This page hosted by Get your own Free Home Page

Back to Sapphire & Steel hub.
Sapphire and Steel
by R. J. Hammond
Episode # 1,
"Escape Through A Crack In Time"
Transcripted by Jill Sylvan





It was an old house. There were several clocks in every room, all set on the correct time and ticking away. In the kitchen sat a young boy, between thirteen and fifteen, doing his homework at the table, with a little clock beside him. Outside, wind blew, a pleasant sound to back up all the ticking clocks. The boy, Rob, had shaggy dark brown hair, fine eyebrows and a rather gentle face. The banging of something knocked over by the wind distracted him. He got up and closed the curtains on the kitchen window. He glanced briefly at a pendulum clock on the wall beside it, then swung away and smiled, deciding to walk out and check the hall clocks for a break from homework. Out in the hall, he could hear his mother's voice, and his sister's as well, doing numbers. He stood at the foot of the stairs, and listened.

"One three is three, two threes are six, three threes are nine, four threes..." a moment of hesitation on his sister's part, "... twelve!" Laughter echoed down the stairs. Rob bit his lip, wishing he could join them, but mum said he was too old now. "Five threes are fifteen, six threes are eighteen." He turned back to the kitchen to finish his homework, hearing them say again, "Six threes are eighteen!" in delighted voices. In the kitchen, he pulled out his chair and started working again.


"Ten threes are... thirty! Very good! Eleven threes are thirty- three, twelve threes are thirty-six..!" They ended on a note of triumph. The father laughed with them, and murmured something to his wife.

She said firmly, "Now, come along Helen, it's time for bed."

Helen bounced on her bed and cried hopefully, "But you promised I could have one more!"

Her mother made an exasperated sound. "Oh! Henry?" He laughed.

"Please, Daddy?"

Chuckling, he said, "All right, all right. I know, Little Miss Muffet!"

"Yes!!" Helen cried.

"But this time you read for Mummy and Daddy all by yourself."

Overjoyed, Helen shouted, "Yes!" Her father made a wry comment, and the mother spoke it with her.

"Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey! There came a big spider," her father added his voice, "which sat down beside her..! and frightened Miss Muffet away!"

Helen wriggled happily where she knelt on her bed. "One more!"

Her mother replied firmly, "No, no more tonight!"

"Oh please, Mum!"

"No!" she said, shutting the book.

Helen begged appealingly, "Please?"

Her father couldn't help it. "Oh, come on... there's time for another one."

"Oh... well, all right then but just the one." She flipped through the book. "Ah! Ring-a Ring-a roses a pocket full of posies,"

Helen sang it too. "A tissue! A tissue! We all fall down!"

In the kitchen, a wall clock stopped ticking. It was 7:10. Rob was absorbed in his work and didn't notice. The antique clock on the cupboard to his right had a whirling top piece as a pendulum. There was a very audible click as it stopped, but Rob still didn't notice, working hard. When the pendulum clock by the window stopped its clonking, he did notice, and looked at it, surprised. Thus he heard another one stop. And then the little clock beside him suddenly stopped as well. He touched it, confused and surprised still more now. With a sigh, he stood and walked out into the hall. Every clock there had stopped too. This is really weird, he thought. He frowned and went to the stairs, taking a step up.

"Dad?" The silence was frightening, and then there was a sound, like radio static. "Dad, what's that noise? All the clocks've...." he trailed off, because there was no answer. Then he started up the stairs quickly. At the top he came to a confused halt seeing all the clocks there were also stopped. And then he heard his sister sobbing quietly. He left the landing, rounded the corner into the next hall and took the short staircase up to her room.

Helen sat on her bed, teddy bear clutched tightly, her tear-streaked face a sad, sad sight. Rob looked around at the otherwise vacant room. The rocking chair creaked as it rocked back and forth. Not liking the sound, he reached his left hand to stop it, then turned to Helen, speaking very gently. "Where's Mum and Dad?"

She answered with a tiny, sobbing voice, "Gone."

He sat in front of her, gripping her upper arms gently, speaking as reassuringly as he could, "It's all right, Helen. I'm here. So where are they, Mum and Dad?"

Helen was only eight, with wavy red-gold hair and a dusky red night gown that combined with her mood made her look terribly tragic. This didn't make him feel better when she only answered, "Gone."

He frowned, because he knew she could do better than that. "Gone? Gone where? Out of the door, downstairs?" She shook her head. Angry, he almost shouted, "Well WHERE then?!"

"Just... just went away...."

"Here? In the room?" She tightened her lips and gazed at him. He sighed and released her arms to sit back and look around. Finally he stood up and searched the room, even opening the curtains and looking out the window. Nothing in the night. He turned and saw on the table his father's pipe and tobacco case. And lying open in front of the rocking chair, the book of nursery rhymes his mom had been reading. He stood staring at it, remembering how the chair'd been rocking when he'd come in. He turned and went back to the bed, asking softly, "You mean they disappeared, Helen?"

He sat in front of her again, and she looked with big, sad eyes at him and answered quietly, "Yes. And the room didn't. They just went away."

Confused, he asked, "But not here, not in the room?!"

She looked down. "Yes. They went away."

He took her hand gently and tried not to be scared. Swallowing he glanced around the room that had suddenly become a scarey place.

Later, Helen sat in the kitchen, wrapped in a blue blanket with a glass of milk on the table in front of her. The wind blew strongly outside. She looked around toward the front door as a banging sound came from outside. Footsteps approached the door, the latch lifted, and Rob came in, slamming it and locking it behind him, and stamping dirt and leaves off of his boots. He came into the kitchen.

"Drink your milk, Helen," he said breathlessly. "Everything's all right, see?" he squeezed her shoulder, "I ran all the way to the phone box at Skarl's Edge, telephoned the policeman's house at the Point. I told him...." as he spoke, he restlessly checked the lock on the kitchen window. Helen sipped her drink. He turned to her again, "He's coming out here!" He moves to check the stove. "So, everything's all right then, isn't it? I mean that policeman...." She set her glass down, and he touched her shoulder reassuringly, "he'll only have to come to the other side of the Point, and cross the bay in a boat and he'll be here. So just drink your milk, Helen. I think it's going to be all right." She drank, too tired to argue. They both jumped as a loud knocking sounded on the front door. "Stay there." He walked down the hall, fists clenched nervously. "Who is it?"

A stern, strong, man's voice asked, "Robert Steven Jardine?"

Confused, he replied, "Yes?"

In an oddly uncompromising tone, the voice stated, "You asked for help."

"I did, yes!"

The voice came again, "Then unlock the door."

Rob muttered to himself, "That was quick...." He started unlocking it. Middle chain, top bolt, then bottom bolt, and swung it open. "I'd only just phoned...." he trailed off at the sight of two strangers. A stern-looking blonde man in a dark gray suit and tie walked in, followed by a lovely blonde woman in a deep blue dress. Angry and suspicious, Rob backed away, "I don't know you!" He turned after the man in confusion as the woman shut the door. "Only... the policeman at the Point!"

The man moved up the stairs a few steps, his full attention focussed on the upper floor. He replied coolly, "The policeman at the Point isn't coming. I contacted him and told him that everything down here is under control." The woman watched her companion calmly.

"But it isn't!"

The man turned and came down. This time when he spoke his voice was still stern, but also disturbed. "No. That's why we're here and not him." He started toward the kitchen leaving Rob with his mouth hanging open.

The woman spoke with plain amusement, "He's a shade too serious but you'll get used to him."

Rob turned to her, both pleading and angry. "But he's got no right to tell the policeman..."

"Your parents have disappeared, right?"

"Yes!" He gazed at her in astonishment.

"And you want them back?"

"Oh course I want them -"


He was brought up short. "Yes."

She started past him after her companion, still amused and now a tiny bit mocking. "Well then, your policeman at the Point with his idiot notebook and his idiot questions stands NO chance of getting them back for you. But we do."

Rob followed her, and said very seriously, pleadingly, "What ever it is that's happened to them, my mother and it serious?"

She stopped, and turned to stare at him with surprisingly dark eyes. Then she looked up toward Helen's room, and it seemed oddly like she was listening to something. Her eyes shifted color ever so slightly, and she whispered, "Yes," and turned away.

In the kitchen, Helen gazed nervously at the strange man. When his companion walked in he asked the woman without even glancing around, "How old would YOU say the house was?"

She looked around the kitchen thoughtfully. "At a rough estimate, two-hundred and fifty years. It's old land, arable land. It's probably been that way for centuries." She stepped into the back nook of the kitchen looking around curiously. "There could have been other buildings on these foundations, back in time," she said, returning to the main room.

The man looked at the clocks curiously. "Yes. Genuine antiques?" he asked, turning his head slightly toward her.

She brushed her fingertips over the things she passed, coming up beside him. "I'd say most of them." She layed her palms firmly on the kitchen table, and then looked at him with surprise. "Some vibrations!"

"And the surname, Jardine." Not a question, mild curiosity.

She took that listening stance again. "Old French. The father's name is Henry, the mother's name is Sarah, and the child is called Helen."

Startled, Rob burst out with, "How do you know?"

The man looked disturbed, upset and grim. "Old names, an old house." He sighed, "Lots of old things." Looking thoughtful, he reached for the little clock. "Lots of old, old echoes."

The woman asked alertly, "A pressure point, then?"

He idly wound the clock. "Could well be. Could well be it." He absently wandered about the kitchen with the clock.

Rob leaned angrily forward on the table and started, "You know so much about us-"

She smiled, "We do, yes."

" -then perhaps you'd like to say who YOU are, what your names are."

She replied gently, "My name is Sapphire and my friend's name is Steel."

Startled by the odd names, he repeated, "Sapphire?"


A flash of bewilderment, "That's a...."


"Well, that's a beautiful name," he said, looking disgruntled.

She smiled warmly, "Thank you."

Steel came back to her, and turned to Rob. "There are lots of clocks in this house."

"Yes, my father collects them and makes them work."

He held up the little clock, "Then why aren't they working now?"

Angry, on the defensive, Rob snarled, "They DO work." Steel blinked, raising his head a little to regard Rob. "They all stopped when...." he trailed off.


"Well, just before it happened." He looked at Helen, so small in her blanket. "I did search the house after...." glancing at Sapphire.

Steel was curious. "At the time it happened, where were you?"

"Down here in this room." Helen looked at him, as always distrustful of strangers, and thinking maybe he oughtn't to talk with these two.

"And your parents were where?"

"In Helen's room itself, they were reading to her."

Steel reached his right hand and cupped Helen's chin, roughly making her look at him. She met his eyes and said quietly, "Mummy and Daddy... just went away."

He released her and glanced at Sapphire. "I think we'd all better go up to the top room."

She nodded, "Yes."

"We'll take some clocks with us. Bring the child."

Steel stalked out the door to the stairs, followed by Rob, and then Sapphire carrying Helen. He paused long enough for the boy to catch up, and they started upstairs. "When the clocks stopped, did you hear anything?"

"I heard Helen crying."

Steel turned right at the landing, asking briskly, "Anything else?"

"Well there was this... kind of sound."

Steel came to an abrupt stop and turned his head. "What kind of sound."

"Well -"

Sharply, "Describe it!"

"I - it was like a low murmur, a low rumbling sound." Steel started forward again. Sapphire stepped around Rob, who clenched his fists in frustration. "So where've they gone? My parents!?!" He chased after them around the corner and up the hall to the last short flight of stairs before Helen's room. He stopped, hand on the top bannister. "Look! I want to know! Now." Steel and Sapphire turned to look at him, expressionless. Helen reached out her right hand and he took it and pulled her away from Sapphire. They both glared suspiciously at the two and Rob firmly continued, "I mean you - you come here, just like that, this place where you can hear people or cars approaching for MILES away! But you two... you arrived, just like that."

Sapphire simply said, "Yes."

Briefly disgruntled, he paused, "So... well I want to know at least SOMEthing before we go in there -" nodding toward Helen's door, "to do whatever we're going to do."

Sapphire drew a breath and started to explain, "There is a corridor-"

Steel turns sharply to her. Unheard by the children, he spoke and his `voice' carried no small amount of rage. [It can't be explained to him.]

She looked him in the eye and responded warmly, {It can, in a way. But not by you, perhaps.} He turned his back on her and gazed into Helen's room. She began again. "There is a corridor," stepping closer, "and the corridor is Time. It surrounds all things," making an all- encompassing circle with her hands, "and it passes through all things." She brought her hands together through the space she'd just circled. Helen turned to look for it. Sapphire knelt and rested her hands on the little girl's shoulders. "Oh you can't see it. Only sometimes, and it's dangerous."

Rob frowned. "This - corridor - can you enter it?"

She looked up at him steadily. "No, not in the way you imagine. You cannot enter into Time, but sometimes...." she looked into Helen's eyes, "Time can try to enter into the Present. Break in. Burst through and take things. Take people." Steel listened to her as he studied Helen's room from the doorway. Hearing her talk about it disturbed him, for reasons he didn't want to think about. "The corridor is very strong; it has to be. But sometimes, in some places, it becomes weakened. Like fabric, worn fabric. And when there is pressure put upon the fabric...."

Rob finished the sentence, "Time comes in."

"Reaches in and takes out what it wants. And we think that time has broken into that room." Steel, his face a firm mask, turned to watch Sapphire talk as she knelt in front of Helen. "Broken through, and taken away your parents."

Impatient with himself for allowing the delay, he stepped forward and gripped Rob's shoulder. "Come on." Sapphire stood and put an arm around Helen, and the three moved into her room ahead of Steel, who was conscious of the fact that he was pulling back from entering, and angry because of it. He closed the door behind him.

Rob glanced around at the clocks, all stopped at 7:10. "Will they work again?"

Steel scooped up a little clock that was sitting on Helen's bed. "Yes. They've simply wound themselves down, that's all." He set the clock on a dresser.

Rob's surprise was all too evident for Steel. "But my father winds those clocks almost every day!"

He replied wearily, "I expect he does."

The boy turned in desperation to Sapphire, "But clocks don't DO that, it isn't possible!"

Sapphire, her hands resting lightly on Helen's shoulders, looked at him. "No," she agreed, "and yet it happened."

Steel suddenly stepped in front of them and turned to Rob. "You were in this room with your mother and father and sister before you went downstairs." He moved aggressively close.

"Yes," replied the boy.

"And that's the last you saw of your parents."

The response came in a painful whisper, "Yes."

"Where was the child?"

"Sitting up in bed." Helen blinked, and Sapphire squeezed her shoulders protectively. Then she lifted her off the floor and onto her bed so that she sat facing them.

Steel looked at Rob again. "Like that?"


He spoke to the little girl coldly, "Kneel." She looked quickly at her brother.

"It's all right, Helen," Rob reassured her. She shifted until she was kneeling.

"Your father was where?"

Rob pointed, "Sitting in that chair."

Steel nodded. "Sit in it will you, please." The please was said with some urgency. He was looking around nervously.

"What?" asked the startled boy.

Steel gave him a foul glower. "Just SIT there." Rob hesitated, then sat in the green chair. He reached tentatively for his father's pipe and tobacco case, and jerked his hand back when Steel said quickly, "Please don't touch anything." Rob stared at him, uncomprehending. Steel's movements had a nervous feel, Sapphire stood behind him as if in support. "Your mother was sitting in the rocking chair?"


Sapphire moved swiftly to settle into the rocking chair. Steel looked cautiously around. "So all three like this, then."

Rob said quietly, "Yes."

Steel stood still for a moment, his eyes roaming the room, then he walked around to check the window and then to Sapphire's side where he noticed the book on the floor. He bent down and picked it gingerly up. "I take it your mother was reading aloud to the child."


He frowned and held the book out, "Reading from this book."

As Sapphire took the book, Rob said, "She did it - she does it every night." Steel watched him intently. "My dad often sits with them."

Sapphire glanced through the book, and said mildly, "Traditional nursery rhymes."

Dark eyes narrowed, Steel asked him, "Do you know which particular rhyme was being read when the clocks began to stop?"


Suddenly distracted, the man moved toward the bed. "When things began to happen...."

"No, I was downstairs."

Steel leaned on the bedposts, staring at Helen. She gazed back.

Sapphire spoke softly to Rob. "It is important to know the exact rhyme."

Steel's cold tone was aimed at Helen. "Do you know which one it was?"

Helen shrank back from him, and Sapphire spoke gently, "Helen..?"

Rob intervened protectively, "She's not very talkative to strangers."

The little girl glanced thankfully at her brother. Steel turned stiffly away, growling, "Then you try."

As Sapphire flipped through the book, Rob leaned forward, taking Helen's hand in his. "Helen... when mumma - just before mum went away, you remember -" Helen nodded. "What was she reading to you? Which nursery rhyme?"

"I don't know."

"You do know, Helen, tell us... please?"

She hesitantly said, "The best one."

"Your favorite? Ring-a Ring-a Roses?" She nodded.

Steel moved up beside them, and muttered gravely, "Good."

"Ring-a Ring-a Roses dates back to the time of the plague!" Sapphire sounded almost startled.

"Yes, another echo, another ingredient."

"I found it." She held the book open and sat back.

Steel moved quickly around behind her. "Wait!" He picked the clock up off the dresser and wound it up as she watched. "Read the rhyme carefully. Whenever I raise my hand, stop. When I lower it, continue." He set the clock back down.

"Right," she agreed readily.

He stepped around to the other side and wound up another clock. "If I say back, BACK..reverse the order of the words immediately."

"I know."

"But carefully. Not one mistake, not even one wrong letter." He rested his left hand on her shoulder, pleading in his grip. She covered it with her right hand soothingly.


The hand squeezed her shoulder and then he moved away to stand on the other side of the bed. "All right. Now, begin."

"Ring-a ring-a roses a pocketful of posies, A tissue, a tissue, we all fall down." Helen settled herself more comfortably to listen. "The king has...." Steel raised his hand to stop her, eyeing the clock suspiciously, but it was still ticking. He sat on the edge of the bed, and signalled her to continue. He watched the clock as she spoke.

"The king has sent his daughter to fetch a pail of water," Steel shifted, resting hands on his leg. Then one of the clocks stopped. he whirled to stare at it as Sapphire fell silent. The other clock stopped.

He said roughly, "Go on...."

"A tissue, a tissue, we all fall down." There was a loud knocking on the door. Steel whipped around to watch it suspiciously. "The bird upon the steeple sits high above the people, a tissue, a tissue," the door swung open, only it was a different door, white. "We all fall down." Figures materialized. A woman with a candle, in old, old style clothing. The man who'd opened the door gestured her in, glad to see her. "The cows are in the meadow, lying fast asleep, a tissue, a tissue, we all get up again." She walked in and set her candle down and suddenly it blew out. She turned and screamed, recoiling in terror, then both of them disappeared, as if blown out like the candle.

Sapphire continued from the last verse, "The cows are in the meadow," Steel stood, staring at the wall where a blur of white light and fog or mist appeared. "Lying fast asleep, a tissue, a tissue, we all get up again."

A wind blew in the room, whipping their hair. A voice sang through the wind, a strange, creaking voice, old. "The cattle in the meadow, lying fast asleep, hush, hush, hush, now we all get up again!"

Sapphire continued her ryhme. "The wedding bells are ringing, the boys and girls are singing, a tissue, a tissue, we all fall down."

Other voices joined the old creaking one, "Cattle in the meadow, lying fast asleep," a sound like static roared and Helen covered her ears. Steel moved to stand next to Rob, who gaped at the sight before him. "Hush, hush, hush, now we all get up -" The wall pulled away, back, like down a long tunnel stretching. A figure came staggering up it, maybe a man, wrapped in filthy black cloth, and singing. Its shadow fell across Rob, who had stood in frozen terror until then.

"NO!" he screamed, and dived past Steel.

Steel sat on the edge of the bed. "Back! Backwards!"

Sapphire stood, and read aloud, her eyes glowing brilliant blue.

"Ringing are bells wedding the, singing are girls and boys the, tissue a, tissue a," the tunnel disappeared, "down fall all we," the wall came back like thunder. It was over.

Steel sat back wearily on the bed, echoing, "Down... fall... all... we...."

Helen turned an astonished gaze on them. "Pictures! I saw pictures!"

"Yes Helen," the man replied, not taking his gaze away from the wall.

Sapphire murmured, "So it's there, then." Helen looked quickly, but there was nothing to see.

He sounded desolate, "Yes."

"We can't seal it yet?"

He shook his head, "No. Not 'til we've brought those people back." He turned urgently to her. "But tear the rhyme out of the book! Destroy it." Sapphire complied. A sound from behind him attracted Steel's attention. Rob was huddled against the wall, and he moved to help the boy up. Rob jerked free of him, avoiding his eyes and moved quickly to sit beside Helen, an arm around her shoulders. Steel regarded him emotionlessly, then asked, "Has the child somewhere else to sleep?"

"She can sleep in my room," came the weak-voiced reply.

"Take her there, then, will you?"

Rob very deliberately kept his head turned away from them. "Come on," he told her softly.

They joined hands and started to leave when Helen remembered, "'Becca!" She let go and grabbed her teddy bear off the bed, then joined her brother again. Steel stood with them at the door a moment.

"Is there a key to this door?" he asked.

"No. It was lost years ago."

"No one is to come back into this room, do you understand?" Rob hesitated, then continued out the door with Helen, not replying. Steel moved past Sapphire to switch off a lamp. "Not 'til we've done what we have to." He stood then almost nose-to-nose with her, the same height of body and pale complexion, same fair hair. He said roughly, "Take it downstairs and burn it." She left quietly, understanding his mood. He gazed around, then left too, turning off a last light before he closed the door.

Rob came into the kitchen with a sigh. He knew Sapphire was there, but he closed the door before turning around to speak to her. "Helen's fast asleep...." he trailed off, startled. Sapphire was cleaning a glass, but instead of the long, wavy blond hair and blue dress, she had curled red hair, tied up in a Greek style. And she wore a sleeveless golden dress with only one strap over her right shoulder, and little golden chains with coins dangling from them and a golden band around her neck.

She smiled mischeviously at him and said, "Oh! I suppose I've surprised you!" she gestured at her clothes with the glass and dishrag, and went back to wiping it. "Steel says I shouldn't use Time as if it's some sort of wardrobe, but - he's so serious." She gave Rob a conspiratorial wink, "I get bored wearing the same old clothes." She set down the glass and cocked her head quizzically at him, "Now, salt and pepper?"

He pointed at a nearby shelf and said weakly, "Over there. But... where did you get them from?"

Looking quite innocent, she asked, "What?"

"The clothes!" He gaped still. This had been the first time he'd really looked at her, and he was finding it hard to adjust.

"Oh these aren't real," she said with a smile.

"Not real?"

She glanced down at her clothes. "No, these aren't real ones." The sense of mischief in her eyes brightened even more, she turned toward the shelf. "Salt, and pepper." As her hands closed about the shakers, she changed. Not a ripple, not fading, just change. Into a deep-red strapless evening gown, and her hair to straight and brunette. She turned to him, eyes dancing. "Look, this was my favorite last week, what do you think?" she posed for him.

His mouth hanging open, he managed to answer, "Well, I think that...." and stopped in confusion.


Not yet recovered, he finally said, "I just think that you are beautiful."

"Thank you."

School is going to be interesting after this, he thought, trying to keep his eyes on her face. It was a lovely face, wide-spaced dark eyes, creamy skin and soft lips set in a head with wide middle-set cheekbones and a strong jawline. He decided that he preferred her blond. "And the name, Sapphire... like blue as if you were blue."

She looked amused, "And Steel?"

"Well, I suppose he's... like steel, gray." Sapphire giggled at that. Emboldened he asked, "The corridor, have you ever seen it? Seen inside it?"

She sat down, and thought about her answer before giving it. "Not properly. I did catch a glimpse once, on a ship." She set the shakers on the table.

"A ship?"

"Mmmhmm, in the middle of the sea." She shrugged and continued, "Anyway, it was a simple operation, we fixed it."

Not about to give up his line of questioning, Rob urged, "And, you say you saw..?"

They didn't notice Steel come in. "Well, just a glimpse. It was like...." she considered a moment. Steel, hearing the subject, hesitated in the doorway then moved on in. Sapphire continued, "looking through frosted glass, all the images were blurred, and broken."

"Like the images upstairs?"

"Something like that, yes." Steel sat at the table and glowered at Sapphire, who had switched abruptly back to her blue dress and golden hair. She smiled teasingly at him and attempted to look contrite. "Sorry," she said.

He continued glowering, and spoke coldly, "Perhaps when you're finished telling the boy about the nicer aspects of our job, you'll tell him about the dangers."

On the defensive, she responded, "He knows about them."

"He knows about them?" Steel turned to Rob. "About the dangers in THIS house?"

Rob realized Steel was willing to talk. He leaned his hands on the table and started, "The corridor -"

"Don't try and imagine it. It's immense. TIME is immense." He looked foul, and drew a breath before continuing. "Try and imagine instead YOU, Rob, or your lifetime -" he held up his right hand, index finger and thumb apart, "as approximately one inch in length. Then compare it to the corridor of Time, which is...." he thought about it, then shrugged, "a thousand million miles long. One inch, you. Time and the unknown a thousand million miles. Just compare them. It's very, very big. And it's very, very dangerous." Rob watched him grimly as he spoke, then jumped on that last word.


Upstairs, Helen came out of Rob's room carrying her bear, and looked down the stairs. Then she looked up toward her own room.

"There are things - creatures, if you like - from the very beginnings of Time, and the very end of Time. And these creatures have access to the corridor. They're forever... moving along it. Searching... looking... trying to find a way in. They're always searching, aways looking." He fell silent, gaze turned in.

Rob didn't want to waste this chance for information. "For the hole in the fabric?"

"Yes. But they must never be allowed in, never ever!" his voice was a faint cry of fear, and rage. "You've already seen what can happen upstairs, this evening. But we stopped them... held them. Took the trigger away from them." Now there was bitter memory in his tone.

"The trigger?"

"Yes, the final ingredient. A certain traditional nursery rhyme, spoken in a certain room."

Helen opened her room's door and went in. She turned the lamp by her bed on, and climbed up onto the bed. On her knees she turned to study the wall, 'Becca clasped tightly in her hands. She went over what she knew. Sapphire said Time had taken her parents away through the wall. Singing Ring-a Ring-a Roses opened the wall. Perhaps she could open it herself and get them back? She thought a little harder about it, remembering what had happened. "Mumma, Daddy. The pictures!" She turned to her little stuffed bear, "The pictures, Rebecca!" Maybe her parents would appear the same way those people had. She sat down, trying for some form of formality, and began singing.

"Ring-a ring-a roses, a pocketful of posies,"

In the kitchen, Steel was completing his explanation for Rob. "That's why we tore it out of the book... that's why we burned it."

"A tissue! A tissue! We all fall down!"

"And that's why Sapphire and I -" The clock stopped suddenly.

"The king has sent his daughter to fetch a pail of water...."

Steel's head whipped around to another clock, which stopped. He and Sapphire stared at each other for a frightened moment, then both rushed for the door.

"A tissue! A tissue! We all fall down. The wedding bells are ringing, the boys and girls are singing, a tissue! A tissue! We all fall down." Steel, Sapphire and Rob ran up the stairs. "The bird upon the steeple sits high above the people, a tissue! A tissue! We all fall down." In front of her, a white glow and fog materialized in the wall. "The cows are in the meadow," the bedroom door slammed shut in Steel's face, he tried the handle, it was locked.

Rob called sharply, "Helen!"

"Lying fast asleep, a tissue! A tissue! We all get up again! Ring- a ring-a roses, a pocketful of posies, A tissue! A tissue! We all fall down. The king has sent his daughter,"

Steel turned and called urgently, "Sapphire!"

"To fetch a pail of water, a tissue! A tissue! We all fall down."

She stood still, eyes unfocused, and then shimmering brilliant blue. The doorknob twisted, and strained.

"The wedding bells are ringing, the boys and girls are singing,"

There was a click and Sapphire said, "Now!"

"A tissue! A tissue! We all fall down. The bird upon the steeple sits high above the people, a tissue! A tissue!"

Steel slammed open the door and flinched as a biting wind hit him. Helen turned, startled. At that moment the wall was pulled backwards down the corridor. Steel leaped in between it and the bed, grabbed Helen bodily and threw her at Rob with a snarl of, "Hold her!!" Rob closed his arms around her shoulders protectively. Steel glanced down at her, then snatched the teddy bear out of her hands.

Sapphire spoke part of the rhyme backwards, "Ringing are bells wedding the, singing are girls and boys the, tissue a, tissue a, down fall all we."

Steel held out the bear toward the corridor, preparing to release it. Helen shouted, "'Becca!" and broke free of her brother to try to get it back.

He shoved her back to Rob. "I said hold her!" Rob grabbed her tight this time. Steel released the bear and it was pulled down the corridor to disappear.

On the heels of Sapphire's voice came another woman's, the voice startling Rob and he turned to see a strange, warped silhouette of a woman rocking in the rocking chair. His mother, holding the book. The enemy gathered it's power to hold the corridor open, using her voice to sing, "A tissue, a tissue, we all fall down. Ring-a ring-a roses, a pocketful of posies, a tissue, a tissue, we all fall down!"

There came a knocking and the strange, white door opened for the woman with a candle. Another voice sang the rhyme, the old, old voice with its different variation. "The cattle in the meadow lying fast asleep, hush, hush, hush, now -" The ragged creature reached for Rob where he stood transfixed. Suddenly, firm hands caught his shoulder and head and yanked him out of the room, slamming the door behind them. Steel had him in an almost strangle-hold, Rob clung to the arm clasped across his shoulders and dangerously tight 'round his neck.

Steel's voice was taught with anger, "The child memorized the rhyme."

Sapphire's came back, soothing. "Yes."

He was released as Steel moved to kneel next to Helen, glaring at her. "How many more have you learned?" Rob leaned shakily in the doorway, and Helen pressed herself closer to Sapphire, staring at the menacing blond man who abruptly broke his glare and stood up to turn it on his partner. "You keep her with you at all times." He started down the stairs, then paused and turned to Rob. "Has the child other dolls?"

"Yes," he replied, somewhat steadier now.


He nodded weakly. "Yes, they're all down there."

Steel continued on to the next landing, throwing back, "Then you find her one from there."

Rob rushed to the top of the stairs, "Is that the way my mother and father disappeared?" Sapphire watched him with interest.

Steel stopped and turned a steady gaze on the boy. "Yes. And you almost went the same way. So until I say differently, this WHOLE part of the house is out of bounds." He turned again and disappeared around the corner.

"But my Momma's still in that room!"

The man's voice came faintly back, "Not anymore."

"But I heard her! I heard her voice! I did, I heard her!" he shouted down the stairs.

Sapphire's voice cut in softly, "No."

He glared at her, trying to do it like Steel did, and went to Helen's door. His sister watched him from Sapphire's side. "I did, in that room!"

"It wasn't her."

He turned to face her angrily, "Of course it was!"

She looked very steadily at him. "Tell me what you saw."

That brought him up short. He looked at her with suspicion. "In the room?"


"Well I saw lots of things, different things!"


He wanted to say, I'm not stupid, you know! but instead he said, "Yes, people! And things. But all very quickly." He flushed guiltily under her gaze. "Well I didn't actually SEE her, I saw a shadow of her. Her voice, that's all." The realization hit, and hurt. His voice when he spoke it was heavy, "It wasn't her."

Sapphire shook her head in agreement, "No."

Helen saw him bow his head to hide tears, and said softly, "Mumma isn't home."

He dropped to one knee and took her hand in his own, "Not yet."


He looked up at Sapphire, searched her face which remained impassive and then turned back to Helen. "Yes. Soon." At that, the woman turned to go downstairs, leading Helen. Rob let her go by, then said in challenge, "And I don't trust you!" She turned a surprised look to him, making him feel guilty. "I mean I CAN'T trust you, either of you! I don't know who you are or where you come from. How can I trust you?"

She met his glare and said gravely, "You have to. First a wall and then a room. You have to trust us." He looked back at Helen's door, then met her eyes again. Her's were very gentle and kind as she held out her free hand. "Come on." Defeat bowed his head. Fear made him take the proferred hand and follow them downstairs. Sapphire turned the upstairs lights off behind them.

Rob woke reluctantly in the morning. Strange dreams, he thought, chasing the memory of a beautiful woman and a stern, angry man through his head. He heard a sharp pounding and wondered in brief annoyance why no one had answered the door, then he climbed out of bed and into the hall in his pajamas. The pounding, he realized, was coming from Helen's room. No, no it was a dream. He stepped reluctantly around the corner to peer up the short staircase. There was Steel, hammering boards across Helen's door. Okay, so it wasn't a dream, but he's trapping them in there! And that, that he couldn't let pass. But Steel was bigger, and stronger than him, there was no way he could stop the man. A sound, the strong whistle of the ferry, turned him toward the window. He looked out and what he saw made a relieved smile flit across his face, then he ran downstairs, hesitated and went into the kitchen.

Sapphire felt a strong young presence pulse into her immediate range. She paused in the process of pouring Helen some milk and waited for him to slip in the door. "Breakfast?" she asked innocently.

He was startled, and closing the door said sheepishly, "I'm... not hungry, thanks."

She nodded, and watched with interest as he went to peer out the kitchen window. The emotion he held under taught control attracted her attention and she cocked her head, "What is it?"

"What?" he kept his face an innocent blank.

"What can you see?"

The eyes managed not to jump back to the window. "Nothing, I'm... just looking, that's all." She flowed out of her chair and walked over to him, looking at him with frank curiosity and he knew she didn't believe him. He evaded the coming question by trying to divert her attention. "Oh, I almost forgot, you... Steel wants you, he asked me to tell you."

She didn't even blink, "Yes?" listening to his emotions.

Rob kept his face as bland as possible, "He's at the top of the house."

"What does he want me for?"

He hid behind blustery, automatically disguising his emotions with static, "He's not likely to tell me, is he?"

She gazed at him, then raised her head slightly, reaching out to Steel. His answer came back distracted, an absent shrug, [I sent no message,] simply said, and she turned her attention back to Rob.

"No," she agreed with him, smiling. She went back to the table and poured Helen some more milk, which the girl started drinking. Sapphire stroked her hair affectionately and then went out the door, closing it behind her.

Helen, wise to her brother's tricks, started "Rob, what do you..?"

"Shh!" He looked around for a jacket, found one and brought it to her. "Put this on, Helen!"

She stubbornly took a bite of her food. "But I don't WANT to!"

"Put it on, quickly!"

She pouted and said coolly, "I'm eating my breakfast."

That did it. Rob whispered harshly, "Well you can leave that, here!" and shoved the jacket at her. She ignored him and went back to eating her oatmeal. He went to look out the window again, and in frustration came back and tried to take her spoon.

"No!" She yanked it back.

"Shh! Please Helen, we've gotta be ready!"

"Ready?" Ah, so he was going to tell her after all.

"We're leaving!" She gazed blankly at him, and he bent down to gaze at her, face to face. "The policeman's coming! Upstairs, just now, I looked out of the window, I saw the ferry crossing the bay! The policeman's car was on it!"

Comprehension, a soft, "Oh...."

"He has to be coming here, there's no where else!"

"Are we going with him?"

"Yes, so hurry!"

She stood up and held out her arms for him to put the coat on. "Did you tell Sapphire?"

"Tell her what?"

"'Bout the policeman."

"No I didn't. Come on," he shoved the coat onto her shoulders.

"But she'll be cross...."

"Come on Helen!"

"You should've told her -"

He grabbed her arms and glared into her eyes. "They're nailing up the door of your room, Helen! Nailing it... so that no one can get in, and no one can get out. Is that the way to bring Mum and Dad back?" She gulped and shook her head. "It's all right," he hugged her and led her to look out the window, "the policeman's coming, it's all right, Helen. Listen!" In the distance they heard the sound of a car horn, followed by the ferry's whistle.

Sapphire leaned over the upstairs bannister, feeling Steel's firmly controlled presence nearby. He sounded slightly surprised, "I didn't even speak to him."

She saw the humor of it, and smiled. "I didn't think you had." She turned around to look at him where he leaned against the boards he'd nailed on Helen's door.

He spoke wearily, "Now this time it's WORSE than the ship. This time it can think, it can REASON things out."

Curious, she stepped to the door and stuck her ear to it, listening to a whispery voice inside. "What kind of things?" she asked him.

"Method." He nodded toward the door, "Listen."

Faintly, firmly, Rob's mother's voice said over and over again, "Ring - ring - ring - ring - ring - ring -"

Steel met her eyes and asked, "Like a record that's stuck, isn't it?"

"Yes," she agreed.

"It's not, it's marking Time." Outside, the honk of a car horn reached in and Steel turned. "Boy must've heard the car."

"Yes. I'm sorry, he just doesn't trust you."

For a moment he looked hurt, then he smiled slightly, "Does he trust you?"

"A little."

His gaze warmed and he ducked his head to hide the smile, teasing her, "You're supposed to be the diplomat, aren't you?"

She teased lightly back, "Amongst other things."

His tone became reproving then. "... supposed to be the one that sweet-talks kids like that, and reassures them...."

"I manage," she said gently.

"So that we can get on with the job and win the battle."

"It's nearly here!" she told him affectionately.

He gave her a weary look, then smiled challengingly, "Then the last thing we need right now is someone coming here who doesn't know... being helped in turn by someone who doesn't understand." He looked at Helen's door, as a car horn sounded from out front.

"Will you handle that policeman?"

"No," he turned to her pleadingly, "YOU do it." She glanced away from the exhaustion in his eyes, knowing it was going to be worse later.

Rob and Helen stood together near the front door. He squeezed her shoulders, "Stay there," and quietly un-did the chain. Helen glanced up the stairs warily. Rob un-did the bottom bolt, hearing the sound of a car engine coming up the drive. He looked up the stairs and, seeing nothing, sighed with relief and reached up to un-do the top bolt as well. The car engine switched off outside. Helen looked upstairs again and nearly jumped. Sapphire stood, Steel behind her, and that she was angry Helen could tell, in spite of the cool front. Rob turned around to take her hand, and froze when he saw them. He glared up and said furiously, "I HAVE to do it." The lack of response made him feel guilty, somehow. "It's my home, I live here! I have to tell... someone else."

Sapphire looked coldly down at him. "Are you speaking for both of you?"

He hesitated only a moment, "Yes."

"I don't think you can." She turned her gaze on his sister, "Come on, Helen," as she stepped downstairs, she held out her hand. Helen looked at Rob thoughtfully, then went up the stairs to join Sapphire.

She almost flinched at how hurt he looked, but he rallied, saying aggressively, "It doesn't matter."

"No?" Sapphire asked.

"No. I'm still going to tell him about my parents, about that room up there, about the things I saw in that room." His gaze challenged the two older people, and Helen felt proud of him, especially for the way he was standing up to Steel's silent presence.

Sapphire's hand idly stroked Helen's hair as she sparred with Rob. "Do you think he'll listen to you?"

"YES. That policman KNOWS me," and was nocking on the door.

Sapphire smiled slightly, "Go on then, TRY to tell him."

Immediately suspicious, Rob tried to read her face, but it was impossible. There was nothing she could do from where she stood on the stairs, was there? He turned and quickly opened the door.

Brian smiled to see Rob's familiar young face, noted with surprise a strange woman standing on the stairs with Helen, and said cheerfully, "Hello, Rob!" The boy nodded in evident relief and gestured him in.

As the policeman stepped through the door, he vanished. Rob stared in confusion then turned to look suspiciously at Sapphire. Her eyes glowed with that strange, blue light he was beginning to recognize as some sort of use of power. He turned back to the door, only it was closed, his hand still held out to grip a knob that wasn't there. As he tried to figure that out, there was a trio of knocks. He swung it open. Once again he was looking at the easy-going policeman who smiled warmly at him, and said again, "Hello Rob!" and stepped in the door only to vanish. Rob's mouth hung open in astonishment. Again the door was before him, closed. And the knocking sounded, and he opened the door to have the man greet him and step through and vanish one more time. He found himself staring at the closed door and heard Brian knock. This time he turned a terribly wounded look on Sapphire and stepped to the bottom of the stairs. Behind him he was still there, opening the door for the policeman.

Sapphire met his distressed look coolly. "I can keep that going for as long as is necessary. Just as long as it takes to prevent you from talking to him. It could take ages." She smiled kindly and came down the steps with Helen in tow. "So be fair, I'm sure the poor man has better things to do." Rob's shoulders trembled, then sagged in defeat. She gently touched his arm and he went with them into the kitchen, the door closing behind them.

Brian stood outside the house and knocked, with a strange feeling of deja-vu. When the door swung open he smiled and started, "He-oh." A stranger stood there. A clean looking young man in a grey business suit. Funny, it should've been Rob, said some part of his mind.

The stranger said politely, "Yes?"

That part repeated it's statement, as he stared down at the much shorter man. "Oh that... that's strange...."

"What is?"

He smiled, embarrassed. "Well it... uh, eh... must've been the long drive up here." He stepped through the door, noting with relief that the smaller man gave him room without pulling away, as a robber might have done. "But I could've sworn I -" he stopped, then seeing the unswerving attention, and total lack of mockery in the blond's face, finally said, "well I thought that door had already been opened for me, once," twice, thrice, four times... counted the little voice in his head.

The stranger cocked his head, then shook it, smiling slightly. "No."

Brian couldn't stop an embarrassed chuckle, "Heh, only after the call last night I thought I'd - uh - come over and see if everything's all right." That finished, he tried to stare imposingly down at the shorter man, who didn't seem the least disturbed.

"Oh everything's fine," he said, nodding.

Put off-balance, Brian fished, "Good. And you are..?"

"A friend of the family. Here for some, ah, peace and quiet."

It was the calmness that soothed Brian. "Well, that's all right, then," he said with a relieved smile.

In the kitchen, Sapphire had yeilded to temptation and found a brush to go over Helen's hair with. Rob fumed from the other side of the table. Finally he asked, "But how can you do it?"

She smiled, "I just did it."

"But HOW?"

"Doesn't matter how!" Rob got up with an angry jerk and stalked toward the door. "Do you want me to start all over again? He'll be gone soon, so why don't you give him a chance to get on with his business."

Rob leaned heavily against the door as she spoke. Then he spun and glared with furious resentment at her. "This IS his business!"

"No," she said simply, as she brushed Helen's hair.

"All right then," he pointed at the window, "suppose I went to that window and climbed through?"

She was plainly amused, "Well I'd probably see you, I might make you spend the next few hours climbing through the window and not getting anywhere!" She smiled at the two children. Rob glared and then went to the window. He hesitated, then backed off with a defeated frown.

He turned to Sapphire and spoke intently, "If you can make Time go backwards...."

"Who said I can?"

"You just did it, out there. And what you did last night when you kept changing into different clothes...."

"The changing of the clothes was an illusion," she shrugged indiffernetly, "they were just things I'd worn in the past." She rested her head on Helen's shoulder and looked mischeviously at him, "I was just projecting an image for YOU, that's all."

He was beginning to see why Steel glowered so. "But out there - just now - THAT wasn't an illusion, was it?"

She shook her head, "No."

"That was Time - you were making Time go back."

This got a smile and a nod, "Yes." She set the brush down and murmured to Helen, "Now sit down and get on with your breakfast." The little girl obeyed.

Rob decided to get as many answers as he could out of this session. "Then why can't you take it back twenty-four hours or more?"

She ignored him, absorbed in holding a pitcher for Helen, "Want a little bit more milk?" Helen nodded.

He bit back a shout and demanded, "Why can't you take it back to just before yesterday, when my parents were still here?"

She looked up at him gravely. "I haven't the power to take Time back that far," folding her hands elegantly and resting her chin on them, "If I had, don't you think I'd have done it?"

Rob felt Helen's eyes upon him, and he reluctantly said, "S'pose so."

Sapphire raised her head, and Helen's eyes moved to regard her intently as she explained, "Imagine a rubber ball... imagine a rubber ball bouncing," she held up a finger to illustrate, "and the first time the ball hits the ground, is the incident. And the bouncing that follows," she made a bouncing motion with her finger, getting a smile from Helen, "is just the echo! Momentum! And I'm able to keep the momentum going for just a little bit longer, that's all." She cupped both hands beneath her chin, meeting Rob's glare mildly. "Just long enough. It helps."

Outside the car door opened and closed, the engine started. Rob rushed to the window and watched it go. Then he turned back to Sapphire and asked her, "Does anyone have the power to -" he broke off.


He leaned forward, resting his weight on a chair top. "Well, to take Time back, further."

"Something does, yes."

"Something, not someONE."

She returned his intense gaze coolly, "Something."

"Whatever's in that corridor -?"

She nodded, "Mmmhmmm. It can take Time backwards or forwards or sideways or ANYway, if it's allowed to. Only there's no sense to it. Not sense as we know it," she shook her head, "and no purpose! Only... it's own purpose." Her gaze was direct, and honest.

He leaned forward, "What I saw in Helen's room -"

Sapphire held up her fingers in a small gesture, "Oh, it's just a fraction, just a peep," she dropped her hand, "but stopping it, whenever it happens, is our job and that's all we're doing here." Steel walked in and shot a cold look at Rob who ignored him, intent on his conversation with Sapphire. "So will you please stop fighting us, and try to believe in us for once? We're all you've got on your side!" She looked very thoughtful then, and said softly, intently, "First a wall, then a room. What then? The house? A road... a village... a town. What next?"

Steel watched Rob's reaction to what Sapphire said, then decided to interrupt for a moment. Turning to Rob he said, "I need a room to work in."

Rob was still suspicious and resentful. "What sort of room?"

After a considering pause, Steel asked, "Would you know which is the... youngest room in the house?"

"The youngest?" in utter confusion.

"Uh - the last to be built?"

"My father had a small extension built last year, an office."

Steel nodded. "Show me it. Please?" Rob turned toward the back of the kitchen. The two older people exchanged amused looks before Steel followed.

Rob stopped at a door and turned hesitantly to Steel, who was just behind him. "When you said... y-you did a job like this once, on a ship...."

The man cocked his head questioningly, "Yes?"

"What happened?"

Steel blinked, and said deadpan, "We had to sink the ship." Rob stared at him, then decided his best option was to simply open the door. Steel turned slightly and brushed his thoughts to Sapphire, [For its own good, of course,] with silent laughter.

She smiled and sent back, {And it's not as easy to sink a house.}

Rob didn't see the brief, warm smile that lit Steel's face before he stepped into the room. He saw the man look thoughtfully around, and noticed he seemed less tense. "Hmm, this is MUCH better."

They had gone around the house re-setting clocks, so no one was near Helen's room where a white glow could be seen under the door. In the "youngest" room, Steel was handing things to Rob for him to carry into the cellar. "And what about this?" he asked, holding up a chair to Sapphire. "Forty? Fifty years old?"

She touched it with her palm and smiled slightly, "1938."

He took the chair out and handed it to Rob with an exasperated grumble of, "And this." Back in, then, to pick up a cardboard box of nicknacks and look around for something more to put in it. His eyes lighted on a clear glass ashtray, modern design. "Now that must be all right." He lifted it and held it out to Sapphire.

Her hand closed about it as she scanned. "Six to eight months, most of it."

He asked curiously, "Most of it?"

"There are some recycled elements there. One of them is... a good hundred years old." She let the ashtray go, amused.

Steel looked at it as if it had personally set out to make his life difficult, and put it in the box. He said wryly, "So nothing's safe."

She shook her head, smiling, "No."

He gathered up the box and went to the door. "Rob?!"

From the kitchen, "Yes?"

"Everything," he walked out and handed the box to Rob.


"I want an empty room." Rob shot the vanishing back an exasperated look, but obediantly took the box out and started down into the cellar. Steel grumpily threw all the small things he could find into another box. He started out with it, then paused to complain wearily to Sapphire, "They do clutter their lives, don't they?" She ignored the comment, rolling up a rug. Steel moved out the door and nearly walked over Rob.

"Sorry," the boy said.

He got an off-hand glare, then Steel stepped around him saying, "Would you get the wastepaper basket?"

Rob sighed and went into the room. He stepped past Sapphire and picked up the basket, then on his way out he stopped. "What was the trigger?"

Startled, she asked, "What?"

"Well when you said that Time broke through, here - in Helen's room - you said there was a trigger, a final ingredient to make it happen."

Wondering what he was getting at, she said, "That's right."

"Well what was the trigger - the final ingredient - on that ship?"

"Oh, an out-of-date ship's log. The Captain had a weakness for nautical heritage," she smiled in remembrance.


She continued rolling up the rug, still smiling. "He collected old things from ships."

Rob knelt at her side, startling her with his very serious eyes. "Not so silly then, are they?"

"Who?" she asked.

"These creatures that are trying to break through the Time-fabric. Ship's log at sea, a nursery rhyme in a child's room... sounds to me as if they know what they're doing." He met her faintly surprised look for a moment, then stood up and moved on out. She sat there, thinking about it.

Steel's voice came from the doorway, "What's wrong?"

"Just something the boy said... it reminded me of something YOU said, earlier on."

He settled down beside her as Rob had done earlier, "Me?"

"Yes, about methods being used." They stared at each other, and Steel considered he might just get to like that boy.

Rob closed the cellar door behind him and started back into the kitchen. "Rob?" his mother called from above. He froze and looked quickly behind him. She called again, more urgently, "Rob?!" He glanced toward the cellar uncertainly, then looked up in the direction of Helen's room, knowing with unbearable relief that was where the voice was coming from. She called again, "Rob!" Under Helen's door the glow pulsed, and her voice said softly, "... and downstairs... upstairs...." He heard it, and started up the stairs quickly. "Upstairs... and downstairs." He stopped at the short staircase, and she called again, "Rob!"

"Mum!" he cried, taking the last steps and looking around for her. "Mum?"

Her voice came loudly, and confused, "Just what on Earth is going on, Rob?!"

Each word touched his heart and hurt with relief, "Oh Mum!"

She demanded, "Will you open this door at once, please?!"

At that he knew where the voice was coming from. Helen's room. "Of course!" he told her, then realized, "Oh I forgot, it's nailed up!"

"Nailed up? What do you mean nailed up? What HAVE you been doing?!"

He tried to placate her, "Look, Mum, let me explain -"

"You can explain when I'm out of this room! So just open it will you, right now!" she was plainly furious, he couldn't blame her.

"I will, Mum, Helen's gonna be SO pleased..!"

"Will you open the door!"

"Yes, Mum. Just wait!" Overjoyed he turned to go downstairs. "I'll fetch Sapphire and Steel!"

Her voice came quickly back, suddenly soft. "Oh there's no need to fetch THEM...."

He froze, his flesh crawing. Slowly, suspiciously, he turned around. "How do YOU know them?"

He could sense a groping, feeling for an excuse, "Well... whoever they are! I don't know, friends of yours, I suppose. I don't know them. Now, PLEASE open this door!!"

It's not her, it can't be her! he thought, and tried to turn around but it was like something had a hold on him. He used words instead, "But I CAN'T open the door without help!"

The voice came back smugly. "Of course you can, it's very simple. Just kneel down by the door. Just outside the door." Rob managed to turn his head, a cry for help stuck in his throat. "Come along, Rob! Kneel down by the door." He licked his lips, straining to hold still, and not do what the voice demanded. It insinuated itself into his thoughts. "It's easy enough to open the door, easy enough to let us out."

He forced out his reply, "How?"

"You just put your face close to the door!" As he fought, the voice demanded angrily, "Come along, Rob! You can do it!" His strength snapped and, head bowed, he stepped to the door and knelt down. The voice gloated, "That's right! That's fine! Now then, all you have to do is to say a rhyme, a nursery rhyme, an old one, any one, providing it's old." Rob felt the words settle like chains on his mind, and he cried because it was his mother's voice doing it, controlling him. A way out, through the words, he had to find it. A gasp tore from him as the chains were jerked. "Well can't you remember one?" He nodded weakly. "Then just say it, Rob! Just say it!!" Rob closed his eyes, and clenched his teeth, fighting. "Say it!" urged the voice.

"I can't!" he managed to say.

"Say it!!"

He struggled against the chains pulling on his mind, and broke one link. "I'm too old to say nursery rhymes!"

The voice came slyly, forcing the chain back into place. "Very well, then. Let's call it history! Now you're old enough for history, aren't you Rob?"

He could only reply weakly, "Yes...."

"And a lot of nursery rhymes are a part of history, I've always taught you that haven't I, Rob?"

He clutched his head, pushing at the chains, "No!!"

His protest was ignored, the voice went on, "So, say the one that's in your head."

He tried evasion, "Which one?!"

Each word was a heavy blow, "The one that's in there now! Don't lose it, Rob!" The enemy was aware of his efforts to block it out, and played by word-association, "Think of the soldiers...."


"Climbing the stairs... swords in their hands... searching for people..!"

Rob's face twisted in pain, and the words forced themselves out. "Goosy goosy gander..!"

"That's the one!" the voice gloated.

He altered the words, "Where shall I...."

"Whither shall I!" pushed the voice.

"Whither shall I wander...." In his struggle, he missed the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs.

"That's it!"

"Upstairs and downstairs...." He managed to turn, and froze seeing, half-material, two soldiers walking toward him from the stairs, dressed in old helmets and chainmail. The room had changed too, there were spinning wheels and wool hanging from the ceiling, and the walls were white rather than brown, different walls, he realized. He huddled against the wall. The soldiers drew their swords and pounded on the door which would have been to Helen's room, except it wasn't. Rob covered his head. There was a loud crash as they knocked the door down and shoved into the room beyond. Rob scrambled to his feet shouting, "No!" and the room was back to normal. He didn't wait to puzzle it out, just ran down the stairs, calling "Steel! Steeeeeel!" Unseen, the white glow pulsed under the door, and a patch of light slipped out from under it and "crawled" along the floor.

In the front hall, Steel set a clock, his voice tightly controlled. "It could NOT have been your mother."

"But it called to me!"

He looked doubtful. "Called your name?"

Waving his hands dramatically, Rob said, "Yes, it called! Rooob! Like that." Steel went to wind another clock. "I thought it was my mother, it was her voice. Just like it! Except... it got a few things wrong, it made mistakes. I wasn't fighting you this time, honest! The voice called me. I had to go, didn't I?"

Sapphire watched Rob as her companion went around finding clocks to set. She gave him a sympathetic look and turned to Steel. "Have they all stopped again?"

He looked even more tired than before, "Yes."

Rob called Steel's attention back to him, "I mean, I did as I was told, I wouldn't've gone up there if the voice hadn't've called to me."

"I believe you. This time." Rob was startled, but hid it well. Steel moved up the stairs, stopping just before the top to ask, "Did the soldiers come out of the room?"

The light made its way down from Helen's room to the hallway.

"No, they came up the stairs." Steel frowned at him. "Well, not all the way up. They... just kind of appeared... on the top staircase." He watched the man pause to wind another clock, carrying around the little clock Rob had used yesterday to time his homework.

Sapphire said softly, "Something could have been let loose during the breakthrough. A visual refraction."

The light had made its way to the other end of the hallway and stopped before the steps, sensing Steel's presence.

Rob turned to her in bewilderment, "Visual refraction?"

"Yes, you'd probably call them... what would he call them?" she asked.

"Ghosts," Steel replied.

Rob's mouth dropped open, "Ghosts?!"

Steel looked down at them from the railing, "Did anything come out of that room?" he asked the boy.

"No! And the door's not nailed up anymore!"

"No?" he cocked his head.

"No, it's a different door!"

Sapphire looked up and shrugged. "Another refraction."

Her partner looked grim, "Probably." He stood and moved up the stairs, to be stopped by Rob.

"Look, I saw it!! I mean, you can't have a ghost door as well, can you?!"

Sapphire turned and smiled mildly, "Yes." The light moved under a room door to hide as she reached the landing.

Rob, right behind her said, "But those soldiers looked solid enough."

"They would," she agreed, standing beside Steel.

Rob glared and said urgently, "They kicked the door open."

Steel blinked, then moved quickly toward the hall to Helen's room pausing only long enough to snatch up Rob's little clock. The boy caught up with him and they both hurried up the steps, Sapphire following with a patient sigh. She stopped, however, right there. Steel noticed how she stood in frozen puzzlement, and immediately came back. "What is it?"

She looked around, "Something. I'm not sure, just something." Steel checked the clock. "Is it still going?"

He was too surprised to hide it, "Yes. But it's lost seven minutes!"

Rob asked, "Since we came up the stairs?"


"My dad's had that clock for years..!"

Steel turned to ask, "Has it always been reliable?"

The boy looked apologetic. "I don't really know," they both looked at Sapphire, "this is where the soldiers first appeared...."

Steel took the clock to her side, and stared at it, bewildered. He glanced at Rob. "Are you SURE nothing came out of that room?"

"No, I TOLD you." Steel walked down the stairs, then turned and came back up again, watching the clock as he did so. He and Sapphire puzzled over it, and exchanged shrugs. "Anyway, it'll be open now." They looked at him blankly, seeming to have forgotten he was there. "The different door. Look I'll SHOW you!" He turned and marched toward Helen's room, furious.

Sapphire's soft voice stopped him. "Wait!" He turned and glared back at them, only to have them pass him by to lead the way. He followed, realizing they were acting to protect him. They went up the stairs, he stopped at the bottom.

"You see?!"

The patch of light slipped out from under the door and continued wending its way down the stairs.

Rob joined the two and stared incredulous at the door, still closed and blocked up. "It's back as it was!" he exclaimed.

Steel was looking at the clock. "And so is the clock," he said.

Sapphire looked worried, "So those seven minutes were lost down there on THAT landing...." Her companion started toward the room in frustration, then wheeled around at the sound of boots stomping. The soldiers came up onto the landing, and everything was different again. Rob dived into Sapphire's arms as they came toward him.

Steel hissed, "Keep still!" The soldiers got to the door, knocked, and then slammed it open, as they had before. Steel watched in perplexity as it finished, fading away. He turned to Rob, who was still huddled against his partner. "And that's what you saw." The boy nodded. "No variation, they didn't seem different?" At the negative shake he looked at his clock, puzzled. "Clock's working perfectly. It didn't stop, it didn't lose time. They didn't effect it!" He turned fretfully and looked downstairs, "Something did...." He went down quickly.

Sapphire stroked Rob's hair and then made him stand up straight. She squeezed his shoulder reassuringly and stepped away around him, then faced him. "When the voice... called to you, which rhyme did you say? Which one did you choose?"

He turned reluctantly, avoiding her eyes. "Well, I didn't exactly choose it. I was more or less told to say it."

She cocked her head, "Told to say it?"

He looked up shyly, "Yes, it was kinda put into my head. So that I was thinking it."

"Which one?" and quickly she added, "Don't say it out loud. Look at me." He obeyed, meeting the eyes that shimmered brilliant blue and feeling a warm presence touch his mind. "Look at me and remember EXACTLY what you said. Say it in your mind."

Her telepathic touch was kind and did not push or pull at him, and he obeyed and let the memory pour out to her. His own voice gasping out, "Goosy goosy gander..!"

And his mother's gloating, "That's the one!"

"Where shall I...."

"Whither shall I!"

"Whither shall I wander...."

"That's it!"

"Upstairs and downstairs...."

Sapphire stopped the flow, her eyes returning to their normal dark beauty. She smiled admiring approval to him. "And you only said those three lines, out loud...."

He was staring in wide-eyed astonishment at her, "Yes!"

"And then the soldiers appeared."

His shoulders sagged wearily, "Yes."

She leaned to the door and listened. The voice was murmuring in an excited tone, "Upstairs and downstairs... upstairs and downstairs...."

Steel paced from one end of the hall to another. He'd rolled up the rug a bit, and stooped to set the clock on it. "Sapphire?"

She stepped away from the door and brought Rob with her. "Yes, Steel." They went down to join him in the hall.

"Do it again," he told her. Rob stayed to watch from near the stairs to Helen's room. "Walk up the stairs again," Steel said, gesturing. She started down them, not in a position to see the patch of light that rushed along the inside bottom step and hid around a corner. On the landing she turned and came back up the stairs.

She shook her head to Steel's questioning look and said, "Nothing."

Rob stared in shock, noticing for the first time how tired the man looked as he said bitterly, "So what do we do? Blame the clock?"

The light patch went back along the bottom stair and hesitated at the wall, as if trying to decide where to go.

Sapphire said thoughtfully, "The first nursery rhyme derives from the time of the plague; and the second one which Rob was MADE to say, also has historical reference." Steel unrolled the carpet and put the table and clocks back in place as she spoke. "It refers back to the Parliamentary Wars."

Steel glanced up at that, "Parliamentary Wars?"

Rob felt left out of the conversation, and clarified, "When Cromwell's troops searched houses looking for people who wouldn't pray."

He received a very blank look from Steel. "Wouldn't pray?"

Sapphire said amusedly, "Unbelievers."

"Ah." It was obvious he had no idea what they were talking about.

Rob was amazed and went to Steel's side. "Don't you know your history?"

The man was brought up short and glanced at Sapphire, then back to Rob. "I know MINE, yes."

The light patch suddenly decided where it wanted to go and rushed up the wall and into a painting. The painting glowed a moment.

Steel came down the stairs and stopped to lean on the bannister, Rob was right on his heels saying, "But you MUST have heard of Cromwell!"

He was given a very bland look by Steel, who asked, "How many lines of that second rhyme did you say?"

"Three. I wouldn't say it all. I fought it." Somehow he wasn't surprised to see a grudging respect in the man's eyes.

Sapphire waved toward Helen's room, "So the danger is still contained in that room." Steel shrugged and started downstairs. She followed behind them, on her own train of thought. "And the visual refractions, those soldiers we saw... they're harmless! The room's full of them. They're just things let loose." Instead of joining them downstairs, she leaned on the bannister and looked down at them.

Steel and Rob stopped on the bottom steps, Rob because Steel had. He asked, "Does she mean... let loose from other places?"

"Yes." He looked up at Sapphire. "You mean, not part of the plan?"

She nodded. "They MUST be harmless." He gave her a very doubtful look, and she clarified the statement, turning to look at the painting behind her. "Those soldiers are an anachronism! They must have lived and died a good hundred years before this house was even built." She looked down at them again. "You know, most of this is history gone wrong. We've never had THAT before." Steel and Rob looked thoughtfully at their feet, and so they didn't see when she stepped away from the railing and vanished.

Steel said to himself, "Hmm, then again maybe it IS part of the plan."

"What?" Rob asked.

He looked almost embarrassed, "The - the confusion. It's a way of diverting us...."

"From what?"

Steel looked at him, then shook his head wearily. "I don't know. But they know it's us!" He turned towards Sapphire, saying, "They're not likely to use tricks we already know, are they?" Rob saw him freeze and looked up. She wasn't there, he wondered if she'd gone up to Helen's room for some reason. But Steel's moving up the stairs registered that something was terribly wrong. He followed.

Steel stopped near the top step, and then Sapphire's voice came in an eerie, far far away sound, and filled with fear. "Steel!"

Rob watched him look frantically around. Finally he said in a shaking voice, "Sapphire..?" and when she didn't answer he called more urgently, "Sapphire!"

"Yes Steel," came the far away, frightened answer.

Rob saw a shudder pass through the man. "Speak to me."

"I'm in a room, in a tiny room."

"How are you standing?"

"Facing a wall."

"You haven't changed your position?" The fear in Steel's voice alarmed Rob. That this man should be afraid was difficult to believe, even when it'd been obvious earlier that he was frightened.

Sapphire's voice had a haunting lonely tone. "No, I'm as I was when I was last in the house with you."

A strangled sound suspiciously like a cry broke from Steel, then he said urgently, "You're still in this house, Sapphire!"

"Yes," came her answer. The tone implied that she was merely too tired to argue. Steel shuddered visibly.

"Keep remembering that and DON'T move! Don't change your position, don't make yourself a part of that room!"

"No," she answered softly. For a few moments there was silence, then her voice, no longer frightened but unbelievably sad said, "We walked right into it, didn't we? I walked right into it."

The slight shuddering became violent trembling for a moment and Rob could almost feel Steel bring himself under control. He answered her with pleading desperation, "Don't think that! You're STILL in this house with us! Right?" He nearly panicked in the silence. "Sapphire?!"

"Yes I heard that."

Steel calmed visibly at that response. "Good," he said softly. "Now describe the room to me."

"It's part of a cottage...." Steel scanned the wall. "It's probably the scullery in an old cottage."

Straight ahead of him was a painting, a daylight scene of a pretty cottage. He stared at it, knowing suddenly exactly where she was. "Day... or night?"


He thanked Time for the hours which had passed since they started clearing out the father's room, and said firmly, "Well it's not, it's night." To her silence he urged, "Keep remembering that it's night... and that you're here with us!" Believe that lie instead of the lie you've been placed in! he pleaded silently.

Sapphire stood in a room that was dark, except for bright sunlight streaming through one window. To her right a rope noose hung coiled on a hook. On her left there was a table with a meat cleaver firmly embedded in it. She recognized what he was doing, and whispered to him, "Yes...."

His voice came urgently back at her. "Think of that room as a picture, nothing else. You're looking at a picture!"

She said reasonably, "It was a picture."


The realization lifted her spirits and she almost smiled, "It was a picture of a cottage at the top of the stairs. Can you see it?"

"Yes, I can see it." He let pain slip into his voice, trying to use her awareness of his feelings to reach her.

A certainty came to her, blotting out his voice. She said breathlessly, "It was waiting for us. It got into the picture. It wants me to think I'm in the room in that cottage."

His voice came firmly back, an anchor. "Well you're not."

"No," she agreed. She could feel it trying to manipulate her, forcing fear upon her beyond her own. "It's cold here!"

"You're not in that room, Sapphire."

She didn't hear him, concentrating instead on what she was feeling and trying to communicate it. "It's very cold here. Something happened in this room, once."

He was angry, she could hear it. "That room?"

Something stirred the edges of her mind, and pushed knowledge at her. She tried to ignore it, but her natural talent reached out for what was being offered. "Something terrible... it knows that. It wants ME to know it! It wants me to sense it...." Her mind drifted as the enemy's power stirred her thoughts, trying to manipulate them. "It wants me... to be a part of this room. To be a part of what happened."

To plead was rare from him, yet it was there in his tone. "Sapphire..! Sapphire!"

To answer, she forced sharpness on her thoughts. "It's all right. I'm in control of it. I won't think what it wants me to think." But she was getting tired.

"Help! When I tell you...." his voice shook with fear for her, "I want you to do something for me. I want you to look over your right shoulder! Do it very quickly and then back. I - can you hear me?" he asked in sudden panic.

She said softly, "Yes."

What he said startled her. "I want to know if you can still see the picture. Very quickly then back. Now." She looked quickly to her right. The noose met her eyes, aglow with sunlight and... something else. It pushed cold terror on her as she returned quickly to her former position, choking back a cry. His voice came again, "Sapphire?!"

She controlled the fear and hastened to calm him. "It's all right. The picture's not there, but there's -"

He interrupted quickly, "Don't tell me! Are you facing the way you were?" he asked after a moment.


"Good, then STAY like that. Don't move." He turned around and started, having forgotten about Rob being there.

Rob hid his pity instinctively, "Do you want me to get the picture? Wouldn't that stop it?" The vulnerable, lost look on the other's face was more than a little alarming.

Sapphire's voice floated to him, "If you tried to get the picture, you'd end up in this room with me."

Steel met Rob's eyes for a moment, as if he'd simply forgotten not to, then he moved shakily past the boy downstairs. Rob watched him go for a moment, then stepped nervously up, pulling a coin from his pocket. He flipped it at the painting. It vanished, and then he heard it hit a far away floor with a chink and rolling sound. Sapphire's startled voice asked, "What was that?" He couldn't answer her. Blinking back tears, he rushed downstairs and sat down heavily.

It took only a moment to control himself, then he looked over at Steel, who leaned heavily against a nearby chest of drawers. The man looked positively ill. "Couldn't we smash the picture?" he asked.

Steel shook his head grimly. "It wouldn't smash what's hiding inside it."

To Rob's surprise, Sapphire said with a trace of amusement, "Apart from which you might smash me." He hadn't thought she would hear them.

Steel looked thoughtfully around, the sick expression fading to make way for one of intense concentration. "Sapphire? Could you try to take Time back to before you were trapped?"

Sapphire response was startled, "I could try it, yes."

"And even ten minutes would do it!" he exclaimed, eyes suddenly a- fire with relief.

"I can try. Will you help me?"

"Yes." He started up the stairs, determination reflected in the once-again stiff shoulders. Rob followed him, not wanting to miss a thing. He stopped just before the landing. "Now concentrate!" Where she was, Sapphire raised her head, and her eyes shimmered blue. Steel stepped closer to the top stair. Helen appeared at the bottom stairs, and looked up curiously through sleep-fuzzed eyes. Rob watched as Steel's hands clenched into fists.

His sister's voice startled him. "Rob..?"

What a time to wake up from your nap! "Shhh..! Go to sleep, Helen!"

Annoyed, she came to his side. "No! I wanted Sapphire! Where is she?" She looked around. Her parents had disappeared in front of her face, she didn't want Sapphire doing it while her back was turned.

Steel hissed, "Keep her down there!"

It startled her when Rob grabbed her arms tightly. "Is she upstairs?" she asked him.

Steel's urgent voice attracted her attention. "Now, Sapphire. Take it back!"

"Yes, Steel," came a ghostly answer.

"Take it back!"

"Yes Steel...."

Helen tried to get closer, "I can hear her!"

Not for one moment loosening his hold, Rob said, "I know!"

"But I can't SEE her, where is she?"

Rob pulled her around to face him. "Helen, please, be quiet!"

She jerked around, "Where are you, Sapphire?" Not again....

Sapphire's voice came through the air, "It's all right Helen. Just do as Rob says."

Rob held her close, recognizing the lie even as she did. He felt her sag. "Yes, Sapphire."

Steel didn't bother to rage at the interruption. "You've got to do it NOW Sapphire, before it's too late!!" Their talents linked, and power surged. He closed his eyes and felt Time twist around. "That's it!"

From above them came voices, Rob's then Steel's, then Rob's again.

"Don't you know your history?"

"I know MINE, yes."

"But you must have heard of Cromwell!"

Rob gaped as shadowy, then solid images of himself and Steel appeared on the landing. "That's me!" he exclaimed.

He watched Steel turn to him. "How many lines of that second rhyme did you say?"

"Three. I wouldn't say it all. I fought them." The image faded, returned, then faded again.

Steel felt something shoving at them, pushing them on past that point. He gasped hoarsely, "Don't lose it... don't lose it!"

Sapphire's voice entered the air now. "So the danger is still contained in that room. And the visual refractions, those soldiers we saw...." Now her body faded into sight, leaning idly on a bannister, "they're harmless! The room's full of them. They're just things let loose." Faintly, they heard Rob asking Steel, "Does she mean... let loose from other places?"

"Yes." The now-Steel's eyes were closed tightly in concentration as his image spoke, "You mean, not part of the plan?"

She nodded. "They MUST be harmless. Those soldiers are an anachronism! They must have lived and died a good hundred years before this house was even built." They watched her turn away and then back. "You know, most of this is history gone wrong. We've never had THAT before." She faded out, and didn't come back.

Steel gasped out, "Keep it going! Keep it going." She was shaking with the effort to get a grip on that bit of time. They bowed their heads to concentrate. "You can do it, Sapphire."

"I can't...." she whispered.

"You can..!"

Her voice came back almost sobbing, "I can't!"

And Steel fought despair. "You can!"

He felt her mind untwine from his. Failure tasted like dirt in their mouths as she released the link and said tearfully, "Please Steel, it's no good. It's in here with me..!" The noose glowed brilliantly.

"Sapphire!" he called desperately.

"It's close! I'm defying it."

He sagged against the railing, trembling badly. The children watched him steady up suddenly, as if he'd thought of something. "We're going to have to WIN, Sapphire. Can you hold it for two minutes? Can you give ME two minutes?"

"Yes." He turned and started down, "Steel, be careful." He paused only a moment hearing that, then continued past the children.

Rob asked him quickly, "What are you going to do?"

He stopped and faced the boy. "I'm going into your father's workshop for a moment. 'Til I come back you keep... Helen here." He went down the last steps, throwing back over his shoulder, "Try to keep Sapphire talking," and disappeared into the kitchen.

"Right," Rob answered him.

Steel looked quickly in the pantry near the workshop. There was a large icebox sitting by a wall. He emptied it as fast as he could.

Helen and Rob tentatively stepped up to the landing, and stopped. "Sapphire, Steel said -"

She interrupted him softly. "Yes, I heard."

He cast about for something to talk about, and came up with, "Is this like the ship?"

"The what?"

He licked his lips. "The job you had to do, on a ship."

Where she was, she smiled at his choice of subjects. "Um - yes, only this is slightly more difficult."

"Sorry. Only I'm s'posed to keep you talking."

"You're doing fine, Rob."

Helen asked, "Sapphire?"

"Hello Helen."

"I want to see you Sapphire." She stepped closer to the landing.

"Soon, Helen, soon. Just be patient, hmm?"

The child obediently said, "Yes."

Another glowing patch slipped out from under Helen's door.

Steel finished emptying the icebox, then dragged it into the workshop. He plugged it into a power outlet, ripped out the insulation and took the top off.

The soldiers walked to Helen's door, stopped and stood at attention. The two patches of light skimmed around to their feet, and then disappeared into them. The soldiers glowed for a few moments.

Sapphire said conversationally, "Then again if round-hood soldiers belong anywhere they belong in THIS hellhole." The soldiers moved and she heard their bootsteps where she was. Alarmed she asked, "Do you hear that?"

Rob frowned, confused. "Hear what?"

She heard the bootsteps coming closer. Controlling her fear she said urgently, "Rob, will you fetch Steel?!" Rob hesitated in confusion. Her next words sent him running downstairs with their raw terror, "Rob, quickly! Please!" He passed a frightened Helen, hearing Sapphire behind him, "Something terrible happened here! Oh please, help me!"

Into the kitchen, shouting "Steel! Steel!" he slid around and grabbed for the workshop's knob.

"Don't come in!" came Steel's stern voice.

Helen started crying, hearing Sapphire's desperate voice, and unable to do anything. "Please!! Help me, quickly please!" The soldiers pounded on the cottage door.

Steel spoke from the workshop, "Open the door and stand clear." Rob obeyed, and then backed up with a gasp, protecting his hands. The doorknob had been ice-cold. The man stepped out, "Don't touch me."

Rob burst out in astonishment, "Freezing!"

"Don't come near me." He stalked out of the kitchen, Rob following right behind. At the staircase Steel stopped and pulled himself aside. "Get the child!" When Rob hesitated, he snarled "Quickly!!"

He grabbed Helen and started dragging her downstairs. She struggled, "But... Sapphire's up -"

"Come on!" Rob hauled her down and past Steel.

As they came close he said, "Get her away from me."

She stopped in astonishment, "It's cold!" she said, staring at Steel.

He went up the stairs, throwing over his shoulder, "Come on!" He paused at the top step, listening to Sapphire.

"Someone was killed in this room! A young girl!" The soldiers smashed in. "And it wants me to be her, it wants it to happen all over again!"

Steel raised his hands straight out in front of him, and moved forward. Rob cried out, "Steel! Don't!"

Sapphire spoke again, "The soldiers are here! They've broken down the door!" One soldier grabbed the noose and dropped it over her head. The other soldier got the meat cleaver. She stood still, slowing the events by not reacting to them, and called out in near panic, "Steel!" He stepped closer to the painting. His body started to fade out, and then reappered, swaying. He stepped forward and laid both hands flat- palmed on the painting. It frosted over instantly. Sapphire gasped as a new cold suffused the dark room. The light patch appeared on the painting's surface, and a moment later, Sapphire materialized on the landing, gasping with cold.

"Sapphire!" called out Helen.

Sapphire said in real surprise, "It's gone! The room's gone!" And then the soldiers marched in, having come from Helen's room.

Rob raced up the stairs. "But THEY haven't!" He passed Helen, who let out a startled scream, and he shouted, "Steel!" trying to pull the man out of his shocked stillness. One soldier knocked him down. The other one grabbed Sapphire and bent her over the railing, raising the meat cleaver to chop down. Steel suddenly moved, reaching out his hand so the splayed fingers brushed the meat cleaver. It froze over instantly, and the ghost disappeared. He reached out his other hand to lay it squarely on the other one's helmet, and with a cry of pain, that ghost vanished too. Steel crumpled to the floor. Rob stared around amazed, then turned to the woman who stood rubbing her kneck. "Sapphire!" Then he noticed Steel bracing himself against the wall, rubbing his hands and with a very strange glazed look in his eyes. "What's wrong with Steel?"

She met his look with a strange one of her own. "He reduced his temperature to minus 273.1 degrees."

"That's near absolute zero!"


He looked at the man, huddled in on himself now, with sudden understanding and new respect. "He told me not to touch him."

"Rob, will you go down to the kitchen and light a fire, please?"

He almost asked why, then realized it was for Steel. "Yes." As he turned to go, he saw the patch of light struggling down the wall. It stopped in a moment, frozen. "Sapphire, look!"

"Yes! Go on." He nodded and started down. "And Rob...."


"Make it a good fire."

If Steel was in danger of dying, as she must have been, he guessed she'd probably be in the state of near panic her partner had been in. So he was all right, but needed help. "Yes," he replied.

She turned around, hearing Steel try to speak. His thoughts too were iced over, for the moment he was mute to her as well as the children. He forced through frozen lips the words, "No - not enough!"

She knelt beside him, careful not to get too close. His blinded, black eyes gazed at nothingness as she reassured him. "It was..! You held THAT one."

The strain was apparant as he struggled to speak. "E-enough to hold - not enough to s-stop them. M-musn't regain its heat."

"I know," she soothed him.

He had no intention of being soothed just yet, though. "M-must be kept at s-same temperature."

She nodded, "Yes," and stood up and looked down at the little girl, who was halfway downstairs. "Helen, will you help us?" Eager to do something, the girl came up. "You take Steel down to the kitchen." As Helen reached for his hand, Sapphire said swiftly, "But don't touch him!" Steel got stiffly to his feet. The little girl backed downstairs, and wondered how he was following her when he looked a lot like he was blind. But he took each step, as if it didn't matter to him. Or as if he was too hurt to care.

In Helen's room, the voices still murmured, "Upstairs and downstairs," in a dissatisfied tone.

Early afternoon light streamed through the kitchen window. Outside birds chirped as they hunted for food. Inside, stillness reigned. They had seated Steel beside the stove, and draped Helen's blue blanket over his shoulders. He stared blindly forward, unmoving except for a rare blinking of his eyes. Rob and Helen, feeling very helpless, stood a few feet in front of him. Sapphire came in from the workshop, pausing to study Steel. Rob asked softly, "Is he any better?"

"Not yet." She walked over to check the stove. "He will be."

As she stepped away, she found he was able to reach her again, his touch cold but moving. [Fire?] he asked.

{What?} with a wealth of affection and concern.

[Has the fire gone out?]

{No it's still burning, it's still hot.}

[Ah.] Silence settled between them again. She didn't like it. Had never liked being cut off from him since they'd met.

She joined the children. Rob whispered, "Takes all his strength away, doesn't it?"

"Yes it does," she whispered back.

Helen looked pleadingly up, "Sapphire?"

"Yes?" she knelt to the girl's level.

"We're all lost then, if the thing comes back," she said sadly.

Sapphire met her eyes with warm comfort. "We'll be all right." She stood up then and started back into the workshop.

[The frozen piece of light....] Steel suddenly reached out again, a mass of worry.

She stopped and turned to face him. {I've dealt with it.}

[You followed my instructions?]


The answer came on a wave of strong relief. [Good....]

She waited a moment in case he spoke again, then sent to him, {Now go to sleep. Get some rest.} She turned to the children, "Rob?"

He startled, he'd been watching Steel. "Yes?"

"Are you feeling fit and strong?"

"Yes!" at last, something to do.

"Good! I need a hand."

"Oh!" He followed Sapphire into the workshop, leaving Helen watching Steel. As she stared at him, he moved slightly, his eyes looked at her. After everything else, this was too creepy. She joined her brother in the workshop. Sapphire knelt adjusting power controls on an extension outlet. The ice chest had been left open, and leaning against the wall was a sheet of glass that had been a table-top.

Rob and Helen both moved forward to protest. "You're not gonna scratch that are you?"

Sapphire looked blank, "What?"

"The glass! That was my Dad's table!"

She shrugged. "Emergency measures." She moved to the icebox.

Rob and Helen followed, the boy saying, "But when my mum and dad come back..!"

She cut him off with kind amusement, "It'll be all right! Things'll just take a little longer to thaw out, that's all."

Helen peered into the icebox and gasped, "Look, Rob!"

He bent over and looked at the frozen glow. "Steel said that this was just a fragment...."

Sapphire nodded. "It is," and went to get the glass. "Will you help me with this?" Helen got out of their way.

"Fragment of what's in the top room?" he asked as they set the glass on top of the icebox.

Helen tried to look in, curious. Suddenly she said, "Oh! But it's alive?" she asked Sapphire.


"Is it hurt?"

Rob glared and said angrily, "Who CARES if it's hurt?" Sapphire put her hands comfortingly on the little girl's shoulders. "It tried to kill Sapphire, remember?"

"Yes," she said in a small voice.

Sapphire put her arm around Helen and looked at Rob. "It's more of a scion than a fragment," she told him.

"A scion?"

"Yes, a descendent... a successor. A child," she finished, smiling.

He frowned and indicated the light. "Is this something like you've seen before?"

She rested her chin on Helen's head. "Not quite. It's like it, it's different."

"As dangerous as before?" he wondered.

She looked grim, "More."

Rob also looked grim, gazing at the patch. "And there's two more somewhere in the house."

"Yes." She released Helen and started for the door, "Well, I must go and see to Steel." She paused and waved toward the icebox's lid. "Will you two bring that down to the cellar for me, please?" They nodded and went to lift it. In the kitchen, she gently resettled the blanket over Steel, feeling his mind stir slightly. She squeezed his shoulders and rubbed his arms, and though he could barely feel the contact, it helped him focus on her, so he heard the children.

"Come on, Helen, pick it up."

"Oh, it's too heavy, Rob!" They came out of the workshop, straining to carry the cumbersome lid. They got a short way into the kitchen before the little girl stopped.

"Come on Helen!" Rob urged impatiently.

"Oh, Rob!" She set her end down heavily and glared at him.

He shot Sapphire an expression which combined exasperation about his sister with an apologetic smile. They bent to lift it again when he suddenly turned to her and said hopefully, "Wait a minute! Why can't Steel freeze... whatever's upstairs in the attic? The way he froze those soldiers?"

She moved almost protectively in front of Steel. "That would only suspend it for a while. Not even Steel can stop Time for always. It'd be like trying to freeze the whole universe into one block of ice."

Rob sighed, then he probed for more answers, "Are there others?"

She cocked her head, "Others?"

"Like you."

She looked at Steel then smiled, anticipating his reaction to her answer. "There are a hundred and twenty-seven of us."

The boy looked somewhat stunned, then he pulled himself together. "Oh." He turned back to lifting the lid. "Come on, Helen." They went out the door.

The moment they left Steel spoke, his voice a bit more normal- sounding than before. "A hundred and fifteen." Sapphire turned and looked at him with a mild, questioning expression. "There are a hundred and fifteen of us. You must never rely on the transuranics."

Perplexed she asked, "Why not?"

"They're unstable." From anyone else it might have been a joke, but this was Steel. Sapphire was accustomed to this from him, she rolled her eyes and looked away.

Rob got up the cellar steps first and through the door. Helen, afraid to let him out of sight, called, "Wait for me, Rob!"

He yelled back impatiently, "Come on Helen!" He sat down on a long bench near the door, folding his arms behind his head.

Helen came through the door, continuing the conversation they'd been having since they'd left the kitchen. "But if it's a child...."

"Who said it's a child?" he asked, annoyed.

She said patiently, "Sapphire did. So if it's a child...."

He shot her an angry you're-being-stupid look. "She didn't say child." Helen's return look said she remembered all too well hearing the word. He sat back and tried to be clearer, "Well she didn't mean it. She said descendent, and then she said child. Like puppies or kittens."

She frowned and hopped onto the bench beside him. Then she smiled victoriously. "Its young."

Startled, he dropped his hands down into his lap and looked at her. "What?"

"At school, they say it's young."

She'd thrown him. He hesitated, then said, "Yes, but this is different, Helen. Different from anything WE'VE known. Different from the things they know at school." To her frown he said, "I mean, you saw what that thing did; are puppies or kittens capable of that?"

She sat forward. "No!"

"Well then." He felt he'd made his point.

She leaned forward, making him look at her. "But what if its friends come looking for it?"

His sudden confidence hinted that he'd found a hero of sorts. "Steel could handle it."

Pragmatically, she said, "But he's not well."

He leaned forward, grinning. "Yes but when he's well, he'll just take himself down...." he stood, and stretched out his arms mimicking Steel earlier, stepping stiffly, humming. Then he stopped and pretended his hands were guns and he was firing them, making blaster noises.

The sound of heavy knocking scared both children half to death. Helen jumped off the bench, Rob spun to stare at the front door. "Who is it, Rob?!"

Frightened, he replied rudely, "I don't know, do I!!"

She stared at him, then started for the door. "Perhaps it's the policeman! I'll see."

"No Helen!"

She turned angrily and glared back at him. "Well we've got to answer it, Rob!"

He stared nervously at the door. "All right," he said. She stepped aside to let him unbolt it. He got the top, and then the bottom, but when he reached to undo the middle the door slammed open, breaking the chain and nocking Rob backwards onto the floor at Helen's feet. He looked up and met the eyes of a huge black man, who stood holding the door open. Helen bolted for the kitchen, and her brother followed on her heels, slamming the kitchen door behind them. The big man started up the stairs.

"A giant?" Sapphire asked, confused.

Helen nodded urgently, "Yes!"

Rob held her tight and shook his head. "No, a man! But he is, he's almost a giant!"

Sapphire frowned. "In the doorway?"


"He appeared?"

"No! He knocked ON the door!"

Sapphire turned away, and walked toward Steel. They didn't see her amused smile. "Then what?"

"Then I tried to open the door, he pushed it open! Broke the chain!"

She turned a startled look to him, "He came from outside?"


"Was he one of the soldiers?"

"No, he was dressed in ordinary clothes."

Helen broke free of her brother and wrapped her arms around Sapphire's waist. "No! It's a giant, Sapphire!"

She stroked the child's hair. "Shh, it's all right, it's all right." To Rob she asked, "Did he come into the house?"

He looked embarrassed. "I don't know, we ran to tell you."

"Leaving the door open?"

Rob gave her an indignant glare. "He PUSHED it open!" He hesitated, then said determinidly, "We gotta wake Steel."

She became immediately cool and firm, "No! For the moment," she took Helen's hand and walked toward Rob, "I'm afraid there's just the three of us."

Reluctant and angry, Rob opened the door and they walked into the hall. From there they could see, "It's closed again."

"Yes." She worried, and whispered, "Now be very quiet and do exactly as I say, do you understand?" Rob nodded silent agreement, and they went to the door and looked at it nervously. Sapphire asked softly, "You left it open?"


"Now it's closed."

Rob pointed to the broken middle chain, half-relieved by it. "Look!"

She reached for the handle, and suddenly a deep, melodious male voice broke the silence, startling all of them into turning around.

"Heeelloooo, Sapphire!" The huge man sat halfway upstairs, looking down at them with a doleful expression. He had a very neat beard, like Sapphire and Steel he was immaculate. Unlike them his clothes were more casual, a heavy sweater, brown jacket, trousers and boots. "Got anything to eat in this place?" sounding like he hadn't eaten in days.

Sapphire was smiling in real relief and delight. Helen whispered, "It's him! It's the giant!"

"Well you could call him that. This is Lead."

The children looked at her, startled. "Lead?" asked Rob.

She laughed, gazing at the big man. "Yes, he's one of ours."

Lead cocked his head thoughtfully, and chuckled. "You know what? I'm staaaarving...." He stood up. Helen gaped at him, he must've been close to eight feet tall! He stretched with a big sigh and started down the stairs, still chuckling softly. Near the bottom he stopped and brushed his jacket idly. Then he said firmly, with a great deal of concern and some irritation, "All right, where is he? Where is Steel?"

Steel rested in a numb pool of cold. He didn't bother to use his eyes, sight was still dim and unreliable. The strain of communicating with Sapphire wasn't worth how it would slow down his recovery. Without warning, silent fingers stirred the cold and drained some of it away. He jerked his head, turning back out to see. Indignition warred with relief, and won its place in his voice. "Lead? Is that Lead, here?"

Lead's voice came back, it's deep tones soothing, and also chiding. "Yes, I'm here. I mean you can almost guarantee it, can't you?" The fingers pulled away several layers of ice, allowing Steel to move, shaking off the cold. "You can guarantee that whenever you wander off and ice yourself up...." Steel glared as Lead continued, his fingers flicking as his mind worked to free the other man, "without me around, you're in trouble."

The indignition helped Steel get shakily to his feet. "I am not in trouble," he said, almost as coldly as the ice still holding him.

"Whew! All right," Lead held up a huge hand as Steel turned a furious look toward him, "You're not in trouble! And you don't need any help."


"But you do need..!" suddenly Lead grabbed Steel's arms, pinning them against his side and bodily lifted the short man several feet off the floor, getting a startled gasp from him, "... insulation! And that's me!" The blonde rolled his eyes. Lead looked at Sapphire, disguising real concern behind joviality because he knew Steel hated to be worried about, "You tell him, Sapphire! He shouldn't be doing that below-zero stuff without ME!" He set the man down hard, getting a satisfactory grunt from him and turned toward a shocked Rob. "Now! What about... some food?" he asked hopefully. Rob backed up a step. So he turned a look full of affection and a little love on... "Sapphire, are you still the cook... I remember?" He rested his hands affectionately on her shoulders. Helen craned her head up to look at him, amazed to see the two exchange warm smiles.

Rob fought a tightness in his throat. When Lead stepped into the kitchen and saw Steel, his face had twisted with sympathy and protective fury. Like an older brother when he's found the younger has off and hurt himself, and felt he should've been there to protect him. And to feel free to just lift Steel that way! Even if Rob had been bigger than him, he'd never dare! He watched Steel sit down again, having worn himself out glaring at Lead.

Night fell, and the wind blew. From underneath Helen's door the light pulsed, and said to itself in anger, "Lead! Lead!" In the icebox, the lost little light pulsed too, but was unable to free itself. Then it stopped glowing all together, planning its next move.

Sapphire had given Lead a huge plateful of food which he was happily eating in huge, neat bites. The children sat across the table from him, leaning on their elbows and watching with utter amazement as he gave a contented sigh.

Steel stood up suddenly, draping the blanket across his chair. He glared at Lead and stalked past him, heading for the workshop. Lead looked up as he passed, and with a flash of pure mischief said, "Oh by the way, Steel..!" The other man turned to listen, Sapphire standing next to him with a cake. "...Jet sends her love!"

Sapphire shot her partner an amused glance, "Does she, now?" He looked ever so slightly embarrassed.

Lead's eyes twinkled, and he said to her, "And Copper's having problems with Silver..." knowing she would want to hear about HIM.

She set the cake down, laughing at the memory of red-headed, playful Silver and dour Copper trying to rein him in. "Again?"

He rolled his eyes, "Again!" They laughed.

Steel did NOT like to hear about Silver. He said coldly to Lead, "When you've finished eating," he glared fiercely, "I'll show you what we have to do." He stalked out of the kitchen.

"All right, Steel." Lead shook his head, wondering if his old friend would ever change. He glanced up at Sapphire and said mildly, "Always cool, that man."

She was cutting the cake, and allowed a slight protective note into her voice. "Well he has to be, in this house."

Rob was taking pictures down off the walls, and having trouble with a really large one. Helen had gathered all the books she could find and put them on the middle landing where she piled them and started downstairs with a load of them. Hearing a soft chuckle, she glanced up to meet Lead's eyes as he came up the stairs. She still thought he was a giant, but a very jolly, friendly one. He set his arm on the railing and tiptoed his fingers on it as he stepped up the stairs past her, making her go under the arm. He was so tall she didn't even have to duck. He could see her eyes smiling, the rest of her face invisible behind the stack of books she was bringing downstairs. The steps creaking under his weight, he got to the landing and looked around for Steel. Finally he bellowed, "Steel!!"

From around the corner came the answer, "Up here!"

Helen walked into the kitchen with her pile of books. Sapphire was busy stoking the fire, but turned a warm smile on the girl and said, "Thank you."

Lead rounded the corner and chuckled when he saw Rob, still trying to take down the huge painting. He reached up and helped unhook it. "Here, son." He laughed kindly, "Gives you all the tough jobs, eh?"

"Uh, no - I...."

But Lead was still chuckling. "He's good at that!" He moved on, leaving a bewildered Rob behind him.

Helen brought another stack of books downstairs. As she headed for the kitchen, the top book fell off. She knelt and put it back on top, noticing that it was a book of nurery rhymes. Sapphire opened the door for her. "Having trouble?" she asked.

"Yes!" Helen cheerfully replied, setting the books on the table. The nursery book fell off again, and she reached for it.

"Are there many more?"

"Yes, but Rob's going to help when he's done with pictures."

"Good." Helen got the book back on top of its pile, and went to help Sapphire stoke up the fire.

Lead brimmed with laughter, to Steel's annoyance. They stood in front of Helen's room and he tried to explain, "It started in there. First a section of the wall, and then the wall itself, and now the whole room."

The big man sang happily, "There's nothing like good home cooking...."

Steel glared at him, but didn't waste time going back over it, past experience said that he was really listening. "It's using old verse and picture forms."

Lead cut off his chuckles with an effort. "Sorry, Steel." Suddenly businesslike, he asked, "The main trigger?"

"Children's nursery rhymes."

The big man stepped to the door and listened. "Upstairs and downstairs!" sang the excited voices.

He frowned, and asked sternly, "Has it taken?"

"Yes." Steel turned away and found Rob standing there. They stared at each other for a moment, then he said, "The boy's parents."

Lead stepped forward and said seriously, "It's all right, son," he hooked a thumb at Steel, betraying in that gesture a thousand pounds of confidence in the other man. "He'll get them back for you somehow."

Helen was helping Sapphire, handing her books to put in the stove, sometimes too fast, and the woman would say, "Lovely. Easy, easy...." They struggled with well-glued pages, to tear apart larger books. "Okay, can I have another one?" Helen reached for the topmost book, not noticing that the nursery rhyme book had somehow moved a few feet away.

Steel pulled the boards off the door, determined. "I'm going in there and I'm going to freeze it back as far as the wall!"

Lead was dubious, and for once any hint of laughter was gone from his eyes. "You gonna take yourself down and walk in there?"


In their voices was a hint of another conversation, one of knowledge rather than words. You're rushing things because of care for the boy. "WALK into THAT?!" he said as Steel set a board against the wall. It isn't your fault. "But you know what that does to you...."

Steel shot a glare at him, "Yeah. But you'll be in there to help me, won't you? My `insulation', remember?" He pulled off another board.

Lead moved away to stand near Rob where Steel couldn't see his concerned expression. "Oh yes, I remember. And I also remember that it knocks the hell out of ME, too!" He turned and said to Rob, "And if it goes wrong, we are BOTH trapped in there!"

Steel turned around, furious. "We're gonna try it!" Lead sighed and put his face in his hands as Steel added, "When the books and pictures have been burned," and set aside another board.

"Well I guess it can't be any worse than following you around on that itty-bitsy ship!" growled Lead, affronted.

The answer came back hollowly, "I wouldn't count on it."

Rob turned to the big man, "Did you help on that ship, too?"

He glanced at Steel, "Yes, I did a day on it."

"What was the name of the ship?"

He had forgotten, and turned to the other man, "What was it, Steel?"

"I forgot," he said grimly, walking around them and going down.

"Blue--something--wasn't it?"

"I thought it was Mary."

Lead snapped his fingers, and followed after him. "Mary, Mary, blue, Mary, Mary, blue, blue blue... blue blue."

Stunned, Rob spun around. "Not the Mary Celeste!?!"

Lead turned and looked up, pointing at him, "THAT'S the one, son! That's it!" He continued down. "That's it!"

Rob turned to speak to Steel, and realized that he'd gone down ahead of Lead. Hearing the voices murmuring in Helen's room, he raced after them. "But the Mary Celeste was important!"

"Oh was it?" Steel asked, lifting a box and turning around. Lead grabbed the big painting and helped Rob carry it down.

"But it's a big mystery! People have been trying to solve it for YEARS!"

With a complete lack of interest Steel said, "Have they." He set the box down and went off into a side room.

The two females of the group were busy stuffing books in the stove. On the floor, the nursery rhyme book twitched and slid farther away. "Are there any more books?"

"Just one," Helen said, turning to reach for it. She stared in surprise as the book opened by itself, pages turning slowly. "Sapphire!"

Sapphire looked and said warningly, "Helen...."

The book flipped open to a page with a picture of a robin in a snow- drift, and a voice, the old voice, began speaking. "The North Wind doth blow, and we shall have snow...."

"I know that one, Sapphire!"

"No, Helen!"

She looked up helplessly. "I do."

"Helen it WANTS you to know it!" She gripped the child's arms urgently, and met the soulful look.

"It's in my head, Sapphire. In my head." Sapphire looked from Helen to the book. Cautiously, she reached out and then grabbed it, ripping out the page and shoving it into the stove. It jerked out and floated above their heads. She followed it around the table, trying to reach it. Helen ducked as it swung near her head.

"Helen, help me catch it!" The little girl reached for it, but it flew up, and dipped down tauntingly out of reach.

Rob followed Steel, holding onto his end of the big painting. "Anyway, it couldn't have been the Mary Celeste."

Lead replied happily, "It was! I remember now!"

Rob shook his head. "'Cuz they found it, abandoned, and Steel said he sunk the ship!"

Steel came out of the side room with another box of stuff, and paused when he heard that. "Well I sank the REAL one, yes," and walked on by. Rob gaped at him. Steel started down the stairs, then stopped abruptly, turning around and looking up.

Lead frowned, "What is it, Steel?"

In the kitchen, Helen covered her ears and cowered by the stove. The voice filled the room, "The North Wind doth blow, and we shall have snow...." Sapphire made another grab for the paper. "And what will poor Robin do then? Poor thing...."

Steel set his box down, suddenly going pale.

"... And hide his head under his wing...." continued the voice. Helen's lips shaped the words, though she tried not to say them.

Steel dashed past Rob and Lead and slid to a cautious stop near the stairs. Lead nearly tripped over him, Rob hot on his heels.

"... North Wind doth blow, and we shall have snow," Sapphire saw Helen's lips move, saw the desperate fear on the child's face. "And what will poor Robin do then? Poor thing."

She crossed the room, grabbed Helen and shook her. "Helen... stop it!" she said angrily.

"I can't! I can't, I know it!"


"I do, it's in my head and it won't go!"

Steel made his way cautiously up to Helen's room. All was silent. Lead moved in front of him, flexing his fingers and building up power. Steel immediately set his strength to reinforce the other man, setting his palms square against Lead's back. They moved forward together that way. The voice boomed through the door suddenly, with a victorious strength, "The North Wind doth blow..!" Lead reached up and set his hands against the top of the door, his strength blocking what was inside, keeping it where it was.

In the kitchen, windows shattered and a wind whipped in, blowing every small loose thing into the air. Sapphire grabbed Helen protectively, hearing the voice call, "..and we shall have snow!" Upstairs, the three males were hit by a sudden gale of cold wind. "And what will poor Robin do then?" Steel was forced to leave Lead and go grab Rob to protect him. Without reinforcement, Lead was forced back from the door, arms raised to protect his eyes. They sandwiched Rob between them, hearing voices sing snatches of nursery rhymes, "Upstairs and downstairs!", "Ring-a ring-a--". In the workshop, power was channelled into the captive glow. It pulsed brightly in time to the old voice, "He'll sit in a barn, and keep himself WARM!" it emphasized the last word.

Steel held Rob tighter when the boy's mother called, "Rob! Let me out...." The door glowed brightly. "Please, Rob! Rob? Rob!"

Sapphire and Helen watched the piece of paper as best they could. The woman started after it when it dipped near them. They heard the mother's voice, "Rob! Wait for me, Rob!" A light-patch tried for Rob upstairs. Then the soldiers stepped out of the door. Rob turned his head in fear, and then the old man/woman in rotted cloth stepped out. "Rob! Let me out, please Rob! Wait for me, Rob!" He couldn't help it, he took a convulsive step forward.

Steel jerked him back, pinning him between them again. "Don't listen to it."

Lead called over the wind, his voice strained and frightened, "It's coming through!"

Helen watched through slitted eyes as Sapphire chased the paper across the table. It dipped near her.

Rob paled as a dish fell and shattered near the door. "It's there," Steel said grimly, and pulled him toward the stairs. The soldiers appeared, coming up them.

"No...." Rob struggled against Steel's grip, trying to run into Helen's room. Lead moved between them and the door, easing the pressure, but his resources were failing. He held up shaking arms to protect his mind as the soldiers passed them and went into the room.

"GO!" Lead shouted at them. Steel hauled Rob toward the stairs.

In the kitchen, the voice shouted victoriously, "The North Wind doth blow! And we shall have snow! And what will poor Robin do then, poor thing! He'll sit in a barn, and keep himself warm, and cover his head under his wing!" Sapphire missed the paper as it flew mockingly over her head. She glanced at Helen, and suddenly had an idea. She lifted the child on top of the table, and they waited. The paper dipped near Helen. "Poor thing! Poor thing!" mocked the voice.

Lead staggered back toward the stairs, shoved by the voice. "And what will poor Robin do then?"

His eyes tightly closed, Lead felt his way down the stairs. He dropped his hands, too tired to hold them up. He heard Rob shout, "Sapphire was right!! First a wall, than a room!" Pain slashed through him, oh yes, this time the enemy was too smart, and powerful.

Sapphire stood still, her arm bracing Helen. The paper dipped down tauntingly close, and she suddenly caught it. They could hear an enraged shrieking from a distant no-where as she stuffed it into the stove and kept it from being pulled out.

Steel and Lead braced themselves, standing protectively in front of Rob and squinting in the bright light of the corridor. "Steel! It's going to take everything!" More suddenly than it started, it stopped. Just like that. The sudden relief of pressure made Lead stumble, and the other man blinked.

Sapphire watched triumphantly as the paper burned. Helen said in a small, frightened voice, "Sapphire?"

Lead had the shakes. He rubbed his forehead to steady himself. Rob watched them both as Steel walked cautously to the upper staircase and loooked around.,

Sapphire turned and lifted Helen down from the table. She said cheerfully, "It's ALL finished! It's all over!" She brushed debris off of a chair. "Sit down?" While Helen sat, the woman went around closing the doors and shuttering the broken windows. "All right?" she asked the little girl.

Steel stalked in, Rob just behind him. He went straight to Sapphire and glared into her eyes. "Another rhyme!"

"I know."

His voice shook with anger, "I TOLD you to watch the child at all times!"

"And I DO!" she replied, getting angry herself.

He turned away and saw Helen. Leaning across the table he growled, "Why did you say another rhyme?" She glared back at him, bravely.

"It got into a book. It got into a page in a book and then into her head," Sapphire said firmly. Steel eased back, still glaring. "And I have burnt the page and the book." He glared at Helen for another moment, then turned and stalked into the workshop.

Rob knelt beside Helen, and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. "Helen, are you all right? What happened? Are you sure you're all right?"

Sapphire came around to their side of the table, and demanded, "How far has it got?"

"Top landing, top stairs." She looked to him upset by that.

Lead stood on the second landing and listened with cheerful interest to the voice saying mournfully, "Poor thing!" again and again. He walked near the edge, humor in his eyes again, and with a laugh he turned and went back down.

Sapphire shoved a chair in, then came around to the little girl. "Come on, Helen. Let's show him how we caught the paper." She got up, and Sapphire started to lift her.

Steel's voice called then, "Sapphire?" They went into the room. The glass plate atop the freezer had a clear patch where the frost had been melted away. Steel was working with the controls. "It tried to melt it," he told his partner sourly.

Rob had a good idea what that meant, "Is it still cold enough?"

His voice was rough, "Yeah, just."

Helen raised a brow and suggested, "You could always let it go."

Steel's voice went cold. "Knowing what it's capable of doing?" She looked away and he came to her level, face close to hers. "What do you think it would do? Scurry back upstairs to mum for a bit of comfort? Hang on to her the same way you've been hanging on to Sapphire?" A faint note of jealousy crept into his voice.

"No," she said softly.

"Good." He stood up straight. "If we let this go, we let everything go," he looked at Sapphire, "and too much ground has been lost already." Rob straightened up too. Steel stalked out.

"Is it quite safe in there?" Helen asked Sapphire.

Steel scowled, standing by the stove. "Come out here and close the door," he called them.

They obeyed, Rob shut the door, and Sapphire grabbed a broom. "Let's start tidying up." She gave the broom to Rob. Helen grabbed a chair and put it at the table. Sapphire picked up another chair, then paused to glare at Steel, who stood sullenly at the stove. She set the chair in its place and walked over to him. "No soldiers this time," she said pointedly, leaning against the table. "Just a good, strong north wind." Steel turned reluctantly and faced her. They stared defiantly at each other for a moment, then she added, "Amazing what it can conjure up, isn't it?"

He glanced past her to Rob, then left to Helen. To their surprise he suddenly looked embarrassed, bowing his head and smiling. He aimed the word at Helen, "Sorry," and went out the door quickly. Sapphire winked at Helen, who was genuinely surprised.

He was still smiling when he got to the bottom of the stairs. Sapphire always did get her point across. He looked up and called to Lead, "What's is doing?" as he got to the landing.

"Staying put!" came the cheerful reply.

They listened to the voice, "Poor thing," it said softly.

Down in the workshop, the patch of light slipped through the icebox bottom, and inched around near the power cords.

Lead grinned, "You think it's describing itself?" he asked.

"I doubt it." Lead shook his head at the cold tone, his grin annoyed Steel who asked, "Have you seen anything?"

"Noooo. Nothing. No refractions, nothing." He nodded toward the door, "Just that same sound over and over again. As if it's run out of things to say!"

Steel looked pained, and turned away to the stairs. "You might as well come down." Lead looked at the door suspiciously, then followed the other man. He watched in puzzlement on the landing as Steel lifted a book and started flipping through it.

Chuckling, he asked, "What are we looking for?"

"Patches of light."

"Patches of what?" he asked, confused.

Steel glared at him, flipping through another book. "Patches of light." He dropped the book and turned around fretfully. "I have one hostage downstairs, but there's a... couple more on the loose somewhere."

"Uh... what do these patches of light do?"

Steel sighed and sat down. "They hide from us."

A chuckle burst from the big man, "Oh - well, that's all right, isn't it?"

He was pinned by a fierce glower. "They hide from us because they like to lie in wait for us. They like to surprise us." He dropped a book and handed one to Lead.

A light patch made it's way down the stairs.

Steel continued, "They almost destroyed Sapphire...."

Lead frowned, "Sounds very organized."

"Maybe YOU could learn something from them."

Another light patch made its way down, and joined the first one sneaking along the wall.

Lead sighed and said reprovingly, "Steel...."

Helen brushed a load of dead leaves into her dustpan and started for the garbage. Rob was sweeping the floor in her path and she asked, "Can you move it, Rob?" He let her pass. She dumped the stuff and then said, "It's full, Sapphire!" She started to lift the garbage.

"Wait!" Sapphire came to help the child, and they carried the garbage out into the hall. Rob listened to their voices, resting for a moment.

"Outside?" asked Helen.


"You mean, through the front door?"

He could hear a smile in Sapphire's voice, "Yes!"

There was a stumbling sound, then: "You need boots, Sapphire!"

And soft laughter, "Yes, be careful."

He couldn't make out the rest of it, but he heard them leave. He wearily set the broom aside, and walked to the stove, then idly around the table, looking at all the mess they still had to clean up. The sound of a latch being turned caught his attention. The door to the workshop creaked open, it's light on. He turned to call the others, but then decided he ought to handle something himself. He picked up the broom to use as a weapon, and sidled around to approach the door from an angle. Setting the broom aside, he cautiously touched the door, then stood back and kicked it all the way open. The light went out instantly. He looked in warily and saw in the dimness that there was water dripping from the glass cover. He stepped in and looked into the box, shivering, it was so cold. When a shadow fell across him, he looked up, then stood up slowly, mouth hanging open.

Sapphire and Helen hurried in the front door and closed it behind them. "Oh, it's cold out there!" Helen said, stamping her feet. Sapphire hugged her affectionately.

Rob gaped at the sight, "Dad! But--what are you doing in here?"

His father said merrily, "Simple! Why shouldn't I be in here?"

"But you disappeared!"

He burst out laughing, "Disappeared? What on Earth are you talking about, Rob?" he cocked his head and muttered in a bewildered tone, "Disappeared."

Faintly through the door Sapphire's voice called, "Rob..?"

"Close the door, Rob. There's a good lad," said his father.

"Close it?" he asked, confused.

"Yes. Close it." Rob didn't move, so finally his father stepped around him and closed the door himself.

Sapphire and Helen walked into the kitchen, and looked around, puzzled. "Rob? Rob?"

In the workshop, Henry Jardine put a finger to his lips.

Helen asked, "Perhaps he went upstairs to talk to Steel?"

Sapphire found the broom where Rob had left it. "Perhaps he did." She frowned, unsure. But then they bent over another pile of debris. "You come 'round here, and I'll pick this up."

"Shhh!" said Henry, listening at the door.

Rob felt a trap closing around him, but this wasn't a voice behind a nailed-up door, this was his father. It must be controlling him. He whispered, "But why do we have to close the door, Dad? I mean, everything's all right now, isn't it?" His father looked uneasy, and Rob wondered what the time-being had done to him. "Now that you're back. Anyway," he said as Henry moved away from the door, "it's cold in here, Dad. I'm freezing."

Henry turned a puzzled, startled, troubled expression toward him. "Cold?! Oh, yes. I suppose it is." He turned away.

Rob pleaded urgently, "Dad, I WANT to open that door, please."

His father stared at him, then finally shrugged. "All right, Rob. I should have known, I suppose."

Suspicious, Rob asked, "Known what?"

Another shrug, "That I'd be wasting my time trying to fool you."

Rob nodded and started for the door, "That's right."

"Go on, then! Open the door. Call out to your so-called friends...." Rob stopped, and looked around cautiously. His father met his eyes with a desolate look. "That way you really WILL put me in danger. And not only me, your mother as well." Rob stepped away from the door and looked warily at his father, who added, "And yourself!"

"Helen..?" Rob asked.

"Oh yes. And Helen." He looked unhappy, "Because... I didn't really disappear, Rob. I've been here in the house, all the time. Hiding."

Rob said angrily, "Hiding?!"


"And Mum?" The memory of being trapped and controlled was fresh and strong. He was very suspicious now, even though his father was behaving like himself.

"She's been with me! We've both been hiding."

Rob asked coldly, "But WHY?"

His father considered that, "Don't you know why?"

"Yes! Because the house is being threatened."

"By them!" and Henry pointed at the door.


He let out an exasperated chuckle. "I could never fool you, Rob." Rob silently agreed, smiling. "But they've fooled you."

It was the right thing to say. Rob suddenly realized exactly what was meant. "Steel and Sapphire!"

"Yes!" He read Rob's pained look and played on it, "They're the real danger, the real threat, nothing else is. Have you never stopped to think that? Never once... wondered about them?" Rob let his hand fall away from the doorknob.

Sapphire came out of the side room, looking around. Lead bellowed from upstairs, "Rob!"

"I thought he was with you," she told the men.

Steel looked grimly down, "No." Helen watched them, eyes wide and frightened.

Sapphire went into the kitchen, "Rob?" The silence answered nothing. She opened the cellar door, "Rob, are you down there?" When she heard no response she slammed the door and joined Steel on the bottom step. They both were upset, and turned to look up at Lead.

He shrugged and went towards Helen's room, bellowing, "Rob!"

In the kitchen, Henry lay his fingers on his lips. "Shshshshshsh! Now," he held out his hands, "you must trust me, Rob."

The boy stared back at him, face pale, eyes dazed. Lifelessly, he replied, "Yes."

Lead looked down the stairs, gave a troubled half-laugh, meeting his two peers' eyes. Steel stiffened, exchanged a quick look with Sapphire and started down the steps. His voice held a small measure of fear, "There's only one place." He almost walked over Helen on his way to the kitchen, but lifted her and set her aside at the last moment. Sapphire put an arm around the child and they followed. He stopped in front of the workroom door.

Henry looked back, sensing Steel's presence. He had to hurry. He gestured at Rob, who obediently stepped forward, stopped when he was signalled. "I want you to help me."

"Of course, Dad, but-"

Giving the boy no chance to notice the tangled chains draped into his mind, he said, "I want you... to come with me." He held out his hand.

Lead came into the kitchen and saw Steel gazing helplessly at the closed door. He squeezed Sapphire's shoulder in passing and went to get a look at the door. As he came close, he flicked his fingers, triggering a rising of strength, preparing for battle. Then he raised his hands to feel the power pulsing inside.

The two light patches slipped down the cellar steps. They pulsed a signal out to Henry Jardine, who turned his head slightly and smiled. He turned back to Rob, who watched him with a faint fear stirring his heart. "Your mother and I... we really need your help, Rob."

Helen clung to Sapphire, and Lead tested the door.

"Wouldn't you like to see your mother?"

"Of course I would," Rob said emptily.

"Come on, then! I'll take you to her!"

He watched Rob sense the chains, and push at them. "Where is she?"

"I TOLD you, she's hiding." Words had to be chosen very carefully, he hadn't the strength to force the boy without some cooperation. "She's waiting for you, Rob. Waiting to see you!"

Lead steadied himself, ready to force the door open.

Rob reached out and took the hand held out to him. It coiled about his hand, and the two figures vanished. An instant later Lead burst through the door.

Henry opened his eyse, swaying slightly. They stood in the workshop, except that everything was back to normal again, everything was there, desk, nicknacks. And no icebox. "Your hand, Dad!"

He blinked, and looked at Rob. "What?"

"It's so cold, like ice."

A smile lit his face, "We'll soon be warm. C'mon." He lead Rob out the door, into a clean kitchen.

Lead stepped past a grave Steel and looked in the icebox. "Well he's not here."

Rob looked around and exclaimed, "It's tidy again!"

Henry laughed. "NOW do you believe me?"

Sapphire bent down to reassure Helen, then suddenly stiffened. She turned and looked intently toward the other end of the kitchen. "Steel!"

He said quickly to Lead, "Hold it down!" indicating the glass plate, and shot out into the kitchen. Sapphire pointed at the area just in front of him.

"There's something in here crossing the room!"

Steel looked around as the clock nearby stopped. "Yes!" he agreed.

Henry jerked his head and lead Rob past the clock, its top twirling. "And the clocks're working again!" Rob exclaimed.

His father glanced at the clock and grinned. "Of COURSE they're working! I make all clocks work!" Come on!"

Sapphire turned as the presence passed her.

Henry opened the kitchen door and took Rob out into the hall.

Sapphire gazed at the door a moment, then turned to Steel. "It's gone now."

He looked helplessly confused, then spun and dashed into the workshop. "Get it off!" he shouted at Lead. "Quickly!!" Lead ripped the glass cover off. Sapphire and Steel both looked in.

Henry led Rob to the cellar door. "Where, Dad? Where is she?"

"Where do you think?"

Steel glared into the icebox. Sapphire asked, "Is it still there?"

He straightened, very pale. "No. It's gone."

Rob asked, "Where?" He felt the chains, and tried to loosen them.

"In the cellar, of course!" his father replied cheerfully.

Steel looked out into the kitchen, and drew a breath to say something. Then instead he walked out. Sapphire and Lead looked at each other, worried. Steel headed for the door and stopped when he found Helen in his path. She stared up at him, and for once he met her eyes with a rather straightforward pain visible. She asked in a very small voice, "Where's... Rob?" He didn't know what to say.

Henry opened the cellar door and tugged Rob down with him. The boy was stiff, and holding back. "We're waiting!" Henry reminded him.

Helen's face crumpled, and in spite of himself, Steel almost reached out to comfort her. "I want Rob!" she said, starting to cry.

Rob stood stiff on a stair. "Your mother's waiting for you, Rob!" his father insisted. The boy came down another step.

Suddenly he pulled back, his father looked up at him. "Dad! You and Mum couldn't have been hiding down here!"

"Why?" Henry asked curiously.

"Well I've been down here enough times since you - since it happened."


Rob managed to say strongly, "Well I'd have SEEN you, wouldn't I?"

Henry smiled and shook his head. "No." He continued down.

Rob stopped again. "But there are no places to HIDE down here!"

His father was getting impatient, he said earnestly, "No, no places. But there are WAYS!" He smiled and tugged Rob down. Rob stopped again, and now Henry turned angrily on him, "NOW what is it?!"

"What do you mean, `ways'?"

The frustrated man said, "Ways of hiding!" He controlled himself with an effort. "I'll show you." Rob balked, slowing them down, but still his father pulled him away from safety.

Lead walked out of the workroom, sighing. He turned and saw Helen standing in the kitchen, tears streaming down her face. He immediately leaned down to her. "Ooooh... what has the mean man done to you?" He scooped her up gently. "Made you cry?" He carried her out into the hall with him, speaking soothing words.

Steel gazed, perplexed, at the cellar door. Sapphire cocked her head, "It wasn't locked before." They looked at each other.

Henry glanced up the stairs, and tugged on Rob urgently. "Come on Rob." The boy followed helplessly. He was led around the back room, Henry whispered, "By the wall...." and pulled him against it.

Steel turned and called, "Lead? Lead?"

Lead said softly to Helen, "Don't you worry about it, Lead'll take care of it."

"Lead!" came Steel's strident voice.

He carried her out with him. "Don't you worry, okay? It's all right."

Steel turned to him and said coldly, "It's locked."

Lead shot him a cool look, kissed Helen's cheek and set her down. He sighed, turned and whammed the door with his elbow. It fell in. He said cheerfully, "It isn't locked now."

Helen looked in surprise, "What did you do to this door?!"

He knelt beside her and said laughingly, "I - have opened it!" She smiled slightly at his funny faces. He helped her over the door and they walked onto the landing. Lead bent down and moved the door aside.

Sapphire called down, "Rob?" Henry held the boy back against the wall. "Are you down there, Rob?"

He whispered softly, "Don't worry about them."

Sapphire glanced worriedly at Steel. "Rob?"

Henry was getting scared. "Don't listen to them... we'll soon be safe." He held Rob tightly back.

Helen started forward. Steel touched her shoulder and stopped her. "Stay there." She looked up at him, he said sternly, "Sit down," and started downstairs, followed by Sapphire. Helen sat on the step, Lead stayed with her.

Henry led Rob cautiously forward. "Dad..!" He shushed the boy, and pointed to the corner. Seeing nothing, Rob balked. "You said Mum was here."

"She is!" A light-patch appeared in the corner.

"But I can't see her," he said softly.

"Look!" Henry waved toward the corner.

Steel looked around from the bottom stair.

"I still can't see her," Rob said nervously.

"That's because you're not looking HARD enough, Rob. When people are hiding you've got to look for them REALLY hard!"

"I am!" Rob was frustrated, and struggled.

"Look!!" said his father furiously.

The white patch flashed and shaped itself into his mother. It solidified facing the corner. Rob gaped, "Mumma?"

"Hallo, Rob...." she said warmly.

Henry said cheerfully, "There you are." He started forward, only Rob froze. "Come on! You wanted to see her, didn't you?"

"Yes! But...."

"But what?"

The boy asked urgently, "But why doesn't she look at us?" His father looked startled, then turned, cocking his head toward his wife.

"Yes, dear, why don't you look at us?" She turned slowly around, smiling. And it was his mother but her eyes filmed and glowed. She stepped stiffly forward, arms out as if to hug Rob.

He struggled to get away. "No! Sapphire! Help meeeee!" His father hauled him into reach and they all faded away.

Sapphire moved into the next room, followed shortly by Steel. Lead peered down the stairs where he stood guard over Helen. Sapphire stopped and listened intently. She turned down a hall, and Steel went with her. The big light patch faded out, but she had already sensed it and said to her partner, "Just there, just beyond the beams."

Lead heard that, and started down the stairs hearing Steel ask, "It's all right as far as the beams?"


"What about the beams themselves?" he reached up to touch them.

"No." She stepped forward, "This is where it starts." Lead joined them. Steel looked around thoughtfully.


Hollowly, from a far distance, "Y-yes Steel. I know what to do."

They all looked at each other. Steel let concern slip into his voice, "Speak to me."

"Well... this is what happened to Sapphire, isn't it? On the landing."


"So I know what to do. I just stand very still, don't I?" Sapphire and Steel looked at each other. Their silence scared him. "Don't I?!" Sapphire nodded nervously.

Steel said softly, "Yes, Rob. You do."

Rob's voice came back with apologetic sorrow, "I'm sorry, Steel, but it was my father. He brought me down here... well, not him. Not REALLY him."

Steel was puzzled, "Whatever it was was pretending to be your father?"


"Is he... is it still with you?"

"No, I'm alone." They looked at each other nervously again. Steel moved away to gather his thoughts.

Sapphire spoke up, "You're not alone, Rob."

"No," he agreed.

"Because we're quite close to you." Helen listened intently, and was startled when she looked down and met Steel's worried eyes.

"Yes, Sapphire." Steel heard that, and went back.

"We're all in the cellar together, and you are one of US."

"Yes," came the hopeful reply.

Steel stepped wearily around Lead, who stood with his arms folded. "Rob..? You remember when Sapphire was trapped on the landing-"

The boy interrupted, "They wanted her to think she was in a room."

"Yes and we kept telling her -" Rob finished with him, "-not to believe...."

"Not to believe in that room, not to be a part of it, right-"

"LISTEN to me!"

Lead cut in gently, "Rob! You're doing all right, son."

Steel shot a glare at him, then continued. "Tell me what you can see."

He stood in front of a newly built stone wall. There were piles of wood, and shovels of an old design lying around, and it was night, the area lit by moonglow, a soft wind blowing. "I'm outside, I'm in the open. It... looks like the cellar... part of the cellar but it isn't finished. It's being built..! The house is being built!"

Sapphire joined the others where they stood. Lead leaned his weight against a ceiling beam and asked, "Rob! Is it day or night?"

"Um - evening. It just got dark."

Sapphire and Steel moved out of the room, leaving Lead to talk to Rob. "Just... stay where you are for the moment, okay?"

"All right."

The two blondes stood nose-to-nose, Steel quickly asking, "Why should it take him back to the time when the house was being built?"

Lead lifted his head, "Rob, can you sing?"

"Not very well...." sing?

"Do you know any songs?"

He hesitated, "I can whistle."

The other boomed back with delight, "Well, whistle me a tune, then!"

Rob started whistling, bewildered. The same tone, one, then three, then three again. Lead cheerfully sang it back at him, "Da dudala dudala dum dum da..!" The boy hesitated, then whistled the same pattern on a lower scale. Lead followed suit.

Rob crowed in delight, "You know it! Da dadala dadala dum dum da," rising scale then dropping, "dum da dum da dum, dum."

Lead started singing, "Yay, hey, up she rises. Yay, hey up she rises!"

Steel went on impatiently to his partner, "Those patches of light need something to lock onto. There are - there are no pictures being hung -"

"There must be -"

"- so why've they decided on a house that's being built?!"

She shrugged reasonably. "There must be something."

"We have to find out what it is." The sound of Lead clapping his hands enthusiastically, and the two's voices raised in loud song broke through, and Steel turned in startlement and real confusion. "What is he doing?" He stalked into the area and stopped to give Lead a perplexed glare, before touching him, and interrupting the song. Where he stood, Rob was frightened by the sudden silence, until he heard Lead's low laugh. He listened to Steel's voice, "Let's locate them, shall we?"

Sapphire called softly, "Rob?"

"Yes, Sapphire?"

"You remember those patches of light?"

What? "Yes."

"They're there with you somewhere."

"I know."

Steel cut in impatiently. "You know WHAT?"

"That they're in here, somewhere."

"Can you SEE them?"

"No, but I know they're here," he hesitated, then added, "One of them was pretending to be my father, the other one my mother."

Lead asked Steel softly, "Are we going in there?"

"Not yet." He joined Sapphire, "Let's find them first."

Sapphire lifted her head and spoke mildly, "Rob, I'm going to make them appear, right?"


"When you see them, tell us where they are."

"All right." He could almost feel her straighten up, as she'd done before, a silent strength to her. "Can I move?"

Steel called back, "Yes but very quickly, remember?"

"Yes, I remember." Sapphire concentrated, and one of the light patches phazed into sight behind Rob and to the right. He glanced around. "Behind me Steel, just behind me!" She shoved again, and another appeared in front of him. "The second one's... in front of me, the other side just in front!"

"All right! All right, Rob, just keep still."

Lead chuckled and rubbed his hands in glee, "Oh, we've got them, we've FOUND them!"

Sapphire interrupted with a very, very worried voice, whispering, "Steel... there's something wrong! It's too easy." He leaned close to her, nodding slightly. "There must be something else."

Behind Rob, in one of the blocks making up the wall, the third light patch appeared.

Steel turned quickly to Lead, "Keep him singing."

"All right, Rob! Now let's REALLY sing that song! Come on!"

The two voices twined uncertainly, but enthusiastically. "What shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor...." and the patch behind Rob pulsed angrily, then moved down the wall.

Sapphire went pale, and said in alarm, "There is something else! There's another one! The third one!"

The light made its way along the ground around Rob's feet, then it disappeared into them. Rob cut off in mid-verse with a terrible gasp of pain. Helen shot to her feet, hearing it.

"Come on, Rob! You're doing fine, son! Come on!" Lead sang again for a moment, then yelled, "Rob!" Helen ran down the stairs to join them.

Sapphire said in alarm, "We're going to lose him, Steel!"

Steel leaned cautiously into the room, "Rob?" Rob clenched his teeth, struggling against the light, hanging on to the voices he heard. "Rob!" He heard boots. The two soldiers came stamping around the other side of the half-built wall, carrying a coffin between them. He watched frozen, as they set the coffin next to another which was suddenly in front of him. In the small coffin was a body that looked like Helen. He recognized the threat for what it was.

He heard Helen's voice shouting angrily from the other place, home. "He's gone, hasn't he!" she shouted at Steel. "Rob's gone!"

And Rob's voice came strongly from the other side, "No Helen!" they all jumped, startled. "I'm still here! I've fought it and I've won!" The trio of adults exchanged doubtful looks. Rob watched a soldier sharpening a cleaver, and heard the voice masquerading as his try to lure them in. "You can all come in now! I've fought it and I've won!"

And didn't have any way to see Steel almost falling for it. He walked around to the entry, by Lead, then hesitantly looked at Sapphire. She said urgently, "He's still there, Steel. Rob is STILL in there! He's holding them!" She said as he stepped forward, "You mustn't go in!"

Even if he would have, Rob's voice came back harshly "Don't listen to her! Please, help me!" Rob wanted to speak, but he was held silent. All he could do was watch the soldier in front of him using his meat cleaver on the little body. He heard his own voice call, "PLEASE, help me!"

Steel pulled away. Helen, watching him from Sapphire's side shouted, "Please, help him!" When he moved away from the room she ran to him. "Do something!"

He leaned against the wall and said wearily, "I'm going to help him, Helen. I just... need a minute." Lead watched him, trying to guage how much more of this the shorter man could take.

Rob's voice called again, "Please, I NEED you!"

I'll bet you do. Steel said, ever so softly, "Rob... you remember the first time we came here, came to this house?"

"Yes, Steel."

"I'm sorry I was so rude...."

"That's all right, Steel."

"It's just that I'd had a - difficult time, a bad time in that ship. Ship... what was the name of that ship?"

"The Marie Celeste!" Rob could feel the light patches gloating.

He heard faint relief in Steel's response, "That's it, that's right."

Helen urged impatiently, "Do something!" Steel shifted away from her, and moved to lean against a ladder.

He rested his head against a step, thinking, then asked, "Are your mother and father still there?"

"Yes, they're here, Steel."

The use of his name pained him, he leaned heavily on the ladder. "I'm sorry, we've never met. I don't know their names. What are they called, Rob?" The silence stretched. Rob fought to keep the knowledge away from the patch that held him, but behind him the other two patches assumed his parents' shapes.

They whispered, "Henry...." "Sarah."

He struggled, but still the patch forced out, "Henry and Sarah."

"Thank you, Rob." He hesitated, thinking hard. "We're... gonna have to get some help. You were right to call the policeman at the Point, I'm going to need him, after all. Can you remember his telephone number?"

Rob slammed a door on that memory. The light patch raged at him, but only replied to Steel, "No!" in a fury.

Steel soothed, "That's all right, I can look it up. What's his NAME?"

Rob had a feeling that the patches all came to a startled, frozen stop. He realized with delight that if they couldn't get it themselves out of him, well... he heard fright in patch's reply. "I don't know!"

Steel's voice came back in fury and joy, "Yes you DO, Rob. The policeman - at the Point."

"I don't know!"

"He came to this house! He's a FRIEND of yours!"

"I - don't know!"

"The policeman at the Point!" Rob struggled with the patch, it said over and over again that it didn't know, and each time, forced to answer Steel with a lack of knowledge, it lost a little more of its grip on him. He fought to answer Steel in its place. "What's his name? His name! He came to the house, what's his name! Name! Name! Name!" Each word hit the patch like a solid blow, it was dislodged.

Rob pushed through, regaining control. "B - Bri - I don't know! Bri- Brian... Brian Tru-" he forced it out, and felt the patch fall away in fright and anger, "Constable Brian Trullal !" Steel grinned and spun around, but the room ahead was still empty. "Steel it's me! I'm back it's really me!" The patches ducked around his feet and into the wall behind him. "Sapphire was right, something TERRIBLE happened here!"

"Not now, Rob!"

"But Steel I know -"

"You're back where you WERE, you're not back HERE!" Steel was more determined than before to get Rob, and his parents (for Rob and Helen's sake, he didn't personally care about two people he'd never met) back. He felt Helen watching him where she stood with Sapphire.

Rob blinked, realizing what Steel said was true. "Yes, Steel. What do I do?"

"I need to know what it's in, what part of the past it's projecting, do you understand?" Say you do and I'll never take it as given your people are stupid again.


Damn, now I'll have to keep that promise. "Look QUICKLY and tell me."

Rob turned his head and saw one block in the wall glowing an all-too- familiar glow, he looked back quickly. "Um, stone. There's something written on stone. I couldn't see what it was, but I can go back and look!" he tried to assure them.

Steel quickly said, "No! Stay EXACTLY as you are!" He looked at Sapphire, who lifted her head and concentrated.

"It's a name. Someone's name marked on it. No, it's - chipped out of it. Jedd... Mace... Second of February... seventeen... thirty-six."

Steel blinked, "Who's Jedd Mace?"

She listened again, "The builder of this house, that stone is his mark."

"The first stone to be layed?"

She looked steadily at him. "Quite possibly, one of the first."

"How much time?"

Sapphire was immediately confused, "Time?"

"From - where Rob is now back to the time that stone was set, how much time?"

She concentrated, "Half a day." Then in startled relief, "Half a day." They looked at each other and smiled.

Steel turned, and aimed his voice at Rob. "It's all right Rob, we know where you are now. Your troubles are nearly over. Don't move a MUSCLE!" He ran out of the room, snatching up a startled Helen as he passed her.

"Sapphire!" the girl squeaked as she was hauled through the door to the steps.

He skidded to a stop and held her in front of him as the other two caught up. His eyes were wild with an all-too-familiar look of 'solution found and I'm going to implement it!' "It's made a fatal mistake, you don't build houses backwards!" They all stared blankly at him. "It came through at the top of the house, the roof... the gable..!"

Lead caught on, "The last part of the house to be built."

He nodded, "Right. But it allowed its satellites... to use that stone, to hide in THERE!"

And Sapphire nodded her understanding. "The first part of the house to be built!"

"Be ready to take time back half a day."

She was startled, "Why?"

"I'm going to bring it ALL down here...."

Lead gave him an extremely doubtful look. "Down here?"

"Yes." He glanced back toward the room. "Down there. Into the time frame it's chosen."

The look on Lead's face said a million doubts, and reluctance to believe. "Oh that's beautiful. And how do we get it down here, invite it?"

Steel met his look with a hard gleam in his eyes. "Yes. All we need is a nursery rhyme... and someone as bait." He let Helen go and started up the stairs. Pausing, he looked back at Sapphire. "A human!" He turned his gaze on Helen, they followed his look.

Sapphire turned quickly back to him, "No!"

He wasn't going to argue or even discuss it this time, he'd found the way and they were going to do it. He said icily, "I'll let you choose the appropriate nursery rhyme for her."

Helen stood in the hallway near the staircase to her room. She took a deep breath, and began:

"This is the house that Jack built. This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built." She walked forward very slowly, heading for the next landing down. "This is the cat, that killed the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the dog, that worried the cat, that killed the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that killed the rat-"

Sapphire leaned around through the doorway. "Come on Helen," she said ever so gently.

In the cellar, Lead listened to Sapphire's silent voice relaying what she and Helen were doing. He turned into the room, "Rob?"

The tired young voice asked, "Yes?"

"We'll be coming in to get you soon."


"Just - stay where you are, okay?"

Helen started down the short steps to the landing. Sapphire urged her on from a distance, careful not to get too close. "This is the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that killed the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built." As Helen began the next verse they heard her bedroom door creak open. Behind the child Sapphire saw a woman's shadow cast upon the wall. "This is the maiden all forlorn, that milked the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed the dog-"

"Helen?" The child stumbled over the next words as her mother's voice called her. "Helen?" She fell silent, looking desperately at Sapphire.

"Keep going...." the woman said gently.


"Don't listen to her."

The voice spoke on, trying to get a grasp on the little girl. "Come back upstairs, Helen. It's time for bed. Ah do you hear me?" Finally it said warmly, cajoling, "You won't get a goodnight's kiss, Helen."

Sapphire watched the child look behind her. "Don't look around, Helen," the little girl turned back to her quickly, "please don't look 'round."

Helen remembered very well what Rob had said, and softly she asked, "It's not Mummy, is it?" The light and shadow went out, recognizing failure.

Sapphire shook her head and gave Helen a proud smile. "No."

Helen continued where she'd left off, "... that worried the cat, that killed the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the man all tattered and torn, that kissed the maiden all forlorn, that milked the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed-"

Sapphire cleared out of Helen's way and sent a quick broadcast to her partner. {Steel! It's coming down!}

Lead hearing this, went over to where Steel stood motionless on the bottom step, his eyes closed. "Are you there, yet?" Uncertain, he touched Steel's shoulder, "Whew! Ho-ho-hooooo!" He drew away his hand, covered with frost and shook the feeling back into it. "Yes, you're there!" and he laughed.

A blinding whiteness reached the top landing, pushing its ghosts along ahead of it, following the strong human spirit that spoke, "This is the priest all shaven and shorn, that married the man all tattered and torn, that kissed the maiden all forlorn, that milked the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that killed the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built." Lead looked up as Sapphire and Helen reached the cellar stairs. Sapphire came down ahead while Helen started the next verse. "This is the cock that crowed in the morn, that waked the priest all shaven and shorn, that married the man all tattered and torn, that kissed the maiden all forlorn, that milked the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that killed the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. This is the farmer sowing his corn, that kept the cock that crowed in the morn, that waked the priest all shaven and shorn, that married the man all tattered and torn, that kissed the maiden all forlorn, that milked the cow with the crumpled horn, that tossed the dog, that worried the cat, that killed the rat, that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built." Having finished, she began again at the start.

Lead turned and asked hopefully, "Yes?"

Sapphire grinned back at him, "Yes!"

Down to the first floor came the whiteness, ghosts running ahead, singing their rhymes. Sapphire and Lead ran to join Steel. The big man asked her doubtfully, "Are we going to let it take the whole house?"

"Yes!" she hissed back.

"And there's no way out of the cellar?" he asked pointedly.

Helen walked past them, Steel stepped in behind her, his arms stretched out. They walked into the room, Helen steadily speaking the rhyme. As she disappeared they heard from Rob, "Helen!" in shock. They followed the child in and appeared in front of Rob.

Steel spoke, his voice low and strained. "Get out of the way."

Stunned, Rob began, "But Steel, you said-"

"MOVE!" Rob ducked aside, feeling cold emanate from Steel. When Helen reached the wall Lead reached swiftly under Steel's arms and lifted her to stand atop it.

The blinding whiteness arrowed down the cellar stairs and straight through into the stone block. And in another time, Steel knelt and Lead put his hands firmly on the other man's shoulders. The blond slammed both palms flat against the ston block, which iced over instantly. In the other time the whiteness shrieked as it was sucked all the way in. Lead threw Steel aside and grabbed the block.

Sapphire pulled the children to her as Steel shouted, "Take them back, NOW!" The air was filled with enraged screams from the frozen stone as Lead's fingers smashed into it, crushing it apart. Helen hid her face in Sapphire's dress and then the world faded out and....

It was an old house. There were several clocks in every room, all set and ticking, at 7:10. In the kitchen Rob looked up from his homework at the table. He stood up gingerly and looked at each clock, especially the one fancy clock with a twirling top. They were all working. Was it a dream, then? he wondered. Some dream. He turned and walked out into the hall. The clocks were working fine, but there was silence from upstairs. He ran up. In Helen's room the rocking chair was still rocking, but Helen was gone now too. I'm not going to cry, he promised himself, stepping out of the room, closing the door behind him. He walked to the stairs, and there found Steel, Sapphire and Lead standing on the steps.

Lead said apologetically, "We forgot something."

My parents and sister? "What?"

Steel almost smiled, "This." He tossed Rob Helen's teddy bear.

From Helen's room came suddenly his parents' voices and her's. "The king has sent his daughter, to fetch a pail of water," his father doing sound effects, "A tissue! A tissue! We all fall down! The bird upon the-" Sarah broke off when she saw her son there with a most peculiar expression on his face. "Yes what is it? You're supposed to be doing your homework!"

The familiar combination of kindness and stern scolding eased all his worries, "Yes, Mum," he said with hollow relief.

When he continued standing there, she cocked her head and asked curiously, "Well?"

He started, then sheepishly held out the teddy-bear. "Helen dropped this on the stairs."

"All right, well give it to her, then!" He held it out.

"'Becca!" She grabbed it tightly and hugged it, meeting his eyes briefly and he knew she also remembered.

His father asked with affectionate suspicion, "Have you REALLY finished it?"

Sarah interpreted his continued silence as a no, and told him sternly, "Well, get on with it, then." She was surprised by his warm grin.

He paused outside the door to listen to their voices as they started the rhyme where they'd left off. Then he started downstairs.

"Rob!" Sapphire, her voice coming out of the air. He looked for her, but then she spoke again, like a kiss on the cheek. "Goodbye...." He stood still on the stairs for a moment, feeling a pang of loss, then he continued down to live his life normally again.


Back to Sapphire & Steel hub.
Email me!