UNIT HQ, 1970
Liz marched into UNIT’s laboratory, letting the door slam shut behind her. “Impossible man!” She paused, and then added, “Both of them!”
The Doctor had disappeared somewhere with his TARDIS, or pieces of it, while the Brigadier had run off to Kent without her. He had seemed to think the business was probably a hoax, and she wouldn’t be needed. If she was, he had said, he would send for her. Liz fumed at the recollection.
Resigned, she turned to the waiting work on the lab bench, when a stranger popped his head over the other side, and gave her a hopeful smile.
Liz took a step back in instinctive alarm, but settled for raising her eyebrows and awaiting an explanation. Appearances could be (and frequently were) deceiving, but he didn’t look particularly alien or threatening. He was wearing a grey suit, livened only by a green tie with silver stripes – that, and the hair, which was redder than her own. “Who are you – who let you in here?”
“Oh, how charming,” said the man, with another smile. “I thought it would be a soldier. There seem to be a lot of them about.”
Liz folded her arms. “Yes, and I’ll call for one right now if you don’t answer my question.”
“Don’t let me stop you, if it would make you feel happier,” he said. “I’m a technician, here to fix the – ah – this.” He waved his hand towards the empty space beside him, and disappeared back behind the lab bench again, as if he thought that a satisfactory explanation, or didn’t care that it wasn’t.
“You have a pass, I take it?”
“Somewhere,” he said, from out of her vision. “I expect.”
Liz walked around the bench, and looked down at him, kneeling on the lino of the lab floor, and frowning at the air in front of him. There was something there, something she couldn’t quite focus on, like a heat haze. She drew in her breath. “What is that?”
He looked up. “Liz Shaw, isn’t it?”
“That’s Dr Shaw to intruders, but, yes.”
Liz stopped. “Oh, no. Don’t tell me. It’s some kind of code name, and you’re from MI5?”
“No,” said Silver, his amusement evident in his tone. “I won’t tell you that. MI5?”
She leant her head to one side, beginning to realise that he might be far odder than he had appeared. “What is that?” she tried again, crouching down beside him. “What have you done?”
“It’s not what I’ve done,” he said. “Someone’s been playing about with anachronistic technology. It’s damaged –” He paused, frowning at the area in front of him. “It’s weakened reality. You should be very glad I’m here.”
“So, you’re going to put reality right, then?” She couldn’t keep the mockery from her voice.
Silver gave her a surprised look. “Oh, no. I’ve done that. Almost. I’ve a few last adjustments to make, but that’s a patch to cover the, ah, thin-ness, if you like.”
“I don’t think I do like,” said Liz, getting to her feet. “I don’t suppose you cleared this with the Doctor or the Brigadier, did you?”
He gave a laugh. “Oh, no. I… set up a distraction. I’m surprised you didn’t go with them.”
“So am I,” said Liz, before she could stop herself. “So, you’re in here, doing who knows what, and you’ve sent the Brigadier off on a wild goose chase?”
Silver grinned up at her, as if he expected congratulations for it.
Liz glanced back at him, and then darted for the door, yelling for one of the men. She shouldn’t have let it take this long.
“Something wrong, Dr Shaw?” Silver asked, out of sight again now from her position in the doorway. He sounded amused.
Liz turned, but before she could speak, Corporal Thompson came charging in through the door.
“Something wrong, miss?” he asked, unconsciously echoing Silver’s question. Liz looked down, since she disliked Thompson. “Not some creature in the lab, is it? A mouse, maybe?”
That condescending note underneath the veneer of respect… She narrowed her gaze. “I want you to escort this man off the premises.”
“What man, Miss?”
Liz turned around. “He’s hiding behind the workbench!”
Thompson moved around. “Nobody here, miss. You sure you didn’t see –?”
“No, Corporal,” said Silver, suddenly standing behind him. “And I wasn’t hiding,” he added to Liz, in a hurt tone.
The soldier turned, his features twisting in confusion.
“You’ve seen my pass,” said Silver. “Of course. I expect what Dr Shaw wanted to say was that you shouldn’t leave weapons lying about.” He nodded towards the lab bench, where Liz could see a service issue revolver that she knew hadn’t been there before. “Careless of you, Corporal.”
Liz watched as Thompson took it, and left, still bemused. She should, of course, have intervened, but curiosity was getting the better of her. And it was worth it to see Thompson’s reaction.
“Now” Liz said, turning back to her intruder. “Explain.”
Silver knelt back down next to his handiwork and looked at her, raising an eyebrow in query.
“Or else,” said Liz.
Silver made a small, impatient gesture. “I told you. Reality has grown… thin here. If it’s not patched up, then Time will break in – and it will find plenty to make use of here. Especially your friend, who isn’t quite…” Silver hesitated, and then looked at her again, serious this time. “He doesn’t quite belong, does he?”
“Thank you,” said Liz. “Although how I’m supposed to believe a word of that…” She trailed off, realising that she already did. He knew something about the Doctor, and she was at a loss to find another sensible explanation for him. She’d seen plenty of alien invasions and, while they didn’t come with a manual, they also didn’t usually start out like this.
Silver set to work again, ignoring her.
“I am,” said Liz, “a respected scientist. Maybe I can help?”
Silver glanced up. “Of course,” he said, and gave her his brightest smile yet. “Do you have any iron filings…?”
“You did ask,” he said.
“For your information, I have several degrees – chemistry, physics –”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Very clever of you, I’m sure. The iron filings?”
Liz sighed, and fetched them down. She watched as he tipped a few into his hand, examining them with fascination. Then he let them fall from one hand to the other until they had impossibly formed a long, dark-grey thread. Absorbed in his task, he fed the result into the wavering, hazy patch of air.
Silver paused, and turned to see her watching. He gave a quick grin, and then said, “You can’t telephone out, anyway.”
It was, Liz thought, like some kind of conspiracy hatched up by the universe: how many impossible men before breakfast? She took a deep breath, and headed towards the door –
“And I may have locked us in,” he added, without looking up.
Liz swung around. “Now, hang on –”
“Well, we don’t want any more soldiers barging in and upsetting a delicate operation, do we?”
“Oh, don’t we?”
Silver edged his way around the workbench and looked at her. “Well, no. Besides, he was a terrible bully, don’t you think?”
“Yes, I do,” said Liz, before she could stop herself, and then she frowned. “You did something to him earlier. And before – were you – I don’t know – were you reading my mind?”
He smiled slowly, his face suddenly alight with pleasure at her recognition of his cleverness.
“Who – what – are you?” Liz asked. “You’re doing something I can’t even see, you messed with Thompson’s mind, you’ve locked me in, you’ve sent the Brigadier haring off to Kent –”
Silver met her gaze. “You wouldn’t understand even if I did explain.”
Liz coloured with annoyance. As if she hadn’t spent half her life facing patronising comments like that –
A look of frustration passed over his face, and he took her hand, placing one iron filing in it. Before she could object, or ask what he was doing, it became a tiny, brief firework in her palm.
“I could probably show you,” he added, still holding onto her hand, watching her.
Liz couldn’t answer. She wanted to know – she had asked, after all – but she was suddenly breathless, and unsure what a yes might get her into. She withdrew her hand, and opened her mouth to try a response, when he moved away.
Silver knelt back down, and put a hand to that patch of air, and then looked up at her. “There!” he said, and beamed at her, as if he expected a pat on the head. “Another twenty, thirty minutes or so, and you’ll never know it was there.”
“I didn’t,” said Liz, pointedly. She folded her arms against herself, finding that patting him on the head seemed like a perfectly reasonable action. And then, she added, “I would like to see. If you can.”
He beckoned her to kneel down beside him. Liz did so, and Silver guided her left hand with his to touch the edges of the wavering area in front of her. Already she could feel new sensations tugging at her mind as she did so. He put his other hand to her head, and brushed back a strand of her long hair.
She pulled away from him sharply, the sound of her heart beating thudding in her ears.
“It’s the only way I can show you,” he said, without moving, or seeming troubled by her reaction. Then he threw her a mocking, sidelong glance. “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.”
Liz nodded. She had sensed… something she couldn’t quite put into words. Whatever this was, it wasn’t anything she might expect from anyone else.
Silver smiled, and repeated the movement, and the hazy patch became a dark hole, covered with shining silver and grey strands that were pulling the normal space in to close around it. She found she could see each individual material involved in its construction, and its properties, structures she only knew as diagrams and formulae. But it all shifted in and out of her too-small human mind and would not settle there. And she could sense something else in the darkness beyond – a threat that waited for reality to weaken further, and break its way in. She shivered, despite herself.
“There,” murmured Silver, and removed his hand from her head. He gave her a satisfied look, amusement at her response clear in his expressive face.
Liz turned away with a quick nod, trying to assemble her thoughts, and make sense of it all before she realised that she wasn’t going to. Or at least, not now, not yet. She stole another glance at him. What was he? He looked human, but he was something even stranger than the Doctor, and she hadn’t thought that possible. You could, she thought, if you wanted, dissect the Doctor and examine his alien physiology. Somehow she doubted that would provide any answers when it came to Silver. It was as if, she thought, some small yet fundamental piece of the universe had wandered into the lab. Then she shook herself, refusing to be overthrown by what she had as yet merely glimpsed, and thought: after all, we’re all just pieces of the universe, if you want to look at it that way.
And then, she straightened herself, and looked directly at him. “Twenty minutes, did you say?”
“At least,” he responded, seeming puzzled for the first time.
Liz seized what was most likely her only chance try this experiment. “Well, then,” she said, “what else can you show me?”
Silver raised both eyebrows.
“As long as there’s not any harm in it,” she added, hastily. “If we’re both going to be standing around here, anyway. I mean -” She stopped, unsure what she did mean.
He smiled again, and took her hand. “Some people would disapprove, but no, I don’t think so.” He kissed her fingers lightly.
Liz reflected that she knew people who would disapprove, too. They might have a point, but she was sure she was right, even if the Doctor would be bound to go on about alien possession and the effects of things unknown on the frail human mind, while the Brigadier would think it unreasonable to trust an intruder.
“Oh,” said Silver, and she could hear him inside her mind. I see I was right about them.
She didn’t pull away as he put his hands to either side of her head. She could feel his thoughts concerning her; a sort of amused appreciation. It was a curious sensation, but not unpleasant. Liz raised her chin, determined not to be scared by the strangeness. As he moved one hand away, she caught it, and folded her fingers through his.
It wasn’t only Silver she could sense – light, coldness, a feeling for how everything fitted together that slid away from her, unfathomable – but herself, echoed back through him. Her own mortality, the tiny space in time she occupied, her heart beating an unrelenting countdown, and the blood running through her veins. It was dizzying.
“Do you try to analyse everything?” he asked, and suddenly it surprised her to hear him speak aloud. I suppose you would prefer it if you could dissect me?
“No!” So he’d caught that thought. Liz coloured, and realised that at some point in the past few minutes she’d starting hanging onto him to keep from falling. She closed her eyes. “Habit. Sorry.”
“Take notes later,” he said, and the amusement was back again, stealing inside her mind. There wasn’t room enough in a human head to fit the things he was trying to show her; there was less room still if she tried to retain an analytical detachment. Liz abandoned the attempt, letting a new view of the universe inside, and in return gave him a moment of her very linear existence – of humanity, brief but intense, and alive.
Salisbury House, 1974
Liz had got as far as the first floor landing on her way to visit Professor Andrews, following an odd phonecall, before the man heading towards her grabbed her, and pushed her through the nearest door, shutting it behind her. She raised an eyebrow. The man’s grip had been painful, she thought, nursing her arm against herself. She’d taken no notice of him until then, assuming he was a civil servant; another grey suit. Apparently not.
She recovered her breath, and was about to turn and march back out, and demand an explanation, or at least try again to reach the Professor, when she stopped, realising that she was not alone.
Liz smiled to herself, despite everything, since there was no mistaking the person kneeling down at the other end of the room.
Silver looked up, and then brightened into a smile as he saw her. “Liz.”
“What’s going on?” she asked, moving across. “I might be able to help. If it’s to do with Professor Andrews –”
He glanced at her again, and then down at the tangle of wires he had in his hands. “Oh, I don’t think so,” he said. “Would you mind holding this?”
“I,” said Liz,“happen to be here because an eminent scientist asked for my help – and you want me to stand around holding test tubes!”
“Test tubes?” Silver looked genuinely puzzled, and then shrugged. “No, this.” He picked up the netted wire globe that he had been constructing, and then placed it into her hands, positioning it, and her, carefully, and then darted a wicked glance up at her. She tried not to laugh, despite herself, because it wasn’t funny that he delighted as much in causing a reaction in a passing human as in this inanimate device, but his amusement was infectious.
The thing began to glow as she held it, and he weaved in the last wire, with a nod of satisfaction. She could feel again the edge of things too large and too small for comprehension lurking in her mind, and the way that simultaneously attracted and frustrated her.
“What is it?” she asked, nodding down at the object she was holding.
He wound the remaining wires around his hand, then slipped them off and pocketed them. “Oh, a device to trap the transmissions. That should do it.”
“Saving the universe?”
Silver laughed. “No, no. Not as such. Perhaps.”
The door opened again, and Liz looked up to see the other man again, the one who’d shoved her in here so unceremoniously. Silver didn’t even look up, merely continued to fiddle with the globe.
“Is it done?”
The man addressed the question to Silver; he looked at Liz briefly, but didn’t deign to speak to her. He must be another of them, she thought, and being outnumbered was a suddenly sobering and unnerving thought. At least there’d only ever been one of the Doctor.
“Yes,” said Silver, taking it from Liz, with another brief, mischievous look. “No need to be so impatient, Steel. It’s done.” He turned around, and threw it over to the other, who glared at him for the frivolity. “Do you want me to go out there and –?”
Steel moved back towards the door. “Just keep out of the way – make sure she does, too.”
He left, then, pulling the door shut behind him.
Liz looked over at Silver, and then dropped her gaze, leaning against the back of the chair behind her, watching him from under her lashes, with a smile.
Silver paused, a smile twitching at his mouth in return, but he glanced back at the door. “I may be needed –”
“Didn’t sound like it,” said Liz. It was, she thought, only first contact of a sort. Or maybe, as it was turning out, a series of alien encounters. Or another experiment, this time to see how far she could play him. She raised her head.
He tucked a pen-like tool back in his jacket pocket and walked over to her. She could sense his amusement already. “You seem to be at all the time breaks,” he observed. “I’d best not tell Steel that.”
“Blame the Doctor,” said Liz. “He rubs off on people. There was a time I’d have laughed at aliens and time travel. Anyway, was that a threat? Because I don’t think –”
He shook his head, stopping in front of her. “No. Oh, no. Only –” He shrugged.
Time and its technicalities was what he dealt with, and he was interested in that first, in much the same way as she would always try and understand a mystery, try and rationalise things and look for answers. It would be easier, she thought wryly, if she didn’t keep running into higher beings who might as well have been magicians as scientists from her perspective. And talking of exploring things –
Liz let go of the chair, and straightened herself. Silver put a hand to her arm to help her, and she smirked at him. “You really shouldn’t play with humans. Look what happens.”
“It has been mentioned.”
“I can imagine.”
“Ah. You did take notes last time.”
Liz laughed. “I keep careful records of my experiments like any responsible scientist.”
I’m not a – a specimen of anything. He actually sounded put out by the idea.
Liz raised an eyebrow, and ran her hand along the lapel of his grey jacket. “And I’m not merely a collection of molecules.”
“Yes,” said Liz, biting back sudden amusement. “All right, that’s not all I am. Or at least, not merely a collection of molecules to be readjusted for your entertainment, thank you.” She tightened her hold on his jacket, and then kissed him. “Maybe there are even a few human things I can show you. You never know.”
“I suppose it is possible.”
He didn’t sound as if he thought it very likely, though. But, she reflected, with a grin, he didn’t mind her trying...
Three: Set in Stone
“The thing is, Dr Shaw,” James Kenning said, leading her into the empty great hall, “that – well, the problem’s stopped now…”
Liz walked towards the north wall of the semi-ruined manor house. The place was empty, save for this, and she looked at the mass of statues and carvings that filled the wall. It was what she had come here to see, but something else she couldn’t quite explain had drawn her over. She realised guiltily that she had stopped listening to Kenning.
She moved along the wall, looking at several small stone dogs, then two worn female figures, before she halted in a mixture of amusement and disbelief at the next. It looked exactly like Silver.
Without thinking, she put out a hand to it. He’d been around for long enough, she supposed, and bit back a smile. Then Liz hesitated, her amusement vanishing as she registered exactly how lifelike the image was – and that it was wearing a modern suit.
“Did you say the incidents stopped about a month ago?”
Kenning coloured, and shuffled back. “Yes, Dr Shaw. You seem to be a bit late. Maybe you shouldn’t touch it, though – better safe than sorry.”
She smiled at him, and withdrew her hand. “I’m all right.” Someone, she suspected, had already dealt with the problem.
“Shall I tell the professor that you’re here?”
Liz nodded in relief. She’d been wondering how to get rid of him. “Yes, do. Tell him I’ll have a good look around, and then come over and see him.”
Once he’d gone, she crouched down and set about examining the carving. It was, she realised as she did so, impossibly lifelike. Even the crazy suspicion that was running through her mind was not as unlikely as the chances of someone getting the resemblance this perfect.
Liz ran her finger over it, and then looked up at the rest. Had they all been real, living beings once? The reports of disappearances and the statues coming to life took on new and more sinister significance.
She directed her attention to the small stone figure again. “Silver? Is that you?”
There was no response, and she felt foolish – kneeling down in a deserted room, talking to an inanimate object as if she expected a reply. She let go of it. Something had pulled at her mind when she first came in, which she chose to believe was hopeful – but there was something very final about stone.
Still, she searched in her coat pockets first, and then her bag, until she pulled out a stray paperclip. She straightened it, leaving only one end as a hook, and hung it over his arm, before putting her hands around the figure. He could use that; he could use her – if he was still capable of using anything. Liz closed her eyes, and tried to reach him the other way: Silver, can you hear me?
That felt even more futile, merely a thought walled up inside her head, and she sighed. Maybe, even if it really was him, it was too late. She wasn’t sure of everything she’d seen in their previous encounters, but she had picked up on the constant threat of a powerful enemy. It was quiet in the hall, still warm in the sunlight of a summer evening, but she shivered.
“I’ll see if I can think of something else – I’ll come back,” Liz said, as she moved away, just in case he could hear her. And, then, ironically, since she’d decided that if she ever saw him again, she was going to give him a piece of her mind – no, no, horribly bad phrasing in his case – she said, instead, “If it is too late, then – I am sorry.”
She straightened the paperclip, and kissed the top of the statue, and then she turned away.
Liz gathered her things together, ready to leave, when she heard the sudden, loud and distinctly ominous sound of a crack from behind her. She turned her head, and saw the lines that suddenly riddled the structure, and ran for the other end of the room, throwing herself the last few feet, even as the whole thing fell into a heap of broken stone and dust behind her.
Pressed against the opposite wall, her hand over her head, she cautiously turned back to look, and saw Silver sitting there, life-sized and real, in the middle of the rubble.
“Oh,” he said, as she moved back over, trying to avoid the debris. “I may have misjudged that.”
Liz crouched down beside him. “Yes. Just a bit. I could have been flattened!”
“That would have been unfortunate,” he said, but he hadn’t moved yet. He picked up the remains of the nearest figure, and turned it over in his hands.
“All these others, were they –?”
Silver looked at her. “Yes. I’m afraid so.” He sounded unusually serious, and she realised that, though it might merely have been the dust, that he had somehow faded.
Liz couldn’t help putting out a hand to him. He smiled as she did so, but only fractionally. She raised her gaze to meet his. “You’re cold. Are you – are you all right?”
“I expect so,” said Silver. He looked away from her, focusing on something underneath the rubble and then picked it up. It was her paperclip. “I had been there rather a while.”
“I’ve got some tea,” she said, and then caught herself. “Which you probably don’t drink –”
Silver turned. “Sometimes,” he said, and then he gave her a full smile. “In fact, tea would be perfect.”
“You mean I’m actually capable of being useful?” Liz found the Thermos, and poured the tea into the plastic cap. “Wonders will never cease. What happened to you?”
“Well, I was almost completely calcified –”
Liz handed him the cup. “No, I meant, you came and stopped this – whatever was going on here – and then someone left you like that?”
Silver wrinkled his nose. “Well, yes. I suppose.”
Silver paused. “Steel? Oh, no. Steel wouldn’t – But then Diamond always was rather impatient. Perhaps she doesn’t like me much.” He grinned at her to show that he thought that an impossibility.
Liz told herself that there were some things there was no point trying to understand, but it was still irritating.
“Sometimes… things happen,” said Silver, giving her a curious look.
She nodded. “Anyway, are you all right?”
“I am now,” he said, sounding more cheerful again. He reached out his hand to touch her face, and brushed away some of the dust, but there was a distinctly wicked look in his eye. The coldness had gone, she noted, with relief. It wasn’t as if she had a handbook on first aid for mysterious elemental beings.
“Thank you, Dr Shaw. It was very… timely.”
Liz gave a short smile, but removed his hand firmly. “Good. And, by the way, I should say that – well, what happened before. That’s not the way I normally behave –” She stopped, as he beamed widely at her words. “That wasn’t a compliment!”
“You wanted to find out,” he said, playing with the paperclip again, forming it effortlessly into a circular pattern. “I don’t think I did anything –”
“Oh, no, you’re completely innocent,” said Liz. “Silver. You must know you’re the worst flirt I’ve ever met.”
Silver seemed about to respond, but coughed out dust instead, and looked surprised.
“Oh, come on,” she said, relenting, and held out her hand to help him up. “I’m glad I got here in time.”
He hesitated, but then he took it and more or less bounced to his feet, flashing her a triumphant smile. He hadn’t been sure he could until then, she realised, and it surprised her.
“If you were anyone else,” she said, “I’d at least give you a quick examination, but since it’s you, I doubt it’d be any use to either of us – and it’d probably only lead to trouble.”
“Trouble?” Silver raised both eyebrows.
There was no sign now of any dust on him or his suit, as he leant towards her, and she could feel the sensation of his amusement in her mind again. Back to his usual self, she concluded, and smiled to herself. “Yes,” she said, sternly, “trouble.”
Liz leant back against the wall and told herself to remain calm. She was in a building full of people. Someone would find her before too late. Although, the annoyingly logical side of her mind continued, it was six o’clock on a Friday evening, and other people had lives. And she was, as a matter of fact, down in one of the storage areas in the basement.
She still couldn’t explain how she had become trapped in here. She had walked in, and then there had been a dull sound she couldn’t identify, and, after that, she had found that there seemed to be an unseen barrier between her and the door. An airtight glass box of sorts, with her inside.
So much for not panicking. She closed her eyes, and wondered if she could calculate exactly how long the air would last – and if she would want to.
“Liz,” said a voice in her ear, causing her to jump.
She opened her eyes, and turned her head. “Silver?”
“Ssh,” he said, putting a finger to his lips, as he knelt down. You don’t want to waste the air. You haven’t got all that much left.
“What are you doing here?”
What did I say? He tilted his head, mocking her. I don’t think that’s a logical, rational question, do you? “Anyway,” he added, patting her shoulder lightly, “I’m here to rescue you. Or not precisely – I didn’t know it was you. That part is an unexpected pleasure.”
“So, you can get us out?”
“Well,” said Silver, standing again, and running a hand along the unseen wall. Eventually, I’m sure. Apparently, it’s easier to get in than out.
Liz glared at him. “Well, that was useful!”
“Don’t you dare patronise me –”
The air, he reminded her, sitting down beside her, and giving her a smile, evidently undismayed by their inability to escape. He leant over, putting a hand to her long hair.
“Silver,” said Liz. “Really, now is not the time.”
He gave a short laugh; she heard it inwardly as well as aloud. I merely need some of your hair, Dr Shaw. May I?
Liz bit back an impulse to say no, and nodded instead. He had a far better chance of breaking out of this than she did, and she’d prefer not to die through sheer stubbornness. Silver continued, and the clip that had been neatly tying her hair back fell out at his touch. Then he moved away, holding three strands of hair, though she hadn’t felt a thing.
Silver fished in first one pocket of his jacket, and then the other, until he pulled out a thin piece of metal that had been wound into a spiral. She realised slowly, that it was her paperclip. Then he wound it, and the hair together, creating a long, fine, copper-coloured wire. He looked at it, and then smiled brightly at his handiwork, and got to his feet. He moved the step or so it took to reach the wall of the box, and forced the wire through, until it fell in front of the door that was so tantalisingly out of reach.
“What was the point of that?”
Silver sat back down beside her. They’ll find us now. And don’t talk. He took her hand. Or, like this –
I’ll try. It took concentration, though, and she didn’t have so much of that either. I hope you’re right. I’d feel happier if you had a way out. Or some… air…
Silver fell silent, then, taking his hand back, but she felt him tense beside her, and when she made the effort to turn her head and look at him, his face was creased in concentration. She thought about asking what he was doing now, but doubted she would get an answer.
And the air was getting ever thinner in here, she thought. Silver?
“Just – this.” He slid his hand into hers again, and tried to show her what he’d been doing. It was too confusing to take in, and, as usual, far too improbable, as far as she was concerned. He’d been adjusting the way he functioned, from the inside out. “I thought it would be more useful.”
Liz looked at him. “You’ve turned yourself into, what, a sort of… air filter?”
“No-o,” said Silver, considering that and clearly finding it an inadequate description of his cleverness. “It seemed sensible. It’s only a matter of inhaling one gas, and exhaling another, isn’t it? It won’t solve the problem, but it should buy you more time.”
Liz leant back against the wall. You never knew what he’d do next, she thought, muzzily. It wasn’t entirely comforting, not in a situation like this. She slumped further down the wall, her head coming to rest on his shoulder. He turned with a smile, and stroked her hair. It was strangely calming, she thought, and then realised what that meant, and tried to pull away, though the movement made her dizzy.
“Don’t,” she said, with an effort, “I said, don’t patronise me – don’t play with my head –”
Silver looked at her for a moment, and then pulled her gently back towards him. “Liz. You keep telling me you’re a scientist. It’s important for you not to panic, and I am, for the moment, your only source of oxygen. You know that.”
Liz remained where she was, since he was right again, but it was infuriating. If I… get out of this alive… I shall hit you.
“Don’t worry. Lead and Jet will find us soon.”
And the words ‘don’t patronise me’ had been a ridiculous waste of breath, clearly… All right, I won’t… hit you. I doubt… you’d let me, anyway.
Liz closed her eyes. He’d gone very quiet, and she felt dimly convinced that she wasn’t going to survive this. All she knew of Silver’s colleagues was a man who had ignored her and someone unknown who’d left Silver to his fate. She was going to die, she thought, and couldn’t muster up the effort to care. It seemed harder than ever to breathe… The implication of the thought caught up with her belatedly.
“Silver?” She pulled herself up as far as she could, using the wall. She pushed at his arm, but he still didn’t move or speak. Silver!
Liz swallowed, faint again, but she took hold of his hand in hers, and tried once more: Silver? She had a sudden, disorientating sensation of being underwater, sinking, drowning, dying… It didn’t even feel like him, somehow. Then it was gone, and Silver was back inside her head. What…? she tried to ask, but failed.
“Time’s playing tricks,” said Silver, answering her incoherent question. “Don’t worry, I won’t let it happen again.”
Liz had more questions, but no strength to ask, and he’d probably never explain, anyway.
“Aha, yes,” said Silver, suddenly, moments before the door opened. “Here they are.”
“I thought you’d have vanished by now,” she said, not long after, as she recovered. No one had done anything about getting her a doctor, and she was now sitting on the floor of the next room, but Jet had at least produced a large coat from somewhere in lieu of a blanket.
“They’re finishing things,” he said, obscurely. “Making sure, you know.”
Liz raised her head. “No, I don’t. What the hell happened to me? That was deliberate – and you know something about it.”
“You don’t know?” he said, and then sat down beside her again. “Time wanted to remove you. It would have caused any amount of trouble. We couldn’t have that.”
“Yes,” she said. “Why me, Silver?”
Silver turned his head and smiled at her. “You keep telling me you’re a terribly clever scientist, Dr Shaw. Perhaps you’re going to make an important discovery soon? Won’t that be exciting?”
“There’s your other work,” he offered. “And… your friend.”
“The Doctor?” Liz pushed her hair back out of her face. “Yes. Or, just possibly, for rescuing someone who got himself turned to stone not so long ago?”
Silver paused. “Oh, well, yes. Or that.”
“You could have said!”
He looked at her blankly, and, then after a long moment, his face cleared. “Oh. I see. You would have left me there, if you’d known there was a risk?”
“I – no, of course not!” said Liz. “Honestly. I only meant, why didn’t you warn me?”
Silver didn’t answer; he merely gave her a wary look.
Liz felt as if she’d given the wrong answer in a test, and frowned. She didn’t understand, of course. She never could. But she had felt it before, that sense of a threatening presence ever only a few steps away. She put a hand to his arm, losing her anger. She wasn’t ready to anthropomorphise Time as a malevolent being of some sort, but for him, Time was always the enemy. She might as well go round warning people not to walk off cliffs. “Because that wasn’t anything unusual, was it?”
He turned back towards her, the beginnings of a smile on his face. “Stone was new,” he said. And, then: No, it wasn’t.
Liz drew in her breath, about to stop being ungrateful, and thank him for saving her life, and then hesitated. Words, she suspected, didn’t always mean much to him. She smiled to herself, and then slid her hand down his arm to take his. She glanced sidelong at him, and he smiled back, and then she kissed his hand.
Silver laughed, lightly, as if she were a child that had learned an amusing trick, but she knew he’d understood, and that was enough.
Five: Crossing Over
“Gloomy in here, isn’t it?”
Liz sat up, abruptly. She hadn’t heard that voice in thirty years, but somehow it wasn’t as much of a surprise as it should have been. “Silver.”
“I’d expected something a little less bleak,” he said. “They could have made an effort.”
Liz lay back down on the medical couch. “You shouldn’t be in here. I’m in isolation – in quarantine!”
Silver only smiled back at her, and pulled the solitary metal chair across, and perched on it sideways.
“Oh, of course,” said Liz, pausing to cough. “That sort of thing doesn’t apply to you, I suppose.” She had to smile, despite herself. It had been only her in this damned grey room for a day and a half now, and it already felt like an eternity. She’d have welcomed almost anything as a diversion from that – and from the hard and relentless future she was facing. “There is a camera, though –”
“Oh, yes,” said Silver. “I must remember to reset it again before I leave.”
“What are you doing here?” She couldn’t help the sudden lift of hope in her voice. He was so impossible, who knew what he could do?
“No,” he said, answering her unspoken question, instead, his expression grave and unreadable.
Liz thought about the symptoms she’d been alternately trying to ignore and recording for the team’s future reference. Sometimes numbness, sometimes pain… She was tired, as well, but she had a try at being as angry as she ought to be. “What, then? You’ve come to make sure I die?”
“No,” said Silver, again. She had the feeling of hitting up against a wall.
She frowned. “Well, if you haven’t come to help me –”
“I can’t do that,” he told her. “The consequences would be terrible. It would be far worse than this.”
Liz lifted her head. “Then, what? Observation? Boredom? Does it give you a vicarious little thrill when a human heart stops beating?”
Silver gave a short laugh. “No. I don’t care for that particular sensation, thank you. I’m not needed elsewhere for the moment, at least, and I thought -” He shrugged. “Isolation. Quarantine. Not very nice words.”
“So, presumably, you knew this would happen? I suppose warning me not to open buried alien capsules would have been too much to ask?”
He looked at her. “I knew… when. Since the last time. And, yes, it would. You understand that, don’t you?” Besides, he added, in her head, with more humour, would that have stopped you?
“Yes, all right,” said Liz. “I’m still annoyed, though. I’m human. We’re contradictory like that. And I’m afraid I don’t think I’ll be very amusing company for you just now.”
“You’re as charming as ever,” he returned, with no apparent trace of irony, and a smile that lightened the room.
Liz fought a losing battle not to smile back. “I was never charming!”
“Nonsense,” said Silver, patting her shoulder. “Besides, I had thought that I could amuse you.”
Liz gave a reluctant laugh. “Why not? I don’t seem to have any better offers.”
“Of course,” he added, “if I’m needed, I shall go –”
She nodded. “That’s all right. I’m not sure –” She swallowed, stumbling over the words. She could think it so clinically in her head; she could list all the symptoms and predict her progress from the fate of Dr Kelley who’d gone first. Saying it aloud, though, turned it into a reality she’d prefer to avoid. “I’m not sure it’ll be very long.”
Silver didn’t argue. He pulled a marble out of his pocket, polished it up with his handkerchief, and gave her a grin, as if he were a magician about to perform a trick. Then he placed the childish object in her palm, closing her fingers around it with his own. “Now,” he said, and she felt it in her hand, but saw it in her head, seeing every part of its structure: a beautiful and complex thing, a whole world in itself.
Then he pushed gently at the structure of it, until it unfolded slowly as she held it, like an opening flower. He removed impurities from the glass, dirt from its surface, stretched out the thread of colour into the new sections.
He was doing something else, too, as he held onto her, and she frowned, realising that the pain had dimmed. Silver?
Did you want me to stop?
Liz closed her eyes. “No. Thank you. I was going to ask how, but I suppose –”
It’s not difficult. Mostly perception, I’m afraid. I did say I couldn’t help.
Now the pain had faded, all that was left was the crushing tiredness. She hadn’t realised how bad it was. And the infection was starting to build in her lungs… It wouldn’t be long, she thought, and then she supposed there’d be one mystery she’d finally understand.
“Yes, I suppose,” said Silver, answering her thoughts yet again. He brushed her hair back from her face, and kissed her forehead.
I bet it does give you a thrill. Admit it.
“No,” Silver said. “It’s a thing I’ve seen before, too many times. I don’t like it.”
Liz had to smile. It’s how we humans are. It doesn’t work otherwise.
I know that.
So, she thought, appreciating the irony even now, there were some aspects of the universe she could explore that he couldn’t, after all. She made an effort, and squeezed his hand in return. Thank you, anyway. You were right. Quarantine. Isolation. They’re not very nice words.
“No,” said Silver. “They’re not.”
If she had the strength, she’d laugh or cry, but she didn’t know which. She kept hold of his hand, and looked straight up at him. “Well, we’ve got a few minutes at least,” she said, with a short smile, and one last challenge: “So… what else can you show me?”