointed over his shoulder towards where the car waited outside. He said impatiently, "There are suitcases in your car!"

The man blinked at him in surprise, and the woman said quickly, "Don't answer his questions."

But her man resettled himself with an annoyed sigh, twining fingers more tightly together and stared at Steel defiantly. "You looked, did you?"

Steel gazed back at him with quite an equal burning defiance. "Yes, I looked."

The young woman gave a weak laugh. "I said don't answer his questions. We don't have to."

Sapphire cut in very gently from where she sat on the whole other side of the room, drawing their gazes. "You do have to. If you want us to get you back into your own time."

Steel added coldly, "To face whatever consequences you have to face."

The man's equinamity as he stared in surprise at Sapphire was broken. He spun in outrage on Steel and stood up angrily. "What do you mean, consequences?!" His woman let out a word of protest.

But Steel only looked surprised and said coolly, "I don't know, you tell me."

On his feet, the man huffed and glared down at the fair head below him. "I said what do you mean?!"

Steel stood up, but his voice was far calmer than the situation called for. "Well it's obvious you're both running away from something."

Sputtering, the man puffed out his chest. "Are we?!" He advanced on Steel, who stood quickly and backed away from the threatening presence. He would not let the man touch him until he knew for certain what it was.

The woman called out sharply, "Don't! Don't you think we've had enough?"

And then the room shuddered and rippled. When it finished, the pinball machine filled the air with the sounds of a ball impacting and playing through it. The man turned in surprise, watching the ball as it skimmed through the barriers and finally, without someone attempting to stop it, fell into the hole at the bottom. Steel shifted slightly in surprise.

Silver stared at his coins he had laid on top of the machine and said in amazement, "That's odd, I was thinking of playing that machine."

Then the woman said in fear, "Oh my God, look!" Her man spun about. Her hands, which had been clasped around her glass, were empty. It sat on the opposite side of the table. She gazed at it and said fearfully, "I was holding it."

Sapphire said sharply, "Look."

The man spun around again and they all looked at her. "What?" he demanded.

"Look at the clock." As one, the four turned their heads. The clock on the wall was now locked at 9:04. Sapphire said firmly, "It's moved forward by ten minutes."

Steel's eyes narrowed and he said fiercely, "But our bodies haven't been affected. Only this place has." He crossed the short distance to the man, whose belligerence had faded in the confusion of the moment, and glared at him suspiciously. "So what is it moving forward to?" The man blinked at him, completely bewildered, his brow furrowing.

But Sapphire, reading the disgruntled grumble of time around her, said softly, "To whatever is going to happen... here."

And the clock ticked, this time the second hand covered two seconds before returning to its start point.

Steel listened to the phone as it told him, "... will be 9, 4. Will be 9, 4." Silver fiddled with the dials on the radio, heard the announcer repeating, "is unexpected, is unexpected" and switched channels. He checked the wire, but of course there was nothing the matter with it. And Sapphire walked outside, holding herself against a cold that had nothing to do with the weather. Time was a continual murmur around her, displeased. She stared out towards the road and turned around as the men joined her, rubbing her fingers nervously. Silver passed her and looked out into the night as Steel said, "It's at a standstill again. At four minutes past nine."

Silver agreed, his senses stretched to listen. "Yes, everything's the same. Except for a slight variation, ten minutes' worth." Perplexed, he slowly turned.

Steel frowned. "What about the traffic?"

Sapphire looked at his worried face and said, "Different vehicles this time, but the same kind of repeated sound."

He looked around, his face lit white by the bright lights. He glanced back into the cafe. "Well let's find out some more about those two. There's a loving couple." He met their gazes, Sapphire worried and Silver confused. He said wryly, "Well they are only human, aren't they?" He strode away.

Sapphire shifted uncertainly and Silver put his hands in his pockets. Steel's wry emotions were a balm, reassuring, and Sapphire smiled fondly after him.

Sapphire sat in front of the woman. Steel approached the table, Silver behind him. As the two looked nervously at him, he picked up the woman's glass. The black eyed man watched it uncertainly as Steel took it away. "What happened?" he asked nervously.

"Hmm?" Steel glanced around faux innocently.

His equanimity disturbed, the man said uncertainly, "Well, that sound. Things moving by themselves. Something must have happened."

Steel said simply, "It did," and walked away towards the counter.

Silver slid the chair in front of the man out and slipped into it, saying gently, "You may not have noticed, but time in this place is at a standstill, for the moment."

The man shook his head in confusion. "But that's not possible!"

Sapphire watched him, her expression schooled to careful blandness. "And yet you're here." He looked at her and bit his lips on whatever reply he thought of making.

Steel was staring intently at the glass. He said, "Where did you get this?"

The woman leaned forward slightly so she could see him and answered nervously, "I poured it for myself."

"From where?" he asked.

She nodded towards the counter. "From behind there."

He eyed her for a moment before coming back to the table and holding it out in front of her face. "Would you like it back?"

She shuddered and looked away from him. "No."

He tightened his lips and set it down in front of her. He broadcast in a determined whisper to his companions, [Separate them.]

Silver drew a breath, leaned forward towards the man and said disarmingly, "Um, do you think I might have the keys to your car?"

Startled and suspicious, the man drew back. "What for?"

Silver ignored the question and went on, "And to your suitcases, if you wouldn't mind?"

The fear and confusion was beginning to be pushed aside in the face of his outrage. "As a matter of fact I do mind!"

Silver sat back sheepishly and began to get to his feet. "Oh, well. It makes no difference." He turned and headed for the door.

The man, his eyes widening in suspicion, began to spring to his feet. The woman caught his coat and said urgently, "Don't!" but he ignored her to pursue Silver.

He was growling angrily, "If he tries to get into that car..!"

The woman sprang up and started to go after him, but was prevented by Sapphire gently trapping her against the pinball machine, in a very subtle move. She called anxiously, "Don't! Don't play their game!"

Sapphire moved around to face the woman directly, looking down at her, then moving away from her after the other two. She was left alone with Steel, who regarded her steadily and asked, "What is our game?"

Trembling, she clenched her handbag and started back to her seat. She stared forward in frozen fear. "He's gone outside."

"Yes," Steel confirmed, going to the pinball machine.

She did not look at him again. "But outside -- "

"It's perfectly safe, provided neither of you tries to leave this place." He played the machine, noting how her eyes seemed to have gone dim and blank.

Silver was half inside the car, working on the ignition. When the man called sharply, "Hey, you!" he jumped and hit his head on the roof of the car. He pulled out, smoothing his mussed hair automatically and looking at the man innocently. When the man said nothing, just walked towards him with hands deep in coat pockets, Silver went back to work, closing the door and moving around to the opposite side of the car. Behind them, Sapphire came out the door to the cafe and approached, watching to see what would happen. He stopped when he was close to Silver, clutching calm and saying, "We happen to be running away, that's all. She from her husband, I from my wife." He tried to smile conspiratorially at the other man, who looked at him.

At his shoulder, Sapphire said with gentle amusement, "We already know that."

Surprised, he looked at her. "Oh, you know that, do you?" But he kept his calm, his brows high in annoyance. "Oh, that's not exactly an arrestible offense now, is it?" Sapphire ran her fingers along the top of the car's window, while Silver stared steadily at the man. He pursed his lips and continued, "Nor is being here in the future, where we don't belong. We didn't mean to come here. We're not trespassing." He looked at each of them. "Adultery? They can't hang you for it."

Silver's eyes twinkled and he uttered a soft sound. "How can you be so sure? Perhaps in this time period -- "

But he knew when someone was playing games with him. He closed his eyes briefly in exasperation and said, "We -- we don't belong to this time period, remember?" Sapphire was half-lying against the side of the car, watching Silver, her eyes dancing with laughter. The man took out his keys and moved around behind her only to find her body blocked access to the door handle. With a half-sigh he said, "Excuse me."

Still watching Silver, she leaned away to give him plenty of room, and watched him lock the door. She relaxed back on the side of the car as he went around and locked the trunk, then came to the passenger side and opened the door to push down the lock and close it again. Silver grinned at Sapphire, then placed himself firmly in the man's way. "Lovely old car, isn't it, hmm?" he queried innocently. The man pulled back slightly and looked caught between a groan and the impulse to shout.

Steel still played the machine, pretending it was the focus of his attention. The woman glanced at him periodically. Thinking of the almost-attack her man had started on this stranger earlier, she said shakily, "He has every right to be upset. To be angry."

He was listening to her. He said coolly, "To be protective?"

She flushed and stared at him for a moment. "Yes! Why not? No one can condemn us." She looked away from him again. "Only the church, perhaps but... I don't care that much about the church and neither does he." Steel stopped playing and looked at her alertly.


"What?" she asked in confusion.

He eyed her intently, looming over her. "You keep referring to him as 'he.' Does he not have a name?"

"Of course he has a name."

"Then tell me it."

She looked away. "No."

He settled himself against the machine, his arms spread to brace his weight. "All right, then. Your name. Tell me that." She scrambled up from her seat and shrank fearfully away from him, though he did not move. She hurried nervously across the room. He turned his head after her. "You keep telling us over and over again that you've done no wrong."

"It's true!" she said frantically, searching for some safety, some place to hide.

He turned and stared at her. "Then tell me your names."

She fetched up against a table and stared intently at him. "Why should I?"

He crossed over to her to look her in the eye. "All right then, him. Tell me about him. Where did you meet him?"

Trembling, her stomach in knots, she pressed back away from the man. "Ask him that."

Relentless he pressed her. "And when? How long have you known him?"

She turned her head, avoiding his steady, gray gaze and breathing in soft gasps. "About seven or eight months."

"That's not very long."

She met his eyes at last defensively. "That's long enough t -- "

He watched her alertly and said softly, "Long enough to what?"

With a faint shiver she said, "To know that I love him."

Steel hesitated and then looked away from her. "And I suppose that means that you're able to forgive him almost anything."

Her eyes wide and panicky, she searched his face, her brows coming down in sudden wondering. "No that doesn't mean that." He watched her as her eyes dropped and she looked in confusion at the floor. "What year is this?" As if something had unlocked in her mind, she shuddered. Steel parted his lips to answer her but she added more nervously, "Which decade?"

He said softly, "The 1980s."

Her face swung, flickers of expression crossing her ashen features as she searched his eyes and said in half-amazement, "Therefore there's no need for me to lie to you." Steel almost spoke again, but held it in. The woman radiated confusion and helplessness. She shook her head and said, "I mean, with thirty-odd years lost somewhere, well, you know I could tell you just about anything!" He face lost some of its animation as she lifted her chin and stared at him intently. Her voice suddenly low, she said, "I mean you can't very well go back and check up on us, can you." She moved away from him, no longer frightened and cringing, and yet her behavior was very strange. He watched her go and filed away everything, her fear and her coldness, to remember and analyze.

The man walked around the corner, his hands still deep in his pockets, to find the ginger-haired Silver standing leaning patiently in the doorway of the service station, Sapphire a few feet from him. Both of them smiled at him and watched him. He strolled between them, feeling more secure now that he had locked up his vehicle, and said, "It's a clear night." When he turned, they were closer together, watching him. "What if she and I were to climb into the car and drive away. Just... drive back where we've come from?"

Sapphire said softly, "We've already explained that there is no time here."

Silver smiled, cocking his head and added, "You would simply arrive back here again."

He looked from one to the other and choked a laugh. "Arrive again? Well, how could we arrive again?"

Silver lifted his head in surprise, brown eyes puzzled and interested. "Isn't it obvious?"

Frustrated, the man waved around and turned into the building. "No, I mean if we... if we went straight back. No stops, no turns, just drove in a straight line for fifty or sixty miles -- "

Silver said gently, "You would arrive back here once more," and smiled confidently at him.

Disgruntled, the man said. "Oh." He turned his head and met Sapphire's eyes. With a slight twinkle he said, "Well what if you came with me?"

Sapphire straightened slightly and cocked her head with a smile. "Me?"

He looked at her, his cheeks puffing in a gentle flirtation. "Yes. You belong to this place, this time -- "

"Do I?" she asked, interested.

Coyly, he ducked his head and met her eyes. "So, you'd be my... my passport." Silver glanced at Sapphire wryly. The man looked at both of them again and said, "So if uh, if I went back, in a straight line, with you at my side... then what would happen?"

Sapphire engaged her power and lifted her chin, watching him as she asked, "What would you like to happen?"

Power hummed between them. The man stood utterly still, lost in her eyes and Sapphire seemed similarly locked into his. Silver was startled and moved between them, staring at her worriedly. "Excuse me?" he asked. Sapphire smiled and lowered her head with a soft chuckle. Silver, befuddled, turned around and locked gazes with the man, who blinked in confusion as he broke from the trance. "That lady you're prepared to move mountains for is waiting for you."

He stared into Silver's indignation, not really sure what had happened, then pulled away and started back into the cafe. It took a moment for his thoughts to clear. He turned. Silver's back was to him, so he could not see the preparation the ginger-haired man was making to demand an explanation of Sapphire. His own indignation was just starting to take hold. "What was that? A bit more fun at our expense?"

Sapphire blinked slowly and shrugged at him. "Possibly."

Looking like he had swallowed a lemon, he nodded and said bitterly, "Yes, I thought so." He turned away from them and moved on inside.

And then a strange sound thrummed in the air. It was as if someone had hit something that jangled with bells and yet had a hollow sound. Silver and Sapphire sprang to look around the corner, but there was nothing visible. Sapphire turned back and froze, biting out in a tiny whisper, "Silver!" For where the man had been walking was an area of dark gray, as though his body had been cut out of the picture, leaving only emptiness. And it stopped and stood still. Frightened, she stared at it and reached out urgently. {Steel....}

He was staring out the window, looking for the source of that strange sound. [Yes, I heard that. It came from just outside.]

She told him urgently, {The woman.}

[What about her?]

{Is she still there?}

He turned, answering, [Yes, of course she's still -- ] like a hole in the cafe, shaped like the woman, the background visible through it. Stunned, Steel lifted his head. [No. No, she's not.] He was about to hurry out of the room when a shift occurred. [Wait.] In an instant she had re-solidified, exactly as before. Steel moved.

The man had, too, and turned back at Silver's exclamation of shock. Silver stared at him with wide eyes and managed to cover his amazement, asking, "Sorry, what did you say?"

The man frowned slightly and repeated, "I said 'yes, I thought so.'"

"Oh," Silver said lamely. Then he watched as the man turned and opened the double doors into the cafe. Silver whirled in desperate confusion to an equally bewildered Sapphire. They turned as Steel shoved his way past the man at the door to join them.

He was holding his fear tight with both hands and said rapidly, "The woman disappeared, just for a moment."

Sapphire asked, "But a shadow of her remained?"

"Yes," he confirmed grimly.

"The same thing happened to the man."

Steel's brows furrowed. "And the time?"

Silver checked his pocketwatch quickly. "Still the same. Four minutes past nine."

"How do you explain the shadows?"

Silver said helplessly, "I can't!"

Steel turned away and stared through the doors at the two people who were again sitting together, the woman smiling and talking animatedly to the man. "Whatever happened it doesn't seem to have upset them."

Silver had moved past Sapphire, and now he turned quizzically. "That sound. What was it?" She and Steel both looked at him blankly. He rubbed his lip and guessed, "Something banging. Open window, perhaps?"

Sapphire straightened up as she could answer something of that question, "No, it wasn't an impersonal sound. Someone s -- "

Steel had joined them, standing close as Silver protested, "That's impossible! Time's at a standstill here!"

Steel confirmed, looking around alertly, "No one can leave or enter this place." He moved away from them.

Silver was determinedly trying to remember what he had heard. "And there was something... rattling in the wind." He circled Sapphire, peering out into the darkness. "One of the garage seriahs perhaps."

Sapphire shook her head, staring into empty air. "No, it was at a higher frequency than that. More like a cymbal or a... a triangle." Silver frowned in confusion.

Steel moved uncertainly out of the doorway. "You mean it wasn't an accident."

She answered softly, "No, the sound was being produced by someone. Someone who wants us to know they're here." The three all felt a shiver of nervous fear.

Steel headed back into the service shop, looking around at the cans on the shelves and the brown door to the garage where he had first arrived. It was closed, and he heard a sound from inside. He hurried through the door and was blinded by a flash of light. But it was Silver's voice that came from the figure in shadows. "Nothing. Whatever it is, it's not in here." He lowered the tiny flashlight and joined Steel. They shared a look of consternation, and then both jumped as the sound repeated.

Sapphire was turning, listening intently, when the two men came out to join her. Steel said worriedly, "We heard it again." Silver was behind him, his finger almost permanently stuck in bewilderment to his upper lip. Steel said, "We heard it again, somewhere above us."

Sapphire said angrily, "It was here. It was close by."

He frowned worriedly. "Well, you were both out here, you didn't see anything?"

She shook her head. "Nothing."

Silver passed Steel, waving his hand thoughtfully as he came up next to Sapphire. "That image we saw of the old man. Perhaps it was something to do with him." He came around in front of Sapphire and looked her in the eye, his expression pleading.

She stared at him for a moment, then turned and led them into the building. They went into the dark yard between the buildings. Sapphire stopped in the door to the office and turned her head to look at Steel. "You said the image was first seen in here?"

"Yes," he said grimly, looking around.

Silver took out his tool nervously and fussed with it, searching the yard. Steel joined Sapphire in the room. He took up position where he had been the first time he saw the image and waited. Sapphire watched him uneasily, twiddling her fingers. The room remained still and he grew impatient and said, "Nothing." He marched to leave the room, but Sapphire stepped to stop him.

"Just a moment," she said softly. She glanced back over her shoulder while Steel watched her quizzically. Seeing Silver's back was turned, she closed the door and braced her back against it, turning urgently to her partner. "Why Silver? Why's he here?"

Steel stared at her, completely surprised. Puzzled, he looked away. "Well, he's here because he was sent."

She looked him urgently in the eye. "Sent to do what?"

Startled, he said, "To wait and watch, same as us!"

She searched his face intently then said gravely, "Steel, I want to talk." She closed the door the rest of the way and stared at him intently and he moved away and sat down. She asked firmly, "Silver is a technician. Why has he been sent to watch?"

Steel, frustrated at being unable to search for the mystery of the noise, snapped out, "Why don't you ask him that?"

Sapphire raised her voice angrily. "I have asked him and he doesn't know. He simply doesn't know why he's here!" She allowed a moment for her words to sink in and added, "And neither do we."

His shoulders jerked. "Of course we do."

Furious, for normally paranoia was his state of mind, she hurried over to lean over him on the desk and hissed urgently, "Think about it for once, Steel! Why are we here?"

He resolutely did not meet her eyes and grumbled, "We're here because we have a time -- "

She interrupted him firmly. "We are usually sent to the beginning of an event. When things have started to happen, when damage has begun -- "

He glared sullenly up at her. "It has been begun."

She stared at him steadily, willing him to suspect what they were seeing. "Well I don't see any signs of damage."

Frustrated, he glanced away and grumbled, "Time has stopped here! It's standing still! People from 1948 just happen to be running around in the 1980s!" He stared incredulously up at her as her expression did not change.

She said simply, "Well I don't call that serious damage."

"No?" he exclaimed.

"No, not at this stage. Not yet." she answered steadily. He searched her eyes, confused by her refusal.

Looking away stubbornly he gave a half-shrug. "Well, you said it earlier. You said that we were on some sort of a countdown to an event that's due to happen." He clenched his jaw angrily.

She leaned ever so slightly closer and whispered urgently, "But supposing... that it has already happened. That this is it. The three of us here not knowing why we're here." She saw it beginning to sink in. Steel looked up into her eyes with wide, helpless bewilderment. She leaned in and forced her will on his. "Supposing there's nothing for us to wait for! Supposing it is waiting for us."

At that moment Silver burst in the door. "Here!" he called them and dashed back out. When they did not move at once but remained intent upon each other he popped in again and urged, "Quickly!" They followed him out to stand outside the door and stare in surprise. The old man solidified in carrying a watering can, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand in the bright light from the office, a towel clutched in his fingers.

Sapphire murmured, {He's no longer an image.}

Steel agreed in faint confusion. [No.]

The old man peered at them, unable to see them clearly as their backs were to the light. He did not seem to perceive the change in his surroundings. He said uncertainly, "Is it... are you wanting service? Only that's at the front of the building, see, not here. This is private here."

Silver glanced back at the others. After a moment, Steel said, [Talk to him,] and moved forward towards the old man to get a better look. Sapphire followed him forward.

Mostly bald, his hair and beard white as clouds. He wore brown working clothes and a white scarf as he had when they had seen him earlier. He ducked his head in the bright light and stared at them in confusion.

Sapphire asked gently, "What's wrong?"

He shuffled uneasily, beginning to shake and jabbed his cloth-filled hand towards the ground. "See, this is private, this part of the building. Private property. You shouldn't be here!" He was shaking, now, starting to step backwards.

Sapphire's voice was sweet and clean, the epitome of innocence. "I said, what's wrong? Why are you frightened of us?"

He opened his mouth, his eyes wide and nervous, but calming ever so slightly. "Well I, uh... I suppose it's 'cuz I can't see you very clearly. And I've never believed in ghosts so I'm not likely to want to start now."

Steel was not certain what to think. "What do you see?"

"I see everything as it should be. Except for you lot," he added uncertainly.

Steel took a step forward and the old man shied back. "Tell us."

"Tell you?" he asked uncertainly.

"Yes, tell us what you can see."

He said nervously, looking around to his left, "Well, I see the outstand, I... as it should be, as I should see it." Steel followed his gaze, seeing only the things of the Eighties. "And the sheds. And the path," he looked down at the ground with quiet relief. "The cold frame," he pointed down towards Steel's feet, and the young man took a step back uncertainly as the man continued, "that wooden fence there. You lot sort of... sort of over it all. In the wrong... well in the wrong place!"

Silver moved forward, his head over Sapphire's shoulder and asked kindly, "Could you tell us what year this is?"

The old man gaped nervously at him. "What year?"


He stuttered in confusion, "Well what year do you expect it to be? It's 1925 of course!" and his voice became an echo as he vanished, leaving a now-familiar hollow, gray shadow that slowly faded to invisibility.

Steel moved swiftly forward, Sapphire on his heels. They looked around at the grounds that were what they had seen before. Sapphire said quietly, "We were the images that time. We were the ones that didn't belong."

Silver came to their side and murmured in amazement, "1925."

They went to the kitchen and Silver peered out at the couple, who were looking troubled where they sat and waited. "And 1948." Steel stood behind him and Sapphire was seated on a stool on his left. He straightened up and looked around to them. "So which of them is wrong?"

"Or lying," Steel said harshly and closed the doors.

Sapphire looked up at him in puzzled surprise. "Well what kind of a lie would it be? What would be the point of it?" She explained as the two men looked at her in confusion, "They have described accurately a place and a man. They've described visiting the place and talking to the man."

Silver leaned against the counter and pointed out mildly, "Yes. Twenty-three years later."

Steel stalked across the room to stare out the window. "Or maybe as we did they saw the ghost of an old man twenty-three years later."

Sapphire lifted her voice urgently. "But he wasn't a ghost! If anything we were the ghosts to him!"

Silver shifted and moved uncertainly, then came over to Steel, wagging his finger as he spoke. "You see my first thought is that everything is haphazard. A mess. Time just mixed and jumbled up together. It doesn't make any sense -- "

Steel interrupted him with soft urgency, "And your second thought?" Sapphire had left the stool and watched Silver's face.

He shoved his hands deep into his trouser pockets. "Well, my second thought is that it's just too haphazard." He looked at Sapphire for confirmation, saying, "It's too obvious. It's like something that's been designed."

Sapphire looked at Steel, whose shoulders stiffened and then he said quietly, "Yes, Sapphire was saying the same thing earlier on. Like something being designed."

Silver murmured uneasily, "What exactly do you mean?"

Steel whirled on him. "Yes, what was your briefing?" He and Sapphire both watched Silver intently.

"Well it..." he broke off, slightly embarrassed. Something was making him terribly uneasy. "Yes, well come to think of it, it wasn't an actual briefing. Not the usual. It was more like a kind of... knowledge." He frowned in confusion.

Sapphire said softly, "Something... telling you you should be here."

"Yes," he said in surprise. "And you?"

She nodded slightly and turned to her partner. "The same. Steel?"

He nodded, drawing a breath, his brows furrowing as the knowledge took him absolutely. They were in danger.

Silver's mouth dropped open, his face whitened and he drew his chin in slightly. "Well, there's one simple way to find out --" He started to walk towards the exit, but Steel's voice stopped him.

"Silver. Have you been told anything we haven't?"

"Well I've just said," the red-head answered, looking at Steel in innocent confusion. Sapphire twiddled with her fingers, reluctant to face Silver with her own doubts.

"No, concerning this place."

"No," Silver said uncertainly.

Steel's eyes met Sapphire's darkly and he continued his mild interrogation. "You weren't given any special information?"

Silver stepped closer in confusion. "Special?"

"Privileged information. Information that has been withheld from us."

Completely surprised by the question, Silver raised his head and protested, "No!"

Sapphire met Steel's eyes with quiet dread. She would not look at Silver. She said softly, "You were here before us."

He had not thought he could get more startled. He stared at her. "That's right."

She wheeled on him suddenly and stared intently into his eyes. "Why?"

He looked back and forth between them. "Well, I don't know why!" What was going on? Why were they so grim, even his Sapphire?

She turned away from him, took a few steps and then turned and stared at him. "Silver, specialists never ever move in until operators and investigators have done their work."

Puzzled, he frowned and shook his head. "Yes, but this is different, isn't it?" He looked questioningly at Steel.

Steel said sternly, "Is it?"

Confused again and somewhat alarmed he stuttered, "Well hadn't we just said so? Didn't we just agree that this wasn't a usual -- "

Steel cut in sharply. "No, we never agreed anything. We were just comparing notes, that's all." He searched Silver's confused face.

Indignant hurt was beginning to overwhelm Silver, as the suspicion of these two seemed to have centered on him. He was confused and angry, and he chewed his cheeks as he started to say with wounded pride, "Very well then. Ignoring the fact that you are operators and I am a -- a mere specialist -- " he shrugged furiously and glared back and forth at them " -- but accepting the fact that it was a kind of... shared knowledge that brought us here. I mean -- "

"Why the delay of six hours?" Sapphire and Steel said it at the same time as he did, holding him between them with the force of their attention.

"Yes," he agreed. The hurt of Sapphire's doubt in him made Silver put Steel at the center of his attention. Indignantly he continued, "Between my arrival and yours?" He looked back at Sapphire and then straight to Steel. "I mean, six hours?! You yourselves could have picked up quite a lot of... privileged information in six hours."

Steel breathed a soft sigh and said quietly, "Yes, well we don't know why."

Feeling vindicated, Silver nodded. "So, as I said, there's one simple way of finding out." He spun about and started past Sapphire. "All we have to do is leave this place -- " He felt it the instant before it took hold and spun back to them.

The building, the area around them whispered and distorted, a groan of time. When it was over, the window behind Steel was being hit by heavy rain, a breeze blowing through stirred the curtains. Steel whirled and they all stared in shock.

Silver blurted, "Time -- "

Steel ground out, "Has moved forward again."

Sapphire raised her voice over the sound of the rain. "By twenty minutes."

The clock on the wall read 9:24. Steel jumped as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, caught on the second. "And then there's that." He moved and closed the window, latching it shut. There was a sound, a jingling, ringing, jangling noise. Steel startled in confusion, then looked back over his shoulder at the others. He exited the kitchen, Silver nervously on his heels. Sapphire hesitated, her finger to her chin, her lips parted as she analyzed the sound she had heard.

Steel stepped out into the dining area and looked around. The man from 1948 came to him and said in alarm, "It's happened again!"

Steel ignored him and moved around the tables, searching for the source of that noise. Then they all heard a door close. Steel stopped and looked at the woman, whose face was curiously devoid of animation. "You heard that sound?" he asked.

The man answered, "Yes."

Surprised, Steel turned his head and regarded him. Then he turned with exasperation and moved out the doors. Silver had settled atop a table and was watching the man, and Sapphire came up behind him and studied him as he shuffled around in nervous confusion. When he turned to her she met his eyes and smiled slightly, warmly. "It was the sound of a musical instrument. I think it was a tambourine."

His brows drew sharply down over his eyes and he said in disbelief, "A tambourine?"

She confirmed with a slight nod, "Yes."

Bewildered, he said, "No, we didn't hear that." She merely regarded him for a second before walking away, out of the cafe in pursuit of Steel. Silver stayed and watched the couple.

Steel closed the doors to the outside, wincing in the cold and faint splash of the raindrops. As Sapphire approached him he said, "If it is part of an arranged plan, would those two be a part of it?"

She stopped at his side. "I don't know."

He said with quiet exasperation, "Ten minutes, then twenty. When does it stop, I wonder?"

"When it's ready," she said gravely.

He bit his lips on a feral snarl and growled, "Yes, well I don't like being part of an arranged plan. I prefer to make the moves." He stalked away, heading back into the dining area, until she called him.

"Steel? Listen."

He came back to her side and waited. Outside the constant raindrops filled the world. After a moment he said, "It's just the rain."

She shook her head slightly and said urgently, "No, no. There's someone walking! There's someone walking outside." Steel's lips parted and he moved to open the door. "No, don't!" she ordered in a harsh whisper, intercepting his hand. He looked up into her eyes curiously, as frightened as she was. "Whoever it is, they're coming this way. They're coming here."

Steel considered what she said thoughtfully. They were ill-prepared if it came to a struggle. He chewed at his cheek and made a decision. "Stay here," he said, then hurried into the dining area. Sapphire obeyed him, watching the rain through the door.

The footsteps were loud enough to easily distinguish from the repeating raindrops, now. Sapphire stepped closer to the door, searching intently for their cause.

Steel entered the cafe and crossed the room to the window to stare out it. Silver was sitting across from the young woman again, her man standing up and watching alertly. His eyes fixed on Steel and he began urgently, "The clock -- "

Steel cut him off with a firm, "We know."

Startled by his tone, Silver shifted and then moved from the seat to join Steel at the window. He peered over the shorter man's shoulder and asked quietly, "What is it?"

Steel tilted slightly to him and said quietly, "Someone coming."

This statement stirred the young woman out of her seeming daze. With a bemused smile, she asked, "Someone coming here?"

And Sapphire stared through the windows as the footsteps became louder, a dark, wet, regular pattern, a faint jingle with each impact. Steel watched from the other window, Silver lifting his chin to see over the other man's shoulder and still seeing nothing. The footsteps finally stopped, just outside the door. Their cause was not identifiable. Sapphire shivered and drew a step back. Steel arrived at her side and asked grimly, "Where?"

Barely able to draw breath in her tenseness, she said, "Just outside." When Steel reached cautiously to open the doors she whispered, "Careful." She stepped further back to give him room. He swung both doors open wide and stared around. Only the driving rain and the car met his eyes, lights reflecting off the metal surface. Sapphire said angrily, "Whoever it was couldn't have gone! I would have heard them!"

Steel, his hair stirred by the faint repeating breeze, looked about and then said grimly, "Close the doors behind me. Lock them." He marched out into the rain. Sapphire obeyed, bolting the doors at the top, then turned away. A sudden sense of nervousness prevailed when she looked towards the dining area, and at last she crossed to the inner doors and looked through them.

The man and woman were sitting across from each other, both seeming quite nervous. As though sensing her regard, they turned and looked at her. She looked the other way to where Silver sat, fussing idly with one of his tools. He met her eyes in shared worry. She moved to the door that led to the entrance yard to the office, when she heard a jingling sound. She stopped and listened intently, realizing the sound was much like that of a phone half-ringing. She stepped through cautiously. The distant office was lighted as before, the door closed as they had left it. The rain drove in this small yard. Sapphire closed the door behind her and walked cautiously under the covered walkway into the office. The phone was not ringing. She stared at it for a moment, glanced around the room and moved to leave. Then the phone rang, a brief double ring. Sapphire froze in the door and stared at it. After a moment's hesitation, she moved over to the table it sat upon and considered for a moment before lifting the receiver.

The voice cycled tinnily, "Be 9:24. Be 9:24."

Sapphire stared at it in suspicion, then set the receiver back down and left the room. The phone did not ring again. She moved back into the other building and locked the door behind her, then came into the cafe. The young woman watched her come in, flicked a brief look to the man, but said nothing.

Sapphire went straight to Silver, noting in passing the silence outside. She leaned in and whispered, "Steel back yet?"

He frowned in surprise. "No."

More urgently she told him, "He went outside."

He shook his head, then glanced over his shoulder cheerfully. "No. Oh, well, the rain's stopped. Storm must have passed." He continued disassembling the strange thing in his hands.

Sapphire looked at him intensely and reminded, "Silver, nothing's supposed to change here! It's still 9:24! What shall I do?"

Silver's expression flicked with confusion and then to soothing calm. He leaned slightly towards her. "You'd better find him."

She straightened up and started for the door when the man aimed his voice at her and asked, "Oh, who is it?"

Startled, she whirled and stared at him, taking a few steps his direction. "What?"

Innocently he asked, "The person who's come here. Who is it?"

She stared at him blandly. "It didn't happen."

But the young woman said certainly, "We heard someone arrive."

Sapphire turned her gaze to the steady, bewilderment of the young woman and stared at her emotionlessly. But inside she was tremendously disturbed. She whirled and went out into the hall, closing the door behind her and was brought up short by muddy footprints on the floor, coming from the door. She stood motionless, staring down at them. Big feet, and some strange little shape, a ragged doll. Sapphire bent and picked it up to study uncertainly. She moved to the outside door, which was still locked. Carefully, she reached to try the handle. There was a noise as of something being shaken from behind her and she whirled around, holding the doll up protectively in front of her.

A shadow shaped like a man, wearing a tall hat. It turned towards her. She watched in frozen astonishment as it held out a hand and approached her. It became solid black and then a voice came from it. "Thank you." It cleared and she faced a man who was reaching for her.

His skin was florid, his lips thin on top and pinched on the bottom. His hair was blond, curly and unkempt under his ragged top hat. It was difficult to see his darker sideburns under the tangled mess. He had a red bandana fixed around his neck, and a tambourine hanging at his belt. She could smell the dust and dirt on him. His whole appearance was that of a hobo, and he continued forward, his hand palm up, bound in white cloth. His cheeks were orange and rounded like apples as he smiled and took the doll from her hand. "It's... one of my children." Sapphire, bewildered, could not summon up an answering smile. She simply stared at him in quiet shock. He rubbed the doll against his coat, then looked up at her, smiling under the brim of his hat, his eyes pale and somewhat mad. "There. Got a kiss for Johnny Jack, and all of the children on his back?" His red mouth hung slightly open hopefully, and he moved a step closer to her. She put her hands behind her own back and stiffened. He read the negative and shrugged slightly, twinkling at her. "Ah, well." He turned to head into the cafe and she saw there were indeed other little dolls fastened to the back of his coat.

She asked softly, "Where did you come from?"

Johnny looked back at her, surprised at the question, the doll she had held now firmly in his left palm. "Where did I come from? How can I answer that?"

She forced a faint smile and said calmly, "Just try."

He shrugged slightly, his eyes dancing. "I come from two hundred and fifty different places."

She ignored his playfulness and lifted a hand to indicate behind her. "But these doors are locked."

He chuckled and said, "Not when I come in." He smiled and nodded, then moved into the dining area, pushing the doors wide before him.

Silver gaped at him in surprise. The man and woman stared at him with equal astonishment. As the doors swung shut behind him, he stared back at them. He looked at the young woman and tipped his hat to her as Sapphire came in behind him and went to Silver, then he moved across to the counter. Puzzled by the silence, he hit the top and called, "Shop!" When there was no answer, he slapped the countertop harder and called again, "Shop!!"

Silver came over next to him and said calmly, "There's... no one there, I'm afraid."

Startled, he looked at Silver. "No one in the kitchen?"

Silver shook his head gently. "No."

Offended, Johnny asked, "So what kind of a place is this? Where's the staff?"

Silver smiled at him. "Well, there is no staff."

"And yet it's open?" he asked in bewilderment.

Silver gave a slight nod, his smile warm, "Yes."

Johnny blinked, annoyed. "So what do you do? Help yourself? Serve yourself?" Before Silver could answer he said, "I'll help meself." He stood away from the counter, his eyes falling upon the young woman and he looked her over blatantly. When she met his eyes he said teasingly, "Got a kiss for Johnny Jack, and all the children on his back?"

Her man reacted, starting to get to his feet in outrage. "Don't you touch her!"

Johnny snatched up his tambourine and shook it in the other man's face threateningly. They glared at each other. When the threat was not continued, he slowly lowered his tambourine and flicked the rim of his hat mockingly at the woman. Then he turned and reached to snatch the other man's lapel.

The 1948 man began to growl uncertainly, "Go away -- "

Johnny overrode him, eyes gleaming over a reddened nose, "Like the coat." He smiled into the other man's uncertain anger, then moved away to another table. Preparing to sit, he set his tambourine down and took his top hat off to put beside it, revealing hair disheveled and pressed down, tangled.

"What do you want here?" Steel said from the doorway.

Johnny looked up in surprise at the new voice, then smiled slightly. "I want service, that's what I want here. In the meantime, this is mine. My squat." He sat down defiantly and looked down at the table. Suddenly Steel loomed right in front of him and he looked up in surprise. The slight menace of Steel's stance seemed to reach him and he asked, "You the manager or something?"

"How did you arrive here?" Steel asked, reaching down to lift the tambourine.

Puzzled, Johnny glared up at him. "How did I what?"

"To this place. How did you get here?" Steel weighed the tambourine in his hands. Sapphire and Silver came to stand next to and behind him, Sapphire watching Steel, Silver watching the man, who glanced at all three of them.

Belligerently, Johnny said, "By minding me own business and not answering questions, that's how I got here." He glared around at them. "And I've had nothing but questions since the minute I walked through the door! Well first she started, and now you!" He waved his hand at them and Sapphire smiled as Steel handed off the tambourine to her. She scanned it briefly, running her hands above the rough surface, then handed it off to Silver. The young man's belligerence faded slightly and he asked, "Something happened here? Something wrong?" They all three looked at him steadily, though Silver was slowly turning his tambourine and he realized they were not going to answer him. He leaned to peer around them at the two other people and demanded, "Oye! Something happened here?"

Steel interjected coolly, "Did you walk, drive, what?"

Glaring with increasing confusion he said, "I walked, didn't I. Here, do you mind?" He nodded to his tambourine in Silver's hands.

Steel was not to be deterred. "Walked from where?"

But Johnny wanted his tambourine to comfort him in this angry place. He stood angrily, glaring. "I said, do you mind!" Silver turned the thing in his hands and studied it with only a brief glance to its owner. "I'm sorry, mate, but that happens to be one of the tools of my trade." He reached for it quickly, and even more quickly Steel caught his wrist and locked it, forcing him down on the table so that he cried out in fright and sudden pain, looking desperately up at Steel.

"I said walked from where?" demanded Steel.

Terrified, the man shuddered and answered gaspingly, "I don't know where from!"

"You forget?"

"I don't have to remember! The others -- look, will you let go?!" Steel's tight grip, pinning his arm to the table, caused a sheer ache of pain.

Steel snapped, "The others?"

His terror growing, he sputtered out, "The others in the company! They do all the thinking, not me!"

Sapphire settled beside him and studied his sweating face, ignoring the smell. "A company of performers, is that it?"

"That's right!"

"And you're one of them?"

"Yes!" he cried out, shuddering and trying to pull free of Steel's painful grip. Steel was holding him down with only one hand and staring coldly at him.

Silver strolled forward, "Well, that makes sense."

Steel snapped angrily, "It makes no sense. How did he get here?" Sapphire looked up into his eyes.

The man said desperately, "I walked, didn't I? Look, whatever it is that's going on here, I had nothing to do with it! I wasn't here! Whatever it was -- " he broke off, gasping in pain as Steel increased the pressure on his arm.

Uncompromising, Steel demanded, "You walked from where?"

His face wet, the florid complexion even redder than before, he tried to answer. "The others dropped me off up by the turnpike! Look, they was going into town, I didn't want to go, all right? So they told me to meet them here! 'Wait for us,' they said, 'at Long Tall Body's Service Station!' That's what they said! So I walked, didn't I?!" The pain in his arm was too much and he was having difficulty focusing enough to speak clearly, panting.

"Let go!" came the young woman's unexpected, angry voice. Her man stared at her in surprise. Steel turned. She met his eyes defiantly, revolted and frozen in her seat. Steel released the ragged man and stalked towards her.

The man grumbled weakly, "I only come in for a cup of tea."

As Steel approached, the woman edged back in her chair and glared up at him defiantly. "I mean, what sort of people are you? Who are you?" She stood up but was unable to face him squarely and fled around to hide at her man's side. "You've done nothing but throw your weight around ever since you came here!" He was watching with considerable bewilderment.

Steel said coolly, "That's right."

She forced herself out from behind her man and glared at them from the center of the room. "Well, if this is the future, the future that you represent, you can keep it!!"

Sapphire said smoothly, "Doesn't it worry you?"

Breathing hard with her emotions, it took her a second to ask, "What?"

"That you've been brought here from the past and trapped here?"

"Of course that worries me!"

"And what about him?" Sapphire asked, tilting her head slightly to indicate the ragged man she sat beside.

She said huffily, "He has every right -- "

But Silver said gently, "There's no time here, remember? What's he doing here?"

Her man, who had disliked the man from the moment they met, said, "He's right!"

The ragged man had followed the conversation and now broke in, confused. "No what?"

But the woman turned defiantly to her man. "No, why should they be right?" She looked down at the floor, trembling. "He just happened to be passing by. Here in the present time."

The ragged man supported her statement, happy to be defended. "That's right."

Shaking, she continued, "Yes. He just... he just came in. He walked through the doors and he came in."

The ragged man looked around at them, his gaze glancing off of Sapphire's, regaining his earlier spirit as he clutched some cigarette papers in his fingers. "For a cup of tea, right?"

Sapphire turned her gaze to the young woman. "Ask him what the date is."

She froze and trembled, breathing hard. When she said nothing, Steel came to stand at her back and ordered firmly, "Ask him."

She turned to her man, but saw only his confusion. "No," she said weakly, and went to sit beside him. He shifted to give her room, his lips forming questions he did not ask.

Cleaning and readying the paper for his cigarette, Johnny Jack said to Sapphire, "'Scuse me."

She blinked and turned to him with a warm, flirtatious smile. "What day is it today?"

He met her eyes in surprise. "What, you mean the date?"

"Yes," she said cheerfully.

"Well, I don't know. The 15th or something."

Steel stalked forward a few steps. "15th of what?"

He chuckled in surprise. "Well, of July of course!"

Silver stepped in now and smiled down at him quizzically. "And the year?" Sapphire stood up, her eyes intent on Steel.

"The what?"

"What year is it?" Silver clarified into the ragged man's confusion.

These questions were more confusing with each one. He stared in utter bewilderment at the tall, gentle-seeming man. "Well how do you mean? What... what year?"

Steel said coldly, "This year."

"What, you mean you don't know?"

Silver uttered a patently false chuckle and bared his teeth in a smile. "We forget."

The man smiled slightly in playful confusion. "Oh, well it better be the same as it was when I woke up this morning! 1957." He finished rolling his cigarette and stuck it in his mouth.

The couple from 1948 startled, the man staring at his woman as she turned to look at the equally surprised three strangers. Silver pulled the man's tambourine out from under his jacket and set it on the table in front of him as he eyed them with confused suspicion.

They went to the office and Steel sat down, then picked up the phone and stared at it. Sapphire sat on the table and Silver stared down between them at the black phone. Steel asked grimly, "It rang."

"Yes," Sapphire confirmed.

"Then what?" he asked softly.

She shrugged slightly. "I answered it."

"And?" He picked up the receiver and listened to the voice repeating the time.

Sapphire said softly, "I got what you're getting now."

He set the receiver back on its cradle abruptly. Silver drew a breath and studied the ceiling before saying, "Two people from 1948...."

Sapphire added, "And an old man from 1925."

And Steel finished grimly, "And this character, from 1957."

Sapphire, twining her fingers in her lap, shook her head. "It doesn't make sense. The numbers don't even compute to make any kind of sense." She looked down at Steel.

His brow furled, he asked, "Well, is there anything... special about those particular years?" He folded his arms on the desk and looked questioningly at her.

She stood up. "Nothing of great historical importance, no." She crossed the small room and leaned against one of the file cabinets, her face twisted in confusion as she reached with her senses. "But... there's... there's something wrong."

"For us?" asked Silver.

"Yes." She abruptly turned and headed for the door. "I'm going to take another look around." She smiled at Silver as she passed him.

He said with almost-cheer, "If it's any consolation, we have one tiny victory." He drew the tambourine from his coat and shook it, patting it with smug pleasure.

Steel stared at it in surprise. "That?" he asked doubtfully as Sapphire came to look.

Silver raised his eyebrows and said, "Yes!"

Sapphire smiled at him. "But Silver, I've already checked that! It was made in 1957 and it has no sinister elements!"

He gave her a look of gentle chiding, "Yes, but you and I are looking for different things." He ran his fingers over the instrument.

Steel asked with a frown, "Well, how did you get it away from him?"

Seeming surprised by the question, Silver shrugged and said, "Oh, while you were keeping him busy, I made a quick reproduction and gave that to him. He'll never know the difference." Sapphire, amused, left the room. Silver set the tambourine on the table and rubbed his palms together. "Now, then." Steel sighed at the implication and got up to close the door as Silver took his place in the chair and got to work.

Sapphire stood out in the covered walkway between the buildings. She looked around. Time murmured around her, frustrated. Its insistent murmur of discomfort worried her, and it tossed up an image for her. Near the other door, the old man appeared, the same image as when he was moving from the door of another building with a watering can. She watched him disappear and reached out to comfort the sputtering of time. It muttered back at her. {Show me more,} she told it. It obeyed, and a faint image formed against the backdrop of the door marked 'private.' It seemed a man standing erect, dressed in a suit. But it faded out without becoming clear. Sapphire insisted firmly, {I said show me.} This time the image came clear, the man stepping forward into the light. He wore a gray suit and tie much like the clothing Steel favored, and he looked exactly like the old man from 1925, except that he was clean and perfectly groomed. He seemed to look directly at her, raising his brows before vanishing. Sapphire felt fear curl and insisted again, {Show me more.} Another man, one with light, shining eyes, a pale face and full, thickly waved blond hair. Thin upper lip, thick lower lip. Gray suit and lighter tie. And yet he was the image of the ragged man, only as clean and perfect as the old man. His image vanished. Sapphire pushed harder. {I said show me.} The old man's image, half over laying, and behind it another slowly came clear. The man who stepped forward was the man in the cafe, and he looked at her gravely. She backed away and let the images go, fear rolling through her.

In the office they had turned off the overhead lights and turned on a couple of the table lamps. Silver had taken the tambourine apart and held only the wooden frame between his fingers. He closed his eyes and sent a pulse through it, and it glowed blue with a hum of wavering sound.

Steel, confused, asked, "What was that?"

Silver opened his eyes. "Hm? Oh. That was me." He set it down and began going through the pieces, brushing them with his mechanical pen/cum whatever, carefully not touching them.

Sapphire went through the door marked, 'staff only' and closed it behind her carefully. She was very, very badly shaken. She leaned against the doorjamb for a moment, then pulled up and turned to look into the cafe. The dark-haired man was sitting at the table across from his woman, head bowed over his hands. Johnny Jack still sat at the other table. He had taken off his jacket and was sewing the doll, and he looked up and met her eyes. She looked back and forth between them, then walked silently into the room. The 1948 man looked steadily at her, his eyes a question. She glanced at them all, then turned to leave.

"Something wrong?" Johnny asked her. When she turned and looked at him blankly he added, "Tell you what, seems you're dodging about outside, give us a shout, will you?"

She blinked at him and asked calmly, "A shout?"

He smiled at her and said, "Yeah. If you see a gray van, that'll be me mates only I'm, uh... busy, you see?" He bent back to repairing the little doll.

Sapphire smiled slightly, amused. "All right, I'll give you a shout."

His eyes brightened as he looked back up at her and tilted his head. "Might put on a bit of a show, later! If there's time. Like that, would ya?"

She linked her hands behind her back and walked over to him, smiling warmly. "Possibly."

His eyes swept beyond her, to the other woman and he aimed his voice, lower and gentle, at her. "Bet you would."

Startled to be addressed, she looked at him nervously. "Sorry?"

He clarified enthusiastically, "Bit of a show! You know, knees up on the table, that sort of thing! You'd love that, wouldn't you, darling?"

Her eyes widened in scandalize shock. "No!"

He stared at her with almost innocent earnestness. "Well, it's a chance to cheer up a bit!"

The 1948 man turned and looked at him over his shoulder, saying with mild annoyance. "Why don't you get on with whatever it is you're supposed to be doing and leave us alone?"

Sapphire was grinning when she came to the 1957 man. He shook his head and looked up at her. He said pityingly, "No appreciation."

She smiled and set her hands apart on his table, angling her head to look down at him. "Shame," she said agreeably.

He looked up at her earnestly. "Shame? It's a tragedy! Listen, I'm the best tambourine player on the road! I'm the only musician amongst them!"

Sapphire tilted her head and regarded him. "Play something," she suggested gently.

Startled, he lifted his head, his eyes bright and blue. "What, now?"

"Now," she encouraged gently.

Flushed and embarrassed he twinkled at her and said, "When the others come, eh?"

She hesitated a beat, then let her smile warm even more and said softly, "All right. I'll look forward to that." She straightened up slowly, considered his face for a moment before she walked from the room. He watched her go narrowly.

She joined Steel and Silver in the office, while Silver was running his fingers over the stiff cowhide part of the tambourine. He set it down and shook his head, adjusting his all-purpose screwdriver. "Hm. I don't trust these. Any of them. And it's... it's as Sapphire says, there's nothing really... sinister about it." He picked up the frame and turned it in his fingers. "Nothing that could really harm us."

Steel paced across the office and looked out through the slats. "Then why don't you trust them?"

He answered carefully, wary of being misunderstood. "Well it's as if, as a musical instrument, it's... it's never been played." He shifted to pick up the cowhide and set down the frame. "You see, every musical instrument that ever was or... or is ... is its own recording device, did you know that?"

Steel said coldly, "No."

Silver glanced at him in surprise and said, "Ah, well. Listen." He picked up his screwdriver and ran it slowly against the stiff cowhide. There was a high-pitched, rapid thrumming in response, a faint jingling intermixed. Silver said, "You hear that? You see, that's just a noise. This instrument has only ever made a noise, never music."

Sapphire listened, staring off into the air and understanding Silver's words. Steel grumbled from the window, "Well it's a drum, isn't it? You can't expect it to play a tune."

Silver was unperturbed by Steel's obtuseness. He held the cowhide and stared at it thoughtfully. "Oh, well you can expect it to make music. It's own sort of music. Some sort of... rhythm. Probably Handel, of course." He studied it, running the cowhide briefly again to get the soft thrum of response.

Steel glanced back at him. "What you're trying to say is that a man who says he's part of a travelling company made up of -- "

"Musicians and performers," Silver encouraged.

"Should be able to get some kind of music out of that thing."

Silver caused the thrum again. "Yes," he confirmed.

Sapphire added with amusement, "Especially when he's the only 'real' musician amongst them."

Steel stiffened slightly and asked in surprise, "What?"

She got up and came to settle between them against the table, looking down at Silver. "His words."

Silver, amused, said, "Hm." He touched the surface again for the hum.

Steel looked down at him with sudden intense interest. "If you can make a reproduction of a tambourine...."

"Hmm?" Silver waited.

"Could you make one of a car?"

Sapphire looked over her shoulder and stared at him. Silver exclaimed in astonishment, "A car? Well, a car would be more difficult." He frowned pensively and then looked up and suggested, "With Sapphire's help we could probably make an image of the real thing. But it would only be an image."

Sapphire added, "An illusion."

Steel eyed him intently, holding his palm up. "Would that be enough to allow you to remove the real one for a closer inspection?"

Sapphire looked at Steel and pointed out, "Well, the image would fool them, but only visually."

Steel's voice was low and gruff with hope. "Well, that should be enough."

In the diner, Johnny Jack looked up from his sewing at the faint sound, the rattle he could hear. He met the eyes of the 1948 man and they stared at each other. The woman, too, met his eyes briefly. The 1948 man turned his head when Steel opened the door and walked in, to settle after a moment across from Johnny. Steel smiled a small smile and met his eyes, saying with a long suffering sigh, "Makes it a long day, doesn't it, when there's no time."

Johnny stared at him suspiciously.

Outside, Sapphire led Silver to the edge of the windows. Knowing Steel was in the cafe to distract the people, they bent and hurriedly crossed to hide behind the car. Sapphire looked at Silver, who panted nervously. He whispered, leaning to her, "When we've done this, I want to have a walk out there. To where those traffic sounds are." He indicated the distant darkness with his head. "I'd like to know what would happen if we tried to leave this place."

Sapphire whispered back, "Under the circumstances, so would I." She touched his shoulder to draw his eyes to her and then held her hand just an inch from the metal, looking at him intensely. "Now Silver, you want me to project an image of the car?" she asked for confirmation.

Anxiously, he nodded to her then peered up over the edge of the window and said, "Yes, as you did the last time only... a fixed one this time."

"Right." Sapphire got carefully up and moved around behind the gas pump, while Silver pressed against the side of the car.

He grinned at her briefly, took a breath and said, "So...." He began rubbing his palms swiftly together until a faint crackle of power hummed out. That done he touched his finger to the keyhole, and the door opened. He grinned up at Sapphire, who smiled warmly in approval.

In the cafe, Johnny was finishing up his sewing. He bit the thread apart and stared at Steel. He had been listening to the man who spoke calmly and quietly. Now he looked at him with considerable suspicion. "You're trying to tell me that I'm more than twenty years adrift?"

Steel nodded and said quietly, "Yes." The couple from 1948 watched this intently.

"And this is the future?"

"That's right."

Johnny grinned and ducked his head in disbelief. "Get away!"

Steel might have been amused, if he did not suspect this man was a liar. "Well look about you! Isn't this a little different than what you're used to?"

Johnny glanced around as he began putting his coat back on. He shrugged and said playfully, "All places look the same to me. I never really need to look!"

The woman interjected shakily, "He's telling the truth."

He stood, in his white shirt and green waistcoat, finishing putting his doll-covered jacket on. He smiled around at them. Steel started to speak, but then held his tongue, not certain what he should say. He watched the man settle his bizzare coat, then move towards the young woman and nod a bit, smiling down at her. Then he moved past her towards the counter. He paused a moment and asked, "What, we don't get any older?"

This almost made her laugh. "Apparently not."

He wandered towards the mirror on the far wall and stared at himself for a moment, then turned and grinned at her. "So what's twenty odd years?"

Silver was ready to move the car. He looked up at Sapphire and said quietly, "Now, you get ready to project the image the minute I drive this... thing away."

She whispered urgently, "But Silver, won't they hear it?"

He edged cautiously, laying across the seats as he made for the steering wheel. "Oh, for a fraction of a second, perhaps. I shan't be driving in a conventional way." He tangled his way under the wheel and asked, "Are you ready?"



Sapphire engaged her power and her eyes glowed violet.

Johnny Jack crossed the room, past the 1948 man who was lighting another cigarette. He said happily, "Only the future could be a lot of fun! Providing the price of a pint hasn't changed!"

Steel raised a puzzled eyebrow. "Pint of what?" he asked, confused.

The man opened his mouth to answer when a sound came from the outside, a sudden shrieking hum of a machine starting.

Silver, with a grimace of agony, slid out of the car and shook his fingers, biting them to keep from crying out.

Johnny turned in confusion, his eyes meeting the 1948 man's. "What's that?"

"What?" asked Steel.

Sapphire hissed urgently, "Silver, it must be now!"

Steel watched as both men got to their feet and went to look out the window.

There was a faint thrum as Silver got the car going forward. It seemed to grow out of itself as Sapphire held the image of it in place and carefully hid herself behind the pillar.

The 1948 man took a drag on his cigarette, staring at his car through the window. Johnny stood close to him and said in bewilderment, "That sounded like a motor."

Disconcerted, the 1948 man turned and made his way around the smaller, blond man, heading back towards his table. Johnny looked at Steel suspiciously. The 1948 man asked, "Your friends. Where are they?"

Steel dropped his gaze and then met the two sets of intent, accusing eyes. "Somewhere. I'm not sure."

Silver had managed to bring the car into the garage, rendering it semi-visible for the move. He let it be clearly seen again as he got out and closed the driver's door. He moved to try the locked handles of the trunk, then with a crackle of power, unlocked one with his finger over the keyhole.

The 1948 man came out and stared at his car. Nothing seemed wrong, yet he was sure he had heard its engine. Steel came and started the jackpot machine. He said over his shoulder, "All right?"

The man puffed his cigarette and drew up straight. "I'm not sure."

The woman rushed out and came to her man indignantly. "Say, are you going to leave me in there with that freak?"

He looked at her in surprise. "Why? What's he done to you?"

She clenched her purse and looked down in embarrassment. "Well, nothing. It's what he might do." Steel listened to the two of them.

The man smiled slightly and took another pull of his cigarette. He started back into the dining area, passing close to her. He entered the room alone. Johnny was sitting slumped in his chair, looking astonishingly more seedy than before. He looked up, his eyes dancing as he prepared to light his own cigarette. "Sort it out, di'ja?" The dark-haired man glanced sourly at him and sat down. He smiled and lit his cigarette.

The woman, left alone with Steel, watched him stop playing with the jackpot machine and turn as though to leave. She grabbed her courage in both hands and said urgently, "Just a minute!" When he glanced at her, she trembled and clarified, "I want to talk to you."

Steel stood still and regarded her. "Go ahead."

She swallowed and looked away. "Well not here. It's about him, you see."

"Your man friend?" Steel asked softly. He frowned slightly, studying her.

"Yes." She met his eyes desperately. "I want to tell you the truth about him." She glanced down and shuddered, wavering. "Take me with you, will you?" Steel raised his brow and eyed her, unsure. When he seemed about to refuse she said urgently, her eyes wide with distress, "Please take me with you, it's important!"

Outside, Silver made his way through the bushes, pushing branches out of his way and hurrying through them. Inside, Sapphire leaned against the car, her hands folded across her shoulders as she listened to the area around her and waited. Steel came into the garage and looked about in surprise. "Where's Silver?"

She walked away from him around the car saying defiantly, "He's gone to look for a way out."

Steel moved forward and considered the trunk of the car. "Is it unlocked?"

She joined him. "It is now, yes." Then she froze and stared in astonishment as the 1948 woman stood in the door, surprised at the car she saw.

Steel, seeing her stunned expression, pursed his lips in exasperation. He came over to her and indicated the room beyond the door. "Wait in there."

Shaking, she asked, "How did that get in here?"

"I'll tell you later," he said coldly and stared at her.

"No, tell me now!"

And Sapphire reached out with a thrum of power. The young woman turned and met her eyes, shyly smiling. Half dazed she said, "Okay, I'll wait in here." She turned and went where Steel had indicated, and he closed the door behind her.

Sapphire turned her gaze sharply on Steel. "What's she doing here?" she asked with angry suspicion.

His eyes on the door of the trunk, Steel crossed to it. "She says she has something to tell us. Why don't you find out what it is?" He looked at her in brief request before turning his attention to the trunk. He opened it and started pulling out the suitcases as Sapphire walked into the next room.

Sapphire closed the door behind her and clasped her hands as she turned to the young woman, who eyed her defiantly. "I'm not talking to you." A curious way to start. Sapphire stepped closer with gentle curiosity and the girl flushed slightly, modifying her stance. "Not just you. I'm not saying anything to you."

Sapphire gave up any attempt at a smile and stared steadily at the bristling woman. "You never once left that cafe. Only now. You hardly moved from the table." The woman swallowed, her lips tight. Sapphire continued, "You were afraid to leave your friend's side for more than a few moments at a time. And here you are now, with me."

The woman said stubbornly, "I've explained."

"Not to me, you haven't," Sapphire replied coolly. She walked around the other woman and looked outside, seeing the image of the car still sitting there, seeing no sign of the men. She turned and stared piercingly at the woman. "Who are you?"

With a shiver of nervousness, the woman said, "Look, I've got things to say, all right? Things to tell you -- "

"Then tell me," Sapphire interjected smoothly. They stood staring at each other.

"No, not unless all three of you are here." Sapphire reached out and took her wrist. She bunched her shoulders in panic, her voice rising. "If you hurt me I shan't help you!" Sapphire held her wrist and stared at her unwaveringly and she said defiantly, "I shan't help any of you. You're gonna need me."

Sapphire kept her hand on the girl, ignoring her face and concentrated, initializing power that thrummed and sang though her. Her eyes glowed brilliant ice blue until it seemed like her face was a mask. {Show me.} Time responded, whispering of danger. She could see inside the cafe, the two men sitting apart, bored and waiting. {Show me more.} The lot between the buildings, nothing there. She commanded, {I said show me.} Protesting its innocence, time groped to answer her and thrummed until she saw two shadows standing there. Two very familiar silhouettes that turned to look at her. Her own and Steel's.

The young woman had watched in astonishment as Sapphire's eyes turned brilliant white blue, and now they became black and dead. She gasped, "Your eyes! What's happened to your eyes?!" But Sapphire did not answer, only released her and walked into the garage. She shrank back, trembling, against the cabinet.

Sapphire closed the door and walked into the room, her steps dragging as she crossed to the other side of the car. Steel, who was going through the clothing from the suitcase, asked, "What did she say?" She did not answer him and he turned, puzzled. "Sapphire?"

She started to turn towards him, then the wave hit in cold and fear, such fear that she gasped with it, stumbling and bracing herself against the car.

Steel hurried around to her. She stared at him, wide eyed with horror. "Steel, it's our death! Our destruction!! You know the danger I sensed in the yard!"

Steel objected quickly, "You called it a sensation of fear. They're playing tricks with your mind."

She stared at him urgently and said, "No, I was sensing violence. Our destruction! Yours, and mine!!" She stared intently into his eyes.

His throat tight, he looked away. "So it wasn't an emotion from the past."

"No!" she confirmed wildly.

He could almost feel it himself, now, doom hanging over their heads. "From the future."

"Yes, our future." She stared desperately at him.

He met her eyes, bewilderment taking him in deepening anguish. He whispered, "But why?" They could only stare at each other, equally ignorant and terrified.

Silver continued through the brush, searching. What could be out here? But then he found it. A barrier, invisible. He brought out his tool and struck at it, and the backlash of energy sent a snap of agony up his arm.

In the cafe, the men from different times felt it. Their eyes flickered purple as the static backlashed through them. In the yard between buildings, the old man appeared, a wicked smile on his face. The waiting was over. It was time. His eyes glowed the same brilliant silver-blue Sapphire's had earlier.

Sapphire's senses hit and realized, "Steel."

In the cafe, the 1948 man stood, and his suit changed to that of a gray business suit with a lighter tie. And the other had already changed, too. All the red was gone from his skin. He was as pale and smooth as the other man. They came together. The old man moved from the yard, he too in his suit and tie.

Sapphire was nearly panicking. "They're like us, Steel! But they're like us!!"

And there was water in his eyes when he whispered, "Same as us."

"Well, almost." She stared intently at him.

He met her eyes hopelessly. "How do they differ?"

She drew in a breath of anguish. "I think they answer to a higher authority." And they could only look at each other in helpless confusion and fear.

Steel said, low and painful, "How many?"

"Three. The three men."

He sank down onto the bumper of the car, his face white, all the energy gone from him. She gazed down at him steadily. After a moment he said quietly, "They asked me to work for them, once." He drew in a weary breath and looked down. "I chose not to." Sapphire sat slowly next to him, staring into his eyes, the winter loss of his will. He glanced up quizzically, "Did they ever ask you?"

She gave a small nod and smiled gently. "Yes."

His gaze dipped to the ground again. "And you chose not to, too. Didn't you."

She simply nodded. For if she had so chosen, she would not be working with Steel. She expressed that thought, indulging herself for a once in a perusal of his fine features. "Perhaps that's why we work so well together."

He said with quiet grimness, "Maybe too well."

Is it over so easily? She watched him steadily. "What made you say that?"

His eyes swept to hers, hollow, and then away. "A feeling."

"Be more specific," she demanded gently.

He met her eyes again, his mouth quirking in that wry, not quite a smile she knew so well, speaking of irony. "We're resented. They resent us. I mean, they resent our achievements." He sighed.

She looked down and corrected softly, "More than that." He turned to look at her, eyes asking for clarification and she met his gaze. "They resent our independence." She smiled slightly and he looked away, suspecting she was right.

And the three men, agents like Sapphire and Steel except under the command of a greater power, moved together from the cafe. The dark-haired man led with hands behind his back, the elderly seeming man joined him behind on his right, the other on his left.

Steel walked out into the reception area, glancing briefly at the young woman who waited nervously behind the counter. He moved to the window and stared out at the image Sapphire had locked of the car. All was quiet, and he turned gradually, looking at the young woman. She met his eyes at first then her gaze shifted away. He moved to her side, just beyond her shoulder. It was hard to speak, but after a moment he managed, looking at her. "We need the truth."

And just within the entrance to the cafe, the dark haired man was listening, studying. Waiting.

Steel crossed to the work desk and pulled out a chair, then went back to the woman and took her elbow, pulling her to the chair without exerting force. She came and sat at his urging, still afraid of him. He said determinedly, "The truth about your friend out there." Sapphire joined them and they flanked her, staring down at her expressionlessly. "You wanted to tell us, so tell us."

She turned her head slightly, but would not look up at them, seeming slightly dazed. She started slowly. "He's a -- well he's been sent here to kill you. It's as simple as that. To kill all three of you."

Steel stared down at her. "Sent from where?"

She drew a breath, her brow furrowing slightly in distress. "Well, from what I can make out he's been, um... he's been based in my time."

Sapphire interjected, "In 1948?"

The woman looked up at her in surprise. "Yes."

"Is that where you met him?"

The woman's gaze dropped again, her face blanking slightly. "Yes, that's right."

Sapphire looked at Steel. He met her eyes for a moment and then turned away to look out the window again. Everything seemed quiet. The car out past the blue and white sign saying the station accepted American Express Cards. So still, so frozen in time. He turned from the window to stare at the back of the woman's head. "Sent from the past into the future. Into this time."

She shivered and answered, "Yes, to trap you. To trick you." She bowed her head, her voice trembling. "S -- if I were you I -- I -- you'd better leave here. Look, you'd better try to escape!" She turned her head slightly, not quite looking over her shoulder at him, then looking up into Sapphire's expressionless face.

At that moment Silver came through the door to the garage, shutting it behind him. He was not his usual dapper self. His face was white and grim and he shook his head with a wry laugh. "We can't." He looked directly at Steel. "There's a barrier, out by the through-road. Whatever it is it completely encircles us."

Steel's eyes were dark and he asked sternly, "Can't you break through it?"

"No." He shook his head, pressing his lips together on the time he had spent trying and forcing his breathing steady.

Steel moved around to look into the woman's face, then up into Sapphire's. Her voice thrummed with power as she stared him in the eye, Silver listening. {Sent from the past?}

Steel answered wryly, resentfully, [They always were better organized.]

The dark haired man was still listening. He twitched his head and then the three turned as one to stare at the car.

Sapphire crossed the room and leaned against the counter, staring intently at the young woman. Silver was searching the suitcases in the trunk, pulling out anything that felt strange. A small brown box, a black notecase, a few books. Steel asked him, "Who do you think they represent?"

Setting the things he had gathered on the floor, Silver asked, "Those three?"


"I don't know." He stood up and lifted his head to aim his voice over the top of the car. "See, the only people with similar powers are the... the Transient Beings." He said it darkly, and it had the desired effect. Steel left what he had been doing on the other side of the garage and came to Silver anxiously.

"The Transient Beings are locked in the past, where they belong!" he protested angrily.

Silver nodded his head, watching Steel. "So far, yes."

The anger gave an excess of energy and Steel snatched up the moderate-sized, wicker case from the trunk. "They can change shape and move anywhere, but only in the past!" He stalked off with the case angrily. Silver turned to watch him, the box and black notecase at his feet temporarily forgotten. Steel opened the case, growling, "They can not move forward in time!"

It was a picnic basket, with a blue and white checked cloth on top. He was going to pull out the rest of the contents when Silver said softly, "Maybe they've learned. Been taught, perhaps." He was pulling tools from his pockets to analyze another bit of equipment. Steel stared at him in shock and he continued, "I mean if someone wanted to use the right people, recruit them, send them forward in time to find us... what better choice?"

The idea, however wrong it was, felt right. Steel stared ahead at the wall, thoughtfully. "Than Transient Beings, with an access to time."

"Yes," Silver agreed firmly. He returned the bit of equipment to the suitcase and looked for something else to analyze.

Steel continued grimly, "A way of moving into the future." He was silent for a moment, then drew a breath. "Yeah, well they'd need some sort of a... device to get here." He moved past Silver towards the front of the car.

Silver murmured, "Oh, yes." Steel opened the door and stared inside.

They... the Transient Beings walked outside, following the faint crackle in their senses. The leader, his hands behind his back, stepped forward to stare at the car. His two companions stopped and stood together, their arms folded in front of them, watching him. He walked slowly to the driver's door, considering the vehicle carefully. At last, after pursing his lips thoughtfully, he raised his left hand and brought it down slowly. He was not at all surprised when it passed through the visible roof. He could see his hand, feel the hum of the image of his vehicle before him. Amused, he smiled.

Steel bent down to the young woman, staring at her intently. "When he brought you here...."

As he hesitated, she asked, "Yes?"

"How did he do it?"

Startled, she said, "Well how should I know?"

Sapphire, leaning against the counter behind them, closed her eyes a moment, then stared at Silver, who was on the opposite side of the young woman. He knelt, his hands on the chair arm and stared at her intently as Steel whirled away in frustration. "You traveled with him, didn't you?" he asked indignantly.

She stuttered weakly, "Yes, of course I did."

"Then explain the journey!" He watched her face intently.

"Well, we just drove here." She did not look at him, her dark eyes fuzzy. "I told you before, it -- it happened without any kind of warning!"

Steel cut in, low and stern. "Yes, but you neglected to tell us before that you knew it was going to happen." She drew a breath, opening her mouth but he continued, "That it was supposed to happen."

"Yes well, um, that was the plan, you see. His plan."

Sapphire watched the woman with great suspicion. Her voice, humming and powerful, touched their thoughts. {Why should she help us?} Silver was staring at the young woman's neck, as she kept her head turned away from them. {Why is she telling us all this?}

Steel murmured back, [I've been wondering that.]

The woman suddenly said, "Anyway, it wasn't a garage."

Steel looked at her. "What wasn't?"

She gave a slight shake of her head. "This place. Well, not so far in my time, anyway."

"What was it?"

She blinked, her voice becoming ghostly. "A cafe. Just a small cafe."

The leader of the Transient Beings lifted his head sharply.

The girl was twining her fingers in her purse under Silver's watchful gaze. Excitement seemed to knife out of her and she said with animation, "Three different buildings. Three separate time periods! But he chose the cafe, in my time. He chose to meet me!" Her expression became somewhat dazed and happy, the pride of a young woman in love. She gazed up at the ceiling in warm happiness. "It's romantic, don't you think?"

The dark-haired Being listened. The golden-haired one said, "Ready?"

He nodded slightly and affirmed, "Yes."

The animation faded from the woman's face, to leave a kind of resentful anger as she said, "All three of them, all trying to play a trick on you, to trap you!"

Silver asked gently, "And you?"

Startled, she looked down into his eyes. "Me?"

He shifted slightly and asked, "What sort of... trick are you playing?"

Her eyelids fluttered and she said weakly, "I just want to help you." She looked away from him, and they felt a faint, jittering sensation from her. "All right, I -- I care about the man. And... I realize that he's different I mean... well he can probably live forever, but -- " the jittering sensation was almost a sound loud enough to hear and it had attracted Silver's attention. He shifted, searching for its source. "Well I... I don't mind that, I mean -- " As Silver stood up she looked earnestly into his face. "I mean, who -- who wants to grow old?" She stood up with him, desperately staring into his eyes. "But -- I just don't want anyone to be hurt in this God-forsaken place! I -- I don't want anything to happen to any of you! W -- that's why I decided to warn you." Silver reached suddenly to jerk her collar open and see her upper chest. She did not seem to notice as she continued. "That's why I decided to... to tell you the truth about him and the others!" There were two black metallic objects, seemingly grown into the smooth flesh under her shoulder blades. Silver's fingers closed automatically on her shoulders in horror. She had not noticed a thing. She continued, programmed. "All right, I love the man. I'd probably do anything for him -- "

Silver pulled the right hand one out, leaving two raw, red spots on her skin and setting her in a loop as she repeated emotionlessly, "For him, for him, for him," until he, biting his lip, tore the left hand one out. Her face went blank, and she collapsed bonelessly. He caught her falling form and scooped his hands under her arms and legs, lifting her helpless body. He opened his mouth to speak to the others when the window of the locked door broke in.

The leader of the Transient Beings, the woman's man, walked through the glass without fear, without pause. Steel moved to meet him, ordering sharply, "Get her out of here." Silver and Sapphire bolted with the girl from the room. Steel blocked the Transient's path and caught him by the front of his coat. The Transient locked his hand on Steel's wrist and held him, sending agony up his arm. Steel tried to reach to free himself, but the Transient caught his other wrist and crushed his bones, he opened his mouth but did not cry out as he was almost forced to his knees before being flung aside against the cabinet and counter. For a moment he lost consciousness.

The Transient reached down and took his woman's purse. Steel recovered, fleeing out the door to the garage, slamming it shut behind him. The Transient simply knocked the door in, walking through to see the car with its trunk wide open and suitcases empty. There was no one in the room, he noted first, and then with some trepidation the rifled contents of his suitcases. He scanned quickly but what he needed did not ring back at him, and in dismay he moved to do a physical search.

Steel ran his hands up the woman's face, breaking the empty silence that had held her since Silver had torn the control devices off of her. She blinked slowly, then her blue-gray eyes rose to meet his. He said with grim quietness, "Now, you can tell us the truth."

It was not there. It was not there and if they had it... the game might already be over. He saw the contents of his other case on the shelf across the room, and hurried to check those. It was not there either. He began to search the inside of the car.

They had settled in the cafe. Silver stood behind the woman, whom they had seated at a table, and Steel urgently asked from the other side of it, "How did he bring you here?" She stared at him numbly, her hair lank and mussed now that her hat was gone. He sat down and asked, "What did he use to cross time?"

She looked at him and moved her lips, then managed to say, "He has a case. A tiny box. You'd think it was a game, at first. But... not if you stare into it. It's weird. He let me look at it, once. It's how you imagine a... a fortune teller's crystal to be."

Silver sat beside her, his hands folded on his knees, and was listening intently. Sapphire, across the room, asked, "You can see the future in it?"

She said heavily, "Yes. And the past. Everything."

Steel met Silver's horrified gaze and flicked his eyes in command. They knew the box she described and where it was. Silver was on his feet quickly and hurried out of the cafe. Steel stood up and moved to loom over the woman, but he was not trying to be menacing. He reached down and settled her coat around her roughly, trying to comfort her somehow.

The blond transient hurried into the garage, to see his superior closing up the engine door with an expression of pensive annoyance. When the dark one met his eyes, he knew what had happened. He hurried closer and glared accusingly. "You lost it. You lost the box!"

"Yes," the other admitted.

Frustrated and frightened, the blond snapped, "Well how can we do what we came here to do without that, then, eh? I mean, we can't even return without that thing!"

The dark haired one slammed the door of the engine shut and snapped angrily, "Then help me look for it!!"

The blonde glared, then his anger eased and he smiled with defiant wickedness. He lifted his tambourine and shook it, transferring back into the clothing of his base time. His cheeks red and merry again, his eyes bright with cruel laughter, he said, "Here comes I, little Johnny Jack, with me wife and me family on me back!" The other rolled his eyes at this playfullness. "Me family's large and me wife is small, and I'm the father of them all!" He opened the car door and began to search inside.

Silver watched all this, peering from behind the door. When they were absorbed again in searching the car, he thanked whatever powers may be that they had not yet looked down. He crawled cautiously around the back of the car, seeing the box, and reached under the car to get it from atop the pile of books.

"Oye," exclaimed a voice above his head.

He froze and looked up with a weak laugh. In the instant he had, he duplicated the box and weakly held it up on top of the trunk door. "Would you be looking for this?"

Johnny Jack snatched it up quickly. They both stared at him, the dark haired one's eyes gleamed with victory. His legs trembling, Silver pulled himself up to his feet and managed with a swallow and a look of dread, "A useful piece of apparatus."

Johnny Jack handed the box off to his companion and folded his arms to regard Silver with ugly hunger. "It's our ticket."

"And yours," the dark haired Transient added mockingly.

Silver smoothed his face into innocent bewilderment and tilted his head slightly at them, "Oh, to the future?" The dark haired one shook his head, they both managed to look even more darkly menacing with their slight smiles. Silver said weakly, "Oh. Oh, the past, then?" He tried to sound calm. A slight nod and a broadening of the smile was his answer. Timidly he asked, "How far back?"

The dark haired one smiled and answered almost conversationally, "Oh, couple of hundred million years."

Johnny Jack grinned and said mockingly, "Oh, yeah, that it would do nicely!"

Silver rubbed his forehead, his sheer terror hard to control. He shook his head and said from behind his hand, "Ah, yes. I'm very bad at dates. That's..." he knew then, and shifted his fingers to look at them in horror, his fist curling. "That's the Triassic Period! There was nothing here, then I... I wouldn't survive...." He shook his head, staring back and forth between them.

Johnny Jack grinned and looked to the other one, "He's quick, innit he?"

Silver shivered in horror, and then there was a surge of power. Johnny Jack transferred into his suit and backed up a few steps, folding his arms across his chest, his eyes gleaming malignantly. The other was stepping forward, beginning to open the box. Then there was a surge, a rumble of distortion and they were briefly held as time rippled. The two Transient Beings stared in surprise when it was over, for Silver was gone.

The clock on the kitchen wall read 10:04. Sapphire commented, "Forty minutes, this time."

Steel said grimly, "Ten, then twenty, then forty." He faced one way, she the other to stare up at the clock on the wall. "Doubling up each time."

"It seems that way."

A sound behind turned her around to face the way he was. Silver rushed into the room, slammed the door behind him and hurried forward between them. He looked at the clock, then spun to stare into Sapphire's eyes. "It is that way," he said hurriedly. All laughter was gone from him in the fear and despair he felt.

Steel said calmly, "Tell me."

Staring urgently into Sapphire's eyes, Silver said, "We have to get out of here quickly, like now!"

Sapphire stared at him in surprise. "But you said there's a barrier around the place?"

"There is!" he confirmed anxiously.

She continued, "A barrier that we can't break."

Nearly frantic with fear, he said urgently, "We'll have to break it. Somehow. Come on, Steel!" he hurried to the door to exit.

Steel pulled him up short, demanding firmly, "Tell me."

Frantic, Silver snapped, "Look, I'll tell you on the way!"

"No!" Steel snapped back firmly. Then more gently, "You'll tell me now."

Nearly out of his mind with frustration and fear, Silver grappled with calm, swallowing he tossed his head, grimacing angrily. "All right." He moved over to confront Steel. "They have a... a device. Some kind of a time box."

"We know that."

Sapphire added, "But the device isn't perfect!"

Silver looked at her and answered, "Well, no device can be, no matter who tries to use it. But Time, when it's been tampered with to this extent, tries to counteract things!"

Steel confirmed quietly, "With the time shifts."

Silver came back to him urgently, "Yes. On each occasion they've been doubling up. Multiplied. But when they move again, they will quadruple. Four times forty minutes, then four times that and so on." He was fishing through his pockets.

Steel snapped urgently, "What do you mean, it's quadrupled?"

"From this moment on, yes." He held up the little brown box between them.

"Y -- you did get it!" Steel stuttered in astonished relief.

"No," he said firmly. "There are now two time boxes, I'm afraid. This is another instant reproduction job." Steel stalked away in frustrated confusion, but Sapphire came to him as he studied the box.

She stared at him in relieved delight, hope dawning. "And that can get us out of here?"

He snorted. "I hope so," he said grimly, and started to turn away.

"Can I see it?" she asked hopefully. He stopped and stared at her gravely. She added, "Like a fortune teller's crystal, that's how she described it."

Silver was pale and not at all hopeful. He asked her grimly, "You really want to look into the future?"

Paling herself at his seriousness, she said softly, "Yes."

He said very softly, "It's best not to know."

She smiled at him and said with equal gentleness, "Silver, it's my job to know."

He drew a deep breath, meting her eyes reluctantly and brought out the box. "All right." He lifted it and opened the top.

Sapphire drew a quick breath before she looked down into it. Her lips parted at what she saw. Time whispered to her. "Space. Hours will become days and months. And years will become thousands of years." The blackness of space, stars across the distance, on and on and on. She lifted her gaze to meet Silver's troubled eyes. "There is nothing but space."

He closed the box grimly and raised his brows at her. "Yes," he whispered. He hurried away saying, "Come on!" and looked around frantically. Heading out into the dining room he shouted, "Steel? Steel!" He found his fellow agent out with the ragdoll woman, obviously trying to get her to her feet. Silver snapped angrily, "I've just explained, haven't I? This thing is not stable!"

Steel met his eyes and said with shaken anguish, "We have a job to do too."

Silver cut him off in fury. "No! Not in this place! This place is a trap for us!! Look, Transient Beings have been sent here to hunt us down, can you deal with them?!"

Steel looked away, down at the woman whose shoulders he was holding, then up into Silver's eyes to snap furiously, "You know very well I can't!"

Silver could not back down in this danger. He nearly shouted, "Then you have no moral duty! There's no one to help, so come on!"

Steel met his eyes in distress and anger. "What about her? She's been brought here from her own time -- "

Silver did not look down at the barely conscious woman, he glared ferociously at Steel. "And by her own choice! She's joined them!"

Steel's voice held a sob as he protested, "They're using her! We have to help her, it's our duty." He bent down to try again to pull her up.

She woke slightly, had been listening to their angry voices. Her head lolled as she said, "Thank you. Thank you for helping me." She managed to stand and Steel steered her towards the door.

Sapphire called him from the kitchen with firm warning. {Don't go that way. The two men are waiting by the entrance.}

Steel turned the woman and flicked a look to Silver, who rushed to open the door in obedience. [We'll go through the yard.] He took the woman with him, holding her warm, helpless body up. They joined Sapphire in the kitchen. At the moment Silver opened the door to the yard, the old man stood there in it and stared at them in outraged surprise.

"This is private, here! Private property! If you want service, it's in the front of the building." Steel transferred the woman to Sapphire's arms and led the way out, forcing the old man to step aside. He stopped and stood between the old man and the others. The old man stuttered indignantly, "I said this is private, here! This part of the building's private and you don't belong here!" Sapphire hurried with the woman around the corner between the building and the fence, Silver right behind them. Steel followed quickly.

The two men were brought up short when the voice behind them became confident and strong, saying, "Silver." The old man had changed, to his suit and tie, confident strength of someone who knew exactly where he was. He stepped forward mockingly. "That box in your pocket. Give it to me, please."

Steel and Silver both turned to look at him, incredulous and horrified. They knew. Somehow they knew! Silver managed to utter defiantly, "Sorry!"

The old man said enticingly, "I can help you, Silver. I can't help him, but I can help you." He allowed a moment for his words to sink in. "It's his time, you see, and Sapphire's, but not necessarily yours. So, just give me the box."

Steel watched with horror as Silver suddenly moved towards the old man, face paler than ever. He looked like a fly caught in a web, dazed with fear. Steel swallowed as Silver reached into his pocket and lifted out the box.

The old man held out his hand and said, "That's fine, thanks." Silver turned and looked uncertainly into Steel's helpless eyes. Seeing him waver, the old man urged kindly, "I promise we can help you, Silver. We can't help the others, but we can help you."

As Silver stared down at the box, then back and forth between them, Steel choked out, "Are you gonna believe that?" Silver hesitantly lifted the box slightly towards Steel, who reached for it.

At the last moment, Silver jerked it away stubbornly and looked at the old man. "No."

Sensing victory, the man smiled and drew his shoulders back. "That's it, that's the way."

Silver chewed on his lips and turned towards Steel, who backed away and stared in horror as his former companion started to open the box, face blank. "Silver..." he pleaded painfully.

Silver shook his head slightly. "You don't know how to work this thing. But I think I do." The Transient Being took a half step closer as Silver looked down into the box. Then there was a click and Silver spun, opening the box wide with a gasp. The Transient gave a squawking cry as it was hurled away through time. Silver stared, shaken, at the spot the creature had stood in and closed the box.

Steel came to his side, shaking. "Both a weapon -- "

Silver's attention moved down in shock to the box. "And a means of travelling through time."

Steel snatched the box from Silver's hands. "And no one should have access to that kind of power." He was still trembling.

A door slammed, and they looked up to find Johnny Jack coming out of the door to the cafe. In his ragged coat, top hat and sun-reddened features. Almost... almost as though he were a human. He sang out, smug in having found them, "A jug or two of ale'll make our voices ring, money in our pocket's a very good..." he paused, seeing the box in Steel's hands and pointed towards him, "thing..." he trailed off. He stared in blank surprise, then asked weakly, "One of those?"

Steel answered him grimly, "One of those."

Silver grinned at him. "The Triassic Period, wasn't it?" He looked down at the box Steel had opened a crack, then touched it gently with his finger to open it wide. The Transient was blown away through time with a shout of anguish. Steel closed the box and Silver called smugly, "Have a good time there!"

Steel stalked past him to open the door into the cafe. Silver stared after him in confusion. Steel turned and said with icy fury, "There's no need to worry, as long as we have this!" He held up the box in illustration. It was time to go on the offensive. "Our friend crossed time to hunt us down. Now it's our turn to be the hunters." He went through the door and Silver followed him.

Sapphire was pushing through the underbrush, the girl huddled against her. She murmured constant encouragement but neither stopped nor slowed.

Steel stepped through the shattered glass of the door into the service reception. Silver stepped in behind him and he held up a hand in quick warning. They could see into the garage of course, because there was no longer a door between them. Nothing moved, there was no sound. Steel led Silver into the garage, they both looked around, searching. Meeting at the back end of the car they knew in sudden nervousness that the man was not there. And where might he be, eh?

Sapphire was still pushing through the brush. She imparted as much of her strength to carrying the girl as she could, but then she saw a humanoid shape ahead of her and froze. The dark haired Transient, the last one and so perhaps the most dangerous. He said in mock friendliness, "Hello, Sapphire." He stalked forward into the light, just enough so she could see his features. "'What would happen if I try to get away from here,' do you remember me asking you that?"

Sapphire kept her arms supporting the girl. "Yes," she answered hopelessly.

Amusement stained his voice. "And, uh, you said it wasn't possible."

She forced out grimly through her teeth, "Yes, I remember."

The mockery grew stronger as he said, his eyes gleaming in the shadows, "Then why are you trying to leave?"

Silver ran into the dining area of the cafe. Of course it was empty. He spun to look elsewhere and found Steel beside him. Before he could ask, Steel voiced the question. "So where is he?"

And then Sapphire reached him, full of fear and vibrating with the intensity of her signal. {Steel...}


{We're near the road. Please come here quickly,} her voice faded out in anguish.

He and Silver bolted for the door.

The last Transient watched their approach through the waving branches. Steel came to Sapphire, without even seeing the Transient in the shadows. Silver was a few feet behind him. Thus when her eyes looked through him he realized something was wrong. A faint click behind him only gave him enough time to spin and see the Transient opening his time box. It only gave him enough time to reach for the copy Silver had made.

And his awareness filled with space and stars.

A cafe, almost empty, with jazzy, waltz music playing. The tables were covered with red and white checkered cloths. Ashtrays on the tables, cups out. And a woman, wearing a black dress, a double strand of pearls about her neck, who sat waiting. She was pale, this woman, with dark, dark hair, lovely eyes and she fiddled with her black gloves. A ringing and she turned her head towards the entrance to the cafe.

He walked in and smiled at her. He was tall, in a gray coat, white shirt and light gray tie. His dark, curled hair looked as warm as it felt when she touched it. His face was rectangular and when lit by his rare smile was more handsome than any man she had ever known. He reached out to take her profferred hands, his eyes dancing. He said proudly, "We did it."

She clasped his fingers in her own and said warmly, "Yes, we did it."

And he bent down and kissed her cheek tenderly. Then he sat across from her, pulling up his trousers so they sat right, and looked about the cheerful cafe. After a moment he said, "Ah! No one running this place today?" He met her smile and laughter with his own.

An in-joke, referring back to the day they had met in that very cafe. She smiled warmly, "Not since I came in." He chuckled and she offered her hands to him. He held them warmly as she said, "A fine place to meet."

Drowning in her eyes, he whispered back, "Yes."

And then there was another ringing sound, and a blond man staggered in the door, taking a moment to straighten up and turn to look at them. He held a brown box in his left hand. Right behind him came a golden haired woman, who stepped uneasily close behind him. The woman and her man had separated the moment the pair came in the door.

They stared at each other, then she divorced herself from the proceedings, and it was he who glowered at the two as they sat down at a far table. The woman did not look their way. The man lifted his head, eyes lost, and asked them unsteadily, "Wh -- what year is this?" He did not answer them, simply stared in faint incredulity. The golden-haired woman glanced fearfully over her shoulder at him, then returned her attention to the man in front of her. Hesitantly, the blond man tried again. "Excuse me, um, could you tell me what... what year this is?"

Provoked by the strangeness of it all, the dark haired man asked icily, "Do you mean you don't know?" The dark woman met his eyes briefly, a faint request, then turned her gaze down.

The blonde answered softly, "We don't know."

Smugly, the dark man folded his hands together and said, "It's 1948."

Now they both looked at him, the woman's eyes bright and worried. She looked at her companion, and he looked at her, and what communication passed between them was silent. The blond man lowered his gaze to the tabletop and said wearily, "Well then, then we must be in the wrong time." The woman bowed her head as he twiddled his fingers.

The dark man grimaced slightly, victory sweet in his blood. "Yes, you must," he mocked them. The dark-haired woman across from him lowered her gaze further. His eyes dancing, he asked, "How did you get here?" All three of the other people looked at him, them blankly, the woman closest with some scolding. Then she lowered her eyes again.

The blond man got to his feet, holding the brown box almost threateningly in his hands. He approached them cautiously, then suddenly reached and caught the dark haired woman's arm, pulling her out of her seat to safety behind him. The blonde woman was on her feet at his side instantly, and they glared at the dark man.

Icily, Steel said, "That device that you have. Could I have it, please?" The Transient gazed at them, looking faintly perplexed. Steel said again, more as though he was begging, "Please?"

The dark haired woman broke her muteness and told him urgently, "You'd better."

He blinked at them, stubbornly, his lips slightly curled. After a moment he reached into his inner pocket for it. "All right."

Steel said swiftly, "On the table, facing you."

He looked down at the box in his hands and smiled wryly, turning it to face him. He prepared to open it and looked up at Steel with a mix of amusement, and perhaps the slightest pity. "Well, we don't really need this, now, do we?"

And the woman behind Sapphire and Steel answered him, "No."

Startled, they both glanced back over their shoulders at her, but she would not meet their eyes. The Transient sat at the table, perfectly calm and smiling slightly. He opened the box and nothing happened. All that it contained were the pieces for a chess game.

Sapphire said nervously, "Steel...!"

Steel almost shrank back, keeping still only with great effort, his eyes wide. "I don't understand it."

"Don't trust him." The dark haired woman watched both of them, could feel the tremors in their bodies. Sapphire's next words cut off her pity. "And don't believe her!"

She said almost gently, "Actually, you can for once." She stepped close to Steel and said in his ear, laying her head against his shoulder for just a moment, "Because... this is the trap." And then she straightened up, meeting his eyes for a moment before walking between them to the Transient's side. She turned and stared at them steadily. "This place, you see, this place is nowhere. And it's forever." She turned away from them, then back to smile mockingly just for a moment. Then she looked down warmly at her Transient companion, her soft breath of laughter in the air before they both faded away.

Steel launched himself to the chess set and stared at it in horror. Sapphire sank into the chair next to him and he set it down and ran to the doors. Opening them, he almost fell out into emptiness. Space full of stars. The woman's word haunted him. "Nowhere," it echoed.

And Sapphire said behind him, "We should've known."

He tore his eyes from the emptiness outside and turned to her. She was staring down at the chess set, no expression on her face. Panicking he slammed the doors closed and came back to the table to yank his own box open, ignoring the sound of loose parts moving around inside of it. "I'll get us out of here!"

Sapphire did not even look at what he was doing when he opened the box, until the chess pieces fell to the table. She met his eyes emotionlessly and he rushed away to the curtained window. She did not turn, only said quietly, "I saw the future. And it was our future." He threw the curtains wide and stared out into empty space. Sapphire stood finally and came to his side. They stared out the window together, trapped in this one room of the cafe as it drifted through endless space.

THE END (sob)

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