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Sapphire & Steel 1

Based on the TV series created by PJ Hammond
The following is fan fiction written entirely for the enjoyment of those who watched the original series and not for profit of any kind. No charge has been made to view this material. All rights remain with the writer, producer, director and cast of Sapphire and Steel the original TV series.

by Jon Kenna

Tess walked down Traitors Lane just as she did every day on her way to and from work. She’d often wondered how the place had got its name. Who had been the traitor and what great betrayal had been committed here once upon a time? Some said the field at the top of Traitors Lane  was haunted. In its history, the place had certainly seen plenty of life and, who knows, perhaps plenty of death. Over the years it had been a farm, a café, even a petrol station… all gone now. Abandoned and neglected, the field was nothing but a collection of crumbling, weed-infested old buildings. The wind was getting up; Tess could hear it whispering in the trees. It almost sounded like words. She stopped for a moment and listened. ‘Ssssssssssssss…’ was all that she could make out. ‘Sssssss…’

Concrete crumbled under her feet as she went. There were all kinds of rubbish lying around, most of it not more than thirty or forty years old. Old pumps remained from when a petrol station had stood here. ‘Castrol GTX’ was emblazoned across metal fitments in large, faded letters. ‘India Rubber. Because you drive every day’. Much of the relics were rusted but some had survived by huddling near what was left of the main station building, Most of the windows had long since lost their glass and a door hung forlornly on the last of its hinges. Foliage grew from every gap, every crack in the rubble. Large trees loomed above, undulating in the growing wind. ‘Ssssssssss,’ they hissed. For a second, Tess thought she heard a word. ‘Pleassssssssssse…’

Please what? She thought the words in her head rather than speaking them aloud. What is it you’re asking for?

‘Ssssssssssss…’ was the only reply.

Walking on, she crossed a part of the field where the oddments scattered around seemed older; fragments of pottery, rusted knives and forks, shattered bottles and disembodied chair legs or table tops. Further down there were the remains of what might once have been hen coops and chicken runs, tangled masses of rusty wire.

When she first saw the man, she thought he was just another bit twisted shrubbery. As she approached, she made out his shape. Tall and slim, he wore a brimmed hat over thick, wavy hair. His shirt and tie were smart and yet he looked more rumpled than smart. ‘Afternoon’, he called with a big, sad smile. ‘Quite a place, uh? I guess you’re too young to remember anything ever being built here.’

‘My mum remembers a petrol station.’

‘Petrol?’ The man looked off into the distance. ‘Ah yes. A service station. Some kind of halfway point’.

Tess started to move away.

‘Wonder why they’ve not used it for anything for so long,’ the man went on. He was well-spoken, didn’t sound like he was a local.

‘Don’t know. People reckon it’s haunted.’

‘Really? What about you? You seen any ghosts?’

In fact, Tess had seen figures on the field but she didn’t want to admit to a total stranger that she thought they may have been ghosts. She’d seen a man and a woman over near the old petrol pumps, only ever for a fraction of a second. One instant there would be someone there but by the time she had turned to look properly… gone. And she’d heard voices. She’d heard words spoken amongst the old tyres and broken plastic canisters. Words like ‘pleasssssse’ and ‘lisssssssten’. But then maybe it had just been shadows on walls or breezes in trees.

To change the subject, she asked the man what brought him to the area.

‘I’m trying to find a couple of friends of mine, actually. We lost touch a few years ago. In all honesty we didn’t part on such good terms… you know how these things can happen.’

Tess advised him to check the internet as almost everything and everyone was on the internet in some form these days. ‘My mum always says, if you lose something, think back to the last place you remember seeing it and you’ll probably find that’s where it is.’

‘Sensible advice,’ the man twinkled. ‘The last place I saw my friends was… well… here!’

‘Really? When?’

‘Let me think… That’d be… forty years ago. Actually, it was almost exactly forty years ago to the very day.’ He smiled at her, unblinkingly. 

‘That would have been when the petrol station was here.’

‘Yes, it was.’

‘I keep meaning to look up the history. Interesting name, isn’t it? Traitors Lane.’

‘Is that what it’s called? I’d never heard that.’

‘There’s a Traitors’ Gate at the Tower of London, I know that. I went on a school trip years ago. The Tudors used to cut off the heads of traitors and stick them on spikes. I wonder if that happened to traitors round here.’

The man did not reply but simply stared away into the distance, tie flapping in the breeze.

She invited him to give her his name plus a note of his friends’ names and descriptions so that she could keep a look out for them. He said he couldn’t possibly put her to all that trouble and that maybe he’d try the local newspaper or the internet as she had suggested. Heading for home, she glanced back and saw the man wandering about the field, poking about in the rubbish with his feet.

Rain clouds powered in that evening and by the time Tess set out to take the dog for a walk after tea, large bullets of water had started to drop from the angry sky. She did not intend to go anywhere near the field on Traitors Lane, not in this weather and the oncoming dark. It was then that she saw the light, way over near the old shacks. Could be kids with a torch or maybe someone had started a fire. Seemed unlikely though because this light was tinged with blue and had a strange, smoky quality to it. Maybe she should just wander over and take a look from the road, not venture onto the field itself. The dog certainly seemed keen so Tess set off with him pulling excitedly at the leash.

Arriving at the field, the whole place was black as a pit except for the faint blue glow which seemed to be coming from one of the tumbledown structures left over from the service station. She couldn’t imagine what might cast light of that weird colour. Maybe she could take a quick look then head straight back. Rain was hitting the ground around her like bombs as she stepped cautiously over the uneven ground. High above, wind howled through tree branches. As she approached the buildings, the blue light grew brighter, silhouetting shapes of long-obsolete petrol pumps. The glow seemed to be emanating from inside the building. The structure must perhaps have been where customers once paid for fuel and maybe stopped off for refreshments on their journey. All of those journeys were long since over, all customers gone. Creeping inside, she found herself in what may, at one time, have been a foyer area with several doorways leading off. The blue light was coming from a large doorway off to the right. She saw now that it was pulsing, rhythmically, like a heartbeat. She could hear trees hissing above her through the collapsed roof. Out of the ‘sssssssss’ she could make out words now. ‘Ssssssave ussss… Ssssave usssss…’

The next instant, she became aware of a presence directly behind her. Turning, she was startled to see a dark figure. She recognised the hat first. It was that belonging to the man she had bumped into on the field earlier that day.

‘Don’t be afraid,’’ he said softly. 

‘I, I, saw a light…’ she blustered.

He put a finger to his lips. ‘They’re here.’

‘Who?’

‘My friends.’

‘The ones you were searching for?’

He nodded and she saw blue reflected in his eyes. ‘I always knew they’d be here. I just couldn’t reach them. Not without you.’

Tess had no clue what he meant. What could any of this have to do with her?

‘Would you like to meet them?’

Fear was finally catching up with her now. She backed away. ‘I should get home really. I told Mum I’d only be out walking Silver a short while.’

‘Silver?’

‘My dog. He’s called Silver because he’s quick. Quicksilver, see.  I’m not sure where he’s got to…’

The man was beaming. ‘That’s an excellent name.’

She began calling out for the little mutt.

‘It wouldn’t take long for you to meet my friends, you know’, the man went on. ‘They’re in that room over there’ 

Tess saw him extend an arm towards the room from which the blue light was radiating. A weird sensation had come over her, overriding all fear. She felt strangely drowsy and compliant. As she moved towards the entrance to the room, it was as if it were happening to someone else, not her. The light got brighter and bluer. The blue was incredibly intense now like the blue of a sky on hot Summer days when you can barely make out the line between the heavens and the sea. The man motioned for her to enter the room first.

Once they were in there, everything abruptly changed. The blue light was gone to be replaced by a soft, yellow, artificial glow from table lamps. Suddenly, there were ten or twenty tables, each covered by a red and white, chequered tablecloth. Knives, forks and spoons had been laid out next to cups, saucers and elaborate napkins. The windows were not gaping holes in a crumbling, concrete shack anymore but proper frames dressed with embroidered curtains to match the tablecloths. There was music too; she couldn’t see where it was coming from but it sounded like it was from the past, from seventy years ago or more. They were in a coffee shop, cafe or tea rooms; the kind of place you might find by the seaside or out in the country, the kind of place that hadn’t changed for decades, that was stuck in the past. How was it possible that she had walked into a tumbledown hut on a patch of derelict land and emerged into a quaint, little cafe with shiny cutlery and china cups? Was it a dream? Was she having some kind of hallucination? She must be ill, surely. Maybe it was a fever.

After a while, she noticed that they were not alone in that room. Over to the left, two people sat, face-to-face, at a table, heads bowed. When they spotted Tess and the man, they rose to their feet. One was male, the other female. There were a thousand emotions etched on each of their faces.

‘Tess, these are my friends.’

Barely a second had passed before the man at the table had launched himself towards them with hands outstretched. His eyes were wide with rage and his jaw was set with a violent determination. He was going to kill them.

Tess must have blacked out. The next thing she was aware of was the sound of voices in earnest discussion.

‘You were part of it, Silver,’ the woman was saying ‘You were working against us from the beginning.’

‘It was a trap… but not in the way you think. Please, please, let me explain. Then you can do what you want with me…’ That was the voice of the man she’d met that afternoon. Strange that he seemed to answer to the name Silver. Same name as her dog. Which reminded her, where had that dog got to? She wondered if he’d taken fright and run home. If Mum opened the door to find the dog sitting there with no Tess, she’d panic like hell..

‘Are we free to leave here? That’s the only thing that matters now’. A different voice; cold and combative. Must be that of the man who had run at them when they entered the room.

There was a long silence.

‘Not quite.’ 

She heard the sound of a scuffle. Tess was horrified to think of that frightening man attacking her new friend. She sat bolt upright, realising that someone must have laid her down across a two-seater chair when she’d fainted. The three of them froze when they saw she was conscious.

Finally, the man apparently called Silver spoke. ‘Ah you’re awake. Feeling better?’

‘Yes thanks.’

‘Allow me to introduce Steel…’ he indicated the aggressive, grim-looking man, ‘…and Sapphire…’ he extended his arm to the woman. ‘These are the friends I’ve been searching for.’

‘I’m Tess.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Tess. My name is…

‘Silver?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Same as my dog.’

Almost growling, Steel jumped in. ‘We don’t have time for this.’ 

Tess thought these so-called friends weren’t very friendly friends. She didn’t understand any of it. How could this place exist inside the broken down shell of the old service station? How was it possible that she had never discovered it before? She’d explored every inch of the field over the years and never found it. Why would a chintzy, little cafe like this exist here in a place where no-one ever came, a place that had been abandoned for decades? It made no sense. All she knew for certain now was that she was frightened and that she wanted to find her dog and go home.

Silver beamed at her, embarrassed. ‘Did I mention that my friends and I didn’t part on good terms? You’re probably picking up on that.’

Tess hated to see people fight. Maybe it was to do with having seen her parents fight a lot when she was a kid. Any kind of conflict transported her straight back to how she’d felt back then; frightened, alone and guilty. The guilt thing was weird but back then she had definitely felt that her mum and dad’s falling out was somehow her fault.

The woman, Sapphire, came over to her. She didn’t so much walk as glide. Tess thought that her expression had softened a tiny bit. She was beautiful in the same way that a statue is beautiful, like she was made of marble. ‘I’m sorry. I’m afraid you’ve stumbled into something that’s not your concern.’

That’s what her mum and dad had always said to her in the times before they split up; it’s nothing to do with you, it’s not your concern, it’s not your fault. But Tess had always thought that it must be her fault. Sometimes she felt like every bad thing in the world was her fault.

Sapphire’s eyes seemed kindly now; an amazing blue colour that only seemed to become more and more intense. She was holding out a hand for her to shake. Tess took it, only dimly aware of the two men in the background. Tess found her attention becoming entirely focused on Sapphire. All she could see was the woman’s vivid eyes and all she could hear was the soft lilt of her voice. The voice was in her head, though; Tess could see that Sapphire’s lips were not moving. It felt like she was being hypnotised. ‘Muscular power equals mass times acceleration times distance divided by time…’ the woman’s voice recited in monotone, almost as though she were giving a lecture. The words meant nothing to Tess but the voice and those eyes held a captivating power over her. ‘Voluntary muscle exists mainly for movement of the skeleton at the command of the will. Circulating throughout the vertebrate body carrying nutrients and oxygen to the tissue which has four main constituents; plasma, erythrocites, leukocytes and platelets…’ Tess felt like she was a specimen in a lab and there was a bright light shining on her as she was analysed inside and out. As soon as Sapphire released her hand, the light and the sensation were gone.

‘I’m sure we’ll have it all sorted out soon.’ Sapphire spoke aloud now.

‘Did I hear you say you’ve… been stuck here?’

The smile slowly fell from her face. ‘Yes.’

‘But we just walked in here. It’s just a room.’

‘Is it?’

‘There isn’t even a door.’

‘A room? A field? A piece of derelict land? Or maybe a service station? A farm? How about a cafe, somewhere on the coast or out in the countryside? Nice little place really. You call in for a cup of tea and maybe a scone with butter and jam. What could be nicer? But imagine never being able to leave. However pleasant the setting, if you can’t leave, it’s a prison. We were sentenced to spend eternity in this place. Days would turn into weeks and months, years would turn into thousands of years. I don’t even know how long we’ve been here anymore. However long it is, even if it’s ten thousand years, it’s nothing, not even the blinking of an eye compared to the length of time still facing us.’

 ’Across the room, Silver and Steel were talking, both calmer now. 

 ‘Do you remember back then how you asked me if I had been given any privileged information?’ SIlver said. ‘I’d arrived hours before you which made you suspicious. I denied it at the time but you were right, of course; I did have privileged information; information that had been withheld from you. We were the ones setting the trap, you see. Not them. If you’d known about it, they would have seen that knowledge in your reactions and stayed away. It was vital that neither you nor Sapphire knew anything because…’

Steel let out a breath. ‘Because we were the bait.’

‘We had to lure them in somehow. You’d have done the same.’

‘Would I?’

‘They were getting stronger and stronger, causing more and more damage. They had to be stopped.’

‘Why us? Why not Lead or Jet or any of them?’

‘Don’t you know?’

‘No.’

‘Because you’re special.’

‘Sapphire and I?’

‘You know you are. The things you’ve accomplished together? Makes you valuable… more than that… Makes you irresistible to them. And they came. They came for you. They took the bait. It was going to work.’

‘Went wrong, though, didn’t it?’

Silver closed his eyes. ‘They found out.’

‘And locked us up inside our own trap.’

‘I suppose there is a certain irony in it.’

‘Sapphire and I, we still can’t leave here? You and the girl can, but not us?’

‘Correct’

‘So we’re no better off.’

‘At least you’ve got company now.’

‘Prison visitors. Perfect’

‘There is one small glimmer of hope.’

‘Hope? I can’t remember what that feels like,’ Steel scowled.

‘The trap. They didn’t create it. We did.’

‘So?’

‘So… we know how it works.’

‘How does it work?’

Silver raised an eyebrow. ‘With a key.’

Tess heard all of this but barely had the strength to react. She had blundered into the weirdest group of people she’d ever met. Maybe they were some kind of cult and this was their secret hideout. 

Just then they all became aware of a rumbling sensation beneath their feet. The knives and forks on the tables began to jingle with the vibration. There came a deafening clap of thunder from somewhere outside. Tess instinctively went to the window to look out. She noticed that there was now glass in those windows. The light had changed too. Everything now was cast with a blue hue similar to the one she had seen earlier. The tremor must have dislodged a display cabinet as it suddenly dropped from its place on the wall and tumbled to the ground. The glassware inside crashed into millions of fragments. The music Tess had heard earlier returned but this time it was twice as loud; something from the 1940s or earlier, she’d heard similar on period dramas on TV. A jar of water flew from a counter and smashed against the wall close to Steel’s head. Rain was hammering on the window, suddenly and a powerful wind roared.

‘What is it?’ Steel shouted above the din.

‘The place has realised that unauthorised life has entered here,’ Silver yelled back.

‘You and the girl?’

‘Yes. We triggered an alarm. The cell has been breached. They’ll come now to make sure their prisoners don’t escape.’

Tess didn’t like the sound of that. ‘Who? Who’ll come?’

Steel edged over to the window and glared out. ‘The Transient Beings,’ he said.

Still staring through the window into nothingness, Steel spoke.

 ‘How long?’

Sapphire momentarily closed her eyes.

‘Minutes. Possibly less.’

There was a long moment of silence as though they were all paralysed like rabbits in headlamps. Tess had no clue who or what the expected visitors were but she could sense the fear in all three of the others.

Steel turned to face Silver. ‘You said there’s a key. How does it work?’

‘Any Transient coming into close contact with the key will be destroyed. It will then destroy itself. The cell will then be open.’

‘It won’t harm us?’

‘No.’

‘And you have access to this key?’

Silver gave a sombre nod.

‘Do they know you have access to it?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Then we have a chance. When they walk in here, we use the key against them and simultaneously de-activate the trap, right?’

‘Yes, but…’

Sapphire suddenly called out from across the room. ‘Steel, there’s something approaching. It’s not here yet but it’s close. And getting closer.’

Moving to her, he touched her arm. ‘Them?’

‘Yes.’

‘How many?’

She looked into an invisible distance for a few seconds. ‘More than one. I can’t tell how many more.’

‘Point of entry?’

Sapphire walked up and down the room, fingers outstretched. She honed in on a corner of the room near to the window. Steel began shifting furniture around, pulling tables and chairs into a kind of barrier between them and that corner. He urged them all to get back into the opposite corner as far away as possible.

Another tense silence fell. The wind, rain and tremors had died away to nothing now but the quiet was equally unnerving. The quaint, red and white chequered curtains hung limply across the window, framing a rectangle of black space and distant stars. Knives, forks, plates, cups, sauces and glasses lay motionless on the floor where they had fallen. The four of them stood behind the wall of furniture and waited.

Silver tugged at Steel’s sleeve but got no opportunity to speak

‘Are you ready to access the key?’ Steel fired his question first.

‘About that… there may be a slight complication…’

‘We don’t have time for complications.’

Abruptly, there came a kind of fizzing sound. Tess likened it to when she had visited air displays and colourful jet aircraft had streaked across the sky above her head. A patch of smoky light appeared in the opposite corner of the room. Within the illuminated haze, tiny pinpricks of white glittered and danced. A strong wind plucked at their faces and the floor beneath their feet began to rumble again. Tess wanted to hide her eyes in fear but could not tear them away from the scene. She could not imagine what it was she was about to see. Her heart bounced inside her body, sending blood pounding through her veins.

‘It’s them,’ Sapphire called. ‘I think there are many of them, Steel. Many more than before.’

Steel turned to look directly at her. For once, he appeared to have nothing to say.

The undulating cloud of misty light seemed to be forming into a shape. Within a minute it was clear that it was the shape of a person. It was like watching someone walk towards you with a powerful, dazzling light behind them. Tess saw Steel begin to steady himself, fists clenched. Slowly, the brightness lessened and it became possible to see the clear form of a man.

Tall, slim and dark-haired, the man wore a smart, grey suit and tie. He held his hands behind his back with a casual air, as though all of this was nothing more than an amusement to him. His facial expression said the same; bulbous eyes with pure black irises shining with something close to mockery.

‘Well,’ he smirked, ‘what an unexpected pleasure.’

‘Stay where you are,’ Steel barked.

Tess hid half her face behind one of the stripy tablecloths. She hadn’t expected these so-called Transient Beings to look so human. 

‘I hear you’ve been rather unhappy with the level of service at this place,’ the intruder oozed. ‘Slow is it? Food a little below par? These things have to be right when you’re planning a long stay.’

The man took a step towards them but Steel was on him. 

‘I said stay where you are.’

‘What’s this,’ he said, eyeing the wall of tables and chairs,’ a spot of furniture removal? Not sure it helps the ambience of the place.’

Tess sensed the covert aggression in his speech, spotted the disguised hardness in his face. She glanced at Silver, wondering when he was going to do something. When was he going to pull out this key he’d told them about? This key thing would frighten the intruder away, surely. Then they could all leave too. What was Silver waiting for?

The man strolled over to the service counter as though he were taking a stroll in the park. Picking up a little, silver bell from where it had fallen, he placed it back on the counter. He tapped it three times. After a moment, he turned back to them. ‘I see what you mean about the service. Still, it’s only a small place. Probably can’t get the staff. I wouldn’t judge too harshly. Always a good idea to keep the staff on side.’

Moving away from the counter and a little closer to the barrier of furniture, the man sighed. ‘So,’ he smiled, ‘how’ve you been keeping?’

‘We’re very well,’ Steel shot back. ‘We’re getting better by the minute.’

‘So glad you’ve adjusted. Not so bad really, is it?’

‘Not so bad, no. We won’t be staying much longer though.’

‘Really? You surprise me.’

‘We’ll be checking out quite soon now.’

The man gave a broad smile and yet it was as though he were smiling at all. His eyes remained utterly dark and lifeless. ‘You sure about that’, he said, ‘you really, really sure about that?’

‘Oh we’re sure.’

‘Only that might affect our plans, see.’

Tess heard Steel’s breathing quicken. Sapphire’s eyes darted around the room.

‘Tell you what,’ he went on, ‘why not stay?’

‘No thanks.’

The non-smile dripped from the man’s face. ‘I see. Might have to have a little chat with my colleagues about that.’

‘By all means.’

‘They’re just outside. Sorry, you’ve probably forgotten what ‘outside’ is by now. They’re nearby, my colleagues. There’s quite a few of them. Can you imagine how many?’

‘Not really.’

‘Course not. Because there’s more of them than you could ever imagine, Steel.’

‘We’re still leaving.’

‘It always astounds me how sanctimonious you people are. You really do think you’re better than us, don’t you? Who created this hell hole, after all? Not us. Who’s idea was it to ensnare someone for eternity here? Not us. It all came from your wonderful, creative, supposedly benevolent minds. Yours. And yet you stand there, so superior.’

The man’s smirk had turned to something close to a snarl. He raised a single finger on his right hand and the curtains hanging at the window swept back of their own accord so that the glass was fully revealed. Something was forming out there in the void. Something was swirling and turning in the blackness between the stars. Tess watched in horror as faces began to take shape; human faces. At first, five or six faces with eyes and mouths became distinguishable. Soon, more had followed. Ten, twenty, thirty gleaming expressions appeared from nowhere and those thirty double in a second. It would not be long before there were more faces in that dark mass of nothingness than there were stars. And they were all coming here.

Steel glanced at Silver. This was it, Tess thought. This, surely, was Steel’s signal for Silver to take action.

‘Oh by the way,’ the intruder added, ‘were you thinking of using a key to leave this place? The famous key that’s meant to get rid of us and then self-destruct and set you free all at the same time? You’ve seen this key, have you?’

Steel did not respond.

‘Why don’t you show him the key, Silver?’ The man was laughing now as he walked out of the door and disappeared.

Whirling round, Steel glared at Silver. ‘What’s he talking about?’

Tess became aware of Sapphire looking at her. There seemed to be something troubling her. She asked her if she was all right but she didn’t reply, in fact Sapphire had turned incredibly pale as though she was ill or something. Steel and Silver were having an intense exchange of views but Sapphire interrupted them.

‘It’s the girl,’ she said. ‘I saw something of it when I did the analysis.’

The men fell instantly silent.

‘Isn’t, Silver?’ she went on. ‘The key… It’s Tess.’

Silver looked away. Finally he turned to look first at Sapphire, then at Tess. There were tears in his eyes as he nodded. Outside the window, an army had arrived.

Tess turned her face away from the window. She couldn’t bear to look at those horrific, haunting faces. It was no better looking on the solemn faces of Sapphire, Silver and Steel. What was it that was burning through their expressions? Sympathy? Guilt?

They were wrong about her being this key thing of course. She knew who she was. She was Tess who lived at 121 Cedar Tree Road. She’d gone to Grange Heath Comprehensive School and left with five GCSEs to get a job at Dewar Court Nursing Home as a carer. She had a mum and a dog and by the end of the year she aimed to have a little car. She had hopes and fears and memories. They were real; all of them. None of it involved these strange weird people with strange names. She certainly had no knowledge of being some kind of key to unlock a prison cell. If she was then surely she would have some knowledge of it. Whoever heard of such a thing? It was so crazy it was beyond belief. Her normal life was not beyond belief. It was an ordinary life, the kind of life that millions of people lead; getting up in the morning, walking the dog, going to work, doing the shopping, getting a takeaway… That was far more believable.

She turned to Silver. There was real sorrow in his eyes. ‘What do I have to do?’ she asked him.

He did not answer her but instead pulled her closer and threw his arms around her.

‘I can release you from here, can I?’ she said into his lapel. ‘And get rid of these… Transient people?’

It was Sapphire who replied. ‘You’d be sacrificing yourself though. It’s important you understand that, Tess.’

She could hardly bear to think about what Sapphire was saying. ‘You mean, I’d die.’

‘You’ve never been alive, I’m afraid.’ Steel’s voice now, unwavering as ever. ‘Your life, your experiences, your memories… They’re illusions. Fabricated as part of the camouflage. They’ll fade away. You’ll fade away.’

Tess felt hands on her shoulders as Sapphire pulled her free from Silver. Looking into those impossibly blue eyes, she felt herself entranced again. ‘I’ll show you,’ Sapphire whispered.

Within a second, Tess felt as though she was back on Traitor’s Lane. It was late and she was calling out for her dog. She couldn’t seem to find him. This wasn’t like him; he always came when she called. Then she realised. There was no dog. She’d been calling out for no-one. A moment later she felt she was walking home from work the way she did each day. When she got to the junction where Cedar Tree Road began though, she couldn’t seem to find it. There was no Cedar Tree Road. Her first thought was that Mum would be devastated if she did not get home from work at the normal time. Then it struck her. There was no Mum. There never had been a Mum. Even those terrible times when Mum and Dad had been fighting and she had hidden away in her room and wept. It was all a fiction created by someone of whom she could not conceive. She had buried her face in her pillow back then. She had buried her face in her pillow and screamed out for help. Her cries had gone unheard. She wished now that she had screamed out loud for help instead of muffling her voice in the pillow. She wished that she had shrieked for help so loudly that the Mum and Dad would have heard it, so loudly that the whole street, the whole town, the whole universe would have heard it. That was the only thing she regretted, really, even now. As a confused and frightened little girl, she should have shouted for help. Turns out, none of it had happened anyway. Tess had never happened.

As her consciousness returned to the present, she saw the fussy, little cafe again complete with the bizarre wall of furniture down the middle of the room. She saw the blueness of Sapphire’s eyes dim slightly. ‘It’s what you were created to do,’ she told her.

‘No.’ Steel’s voice rang out.

Sapphire and Steel looked at him, confused.

‘There must be another way.’

There was a pause. Outside the window, the multitude of faces were pressing against the glass now. Hundreds of them, each with its eyes screwed tightly shut; resembling an army of death masks.

‘There isn’t, I’m afraid,’ Silver told him. ‘This place was specifically designed that way.’

‘You should know. You’re one of those who designed it, no doubt. Proud of that, are you?’

‘This isn’t the time for that discussion.’

Steel would not be put off. ‘Proud of your famous technological expertise, are you?’

‘I’m not proud of what it’s led to. That’s why I’m here.’

Tess glanced from Steel to Sapphire to Silver. Steel was turning to her now.

‘You have a dog?’

It seemed like a ludicrous question in the current circumstances but she nodded.

‘You have family, you have a job…’

She nodded even more vigorously.

‘You have a life. Whether it’s real or not, you experience it as real.’

Tess stopped nodding now and simply said; ‘yes.’

Steel reached out and grabbed her by the hair. He yanked her face upwards. ‘You feel pain?’

Shocked at the sudden attack, she burst into tears.

He released her. Seemed like that was enough of an answer for him. ‘She is a sentient creature. I will not sacrifice a sentient creature.’

Crumpling to the floor, Tess could not stop the water streaming from her eyes. She was relieved when Silver came over to comfort her.

‘You’ve done it before,’ Sapphire said to Steel. There was a note of accusation in her voice.

He stared at nothing. ‘That was for Time. To protect Time. To save everyone. This? This is to save us.’

‘Save us and we can go on,’ she returned. ‘You and I. We can accomplish even more, save even more people, protect Time forever.’

‘Are you really so sure we’re worth saving?’

‘Of course we are. We’re capable of…’

‘We’re capable of this!’ He waved a hand around at the surroundings. ‘A room. A cell. A cage. A place that is nowhere… and is forever. A place to lock people away for eternity. We made this. Our people. And you still reckon we’re worth saving?’

‘Steel…’

‘What has she done?’ He jabbed a finger at Tess. ‘She’s done nothing except what we programmed her to do. She’s done nothing wrong. Not like us.’

There came the sound of laughter. Someone nearby was chuckling loudly and gleefully. Scanning the room, Tess saw that the intruder had returned. The man in the crisp, grey suit was leaning against the counter and laughing. It seemed like an age before he stopped. ‘I knew you couldn’t do it,’ he beamed. ‘I know you’d never be able to twist the key in the lock. It’s all over for you now. And this time, it really is forever.’

Tess felt that events were speeding towards a conclusion that she was powerless to prevent. Glancing to the window, she saw that some of the faces had begun to open their eyelids to reveal dark, malevolent eyes. She had to do something. She couldn’t just stand here and let it all happen around her. People were entering the room now. Two men and a woman walked through the door and went over to where the first man was leaning on the counter. Behind them there were more. Sapphire, Silver and Steel stood motionless and powerless.

Feeling as if she might pass out again, Tess took a couple of wobbly steps forward. One of the intruders saw her and a silent smile spread across his face like a disease. His eyes shone with a manic joy as he extended a hand. One of the tables and two chairs, which had been stacked to form a wall, rose into the air and then hurtled away towards the window. The pain of glass shattered into a billion pieces and cascaded into space like some kind of unearthly waterfall. The man was taunting her as the hoard of deathly faces at the window were revealed now, free of the barrier of glass. All of their eyes were now fully open and each one of their mouths was opening into a shadowy smile.

She saw that the others did not know what to do and that was the most terrifying thing of all. The three of them stood, unflinching but paralysed. They seemed to have accepted that they were beaten. She had to do something but everything seemed futile. Throwing back her head, she saw the little, red and white chequered ceiling lamp swinging violently from side to side. She opened her mouth to say something but she couldn’t think what to say. Something did come out of her open mouth, though; a scream. For an instant, Tess felt herself back at home as a young girl, burying her head in her pillow while her parents shouted and bawled at each other downstairs. She let out a shout for help but this time she did not smother it with the pillow. This time she let the scream escape. More than that, she pushed the scream out, she propelled it. She used every sinew in her body, every scrap of air in her lungs to create a shriek louder than any other. The scream was an accumulation of every other scream that she had ever denied. Hundreds of childhood screams and all of the pain, anguish, fear, guilt and rage that those screams contained were added together to form a desperate, dominating howl. At last, she had let it out.

Having done that, she felt an overwhelming sensation of freedom soak through her. Turning, she faced the Transient Beings. This was it. This was the end. But she was ready. She was finally doing what she had always been meant to do. It felt right. It felt good. Her precious little dog, Silver, would be gone, her home, her job, her lovely lovely mum… would be gone. But it was okay. She’d had them. She’d loved them. She was so grateful for that. Looking around the cafe for what she knew would be the last time, she smiled. This place was nowhere, that’s true. But nothing is forever.

Unafraid, she walked through the gap in the furniture into the growing army beyond.

Abruptly, the light changed. A sudden blast of blinding white light surged through the broken window, obliterating row upon row of smirking faces which had hung there. With the light came an equally overpowering sound. At first, it sounded like thunder; it was certainly deep and loud enough to be thunder. Slowly it became clear that this was no thunderclap but was in fact a voice. It was a voice more immense than any that had ever existed from the very beginning to the very end of Time. The room and everything in it shook like a box of matches. The voice did not originate from any of the ghostly faces nor the intruders in the room nor Sapphire, Silver nor Steel. It came from somewhere simultaneously above, below, within and beyond.

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension,’ the voice said. The words sounded at once alien and yet impossibly familiar. The man in the suit stopped slouching on the counter and stood up straight. ‘Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life,’ the voice continued, blasting eardrums in the process. Each word sounded like planets crashing together. 

One of the man’s colleagues spoke into his ear. ‘All of them?’

‘No. It’s never all of them.’

Medium atomic weights are available…’ 

The man walked from the counter to the centre of the room. He surveyed the entire place, staring at Sapphire, Silver and Steel, each in turn. The next moment, he turned and stalked from the room. His entourage followed him.

The vista of space beyond the window was changing from black to orange as a burning ball of gold appeared. Travelling towards them, the fiery object was replaced by a similarly shaped mass of sparkling grey. 

 ‘Gold…  Lead…’ 

A red orb followed as the voice boomed on.

‘Copper…’

Then an object almost as dark as the space that surrounded it and another that shone and glittered like a polished jewel.

Jet… Diamond…’

Another sphere followed the others, this one another shimmering shade of red, itself supplanted by another of a metallic white colour.

‘Radium… and Mercury… have been assigned.’

Tess watched the last of the Transient intruders disappear out of the door just as the last of the orbs soared from the sky. ‘Somebody heard me,’ she murmured. ‘I shouted for help and somebody heard me.’

There was the sound of water. She could hear waves gently lapping a shore. Tess opened her eyes to see that she was standing on a beach. It was a grim kind of day; angry, black clouds clasped distant mountains and even the sea looked fragile and cold. She spotted Sapphire and Steel over by an outcrop of rock.

‘How did I get here?’

‘You came with us,’ Steel said without looking at her. ‘Get used to it.’

‘We’ll have to,’ Sapphire directed her remark to Steel with a faint smile.

Tess felt herself smiling too. ‘A beach? Why?’

‘You can’t see him yet but there’s a man swimming in the water over there.’

‘Swimming? In this weather?’ Steel scoffed.

‘I thought you liked the cold. Anyway, he’s not swimming. He’s diving. His name is Robert Stephen Jardine.’

‘We’ve met before.’

‘Yes. He was a boy then. Now he’s a man.’

‘This is where it happens?’

Tess watched the two interacting with increasing joy.

‘When?’

‘In about four minutes time when the diver makes a discovery on the sea bed.’

‘What does he find?’

‘A kaleidoscope.’

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