KEYWORDS: Crossover, Sapphire and Steel
SUMMARY: Tru and Jack are both certain they are doing the right thing, but both can hardly be in the right. Who is? That rather depends on who set up the rewinds in the first place ...
SPOILERS: The myth arc episodes; mainly anything with Richard in it. Nothing special for Sapphire and Steel. Knowledge of the series would help with background, but isn't entirely necessary.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! :-) You can reach me at the e-mail address listed on my main page (http://hem.bredband.net/MsFanfic in case that's not where you found this story). Addresses may come and go, but the one you find on my top page is always valid.
ARCHIVING: Please go ahead - just let me know first, ok?
COMMENT: Sorry about all these crossovers, but this is one I couldn't resist; it was too obviously called for. I mean, what with all these temporal rewinds going on, it must sooner or later alert certain forces, wouldn't you say? ;-)
Tru was running. She seemed to be doing that a lot, though this time she wasn't even sure why. She just knew she had to be on the corner of Rosary and 6th as soon as humanly possible, and that it might already be too late. The day was hot and the sidewalks crowded, which wasn't making things any easier. She shed her shirt on the run, managing to tie its sleeves around her waist without slowing down. Unfortunately, her tank top was black - not the best colour on a day like this. She was pretty soaked through, as she finally turned the corner on Rosary Street and skidded to a halt at the sight that met her.
A young woman was lying face down in the street, bleeding heavily from a wound somewhere underneath her. She wasn't moving. A short distance away, the twisted remains of a rather dated scooter gave evidence of what had happened, its broken and bloodied windshield gleaming in the sun. For a moment, Tru thought she saw a different model - more like a light motorcycle; then the scooter was back. She blinked, shaking her head. Must be the heat effect over the asphalt. Making her see things. A truck with one of its front lights out had stopped beside the scooter, and the driver was kneeling beside the woman, looking as if he desperately wanted to help but had no idea how. From his wild stare and awkward movements, Tru was pretty sure of her diagnosis. The man was in shock, and might do more harm than good - unless, as she was beginning to suspect, all harm was already done.
A crowd of spectators was beginning to form, and the fact that it hadn't until now, told her that the accident must have been recent. Then she saw him. Blue jeans and a dark blue jacket over a white T, despite the weather. It made him stand out from the summer-clad crowd, like a raven among flamingoes. Or a crow at a road kill, just waiting. It made her furious, and she yelled at him,
"Jack Harper! Make yourself useful for once, and call an ambulance!"
He gave her one of his amused, condescending looks, calculated to infuriate her even more. "Already have", he drawled. "It's on its way."
She stared at him for perhaps the tenth of a second, then decided to believe him. "Then take care of the driver for me, so I can see to the victim. Please", she added as an afterthought.
To her relief, Jack nodded and crouched by the man, talking kindly but insistently to him. Squinting at the sun, as if calculating the wisdom of standard procedures in this weather, he took off his jacket and draped it around the shivering driver.
Not wanting to lose another minute, Tru made her way around them and knelt beside the woman. Blonde, with dark roots, she noted with the keen perception of irrelevant things that is generally awakened in emergencies. She felt for a pulse, and to her relief - and surprise - she found it. Weak, but umistakable. A quick examination told her that she could probably risk turning the victim over. Judging by the pooling blood, it could well be safer than leaving her as she was.
The woman's face was bruised and scraped, but mainly intact otherwise. She didn't look much older than Tru. There was blood all over her, but it was coming from a wound in her wrist. Tru remembered the bloodied windshield. The woman must have cut her wrist on it, but then landed on her arm, which had blocked a little of the flow from the severed artery - until now. The arm looked broken, but that was the least of her problems right now. Tru pressed down on the wound with her knee, while untying her shirt and ripping it to shreds to make a pressure bandage. From the corner of her eye, she saw Jack help the driver up and lead him away. They stepped up on the kerb next to a stunning couple whose clothing was even more out of place than Jack's. For some reason, they were in full evening dress - the woman had on a floor-length gown of electric blue, cut slightly higher in front to reveal tasteful blue satin shoes, and the man wore a midnight blue suit with a ruffled shirt. Both were blond, and neither of them looked dyed.
The injured woman in front of Tru was failing now, and Tru promptly forgot all about Jack or strange couples, as she started CPR. Where was that ambulance?
On the sidewalk, the man in the dark blue suit turned to his companion.
"Are you sure, Sapphire? This doesn't look right."
There was no audible answer, but her voice came clear in his head:
<Careful, Steel. We had better talk like this for now.>
Steel glanced quickly around him but saw no one except ordinary people - all human, as near as he could tell. Still, Sapphire was usually right. She sensed these things better than he could.
<Very well. I think we are losing this round. Apparently, the scooter wasn't the trigger after all.>
<No, it's not>, Sapphire thought back. <It's old; an antiquity in this time and place. But it's not the trigger.>
<So that's why you changed your mind about removing it?>
<Precisely. It's not the trigger, but it is the cause of the damage. Directly, within this time frame, and indirectly to time itself, unless we can stop the loop.>
Steel looked sharply at her. <And yet you say it's not the trigger?>
<Not in the strictest sense, no.> Sapphire's perfect features took on an appalled look. <Steel - I don't think there is a trigger!>
Out in the street, Tru sat back on her heels with a defeated look. The woman had stopped breathing, and there was no longer a discernible pulse. The sun beat down on the asphalt. The crowd was suddenly silent. Everything was still, as if time was hanging in the balance.
<There is always a trigger>, Steel thought at his partner. <There has to be.>
Then Tru saw what she had hoped for. The woman's head turned, her eyes fixed on her would-be rescuer. "Help me!" she whispered.
As time began to rewind, Sapphire's thought came once more: <No, Steel. No trigger. Someone is causing this!>
Tru sat abruptly up in bed, switching off her alarm clock before it had time to go off. "Thank God", she muttered to herself, then got up and started to dress. She put on her watch, glanced at it, and decided to call her brother.
"Harrison? About breakfast today - sorry, can't make it. Gotta run. Yeah, it's one of those days. Oh - and Harrison? Don't play the ponies today, ok? Never mind what happened, just don't. Yes, you would - and you did; this is me, remember?"
A sigh at the other end, then, "Yeah, my know-it-all sister. Anything I can help you with?"
"Yeah, you can keep Jack away from the corner of Rosary and 6th around four this afternoon."
There was a clear note of plaintiveness in her brother's voice as he said, "Come on, Tru! His day rewound too; he knows what happened. He'll do anything to be there, so he can stop you!"
"I know, he was there yesterday, although it wasn't a rewind day. Not for me anyway. Which makes me wonder if we're out of phase somehow. If his day rewound before mine did? Ok, if you can't stop him, at least try to find out why he showed up yesterday, will you?" She smiled into the phone, and her voice became a little pinched; joking and affectionate both. "That's great. You're my favourite brother. Bye, Harr!"
In one of the city parks, a tall, cool blonde was contemplating a beautiful fountain with stone frogs for sprinklers and summer flowers all around. Sapphire loved beautiful things. Her dress was different now, no longer looking as if she had been the last one to leave the ball in the small hours of the morning, but more like ordinary summer wear. Still a one-piece dress though, and still blue, like the summer sky. Her sandals were heeled and also blue.
Steel appeared out of nowhere, on the other side of the fountain. He was wearing a light summer suit - still a full two-piece suit, pale grey.
"You mean, someone caused time to rewind?" he asked, as he rounded the fountain to join her. "Deliberately?"
"Gold and Diamond never mentioned anything like that."
"I don't think they knew", Sapphire said.
Steel looked sharply at his partner. "They have been handling the Americas for nearly two centuries. They must have known."
Sapphire stared straight back. "But we have no way of contacting them. Steel - why were they called away?"
"A time rift in the Antarctic. They were the ones to most easily endure the climate. Weren't you told?"
She shook her head. "No. Who told you?"
Steel thought for a moment, staring off into the distance. "I don't remember", he admitted. "I think I heard when we got the assignment."
"Well, I didn't", Sapphire said.
Steel pushed the conundrum to the back of his mind. A problem for another day. Right now, they had a more urgent one. "If someone is causing the time loops, who do you think it is?" he asked. "The girl?"
"Young woman", Sapphire replied with a smile. "They are particular about that sort of thing. Her name is Tru Davies. I doubt she is the cause; she seems human. But I suppose we shall have to start with her."
Steel nodded. "She plays some part", he said. "It is a serious breach -"
"Loop", Sapphire corrected him. "Not really a breach."
"Serious anyway, whatever you call it", Steel maintained. "Time rewinds for everybody, which is bad enough, and this girl remembers the earlier version, which makes it even worse. That in itself could cause a breach."
"She didn't remember today", Sapphire pointed out. "Or yesterday, depending on how you look at it. We succeeded to some extent."
Steel shook his head. "Perhaps we made it worse. We stepped in, thinking the problem was easier than it was. That is a cardinal mistake. We mustn't make it again."
"Then we shan't."
"We must get the facts", Steel continued as if Sapphire had not spoken. "You are right, Sapphire. Let's start with the girl."
Tru allowed herself the time to look in at the morgue and tell her employer she'd be late for work. The crisis would not come up until four p.m. - she ought to be able to make it.
Davis came out of his office, wiping his hands on a rag which in no way looked sterile, so she surmised that he had only been having a slightly greasy lunch. He wasn't wearing his lab coat either, though the shirt he had chosen had better go uncommented.
He gave her one of those looks from under his brows, as if he had known all along what she was thinking. Luckily, it wasn't about the shirt.
"Let me guess", he said despondently, "Rewind day, right?"
She nodded. "Rewind day", she confirmed.
He let out a sigh. "Who died?"
"Young woman, hair dyed blond; traffic accident", Tru rattled off. "Didn't get her name; there was no time to look for an ID, but I don't think I'll need much. I know where it happened. Corner of Rosary and 6th, at 4 p.m. She was riding a touched-up old 50's style scooter and apparently collided with a truck, right in the intersection. I got there just after it happened. I did what I could, but she had severed an artery in her wrist - on the wind shield of her scooter; at least that's what it looked like. She had already lost a lot of blood. Jack called an ambulance, but it didn't get there in time."
Davis perked up. "Jack was there?"
"Well - yeah."
"And so were you. So this day had rewound before?"
Tru looked puzzled. "No, that's what's so strange. It hadn't - not for me anyway."
"You think it may have for him?"
She shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. You think this could be a new twist?"
"Could be. How did you know to be there?"
"Not sure", she said. "I just knew I had to - but then I was too late. Just a little, but still. If I had gotten there just a little bit sooner, I think I could have saved her. I tell you, it was a great relief when the day rewound."
Davis nodded. "Let's hope it works out. But Tru - I hardly need to tell you there's something weird about this. You don't know how you knew where to be - the day hadn't rewound, yet you knew. Jack was there too. Either he was on a rewind, or he just knew, the same as you. Whichever it is, something's different this time around."
Tru's dark eyes widened. "The ambulance!"
"What?" Davis said, completely lost.
Tru held up a finger while flipping her phone open. "Harrison? It's me. Did you locate Jack yet? No? Well, when you do, please try and find out if he really called that ambulance. Never mind what ambulance - he'll know what you're asking about. Please just find out if he lied to me, ok? Great, Harr - you're the best!" She rang off. "You were saying?" she prompted Davis.
He shook his head, tiredly. "Nothing. Just be careful, will you?"
"Always am", she tossed off, already halfway to the door.
It opened before she got there.
A slightly overdressed couple who seemed somewhat familiar to Tru, entered in such a manner as to block her way, although this did not appear to be intentional. The lady, a tall, blonde woman in a blue dress, smiled at her. "Tru Davies?" she asked, although Tru had an uneasy feeling that the woman already knew. Perhaps for that reason, Tru decided to not just avoid the question and rush off.
"That's me", she confirmed.
The woman smiled approvingly, and held out her hand. "I'm Sapphire, and this is Steel."
"Nicknames?" Tru asked. Only when catching Steel's scowl did she realize that that probably hadn't been the most polite thing to say.
Sapphire's smile didn't lose any of its warmth. "Affectionate ones", she said, neatly deflecting both the question and any objections her partner might have had.
Tru knew she ought to excuse herself and be off, but this lady - Sapphire, if that was the name she had decided to go by - wasn't someone you could just brush off. She had class. Besides, Tru liked her. Giving her a few minutes couldn't hurt - there was still time. She took Sapphire's hand.
In her mind, Sapphire rattled off the data she was reading, concluding with, <Steel, she's fully human. I don't think she's to blame for the time loops.>
<She's connected with them though>, Steel answered. <We can't be too careful. We have to question her.>
Sapphire let go of Tru's hand after holding in just a little too long. That's when Davis decided to speak up. He had been watching the three of them for a while, slightly surprised that Tru was still in the room. He'd have expected her to rush off in her usual manner, long before this.
"You two English?" he asked, glancing at both their visitors from under his brows. "Davis", he added belatedly. "Me. I'm Davis. I - I work here. I thought you - sounded English." Not that he had heard Steel speak as yet, but pointing that out suddenly seemed both complicated and unnecessary. They both looked equally out of place. It was a fair assumption that they hailed from the same country.
<He's her supervisor>, Sapphire told Steel. <A timid little man, but sharp. We must not underestimate him.>
<He knows?> Steel asked.
<Oh yes>, came Sapphire's answer in his mind.
Steel made an effort to be civil. He always found humans tiresome. Sapphire thought them fascinating. "British", he corrected Davis. "Not exactly. But so far, most of our assignments have been to Britain." He smiled unconvincingly.
Davis raised an eyebrow. "Assignments?"
Tru made a quick gesture toward the door, letting him know she was leaving the visitors to him. But she didn't get any farther this time. Steel placed himself firmly in her way, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. There was no menace in the act; not even a confrontation. Yet she was sure he had done it on purpose.
"Excuse me", she said, somewhat irritably.
"We are time agents", Steel answered Davis without taking any notice of Tru. "We are called in when there is a time breach. In this case, there is no breach yet, but there have been loops. Several of them. Time is coming unhinged. I trust you know what I'm speaking of."
Davis pressed his lips together - the image of stubborn silence.
"Why don't we start by telling you what we already know", Sapphire said diplomatically. "Time rewinds - and this young woman is at the centre of it, although we are beginning to doubt that she is the cause. You are not, are you?" she turned to Tru.
Tru shook her head. "I don't know why it happens, or even when it's going to."
"Well", Steel said, "It has got to stop." He sounded as if time loops were a personal affront to him.
Tru glared at him. "You're working with Jack, aren't you? You tell him his arguments are getting old. I'm not quitting."
"Jack?" Sapphire and Steel exchanged a glance.
"Tru isn't the only one who experiences the rewinds", Davis said. "Maybe you'd better sit down ... this could take a while to explain."
Right around the corner from Richard Davies' law firm, Davies, O'Donnell and Cross, Harrison ran into Jack Harper. Running late as usual, Harrison didn't question his luck. Here he had a chance to carry out the mission his sister had dumped on him, and still be reasonably on time for work. Maybe his father wouldn't be too displeased with him after all.
"Jack, my friend", he beamed, before remembering that he and Jack were hardly on speaking terms these days. "Or not so much", he amended in his stride, "but Tru has a few questions for you, and no time to ask them herself."
Jack grinned. "I can almost guess why. Tell her she isn't gonna make it."
"What?" Harrison frowned, shaking his head. "This isn't about the current rewind. Or rather, it is, but before it rewound, so to speak. At least this time ..." he broke off. "I'm not making any sense, am I?"
"Not much, no", Jack freely agreed. A little too freely, in Harrison's opinion.
"Ok", he said, picking up the thread from another angle. "Tru says this is a do-over day. That right?"
Jack spread his hands. "No reason to deny that."
"Right. But is it the first rewind, or is it stuck on repeat?"
Jack frowned slightly. "What do you mean?"
"Don't tell me you haven't had multiple rewinds. Tru's had them, and unless that's some kind of female prerogative -" Harrison winced at himself, then decided to ignore his big mouth and plow straight on, "- I'm willing to bet you've had them too. What about this time - how many times did this day rewind for you?"
Jack tilted his head back, whistling softly. "She thinks we've fallen out of synch! Now why would she think that ...?"
Harrison was about to grasp him by the shoulders and shake him, but thought better of it. Jack was short, but sturdily built. He always seemed easy-going enough, but there was also something about him that belied this first impression. Harrison fell back on his words. They usually stood him in good stead.
"Jack", he pleaded, "help me out here! I'm late for work as it is - dad will have my hide. For once in your life - give me a simple yes or no; did this day rewind more than once?"
"Not unless it did for Tru, and I don't know about it", Jack said. "I think", he added, thoroughly ruining Harrison's satisfaction with his straight answer.
"You think?" Harrison challenged with some exasperation.
"It was a strange day even before it rewound", Jack admitted. "I don't know why I just had to be at that intersection; I just knew I had to be. It was as if it was a do-over day, only it wasn't. Not that I remember anyway."
Harrison stared at him for a moment, then let it go. "Fair enough. Did you call the ambulance?"
"Don't ask me why, I don't know. Tru told me to ask you that. She's the one needs to know. Did you make the call, or were you just humouring her?"
Jack gave him an insolent smirk. "I called. I had no reason not to. It wasn't a rewind day. As far as I knew."
"Fine. You're not lying to me now, are you?"
"No reason to", Jack said reasonably.
Harrison gave him a long, scrutinizing look, then, "Right. Gotta be off; the boss is waiting. Thanks for being honest with me. If you were", he couldn't help adding, then he was around the corner and taking the steps to his father's office, two at a time.
Jack sent an amused look after him. He turned to cross the street, but didn't get that far. A man and a woman, both blond, both distinguished-looking, materialized on either side of him. He guessed they had been waiting somewhere unnoticed, but it did look as if they had popped out of thin air. He couldn't imagine how he had failed to notice them otherwise. The woman was stunning in a dress so blue it was hard to focus properly, and the man was wearing a smart grey two-piece suit in the summer heat. "Jack Harper?" he asked in a tone that clearly indicated he didn't approve of people wasting his time. Or that he didn't approve of people, period.
"You sure we should have told them all that?" Tru asked her employer.
"They seemed trustworthy enough", Davis said, a little defensively. "Besides, they knew most of it already."
"They didn't know about Jack", Tru said with a frown. The she brightened. "Let's hope we got him into trouble with them. You gonna finish that?" She pointed to a leftover cheese roll on a small paper plate on Davis' desk.
He shook his head. "Be my guest."
She snatched up the roll and bit into it. Still munching, she made for the door. "Sorry to rush off like this, but ..."
Davis nodded in resignation. "I know. Life at stake. Take care, Tru."
She nodded, her mouth full once more. A quick thank you salute with the remains of the roll, then she was through the doors and running.
Morosely, Davis watched them swing shut behind her.
"All this obsession with who dies and who does not - when time itself is at stake!" Steel burst out, impatiently.
"I couldn't agree more", Jack said pleasantly. "But you see, Tru ..."
"Is not the one causing the loops", Steel interrupted brusquely. "And from what you've been telling us, neither are you. So who is causing them?"
"Providence?" Jack tried, at the risk of annoying the irate Englishman further.
"Providence? Who is that?" Steel asked, momentarily bewildered.
Sapphire placed a hand on his arm. "A figure of speech", she said. "Steel, he really doesn't know. He believes his mission is to set right what Tru upsets while the loops are going on, but he isn't causing them."
The fact that she had spoken aloud, discussing Jack's thoughts in the man's hearing, told Steel she didn't quite trust him either.
"So in effect he's trying to repair time?" Steel asked - also out loud.
"It would seem so", Sapphire agreed.
"Then why isn't it repaired?" Steel accused them both - his partner as well as Jack. "Time has the resilience to right itself, once the disturbance is removed, so obviously he hasn't removed it. He remembers his victories - as she does hers. Whoever 'wins', neither of them has caused time to right itself. And the loops keep recurring. We could well be heading for disaster."
"I'm trying to stop her", Jack said, a little defensively.
Steel whirled on him. "But you haven't, have you?"
"I can't kill her!" Jack protested. "It doesn't work!"
"How do you know that?"
"We are not suggesting you try", Sapphire interjected, soothingly. "But we should very much like to know why you say it doesn't work."
Jack hesitated, but only for a moment. From the corner of his eye, he saw Harrison leave the office building, heading in the other direction, luckily. He didn't seem to have noticed Jack still there, nor the English couple with him.
"It has been tried", Jack said. "My predecessor killed his - counterpart. It didn't right time as you put it, and he lost his ability, presumably as a result. He thinks it was a punishment; I think it was because he severed the connection. I believe that each pair like Tru and I is connected, and that when one dies, the ability of both passes on to another pair. It's just a theory; we don't know much about how this works."
"Your predecessor is still around?" Steel wanted to know.
Jack nodded. "I work for him. Being the active agent at the moment, so to speak. Don't tell Tru though. Please."
"Why not?" Steel asked, but Sapphire asked her question first: "Who does he think punished him?"
Jack shrugged. "Don't know if he has an opinion on that. He doesn't tell me everything. You'd better ask him yourselves. His office is right up there: Davies, O'Donnell and Cross. It's a law firm; he's a criminal defence attorney."
"Aren't all your attorneys criminal?" Steel asked.
Jack stared at him for a moment but couldn't tell whether that had been a joke or not. The Englishman seemed incapable of joking.
"If you'll excuse me", Jack said, "I must be on my way. I believe I've got a rewind to set right."
He was relieved when they actually let him go. He'd rather not be caught in Richard's office when Harrison returned. He remembered all too well what that had been like. Luckily, Harrison did not.
Richard Davies' office was pleasant and comfortable, with new visitor's chairs, and warm sunlight filtering gently into the room, where the air-conditioning took most of the edge off it. The man himself was tall and grey; his suit, his hair, his face - even down to his almost non-existent lips - oddly devoid of colour.
He held out his hand in an effort at cordiality, and Sapphire took it. <He's human>, she announced to Steel a moment later, while smiling at Richard.
Steel frowned at her, openly. <Are you sure?>
<Yes. His appearance is deceptive. He is fully human.> She let go of Richard's hand with an amused smile at the lawyer's ill-concealed disappointment.
"What can I do for you?" Richard asked, somewhat stiffly. He made a gesture towards his visitor's chairs, but neither of them took him up on the offer.
"Mr Davies, we are time agents", Steel said bluntly. Whether or not he was believed, was of no concern to him. The matter at hand was. "I'm Steel, and this is Sapphire", he remembered his manners.
"Exotic names", Richard said, sitting down behind his desk. He folded his hands without interlacing his fingers, just placing one hand on top of the other. "And an exotic profession, if I am to believe you. Odd though it may seem, I do. This is about my daughter, isn't it?"
Steel frowned briefly. <Davies>, he sent to Sapphire. <Wasn't that the girl's surname too?>
Sapphire blanched. <There is more! Yes, she's his daughter. Steel - he killed her mother! His wife! She had the same ability as Tru - and he had her killed. That is why Jack said it had been tried and didn't work.>
<Because he lost his ability?> Steel asked.
<Yes. Jack spoke the truth, except that he did not mention the relationship between Richard and Tru - and her mother.>
<So it's all in the family>, Steel commented grimly. He had never thought much of humans, and this certainly didn't improve his opinion of the whole sad lot.
<No, Steel>, Sapphire sent, <Jack is no relation to any of the Davies's.>
"I'm listening", Richard reminded them.
Sapphire forced a smile. "We're sorry, Mr Davies. We just hadn't realized that the young woman currently upsetting the balance of time, is your daughter. The name ought to have given it away of course. We do apologize."
Richard shook his head. "So you know that she's upsetting the proper order of things? God knows I've tried to stop her, but ..."
"But you cannot talk to her openly about it, because she doesn't know who you were - or what you did?" Steel barked at him, even while sending to Sapphire, <She doesn't know, does she? Jack never told her?>
<Because this - character ordered him not to?>
<No, Steel. He wouldn't have told her anyway.>
<He suppressed that part. I couldn't get a clear reading. But I think he wants to - protect her.>
<They are adversaries, for goodness' sake!>
Richard shot Steel a quick look but knew better than to admit anything. "I guess a time agent knows everything", he said. It sounded more like irony than a confession, as it was no doubt meant to. "Everything about the past, present and future", he mused on. "So how come you two haven't thought of a way to stop her?"
"We tried", Sapphire said. "But we couldn't find the trigger, and time rewound again, despite our best efforts."
"Trigger?" Richard asked, looking up briefly.
"There is usually a trigger", Sapphire explained. "Something that sets off the disturbance in time. Until now, I should have said that there is always a trigger. But there was none this time. Which has led us to believe that someone is causing - and maintaining - these disturbances."
Sapphire shook her head. "We don't think she is the cause. She is aware of them, and she remembers what happened before, but she doesn't know who or what causes them."
Richard nodded. "Makes sense. She uses them to 'save' prople who should be dead, believing she's had some sort of destiny thrust upon her. Guess that comes from working in a morgue ..."
"Except that her mother believed the same thing", Steel challenged.
Richard took the accusation in his stride. It wasn't like these two could prove anything that would hold up in a court of law. "So now you've come to me", he said, changing the subject. He spread his hands slightly, without taking his elbows off his desk. "Sorry, I can't help you. I'm not causing it. Not now, not then. I used my ability to maintain the status quo as best I could, to see that those who were supposed to die, really did, but ..."
Steel exploded. "All this preoccupation with who dies and who does not! Time itself is at stake! Do you even realize what will happen if this goes on?"
"Doesn't matter if I do or not", Richard said. "I'm not causing it."
Sapphire put her hand on Steel's arm, and he calmed down somewhat. He looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. Richard's desk was the only one. The only desk in the only office. Yet there were three names on the door.
"What about your partners in crime?" he asked.
Richard stared at him. "My what?"
Sapphire smiled, more at Steel's sense of humour than to put Richard's mind at ease, yet the latter saw nothing but reassurance in it.
"Your associates", she clarified gently. "May we speak with them?"
"They aren't in much", Richard said. "I haven't seen them in a while."
Sapphire stiffened. <He's right, Steel! In fact, he has never seen them. Only, he doesn't know that!>
<Interesting>, Steel sent back. Aloud, he said, "We should appreciate it very much if you would call them, Mr Davies." He hunted around for the proper phrase. "Set up a meeting with them and us." There. He could be quite courteous when it was called for. Although with humans, it was hardly ever called for.
Richard scowled at him as if he suspected another subtle joke at his own expense, but he reached out for the phone, and dialled a long number.
As ill luck would have it, the only person standing around when Tru arrived at the corner of 6th and Rosary, was Jack. There was some traffic in the street, but the two of them were the only ones in position on the sidewalk as yet. There were a few passers-by, but nothing like the crowd on day one.
Jack spotted her at once, giving her a big smile. Meant to be derisive, she was sure, yet for a moment there, she could have sworn he was actually glad to see her.
"Tru!" he said. "What a pleasant -"
"Don't even try", she said coolly. "You knew I'd be here."
"In fact, you're running a little late", he said, dropping the act. "Thought you'd get here before I did. Pity you're not late enough - nothing like 'yesterday'."
"Cut the crap, Jack. She's not gonna die today."
"Wanna bet?" he asked, then caught her eye. "Guess not. No gambling on human lives, right? Ok, I apologize."
His tone lost some of its light bantering towards the end. If she hadn't known him, she might have believed he meant it. He actually looked a bit sheepish.
"Why did you send your brother to ask me about my rewinds?" he abruptly changed the subject.
"I didn't think I'd run into you myself", she said. "And you keep changing your phone numbers."
"You know what I mean", he assumed. "Why did you want to know?"
"Because 'yesterday' felt like a do-over day, but I didn't remember the rewind", she admitted. "I thought maybe it was the same for you. Was it?"
He nodded. "Something like that, yeah. There's a strange English couple walking around, asking questions. They seem to know a lot. Wonder if they had anything to do with it."
"You've met them?" Tru asked, hoping Sapphire and Steel had given him a rough time. "I don't see how they could be behind our rewinds. 'Sides, they're trying to find out who is. I don't think it's them."
Jack shook his head. "Me neither. Still, it puts a new spin on things, wouldn't you say? Maybe you're not running the errands of fate after all."
Tru hadn't thought of that, but she wasn't about to let him know. "Or maybe you're not setting events on their proper track", she said. "Maybe you're throwing them out of kilter instead."
He grinned. "I guess we'll see. Unless you're planning to stand around second-guessing fate while the accident is playing out."
"Not a chance", she said curtly.
Jack shoved his hands in his pockets, tilting his head slightly back to look down at her, letting her know he was enjoying this.
"I thought not. Say, that's not a bad idea though. Why don't you sit this one out, see what happens?"
Tru moved slightly, giving an elderly pedestrian a little more space to pass them. "I know what happened 'yesterday', remember?" she said.
Jack nodded. "Ok. Well, it was worth a try ..."
A block down the street, a renovated Vespa was just rounding the corner.
In another place and time, a phone rang. An elegantly attired woman who might have been somewhere in her early forties, crossed the floor to pick it up. The phone's design was a slight anachronism, but one really couldn't live with the common kind.
"O'Donnell", she announced to whomever was at the other end. She listened for a while. "I'm not sure that will be possible, but I'll ask him. What did you say their names were? Just that? No surnames? I thought so. Well, like I said, I'll ask him, but I can't promise anything. No no, we'll call you." She hung up and turned around to face her partner who had entered the room while she was on the phone.
"They are on to us. They sent two time operators."
Cross, a tall, elderly man with a pleasantly wrinkled face, sought through his pockets for the fifteenth time that morning. He had given up smoking at some point - time being in a flux, he wasn't quite sure when - and he kept forgetting. He knew he had better give up the habit of searching his pockets too; people might think he was nervous.
"Took them long enough", he said slowly. "Whom did they send - Diamond and Gold?"
"Sapphire and Steel."
Cross looked out through the window, wishing he'd had something to light. "Two of their lesser operatives then?" he mused lightly, his tone more unconcerned than he felt. "Sure we can handle them."
"I've heard of them", said O'Donnell. "They are not to be underestimated, but yes, I think we can handle them, and it'll be fun. I was so looking for a challenge. I was getting tired of dodging Diamond and Gold. They never do anything unexpected."
"You diverted them?" Cross asked, still as lightly as if discussing the weather, but with a hint of amusement in his voice this time.
"Far too easily", she said. "I had someone drop a hint of a time rift in the Antarctic, and off they were. On a special mission, no doubt."
"And when they find out there is no rift?"
"Oh but there is", she assured him. "Have you ever known me to do anything half-heartedly?"
He smiled thinly. "So how do we deal with these two?"
"Well, not your way - I want to play. Davies wants to set up a meeting with them and us; I say we let him. She's the reader of the two, so don't offer your hand. Make some excuse - say you've got a rash or something."
Cross looked mildly offended but did not comment.
"Naturally, they suspect us", O'Donnell resumed, "but they can't prove anything. We should be all right, and it might be a good idea to sound out the enemy, don't you think?"
"I'd prefer staying here behind the scenes. Where we're safe", he added pointedly.
She shook her head, dyed red curls resettling softly on her shoulders. "It's not as safe as you might think. We're not stable here."
"Not even here?" he accused.
She looked a bit sheepish, but only for a moment. "Found out this morning."
"You said the 1940's were as stable as it gets."
"I may have overlooked something. Like a war or two. Pesky things, wars, but I didn't think they'd upset time. No matter - we'll find somewhere. And somewhen. Don't worry."
Cross dug in his pockets again, not even aware that he was doing it. "We might as well go back to where we came from. It might be the only stable junction left."
O'Donnell had been about to go and change into something more suitable to the early 21st century, but now she whirled - with poise. "Don't be silly. We were lucky to get out of 1864. Damn lucky to run into that Creole woman. We can't hope to find another one like her."
"You'll think of something. You came up with the way we could use her talent. I have every confidence in you." Somehow, he made his last sentence sound more like a threat than appreciation.
"And we've been riding the loops ever since, like rings on the water", O'Donnell said, recklessly mixing her metaphors. "But I warned you when we set out - that sort of thing can only be done once."
"What if we go back to the exact point where we met her and start over?" he asked, finding a loose match in his pocket and sticking it between his lips to chew on. "We'd start a second set of loops, wouldn't we?"
"Most likely, we'd set up the same one - ones. A super-loop, containing the others. We'd be stuck inside until the cusps wore out. Nothing would be stable, except the limes of the loops."
He shrugged. "You said, most likely. It could be worth a try."
She looked at him for a moment, and her gaze softened. "It could. I may get that desperate. But I'm not yet. Let's get ready to meet the lesser beings who would police us."
The couple that turned up in Richard's office seemed somehow out of place. The man was very tall and almost as grey as Richard in apparel as well as complexion - in fact, he looked, but didn't smell, like a long-time smoker. His suit had a slept-in look that didn't quite go with the austere style of a lawyer's office. The woman was striking, in a cheap, or possibly rebellious sort of way. Her red hair was obviously dyed, hanging to her shoulders below a rakish black slouch hat. Her ruffled top, camouflage-patterened trousers and red, high-heeled sandals seemed pieced together from different time periods with little sense of what actually went together - let alone what was proper attire for a respectable attorney in the early 21st century.
For a moment, Richard looked puzzled. He was almost certain his partners hadn't looked like this, last time he saw them. He frowned, trying to recollect when that had been, then gave up. They were hardly frequent visitors. The office was pretty much his own to run as he pleased these days, and that suited him well enough.
He introduced his associates to Sapphire and Steel, and vice versa. Sapphire held out her hand in greeting, but O'Donnell happened to straighten her hat right then, and Cross was standing behind her, so there was no non-awkward opportunity for a handshake.
She did sense something though.
<Steel>, she sent, <I think they are Transients! They must be the ones controlling the time loops!>
She got no answer back, but she knew that Steel had caught her message.
O'Donnell gave her a lazy, amused look, as if to say, That's a little harsh, don't you think? And here I thought I had picked the latest fashion! But she did not actually say - or send - anything, and the moment passed with no clear indication given as to whether or not Sapphire had been right.
Sapphire held out her hand again, but right then the door burst open to reveal Harrison Davies, blond hair in a damp, spiky mess, shirt unbuttoned as far down as was still reasonably civilized; no jacket, but a camera dangling from his shoulder.
"Mission accomplished, sir", he began, but fell silent at the sight of so many visitors. "But I see you're busy", he covered quickly, "so I'll be on my way ..."
This time, Sapphire had been looking for connections. <Richard's son>, she sent to Steel. <Tru's brother.>
Richard waved Harrison in. "Come in, son. Enjoy the air-conditioning while you let me know what you have for me."
<Does he know?> Steel asked sharply.
Sapphire half-closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again. <No. He works for his father, but he doesn't even know about Jack. That is, he knows what Jack does, and he's firmly on his sister's side. But he doesn't know that Jack works here also, or that they are trying to - turn him.>
Richard was finishing introductions. "And - you've met my partners, haven't you?"
Harrison blinked, not sure that he had.
"O'Donnell", the redheaded woman introduced herself. "And this is Mr Cross." Not wasting further pleasantries on Harrison, she turned to his father. "Richard, a moment please."
Richard excused himself to his other visitors and followed her - and Cross - out of the office. There was no extra room, so any private conversations would need to be held in the hall. Yet there was no sound of their voices, as long as the three lawyers were out of the room.
Sapphire was talking quietly with Harrison. She did not even have to charm him; he liked her from the start as it was. She got a very clear picture of his loyalty to his sister. Apparently, he fancied himself something of a con-man when the need arose, yet Sapphire was certain he was being used - by his father and by Jack. She would have felt sorry for him, but there was a flair, a pathos to him that she could not help but admire. A wayward young man, but as true as ...
Steel was pacing the room, impatiently. Suddenly he stopped, as the door opened to admit the three lawyers. Richard walked up to his son.
"I'm sorry, Harrison. I have to let you go. You've been doing a fine job so far, and of course you'll get proper recompense for this short notice, but ..."
Harrison shook his head, screwing up his eyes as if trying very hard to get this, and failing. "What? I thought you said your partners approved. Didn't you ask them? Did you lie to me?"
<That was fast>, Steel sent. <Clever lad.>
Sapphire smiled to herself.
"Of course not, son", Richard tried unconvincingly. "It's just that - things have changed. For now", he amended. "It's quite possible that I can rehire you eventually, but for now ..." he spread his hands apologetically.
Harrison glared at O'Donnell and Cross, convinced that they were behind this, but suspecting he would blow all his chances at renewed employment, if he brought it up. He blinked, trying to focus on them. Somehow, they seemed a little fuzzy around the edges.
"Sapphire!" came Steel's voice like a pistol shot.
Sapphire turned to face the vanishing couple. Her eyes, already spectacularly blue, grew even bluer, until it looked as if the colour would spill out of them any second. Then they began to change, becoming green, then almost yellow.
Time stopped, locally. Very locally. O'Donnell and Cross never faded back in, but not out either. They were caught as if in an invisible bubble, encompassing not only them, but Richard too. He was suspended in his best pose of persuasion, and the stillness of the tableau added a definite air of insincerety to his gestures. O'Donnell was straightening her hat; Cross seemed to have been digging in his pockets.
Harrison gulped a little. "What - what did you do?"
Steel glared at his partner. "Yes, Sapphire, what did you do? I meant for you to take time back."
Sapphire's eyes had reverted to normal. "I tried, but I was blocked. This was all I could do. It won't hold though. When it snaps, there will be a slingshot effect. They may well be sent back farther than they were aiming for."
"How far? Trias?"
"Now hold on!" Harrison butted in. "My old man may have just fired me, but ..."
Sapphire smiled at him, and suddenly everything was all right. "Your father won't go anywhere. He belongs to this time period", she explained. "But the others don't. Chances are they will go all the way back to whatever time they first came from. No farther though", she added to Steel. "We have no device to send them anywhere, so their own momentum will carry them. If it is built up enough, it will take them back to where they first started out from. If not, they will end up somewhere closer. But in any case, they'll be out of our reach."
"So we'll have no way of putting an end to the time loops?" Steel asked.
"There is a slim chance", Sapphire said. "But only if we break the one we are in at the moment. If we manage to do that, and if these Transients go all the way back to their own time, without a chance to start all over, then time will right itself, and we shall all be on the track where we should have been in the first place."
"That's a big and composite if", Steel said. "I take it there won't be any way we can know for sure?"
Sapphire shook her head. "We can make a fair guess, if time rights itself."
Steel sighed. "Very well then." He inclined his head briefly in Harrison's directon. "Can we take him with us?"
Harrison started backing up in the general direction of the door, but stopped when Sapphire turned to smile at him. "Come", she said gently, holding out her hand. He went to her, cautiously. She put her arm about his shoulders, and it was as if the office disappeared for a moment, being replaced by a general blankness, like a dim matte. He had no sense of motion, except that he thought she had turned him around - then he was squinting against bright sunlight and the noise of voices and traffic was assulting his ears. He was at a busy intersection, which after a while he recognized as the corner of Rosary and 6th. Sapphire was still at his side, smiling at him as she let go of his shoulders. A moment later he saw Steel also, appearing as if out of nowhere.
On the far side of the street, he saw his sister in an animated conversation with Jack Harper. Conversation might be too civilized a word; it looked like they were arguing. Well, no surprise there.
A big truck rounded the corner from 6th Ave, at the same time as a blonde chick on an old scooter was trying to do the same from the Rosary side. Then everything happened fast.
Tru tried to make a dash right out in the street, but Jack caught her and held on to her. He had to wrap both arms around her to keep her in place, but he managed.
"What are you trying to do?" he shouted in her ear. "Get yourself killed too? I'm sure that would be a big help!"
"Let me go!" she spat, trying to kick him in the knee-cap and biting his arm at the same time, failing at both. He had handled some wild patients in his day. Shock didn't always make them sedate.
<Steel! He's not the one maintaining the timeline! He's disrupting it! She's the one trying to uphold it!>
Steel reacted instantly, as usual believing his partner's insights even before they could be explained. Leaving her to deal with the impending accident, he simply teleported across the four-lane street, placing a heavy hand on Jack's shoulder.
"Let her go", he said calmly. "She's the one trying to repair time. You are not."
"You're wrong, but I don't care", Jack said. "I'm not letting her kill herself. She's not supposed to die now."
Steel squeezed a little, and Jack had to let go, whether he wanted to or not. This was more than human strength, he suddenly realized, wondering why he hadn't seen that coming. The English couple surely were strange enough not to be quite human.
"Then she won't, will she?" Steel said.
Jack watched with anguished eyes, as Tru rushed across the street. "I hope so", he muttered. "I certainly hope so."
His hope was fulfilled as the crash came, with Tru only halfway across the street, for all her track experience. He had delayed her just long enough. He saw her rush up to the victim, check her briefly and then turn her over, to treat the injury she knew to be there.
Jack had an urge to get over there too, to try and stop her succeeding this time, because after all, she had known about the wound this time, and begun treatment at once. But Steel's words worried him.
"I think you're wrong", he said, but he made no move as yet. "I know I'm the one to set things right. To keep events on track, so the natural order is not disturbed. I can feel it. You might say I'm dedicated to it."
Sapphire materialized beside them. "That is because you don't remember", she said.
"But I do. I remember all the rewinds, same as Tru."
Sapphire nodded, patiently. "Yes. You remember all the instances of the single loops, but you don't know what originally happened in this timeline, before any of it rewound. They've kept that from you."
"Your employer's partners are not what they seem. They are the ones causing these loops, in order to travel in time. They are Transients. It has always been known that such beings can travel in time, but until now, we haven't known how. We assumed it was a natural talent. It's not. If they had not caused these kinks in time, they probably wouldn't be able to do it. An undisturbed timeline would not allow it."
"Does Tru know what happened? Before the rewinds started?"
Sapphire seemed to listen for a moment. "No. They have kept her equally in the dark. I suppose that was even more important to them. She would help time right itself. They used you to block her efforts."
Jack shook his head. "I'm still not sure I believe you. Somehow, I feel you're wrong."
In the street, Tru sat back on her heels, dejectedly. Exchanging a look with her brother who was still standing on the sidewalk, she shook her head in defeat.
"Sapphire!" Steel said between clenched teeth. "Take time back!"
"Steel, I can't!" Sapphire protested. "That would place us both - and Harrison - back with the Transients. We'd be too close to the time bubble! We don't really belong here any more than they do - we might get caught up in the slingshot effect!"
Steel saw Tru incline her head, watching the dead woman carefully.
"NOW, Sapphire!" he roared.
Sapphire's eyes began to glow bluer.
Harrison stood in his father's office, Sapphire's arm around his shoulders. For a brief, disorienting moment, he wondered what he was doing there, then he remembered. Sapphire had somehow suspended his father's partners - and his father too - in midair; well, it was enough to cause a guy to zone out a little.
"Steel", Sapphire said, "We ought to go back at once. We can't stay."
Steel nodded. "Can we take him with us?"
"We did before."
"I know. Sorry. It was as if I had to ask again."
Sapphire smiled. These 'double exposures' of time happened sometimes. Occasionally, it was even possible to see an earlier instance of oneself like a faint ghost, briefly, before it dissolved into the new timeline.
Harrison stepped back from Sapphire, placing himself out of her reach. "Whoa - just what are you two talking about? Take me where?"
Sapphire was about to answer when she caught a slight movement inside the time bubble. O'Donnell had lowered her hand.
"Steel!" Sapphire warned her partner, but he had seen it too.
"Quickly!" was all he said, and the two of them vanished from the room, leaving Harrison alone with the bursting time bubble.
He had half expected a clap of thunder, a time bang if there was such a thing, but there was nothing like that. Just a howling wind, whipping his hair about his eyes and causing every paper on Richard's desk to fly about the office. An exasperated curse from O'Donnell, then all was silence again, and the two partners gone as if they had never been there. Which maybe they never were in the first place.
Who, now that he came to think of it ... It seemed that somebody had been there, but his memory was fading fast.
His father staggered a little, as if someone had set him down brusquely from somewhere. He shook his head to clear it. "Spell of dizziness ... where was I?" He stared at his son in disbelief. "I think I was about to fire you - but why would I do that? I'm quite satisfied with your work so far."
Harrison breathed a sigh of relief. "Glad to hear it, sir." Then he promptly forgot what it was he was glad about.
On the corner of Rosary and 6th, Tru ran up to place herself in the way of the approaching scooter, waving wildly to attract the woman's attention. She had almost run towards where the truck would be coming from, but realized at the last instant that the scooter would be easier to stop. It couldn't be doing more than 50 mph, and it was infinitely more maneuverable.
She was right. The blonde braked her old-fashioned vehicle with an annoyed look on her face. "Now just what do you think you ..." The truck swerved heavily around the corner, its trailing end cutting across the opposite lane, right where she would have been, had she not stopped. Tru shrugged apologetically, letting the scene speak for itself.
On the other side of the street, Steel took his hand from Jack's shoulder.
"Why did you hold me back?" Jack demanded. "I thought we were on the same side. Besides, she could have been killed."
The wind was rising. Dried leaves started swirling in the street and there was a sudden chill, although it had been sweltering summer only a moment ago. Then the scene started to crumble like a house of cards, each card showing a different image of the intersection, the people and the events in it, tumbling through the air against a background of bleak, white emptiness. The white dimmed slowly, and the cards became a tunnel, leaving everyone outside but Tru. She seemed to find herself inside the eye of a twister, calm but for the slowly tumbling cards. She looked at them as they passed by her, and now they no longer showed different versions of the intersection, which seemed to have stabilized somehow, becoming just one version and one card. Instead she saw other places, other people, also gradually flowing together into single pictures. She saw herself and Jack in various circumstances, arguing, competing, fighting, kissing - she could have done without that one - in different clothes from different periods, or in the same scene overlaid with replicas of itself, just like the intersection at first.
That's when she sensed that she was no longer alone in the tunnel of time. Of course. He had to be here too, didn't he? After all, he too was a little outside of any straight timeline. He held out his hand to her, and she took it by reflex, mainly because it bothered her not to have a fix point anywhere, or a floor under her feet.
And suddenly she had. A vast ballroom floor, and she was dancing with Jack. She was stunning in white, and he was wearing a dark suit that didn't do a thing for him, but then, nothing ever did. Other people around them were wearing period clothes, mid-nineteenth century she thought, but her own outfit was timeless, and so was Jack's. They were swirling steadily in lazy loops to what sounded to her like the waltz from the 4th movement of Jean-Michel Jarre's Equinoxe, a piece that most certainly did not belong in the 19th century, yet seemed somehow fitting, nonetheless.
She thought she saw a red-headed woman in a green silk dress watching her, and she spun around to get a better view. "You always did lead", Jack said. "I only had to respond."
"It got tiring after a while", she continued his thought, speaking it in his place. "To be always on call - but I had to stop you; I couldn't let you win. I knew there'd be consequences, if the natural order was upset." She fell silent, amazed at her thoughts. Amazed that she should understand him so well. "You really believe in what you're doing, don't you?" they both said in chorus, as they spun around again. Across the floor, a tall, elderly man in a rumpled suit was watching them.
Jack sensed her dedication. He had always assumed it to be there, but he had dismissed it as a self-indulgent fantasy, based on too little experience. Now he found it to be a match for his own. "They ask, and I respond", he said with her words. "How could I not?"
Another turn, and the ballroom vanished from around them, to linger silently in one of the cards still floating past them. They were in a rainy street, sometime in the 1930's, if the clothing of the occasional passer-by was anything to go by. Again, their own clothes did not match the time around them. Jack was in jeans and his old EMT jacket; Tru in a long-sleeved green top and striped, black and white trousers.
A blonde woman who looke slightly familiar, came full tilt on a bicycle, just rounding the corner in front of them. The bike skidded on wet cobble-stones, and she was thrown off. She made no sound but lay where she had fallen, and they both started toward her. Her head turned, and she was not blonde at all, but a dyed redhead. "Help me", she whispered, and they both heard her.
Tru reached out to touch Jack's arm. "No, Jack!" she said, and the scene vanished into a spinning card, leaving them once more dancing, always dancing. For a moment, Tru rested her head on Jack's shoulder, as he was just about the only being or thing in this crazy universe that she could hold on to. Then she remembered, and straightened up. A steadfast enemy was still an enemy.
"I wonder", Jack said thoughtfully, "were you gonna help her - or was I?"
They turned, and she sensed his confusion. It rapidly became her own.
The ballroom vanished again, and she thought they were back in the same street and time, though it was no longer raining. But the city seemed bigger, and the year a little later. Shots echoed among the buildings around them, and a tall, elderly man came running towards them. He was wounded, and blood was spreading over his coat. In an alley behind him, a young man appeared. He was close enough that they could see he had black hair and pale, vaguely Slavic features. He raised a gun, took quick but careful aim, and fired a last shot before disappearing from view. The old man fell on his face, in front of them. His head turned at an almost impossible angle, and he spoke, tonelessly. "Save me!"
This time, Jack reached out for Tru, holding her back. "Tru - no!"
Back in the ballroom, still swirling, Tru said, "This is getting old, don't you think?" He grinned a little, and she added, slightly puzzled, "You think he asked me - or you?"
Jack had no answer, so she went on, "Why did you stop me?"
This time he had. "Why did you stop me before?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. I just felt - like we were about to upset the order of things."
Another turn, and Jack was no longer at her side. He was across the street, kneeling beside a badly wounded kid - no more than a boy. The ambulance was right behind them, its doors open. Jack was trying to stem the blood gushing from the kid's wounds. A shot, and he fell across his patient. A redheaded woman walked past Tru, calling to the other paramedics. They got Jack and the kid inside the ambulance and drove off.
The woman turned to Tru, startling her, because until now it had almost seemed as if no one could really see her. "He'll make it", the redhead said. "The kid should have, but he won't. Jack shouldn't, but he will. And so he was pitted against you." Her change of tense sounded perfectly normal to Tru.
Back on the damned dance floor with Jack hale and sound - to her relief, Tru noted with some surprise. She tried to shake the positive feeling. The woman was creepy, that had to be it. Nice to get out of her way. Still, wasn't she popping up more than once, at odd intervals? Who was she? "That how it happened?" she asked her dancing partner.
He nodded. "More or less. Although I don't remember the dame. Then again, I don't remember much about anything from that incident."
They turned again - and Tru jumped. She was facing the old man she had last seen dead or dying at her feet. He was very much alive now, standing with her in a narrow alley, pointing a gun at her. Too close for her to run - there was no way he could miss at this range. He did not have to be an expert marksman, yet she rather suspected he was. She also thought she had seen him before. Before the dancing and the falling cards. Maybe her father knew him. Though she couldn't really say why she thought so.
"You had your chance", he said, his voice light, almost bored. "But we're not getting anywhere, are we?"
He raised the gun a little, and Jack dived in from nowhere, shoving him aside. The shot went wide, echoing among silent, blind firewalls.
"What's the matter with you?" the man accused Jack. "I told you to stay out of this."
Jack shook his head. "It's no good. Don't you see?"
The other retrieved his gun from off the cobbles where it had fallen, and his composure with it. He did not make another attempt, just clicked the safety on, and tucked the weapon away. He dug in his pockets, fished out a cigarette, and lit it. "Maybe I see more than you think. Careful, Mr Harper."
"Always am", Jack said.
The other pocketed his lighter, took a draught on his cigarette, blew out smoke. "Then I know you will be looking over your shoulder from now on."
Back to the ballroom, back in the strong arms of her enemy. He was a supportive dancing partner, she noticed. She was wearing uncomfortably high heels now, making her a little taller than him, which ought to have been awkward. But the only time her metal-shod heel slipped, he steadied her automatically until she regained her footing. He seemed to have no problem with that. All the same, she wondered at it. She had almost expected him to step back and let her fall. Maybe he had an old-fashioned upbringing; come to think of it, she knew next to nothing about his background.
"So when did he tell you to stay out of this?" she asked. As Jack seemed reluctant to answer, she added, "The old man. Where do you know him from, and what is it you're supposed to stay out of?"
Jack frowned. "I don't rightly know. I think I may have met him before, but I can't recall when or where. He seemed to have it in for you though."
"And you stopped him. Thanks, I guess." Frankly, she wasn't sure the experience had been real enough to pose any actual danger. All the same, Jack deserved some recognition of his effort.
He made no reply, so she went on, "He seemed a little familiar somehow - but I don't think I've ever met him."
"Maybe you have, in another timeline", Jack said. "Time seems a little unstable here."
"Thanks, I've noticed."
They danced on. There had been no more out-of-time incidents for a while. But the cards falling past them were oddly distracting. In one of them, Tru saw herself at her mother's coffin. Was that when the ability had passed on? Or did it happen even sooner, the instant her mother died? In either case - why hadn't it manifested until ten years later? Was it a maturity thing? Granted, a child might not have known what to do to save the dying - or if she did, who would have listened? Who would have let her go to strange places, harrassing perfect strangers? Yes, it could well be a maturity thing.
The floor dropped out from under them, though strangely, they did not fall at once. Tru stared down the well of time, to where all the cards were ending up at the bottom - or perhaps the strange images were the bottom. Then a wind rose, and the dancers began to fall.
Jack looked down and saw the cards briefly spell out a number - 1864. Instinctively, he knew that number had to be avoided. They must not hit bottom. Holding on to Tru with one arm, he started feeling along the mainly unseen walls for something - anything - to stop their descent. The walls felt cold and clammy, then hot and crumbling, then soft and yielding. Once, he even thought he touched someone's face. Then there was suddenly a gargoyle shooting out of the wall - or perhaps a grotesque; he could feel no water. By sheer luck, he managed to catch hold of it. During a normal fall, it would have been impossible, but gravity inside the well of time seemed weaker, and he had a feeling they had not been falling at a constant speed, or they would already be at the bottom.
Now that their fall had been broken, he could better make out the walls. The grotesque was in the shape of a long dragon's head, poking out of the wall. Behind it was a narrow ledge. There was no way he could pull both of them up on it.
"You may have a chance if you let me drop", Tru said, having also assessed the situation.
"It's 1864 down there", he said. "I think it's the end of the line. If we hit it, we won't get out again."
Tru thought of Harrison. Of Davis. She stopped herself before going on. There was nothing for it. "I'll adapt", she said. "I look good in period."
"I'm not letting you go", he said stubbornly.
Tru looked up at the narrow ledge. "You have to. You're not strong enough."
An echo of the past. From a time when he had indeed let go, giving that very reason - though he had not necessarily meant physically. Now, he did not look at her. "I have to be", he said simply.
There was no way he was yielding this time. If they fell, they would fall together. They were two sides of the same coin. Their destinies so inextricably tied up, he'd be aimless without her. He might lose his ability, that would be a relief, but he couldn't be sure even of that, if she were simply stuck in another time. And he wasn't going to test the theory. The cost had been high last time; unbelievably, it seemed higher now.
He could feel his grip beginning to slip on the dragon's head. The one around Tru's waist held. If the worst came to the worst, he thought wryly, he'd just have to look good in period too.
The grotesque's head bowed slowly as if its neck was softening, then turned into somebody's hand, grasping Jack's in an iron grip.
"You found them, Steel", came Sapphire's voice. "You have them."
Jack held Tru tightly against him as they were pulled out of the well of time. It wouldn't do to drop her now, at the very moment they were being rescued. He felt as if his arm would be wrenched free at any moment, and it surprised him that Steel did not even grunt as he hoisted them out.
Then they were on firm concrete, at the corner of Rosary and 6th where they had started their journey through time - or whatever that had been.
"Thanks man", Jack said, but Steel simply ignored him. The time agent wasn't even flushed, after what should have been a major exertion.
Sapphire gave her partner a slightly worried look. Lifting somebody out of a time well ought to have taken a toll, even on Steel.
He noted her glance, and smiled a little. <They belong in this time>, he offered as an explanation. <The current was on my side. I was pulling with time, not against it.>
"What happened?" Tru wanted to know. "Did we come unstuck in time, or something?"
"You've read too much Kurt Vonnegut", Jack ventured under his breath. He didn't know if Tru was a science fiction fan, but it was a nice little opportunity to tease her.
Sapphire opened her mouth to explain, but caught a glare from her partner. "Or something", she said. "Actually, we're not quite sure. It will take some research." It was true, as far as it went. Sapphire rarely lied.
Tru looked around for the woman on the scooter, but she was no longer there. Maybe I caused the disruption when I saved her, Tru mused. In any case, they had been returned to a point where the danger was already past. Aloud, she said, "Guess we won't have to go through all that again."
Sapphire smiled oddly. "Not if our theory is correct." But she did not elaborate.
Something else bothered Tru. Jack's behaviour in the time tunnel. "You insisted on saving me in there", she said to him. "But you couldn't know whether or not that was in keeping with your natural order - not with time going wild all over the place, like the Round Room in some vintage adventure game. So, I'm guessing you were thinking about your theory of paired connections - you needed to save me, so you wouldn't lose your own ability."
He looked at her for a moment, pale eyes locking with dark, as if in combat.
"I hate my job", he said, quietly.
Steel's hand descended on his shoulder. "Then it should please you to know that you are now unemployed", the time agent said. "Congratulations." He turned, and started to walk away.
Sapphire felt she owed the two bewildered humans an explanation. "If our theory is correct", she began, "as is becoming more likely every second that we are still here - you are both out of work. The outcome of certain events no longer rests on you. You are ordinary people, nothing more. You are free to go. You may retain some memory of what you used to do, but most of it will pale in time."
"How soon?" Tru asked, looking almost frantic.
Sapphire gave her a reassuring smile. "It has already started. How much do you remember of the time well?"
Tru frowned, trying to recall. It was surprisingly hard.
Sapphire nodded. "The more chaotic memories will go first. The ones within proper frames of reference will take longer." She glanced over her shoulder to where Steel was standing, waiting for her. "And now, if you will excuse me, I must go. You won't see us again. Soon, you won't even remember us."
She turned away and left them, with no further farewells. After joining Steel on the other side of the intersection, she looked back. Tru was leaving, walking rapidly down the street on her side. Jack remained for a moment, looking after her.
"You think they will get on better now?" Steel asked, surprising his partner. Steel normally did not take much interest in human affairs, as long as they did not interfere with time.
"He still feels protective of her", Sapphire said. "Give it time."
The corner of Steel's mouth twitched slightly. It might have been a wry smile.
"I'd rather not", he said.
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