Sapphire is standing very still in the centre of the room – a tall, alert silhouette in a long dress – while Silver watches her closely in between rifling through the contents of a Welsh dresser. He finds her fascinating enough to steal his attention away from the tempting silverware.
“I don’t think we’ve finished,” Sapphire says, and crosses back to the fireplace, crouching down and touching the tips of the flames with her fingers as the paper burns. “I think there’s something else. Another copy of the document, perhaps? Silver?”
A particularly interesting item of cutlery catches his eye and Silver lifts his head again only belatedly. “Sapphire?”
She watches him with his fingers in the family silver, and raises one eyebrow fractionally. Silver. That’s not yours.
Silver only smiles brightly and holds out a teaspoon. “Useful, though. Especially if we’re not finished. Are you sure, Sapphire? I don’t see anything else.”
Sapphire takes the spoon and smiles at it, turning it over in her fingers. “No. Not certain. I can’t be. Everything’s quiet again. The voices have gone, but it’s almost as if – as if there’s something here waiting.”
They both look around the room again, but there’s nothing obvious remaining that either of them can see or sense. Some assignments are like that: shadows remain at the edges, some underlying cause for the break left unrooted out. They do all they can, but the humans always find more ways to make themselves and their surroundings gateways for time. There are too many potential threats to chase any but the most immediate. Each square inch of ground holds an immeasurable weight of dead things, of memories, things that go beyond the physical. Sometimes they can sense that potential threat waiting behind the actual. For the most part, it must be ignored.
Sapphire kisses the handle of the spoon and passes it back to Silver. She gives him a nod, as if she’s been following his thoughts, or thinking along similar lines herself. “We should leave, do you think?”
Now she’s no longer threatening him with danger, Silver smiles at her, daring her to misbehave. “Oh, but if you aren’t sure, Sapphire, we should stay a little while longer – just to be on the safe side.”
Sapphire tilts her head, listening to the music coming from the other side of the wall.
“Yes,” says Silver, holding out his hand to her. “They’re dancing.” He watches her again, and sees with pleased amusement the shift within her from cold business to the contemplation of pleasure, and then she laughs and lets him lead her in an echo of the dancers in the next room.
Even in this stolen moment, when he’s all admiration for her beauty and brilliance in any form, he knows that she’s a mystery to him. He feels her, still searching, as she so often is, and now for something beyond the darkness, beyond the danger. Whatever it is she’s looking for, he knows it isn’t him.
“What is it you want, Sapphire?” he asks, with genuine curiosity, but she only smiles at him. She does, though, provide him with some delightful distractions from the question, so he gladly lets it go. One day, he’ll find out, he thinks, and he laughs with anticipation at the thought of the discoveries yet to come.
Sapphire walks around the shell of a house with a hand outstretched, running her fingers over what’s left of the walls, reading everything. “I’ve been here before.”
Steel turns his head. They’ve been working with each other for a long time now, and that’s an unusual thing for their kind, but they’re so effective together. It would be impractical to ignore that, and so they’re assigned together, time after time. He is both her anchor and the dangerous force that pushes her ever on to be more than she believes she is. She knows him well enough by now to predict his frown, that moment of doubt. He wants to be certain. She quirks her mouth in private humour, predicting that he’ll say it again, soon: Are you sure, Sapphire?
“Déjà vu?” he says instead with a rare flicker of amusement, as if he’s present in her mind and chooses to surprise her.
She smiles. “No. I’ve been here before. With Iron and Silver, a long time ago. There was a document, a false copy of a will.”
“Is there a connection?”
Sapphire touches the charred remains of a beam. It speaks too loudly to her of burning, of fear, of destruction, fire raining down from heaven, and she cannot hear anything else. There was a human still inside, and she can feel the flames; she chokes on the fumes of the smoke. The horror of it swamps her, as does the paradox of its origins: the remains of the bomb are here still; metal and explosives, put together coldly and without malice, mechanised, impersonal, as meaningless as tinned soup or the parts of a car.
“Sapphire,” Steel growls.
At his reminder, she digs down deeper with her mind, touching instead the stone wall where it’s left standing. There’s one anomaly: a piece of paper hidden before its contents could have been written, and she recognises that. Broken plaster falls, and they both see it, the document, yellowed with age, but otherwise impossibly well-preserved.
“Another copy of the will?” asks Steel, picking it up and crumpling the paper in his fist.
“Is it the last?”
It ought to be, but Sapphire frowns at something in the air, just beyond her understanding. Maybe there is another, but if there is, it’s no longer here in the house. And then, again, all she can sense are the consequences of this war the humans are fighting, and she shudders. “There’s nothing else here.”
“Good,” says Steel, and burns the paper using a match, watching it blacken and curl, crumbling into ash. “No reason to stay then.”
They leave together.
It’s dark in the museum, and Steel has trouble avoiding glass cases and roped off exhibits.
“Must you do that, Steel?” says Silver, glancing up briefly as Steel knocks into yet another display case.
It’s partly disapproval rather than clumsiness, of course: Steel can’t see why humans should court danger like this, gathering disparate objects from the past and putting them together. The building itself is old: it was once somebody’s house and it almost audibly groans under the weight of its contradictions – its age and the modernisation done to make it a public building; its original function and its position now of storehouse to the past.
Steel looks to one side, instinctively expecting Sapphire to catch such thoughts and raise an eyebrow at him. She’s not there, though, and he only becomes more irritable. “What are you doing, Silver?”
The technician is only half visible, most of him underneath one of the exhibition cases, squeezed into an improbably small gap. “Trying to get into this. You wouldn’t mind shining that torch over here, would you?”
Steel obliges, and then stares at the case illuminated by the torch’s beam. Inside it there are several objects: a cup (sixteenth century, Sapphire had said), a box (late seventeenth, or early eighteenth) and a will, all formerly possessions of one family, now long since passed away. He despises the humans who so recklessly make the effort to collect and preserve such things.
Sapphire? He tries again, but there’s still no answer. Sapphire?
There’s still no answer, but when he glances down again, the case is open, and Silver is busy examining the objects inside. He catches Steel’s look, and pauses to give him a well-satisfied smile.
“I said it wouldn’t take long,” the technician tells him, picking up the delicate cup, before casually passing it over to Steel, who can feel its age and almost frightening fragility as he tightens his fingers around it.
Silver takes hold of the document. “You know,” he says, looking puzzled, his forehead wrinkled, “there’s something familiar about all of this. This will in particular, this inventory. What did Sapphire say, before she –?”
Steel breaks the cup. For one moment there is blood on his hands.
Silver watches him. He might be holding his breath; he might not. Then he says, softly, “Steel. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need to know.”
“Déjà vu,” says Steel, and there’s a glint of humour in his eyes.
Silver nods. “Yes. I rather thought so, too. It seems there were more copies of this will – and, you know, I think now I understand why they sent me. It’s not so much this that’s the problem, as another copy. They’ve photographed it –” He runs his fingers over the yellowed paper. “No, no, not exactly – they’ve copied it, filmed it – there’s a copy on microfilm. No, microfiche, perhaps.”
“Where?” says Steel, turning his head.
Silver shrugs. “There’ll be a filing cabinet somewhere. If there’s a study area, or a store room for records – somewhere like that. You see, I think Sapphire’s been transferred to –”
Steel turns and walks away in search of the microfiche, not bothering to listen to anything more than the relevant point: they know where Sapphire must be now. Behind him, he can hear Silver complaining about him removing the light without warning.
“Do you even know what microfiche is?” asks Silver, suddenly at his side again. The paper he had been holding has vanished. “You’ll need me.”
Steel’s growing used to Silver’s assistance, and he doesn’t argue with that statement. “You think that’s where Sapphire is?”
Silver nods. “It must be. Steel – over there!” Silver grabs at Steel’s arm, directing the torchlight onto a notice on a nearby door. Records room, it reads.
Silver darts across. “Oh, yes, I think so. Come on, Steel!”
They find the fiche, find a reader, and Silver tweaks it until he’s satisfied, ignoring Steel’s impatience, and then, finally, she’s back with them. Sapphire.
She leans against Steel for a moment, gathering her strength. He can feel her – her physical form and the essence of her being, within and without. He can also feel Silver watching, but somehow that seems less intrusive than it used to.
“At last,” says Silver, as if catching his name in Steel’s thoughts, though he’s talking to Sapphire. “He’s quite impossible without you, you know.”
The man has been living in this house since it was built in the mid Sixties, finally filling in the gap in the city made by the Blitz. Nothing especially odd has ever happened during his time there: not until now, when he comes in, briefcase in hand, to find a strange man in his dining room, delving into a hole he’s somehow made through the carpet and the floor.
His visitor raises his head and gives him a smile almost as bright as his red hair, and then fishes something out of the hole – a teaspoon, it looks like, though blackened and tarnished.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demands, finally recovering his voice. “This is my house!”
The stranger looks up in surprise, eyebrows raised. “Well, so I should hope,” he says. “Otherwise, what would you be doing here?”
He ignores that. “Look, what do you think you’re doing? I’m going to phone the police if you don’t –”
“Looking for pieces,” says his visitor. “Pieces of Sapphire, and of Steel.” And then he kisses the handle of the spoon.
The man frowns, feeling stupid. “That’s silver,” he points out. “I don’t understand.”
Suddenly, in the time it takes to blink, the hole has gone, and the odd visitor is standing in front of him. “No, I don’t expect you do,” he says. “But how else can I build a bridge?”
Something crosses the man’s mind, an old nursery rhyme – London Bridge is Falling Down, falling down, falling down. And you build it up with silver and gold, penny loaves, needles and pins, iron bars – impossible things, and none of them work. He shakes his head.
“Oh, and this,” says the improbable red-head, passing him a scrap of aged paper. “You will burn it, won’t you? You can’t imagine the trouble it’s caused. There’s not much left of it, but it might still do some damage. Funny, for a thing that was never even what it was meant to be – only ever a fake, a copy.”
The man stands there, still bemused, and now holding a torn fragment of something – an old letter or official document – and wondering whether he should run out and put the house on the market, or if he should call for the doctor and get himself put away somewhere.
“Please,” says his visitor with unexpected gentleness. “Do you have a match to hand?”
He thinks, better safe than sorry, and it’s not as if it’s any use – it’s only one part of something and the ink’s already faded too badly to be read – and burns the paper in a candle flame.
And talking of useless things, he wonders again what the stranger wants with a teaspoon?
“Teaspoons,” says his visitor, as if he can see inside his mind, “contain multitudes. The key to everything, perhaps. You’d be surprised.”