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Sapphire and Steel

by P. J. Hammond
Episode # 3,

"The Creature's Revenge"

Transcripted by Jill

ALL IRREGULARITIES WILL BE HANDLED BY THE FORCES CONTROLLING EACH DIMENSION

TRANSURANIC HEAVY ELEMENTS MAY NOT BE USED WHERE THERE IS LIFE

MEDIUM ATOMIC WEIGHTS ARE AVAILABLE GOLD, LEAD, COPPER, JET, DIAMOND, RADIUM, SAPPHIRE, SILVER AND STEEL

SAPPHIRE AND STEEL HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED


It was a bright winter morning, the trees bare except for a few withered brown leaves that still clung to some branches. An icy wind blew across the city streets. The late dawn light reflected golden-white off the windows of buildings. Pigeons, disturbed by some movement, flew into the air.

Inside one flat the window curtains let the light through, casting the room in a gray winter color. The harsh cries of a fresh awake baby pierced the air. They sounded tinny through the small intercom beside the bed. A shadow moved across the intercom, the hand generating it fell upon it and lifted it to a face. Pale skin, thin, delicate lips, high, arching eyebrows, straight dark-brown hair and a little mole on the left side of her chin. She did not even open her eyes as she pressed the 'send' button, her voice a bare breath of sound. "Sh, sh, sh, sh, all right," she murmured into the little box.

The body beside her stirred fitfully. "Rothwyn!" came a deep, protesting groan. He was also pale but had thinning, curly hair and a high forehead.

Rothwyn suppressed a sigh, murmuring noises to the baby. She set the intercom down and rolled into a sitting position, slipping her feet into the house slippers with their single thongs to go between her big toes and little toes. She spoke, slightly louder for the man beside her. "It's all right, I'm awake."

"Rothwyn!" he groaned again, still too asleep to do ought else than protest the disturbance of his dreams.

She stood up, her white silken pajamas outlining her wide hips and not hiding the maternal firmness of her large breasts. Made to bear children, the wise women of another time would have described her body. She moved sleepily towards the door. "I'll deal with things," she said, mildly exasperated. The intercom still let through the baby's harsh demands.

The hall was graced with a straight black chair next to the door. A glass table ahead on her left sported by a pink, mushroom-shaped lamp. The floor was black and white, a tiled checkerboard. Rothwyn stopped and flung her hair back so that it rested more smoothly on her shoulders. She stood at attention, raising her chin and blinking the sleep from her rich, brown eyes. "Day twenty-seven. Experimental Project ES Stroke Five Stroke Treble Seven." She turned her head right and looked up at the glowing red facets of the monitor, which had appeared in the wall near the ceiling as she spoke. "Urban examination and observation." She raised her left hand to glance at her watch. "Time of day, eight-twelve A.M." She added in an aside, a slight twitch to her mouth as the addition amused her. "Old time. Month, January... old calendar. Year, One thousand, nine hundred and eighty, AD." The initiation of the morning report accomplished, she moved to the door of the nursery, opening it quietly. The baby's angry cries had risen in pitch as time passed, and she came in quickly. "All right, all right, all right!" she said gently. She reached into the crib to take her baby into her arms.


The halls were empty, silent in the morning light that fell through the glass doors to the roof. This was the top floor of the building, and the elevator was at the bottom. Then it began to go up.


The baby was all fresh and new, his head covered with the faintest down. He wailed in his mother's arms, but the wails had lost much of their outraged force when she picked him up. She set him comfortably back in the crib and reached for the tiny toy hanging from the edge of his crib and pulled on its string. The air filled with the sound of a lullaby. He quieted quickly.

Rothwyn gazed down at her baby, lost for a moment in contemplation of his perfection. He was absolutely the most wonderful creature she had ever seen. She continued her report, glancing at the red faceted glow of the nursery monitor. "Still winter. Well, it would be, wouldn't it?" Her attention returned to the marvel in the crib. "Eldred and I seem to be adjusting quite well to the cold weather. So is the baby. Our temperatures are normal." Her thoughts turned and she moved to look out the window, an edge of sorrow creeping into her heart. "That's living inside, of course. With a comparatively civilized system of heating. Outside, I'd hate to imagine how we'd survive outside. I only have to look out to feel... threatened by it."

The building they were on had eight stories, and was taller than the other flats around it. The brilliance of the morning sun made everything clear. She could see the greenery of roof gardens on top of neighboring buildings. Below there were a few cars moving on the streets. Here and there early rising people moved along the sidewalks. She shuddered, feeling an imaginary wind, and left the nursery, shutting the door gently behind her as the baby had fallen back to sleep. She moved out into the next room of the flat, the living room with its several large, overstuffed brown leather chairs.


The elevator reached the top floor and the doors opened. After a second, a tall woman with straight blonde hair stepped from it. Her bangs were cut evenly across her forehead, skimming her eyebrows, the sides dropped below her shoulders. She wore blue embroidered silk clothing of a suspiciously Chinese character. It hung straight on her tall frame, lending her a flattened, almost androgynous appearance. The high, strong heels of her matching boots merely added to her imposing height. Her lipstick was a light color, her face pale and strong. She stopped.

The glass doors beside the elevator opened and a man stepped through. His suit was slate gray and his tie diagonally striped black and white, his shirt white. His hair, a darker blond than the woman's, was straight and thick upon his head, long enough to hide his ears and brush his eyelashes. He stopped beside her and she spoke, her voice crisp and businesslike, but with a note of urgency. "This is the top floor."

He answered, "Then they must be here." He moved swiftly towards the apartment door in front of them. The woman moved into step behind him. He rang the doorbell once. Then he reached to ring it again.


Rothwyn fluffed up the pillows on the sofa. Suddenly she stopped and began speaking, turning to look at living room monitor. "Oh, and I wanted to report a transference failure." The glow appeared in the wall. In its camera's image, the room appeared at first red and blurry, but rapidly cleared and the colors became familiar ones to human eyes, the image a bubble. Rothwyn had moved to tidy a table, sounding increasingly firm. "Eldred said it was not important at this stage," she turned and came closer to gaze into the monitor, "but it is to me. After all, I am responsible for the domestic side of this experiment, am I not." She had been holding onto her unease for some time, and allowed it to creep into her voice as she spoke almost accusingly. "You see, we stopped receiving supplies of nutrition... two days ago."


The gray-clad man shoved the door open, stepping quickly into the apartment. The woman stepped in behind him. It was empty. There was some garbage such as cardboard boxes against the wall, and piles of wood shavings. They glanced right and left, then by unspoken mutual agreement, went in opposite directions to search the rooms. The man went to the left and the woman to the right.


Rothwyn continued. The strange problem had alarmed her quite more than Eldred felt it should, but she could not ignore her feelings. "It's probably some simple breakdown that you've already noticed back there, so I suppose there's nothing to worry about. We still have some supplies left. I'll try to make them last." Her voice was developing a slight edge. She did not realize that the situation was bringing out ancient maternal instincts to protect her home and child. Her attachment to Eldred was less intense. He was an adult and did not depend on her as the child did. She licked her lips and tilted her head slightly. "We don't mind making a study of Twentieth Century food, but we shouldn't like to have to eat the stuff." She tried to smile to show she was keeping her spirits up, but she could not quite make it sincere.


The man opened one door, but found only an old telephone on top of what were probably telephone books. Irritated with the continued failure of his search, he closed the door rather hard. He continued down the hall and quickly came out onto the landing where they had initially entered the apartment. He was ready to leave. The woman met him there, but turned to cross the room. Glancing over, his eyes lit on a pair of doors to a room they had not been in. He quickly passed the woman on his way to the doors. "Living room," he said. He opened the doors and stepped inside the room. There were drop sheets over a few pieces of furniture, a sawhorse, and dust inside. He stared around, his frustration growing. "This place hasn't been lived in for months! We're too late," he snapped.

"Eighty-six days," she replied, unperturbed.

"What?"

"It's been empty for eighty-six days."

He jerked his head up, startled. "It happened eighty-six days ago?!"

She tilted her head briefly, as if listening to something. "No, we would have been told." She paced across the room, running her fingers along the drop cloth covered furniture.

The man stiffened, eyes skimming the room sharply. "People from another time. People who shouldn't be here. What would eighty-six terrestrial days mean to them, one way or the other?" He shifted his weight angling his body toward the woman.

She stood, her hands resting upon her hips, only a few meters from him. She seemed as though she was not even listening to him until she spoke. "We would've known. If something happened to them we would have known." She suddenly turned her grave gaze upon him. "This whole planet would have known by now."

He had to concede her point, but it did not comfort him any. "We've searched this whole building. Every floor. Every room!"

"I know, but they're here," she insisted back at him.

He shot her a mild, injured glance. He grumbled, his voice becoming a sneer. "Well, what are these people, invisible? Microscopic?!"

She moved through the room toward him and her gaze turned inward as she said softly, "I don't know. But whoever they are, I know they're somewhere here."

"And whatever it is that intends to attack them..." he growled.

She stopped just behind him, her attention not on him but searching for some anomalous sensation. "I don't think it's even started. Not properly."


Rothwyn continued her morning rounds. She moved into the next room, amused as the glowing red monitor facet appeared to her view in the wall. "The kitchen. Eight Twenty-eight A.M. Day 27." She gestured with a flourish to show it off.


He swept the cloth covering one desk off of it and went through the drawers. Most were empty. He found a silvery metal clip in one. The woman's voice suddenly filled his thoughts. {Steel....} He dropped the clip.

She turned on the landing where she stood, quite pleased with herself. {They are here,} she told him.


Rothwyn pulled a wooden egg holder out to display the brown and white eggs to the monitor. "Breakfast, Twentieth Century-style."


The woman's face was an expressionless mask. Her eyes glowed with a deep blue fire. Her thoughts reached out again. {Steel,} she said firmly. He came to her.


Rothwyn put the eggs on the counter and talked to the monitor. "There would have been actual items of food. There would have been eggs, real eggs." She brought a yellow, rectangular block on a plate out from the refrigerator. Inside were several tupperware containers of food. "Natural bread, natural butter, and probably some kind of preserve." She held up a jam jar full of red jam.


The woman was pleased as she garnered information. Her mental voice offered it to Steel. {A girl. No, not quite a girl. A woman! Yes, a woman!}

He was surprised. His mental voice curled to her. [You mean you can hear her?]

{No, I just know she's here somewhere. And a man. There's also a man.}

After searching the whole building and finding nothing, Steel was confused. [B -- where are --]

Her voice rang sharply again. {Wait! There's a third one! A child....} a breath of time as she reconsidered the signal she sensed. {No, a baby.} The heels of her boots raised her above Steel's height, and she looked down at him, smiling with genuine delight, her hands clasped behind her back. "Yes, it's a small baby!"

You and children, he thought, exasperated. He moved hesitantly down the landing to the dresser he had been rifling earlier, his brow furrowed in puzzlement. "A baby? Here?"

"Yes."

"Well, can you hear it?" He pursed his lips, trying to sense whatever it was she was picking up.

"No."

"Can they hear us?" he asked worriedly.

"I don't think so. But whoever they are, the atmosphere is normal. It feels normal." She turned her head, still holding her hands behind her back, not leaving her position on the landing as she did not want to lose the faint sense of presence she was receiving. But for her height she might not have sensed anything at all.

Steel paced uneasily around the dresser. His voice low, he said, "Yes, well it's far from normal." Where are they? Why have we found no trace of them? He turned and stalked towards the door. "I'm going to check the building again."

Her voice, soft though it was, caught him and turned him aside. "No, Steel. I said they're here."

He stopped and came back to stand behind her. "Here? In this room?" he demanded. He needed her to concentrate on finding them, not on the simple fact of their existence.

She listened, then said, "No."

She started to move and he quickly followed after her. He asked, "In another time? Where?!"

It seemed to come to her slowly, as her movement changed the reference for what she was sensing. "Above us," she said softly, staring up at the ceiling. She stood on something to raise herself higher. Behind her, Steel followed her gaze, but quickly turned his eyes to watch her. She said calmly, "They're somewhere above us."


Rothwyn had set out a china milk pitcher and cups on the small central table of the kitchen. The countertop and sink were stainless steel, and she had set a yellow bowl in the sink. "And as one is having to prepare -- " from the toaster to the left of the sink she drew out a loaf of bread and playfully showed it to the monitor "and cook this food for the morning meal, our dear housewife and mother -- of the late Twentieth Century -- " she drew a knife from a drawer. There was a subtle sensation, as of a breath being drawn, and she stopped, momentarily mesmerized by the light reflecting off of the serrated blade. She put it away with a shrug. "Would have been organizing her evening meal about the same time."


Furious realization hit Steel. "On the roof. They're hiding on the roof!"

His partner contradicted him softly. "No. They're not hiding."


Rothwyn leaned on the table, her weight on her palms, hands away from each other. "In, say, nine out of ten homes, the main task in the preparing of that evening meal," she left the table and gathered a frying pan out of the oven, "would have been the melting of, or the restoring to its proper temperature, the principal element of that meal." She paused to consider her next words thoughtfully. "And that principal element would almost always have been," she opened the refrigerator and pulled out a leg of lamb, one of the real items that was a prop for their life in the past, "a piece of dead animal."


The woman, Sapphire, had been silent for some time, her attention focused on what she could sense above her. Steel spun on his heel, intending to get onto the roof.


Rothwyn stared at the hunk of meat in her hands for a moment. Her thoughts seemed to be clotted today. With a mental heave, she turned towards the table, then darkness closed about her.

In the darkness, light and images appeared. Row upon row of huge hooks hanging from a ceiling. Sounds of animals, sheep perhaps, bellowing and crying, sounds like snarls. The smell of blood and excrement rose into her nostrils. Ever in the background the chinging of metal on metal, as of someone sharpening blades if Rothwyn understood or not. Sheep as they were hanging, bleeding dry. Sheep and lambs turning their heads in their pens and bleating in fear.

Rothwyn tried to shut her eyes to close the vision off, but it did no good. The cries and sharpening metal roared at her until she finally screamed, clutching her head to try to drive out the noises, letting the haunch fall with a thud to the floor.


Sapphire gazed up at the ceiling, then moved to join Steel, who was waiting for her. She preceded him out of the room but slowed to a halt instead of going with him to the door. He stopped and spun to look at her. Seeing her standing frozen, he asked quickly, "What happened?"

She could hear a scream ringing through her head and turned around to follow it.


Rothwyn stopped screaming and blinked in puzzlement. What had happened here? Something... something strange. She felt a faint edge of panic in her thoughts. Run, run, danger. Flee. It faded.


Sapphire stated calmly, "The attack has started."


Rothwyn bent uncertainly to the piece of meat lying on the floor. She heard a sheep baaing. With careful fingers she picked it up, holding it uneasily away from her body. She glanced at the monitor in the wall uneasily, then returned the meat to the freezer, feeling more afraid every moment.


The two people moved as one toward the door. They vanished from sight to appear again outside the elevator, where they moved swiftly up the stairs to the roof. The woman said, "There may be another level. A rooftop apartment." Pigeons cooed, protesting their presence. The pair moved up into a small shack atop the building and opened the door. The roof before them was empty in the morning light. They leaned on the metal railing, bewildered by the absence.


Rothwyn carefully set a tray full of food. She broke a nutrition square in half, had put some green cubes and white balls to vary the flavor from what little was left of their stores, had a large cup half-full of water on the tray. She closed the storage can and carried the tray into their bedroom.

Eldred had apparently knocked a pillow on the floor. He lay there, snoring lightly, his spare patrician features sweet in sleep. She found herself smiling slightly. She set the tray down on the side table and bent to pick up the pillow. Just as she brought it to eye level, something shrieked at her. She froze, holding the pillow tight. It would be so easy just to put the pillow over Eldred's face. No! Her arms moved, provoked by the outraged shrieking noise, inching the soft weapon closer and closer to the sleeping man's face.


Sapphire raised her hands to her head, trying to clarify what she was feeling. The shrieking of a long-necked, white bird. Wings violently flapping. Rage and murderous intent.


Rothwyn locked herself and the urge began to fade, along with the violent cries in her head. She stared, appalled, at the pillow in her hands, turning away from Eldred's sleeping form. What is happening to me? she wondered.


Sapphire, her hands to her ears to block outside sounds, listened intently. There was nothing, but she felt it could come again at any moment. She finally lowered her hands.


Rothwyn gazed at the pillow, her mind blank. A stirring beside her and Eldred opened his eyes. Muzzily he said, "Hello." He stretched his arms, trying to work out the kinks. When she did not answer him, he asked softly, "What's wrong?" He waited, puzzled, as she continued to stare at the pillow.

She still gazed at the pillow, then gave her head a slow shake. "Nothing. Lean forward."

Delighted, he sat up and edged forward so that she could place the pillow behind him. She fluffed it a little, then picked up the tray and set it grandly in his lap. He smiled, but remembered too that there was a problem. "Is this the last of the consignment?" he asked her.

She stood up then, her eyes still on his pillow. "Not quite."

He looked around, but could see nothing that should lock her attention like this. She must be very troubled about something. Feeling slightly exasperated, he said, "Whatever it is, will you tell me, please? I mean, it's not as if they're likely to leave us, stranded here in time, are they." He started to eat, trying to behave normally for her as she seemed to be very stressed.

She watched him eat, her thoughts blank for a moment, the faint underlying panic still present. Then she shook herself and twitched a smile at him. "I hope not."


They had gone around the metal railing and were walking slowly across the empty roof, Steel in front. Sapphire suddenly raised her hands to her head and telepathed to him, her thoughts bemused, {Did you hear that?}

He turned quickly to face her. [Hear what?]

She lowered her hands from her face. {It's stopped now. It was about... about there, just over there.} She pointed ahead of them and dropped her hand slowly.

He turned, staring where she had indicated. [What was it?] he asked hopefully.

{People talking. Two people.}


Rothwyn opened the left-hand of the double doors to the living room. She was walking past the glass table when a movement caught her attention from the corner of her eye. She looked down at the small, battered wooden box, which she would have sworn had moved. She drew herself up and walked with businesslike steps towards the glow in the wall. She had lost her calm front. She checked her watch. The muscles in her face were tense, and she heard her own nervousness when she spoke. "Nine thirty-four AM, Day Twenty-seven."


Sapphire tipped slightly, excited. {There! It's there now!}

[Voices?]

{Only one voice this time.}


"I'd like a signal back, please. I'd like to be sure that you can still hear me." She waited, but there was no response. Tensely, she said, "Would you please signal back?" Nothing happened. She whirled to leave the room, when a pillow on the brown leather sofa suddenly slid across it. She stared at the suspicious pillow, wondering if she really had heard a bizarre kind of 'cuck cuck' noise. She glanced back at the wall monitor, nervously.


Steel asked with mingled excitement and annoyance, [Can you hear what it's saying?]

{No.} She watched him turn away in frustration. He moved towards where she had heard the voice. She felt a sudden stab of worry and said sternly, {Careful! I don't trust this!}

He agreed fully with her. [Neither do I.] He stepped forward cautiously, listening. [What about the voice?]

{Gone.} She tilted her head in surprise as she heard him come up against something. {What is it?}

He splayed his hand in the air, thought to her, [Here,] then turned on his heel to gaze at her. He was so startled he spoke aloud. "It's a wall!" He turned and pounded it with his left hand, then splayed his fingers wide. She could hear the sound of the impacts, and came to stand beside him and touch the invisible barrier. Steel tapped it lightly with his fingers.


Rothwyn stepped into the hall. A movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention, she heard a mewing sound. All was still, nothing to catch the eye but the great black fur coat hanging on the coat hanger. She stood motionless and stared at the coat. She knew she had seen it move and heard the mewing. She knew that was impossible. Uncertainly, she stepped on forward, into the baby's room. A pillow lay on the floor. Her flesh crawled and she gave it a wide berth, remembering how she had almost smothered Eldred earlier. She looked into the crib. The baby looked fine. He was sleepy and not moving much, but seemed aware of her. She smiled tenderly down at him. Eventually they would name the tiny human. For now he was still "the child." Again her attention was drawn to the pillow. She pushed it with her foot, then squatted slowly, gripping the edged of the crib as she reached carefully picked the pillow up in her right hand, holding it far from her body. She turned and put it into the cabinet behind her, then closed the doors firmly.

Out in the hall, the fur coat heaved itself off of the coat hanger to land on the floor. It began to crawl across the floor, mewing. As the door to the child's room opened, it stopped moving. Rothwyn stepped into the hall. She stared down at the coat in suspicion, then lifted it and returned it to its place on the wall hanger. In the room, the pillow pushed out of the dresser, clucking as it jumped to the floor. It moved towards the crib in a series of hops.


They were circumnavigating the structure, forced to go by feel. Steel was in his gathering-data mode. His mental voice was steady. He was at the very edge of the roof, making his way around the invisible barrier. [The wall ends here. It's a corner. There's more along there. What about your side?] he queried.

She was opposite him, her hands flat against seeming air. {The same,} she replied calmly.

[Can you feel any windows, or doors?]

{No. Just a wall. Well, a wall-texture,} she replied thoughtfully.


The human couple were dressing. Rothwyn had slipped into her favorite, deep red dress, its cinched waist accentuating her narrow waist. Eldred was pulling on his shoes. He tried not to worry, but Rothwyn was very edgy this morning. She was just overreacting, he thought. She kept coming back to the situation with the food. He sighed to himself and asked her, "It won't signal back?" He had to admit there should have been some response.

She pulled her hair out from under her fine, gold necklace and let it fall across her shoulders. The unease that had marked her this day kept coming back, sometimes intensely. "No," she replied simply.


Increasingly puzzled by the pebbly surface his fingers touched, Steel asked, [What is the texture? Brick, stone, what?]

{It feels like brick.} Sapphire backed away from the structure. She wrapped her arms around herself. She considered the matter carefully. {And yet... and yet it has a composite strength. A strength like metal. It's homogenous.}

There was a brief moment of hesitation, then Steel said with mild annoyance, [Oh yes!]

Sapphire smiled at the undertone in his voice. She explained affectionately, {All of one texture. Whatever this is made of, it's synthetic.}

Steel made his way over to her. [Can you identify the substance?]

She shook her head. {No.}

They both stood there, puzzled, staring into the air they knew was not empty.


Eldred walked through the hall, Rothwyn followed behind. He asked, "So which one did you try?"

"The master pad! Probably you should get an instant signal back from that. Don't you?" She passed him, her shoulders tense.

"Yes," he agreed. He followed her around the corner towards the living room. She self-consciously took his hand and they entered together.

In the hall, the black coat stirred, mewing, and jumped off the hanger. The pillows hopped off of the beds, clucking. In the kitchen, the leg of lamb pushed the refrigerator door open.

Eldred was beginning to feel alarmed himself. The two of them held each other's hands and he spoke to the glowing monitor on the wall. "Experimental Project ES stroke 5 stroke treble 7...."


Sapphire and Steel retreated to the shadowed staircase that led into the building. They gazed up towards the roof. Steel frowned and spoke firmly, "We have been told that certain people are experimenting with time. People from the not-too-distant past, or the not-too-distant future. Am I right?" he asked Sapphire.

Gazing upwards, she replied, "That's right. Yes."

He continued. "And, consequently, as nobody should... mess around with time -- "

"Except us," she interrupted him smoothly.

"Except us. That these people are in danger. And, not only them, time itself is in danger."

Sapphire moved up the stairs to the door leading to the roof. She gazed out it. "I think that it's a capsule. And that its crew is a family. A small family of three." She stepped out onto the roof, into the cold, blowing wind and the morning sunlight. She stood staring towards where they knew the capsule was.

Steel stayed close to the shelter. "Tell me something else. From... what date, what... what time is that thing? Mmm, give me an estimate."

She ran her fingers along the metal rail in front of her, then turned and came to him. She set her hand firmly on his tense shoulder, stroked him soothingly. "It's from the future, about..." she tapped her fingers thoughtfully, "fifteen hundred years."


The complete lack of response made Eldred uncertain. He spoke again. "Could we... please have a signal back? Only, we seem to have lost all means of communication with you." Rothwyn moved away from him as he spoke, and sat heavily on the sofa. "Also the transference system seems to have broken down. We're getting no supplies. And we've our child here with us, remember? So if you could try to signal back --"

"I'm frightened," Rothwyn said, her voice trembling.

Startled, Eldred turned to her. He took in her paleness, the taut lines of her face, and hesitantly asked, "Frightened...?" This was a startling concept.

Her eyes were wide. "Yes. Because there's something else. Something else is happening."


Steel had made his way around the invisible structure. He was on the very edge of the building, balancing on his toes as he touched and searched for any kind of opening. He lost his balance and Sapphire's fingers closed over his own, steadying him as she telepathed, {Be careful!}

He had his balance again, though his reply was shaken. [It's all right. It's quite safe.] He slipped his fingers from hers and continued along the ledge, searching.


Eldred sat down beside Rothwyn, digesting what she had just told him. "And you say they're hallucinations?"

She nodded. "Yes."

He shook his head, marvelling at her, and said softly, "Well, I shouldn't worry."

She glanced uncertainly at him. "No?"

"No!" he answered with a soft laugh. He shifted, bending a knee slightly and reminded her gently, "You were trained to sense things! It was part of your studies, wasn't it? So that's bound to make you more receptive than the rest of us!" She turned away from him and he urged her warmly, "Remember, when you used to put your hands to the sides of your head," he demonstrated, closing his eyes with his fingers to his temples, "and think hard so that you could gain insight -- "

"Eldred!" she protested angrily.

" -- So that you could communicate and -- "

She interrupted more sharply, "Eldred!!"

" -- Communicate -- " he broke off, meeting her stern glare. He asked tentatively, "Yes?"

"I really am frightened. Frightened for all of us."

He met her eyes and saw that this was no joking matter for her. It had been so little time. Nothing could have gone seriously wrong, could it? He sighed. "All right. We'll talk to the others this evening."

The relief on her face was clear. "Yes."

He nodded slightly. "See what they think."

"This is a terrible part of time in which to be trapped," Rothwyn stated.

Eldred was beginning to get exasperated, but he reined the feeling in as best he could. "We're not trapped."

Her voice was rising. "It's brutal, it's cruel! People like us would never survive!"

He pitched his tone soft to try to reassure her. "But we're safe in here. We're protected! Nothing can possibly get in, not in here."

"But the things I felt, the things I saw!"

Eldred held onto his patience. "The pillow? How could we possibly be harmed, or feel threatened by a pillow?"

But his reasonableness, which in other times had been pleasant, did nothing to reassure her now.

And in the baby's room, a pillow hopped into the crib with the sleepy infant.


Sapphire braced her hands on the invisible wall as a surge of sensation skittered across her senses. It blocked communication with her companion. A deadly change had happened within the capsule. She shouted, "Steel!" She took a deep breath when he did not answer, and shouted again. "Steel! There's something in there with them!"


In the crib, the baby was nowhere to be seen. A pillow sat contentedly in its place.


The sky was overcast. In the distance, a lightning bolt cut under the clouds. Still unable to break through the sudden chaos between them, Sapphire cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted, "Steel! Can you hear me?! Steel, come back!!"

The pillow in Eldred and Rothwyn's bedroom rose into the air and wavered towards the door.

Sapphire called again in rising panic, feeling the deadly intent within the capsule, "Steel! Steel, whatever it is, it's seen you!"

The pillow floated out into the hallway and towards the window, picking up speed.

Steel heard Sapphire, heard her shout, "It's coming for you! Steel!!" He was on the very edge, and her frightened voice when he should have been able to hear her thoughts made him nervous. He glanced down to the street far below. With goggling cries something was upon him. A huge, white bird beat him with its wings and tore at him with its beak. As he lost his footing he heard Sapphire calling, "Steel!!"


They were leaving the living room, hands clasped, when Rothwyn heard a panic-stricken cry. It was soft with distance to her mind. {Steel!!}

She dropped Eldred's hand and turned, bringing her palms to her temples. For just a moment, she saw a woman in the center of the room. A golden-haired woman, an impression of beauty, dressed in blue, reaching. Then the woman was gone, leaving only the knowledge of threat. Rothwyn dropped her hands. "The child!"


The swan beat its wings and slashed at Steel, opening deep gashes in his cheek.


Rothwyn tore into the hall as fast as she could move, intent and rage the only thing in her thoughts, fear vanished as though it had never been. She noticed only in passing that the black fur was on the floor again, far from where it should be. There was a threat to her child! She came into the nursery and stopped in shock. There in the crib was not her baby, but something else! It was blurred, as though seen through some distorting glass. It was white and feathered, with a long neck that twisted and coiled unnaturally. "No!!" she shouted, and caught the thing by its thin, hot neck.


Steel, in shock, wavered as blood ran down his cheek. His feet slipped on the ledge and he started to fall. And then Sapphire was there. All the fury and beating of the swan's wings lost power with her sudden presence. She had his right hand in her left, and the dizzy world steadied as she placed that hand against the invisible wall, flattening his palm. He kept his eyes closed, not wanting to see again the mad animal that had nearly killed him. He wanted only to feel Sapphire's presence as she crossed behind him, running her hand along his back and sharing with him a feeling of absolute balance. You're safe. I am with you. She did not have to say the words for him to feel them. He felt her touch slide down his left arm until they could join hands, twining their fingers together in steady, stable strength.


Ferocious in her anger, Rothwyn throttled the thing in the crib. She could feel it weaken. In the hall, the pillow that had been pressed against the fake window fell with a feeble squawk. Suddenly the thing in Rothwyn's hands faded, leaving only a crushed and twisted pillow. She let it fall to the floor and looked down into the crib to see the child there, looking perfect and sweet and safe. Tears rolled down her cheek and she smiled in relief. It was over. For now.


Sapphire still radiated anger. As always when she was furious, her face had no expression. She marched toward Steel, who was trembling with outrage and leftover fear, hiding inside the shelter. He snapped, "Did you see it?!"

"Yes," she responded, her rage easing somewhat in the face of his alarm.

"A bird. Some kind of bird."

She stepped inside and said absently, "It was a swan."

Steel shook his head uncertainly, his own emotions calming with hers. "But not a real one," he turned to follow her as she moved past him.

She leaned against the wall, looking out a small window at the area where the thing they could not see sat. Yes, a swan. It was a real swan, and yet its presence was vague. She had known it but been unable to touch it. She said softly, "Not exactly. I'd say it was being used as an instrument of attack."

Steel twitched, grinding his teeth. "Well, it did a good job. It came through that thing."

Sapphire looked at him, at his pale, smooth face, and her lips twitched in a small smile. "No. It appeared to."

Steel stiffened, his eyes bright with outrage and alarm. Seeing her smile, he pouted. "Appeared to?! I was the victim of that atta -- " he lifted his hand to his cheek, afraid to touch the torn skin and feel new pain. To his surprise there was no pain. His fingers were cool on smooth, undamaged skin. He rubbed his cheek uncertainly, but there was nothing, not a remainder from the attack.

Sapphire was watching him with patient amusement. When he met her eyes again, she asked him, "Where are the marks?"

See the reality, she was telling him. You were victim of an illusion. Yes, he realized it, and stared at her in wide-eyed surprise. She had known from the first it was an illusion and that he would be fooled by it. Disconcerting. He grumbled, "It still tried to destroy me."

"Oh yes," she affirmed softly.

They gazed out at the seemingly empty roof. He thought about what he had experienced and tracked the memory of actual sensations. Buffering, pushing and yet without real force. It had been the noise, the slashing that he had imagined cutting him... but what had touched him had been.... "Something soft. Something made of feathers. And yet it can reach out and strike. Strike through that thing. And we can't even scratch the surface." He felt his outrage building again. A threat to me, but I am not a threat to it. No, not only a threat to me.

Sapphire's voice intruded, soft and contemplative. "Why a swan?" Startled by the simple question, he met her eyes in confusion. She gazed steadily at him. "Why not something like an eagle?"

He blinked, puzzled. "Does it matter?"

"Yes," she said with an absolute conviction that meant it undoubtably did.

He could not see why. An enemy was an enemy, regardless of the face it wore. That was one thing the two of them knew all too well. He growled, "Well, the only thing that matters to me right now is who, or what, provoked that attack. What do you think? Was it our little family in there? Or was it whatever's hiding in there with them?"

He waited. The silence stretched in the cool air of the stairway. After a time, Sapphire said absently, "I don't know yet."

Of course not. Steel felt winter in the air of this small world. Something they could not touch. They would have to destroy it. "It's time to set the charges," he said firmly, gathering himself to move.

Sapphire blocked him, confronting him with steady eyes. "No, Steel."

But there was no question of it in his mind. He knew why she refused, but if he was right and whatever was in that mysterious capsule managed to get out, they would have to be ready to stop it, regardless of the cost. "Yes, Sapphire. I have to. As a precaution. We have to be prepared. We just might lose this one." He looked away from her steady, judging gaze. After a moment she drew back a little, allowing him some space. He walked down to where the elevator doors opened to the top floor.

Sapphire followed him, her disapproval of his intent clear. She asked, "What about the people downstairs?"

"That's their bad luck," he said firmly. The decision was his to make and he would live with the consequences.

Sapphire's voice grew colder. "You're talking about the lives of sixty-three people and fifteen animals."

He turned to face her, to meet her steady, determined gaze. "They'll be saving the whole of humanity," he said angrily and turned away. These humans, these beings in a state of constant war on one part of their planet or another. Always throwing away lives. Wasteful, he loathed the concept but there were times when it was actually necessary. Hating it, he growled, "Human beings love a good sacrifice." He forced open the door of the cleaning closet. There were chemicals such as ammonia, and useful carpentry tools. If he had to blow the building, he could make it look like an accident, a fault in the design... he threw back over his shoulder, "Don't worry. When the building falls down they'll blame the architect." He turned and stepped out into the hall, forced to meet Sapphire's stony gaze. She had her hands deep in her pocket, and her disapproval was almost a physical force. He tore his gaze from hers and found the entrance to the emergency stairs. Ah, yes. That must be done, too. To reassure his partner that he really was not getting carried away he said, "It's only a precaution. Hopefully, all we have to do is to block off this stairway. Keep the roof, this floor, and that invasion force to ourselves."

Sapphire asked mildly, "What about the lift?"

"I'll arrange it so that it only comes up about as far as the eighth floor."

He could feel her anger ease, to be replaced by a genuine amusement at all the work he had put himself up to. "Why don't you just immobilize it?"

Oh, yes, then someone would call maintenance. He almost chuckled. "Oh no! Life must go on normally down there. While we do what we were sent to do."


And in the capsule atop the apartments, Steel's words were heard. Another glow formed in the wall, across from the door to the nursery. This one, however, had an organic shape. If there had been someone to see, they would have described it as a red-orange glow. Looking close it would have seemed like a womb. There was even something that seemed to be a fetus developing in its center. As if knowing it might be seen, the glow vanished.

Eldred walked into the nursery to see Rothwyn, her face streaked with tears, staring down at their child in his crib. On the floor lay a crushed, twisted pillow. He wished he had some idea what to make of her odd behavior today.


Steel had set up a sawhorse in the storeroom and begun madly sawing at boards. He finished one and took it out of the room. Sapphire was leaning against the wall, watching him. She said mildly, "They're only human beings."

He almost snorted. He spoke even as he set the wood aside on his left and began forcing the lift doors open. "They're capable of creating something that is invisible and impenetrable. Of what else are they capable? Our friends upstairs with fifteen-hundred years of accumulated knowledge." He paused for breath as the lift doors finally slid apart. He shoved the board between them to keep them parted. His voice echoed down the dark shaft. "Who knows what their plans are, or what their reason is for being here."

Sapphire closed her eyes, smiling. She opened them and confronted Steel, still serene. "A man, a woman, and a baby. It's hardly an invasion force, is it?"

He met her eyes and pouted, indignant at her gentle point. Yes, a small family of three. But there was still the danger, whatever it might be. He reached into the shaft, braced himself and took hold of the lift-cables. Below, the lift groaned as Steel began pulling it up.


Rothwyn hurried into their bedroom, a bewildered Eldred behind her. Sure enough, the two pillows that had been at the head of the bed were now sitting on the chest at the end of it. Nodding, she snapped, "And here! Look!" She exhaled sharply. He stared blankly at the pillows. She did not wait, leaving the room, forcing him to follow in her wake. They moved into the hall, where the black fur coat lay once again in a pile on the floor. She pointed at it. "And that. That coat. It moved by itself." She turned to him, to see his expression of honest confusion. These things were moving about. Why? What were they? She needed to know, because the sense that something was very wrong was only growing. "These things, Eldred. Where did they come from?"

Uncertain of her meaning, he asked, "Things?"

She nodded, sweeping her hand in a gesture to include all of their surroundings. "Yes. Everything. Everything in this place. The furniture -- " she snatched up the coat, feeling its smooth fur on her fingers " -- the clothes, everything. Where did it come from?"

He shook his head, utterly bewildered. "It was provided."

She hung the coat back on its stand and walked slowly down the hall. Her mind was working, searching for some answer to objects that moved without reason. "Are they real antiques?"

Eldred touched the coat uneasily, not sure at all what Rothwyn wanted to know. "Well, some may be -- s -- "

She interrupted him, her voice quick and nervous. "I mean, they can't be real. They're in too good of a condition to be antiques."

Hesitant, Eldred began, "Then perhaps they're reconstructions -- "

She interrupted him again, demanding. "I need to know."

He felt helpless. She was behaving so oddly and asking him about totally unimportant matters that he would know nothing about! "Well, I'm sorry I -- I don't know. Everything was provided."

She stopped at the end of the hall, in front of the clear viewport made to appear as a window. She was staring at something at her feet. "And this? How did this get here?"

He looked and saw it was a pillow. He could only imagine that she must have dropped it there and forgotten. He tried to be reasonable. "Look. Look, they're objects, that's all. Items. Pieces of equipment."

As he spoke, she bent down and lifted the pillow from the floor. She said coldly, "Well, one of these objects -- one piece of this equipment -- tried to kill our child."

Appalled, he exclaimed, "Rothwyn!"

She whirled on him, her face twisted with confusion and anger. "And you! It tried to make me kill you!"

"What?!" He was frozen at her sharp statement. As he scrambled for something to say, she threw the pillow forcefully down and stalked past him. He turned to follow her, beginning to fear for her sanity. "Rothwyn!" he said urgently as they reached the nursery door. He drew a breath and schooled himself to patience and calm. As reasonably as he could manage under the confusing circumstances, he said softly, "I've just seen the child. There's nothing wrong with it."

She said nervously, "Then what about these things? How do they move?"

Oh, poor Rothwyn. He kept his voice gentle and reasonable. "I've never seen them move."

"And the woman?"

Eh? "A woman?" Thrown off balance again, he was unable to control the confusion in his voice.

Rothwyn did not seem to notice. She explained shakily, "Yes. I saw a woman. Dressed in blue. Very beautiful."

Eldred had his equilibrium back. "So where did you see her?"

She did not answer at once. He could see a flush rising on her neck. "Well, I saw her outside." She turned away from him and opened the door to look in the nursery.

"Outside?"

"Yes."

He had to get her to see reality. But how? He asked carefully, "Then... how could you see her?"

She hesitated for a long moment. "Well, I saw her through the wall, of course." She closed the door and led him toward the living room. "In there."

Eldred stepped into the living room and looked around uneasily. "Which wall?"

She came in purposefully. "That one." He put his hands on her arms and looked around with her. The walls looked as solid as they always did. But she was not looking, or rather not seeing what he wanted her to see. Instead she said to him, "Eldred, we have to go back. Back to our proper time, as soon as possible." She was holding herself, shivering under his hands.

He hesitated to answer her statement. It was absurd to demand to return now. And besides... "If the communications have broken down, then there -- " he began.

She looked up at him, her eyes wide and worried. "It's only a temporary fault, you said that."

Feeling he had failed her, he said, "Yes, yes it's sure to be only temporary." He let her shoulders go, knowing she would sense his own uncertainty and it would only make her fears worse. He moved toward the wall she had claimed to see a woman through. She could not have, could she?

Her voice followed him. "Well, perhaps in the meantime we could contact the others."

Oh, that again. He licked his lips and turned to her, ashamed of the whine he heard in his own voice. He tried to give her a reassuring smile. "I've already said that I would, this evening." He turned away, scrutinizing the wall more closely, hoping against hope she would let it drop if she thought he was investigating one of her preposterous claims.

Her voice was soft and nervous. "Eldred?"

"Yes?" he hoped his own unease was not as obvious.

As if she was tearing the admission from her secret heart. "Because there's the thoughts, as well."

He had never known her to hold secrets from him. "Thoughts?" he exclaimed.

She tried to speak to him. "Yes. They only began today after I'd seen -- "

He interrupted her quickly, not wanting to hear again the things she was claiming to have seen. "What kind of thoughts?"

She looked as though she might sink into the floor. "Well it was the strong desire to leave here."

Bewildered, he asked, "Well haven't we just said -- "

This time it was she who cut him off, her voice savage. "No!!" She turned from him and walked away, then sat, fluttering her hands uncertainly. "These thoughts have nothing to do with leaving this time period! Just with leaving this place. Just a strong desire to pick up the child and leave. To escape, I suppose."

"Escape?" Something was terribly wrong with her if she was thinking like that.

She was not looking at him. "Yes. It's as if something's ur -- urging me to go outside."

She looked very small and frightened, sitting on the couch like that. He came and walked around behind her. "But you know that's impossible."

She breathed an acknowledgement. "Yes."

He could not seem to keep himself still. As he spoke, he looked out a window and moved the curtains aside. "We're sealed in here. The doors and the windows, they're not real." He let the curtain fall on the scene of the cold, gray day, and turned to her. "These thoughts, do you have them at this moment?"

She shook her head, to his relief, then in a gesture that hurt his heart, she bowed down to rest her head on her left hand. He came to her, took her hand between his. She lifted her head and met his eyes wistfully. "So, could you please contact the others. Perhaps thi -- " she was moving fretfully as she spoke.

He interrupted her again, saying reasonably, "I will, later."

She pulled her hand from his and asked urgently, "Well, why not now?! What's wrong with now?!"

Exasperated, he answered, "Because it's part of the procedure of this project to cont -- "

She snapped quickly, "Well there's lots of things going on in this contraption that have nothing to do with the rules and regulations of the project!"

Tired of her paranoia, her constant interruptions and the way she kept nagging at him, he said something he might never had said otherwise. "Yes. And the state of your mind is obviously one of them." She shrank away from him and he wished the words unsaid, but controlled his impulse to apologize. He must not show uncertainty in the face of her probable breakdown. But was what she was asking him really such a terrible thing? Just maybe he could calm her. "All right. I'll set up the screens." He started away.

Her voice followed him. "Thank you."

He glanced up at the wall where the monitor glowed over them. "Look, it's still receiving information!" he said, trying to reassure her.

"I know that," she said coldly.

Frustrated, he turned back to her and tried to reach her. "You see, a change in time can be like a sudden change in altitude! Some minds just can't adjust!"

She overrode him, her voice strong though shaken with anger. "But I was chosen because of my training!"

Yes, she had been. However, what she had done and said today was irrational. And just possibly this was the reason. He said huffily, "Well, I think that deserves a report. Don't you?" Controlling his anger with effort, he left the room, shutting the doors behind him. He paused to look out the window, but there was nothing unusual. Perhaps it was the boredom that was getting to her. Yet they had learned so much about how their feral ancestors lived. He marched on towards the communications room.

In the wall the red, organic glow considered the two beings who were attempting to gain entry to it. They were powerful. Worse, they had some idea how to damage it. There had to be a way. A trick. A lure.... It could make something, a tool as it had been a tool. It began, reading out information and bringing lessons into reality.

Its voice was low and gruff as it spoke within itself. Its attention focused in the nursery, on the tiny human in the tiny box. [[Time... is the measure of durational continuous existence without reference to extension in space. Absolute time is unrelated to matter or motion, and is continuous, unlimited, and infinitely divisible. Relative time, by which duration is measured with reference to things....]]

A small, pudgy hand, yet too big for the baby's, reached from inside for the rail of the crib.


Steel twisted the cable, creating a knot that would prevent the lift from coming to this floor. The strain of holding the heavy cable was taking its toll, and when Sapphire appeared and smiled at him, he asked breathily, "The stairs?

"They're blocked," she assured him. She watched him at his heavy work, then glanced down the shaft.

"All of them?"

"Just from the eighth to the ninth floor. What's that you're up to?" For what he was doing looked bizarre indeed.

"Made a knot in the cable. When it goes up as far as the drum, then the lift'll only come up as far as the eighth -- " he broke off in astonishment as Sapphire abruptly turned and left the room, headed up towards the roof. The door swung shut behind her. "Floor."

She stepped out onto the roof and stopped, opening her senses to the bizarre distortion which was finally becoming strong enough to sense.


A child climbed from the crib, his head a mass of dark, curled hair. He looked around himself, but seemed to have a difficult time focusing. He picked up a yellow blanket.

In the wall, the organic entity kept speaking, intent upon its task. [[Sidereal time is based on the rotation of the Earth with respect to the stars. Solar time is based on the same movement with respect to the sun. And as the solar day varies in length, because of the Earth's own movement in its orbit, time is measured by clocks, chronometers, etc.]]


Sapphire walked across the roof towards the invisible capsule. Something was happening in there. Temporal power was being engaged.


The little boy looked around, more alert now.

The glow kept speaking. [[ -- is computed on the basis of an average -- or mean -- solar day.]]

The boy was becoming older as the glow spoke, for speaking was not all it was doing. It was turning the clock on the boy's body, rushing it ahead.

In the living room, Rothwyn was quietly weeping. She stood, and tried to give a report. "Experimental Project ES stroke 5 stroke treble 7...."

In the communications room, Eldred finished setting up the screens and began his communication. "Urban study-group transmitting to Rural study-group." The square view-screen opened up in the wall to reveal an empty chair in another room identical to the one he was in.


Sapphire followed her senses forward, her hand stretched out in front of her until she touched the invisible wall.


Rothwyn finished shakily, "So either something is happening here, or it's my mind. My imagination."


Something, some energy. Something being used. No, more than one something being used. She held her senses wide open.


Eldred swallowed nervously. "Urban study-group transmitting to Rural study-group." The silence, the lack of any response and no one coming into the room to question his breach of protocol, was alarming. They had to answer him. Why had they not? "Rural study-group room two, please." Room two, the kitchen, was silent and empty. Could they simply be out of sight? He spoke urgently, "Hello? Hello!" Not a sound, not a movement anywhere. He gripped his knees through his authentic trousers. Try the others. "Urban study group transmitting to Provincial study group." As before, the communication image opened onto a still, silent room, an empty chair. His fear grew and he said more sharply than was his wont, "Back to Rural study-group. Room three, please." The brief image of the empty chair was replaced by the hall leading to the front door. No one at all in sight. He had hoped perhaps they were hiding and he could surprise them by suddenly switching rooms.

Rothwyn stared unhappily at the master unit. She was getting tired, but her child was at threat. She controlled her fear and addressed the unit even as she paced across the living room floor. "I realize that you cannot advise me at this stage, but perhaps a medical analysis would be of use in the interim period." She spun quickly to face the comm unit and smiled bravely. "In the meantime, there's nothing to worry about. We're making contact with the other two study groups. As you know, there's a doctor in Study Group Three. Perhaps he can help."

Eldred's world had always been safe. Everything was what was expected. Things only happened that their technology permitted. This step across time was the only element of uncertainty he had ever had in his life. But now.... "Provincial Study Group room two, please." The kitchen mocked him in its empty silence. He called the names of the people most likely to be in the kitchen at this time. "Godwyn? And Freida..." he trailed off. Where is everyone?

The thing in the wall was still working on the child in the nursery. [[Solar time is always at the same length and has no real existence.]] The child in the nursery had lifted a small, musical box and was turning it wonderingly between his fingers. He delighted in the image of a teddy bear on one of the wide sides. He found a ball sticking out of one of the narrower sides and pulled on it. The little box began to play a sweet lullaby. It lay tiny in his large hands. He was a child no longer. His brown eyes were bright under thick, dark eyebrows, his skin was pale having never seen the sun. And his face was sweet and innocent, for the mind inside the body was still that of a very young infant. He set the music box in his crib.


Sapphire's eyes glowed as she used her powers. An even, deep blue veiled her iris and pupils. She heard the gentle tinkle of a lullaby, had a sense impression of an adult, curled hair and pale flesh. A swath of yellow cloth across bare shoulders, too short to shelter such a tall form. The body moved to huddle in a corner. The image was too distorted. Sapphire shifted position, trying to clear the signal.

Steel pulled out the piece of wood he had used to brace the elevator doors open. After they slid smoothly shut he tapped the call button and waited. The lift came up, but stopped at the eighth floor. Pleased, Steel set his piece of wood against the wall and snatched his jacket off the floor. As he put it on, he felt something strange press against his thoughts.

Sapphire's voice called him urgently. {Steel!}

He hurried through the doors, up the stairwell to the roof. The early afternoon light was bright and he blinked as breezes ruffled his hair. [What is it?]

She stood ahead, her back to him, close to the invisible capsule. Her voice was calm. {There are three power sources being used.}

Ah, hah. [So?] he wanted to know more, but he had to get her to tell him.

Images coming through. Sapphire could see a dark-haired young woman in a dark red dress, staring up toward her, but not at her, then walking away. For Steel, she said, {One is... one is some kind of tabulator.}

[For record-keeping?] he asked.

{Yes.}

He crossed to her, uncertain and wondering. [Well we... we predicted that.]

That one signal fell silent and the others began to clear. {Now that's stopped. That one's stopped. The second one, well... I think that's the system for communication.} A new image had formed, that of a tall, worried man with thinning hair, sitting in an empty room and staring at an image of another empty room.

Steel asked, [Communication between them and who else?]

{I'm not sure. Yes, it's definitely a means of communication.}

Steel blinked uncertainly. [Is there anything unusual about it?] He waited but she did not respond. That meant a negative. He cleared his thoughts. [Well, it all fits. Records. Communications -- ]

She said suddenly, {It's not those two power sources I'm worried about. It's the other one. The third one. Yes... here. I'm in line with it here.} Another image, this time a glowing red ball within a wall.

Startled, Steel asked, [Which way?]

But something was... something was... outraged at her touch. Her mental voice rose sharply. {It's wrong. The third one is wrong.}

[Where is it?] Steel demanded quickly.

Where was it? Where was... where was the baby? {Something else is wrong! The child. The baby! It's no longer in there!}


He wanted something. Something soothing. He licked his dry lips and looked around at objects that always used to be blurry. There was a glass of water atop the table in front of him. He reached out his left hand to pick it up. The instant before his fingers touched it, the deep voice he had always heard boomed, [[No!]] He felt the cool surface for an instant, then there was a flash of light and a strange unzipping sound.


Sapphire spoke aloud as Steel paced behind her. "The man and the woman are still there, and there's someone else. I think it's not an adult."

Steel came to her right, staring at her in puzzlement. "You think?"

She shook her head slightly. "I'm not sure. But there is a connection."

He prompted her. "Between..?"

"Between the third power source...."

It clicked suddenly and he voiced it, still watching her face. "And the new adult."

"Yes..." she trailed off.

He knew she was still receiving, still listening to what was out there. He spoke more urgently, pushing her to find the answer. "What is the third power source?"

Confused, she said, "I don't underst -- "

Another shove to her attention, more urgently he demanded, "The third power source."

Her voice rose in confusion. "I don't understand!"

"What is it?!"

And it clicked. Her shoulders relaxed slightly as her thoughts found the pattern, the answer that had eluded her. She said softly, "It's not power. It's not energy as such." The knowledge spread through her in awed realization. "It's time." Her voice echoed mentally as she turned away from the capsule. Something wrong, something so wrong and anguished. Time wept and she ached for it. Her voice echoed in their heads. {It's time. It's time.}

Steel remained where he was, gazing in the direction of that which they could not see. "What would that family have used to travel back fifteen hundred years?"

Sapphire sat heavily on one of the mushroom-shaped covers that protected the ventilation shafts of the building. She answered softly, "Time itself."

He was stern. "What form would it take?"

She shrugged slightly, her thoughts still seeped in a kind of agony from outside. "A unit in some sort of machine."

Steel started in surprise. "They've succeeded in crystallizing a unit of time?" The audacity of such a thing awed him. And inside the capsule, through the walls, the fetus floating in warm blackness listened to his voice. "A crystal of time... and it could be unstable." He turned away from the capsule and headed towards the stairs, sure of what he had realized. "A time unit gone wrong!" He stepped past Sapphire, but she did nothing. She lowered her head and would not look at him. He came around to her left and saw tears on her face. He ignored them. He needed to know more and she was the one to find out. "Well?" he demanded.

"I can't communicate with it. Not without being in there."

They both stared into the air. Steel's mind was working at the problem. This was it, this was it, he felt. "So it's not an outside force that's attacking it, it's an inside one. Something that came with them. Something that they used to travel back through fifteen hundred years...." The temerity of that would probably awe him for the rest of his life.

Sapphire said softly, "It helped to bring them back."

He looked closely at her face. She looked hollow, the sweep of tears on her cheek bespoke her empathy for what she sensed. He leaned in close, knowing she heard more than she would be able to acknowledge. "Why isn't it on their side anymore?" As her frown deepened and the anguish increased, he urged, "Try to communicate with it."

She pulled back slightly. "I can't communicate with the crystal."

"No?" But he knew she could. As long as it was reluctant to communicate with her though, she was unlikely to try very hard. He urged her, adding an edge of maliciousness to spark her spirit. "Oh, go on. Time's your... your specialty. You've things in common." When she did not respond he growled, "All right, if you can't communicate with it, then try exciting it. But let's see it!"

She flushed angrily and snapped back, "All right! I'll try." She stood up and began, her power pulsing and climbing. In her thoughts she could see a red glow in blackness, feel a hostile refusal. She pulled back. "It's no good!"

"Keep trying!" He moved away from her, towards the entrance to the building. She would hear more without his presence interfering.

She felt his distance and in the pulse of hostility coming from within the capsule, fear tinged her. "It's a piece of apparatus I can... I can analyze its function -- "

His voice goaded her, reminded her of her duty. "You've already done that. Try to communicate with it."

It protested, threatening her. Panicky, she raised her voice, her accent strengthening in her alarm. "I can't possibly -- "

She could sense him pacing behind her, here the changing distance his voice reached her from. His words were an arrow, pointing to a target as he asked her, "Is it only a machine?"

Impulsively she said, "Yes!!" That which she listened to understood the question, and responded indignantly. It wanted to correct her, it sought to tell her. As she heard it she said in amazement, "No. No, it's not."

Steel stopped pacing in astonishment. "It's not only a machine...."

Sapphire listened to the burble of intent and explanation as it fuzzed through her thoughts. "Well, not completely. Not all of it." Behind her, Steel began pacing again, his presence pushing at her. Objecting suddenly, the other tried to cut off contact. She shivered and lowered her head. "I can't!"

Steel said softly, "You can. Tell me."

The glowing ball spun. She was so far away, and she wanted to know the truth. And she felt, she felt for it, knew it to need. It reached for her with its need.

She did not close it off. "It's capable... of so many things."

Steel insisted, "Tell me!"

As it reached for her, seeking to bring her closer, she realized something of its intent and stiffened, trying to resist. "Oh. No!"

Steel was still pacing when he saw rooms and walls, like those of the apartment below, shape around Sapphire. Then she vanished, the rooms and walls gone as well. He could hear her, though. Her voice reached him. {No!} and she was gasping, he could hear strange noises like a gabble of distorted voices. Then she spoke, drips of agony, alien to herself. {The pain. The pain... for always. Forever.}

And then silence only. The wind blew, but there was nothing. Steel hurried towards the entrance to the building. He looked back once, hoping she had reappeared, but she had not. He raced down the stairs. She must have been teleported down to the flat. He passed the lift, ignoring the buzz it was emitting. He stopped to try to reach his partner. [Sapphire?] The silence was his only answer and he called more intently, [Sapphire!]

He went into the flat and began a room-by-room search. They were as they had been, and the fact of her absence was frightening. He could still feel her somewhere, but he was cut off from her. He passed the lift again and paused in puzzlement. Even in the flat he had heard the distant buzz of it. It was annoying. He pulled his attention away. He walked into the living room of the flat, but still could find no clearer focus on his partner's distant presence. Anguished, he called, [Please, Sapphire! Where are you?]

The annoying buzz of the lift kept intruding on his consciousness. And then it started up. He walked over to it and watched as the button for each floor lit. It reached the eighth. There was a squeaking, metallic noise and then the light changed to the ninth floor. Steel listened in surprise as the lift made sounds approaching him. He waited, and when the doors did not open, reached out to touch the call button.

The doors slid open and he stepped into the lift, but it was empty. Confused and annoyed, Steel thumped the wall with his right fist, sending a pulse that knocked the control panel out and set sparks flying. He hurried out of the lift. He paused in mid-step. Something had changed. Some other presence had come. He hurried up to the roof. The silence and nothingness was the same as it had been for hours. He could see nothing and yet still felt that someone was there. He started to search.

From across the roof and above him piped an appallingly cheerful voice. "Good morning!" Steel spun around and stared. Oh, not him. But it was. On the other small building across the roof, the one that held all the antennae for the television sets of the people who lived in the flats, was the eternally annoying Silver.

He leaned there against one antenna, silhouetted in the sunlight. His voice was, as always, cheerful and mocking. "I fixed the lift, I'm afraid." Steel bit his cheek and ducked under the railing to walk out onto the roof, glowering. He had put a lot of work into keeping that lift from coming up to the ninth. Silver added with a tone of justified indulgence, "Well, I wasn't going to walk up."

Steel stopped in exasperation. There was really no point to getting angry. Sapphire was gone, and now the dandy, irritating, self-important technician was here. He flopped heavily onto the ventilation shaft cover Sapphire had sat on earlier. He had no intention of speaking to Silver until he had to.

Silver had no such compunctions. He said as if to placate Steel, "Oh, it's all right. I haven't touched your knot." He shifted position then leaned down, holding out his hand as if to rap on empty air.

Steel realized Silver was about to hit the invisible capsule. Forcing himself he said strongly, "Silver." The other man looked at him quizzically, letting his hands fall to his lap. "Don't touch it. I'd be careful if I were you. It's a capsule from fifteen hundred years in the future." Silver looked down into the invisible air as if in doubt and Steel added, "But of course, you don't have to take my word for it."

Silver gestured extravagantly. "Oh, I believe you."

"Good."

Silver promptly thumped the capsule. Exasperated, Steel stood up and stalked towards the entrance to the building. There was a faint swoosh of power behind him. Silver's voice, both spoken and telepathed, insinuated itself into his head. "Steel." Silver appeared behind him and began to circle close in front of him, forcing him to stop. "Steel." They studied each other and Silver adjusted his tie coolly. Then he said grimly, "Where's Sapphire?"


Eldred took Rothwyn's hand. She could feel him trembling and saw his worry clearly. "What? What is it?" she asked him.

"I'll show you," he said nervously, and led her towards the screen room.


Silver, as always, was just a little more than enough for Steel. He was taller and his auburn hair was longer, more stylish. Today he wore a blue and yellow-striped necktie, color to make Steel's preferred grays look dull. He walked everywhere with a spring in his step and he was eternally cheerful. Well, most of the time.

He bounded down the stairs, saw the maintenance closet and went inside, closing the door behind him. Steel came through the doors a second later. Not seeing Silver, he was about to enter the flat when he heard a sharp, snapping noise from the closet. He opened the door.

Silver stood inside, holding a chain in his hand that he had just yanked off of the light above him. "Ah, there you are," he greeted Steel.

Exasperated, Steel came all the way inside the narrow closet and demanded, "What do you mean, no?"

Silver was confused for a moment. "Hmm? Oh, just no. She won't be in there. Not in there." He gestured up pointedly, indicating the capsule on the roof.

Steel glared at him accusingly. "Look, if you know something I don't -- "

Waving negative, Silver shook his head cheerfully. "No, no, no, no, no. I know about communications, I know about machines, that's all." He glanced past Steel and his eyes brightened with delight. "Um, would you excuse me?" He had to shuffle his way past the shorter man, who was looking to the heavens for strength. He paused then, turned and waved a finger near Steel's nose. "Oh, that's not the only capsule, by the way. There are two others. Did you know that?" He waved his black book at Steel in emphasis, then exited the closet.

Startled, Steel followed him. He watched as Silver knelt at the door, studied the old-fashioned, round knob and began digging through his tools. Why do you know things I don't? Are they trying to sabotage me? Lowering his voice he said coolly, "What exactly are you doing here?"

Surprised, Silver asked, "Me?" He did not deign to look at Steel.

Steel's tone took on a shard of ice. "Why did they send you?"

Silver was working on the doorknob, being very ginger as he began to remove a screw. "Well, believe it or not, I just happened to be passing -- "

"Why?" Steel demanded. Ever so slowly he shifted his right hand towards the oblivious man's shoulder.

Silver answered absently, insinuatingly, "Well, it has nothing to do with the danger to this planet," he shrugged, "well, not directly, anyway. But, uh, if you were to destroy that capsule -- " he paused for breath as he gingerly took out several screws, not noticing the hand that hovered just over his shoulder. "-- you would increase the, uh, danger." He glanced up to gauge the effect of his words on Steel, and saw the man's hand there. For just a moment he felt a tingle of fear and shifted his gaze to study the remote expression on Steel's face.

Steel spoke, his voice low and hostile. "And that's why they sent you? To tell me that..?"

Silver let none of his fear show. He lifted his own hand and calmly pushed Steel's aside. "Not exactly." He turned back to the knob, concentrating his attention. Steel's paranoia was legendary. Silver's relief was profound when he felt the other man's icy presence withdraw.

Steel's thoughts were a drone of rage. It had to be sabotage. They had been sent without information they needed and now he had lost Sapphire. To add insult to injury, Silver was here to save the day! The man was so damned annoying. Too perfect, too happy, too flighty. Steel walked into the kitchen. There was a box of wine bottles and he paused, then pulled one out. He knew something of how Silver worked. The irritating technician would need a mixing cup. He unscrewed the aluminum cap of the bottle and set it on the kitchen's metal counter near the sink. He walked into the living room and stopped for a moment to pick a screw off the floor. Yes, Silver would need this too. He crossed the room and set the screw in plain view on the windowsill. At least with these things set so, Silver would not know Steel was helping him. He would not have to endure being thanked by the self-indulgent dandy when all he wanted was Sapphire back.

Silver finished his careful removal of the old doorknob and carried it with him to the door of the flat. He knocked first, then went inside. Steel's presence loomed and guided him into the living room. The other man was sitting on a step, staring thoughtfully out a window. Trying to make peace Silver offered cheerfully, "Some unknown force is doing its best to cause havoc with that capsule."

Steel did not look at him, just said quietly, "And if I destroy the capsule I would be assisting that force."

Silver shrugged dramatically. "If you like, yes." He had a doorknob for the positive signal. Now he needed more. He found the metal clip in the dresser's open drawer. Useful, but he needed something else. A glint of metal on the windowsill caught his eye. "Ah!" Pure iron. He picked up the screw that sat there.

Steel said mildly, "How is it that you seem to know more than I do?"

Silver crossed the room to him quickly. "Oh, I wouldn't say that!"

Sourly, Steel said, "I would. My information was wrong."

"No, not wrong," Silver said firmly. More gently he added, "Incomplete, perhaps, but not wrong." Come on, man, realize they learned more after they'd already sent you. I'm not your enemy. You need me. He held up the screw smugly, sensing Steel's touch on it. "I'm going to need this." He moved past Steel into the kitchen.

He could hear Steel speaking as he looked around. "Whatever attacked me is in that capsule on the roof." This was a kitchen and it had a lot of junk. Something -- ah. He spotted an aluminum cap on the counter. Good old Steel. He smiled. As Steel continued speaking, Silver set the screw next to the cap and pulled out his kerchief. "Something that came with those people from the future. If we're going to eliminate it, we have to get into that capsule." Steel's voice was coming from a bit behind him. He folded the screw into his kerchief and began rubbing to remove all traces of foreign elements from its surface. Steel said softly, "But we are not equipped to enter a place that isn't there."

Surprised, Silver looked up. "We?" Was Steel including him?

Steel was leaning against the far wall. He said simply, "Sapphire and I."

"Ah." Of course. Silver cupped the screw between his palms and generated heat to melt the metal down, rubbing slowly.

Steel was watching Silver, curious to see what the technician would do next. He said, "We cannot enter a structure that does not exist. I was almost destroyed trying, and now Sapphire has disappeared. But there must be a way in."

Silver did not nod. He murmured, "Well actually... there is." He cupped the molten metal in his left palm and picked up the cap in his hand, to pour the metal very carefully inside of it. "And that's why I'm here."


In the capsule, the red glow listened and heard what was being said between the two men. The hard, suspicion of one saying, "But there must be a way in." The softer response of the other, "Well actually... there is. And that's why I'm here." Disturbed, it directed the human adult it had grown, sending him out of the nursery.


Silver stopped and looked up at the ceiling, bewildered and puzzled. Steel moved close to him quickly, trying to capture the data Silver might be picking up before it was forgotten. "What's wrong?" he prompted softly.

Silver jumped and met Steel's eyes, surprised to find him so close. "Oh, well, nothing really. Just a sort of echo." He waved his hands, dismissing the strange sensation. It was puzzling but could hardly matter.

Steel frowned. He had heard nothing unusual. "Here? In this room?"

"Yes." But Steel's question led Silver to remember the nature of what he had sensed. Smiling in half-surprise he said, "No. Half in this room, half in my head." He tapped a finger on his jaw.

Steel was deeply troubled. "I don't hear anything." They both looked up at the ceiling, Steel wide-eyed with confusion.

Silver was puzzled, but the air was clear again. "It's gone."


The monster directed its pet human into the master bedroom. It had pulled back its probe, for they were detecting it. The new stranger was more sensitive than the other one. Still, it heard Steel say, "I don't hear anything." Nervous, it directed its human to put on clothing. Must disguise the lure.


Silver smiled reassuringly. "Whatever it was, it's gone." He held up his hand, in which lay the silver ball he had made from the screw. He let it roll down his arm, flicked it into the air and caught it, before walking into the living room.

Steel followed him, asking sternly, "When can we go in?"

Silver knelt, searching for little things. He lifted the edge of the dropcloth on the floor. When he almost bumped his nose on Steel's black shoes, he stopped and looked up. "As soon as I've prepared the way!"

Steel calmed himself as Silver moved on across the room, picking up little things here and there. "Good. 'Cause I need Sapphire back."

Silver stopped in mid-stride. He said quietly, "Oh, quite. I know how you feel."

Startled, Steel turned towards him. "You do?"

Whoops. Silver kept his voice light. "Yes, we -- well, she's very attractive." He turned away and kept searching.

Steel shifted a few steps. "The other two capsules." His voice held a note of demand. Puzzled, Silver turned and waited for the question. "Where are they located?"

Without the least trace of amusement, Silver answered him. "Well, you don't need to worry about them. They don't matter anymore." He flashed Steel a grim smile and walked away.


Eldred sat in the comm chair and swallowed as smoothly as he could. "Urban Study Group calling Rural Study Group. Anyone there?" The same utter silence of before. He turned to Rothwyn, who was standing stiffly beside him. "Nothing at all, see?"

She met his eyes sternly. "Did you call them?"

"I've been calling them for the past hour." He turned back to the machine. "Rural experiment room four!" The scene shifted to the other capsule's living room. He stared for a moment at the empty room and reached for reasons. He said tentatively, "It could be just a minor breakdown." Rothwyn spun away from him and he raised his voice quickly. "Remember how they were always going wrong during the preparation course."

She faced him angrily. "We'd still be seeing the others!"

"Not necessarily," he tried to convince himself as he tried to tell her.

But Rothwyn would not be swayed by any foolish argument. With her child in danger, she would accept no weak hope. "We're seeing that, why aren't we seeing them? Because they're all we've got!"

Eldred turned back to the viewscreen desperately. "Rural Experiment room three, please!" Clear, empty space to the door. Nothing, no one at all.

Rothwyn could no longer be bothered to look. She said sternly, "If we're trapped here, they are all we've got! No one else can help us." She whirled and left the room.

He gathered himself and followed her. Out in the hall he closed the door and looked helplessly into her dark, determined eyes. With everything he had ever thought secure gone, she and her blazing strength were all his security. He asked nervously, "The others... they wouldn't have gone back without us, would they?" Her eyes softened in the face of his anguish. She smiled and laughed softly, shaking her head. "No, of course not." He smiled back at her, and the fear that haunted them both eased.

She said gently, "It will be dark, soon. I must see to the child."

"Yes." He put his relief and trust in her into his voice.

She held out her hand. "Come with me." He took her warm fingers between his and they went together.

The first thing they noticed was a hole in the door where its knob should have been. Eldred's fingers slid into the hole. "Look!" he exclaimed in surprise. Rothwyn passed him quickly as he knelt to brush his fingers through the dust on the floor.

She reached the crib and closed her hands convulsively on its rails at what her eyes told her. "Eldred..." she managed in a broken whisper. "The child, he's gone."

Eldred leaped to his feet and rushed to her side. The bedding was piled in the crib, but there was no baby. "How could he have gone?!" He searched frantically through the bedding, but of course he found nothing.

Rothwyn spoke again, "And look."

He followed her gaze. There on the glass table against the wall was another pile of dust, like the one on the floor. He tentatively touched the material, rubbed it between his fingers and felt the individual granules scratch his skin. "It... it feels like sand...."

With mutual decision they moved into each other's arms. She clutched him and he wrapped her tight, sharing the heat and solidness in this suddenly uncertain place. She said against his shoulder, "There was a glass. A glass of water on that table." He breathed into her hair and twined his fingers at the nape of her neck, trying to reassure both of them. She added in weary tones of loss, "Perhaps you believe me, now."

He winced and pulled back, cupping her face to make her meet his eyes. He was too frightened to provide any reassurance, but he tried. "Rothwyn -- "

"No," she said, and pulled away from him. She would not indulge in hysterics. There were only so many places the baby could possibly have been taken and she would search them all. She told Eldred this without words, in her steady gaze and her calm voice. "I go to find my child."

Another doorknob fell as a shower of dust to the floor. The dark-haired young man peered through the hole left behind in innocent surprise. The door, without anything to hold it, swung open slowly. The man moved to push the door shut with his hand, but the voice that spoke within him said sternly, [[No!]] The trousers and jacket he had donned were dark brown, and his pale skin contrasted startlingly with it. He shifted and shoved the door with his foot, closing it.


If Rothwyn or Eldred had stepped back into the screen room they would have seen an astonishing sight. A woman they did not know was in Rural Study Group's capsule, visible in the scene Eldred had last opened, for he had left the room in such a hurry he had not shut down the system. Rothwyn would have recognized her as the woman she had seen through the wall, despite the absence of color.

Sapphire wandered through the capsule, searching for any sign of life. She was bemused by the faithful duplication of the interior of a farming house. As she wandered, she paused to pick up a child's toy. It was probably meant to be a rabbit, but the ears were short and rounded, the legs long and dangling. It was soft, carried an echo of affection and innocent joy. Somewhere there had to be a child to go with this toy. The silence and stillness here was oppressive. Sapphire concentrated on searching, sensing nothing living in the capsule. But they had to be here somewhere, for there was no way for them to leave if they did not return to their home time.

She wandered through the hall to the master bedroom, noting in passing the several small piles of sand or dust that lay almost everywhere. She walked past a trophy and wondered if the people from the future had any notion what it represented. She walked into the master bedroom, glancing out the window. Then she turned to face the bed.

As quickly she turned away and clutched the doll to herself. She had found its owner, but there would be no returning it. She held on to her emotions and set the doll tenderly on the windowsill. She turned to take a last look before she left the room. She stood for a time in the hall, waiting to adjust to the deep sadness she felt. When she was steady again, she walked back through the hall to the screen room.

She stopped inside the room to stare out the window. She could not quite concentrate on the scenery, the green leaves of trees. This capsule, like the other, was atop a building. She glanced around at the empty chair across from a blank wall. With dulled curiosity she walked over and sat in it. The wall became a viewscreen, showing another room, another chair like the one she sat in.

Silver had collected a number of odds and ends he had spread out on his kerchief. There was a silver ring, the doorknob, the pull-chain for a light, the ball he had made from the screw and other things. As he fussed with them, he spoke. "They have some sort of... communications room. And what we have to do is to find the room that's directly below it. It'll be on the same scale."

Steel was gazing off into empty space where he sat on a step. He was pale and his eyes had dark hollows under them. He said quickly, "I saw it, you know."

Silver responded automatically. "What?"

"The inside of the capsule. Just briefly, before Sapphire disappeared."

Silver paused in his fussing, lifting his head. "Well, can you describe it?"

Steel's answer was aggrieved. "No."

Silver sat down beside him and crossed his right knee over his left. He held the doorknob out. "Would you hold that for a moment? Please?" Steel blinked and took the knob. "Thank you." Silver continued fussing with his collection.

Holding the doorknob, Steel paid it no attention. "It was just a glimpse, nothing more."

Silver shrugged slightly, gathered his kerchief full of knick-knacks and got to his feet. "It can't be helped." He walked away, ignoring Steel who seemed content to do the same to him. Silver opened the door to one small room, the one that corresponded with the nursery, and flicked the light. It did not turn on and he stared at it, perturbed. He reached up and unscrewed the bulb. He rubbed it on his right sleeve then, after staring at it speculatively, he rubbed it again and then blew on it, as though to remove some lint. The bulb flared and glowed brightly in his palm.

Pleased with himself, he moved over to the wall and ran his hand along the rough surface. The bulb immediately doused itself, a negative reaction. When he took his hand from the wall, it lit again. He did the same thing with each wall, and for each wall the light doused. Definitely not this room. He sighed and moved out into the entry hall. Ignoring Steel, who was still sitting depressed on the step, he touched the wall and watched the lightbulb go dark. He turned and moved towards Steel. "Apparently, all three capsules have the same ground plan as one of these flats." He sat down next to the other man, letting out a whuf of breath. "Identical layouts." He pitched his voice low, trying to tease a reaction from Steel. "You've walked the lot, haven't you?" Steel glared at him sullenly.


Within the capsule, the curly-haired young man, newly dressed in brown trousers and jacket, walked gingerly past the dining room table. He saw a glass and reached out to touch it, feeling thirsty. With a flash of light and that same bizarre unzipping sound, it turned into sand.

Rothwyn and Eldred were walking together through the hall towards the living room when the strange sound reached their ears. Like something suddenly torn apart. They froze in astonishment. Eldred whispered, "Did you hear that?"

"Yes," Rothwyn murmured, and began quickly to walk towards the doors.

He panicked and caught her left wrist to pull her back. "No, Rothwyn!"

She leaned against his restraining hand and, in a voice choked with tears, said "And what's your solution this time, then. Do I have another talk to a monitor? To a box in the wall? Will that help?" She pulled away from him.

He jerked her back frantically, knowing he had hurt her deeply earlier and regretting it. He was supposed to be the protector of the family, was he not? "Rothwyn!" he protested.

She closed her eyes in frustration and opened them again, glaring fiercely into his eyes. "Whatever's happening here, whatever happens to us, nothing's going to harm my child!"

He knew she was far stronger than he. If he was to be the protector, he would have to take action or she would go so far ahead of him she would never see him again. He released a breath and straightened up. I have to... have to be the protector, my love. He moved around ahead of her and shoved the doors open.

The room was silent and empty. He stared around but saw nothing particularly out of place. But then, would he know if something was? This was not his side of the project. Why could he not have known more about what was around him? He felt Rothwyn step inside after him and turned to her to say nothing was there. Her face was white, and she was staring fixedly behind him. He spun to follow her gaze.

There was a stranger standing in the opposite door. A tall, slim young man whose head was a mass of wild, dark curls. Dark eyes gazed out of a startlingly pale face. It crossed Eldred's mind vaguely that he recognized the clothing on the man as his own.

Then the man tilted his head and began to walk towards them, and Eldred was shaken out of his paralysis. He grabbed at his love's arm but she stood frozen as he had been. "Quickly Rothwyn!"

Her voice was soft and ghostly. "But I know you?" she asked the young man, gazing rapt into his eyes. Something so familiar about those eyes. Something about the wide cheekbones and fair skin. Something that touched her in waves, something incredible and wonderful.

Eldred only felt sheer terror. "Please, Rothwyn!"

She moved toward the ethereal young man. The smile of innocent delight that spread across his face was matched by her own euphoria. She said softly, "But I do. I know him."

The young man reached for the woman in front of him. He knew her. This was the source of every warmth and answer to his life. He raised his left hand automatically.

The glow in the wall pulsed, panicking. [[No. The other hand,]] it commanded firmly.

The command registered, and the young man slowly obeyed, processing its meaning. He raised his right hand. The taller, more distant of the two beings in front of him clutched at the other one's arms, radiating fear. The other one, who seemed so much like a greater self, reached to meet his hand, and the room vanished in a flash of light.


Silver, who had resorted to crawling on the floor, carrying the light that doused each time he touched something, and Steel with the doorknob had been searching for a very long time. They were approaching the master bedroom. Silver's patience was wearing thin. "Are there many more rooms?" he asked plaintively.

"Just one," Steel answered indifferently. His hand closed on the last doorknob, and the loose one in his hand flared into a fierce glow. Startled, he released the other knob and the one he held lost its glow. He stared at the one in his hand in bewildered surprise, touched the square knob again and watched the one in his hand flare. He turned to the other man. "Silver!" His companion was clearly delighted, and surged around and into the room.

"What is this?" Silver asked as he went inside. His lightbulb began pulsing erratically. At that very moment, the glowing knob in Steel's hand went out with an aura of finality. Steel stared at it in astonishment and then moved inside the room after Silver, who said happily, "Success at last."

Steel looked out the window at the dimming golden sunset. What a depressing scene, he thought, staring at the tops of the other buildings. Silver called out, "Catch!" and tossed the bulb towards him. He put out his hands automatically, but above his head the bulb became a shower of glowing sparks and rained soundlessly down around him. Disoriented, Steel shook himself in surprise. How does he do that?! He caught Silver's smirk before he heard the man say, "This is the one."

He recovered himself and began, "Good -- "

{Steel?} came a tentative voice threading its way into their thoughts, almost lost beneath their words.

Silver started. "What was that?"

Unsteady, not quite daring to hope, Steel murmured, "I thought I -- "

{Steel?!} it came more determined and summoning, pleased at having found him.

[Sapphire?] he called. Seeing Silver's smug smirk and permissive bow, he glowered and spoke to his partner. [I'm in the top floor flat. Where are you?]

She answered him warmly, {I'm in some kind of communications room, but I can't find any controls.}

Shaken, Steel lifted his head. [You mean... you're above us in the capsule on the roof?]

She was standing inside the gray metal lined room next to the chair. She shook her head, and then sent, {No, I'm not.}

Surprised, he asked, [Where are you?]

After a moment she answered, {I'm in another capsule. I suppose you should call it 'Capsule Number Two'.}

Steel turned away from Silver's all-too smug smirk. [Have you looked in any other rooms, there?]

Her voice was soft and sad. {Yes. I've seen all that there is to see.}

Troubled, he asked, [Does it have a crew?] She did not answer him at once. She closed her eyes for a long moment. At last he prompted her worriedly, [Sapphire?]

She said matter of factly, {They're all dead.}

He swallowed and met Silver's eyes. He said aloud, "That's why they don't matter anymore."

Silver returned his steady look and said grimly, "That's right."

Steel let out a breath and shifted his attention to his partner. [Sapphire....]

{Yes?}

Something to buck up her spirits and he could think of nothing, much to his annoyance, better than saying, [Silver is here with me.]

In the other capsule, Sapphire blinked and smiled. {Good.}

Silver smirked and Steel glowered back at him. [He's going to get us into the capsule. This one, here.]

She answered him, {I understand.}

Silver lifted his chin and reached tenderly out to her. |Sapphire.|

She returned his tenderness, voice and touch a sweet memory. {Silver....}

Silver became a puddle of joy at her warmth. |I shall have -- |

Steel cut across their communication in a surge of annoyance. Those two had better save it for another time. [According to Silver this is the governing one, the main one. This is where the power source lies.] Silver cast Steel a glower of his own, full of mild annoyance, and folded his arms together but did not interrupt.

Sapphire teased Steel affectionately, {Silver's right, of course. He always is.}

Steel ignored Silver's smug expression. [Tell me more about the crew of the second capsule.]

In the capsule, Sapphire had been smiling in amusement at the indignation and simmering irritation she knew Steel was feeling over Silver's presence. She lost her smile at his question. After a moment she said, {Come with me.}

He was startled. [How can I?]

{Just follow my voice. I'll talk you about the place.}

Thoroughly confused he started, [But it's a diff -- ]

She said firmly, {It's the same plan, the same layout.} She walked out of the screen room and added to him firmly, {Just step into your hallway.}

He moved to follow her, then paused in the door. He spoke to Silver, "How long?"

Silver turned, surprised to be included. "Oh, soon! Very soon." He waved the silver ball at Steel, then came over to him thoughtfully. "As long as you're back in here and she's back in her communications room in uh... four minutes." Steel turned away to walk through the door. Silver was not even looking at him, but was focused on the ball in his hands. He was twisting the metal; stretching and folding it like putty between his fingers. He added, "And thirty-two seconds."

Steel stopped and turned to Silver, something nasty on the tip of his tongue. He could not speak it, for he was astonished at the sight he beheld. The ball lit, an incandescent flame that burned bright as a star between Silver's palms. Faint rainbow hues skittered across his dazzled vision. Silver began pulling his hands apart, drawing out the essence of the star between them into lacy clouds that diffused the brightness only a little.

Silver spoke as he worked. "Quite a work of art, isn't it? I suppose you would prefer something a little less decorative, hm. Something more... coldly efficient."

Sapphire's voice touched Steel. {Are you through the door?} she demanded.

He tore his eyes from Silver's handiwork and moved forcefully into the hall. [Yes.]

She stood in the hallway and held her hand up, knowing he would feel the echo of her movements. {This is the downstairs hallway of the farmhouse. Now turn right and follow the corridor.} She teleported a ways, already knowing the area well. Steel walked through the corridor of the other flat. She spoke to him as she stared out the hall window into the yellow-orange sunset. {This capsule is disguised as just one floor of a farmhouse. None of the windows or entrance doors are functional. Everything is sealed. There's no way in or out. The sun will set in an hour or so, here. What about there?}

[The same,] he replied, staring out the window.

She said sadly, {It wasn't an invasion force, after all. Well, if it was, this crew wasn't a part of it.}

Curious, he asked, [What do you suppose they were doing?]

{They were part of a survey team.}

Puzzled, he paused in midstep. [What were they surveying?]

{I don't know. Something fairly harmless. The survival of the family structure into the Twentieth Century or something like that.} She murmured aloud, "Only it turned out to be far from harmless."

Not hearing her, Steel demanded anxiously, [Sapphire?]

She shook herself. {Sorry.} She moved along the hall. She paused next to a clock and reached down to a small pile of seeming dust and touched it lightly with her fingers. {Now, there's something very strange, just here. What was once glass or glass ornaments has been turned into silicon dioxide, sodium carbonate and calcium oxide.}

Steel cocked his head in surprise. [Sand, soda ash and lime.]

{Yes. The glass has reverted to its original silicate state.} She brushed the dust off of her hands and stood up, steeling herself. {Anyway... the crew.} In the separate places they moved together, into the bedrooms. Steel's was an empty, trash-strewn room. Sapphire's.... {Main bedroom. There are five bodies. Two adults and three children.}

[Were they attacked?]

Sapphire sat on the edge of the bed. The father had been a tall, pale man with dark, trim hair, and a thin mustache. His face was square and broad. The mother had also been tall, but she was a golden blonde, as were the three children. They lay together on the bed, the parents' bodies half-curled almost protectively around their children's. Sapphire stared for a long moment before replying. {No. I would say that they died by their own hand. But something drove them to it, you can be sure of that.} She reached over a teddy bear to stroke the hair of one blond child. The bodies looked so peaceful, as if asleep rather than dead. But they were not.

Steel's voice cut across her melancholy. [Whatever's in the main capsule.]

Oh, yes. She knew, had known when it sent her here. She bowed her head. {Yes, it's responsible for this.}

[Sapphire?] he said gently.

{Yes?}

[In a few seconds we're going into that main capsule.]

She looked at the bodies. {We could be too late again.}

He paced back and forth in the empty bedroom of the other flat. [Nevertheless, we're going in. There's still the time-force, that... crystal to be dealt with.]

{Yes,} she agreed. There certainly was.

[Go back to the communications room, right now.] Sapphire got to her feet sadly. Steel suddenly added, [There must be a screen in there; some kind of a screen.]

{Yes.}

[Is it activated?]

{Yes it is.}

[Then go to that screen, stand by it and wait,] he told her firmly.

She agreed with him, but before leaving she turned to the window and pulled the curtains shut. She turned back to the bed, to fix in her memory the still bodies.

Steel spoke again, firmly. ['Cuz we'll all be going in together. All three of us. At the same time.] He hurried through the bedroom door.

{Yes, Steel,} Sapphire responded.


They would try to enter! They would try to enter, make a way in to this place where there was no way out! It needed them inside, needed to use them to get outside. Easiest if they had an opening of some kind. It called the human. [[Move now.]] The man reached out his left hand and at a touch, the knob of the screen room fell to dust. He pushed the door open and entered shyly, nervous of the strange, dark room. There was no one inside, not a sign of life. He saw his own reflection in the mirror set behind the chair. He moved to touch the chair with his left hand and was told, [[No.]] Obeying, he shifted until he could sit down in the puzzling chair. [[Right hand,]] came the order. He obeyed, lifting his hand slowly toward the screen. A black and white image formed, that of a chair like the one he sat in. Then there was movement, a pale-haired human form crossed in front of the viewscreen moving toward the chair he saw. Startled by this sudden change, the human fled the chair and hid in the corner, out of sight-line. The other person turned. Wide-set eyes, rectangular face, female human creature, it looked out through the screen.


Sapphire telepathed, {I'm ready, Steel. I'm ready to go in.}

Steel was watching Silver, who was talking to the silver mist with its shining star at the center, where it clung high on the wall. "Down just a little more! Perfect!" It glowed and pulsed in response to his praise.

When Steel did not answer her, Sapphire repeated, {Steel?}

Startled by her voice, Silver jumped. Then he said, "Tell her to stay close to the screen."

Steel was watching the shifting patterns of the clouded miniature star. "You tell her," he said absently.

Surprised but willing, Silver said, "Yes, why not?" He stuffed his kerchief back into his pocket and telepathed, |Stay close to the screen, Sapphire!|

Sapphire was about to answer him, when her senses, tuning into the communications system, picked up new information. {Wait! Something's changed!}

Steel shifted his attention immediately. [What do you mean, changed?]

She responded, {Well, do you remember the last time we were on the roof?}

[Yes?]

{And I said I sensed the child was gone, that it was no longer in there...?}

[I remember that, yes.] He waited, silently urging her to report.

{Well, now the two adults seem to have gone!}

He blinked and frowned. [And the child?]

{It's still not there! It's still not in there!} The child's absence was far more frightening than that of the adults, but she was not certain why. She just felt it.

Steel asked in confusion, [Well, who is in there?]

{The -- the third one. The other adult. That's all. That's the only person left in the capsule.}

Steel frowned uncertainly. [What about the power source the... the crystal?] In the room, a wind was picking up, blown out from Silver's miniature star. It moved his bangs so they tickled his forehead and he shook his head, annoyed.

Sapphire answered, {Nothing. It's as if it's dead. I could always try to -- }

Steel said sharply, [No! Whatever you do, don't make contact with it again!] I don't want to have to search for you again. He added more softly, [Are you ready?]

She stood at attention in front of the screen. {Yes, Steel.}

He whispered back, [Because I think I know what it might be trying to do.]

Silver moved close to him, close to the screen. "Right."

"It'd better be quick," Steel said sternly.

"Oh, it'll be quick."

"Because if it catches us halfway...." He trailed off threateningly.

"It won't need to do that," Silver said with a half shrug.

Confused, Steel asked, "What?"

"All it has to do is just switch off that screen." He shrugged sheepishly at the expression of silent fear on Steel's face. "How would you like to be transported fifteen-hundred years into the future? Hmm? Tell Sapphire it's now."

Steel engaged his power to enhance the teleport and reached to his partner. [Now, Sapphire!]

Like him, she engaged her power to support Silver's ingeneous creation. The screen in the room atop the apartment building flared into a blinding light. The young human fled the room in alarm.

Steel and Silver vanished together from the room below. In a moment they were floating, separate in a nowhere place. Steel drifted through imagery, animals crying and sheep being slaughtered. The sound of blades being sharpened, the unceasing smell of blood that seemed to be a cloud all around him. He saw a distorted image of a dark-haired woman in a dark-red dress, her lips moving and her voice across his senses. "You see, we stopped receiving supplies of nutrition... two days ago."

Animals cried. Drops of blood skittered around him. He covered his head, trying to block out the wails and echoes. Across his sight flew the image of a pillow, menacing him. Then he saw the woman again, viciously attacking a pillow, her face twisted in fury. He heard a voice, it sounded like Silver's.

" -- One step."

And he was in the room, surrounded by metal-screened walls. He still felt as though he was floating, still a ghost among images. He felt presences behind him and turned. Sapphire and Silver were standing just a few feet from him, gazing rapt into each others' eyes. Why were they so far from him? He frowned. "You both came through there?"

They turned from each other to look at him. Sapphire said calmly, "Yes."

They should have been all together. Alarmed by the difference from his expectation, Steel turned to Silver, whose attention was wavering. "What happened?"

Silver was too astonished to register Steel's alarm. He said admiringly, "Just look at this place -- "

Steel snarled, "I said what happened?!"

Startled, Silver answered with the only thing he cared about. "We got in, that's what happened!"

Sapphire interjected gently, "There was a defensive time field, a sort of vacuum."

Steel lifted his head uncertainly. "In that?"

She glanced at Silver and asked, "Was it?"

He smiled indulgently and continued looking about. "This place is amazing!"

Sapphire and Steel were looking at each other, purpose aligning as it did between the two of them. Steel asked, "Who set up this time field?"

Mildly annoyed at their focus on something so unimportant, Silver shoved his hands in his pockets and said, "Whoever made the capsule. It was built in, some sort of security device." He shrugged.

Steel stiffened and glanced askance at him. "The time source wasn't involved?"

Sapphire answered Steel gently, "Well, it must have had something to do with it. That would have been part of its job."

Silver, bemused, crossed over to the chair. He could feel instinctively the nature of the circuitry embedded in the innocuous seat. It was amazing and wonderful. "Sensory control. This is all very sophisticated."

Steel turned to him quickly. "Don't touch anything!"

Exasperated with him, but trying not to show it, Silver sat on the edge of the chair. "Oh, absolutely not. You know, this must have been one hell of a communications room!" Wondering what would happen, he sat back in the chair. The room went dark and Silver stood up quickly.

Steel barked, "I said don't touch anything! Not in here!"

Silver started to smile placatingly until Sapphire, her attention focused on her partner, said softly, "What is it, Steel?"

Steel paced around behind the chair. "If that time source was involved with the defensive field -- "

Silver interrupted. "It was bound to be! It's involved with everything."

"Right. It brought the capsules here -- "

Silver clarified reluctantly, "Weeeell, it was instrumental in that."

"Then what would it have used to create that field? It would've been space, wouldn't it?" Steel demanded urgently.

"No, no. Static space." Silver let a hint of mockery slip into his tone. What was Steel's obsession with this thing?

"So it could have left us out there in time and space."

They faced each other, Steel determined to discover more about what was happening, and Silver utterly bewildered by his need to do so. Frustrated, Silver said, "Yes! Yes, it could have left us there indefinitely if it wanted to." He was very confused and wanted to leave this behind, to explore more of the capsule. The machinery was his field. There was so much to see and he was not interested in the weaknesses of the malfunctioning time unit.

Sapphire came to stand behind him. She touched his shoulders lightly, adjusting the lapels of his suit. His confusion and anger eased under the gentle pressure of her hands.

Steel did not seem to notice. He said urgently, "Why didn't it? It's been fighting us ever since we got here, trying to keep us from getting in, why not this time?"

Sapphire clarified his confusion for Silver, "When it would have had the advantage." She smiled at Steel, resting her chin on tall Silver's shoulder.

"Yes," he said, relieved to be understood. He walked past them and stared at the blank screen in puzzlement. "Do we go back the same way?"

Silver confirmed it. "There's no other way."

Steel turned to look at him, upset. They both stared back at him. He said wryly, "There's a comforting thought." Silver smirked, but Steel ignored him and headed for the exit. He stopped in surprise. "Sapphire!"

She came to him at once. There was a hole where the doorknob should have been, and a pile of dust below on the floor. Startled, Sapphire knelt and ran her fingers along the sides of the empty hole. It was smooth and utterly... she was confused. "I -- I don't quite understand! It hasn't been... burned, and it hasn't been cut."

Steel asked curiously, "What has happened to it?"

She shook her head. "It's lost its -- no, it's never achieved its molecular structure. In other words this part of the door has never existed." They knelt together. Steel pinched some of the dust between his fingers and dropped it into her hand. She opened her senses and read off the coding. "Zinc carbonate, parieties of copper and cellular tissue... plant tissue. The primary states of brass and wood." She began wiping the dust off her hand.

Silver turned from where he had been studying the viewing screen and gaped in surprise. "Do you mean something -- someone did that?"

Steel stalked over to him and looked at the wall. He said grimly, "Yes."

Sapphire also got to her feet, but instead of joining them she backed into the corner, her eyes wide with surprise. "And whoever it was... he was standing here. He was standing right here."

Steel whirled and demanded, "When?"

"Not long before we arrived."

Silver shivered with trepidation and leaned towards Steel. "So where are they, now?"

Steel said, "Somewhere." When Silver immediately turned back to the viewing screen and reached to begin opening it, Steel caught his arm sternly. "We'd better locate it, first."

"Look, I get you in, I get you out." Steel ignored him and whirled away to walk out the door. Frightened, Silver raised his voice. "I'm a technician, I'm not an explorer!"

Steel paused in the doorway. "You wanna wait here?"

Sapphire was watching Silver, her eyes twinkling with laughter. She said mockingly, "Alone?" and followed Steel out the door.

Silver stuttered a frustrated 'no'. They were both out of sight but he knew the layout of the apartments well and teleported into the hall to appear in front of Sapphire. "No," he said determinedly. She smiled at him. Steel, of course, did not bother to even look at him.

The hallway was darkly shadowed. Steel ordered, "Wait." They stood patiently still while he found a switch and flicked it, the hall lighting up. He walked forward and they followed him, glancing around. He checked the master bedroom quickly, then came back into the hall.

Sapphire, Silver staying close to her, lifted a vase off a table and weighed it in her hands, sensing its structure. "These are real. Just like in the other capsule." She set it back down and reached out to brush her fingers against the wall. "This isn't. No bricks, no plaster work."

Steel cocked his head. "Is it the same as the outside wall?"

"Yes. It's synthetic material."

Steel looked about alertly. The complete silence here was baffling. "What about the people?"

"Still only one." When Steel looked at her doubtfully, she added, "I could have been wrong."

Silver jumped and turned to her. "Wrong?!"

She shrugged slightly at his nervousness. "About the crew members. I could easily have been wrong. My calculations could've -- "

Steel had stepped into the next room and he said firmly, "No. You were right the first time."

They joined him in the room. It was a baby's nursery. There was a cabinet full of blankets near the door, but the crib dominated the room. Silver turned on the light. "Better?" he asked when they stared at him in surprise. He noted the hole where a knob should have been. He watched as Steel flicked the useless latch on the window and said knowledgeably, "I told you. Sealed." Steel moved towards the door and Silver trailed behind him, watching curiously as he lifted a wicker chair.

Sapphire spoke. "There was a child in here."

Diverted, Steel looked at her. "How long ago?"

"A few hours."

"And now?" he asked.

She shook her head. He turned and slammed the chair against the window. There was only the bizarre echo of the impact, the window was unaffected by his action.

Silver cocked his head and listened to the tone of the impact. "Same sort of material as the outside wall. Some kind of um... metal?" he hazarded a guess.

Steel glanced down. "Look." He pointed at a small pile of sand on a glass table.

Surprised, Silver stared at it. "Good heavens, it's all over the place!"

Sapphire came over to them and looked at the pile. "Now this had happened in the other capsule."

Confused, Silver asked her, "What is it?"

She corrected him with amusement, "You mean what was it."

He brushed his fingers through the pile of sand. "All right, what was it?"

"It was a glass," she answered merrily.

"When?"

"A few hours ago."

He gaped at her in surprise. She leaned against the edge of the table and let him see her amusement. Half-indignant, he analyzed the amount of material in the pile. "You mean," he began, as he did a rapid-fire construction from the material on the table and formed a glass, "like this?"

Steel could not help it. He walked cautiously into the master bedroom. Nothing was there. No dead bodies of hapless humans. He saw a pillow and picked it up, only to be startled by the sound of angry, agonized cries that seemed to come from somewhere inside his mind. He dropped the pillow and eyed it suspiciously.

Sapphire walked into the empty kitchen. She touched objects, listening for anything unusual. She found a knife on the counter. It made her uneasy when she touched it, so she put it away. She studied the egg rack. Nothing there. She opened the refrigerator door and then slammed it shut on the cries of sheep. Well, that was interesting.

Silver was in the living room. He looked behind a curtain, stared curiously for a while at the monitor unit glowing in the wall, then when all he found were more piles of sand he left the room.

They met near the faux-door in the entrance hall. Steel spoke first. "Nothing."

Sapphire confirmed, "No," and they both looked at Silver.

He shook his head. "Nobody. Not a soul."

Exasperated, Steel growled, "Then where've they gone?" He and Sapphire spun to head off in opposite directions.

They were brought up short when Silver said, "However...." They followed him into the living room and he pointed up at the glow in the wall. "There is something here. Some kind of machine."

Steel eyed the crystalline glow and backed away. "The time source?"

Silver hastened to reassure him. "No, no. Not that kind of power. It's some sort of recording device. Or a transmitter." He sat nonchalantly in one of the large, brown, leather-covered chairs and crossed his legs. "Something like that."

"Transmitting to where?" Steel demanded.

Silver shrugged indifferently. "Back to their base control, I suppose."

Sapphire was moving away from them, looking about. Steel asked in astonishment, "To a base control that's fifteen-hundred years in the future?"

"Yes. How much of a signal would they need for that?" Silver wondered absently. He had done his part.

Steel would not be deterred. "Is it working now?"

"No, no. It needs to be triggered. I could get it to operate -- " he began to get up, excited by the prospect.

Steel put his right hand firmly on Silver's shoulder and held him in the chair until he stopped trying to get up and looked up with mild confusion. Steel said mildly, "I'm sure you could. I'm sure you could cause a fair amount of panic in the process."

Silver's eyes widened in innocent surprise. What was Steel talking about? "Panic?"

Steel clarified. "Back at base. I mean, what's the first thing they might do if they heard strange voices coming over the wires." He crossed the room to look up at the transmitter cautiously.

Understanding, Silver laughed wryly. "Yes, re-call the capsule."

"Do you think you could get us off in time?" Steel asked.

"No," Silver admitted, half amused and half annoyed.

Sapphire's voice caught their attention. "Steel? It's in here! In this room." She stood near the doors that hung open to the hall, gazing around.

Silver jumped out of the chair and came to Steel's side. Was she talking about the time source? "It can't be!" he protested.

Steel ignored him and looked to Sapphire. "It?" he asked.

She nodded slightly. "Yes. Something... someone."

Steel glanced at Silver. "You stay there." He moved quickly to join Sapphire, focusing his attention to support her. "Up there? On that level?" She was standing on the landing a step above him.

"Yes," she confirmed.

Startled, Silver yelped, "Where?"

Sapphire turned around slowly, her mind brushing through the room until it hit the anomaly. {There.}

In the hall, in the wall, on a level with her. And between her and it, in the shadows of the livings room... a human who moved hesitantly towards her. A young man with a head of dark brown curls, skin that had never seen the sun. He wore a brown jacket and trousers, and his feet were bare. Something was very odd about the signal emanating from him. Sapphire stood motionless as she tried to understand it.

Steel spoke quickly as Silver gaped at the apparition. "Come back down here, Sapphire." She did not hear him, and he called more urgently, "Sapphire!" When she still did not respond, he caught her arm and pulled her to him, thrusting her behind him. He spoke to the strange man. "Where are the others?" The dark eyes under high, winged brows tracked to him vaguely, but the man said nothing. Steel said more firmly, "Where are the others?"

The organic glow in the wall pulsed, fed its tool a reaction. Pushed, he finally said, "Others?"

Steel tried to understand what he was seeing. So pale the man was. Perhaps he was in shock? Steel said gently, "The woman and the child. Where are they?"

For a moment an expression of lost grief seemed to cross that pale face. "There are no others," he said unhappily.

Hmm. Steel held himself under control. "Do you know who we are?"

The reply was immediate. "Yes."

That was not what he expected to hear. Nervously, Steel asked, "And are you not surprised to find us in here?"

"Yes," said the man, without any real sign of emotion.

Steel hesitated for a moment, then stepped aside to clear the field. The man shifted to follow his movement. [Sapphire,] he called.

Startled, she said, {I can't do an analysis. Not from here.} Steel did not answer her. She held herself and made the attempt. They were too far apart, she could not get a clearer view of what faced her. She said aloud, "I need to be closer to him."

Steel sent firmly, [No,] and the man seemed to start as though he heard. Steel watched him intently and tried speaking again. "Tell us about your project."

The word seemed to puzzle the young man. "Project?"

Steel paced slowly, keeping his voice calm and reasonable, keeping the man's attention focused on him so that Sapphire could get closer. "Yes. Your reason for being here. I mean, you're part of a... a team, aren't you? Part of a survey team, on a survey into the past."

That was affirmative. The man said, "Yes."

In the wall, the glowing ball whispered to him, [[Prepare.]]

The man slowly raised his left hand, speaking words he had heard, speaking words that were fed to him. "Experimental Project ES stroke five stroke treble seven. Urban examination and observation. All references according to old time and old calender."

Silver eyed that slow-moving hand and caught Steel's attention. He tapped his open right palm with his left fingers in caution. Steel acknowledged the warning with a slight tip of his head and spoke again. "Fine. Now, where are the others?" The man turned and moved towards Steel. He tried again, holding his calm. "The other members of your team. Where are they?"

The man shook his head, but his eyes were still innocent and harmless. "There are no others. There's only me."

Silver moved to stand behind Sapphire. He said contemptuously, "That represents the future?!"

And yet Steel could feel otherwise, his mind moving into alignment with his partner's senses. "He doesn't."

Sapphire contradicted him firmly. "But he does, Steel. In a way he does."

Silver protested indignantly. "How can that possibly represent the future?!"

Sapphire shook her head as her thoughts circled their quarry. "I don't know. It's some kind of future. I'm just not sure...." She took a stop closer to the man. Her instincts gulped at what they sensed and fluttered in surprise. "His own future?"

Steel frowned in confusion, his senses muttering confirmation of her bewildering statement. "He represents his own future?"

It lay in that gulp. That strange moment and Sapphire said in horror, "It's time. It's to do with time!"

Silver glared at the subject of the two's bewildering conversation. They had forgotten him entirely, and this thing he felt sure lay within his field. He waved his hand towards the thing. "That's a machine!"

Sapphire did not look at him, but said sharply, "No!"

They were being foolish. He knew a machine when he heard one. "And I can fix a machine, any machine!"

Sapphire was shaken, and furious as Silver contradicted what her instincts demanded was true. "No, no, no!"

Steel cut in, his voice soft but containing clear fury. "Don't interrupt, Silver."

Impatient, Silver came over to Steel. "Oh, come on now Steel, you've tried talking to that thing, and what sort of answers have you had?"

Sapphire said firmly, "It's human."

Silver practically threw up his arms in disgust. "It can't be!"

Steel hissed furiously, "Leave it to Sapphire. Let her work it out!"

"Humans give answers, proper answers! Machines don't!" Thoroughly frustrated with their childishness, Silver paced over to Sapphire and tried to get her to see reason. "We're risking our lives in this contra -- "

She cut him off, glaring furiously and said with slow fierceness, "This. is. human." Silver walked away from her in irritation. She turned away from him and moved closer to the man. "You are human." He was watching her with wide, fascinated eyes.

Steel said softly, "No, Sapphire, keep clear."

She was closer, sensing such a clear and innocent field. Amazed, she said, "But there's something wrong! It's at the beginning! He doesn't know anything, he doesn't sense anything -- "

Silver practically whined, annoyed at being ignored. "You see I told you, it's a machine!" His voice caught the man's attention.

Sapphire paid him no attention, her mind dipping into the clear field. "No. It has no knowledge, but it has a need." The young man shivered and brushed at his coat unhappily. Sapphire could see in his mind an image of a square box in the crib. She heard music, a comforting lullaby he was remembering. "It depends on things."

Steel asked, "What things?"

In remembering, the man was missing and needing. So much that was he could not find now. His bewilderment touched Sapphire as she explained sadly, "Warmth and sleep. It needs sleep, and warmth, and food." The man moved away from them until he fetched up against the wall. He huddled on the floor and sucked his thumb for comfort, rocking slightly. Sapphire added, "And love." She looked at the man for a long moment, knowing the reality of what she was seeing. She turned to her partner with delight. "Steel, it's a baby."

Startled, he asked, "A baby?"

"Yes!"

Well what do you know. He shook his head clear of the surprise. "How old is it?"

Sapphire folded down, resting her hands on her knees the better to see the baby-man rocking on the floor. "Ten, twelve weeks."

Silver's mocking tsks cut into their accord. They both turned to him, offended. He was sprawled across a leather sofa, shaking his head at them. "Sorry. I'm afraid you've both fallen into the trap of attributing human characteristics to a simple, flexible casing and a handful of circuits!" He pulled himself off of the sofa and crossed over to Sapphire, who was so angry she refused to look at him and instead stared at the ceiling. "They can easily program a machine to have a child's mind, a child's -- "

Steel snapped angrily, "Why would they do that?"

Silver huffed, "I don't know why, but I can soon find out. I'll open it up." He reached into his pocket for his tools.

"No, you keep away from it," Steel ordered him firmly.

Silver gazed at Steel pityingly. "Look Steel, Steel, Steel, Steel, Steel. I am the technician, and there's no machine, past present of future, that I cannot handle."

In the wall, the glowing fetus reacted on the word 'technician'. It shot a horrified wail to the human it owned. Silver was approaching the man. Sapphire stepped aside, distancing herself from them. Then the man lunged forward, left hand out to touch the startled Silver. And then the technician was gone. The man swung around towards Sapphire and Steel, who immediately began backing away. Steel grabbed a small metal end table and held it up between them. The man seemed startled, closing his hand into an uncoordinated fist. He went after Steel. When his hand closed on the metal bar of the small table, the bar vanished. Steel dove around behind the leather sofa. The man's right hand touched it and it shriveled, half into dust and half into wrinkled, dried leather.

Steel changed course and raced past Sapphire where she stood near the kitchen exit. [Let it follow you.] She was trembling, her fingers clenched together at her waist. She shot him a look filled with horror as he moved through the door. He said quickly, [I want to get behind it. Go on. Make it follow you!]

She hesitated, then used her power, recalling the sound of music the baby-man missed so much. She let it seep out and an innocent, delighted smile spread across the baby-man's face. He walked unsteadily towards her. Steel came through the other door and approached silently. He raised his hands to strike.

Sapphire played the music, but on another level she said quickly, {You can't kill it, Steel. You can't hurt him.}

No, she was right. He could not. But he was too close. They both were. One touch and they would vanish as Silver had. But the baby-man stopped moving suddenly, dismay crossing his smooth features.

In the wall, the fetus glowed and pulsed with its own dismay. It said, [[Touch them both.]]

But the baby remembered. Things vanished when he touched them. Warmth and joy in glowing eyes, soft hair, vanished when he took her hand. The music was all that was left and if he touched these it would be gone. "Nooooo!" he wailed in protest. So close, his fingers so close to the source of comfort, the music. He pulled away and turned, only to find the other one all too close as well.

The voice commanded him angrily, [[Touch them.]]

"No! I won't!" He shivered. Right hand, left hand. The words had no meaning, but he knew that anything he touched with either hand was taken from him. He crossed his right wrist over his left and moved away from these last two comforts. He would go to his room, to the sleeping place that now was too small for him. Nothing could happen in there, could it?

Sapphire joined Steel and they watched the baby-man leave the room, walking gingerly. She said softly, {He tried to resist something, did you notice?}

[Yes.] Oh yes, he had noticed.

She continued. {Whatever it is, it's controlling it.}

[The time source?] he queried.

{It must be.}

[Well, what is he?]

She said softly, {A human transmutation. I suppose you could call it a changeling.}

There she went again with these weird words. [A changeling?]

Amused, she said, {A substitute child. It's old folklore. Except that this child hasn't been substituted for another.}

They stepped into the hallway and went to the door of the nursery. They stared at the baby-man as he sank to his knees, huddled in an agony of loss, understanding nothing. Steel shook himself. "He's been substituted for himself?"

Sapphire nodded. "Give or take thirty years, yes."

Steel blinked. "I wonder what he did to Silver."

Sapphire stepped into the room and turned the light on as she spoke. "What he did to everything else, like the door. I think he sent him back."

Confused, Steel asked, "To where?"

"To the beginning. To his beginnings. Maybe even further than that." As she spoke, she picked the music box out of the crib and started it playing. Behind her there was a pulse of amusement and she heard Steel chuckling. "What is it?"

He grinned, looking like a boy. "I was just trying to imagine... but it's impossible."

"Imagine what?" His smile was infectious, but why was he amused?

He shrugged sheepishly. "Silver having any kind of beginning, any kind of childhood."

Sapphire let out a soft, breathy laugh and grinned at him. "That's strange. My thoughts exactly." She straightened the ribbon on the music box.

Steel was surprised. "About Silver?"

"No. About you." She set the toy in the crib and stared down at the rocking man. "He's the baby from this room."

Steel agreed with her softly. "Yes." As she walked out the door, he caught her elbow and said with utmost dignity, "I have very positive origins. Inexpressible, maybe, but positive." He let her pass and switched off the light. They stepped out into the hall and Steel closed the door behind them. They walked into the master bedroom and he hit the light switch, muttering, "Without Silver we don't stand any chance of getting out of this capsule."

Sapphire agreed with him, but there was something that struck her as odd. "What about the parents?"

He missed her question, off on his own track. "What are you gonna do about it?" he demanded.

The anomaly had her full attention. "But what about -- "

He cut her off. "Try to get him back." Sapphire got on the bed and curled up, watching Steel, watching his mind work through things. "If he has sent Silver back to a time when he -- when he never even existed -- what did you say?"

She blinked at him innocently. "What about the parents of that child?"

It was his turn to blink in surprise. "Well he could hardly have sent them back into the past. If he'd done that the child itself wouldn't exist."

She agreed. "It wouldn't be here."

Thoughtfully, Steel said, "Well, maybe he sent them in different directions."

"Yes, the opposite direction. Do you remember the hands? Left hand..." she gestured with her own hands to make her point.

Steel was nodding. "The past."

"Right hand..." she prompted.

"The future." It followed a clear logic.

"It could be," Sapphire told him agreeably.

"Well it could be, yes." He stood next to the bed and picked up the intercom. When he activated it and turned the volume up, they heard the sound of the lullaby from the nursery. He growled softly, "There must be a power system somewhere. There must be the machinery." Sapphire looked away from him as he got up and stalked out of the room. He went to the screen room and turned on the light. After a moment he sat in the chair and stared at the screen portal. Sapphire came in as he was saying, "This room is very special. It's the only one that isn't pretending to be something else."

"A room from the future," she said agreeably.

Half-indignant he growled, "Yes, but how does it work? I mean, there's no machinery. Nothing!"

"Nothing that we can see," she corrected him gently.

He frowned. "Well how did it get here? And how do we send it back?"

She said sternly, "We can't send it back. Not without its crew."

He glared at her. "All right. While we're waiting around, waiting for them to reappear, what do you suggest we do?"

She hesitated. There had to be something, but for the moment nothing presented itself. She shrugged. "I have no idea."

"Precisely." He jumped up from the chair and glowered at her. "So get Silver back."

"Now?"

"Now."

She considered it thoughtfully as Steel made for the door. She was not particularly anxious to get Silver back, at the moment. "You're not forgetting the time source?" She watched Steel stop and turn back to her. He looked puzzled, so she clarified her question. "Only I thought you were worried."

"Worried?"

"That it's all gone too smoothly. That we got in here too easily."

He glared at her. "No, I'm not forgetting the time source and yes, I'm still worried."

"Good," she snapped back at him.

"Now take time back," he commanded.

She hesitated. Something was wrong, that was certain. She could not get a fix on what. "To when the three of us... were together... in the living room?" she asked tentatively.

He confirmed. "See you back there." She moved around him and left the room. He almost snorted at the wry indignation she broadcast. I have impeccable origins, he reminded himself. Question my childhood, indeed.

Sapphire passed the wall where she could not see the hidden glowing fetus. Time distorted, recalling the moment when she was taken and the pain she had felt. She turned back towards Steel, but had nothing solid to tell him. She took a breath and stepped into the nursery to turn on the light for the baby, before she continued into the living room. The moment she stepped in the door, a box on the coffee table whirled to follow her movement. She stared at it suspiciously. Then in front of her the leather sofa suddenly regenerated itself.

Sapphire determinedly began to use her power to take back time. Chaos erupted around her. The knob appeared on the door behind her. A woman in pale pajamas walked past her and began speaking to the glow in the wall. "Day twenty-seven, Experimental Project ES Stroke Five Stroke Treble Seven. Urban examination and observation." She raised her left hand to glance at her watch. "Time of day,eight twenty-seven AM. I'd like to report a transference failure -- " A pillow squawked as it slid across the couch. Somewhere she heard the drone of a strange, deep voice overriding the woman's voice saying, [[Time... is the measure of durational continuous existence without reference to extension in space. Absolute time is unrelated to matter or motion, and is continuous, unlimited, and infinitely divisible. Relative time, by which duration is measured with reference to events. Sidereal time is based on the rotation of the Earth with respect to the stars.]] The woman had vanished, and there was a mocking, tsking noise. She turned and saw Silver draped across the couch.

"Silver!" Sapphire exclaimed. For a moment she thought it had worked.

But he was saying, "I'm afraid you've both fallen into the trap of attributing human characteristics to a simple, flexible casing and a handful of circuits!"

She realized it was just a replay of what had happened earlier. She had not yet managed to snatch Silver from the time-stream as chaos reigned. Around her, suddenly there was the cold morning wind, the empty rooftop, and she heard her own voice calling for Steel. She could sense him still in the screen-room. Again came that strange voice, [[Time is measured by clocks, chronometers, etc, is computed on the basis of an average -- or mean -- solar day which is always at the same length and has no real existence.]] She turned in exasperation to find she was face to face with the helpless innocence of the baby-turned-adult. She gasped and fled.

Steel snapped furiously, "What do you mean, you can't work in there?"

Her accent, normally muted, was tremendous when she was frightened. "It's impossible. I just can't operate. Not in that room!"

"Then try another room. Try the screen room!"

"No! It has to be the room that Silver was last in!"

"What's stopping you?"

"The room itself!" she practically wailed. He came at last to her side. She gazed wide-eyed at him. "It's alive!"

He frowned. "With what?"

"With time."

Startled, he shifted nervously. "You mean it knew your reasons for going into that room."

Trembling, she said, "Well it must have done! What other reason would it have for setting up a barrier like that!" She sat down heavily on the stair.

He looked down at her, frowning. "So you are unable to take time back?"

She whispered brokenly, "Under these circumstances, yes." Steel sat down next to her and put his arms around her shaking shoulders. She added in a small voice, "I haven't got the power."

He squeezed her shoulders and held her close, looking warily about. "But it has."

She shrugged slightly under his hands. "Obviously." They huddled together for a long moment, depressed and frightened. Finally, Sapphire asked, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

He ground his teeth, but he could feel her trepidation and answered, "Yes, the same thoughts. You can't use your powers and I can't do what I've been sent to do, and... take this capsule back to where it belongs because the crew aren't here."

She said softly, "We've lost our technician."

They huddled closer together, feeling that loss in their bones. Steel said in almost a sigh, "The only one who can get us out, and get us in." Sapphire nodded agreement. He could feel her sudden ache at Silver's loss, and groped from something good to say about the other agent. "He's a... useful sort of person, isn't he?"

She whispered back, "I miss him." They stayed together as long as they could, but the demands of what they had to do forced them to give up this scant comfort to try again.

Steel, Sapphire behind him, shoved the doors to the living room wide open. He did not step inside, but eyed the area suspiciously. "What did you do?" he asked her.

Confused, she asked, "What did I do, when?"

"When you entered the room did you... prepare things? What?"

She shook her head nervously. "I -- I -- I just thought about what I had to do to take time back and to get Silver back."

Startled, Steel asked, "You only had to think it?"

"Yes."

He considered that for a moment, then jerked his chin towards the room. "Think it now."

She licked her lips and stepped nervously into the room. There was a stirring all around. The couch restored and she was on the roof in the bright light of day. She spun quickly. {Steel?}

[Yes, I saw that. Come back here.]

She joined him and the couch fell again into aged dusty rot. Bright eyed with confusion she said, "The roof."

"Yes, but the past or the future?" For it certainly had not been the present.

"I don't know, it could have been either."

They looked around nervously. Steel considered, then said, [Try it here. Take time back here, when you and I and Silver first came out from the screen room.] Seeing her frightened expression, he kept his voice gentle. [Try that.]

She drew a breath and began, her eyes shimmering deep blue as she used her power. The hall lit up. Down at the other end the door to the master bedroom opened. A tall, pale man stepped out, dressed in clothing startling in its ordinariness. He was followed by a smaller woman with dark eyes and dark hair, as pale as he was. She wore a dark red dress. She stood in the doorway. They looked up at a spot in the wall. The man said, "So, which one did you try?"

The woman stepped through, closing the door behind her. "The master one. Well, we usually get an instant signal back from that, don't we?"

"Yes," the man said, and followed behind her. They walked past Sapphire and Steel and went into the living room.

Steel gaped after them. He pointed uncertainly. "That was..!"

Sapphire said softly, "People from the future."

The hall went dark as the recall ended. Steel shook himself, closing his mouth. "Well why were they dressed like that?"

Sapphire moved closer to him, amused by his astonishment. "It's part of their experiment. Did you expect something different?"

"Y -- " he cut himself off and walked over to the door of the master bedroom. They looked up at the spot in the wall that the two people had been staring at. They could see nothing.

Sapphire shrugged slightly. "Some sort of transmitter, Silver said."

Steel eyed the wall with considerable suspicion. "Yes, and a monitor. Something that sees us. Watches us." He looked around.

"Well, there's probably one in every room." She watched Steel stalk away, into the nursery. The baby-man was still huddled, unmoving. Steel exited angrily. "Maybe there is nothing tangible. Maybe there doesn't need to be." She put her hands in her pockets and followed her angry partner as he left the room. Her gait brought her close to the wall next to the nursery, and into a morass of anger and nervousness. Startled, she jumped away from the wall. "Steel!" He had just entered the bathroom, and now he turned towards her. "It's here!" she called. She lifted her hands to better taste the sensations she felt. "I'm in line with it, here. Do you remember on the roof?"

On the roof, in the cool day's breezes, they had searched and she had found something. {Yes... here. I'm in line with it here,} she had told him.

"Yes, I remember," Steel confirmed.

Inside the wall they thought they heard a twisting sound, as of metal being bent. Sapphire listened to the power that she tasted here. It muttered angrily, threatening her. "It's very powerful, Steel. It can do anything."

And they remembered their first encounter with it, when Steel had demanded, "Try to communicate with it."

Her fear when she felt the power it radiated, "I can't possibly -- "

His determined question: "Is it only a machine?"

Her automatic response. "Yes!!"

And now what she had said dawned powerfully. Steel went pale. "Capable of... doing anything it wants?"

She nodded and whispered, "Yes."

His eyes narrowed and he looked intently at her. "Capable of everything."

"Yes."

He took a step forward and lifted a statuette of a woman off the table against the wall. Sapphire touched it and analyzed it before Steel set the thing on the opposite table. It was not the time source. She read the table it had been on. It was not the time source, and then Steel moved that aside. He sat in front of the wall and stared at it, unhindered by things against it. He reached out, touching the surface of the wall carefully. "Those clever people of the future with their brilliant minds. They harnessed it -- "

In the wall it pulled away, but reached out to Sapphire. [[Remember,]] it told her firmly.

" -- used it, whatever it is," continued Steel.

Behind him, Sapphire gasped as she was suddenly immersed in agony. Panting, she struggled. "Oh, oh, oh no! The pain!" She was almost screaming.

Steel was there at once, holding her and buffering her against the attack. He said sharply, "It's all right!" Then he said again softly, "It's all right. It's all right." He held her gently until she was steady, then said, "Wait here." He moved away, into the kitchen. Sapphire watched the wall, saw a red organic glow appear within it. Steel came back with the knife from the drawer. As he approached, the glow vanished.

Sapphire said, "It moved."

"Good." He began to slice at the thin covering of the wall. "Anything now?" he asked as he worked.

"No," she confirmed.

He growled, "If only we knew how these walls were constructed."

She looked around warily. "It could be anywhere."

Steel continued to work at the thin covering on the wall. "Yes, it... has a right to be anywhere in this capsule. Could have access to any part of it. Built in." Sapphire came closer to him. She watched as he peeled the covering away, but there was nothing but a gray material behind it. He glanced at her. "What were those noises?"

"Sounds of pain," she answered mildly.

He pointed at the gray material, frowning. "What's that?"

She touched it and recognized the substance, though they had no name for it. "The whole capsule is built like that."

He began a more determined effort to chip off, or through, the material. "Let's see if...."

Amused, she said, "You'll never shift it." After a moment watching him trying she added matter of factly, "But Silver could."

He stopped and glared at the wall in exasperation. "Yes, Silver probably could."

Sapphire had not taken her hand away and she heard the cries of animals in pain. Something warm tingled against her fingers and she drew her hand back in surprise. Red liquid slicked her skin.

Steel was muttering, "Maybe there is a way of getting him back."

"Steel?" Sapphire started tentatively, gazing shocked at her hand.

"A quick way, a swift way -- "

"Look!" she interrupted him urgently.

He stopped speaking, staring at the red liquid on her hand. After a moment he stated, "Blood."

"It's animal blood," Sapphire clarified.

Shocked, he said, "Animal blood?!" They both stared wide-eyed at the gray substance they had bared under the thin wall-covering. Steel shook himself as suspicion set in. "What exactly are they guilty of? And what do they use as a time source -- "

"That's capable of everything?" Sapphire finished for him.

Decision narrowed his eyes. "Yeah, well there's one thing it hasn't been capable of doing." He looked at her intently. "Something decided to disobey it, remember? The left hand, the past. The right hand, the future. I mean what would happen if -- "

"Steel, it's dangerous," she interrupted him sternly.

His eyes blazing he said, "I know. I live dangerously."

He is going to try it! An edge of panic sharpened her voice. "What would happen if you disappeared as well!"

"You'd just have to cope as best you can," he replied coolly.

Furious with him she snapped, "You know what it can do!"

He dropped the knife he was holding on the floor and surged to his feet. "I know very well what it can do!"

She grabbed his arm and said urgently, "Steel, remember it's watching you, it's listening to you!"

He bent down and whispered back, "Don't you see, that's what I'm relying on!"

She turned her head away in fury. "You cannot take that chance!!"

Frustrated, he growled, "All right! All right!!" He moved to the door of the nursery and looked back at her where she crouched next to the wall. "I'm just gonna talk to it."

Steel entered the nursery and gazed down at the seeming adult huddled on the floor. Through this helpless creature, the time source would hear him. But he had to reach the baby instead. He said sharply, "What is your name?"

The huddled body gave a slight jerk. The head lifted slightly. The voice said in confusion, "Name?"

Steel softened, remembering that perhaps the baby would not have heard its name before. "Yes. You must have a name." There was no answer. Steel took a few steps closer, moving silently so as not to alarm the baby. "We want to help you. We want to give you back the things you need." He reached down to the edge of the crib and unlatched one side, all the while he spoke soothingly. "Sleep... and warmth... and food." Steel moved to the other side of the adult baby, who looked up at the crib helplessly. The soft, white blanket was beckoning him, but he was far too big to use it. Steel unlatched the other side and pushed the barrier down, opening access to the crib. He said softly, "Those are the things you want, aren't they?" He reached in and lifted out the music box by its ribbon. "Well, we're going to help you get those things back." He had adopted a soft, sing-song tone as he held out the music-box. The man began to climb to his feet, attention focused on the box. Steel was a siren, calling. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? You'd like that a lot." He wanted to have peace and comfort, rather than this continual loss of love. Oh, yes. He reached for the music box, the one thing that remained to him. Steel smiled warmly, but carefully kept the box away from the reaching left hand. The man smiled innocently back at him. "We're going to give you everything you want! And you know what?" He caught the man's wrists gently in his hands and said encouragingly, "We're going to send you back! Send you back!" He moved slowly, gently bringing the man's hands towards each other. If this did not work, he had no idea what he would do. But he kept his thoughts light and reassuring. So close.... "Where you belong."

In the wall, the fetus glowed and pulsed. It would lose its tool and be helpless! [[No!]] it shouted, but the human ignored it. Craftily, it insinuated, [[He will hurt you.]]

The warning registered, and at last the human saw that his hands were being directed to touch each other. He would vanish as everything else had. Frightened, he tried to pull away but the one who held him suddenly would not permit it. "No!" he howled in terror. Struggling, he turned his left hand trying to reach the man's face.

Sapphire stood in the doorway and saw this. No, I will not lose Steel too! She ran into the hallway and snatched up the knife from the floor. She laid it against her palm and glanced at the wall. The exposed material was gray no longer, but pale like mottled flesh. Without hesitation Sapphire sliced her palm open and stroked her own blood against the bare wall.

In their struggle, the baby-man had pushed Steel half into the crib. His face was twisted in terror until the instant Sapphire smeared her blood on the wall. Then a sigh of contentment spread into his mind. Fear and nagging hunger eased at last, a strip of sheer pleasure. He stopped struggling, gazing upwards in ecstasy. Steel used the distraction to push the willing man's open palms together.

All over the capsule things became what they had been. The doorknobs constructed themselves, the couch, glasses. Silver appeared in the living room and spun around in complete confusion. The doorknob appeared in the nursery door, giving Sapphire something with which to open it.

There was Steel on his back, laying half in the crib. He held over his head a baby in white pajamas, who made little baby noises and kicked. Sapphire smiled and took the baby from her partner's hands, then watched with amusement as he got to his feet and dusted himself off.

An instant later the door opened, and the tall man from the future was staring at them in utter shock. He shouted "Rothwyn!" as he fled, slamming the door behind him.

Sapphire cuddled the baby and tried not to laugh. Steel started to the door, growling a question. "The past again?"

"This is the present," she replied, unable to keep her amusement out of her voice.

He stopped and looked at her, astonished. "The present?!" She ignored him and cuddled the baby. Taking that as a yes, he stepped out into the hallway. The two adults from the future, the woman in the lead, were walking rapidly towards him, so he stepped back into the nursery.

The woman came in an instant later and stared at him. He gazed back at her, seeing in her features the man that the baby would someday be. So pale, with those high, arching brows and that dark, deep brown hair, those brown almost black eyes. The curls must come from the frightened man hiding behind her.

Sapphire said calmly, "Your child."

The young woman's expression was one of utter relief. She laughed with delight and stepped forward to claim her child, but the man snatched her arms and pulled her back.

Sapphire smiled slightly. "He's quite safe. He's unharmed. We've brought him back for you."

The woman jerked from the man's hold and gathered up her child. Cuddling him, her voice light for him, she asked, "Brought him back from where?"

The man was practically wailing, "Don't ask them anything!" Annoyed by all the panic, Steel left the nursery.

The child began fussing at the man's voice and his mother soothed him automatically. She said lightly, "I want to know what happened."

Sapphire watched the mother and child with delight, but she listened to the man and his terror as he said, "Don't even talk to them! I believe you now! The things, the things you said you'd seen!" He glanced at Sapphire and looked away from her appraising gaze in terror. "Well, now I believe you! We're both imagining things -- "

His panic was evidently beginning to wear on the woman. She said firmly, "We aren't imagining anything."

Hysterically he replied, "Well of course we are!"

She said firmly, "These people are real." She stopped and looked at Sapphire, who smiled and stepped away from them. Shyly, the woman asked, "Well, aren't you?"

Sapphire answered, "Yes, we're real."

Steel appeared in the doorway, his gaze fierce on them. "What are your names?"

The man forcibly ignored him, focusing on the woman who was watching Sapphire. "How can they possibly be real?!"

Steel was becoming more annoyed by the moment. He stepped into the room. "How can we possibly not be?" he snapped. He grabbed the man's chin in his right hand and gripped just short of pain. With a dismayed cry the man clutched at Steel's wrist, then calmed down at the heat and solid feel. Steel released him and moved towards the calm woman. "What are your names?"

She met his eyes and then glanced at the man. "We may as well tell him."

"We can't!" cried the man in dismay.

With the barest impression of urgency she said, "His name is Eldred, mine is Rothwyn!"

The one thing Steel did know, those were not names being used in the present. He stepped away from Rothwyn to Sapphire's side. "Names from the past."

Sapphire confirmed it softly, "Yes."

He turned back to Rothwyn and eyed her sternly. "But you're from the future, am I right?"

Startled by the question, she nevertheless rallied. "Yes, you're right." Nervous by his steady, intent gaze, she leaned away from him.

He turned to Eldred. "And there's only the three of you." When they were both silent, he prompted them gently, "Well, tell me."

Eldred looked nervously at Rothwyn. When they did not speak, Steel left the room. Startled by his action, Rothwyn started to answer him. "Y -- " but he was gone, so she turned to Sapphire. "Yes. There's only the three of us, here." She folded her hands together on the crib innocently.

Eldred spun her around to face him. "But it's impossible!!"

Sapphire cocked her head. "What's impossible?"

Eldred looked at her, then tore his eyes away to seek Rothwyn's desperately. "Them being here! No one can enter this place!" He was pleading for her to agree with him, but she looked past him at Sapphire. He shook her angrily. "No one can get in!"

Sapphire stood and paced towards the door. "No?" she asked.

"No one from this time period!" he practically shouted.

Rothwyn was getting sick of his weight on her shoulders, of his shaking her. She shoved his hands away and went to Sapphire. Softly, she asked, "Where are you from?"

Sapphire just blinked at her, regarding her with a sorrowful, disappointed gaze. "Please wait here until you're needed." She left the nursery, closing the door behind her. Rothwyn had lied, and unless these two were willing to tell the truth, this might never be solved. Sapphire sought Steel ahead of her. He hissed a warning at her. There were faint noises coming from the other side of the living room doors. They crept forward, and Sapphire leaned cautiously against the wall. Steel readied himself, Sapphire moved to stand behind him, and he shoved the doors wide. They leaped into the room.

"Ah!" exclaimed a voice behind them and they spun, ready to attack. Sapphire gasped. It was Silver, about as surprised to see them as they were him, jumping back against the wall in shock. When he recognized them he relaxed immediately. "Oh." He moved towards Sapphire, waving his toolkit. "I was just about to -- " he began then stopped in confusion when she took a step back from him, hands behind her. He turned to Steel. "No, I was just -- " he broke off again, biting his lip. Something was so out of place, continuity totally thrown. What... he snapped his fingers under Steel's nose and jumped up the step to where he had been. The continuity broke again and he turned in confusion. "I was just in the process of doing something!" he protested.

Sapphire nodded, amused. "Yes."

Indignant he asked, "So what was it?"

Steel snapped, "You were busy making a mistake."

Silver stared at him, lower lip jutting in indignation. He growled, "I never make mistakes."

Steel turned and walked out the doors, commanding, "Come here."

"In fact I'm unable to make mistakes!" Silver protested huffily. He stepped down to follow Steel, muttering, "It's built in." He met Sapphire's steady gaze. "Instant reduplication, it never fails!"

She answered him cheerfully, "It did this time."

"No it -- " confused, without memory, he fell silent.

Steel's voice jarred him. "Silver..!" Shaking his head in confusion, Silver obeyed the summons, glad when Sapphire slipped her hand into his. They joined Steel in the hall, where he was pulling more of the thin covering off the gray substance beneath. Silver let go of Sapphire's hand and went to look, while she leaned back against the wall and folded her arms together. Steel said firmly, "Open that." Silver leaned down and investigated it. After a long moment Steel prompted him. "Well, can you?"

Silver brushed his fingers across the pebbly surface and eyed Steel uncertainly. "It would help if I knew what it was..?" he trailed off.

Steel blinked. "Just a minute." He stalked into the nursery and, ignoring Eldred, went straight to Rothwyn where she leaned against the table. "Would you mind?" he said firmly.

Eldred said stiffly, "What?"

Steel glanced at him but did not speak. Instead he paced around behind Rothwyn and waited. After a moment she said, "I think he wants us to go with him. Come on." Eldred stood reluctantly and preceded them out into the hallway.

Silver turned and when he saw the newcomers quickly got to his feet. "Oh! This is them!" he exclaimed delightedly.

Steel closed the nursery door behind them and pointed towards the bared wall. "What is that?" They were silent, stunned and confused. He grabbed Rothwyn by her left bicep and jerked her forward, causing her to gasp in nervous shock. "What's behind there?" he demanded.

Shaken, she managed to say, "We don't know. Why should we know?"

He snapped angrily, "Because you belong in this thing, that's why."

She shook her head. "But we're not...."

He prompted her. "What?"

Embarrassed, she said nervously, "Well, we're not engineers."

Exasperated, Steel released her and moved toward Sapphire where she leaned against the wall. Sapphire asked mildly, "Well what are you, then? Historians? Researchers?"

Rothwyn said, "We're both."

Steel stalked towards her. "You don't know what it is that brought you here."

Hurt by his insistent demand, Rothwyn said, "This did."

"But not how it did. You don't know that." He stalked between Rothwyn and Eldred, both of whom eyed him.

Rothwyn refused to be intimidated. She had noticed that however bullying he seemed, he had not actually hurt her. She said calmly, "No."

Annoyed, he snapped, "Well what information can you give us?"

Eldred stuttered nervously, "Well that depends -- "

"You're in danger. Do you know that much?"

"Well -- " Eldred began.

Rothwyn cut him off. "Yes. We realize that." Eldred looked at her helplessly, but she was busy holding Steel's gaze.

He came closer to her. "Good. Cuz we put ourselves in danger because of you."

Eldred was trying to get control of the situation. He stuttered out, "Then we must th -- "

Steel glared at Eldred fiercely and snapped, "No! Don't thank us! It's not you we care about." He pushed past Rothwyn and shoved her towards Eldred, then moved to where Silver was again squatting and studying the bared wall. He said coolly, "You'll just have to guess."

Silver said, "Right."

Sapphire finally stepped away from the wall. She reached out and touched Eldred's arm, pulling him after her into the nursery. She met his helpless gaze. "We are real." She set her right hand firmly on his upper left arm, giving him a moment to register the heat of her palm through his thick shirt. "And it is our job to safeguard the structure of time. The past, the present, and the future." She slid her palm a short way down his arm, steadying him. "All of it."

Her sympathetic touch broke his resolve where Steel's bullying had only strengthened it. He met her eyes helplessly. Rothwyn had been right. She was a beautiful woman, with hair a remarkable shade of gold. "It was an experiment, that's all."

Steel's voice from the hall was sharp and startling. "Experiment?"

Defensively, Eldred aimed his voice that way. "Yes!!" He turned desperately to Sapphire. "I mean, what's the point of a future, what's the use of accumulated technology, what's the use of learning -- "

Steel moved between them and Sapphire took a step back. "If you can't experiment?" he snapped.

"Yes!!" Eldred snapped back.

Steel continued in a growl of outrage. "If you can't go bulldozing back where you don't belong!"

Rothwyn rushed into the room, trying to make sense of the words flying between the two men. "That's it?" she asked.

Eldred had his dander up, outrage had replaced his quivering terror. "We haven't exactly bulldozed where we don -- "

The raised voices had woken the baby, who was crying. But it was not for the child that Sapphire laid her palm flat on Eldred's chest and told him, "Sh." He fell silent and she folded her arms across her chest, moving to join Steel.

He was leaning against the edge of the crib. He growled bitterly, "You came here hoping to play happy families in the Twentieth Century, but it's gone wrong, hasn't it?"

Eldred attempted to respond. "All right -- "

But Steel cut him off. "No one knows you're here. You're stranded! You don't even know how to use the machinery that brought you here, that left you here." He met Sapphire's amused gaze and calmed somewhat. Almost amused himself, he stalked over to glower into Eldred's eyes. "And then there's the language. You've just about got that right for the present time -- "

Bitterly, Eldred snapped, "Thank you -- "

Steel glared at them both. "But not the names you chose! You got those wrong by several hundred years. Now, how's that for learning?" He stalked out of the room and joined Silver to growl, "How's that for 'accumulated technology'?" He moved away down the hall.

Bemused, Silver watched him go. He thought he had found a way to analyze what lay behind this barrier, but he would need a pure metal for that and he had seen some. He stepped into the nursery and tapped the anguished woman, Rothwyn, on her shoulder. He gave her his most charming, flirtatious smile when she looked at him, and gestured for her to follow him. She glanced compassionately at the man, and then came out into the hall with Silver.

He indicated her golden necklace and asked shyly, "Um, do you think I might have that?" His gentleness and charm worked and she smiled back at him. She reached behind her neck to undo the clasp, but had some trouble with it. "Allow me," Silver offered gently. Entranced, she lifted her fan of dark hair and he stepped behind her to open the clasp, his fingers warm on her smooth skin. Seductive, he left the necklace on and moved around in front of her before he pulled the chain into his palm. "Thank you." Her eyes were dark and warm when she smiled at him, but she turned and went into the nursery.

She spoke first to Eldred. "I'm going to tell them." The gentle man with that mop of peculiarly colored hair was very reassuring. It was almost like being home again. She and Eldred had been alone with only each other for too long.

And he was not stable. Angrily he said, "Tell them what?"

She turned to the lovely, golden-haired woman. "Well, there are others. Others like us, here. Two other groups."

The woman answered her gently, "We already know that."

"Oh." That explained the anger, then. They had known she was lying. However they could not know what she knew. "But there's an engineer in one of the other groups. Perhaps he could help!"

The woman met her eyes with a bottomless gaze and said softly, "I'm afraid it's too late." She walked to the door of the nursery.

Eldred asked nervously, "Too late?"

She stopped. Her gaze flicked from Rothwyn's eyes to Eldred's and back. "They're all dead."

They stared at her, the words reverberating in their hearts. All of them? She moved out into the hallway and Rothwyn forced herself to follow, Eldred moving with her. The charming man crossed in front of them, met her eyes and said cheerfully, "Ah! Something out of nothing!" He flicked his wrist and a golden kerchief unrolled from thin air, a bright glow at its center. The man held it between his hands and blew on the glow which went out. Then he went towards the uncovered portion of the wall.

Unable to make any sense of it, Rothwyn clutched Eldred's hand for comfort and pulled him with her after the blonde woman, who was further down the hall and gazing thoughtfully into the air. Rothwyn grasped her courage and held on tight. She swallowed and asked, "How did they die? The others." When the woman looked at her she started again. "We'd like to know how they died."

The woman's gaze was steady. "They killed themselves. Because of the danger. Not only to them, but to everything. And everyone."

Rothwyn knew it was true. It made complete sense. "Yes," she agreed softly.

The blond man spoke from further down the hall, his voice as almost always challenging. "Would you have done the same thing?"

Eldred was shaking, but he tried to speak in their defense. "Well, if it meant -- "

But the man was implacable. "You can always do it now, you know. It would save us a lot of trouble." He stalked away down the hall into the screen room.

Eldred and Rothwyn met each other's eyes. Rothwyn started off after the man, Eldred behind her. Sapphire followed them, curious. Entering the room, Rothwyn said firmly, "No. Someone... some of us have to tell them what went wrong. To make sure it never happens again."

He agreed firmly, "Yes."

She swallowed her fear and told him, "So we have to go back."

Sapphire closed the door behind her and Eldred. Steel did not glance at her. He did not have to as he said, "If we can get you back, yes."

If, he had said. Rothwyn said nervously, "But if you can't..?"

Steel turned his back on her and looked at the screen intently. "How do these things work?"

Silver smoothed the fine sheet of gold he had made from Rothwyn's necklace. It fit nicely of the exposed patch of the wall. With a tiny computer that looked strikingly like a calculator, he programmed the sheet. The pings of his commands soon had effect, and in a glow of blue light appeared black command structures, energy pathways. Circuits. Silver traced their paths with his finger.

Eldred sat in the chair. Rothwyn, then Sapphire, then Steel leaning against the wall on his right. Sapphire looked at the image in the screen and said, "I was there."

Steel asked, "That's the farmhouse?"

"Yes."

Rothwyn looked at Sapphire in confusion. "You were there?"

Sapphire turned away and walked behind the chair Eldred was sitting in. "Yes."

Steel growled, "Well that tells me nothing."

Eldred murmured shakily, "All right. Rural study group room two, please." In the screen they saw the empty kitchen.

Steel snapped at him, "Neither does that. The bedroom."

"What?!" Appalled, not believing the other man could be serious, Eldred looked at him.

But Steel was implacable. "The bedroom of that place! I want to see it." Eldred gazed at him dumbly. "Well show me."

"I can't." Good heavens, how could you even ask such a thing?

Steel frowned. "Can't?"

"No."

Confused, Steel asked, "You mean there's no monitor in that room?"

"There's a monitor in every room."

"Then show me that room." At Eldred's continued silence, Steel rolled his eyes and snapped, "Look, if it's a question of secrecy then forget it! There'll be no secrets!"

His face turning red, Eldred stuttered, "It's not exactly a question of secrecy -- "

Steel exploded. "Then what is it?!"

Eldred stood up abruptly. The screen went dead and the lights in the room brightened. Steel confronted him, but he did not back down. "If you must know, it's more a question of privacy! Of decency!"

Startled, Steel asked, "Privacy?"

"Yes!!"

Steel looked at Rothwyn, who immediately turned her head to avoid his eyes. Confused, he asked, "Decency? What is he talking about?"

Eldred sought Sapphire on his right, thinking perhaps the woman would understand more. "I'm talking about the fact that unlike these times and the times in between... we have acquired -- or rather, gained -- certain standards!" He drew himself to his full height and mustered his dignity.

Sapphire asked curiously, "What kind of standards?"

Good heavens, even she did not understand! He gazed at her in amazement. "If you like, moral standards!" He looked away.

Steel was staring at Rothwyn, who was studiously avoiding looking at anyone. He turned and walked towards the wall, amazed at what these two considered important. "Are you trying to tell us that it's taken fifteen hundred years of troubles, wars and famines... to learn not to peep into one another's bedrooms?!"

Eldred went completely red. "If you feel that you need to laugh at us -- "

"Then don't preach. Save it for your own time." He stalked back to confront Eldred again. "Now show us that room."

Eldred almost protested again, but Rothwyn was looking at him pleadingly. She had been right about everything and he could not resist her. Sapphire touched his shoulder and he caved, sitting down. The screen activated. He had to order it, but he would be damned if he would look at it. He kept his gaze focused on the floor and said quietly, "Rural study group room five, please."

Silver read the puzzle he had made visible. This was not what he had expected. This could not really be what it seemed, could it? He could find out. He pulled a hollow tube out of his pocket, blew into it and turned it towards the kitchen knife he had laying on a black tile next to him. A brilliant blue flame came out of the end, and the knife vanished in a puff of steam. Embarrassed, he waved the smoke away, glad no one could see that he had accidently destroyed the knife. He began using the flame to melt a hole through the kerchief of gold.

Eldred stared at the still bodies shown in the viewscreen. It was not possible. No. If they were truly dead, why did they look so peaceful? He said tentatively, "Pe -- perhaps they're asleep."

The woman, Sapphire, answered him gently. "No, they're not asleep."

Rothwyn's voice trembled, but she asked, "And the third group?"

"The same thing has happened to them."

And what she and Eldred had interpreted as the silence of things going smoothly had been the silence of the dead. Anguished, Rothwyn turned away from the lifeless scene. "Please..." she choked out.

Steel said from the wall, "Switch it off." Eldred obeyed promptly, getting up from the chair. He, too, could not bear what he had seen. Steel spoke again. "This monitoring device that you have -- "

Eldred cut in weakly, "Doesn't work properly."

Steel moved, walking past Rothwyn. "Not between you and your control point, no, but what about between groups?"

Confused, Eldred looked at him. "Between...."

Steel met his gaze with questions. "Well each group keeps its own log. It's own recorded diary, right?"

"Yes," Eldred admitted, drooping.

"Well, do you have access to their log?" Steel waved towards the screen image wall.

Eldred gazed at him blankly. "Of course. But they're dead."

Exasperated, Steel growled, "Then it's no use to them anymore, so let's hear it." He looked at the wall, frowning furiously, ignoring how Rothwyn was watching him. "I need to know more about the power system being used; whatever it is that brought you across time -- "

Eldred interrupted him dolefully, "I've already said th -- "

"It's built into this capsule. It's a kind of time... time source!" Steel snapped, pacing impatiently.

Rothwyn, wanting to help, said eagerly, "Yes!"

"Oh!" Startled, he came over to her. Answers at last? He said with relief, "So you do know that!"

Dismayed, she looked past him. "Yes, b -- only that much."

"Only that much?" His disappointment was plain.

She said hesitantly, "Yes but... something, some piece of...."

"Machinery?" he prompted her, frowning.

"Yes, machinery. It was used to bring us back here." Ashamed that she could not tell him more, she looked helplessly at Eldred.

Steel frowned at her. "Why didn't you ask what it was?"

She sniffled and Eldred answered him weakly, "We didn't think it was necessary."

Steel and Sapphire looked at each other. Humans were all alike. They took what they had for granted, and were completely helpless when things went wrong. This species would survive fifteen hundred years into the future, obviously, but both operatives would be willing to say it had to be by accident.

Sapphire stepped foward to confront the couple, who avoided her eyes. "Well that piece of machinery did bring you here. And it's keeping you here. But now it's acting on its own path." She looked at Rothwyn. "It's thinking for itself." She turned her steady gaze to Eldred. "It's already caused people to kill themselves. Now, what has it got in mind for you?" They raised their heads and stared at her with wide, frightened eyes. She met their fear and added malevolently, "And your baby."

Eldred had been groping for anything he might know and came up with nothing. He asked helplessly, "But if we don't know the answers..?"

The room darkened. "They might," said Steel. He was sitting in the chair and the screen showed the dead bodies of the Rural study group.

Eldred stared at the scene numbly. "Yes."

Rothwyn began to sob and with both exasperation and pity, Steel glanced at Sapphire. "Oh, get her out of here."

He ignored the women leaving and turned his gaze to Eldred, who finally said hopelessly, "Their last log will be with them."

Rothwyn huddled against the door to the master bedroom. Sapphire left her there and went to Silver, who glanced up at her and said cheerfully, "Yes, that's about it! Well, it's coming slowly but I can't do much more without taking this entire capsule apart." His words were so startling that Rothwyn pulled herself from the door to see what he was about. The fine square of golden sheeting covering a small area of the wall was featureless. Silver was saying to Sapphire, "That wouldn't be very sensable, would it?"

"No," Sapphire agreed cheerfully.

Rothwyn cut in, puzzled. "What are you doing?"

Silver had not noticed her, and he and Sapphire jumped, startled. He stood up, swinging his hands innocently behind his back. "Ah, uh.... This is where the time source lives."

Sapphire asked, "Is it still here?"

"Oh, yes." He moved to block Rothwyn's view of the golden sheet and pointed towards the nursery. "Um, I think I heard your baby crying, a moment ago."

Rothwyn stared at his innocent face for a long moment. It was clear that he was trying to get rid of her. Whatever he was doing, well these people must have their secrets and she doubted she would understand even if he was willing to explain. She went into the nursery as he had suggested.

When she was gone, he turned back to Sapphire and said softly, "Look." He touched the wall and pulled back his fingers to show her the blood coating them.

"I know. Animal blood."

Of course she knew. "What sort of animal?"

She shrugged slightly. "I don't know. I'd need to do tests."

Impatiently he said, "Well then do tests!"

Her eyes twinkled, the edges of her lips curled up. "Well that rather depends on whether Steel would want -- "

He cut her off angrily. "No, I'm sorry. It rather depends on me. I need to know!" He met her silent laughter with his own determination but saw no yielding. With a sigh, he knelt and pulled out his miniature computer terminal that looked like a calculator. When he opened it, the golden sheet became back lit with blue at its center, once again showing what looked to the unpracticed eye like odd circuitry. He pointed and explained. "Now these are impulse stimulators. Electronic nerves, if you like."

The time source watched them as they spoke.

Sapphire gazed at it in amazement. "A sort of artificial nervous system."

Silver met her eyes gravely. "Well, partly artificial. See, these would be used to trigger existing nerves and voluntary muscle. It's a way of bypassing the original brain. Now these...." He tapped in a code and a higher area of the sheet lit up, showing large plates of circuitry. "Well, as you know these are the sort of gadgets they use in scientific... surgical operations." He looked at her grimly.

She stiffened, her eyes wide as shock set in. "Operations on living animals?!"

He nodded slightly. "Yes. It's really advanced, though, going by this. It's fairly sophisticated."

"But still a form of vivisection." Sapphire was trembling slightly.

"Oh, yes," Silver agreed vehemently.

The time source's heart beat rapidly in its fear. Sapphire reached out a hand, not quite touching the wall and murmured, "Sounds of pain...."

"What?" Silver asked, puzzled.

She stared at the wall, feeling dazed. "It's just something Steel once asked. I didn't know the answer then."

Silver blinked. "Well, what was the question?"

As she answered him, her voice hardened. "Those scientists of the future... fifteen hundred years in the future... what are they guilty of?"

Silver met her dark anger and urged softly, "Do those tests, hmm?"

Eldred gazed numbly at the dead bodies of his friends. They were playing the final log, and he swallowed each word painfully. The voice through the speakers was the voice of a man who knew what he was doing, and Eldred envied the dead, just for a moment.

"The children were included in the discussion. It seemed only right that they should be. The time unit that brought us here is to blame." Silver entered the screen room and came to stand next to Steel. They both listened. "It is responsible. But not because of any malfunction. Its actions were deliberate. It has turned against us. Turned against us all."

Steel tilted his head toward Silver and whispered, "Could it?"

Silver said gravely, "Yes."

The voice from the Rural group went on wearily. "It has played tricks with our minds and it is now our turn to be experimented upon and used. It urges us to escape into this time period. It wants us to become a risk, to become a threat to both the past and the future." Steel had heard enough, he left the room. "In other words, a threat to the whole human race. It has the power of time itself. And we are no match for it." Silver also turned and left the room, only Eldred remained to listen to his friend's final words. "Therefore... therefore the only alternative... the only sure safeguard is our own self-destruction. This final entry is logged at eight forty-five PM, day 25, old calendar."

As the silence stretched, Eldred bowed his head in defeat.

In the kitchen, Sapphire had a beaker full of clear liquid with globules of blood floating around inside. She stared at it, using her powers and bewildered by what she was learning.

Steel said sternly, "You said it was an animal, some kind of animal. Well?"

She said slowly, "I can't make any sense of it."

"What kind of animal is it?" he urged her.

She closed her palm over the top of the beaker and slashed through the molecular bonds of the blood to search for a clear answer. Her head filled with animal cries of agony.

Stepping into the hall, Steel watched as Silver stripped the gold sheet from the wall. It had eaten through the barrier, and beyond there seemed to be some kind of womb, with something moving inside of it. They looked up in surprise as the hall lights dimmed, and they heard the squealing of animals.

The two men went back into the kitchen. The liquid in the beaker was now a uniform red. Sapphire was standing and she radiated fury, turning to them. "It's not one animal. It seems to be every kind. Every species of animal."

Steel knelt and peered into the beaker. The red liquid told him nothing, but what she was saying was impossible, was it not?

Silver gasped in astonishment, "In one small sample of blood?!"

Sapphire confirmed coldly, "Yes."

Steel tore his eyes from the beaker. "Where's Eldred?"

Silver entered the master bedroom first and smiled at Rothwyn, who was standing near the wall. Eldred was sitting on the bed and he jumped up as Steel entered the room. "This is our sleeping room! Our private room! We don't expect to be disturbed!" he protested angrily.

Steel ignored him and looked to Rothwyn. "We want you to tell us something."

Astonished, she said, "Tell you something?" She looked at Eldred in confusion.

Steel was implacable. "About the future. About the time that you come from."

Eldred found only Silver watching him with an almost friendly expression. He choked back his outrage. The impropriety of these savages! He held in his anger and said, "We've no objection." He walked towards the door, hoping they would take the hint. "So if you'd like to wait outside -- " he stopped in surprise as Sapphire came through the door.

Steel moved over to stand next to Silver, and all three regarded the couple steadily. Steel said, "We want you to tell us about the animals."

This was a most unexpected question. Eldred blinked in surprise. "Animals?"

"Yes," Steel said, firmly.

"What animals?" Good heavens. Just when he thought these people could not get any stranger.

Steel sat on the bed and stared up at him. "The animals that exist in your period."

Rothwyn was as bewildered as Eldred, but she answered the question indulgently. "There are no animals. Not there. Not anymore." She smiled, amused by the astonishment on the three faces. "Only in children's books. Legends. Things like that."

Sapphire stared at her, wide-eyed. "But none living?"

"No," Rothwyn confirmed.

Eldred stared at them in utter bewilderment. These people were asking about animals? Not technology, not about lifestyles, but about animals? "Well, we've no further use for them!" he said, and sat on the bed next to Steel. If Rothwyn could handle their all being in here, he could too. He met the blond man's bewildered gaze. "Well, no one would consider eating their flesh. Not anymore. No one has for the past several hundred years!"

Silver said in astonishment, "What about pets?"

Rothwyn felt amused by their quaint obsessive questions. They were definitely from this time, however much they knew. She moved closer to Eldred, who was at least from her own culture. "Pets?" she asked.

Silver clarified. "Domesticated. Uh, animals in zoos!"

Sweet, silly primitive man. Rothwyn smiled indulgently. "That's the past. The atomic age. That's history."

Eldred supported her confidently. This at least they knew without any question. "Yes! Anyway, the world, it's better off without them." He glanced around and saw Sapphire's face. The woman's eyes burned into his. He looked away to see shock on the other two's faces. He tried to explain the reasoning. "They were unclean! They were cruel! And most of them carried some kind of disease."

Sapphire looked down at him, her face chiseled in stone. "Cruel?"

"Yes!" he assured her. He could tell she was angry, but why?

She looked away from him, to the man they called Silver. But her question was directed to Eldred. "What about the scientists?"

Good heavens, how did they know? "Oh, well. There's that, yes. But that's different!"

Steel shifted slightly beside Eldred, his face a study in confusion. "Well, what did they do? Your scientists?"

Eldred felt hot embarrassment coloring his skin. "Well, creatures that are used... they're... they're not really animals. Not in that state." He met Steel's astonishment with his own confusion at their interest.

Steel asked, "What exactly are they?"

"Just... pieces."

Sapphire asked darkly, "Pieces?"

Eldred started, "Yes -- "

Steel repeated, as if the idea was slow to sink in, "Pieces?"

Eldred struggled to clarify for these poor, confused primitives. "Kept alive. Propagated. As pieces. Reproduced!"

Steel had gotten to his feet and moved away from Eldred to stand in a corner, facing away from them. Sapphire did the same, and even Silver turned his back on them. Rothwyn and Eldred looked at each other in astonishment. What was with these people? They had seemed much more sensible than this before.

Rothwyn tried to soothe them. Perhaps they thought her people used the pieces as some sort of freak show. "But we never see them, of course." Silver turned to look at her and she clarified, "The public never sees them!" Silver turned away again, and she felt lost. She turned to Steel. "Well, they're never allowed out of the laboratories!"

Steel shook his head and said with dull anger, "Well that's where you're wrong." He stalked out of the room.

Eldred felt a shock of horror. He scrambled to his feet and turned to Sapphire, who was at last looking at them, if with no kindness. "What did he mean, wrong?" She turned her back to him and he tried asking Silver, "What did he mean?!" Silver did not answer him, and at last he tore out of the room after Steel. He found the man staring at the hole in the wall. "We'd like to know what you meant by that!" he begged.

Steel finally answered him, in a voice dark with rage. "Whatever is in there did leave one of those laboratories! It came back here, with you!" He pointed at the wall and Eldred stared at what looked like a mass of mottled flesh amongst circuitry. "It was made to. Trained to. It's responsible for bringing you back here!!"

Eldred fled Steel's fury. He fled the living flesh in the wall. He ran into the bedroom and dove behind Rothwyn, hiding from the man who pursued him. Steel came in and glared fiercely at them both. "Pieces of animal and pieces of machinery! Made to work together, made to coordinate! Perfected and then shaped into a time unit! Given the kind of mind, the kind of brain -- "

"Brain..?" Eldred stuttered in confusion.

Silver stood close to Steel and looked at Eldred steadily. "Yes, one that's decided to work against you."

Rothwyn had followed the conversation and was getting a grasp on what it meant. "Work against us?" she asked. Silver nodded. "But why?"

Steel let out an exasperated snort and turned away from them, moving towards Sapphire. "Let's think of a hundred reasons, shall we?"

Sapphire's gaze was bitter and contemptuous. "Or a thousand," she growled.

Steel's mind brushed Sapphire's as he spoke. They were alone with each other, with the sounds of living creatures, gulls on an ocean shore crying in life. Steel spoke. "Things that once ran wild, but at least free! Things that breathed, and ate and produced their young. Things that swam in the sea. Things that managed to survive. Once. Reduced to a few living pieces." They broke their rapport and turned to glare at Rothwyn and Eldred. Steel said with contempt, "Well its in here, now. Somewhere. It can hear us and it can see us. And it only wants one thing from its encounter with the human race. It wants revenge."

The room plunged into darkness. Steel looked up, not really surprised as his last word echoed back at them, magnified. They stirred uneasily as a howling rage made itself heard throughout the capsule.

It shoved at the metal restraints. It was mature now and broke from its womb furiously, falling out into the open space of the hall. It fled.

They stepped out into the hall. The monitor in the wall was blinking furiously, casting everything a dull red. Sapphire spoke. {Steel.}

[Yes?]

{It's broken free, it's escaped. It's out here in the house.}

[Where is it now?]

She turned away from him, to listen, but could get no clear signal. {I don't know.}

[But it's in the open?]

{Yes.}

[Wait here.] He moved forward so he could see into the hole in the wall. The space was empty. There was a smell of blood and other liquids he could not identify. He hurried past it and into the kitchen, where he snatched a large butcher knife off of the wall. In the living room he saw nothing strange, so he went back into the hall. There was a trail of slime and smears of blood. He followed it into the nursery where it went up the wall. He looked in the crib. There was some sort of fleshy mass in there, and he raised the knife to stab it.

Sapphire's voice filled his head gently. {No, Steel. It's an illusion.} He tore his eyes away to gaze at the blinking monitor in the wall. When he looked down, there was only the tiny human baby. Horrified that he had almost killed the child, he froze. Sapphire touched him gently, calming him with her own surety.

Rothwyn raced into the nursery, "My baby!"

Eldred was hot on her heels and said urgently, "Keep the child with us at all times." He remembered too well what he had heard about the time source playing tricks with minds. If they held the baby, it could not trick them, he was sure.

Steel shook free of his paralysis and hurried into the hall to meet Silver, who was standing there thoughtfully, his chin in his hands. "Get them to take this capsule back, now!"

Startled, Silver asked, "Back?"

Steel said rapidly, "Do you think you can make contact with their base control?" Silver tried to answer, but Steel overrode him. "There must be enough power in those monitors to make a hell of an emergency signal!"

"Yes, but I have to -- "

"Then make one, now! Can you do it?!"

Silver stuttered in confusion, "Well yes."

"Get on with it!" Steel was off, leaving Silver to gesture after him in startled confusion. He passed Rothwyn and Eldred, saying urgently, "All right you two, into the screen room, come on, quickly!"

Carrying the baby, Rothwyn and Eldred hurried away.

Sapphire called from the door, "Here!" They moved down the hall towards the living room. The room was lit by the red glow of its monitor, just like the rest of the capsule. Steel moved into the room ahead of Sapphire, who said, "It's fighting us, Steel."

"Yes, but how?" A noise behind him made him turn. Something that looked like a plastic doll with blood smeared on it tottered towards him. He caught it by the neck, hearing the screaming of animals, and squeezed with all his strength. Somewhere in the chaos he thought he heard Sapphire call his name. Determined to keep this thing from hurting her, he forced it to the floor and felt its neck break. Then he stared in horror, for what lay under him was Sapphire.

Her hair spread on the floor, eyes closed, body as limp as a ragdoll. Horrified, he staggered to his feet and stumbled away, hearing mocking howling in his head. No, no, no, no. Tears stung his eyes through his agony and he started to turn, to flee what he had done.

Sapphire's voice came into his head, firm and gently. {Don't turn 'round, Steel,} she said. He swayed against conflicting urges. He had to flee, get away. Sapphire continued speaking to him. {Steel, it led us in here, remember? Now we know why.} He staggered and spread his arms, trying to hold his balance against the winds of madness. Sapphire gave him her voice to focus on. {It's using us to help it escape from this capsule! We have to send it back before it can break out!!} For this was the weak point. This was where a hole could be opened to release someone from the inside of the capsule to the roof of the flats. This place, where Rothwyn had been able to see Sapphire through the walls.

Steel turned to look at her limp body. Like a child he whimpered, [But I hurt you.]

She raised her voice ferociously, buffeting him. {We don't have much time!}

There were other people in danger. [What about Rothwyn and Eldred? We can't sent them back with it -- ]

She said sternly, {It is their problem!}

But... but... he was overwhelmed with the conviction, [We can't!]

She overrode him. {They caused it. Let them solve it.} Steel staggered across the room to her body. He knelt down to stare at the limp form helplessly, but he was regaining his control. Sapphire urged him, {It belongs in the future. It doesn't belong here!}

She was right, of course. He stroked her hair and gathered his strength. [Yes, well first we have to contain it.]

She answered quickly. {Get it back in its hole.}

[How?] he was uncertain of his judgement, after what he had let the creature make him do.

Implacable, she said, {Lure it back! It's made of all animals, it'll eat anything!} She opened her eyes suddenly, shocking in the otherwise limp body. {Feed it!}

Steel sprang to his feet and raced into the kitchen. The wailing and outrage of the creature shook the whole capsule as Steel opened the freezer and hauled out the leg of lamb that hung there. He ran into the hallway and threw the raw meat into the hole in the wall.

The scent and his intent brought the silvery creature wriggling with speed across the floor. A lump of flesh like a giant worm or a slimy caterpillar, it leaped into the hole in the wall. Something to fill the gnawing emptiness. Something other than constant pain to feel.

Silver joined Steel and gaped at the shifting flesh in the hole, listening to the sounds of it chewing on something he could not see. He shuddered. "What've you done?!"

Sapphire's voice sprang into his mind. {We fed it.} She appeared beside him, whole and healthy, blinking mildly.

Steel was the first to enter the screen room. Eldred caught his arm. "I want to know what's going to happen!"

"You're going home! That's what's happening! Come on."

They stepped to the chair where Rothwyn sat cuddling her child. Silver rushed into the room with Sapphire right behind him. The red-haired man said urgently, "Places everybody, please. Quickly!" The screen lit the room brightly as Eldred stood behind Rothwyn. Silver glanced at the screen. "Right, there's the future!"

Rothwyn gazed at the halls and sealed buildings with joy. She had not realized before how homesick she was. "That's home!" To her baby she said, in the high tones of a mother, "That's home!"

Silver grinned at Sapphire. "Not ours, though, is it."

"Definitely not," she agreed with relief.

Steel stood behind and to Eldred's right. Silver took up position on Rothwyn's left and said, "Sapphire, could you take your place, please? Fingers crossed!"

Sapphire stood in front of Rothwyn, and the three operatives caught each other's wrists firmly. Rothwyn looked up at Sapphire, her eyes shining. "Can I ask you something?"

Silver snapped impatiently, "This is hardly the time -- "

But Sapphire broke their clasped hands and bent to Rothwyn, grinning with the same merry delight the other woman broadcast. "Yes, you may!"

Rothwyn smiled and asked hopefully, "The figure! The man we saw. The one that made us sleep -- was that our child?"

Sapphire looked down at the baby and smiled. "Yes it was." The two women shared smiles of utter joy.

Silver urged quickly, "Very good! Hold tight!"

They formed their circle again. Rothwyn rocked her child happily and the room flared with light, overwhelming as a breath across time.


They appeared in the hallway of the flat below the roof. The implosion of the people who had been at the center of their circle pulled them together for an instant before they regained their balance. Silver rubbed his head self-consciously, and all of them sighed with relief. Steel turned to Sapphire. "Well?"

She looked up, opening her senses. After a moment she said, "It's gone."

"Just an empty roof?"

"Yes," Sapphire answered and smiled at him.

Satisfied, Steel turned and went through the doors towards the roof. Silver called after him, "Steel! You can't leave like that, you know!"

After a moment, Steel appeared in the doorway to look questioningly at Silver. "What?"

Silver gestured towards the lift doors. "Well you've put a knot in the lift cable."

"Hmm." Steel turned away towards the lift and moved to push the call button.

Sapphire said thoughtfully, "Imagine a world without animals." She had not been as surprised as she might have been. There had been no plants in the capsules, either. She had wondered how the families living there could have born the enforced closeness. But of course, they must never have known anything else. A game of living safely, mimicking their savage ancestors and not recognizing that they themselves had done something most of their ancestors would hate them for.

Silver laughed lightly. "Yes, well they're not quite as clever as they thought they were, you know?"

"What do you mean?" Sapphire asked him.

He held up his hand and opened it to show a mouse, its fur silken black as it stayed uncertainly on his palm. "Well, they did have mice in their capsule." As if in agreement with him, the little fellow squeaked.

They heard the sound of the lift as it stopped, unable to go any higher. Steel doffed his jacket and handed it to Sapphire, who was petting the mouse, getting ready to open the door and begin the annoying process of untying the lift cable.

END


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