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Trouble on the Line

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When Martha got into the tube carriage, there was only one other person inside it – a man. He didn’t look particularly threatening, however: a slight, red-headed figure standing next to the exit at the opposite end of the compartment, wearing a grey suit and seemingly engrossed in doing something with his mobile phone.

Martha, having finished a hard day’s round of paperwork following UNIT’s latest foiled alien invasion, ignored him, sitting down and losing herself in her book. It wasn’t till the next stop that she noticed he was now crawling about on the floor. Maybe he’d dropped that phone of his?

“Excuse me,” he said, a few minutes later, as he bumped into her knee and made her start. He gave her a smile and pulled himself up off the floor before sitting down next to her.

Great, thought Martha, and stuck her nose further into her book in the hopes he’d get the message, but preparing to kick him if he didn’t. She really wasn’t in the mood for this.

“I know, one doesn’t speak to strangers on the Underground,” he said, sounding amused. “Isn’t that the unwritten rule? The thing is, I thought you might want to hang onto something –”

The tube train came to a sudden and screeching halt, the lights flickering and then dying to be replaced by the emergency lighting. Martha picked herself up off the floor and retrieved her book. Couldn’t he have warned her earlier?

She dusted herself down. “Thanks.”

“Not good,” said Silver, taking little notice of her predicament. He shook the mobile phone. “I know it’s this that’s causing it all, but I can’t see how. It’s proving rather resistant to my efforts to get into it.”

Martha had been preparing to tell him to get lost, but things were moving towards professionally weird, so she gave him a second look. “Who are you?”

“I’m a technician,” he said, and gave her a disarming smile, or one that would have been disarming if it hadn’t been so obviously intended to have that effect. “Silver.”

“You’re not from Torchwood, are you?”

Silver raised both eyebrows. “What a horrible thought,” he murmured and took out what looked like a scalpel, trying to do something to the phone with it. “No, no. That isn’t working. And until I can get into it, it’s going to keep us here.”

“The phone is?”

He nodded, not appearing to think there was anything strange about the statement. “Yes. It’s here, now, of course, but it’s strongly tied to the time of its last call. Or text, possibly. It’s so hard to tell when you can’t look at things properly!” He glared at the mobile.

“How would that even work?” said Martha.

Silver sighed. “You see, Time is, well, like a corridor, and there are things in that corridor that would rather get out of it. They’ll use anything they can to do it. Things like this phone become significant – they become triggers. And then we’re sent in to stop it.”

“We?”

Silver looked around him and then sagged slightly against the seat. “Yes. I’m not sure exactly where they are. Elsewhere on the train, or perhaps they got trapped at the terminus. Either way, I need to stop it!”

“Um,” said Martha, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I have an energy weapon. Alien technology – UNIT special issue. I should give it back, officially, but hostile aliens don’t tend to wait for you to fill in forms when they’re out to get out. We could blast the phone – would that help?”

Silver looked up from the phone again and stared at her for a moment, although he didn’t seem to think her means of destroying the trigger was worth even answering. “Take it,” he said, holding out the mobile. “Perhaps it might try to work through you – that might give me a better idea.”

“Are you asking me to be bait?”

“Not bait precisely, but maybe a more effective conduit?”

“Thanks,” said Martha. “Great. Mind, that’s not even the worst pick-up line I’ve heard this week.”

It probably wasn’t a good idea, but she knew weird on a professional basis, and weird was definitely what had happened to this train. If she wanted to get home, her only hope seemed to be giving Silver a hand. He was weird, too, but hopefully the good kind of weird, like the Doctor. It was hard to be sure yet. Mind, she wasn’t sure she believed the phone was evil, either.

“Will you?” he said. “I should be able to prevent you from coming to any great harm.”

Martha grinned. “Very reassuring. Okay, then.”

She took the phone. It was an old-style brick, not in a case and its display screen was dead. It seemed a very unlikely cause of trouble, but even as she thought that, she had to bite back a gasp, fighting a sudden, rush of emotion: hurt, loss, pain. The Circle Line’s trappings around her faded away against the vivid colours of emotion.

“He’s dead,” said a faint voice, on the other end. (The other end of what?) “I’m sorry. He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead –”

“Yes, I think we get the idea,” said Silver, taking the telephone out of her hold and breaking its uncomfortable spell, although Martha had the sudden sensation that Silver had been with her all through it. Was that comforting or plain freaky? The jury was out.

“Thank you, Dr Jones.”

Martha swallowed, unsteady after that strange moment. “It’s not the time of the call it wants to get back to – or someone wants it to get back to a few minutes before the call happened. Before its message was real. If somebody died, I suppose that makes some kind of sense.”

“Yes. I thought so, too. Then the phone’s owner must be on the train. Or possibly the platform we just passed,” said Silver. “I’ll have a look, although, really, that’s what Operators are for. Stay here.” He fiddled with the door, and then nimbly hopped out, but shook his head at her when she got up to follow.

“I’m not staying here just because you told me to!”

“It’ll be worse out here,” he said. “Stay. I would if I could. And if anything comes for you, well, you do have an energy weapon.”

“Will that do much good to a mysterious thing from outside Time or whatever it is?”

“Oh, I shouldn’t think so,” said Silver. “But I presume trying will make you feel better and probably annoy London Transport. It might at least provide a distraction.”

Martha watched him go through the window. Outside was dark, too much so to track his progress for long, and she had no idea whether the rails were live or not – Silver was weird enough that that might not be a problem for him – so she’d probably better wait, at least for the moment. There was just enough light to allow her to read her book if she sat in a good spot and angled it right.

 

The lights came back on and after a blurred moment, the train started moving again. Martha put down her book, and then nearly jumped hard enough to hit the ceiling on finding Silver sitting beside her again.

He smiled. “You were right about the phone call.”

“And the rest?”

Silver shrugged. “Not very pleasant. My colleagues were already there, however – and once the owner had been dealt with, it was much easier to dismantle the telephone. Fascinating little device. I’ve been wanting to play with one for a while.”

“And why are you back here? Concerned about me?”

His smile grew a little. “You mentioned an energy weapon. Alien technology. I really would like to see it, if you didn’t mind.”

“You’ve got a nerve.”

“Possibly,” said Silver. “I suppose I must have several. Oh, and I thought I ought to thank you properly.” He passed her a piece of metal twisted into the shape of a butterfly. It glinted in the light. “It was part of the phone, but it’s perfectly safe now. The problem lay in the memory and that, I assure you, is gone.”

Martha laughed. “Nice. You still don’t get my weapon, though. That’s classified.”