Title: A Vein of Silver
Fandom: Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel
Characters: Liz Shaw, Silver, the Third Doctor, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
Summary: Let the wall be built, the stranger said; Dr. Liz Shaw considers her options in a laboratory where something's gone wrong with Time.
Author's note: This was written with a great deal of affection for lost_spook (and a great deal of nervous second-guessing on the author's part) for the 2015 Fandom Stocking fun. She it was who introduced me to Sapphire and Steel, she it was who instilled in me the understanding that Elements are not human, but that Silver and Dr. Elizabeth Shaw might be an excellent pairing. (Perhaps something like fine, albeit very odd, wine, one supposes ....) NOTE: for those for whom it could affect their enjoyment, there is an exceedingly brief moment of mild violence near the end; no one's agency is taken away and there are no injuries, but it should be noted. ONE FINAL NOTE: This takes place slightly later in Silver's timeline than my story "The Bright Side of Time," but considerably earlier in the Doctor's timeline.
Edited by: My poor self alone. It has been read and re-read rather obsessively, but any remaining misspellings, mistakes, and missteps are solely mine.
Disclaimer: None of the characters in this story are mine. They are the sole property of the BBC, Peter J. Hammond, ATV, and their various creators. I intend no infringement and take no coin.
Liz watched him for several minutes before deciding that it was time to step out from the lab’s store room and into his view.
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He was definitely not with UNIT, she knew; she and the Doctor were the only non-uniformed types who could get this far into UNIT’s lower levels without an escort (and possibly manacles.) He didn’t have the look of a government flunky, either — not that government flunkies would have had any reason to be in her laboratory, nor could they have evaded the aforementioned UNIT teams.
Of course, she couldn’t claim any detection skills in determining the man’s non-UNIT, non-government status, she thought wryly. A man fading into view, sliding sort of … sideways … into the ordinary reality of a laboratory was a definite clue.
She was all but certain this man’s appearance was connected to the Doctor. After all, not only had he appeared at UNIT, and in a lab used by the self-proclaimed alien, but in the lab that housed his extremely odd ship. A friend of the Doctor’s, or perhaps an enemy? God help us all if it’s the latter, she thought.
If the stranger had hoped to meet the Doctor, he was out of luck, Liz thought. That worthy wasn’t at the base right now, having been called out by Lethbridge-Stewart to investigate reports of odd doings up north somewhere.
Both of them had expected her to go with them, but she had refused.
“I may be attached to UNIT, but not at the hip,” she’d said with some asperity. “My remit doesn’t include traipsing off with no notice — at least not unless it involves an immediate invasion of Earth, and you haven’t indicated that’s a possibility. Frankly, right now my plate is already loaded with UNIT work. I’m clearing up after your last biological experiments, Doctor, thanks for that extra work by the way, and completing reports that have to go to you, Brigadier, not to mention trying to complete a few tasks of my own. No, I think you’ll manage quite nicely without me to cramp your masculine style.”
She’d expected the Brigadier to growl, or at least glower — after all, she’d accepted UNIT’s work offer and probably did have to go wherever top brass told her to — but he’d simply raised an eyebrow and said, “Your assistant has a point, Doctor.” The Doctor had harrumphed in his usual fashion, then grabbed his coat and said that it was high time they were on their way. Liz was grateful enough for their quick exit that she didn’t mind being described as the Doctor’s assistant. More like his minder she’d thought, before adding, grudgingly, and sometimes his student.
So; no Doctor to help her with this latest extremely unusual incursion. She could hit the alarm and summon any number of extremely efficient military types, but military types also tended to be somewhat trigger happy. And some of them were terribly young. She hated the idea of putting boys into the line of potential alien fire; she had much rather leave them as a last resort.
Besides, this grey-clad man with the overly long rusty red hair and the slight smile playing around his mobile mouth didn’t seem violent. Far from it; he was moving very carefully around the lab tables and — this was odd — rapping the far wall at regular intervals, then tilting his head, as if to hear something responding to the rapping. When he wasn’t rapping, or listening, he was humming pleasantly to himself, with a tuneful light tenor.
Well, no time like the present for asking him who or what he was, and why he was tapping on her laboratory’s walls instead of going directly to where the Doctor’s blue box sat at the end of the room, she decided. For some reason, she was reasonably certain she was in no danger.
Before she could make a move, however, the man turned his head in her direction. He really did have a charming look about him. “Why don’t you come out?”
Liz fought the urge to duck back into the other room. “Will I be safe if I do?”
His smile slipped slightly. “From me? Certainly. From that? I’m not at all sure.” As he said it, he gestured with his chin toward the last spot he’d rapped on the wall. Liz looked, and abruptly felt a great deal less sure of her safety.
There was …. something … moving near the man … was it a cloud? Or did it have a less mutable form … oh, this was difficult … Was it on the wall, or actually in it — she peered as closely as possible and still couldn’t decide — and was it sparkling? Her eyes began to hurt as the cloud shifted constantly from a dirty grey to an ugly yellow-brown and back in a nausea-inducing fluorescent shimmer.
“I wouldn’t keep staring at it, if I were you. It can sense attention, and reacts to it. You don’t want that.” The man seemed to move around or possibly through the sparkling darkness, and resumed his rapping.
“You just moved through whatever it is without danger, though.”
“Well, that’s me, isn’t it?” He smiled.
Heavens, he could have a string of women following him with that charm, she thought distractedly, before returning to the scientific questions at hand. “Is it in the wall, or just next to the wall? Where did it come from? Is it sentient —”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Exactly as I’d imagined you.”
Liz lowered her head as she frowned at him. She didn’t like the way he sidestepped her questions, or, for that matter, that he knew who she was. “If you can’t answer me, I’ll have to investigate this myself. How closely can I approach it?”
“That would be hard to do with your eyes shut and, as I just mentioned, you really, truly, shouldn’t be looking at it for more than a second or so at a time. It’s terribly toxic. The more you look at it, the more it looks at you, and if ever there were something that Nietzsche might have been talking about, this is that thing. I’m Silver, by the way,” he said.
Liz blinked; the conversational u-turn was almost enough to wrench her attention from the thing on her laboratory wall. Silver, she thought, what kind of name is Silver?
“I’m Liz. Doctor Elizabeth Shaw.” She was slightly surprised at herself for responding in kind.
“Yes you are,” he said. He sounded approving. “As for me? I mean you no harm.”
He stopped and grimaced. “Goodness, that sounds like something an alien might say, doesn’t it? Or a wizard?”
It sounded so ridiculous that Liz found herself smiling, somewhat against her better judgement. “Are you?”
“An alien? Good heavens, no. I belong on this earth just as surely as you do, no matter what some of my colleagues might say.”
“Then are you a … a wizard?” Liz felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment. A scientist was not supposed to let something that ridiculous roll off her tongue. However, after all her time with the Doctor she was willing to believe in people who believed they were wizards. And who might, all logic to the contrary, be dangerous because of that belief.
“No again. Actually, I’m a Specialist,” the man, Silver, said, quite obviously capitalizing the word.
He hadn’t answered her real question, Liz thought, at least not completely. “Are you here to get rid of whatever that thing is?”
Silver looked pleased. “Indeed.”
Then he stopped and made a little moue. “Well, to be quite accurate, I’m only scouting this location. I have partners who are working elsewhere who plan to, shall we say, lure this thing to them, where it can be penned in and dealt with. As soon as I’ve sent them the necessary information they can begin the luring, and my job is supposedly over. But I believe I have more to do here than they thought,” he told her.
And finally — finally — as he spoke, his head turned toward the Doctor’s box.
“Ah! There it is!” Now his smile was blinding.
“You were looking for this?” Liz wasn’t sure she was pleased that her hunch had been correct. “Is it supposed to help your Assignment?”
“Not according to those who sent me. But if I were to be completely honest,” and here his smile grew crooked. “I had wondered whether I might find a connection, Steel’s scoffing notwithstanding. This is, after all, a UNIT base, and we’ve known that UNIT is familiar with a Galactic type who deals in Time. No names, of course, our higher-ups rarely are interested in giving us more information than they think we need. However I do, upon occasion, check up on things about which I have a particular interest, and a TARDIS is a terribly attractive nuisance when it comes to rogue Time. Terribly attractive. And here I am, proven correct,” Silver said.
“You know I’ve wanted to see Her again ever since I got lost in Her halls some years from now,” he continued conversationally.
Liz was only momentarily confused by the fractured tenses. “You’ve been inside it?”
“Years from now, as I said. Sapphire was there as well; we met quite an interesting young lady — human, like you, but subtly changed by her exposure to Time, poor thing. I wonder if she ever won free of those shackles ….”
Silver trailed off, then cast a judicious eye on the cloud thing. “I believe it will behave for a moment. It knows I’m here. So let’s take a look at this lovely lady, shall we?” He walked over to the Doctor’s blue box.
He stopped smiling the moment he touched it, his entire body going stiff and his expression turned to stone. “Well this is an unpleasant surprise.” He walked around the three exposed walls of the TARDIS, rapping very, very gently and occasionally looking back at the cloud-thing.
“What’s an unpleasant surprise?” Liz was no longer wary; she was instead annoyed. That was the Doctor’s property, this was her laboratory, and by God she wasn’t going to stand around useless if her lab (or the building, country, or globe surrounding it) was at risk. She eyed the wall alarm, then decided against pulling it — those soldiers were so very young. No, this was her space, and it was her job to protect it.
She risked her own glance at the cloud and saw to her alarm that it appeared significantly larger than it had only moments ago. That decided her. Alien technician, human or not, whatever he was, he was going to have to explain things more fully, and accept that she was going to play a part in his operation.
She threaded her way past shelving on her side of the lab, avoiding the cloud and coming around to Silver’s right side. He frowned at her. “You really should have stayed —”
“I’m sorry, but you are on my turf, Mr. Silver,” she said firmly. “You seem to know who I am; if that’s the case, you should also know that I am not going to sit on the sidelines like some damsel in distress. I may not be the Doctor, but I am a physicist —”
“ —and an astrophysicist, not to mention a fully qualified medical doctor,” Silver interrupted. He looked grim. “None of which will help. And to be quite precise, you are on my turf as long as that thing is trying to break into this reality.”
“Don’t be absurd.” She was now quite angry. “ I may not be able to slip into this reality, as you call it, like that cloud — or like you, which I’ll point out could make you quite as dangerous as it — but don’t dismiss my skills.”
She glared at him, daring him to contradict her.
He did nothing of the sort. Instead, he eyed her speculatively, then smiled slowly. “In truth, I could use some help.”
“What do you need?”
“I had thought that the TARDIS might be drawing the cloud — as good a name as any for it, I suppose, at least at this point — into the world,” Silver said briskly. “That is far more true than I’d hoped, and in far worse a fashion. My colleagues and I did not get current information from our superiors. This attempted invasion—”
“Invasion!” She should dash over to the alarm and call down as many UNIT troops as possible, Liz thought. She should try to get a message to the Brigadier and the Doctor, she should do something other than chit-chat with an entity that might have been lying to her from the moment she met him … it … him.
“Not by little green men with three heads, as I think you once called them,” Silver said, interrupting her interior tactical maneuverings. “This is an invasion by Time Gone Wrong.”
“Time gone wrong? How can time go wrong?” Liz shook her head even as she spoke and held up a hand to forestall a reply. “No, don’t tell me, I don’t think we need to go into that. I’ve worked with the Doctor. I know humans know precious little about time. I’ll take you at your word.”
Silver nodded. “Good, especially since I’m about to get to the unpleasant surprise. Rather than a recent strike, the cloud entity has been on the move a long time. It was drawn to the TARDIS just as I’d thought, but not today. It’s probably been weeks, possibly months.”
“How do you know?” Liz asked.
“I touched Her and She is almost cold.” For the first time, she saw something other than surface charm or deadly calm in his eyes. He appeared truly pained as he said it, as if the TARDIS was a living being, a friend he had to visit in hospital. “It has almost killed Her.”
Liz thought quickly about the Doctor’s desperate attempts to operate his strange little ship, his frustration and bottled rage at being unable to use it. He said it was some sort of punishment by his own kind, that they’d taken his knowledge from him. But what if something else was hobbling him, hurting his ship and blocking his abilities?
“Will destroying the cloud help the TARDIS?”
“We can certainly hope so,” he said.
This had better be worth it, she thought. “What next, then?”
He tilted his head again, looking at her from under lowered lids. “What next? This; you must let me draw energy from you.”
“To give to the TARDIS?”
He grimaced. “Sadly, no, at least not directly. What I need your energy for is to build … hmm … let’s say to build a wall around Her. The cloud is still drawing what it can from Her. I believe it needs only a little more of Her remaining essence to apparate completely into this time and place. And that, my dear Dr. Shaw, we simply cannot allow.
“So we shall cut it off from Her. Not only might that protect Her, but it will hurt our opponent. And when it is most completely cut off from Her by your energy, I shall cut its anchor to this time and place. At that point, my associates will draw it toward them.”
As Silver spoke, he leaned in further and further toward Liz. And somehow, he had maneuvered her into a position unnervingly close to the cloud.
“This won’t kill me, will it?” She tried to sound calm.
“No. It will not, that I promise,” Silver said.
She wasn’t done, although she hurried her questions, because a quick look to the side let her know the cloud had expanded again. “Will this hurt me?”
Once again he looked pained. “Yes.”
Her breath hitched. “Well … do what you need to, before I change my mind.”
Silver gave a tight nod and a quick smile of approval, then grabbed her right hand with his left. Swiftly, he pushed the sleeve of her blouse up past her elbow; buttons tore off her cuff, and she gave a little cry, less of pain or shock than of anger. Before she could pull her hand from his, however, Silver brought his right hand down to the back of her neck and steadied her head, which had threatened to snap back.
“I will take nothing from you that you do not wish to give,” he said softly but very urgently. “And I will keep the pain to a minimum. But I will not lie to you. This will be difficult, it will hurt, even with your cooperation. Are you still willing to go forward?”
Liz had stopped pulling away from him: she narrowed her gaze, but fought her own panic to a standstill with a judicious burst of anger. “You … you always needed me. You needed someone, and I was here. Admit it! If you’re not going to lie about the pain, you had better bloody well not lie about what you’d planned!”
“No. I am not lying. I didn’t think I would need any human to help me do my job,” Silver said. “I am still telling you the truth. But what we face is stronger than I was led to believe it would be, and the lay of the land is not what I expected, not with Her so close to death.” As he spoke, he brought his right hand down from her neck. Very gently, he passed it across Liz’s right forearm. “Are you ready?”
I don’t believe I will ever be ready she thought, then nodded acquiescence. Doctor, you will owe me.
The moment she nodded, her right forearm exploded into flames, or so it felt to her. She bit her lip, hard, to keep from screaming. She would not let Silver see her scream. But she wept as the heat licked her from elbow to fingertips.
Just when she thought she would have to give in and scream, the heat and pain disappeared. She looked down at her forearm, expecting to see red, blistered flesh. Instead, she saw her arm glowing with a green-blue light, tendrils of which detached themselves from her skin and began to twist and curl into the air surrounding the TARDIS.
The more the light climbed and moved away from her, the more numb her arm went … and then her shoulder, then both shoulders. Next, she lost sensation in her torso, and the swift flow of light, energy and strength away from her dropped her to her knees. It was worse than pain, she thought, gasping for breath. It was like being drained of everything that made her human.
Even as Liz stumbled, Silver put his arms about her, holding her safe from complete collapse. “Let the wall be built,” he whispered in her ear. “The sooner it’s built, the sooner this will be over.”
She said the only thing she could. “I trust you.” She was fairly certain that was a lie, but she still felt she needed to tell this … this entity, this Silver, that she trusted him. She thought it was the only coin he would accept from her. “Let the wall be built,” she agreed.
She was right, she thought, if the look in his eyes was any measure. She wanted to close her own eyes, because she was so very tired, but she couldn’t take them off the interweaving strands of light — her own life’s blood, she thought in confusion — as they transformed into an aquamarine barrier between the Doctor’s TARDIS, and the cloud.
She thought she saw dirty yellow-grey light begin to flicker behind her, but when she struggled to turn her head, Silver whispered. “Don’t look. Don’t let it catch your eye. Keep watching your own light, Elizabeth Shaw.”
She did. She thought it was beautiful, and wondered if that thought were simply delirium. Behind her, the other, ugly, light faded. In front of her, she thought she saw the TARDIS beyond the newly built barrier. She thought she saw it glow a much brighter blue than she was used to seeing on its walls. Perhaps She can begin to heal now was Liz’s muddled thought.
She looked up at Silver’s face. It was drawn with effort, but fierce with elation. “The wall is built, Elizabeth,” he said. “You have done what you agreed to do. Now it’s my turn.”
He pulled one hand away from around her shoulders and began to gesture in what seemed to be a formal pantomime of sealing the cloud light into a box. Then, giving evidence of his own growing exhaustion, he turned the gesture into an explosion, by turning his hand into a fist, then throwing it open again.
Behind her, she heard a roaring sound, like a train inside a tunnel. She thought she heard something shriek, but the sound receded from her, as if whatever was shrieking had been dragged under the train and taken wherever the locomotive was going.
“It’s done,” he said, weakly. “Steel … Sapphire … it’s yours now.”
Before he closed his own eyes, Silver took care to lie Liz down in a comfortable position next to the barrier of light. He made one last, weary gesture. The barrier began to fade, becoming tendrils of light once more, and those tendrils collapsing back into her forearm. As they did, Liz felt strength begin to return to her, although she was still very tired.
She looked up at Silver. “Can I sleep?”
He smiled and closed his eyes. “Yes, I think that would be the best thing.”
“You kept your word,” she said sleepily. Then: “Will the TARDIS recover?”
“I think She will.” He spoke without opening his eyes. “Now, if you will excuse me, I must rest for a moment before I leave.”
“You’re leaving.” She wasn’t surprised.
“Yes. Hush now. Sleep.”
*** ***** *** ****** ****
“Miss Shaw? Miss Shaw!!”
“Liz? Are you alright? What on earth has gone on while we were away?”
The Brigadier and the Doctor were talking over each other, and it was very annoying, Liz thought as she swam back up to full consciousness. She didn’t want to open her eyes, but she realized she was lying not on the floor, where she last remembered having been, but on a cot. Had Silver placed her there before he left? She slid one eye open for a moment. Yes, Lethbridge-Stewart and the Doctor were back. Dear heavens, she thought, how long has it been?
Silver was gone. She could feel his absence. Well, it was a most unforgettable meeting</i>, she thought. <i>If I’m lucky, perhaps I’ll see him again. If I’m luckier, perhaps I won’t.
“We received a call from staff here, hardly two hours after we got up north,” the Brigadier said. She’d apparently asked her question aloud. “Lights began dimming all over the base, alarms flashing, and my people heard you screaming, but they couldn’t get into the laboratory. Something was keeping the doors shut. We turned around and got back here as fast as we could. Do you remember anything about your attacker?”
“No attacker,” Liz said, scrubbing at her face, and lifting herself up on her elbows. She was in the Brigadier’s office on the cot he kept for overnight stays. She decided it had to have been Silver. It seemed as if it was something he might do. “Someone was here to … uhm … fight off the attacker.” As she awakened further, she realized she wasn’t making nearly enough sense. She turned to the Doctor. “Time Gone Wrong, Doctor … have you ever heard of such a thing?”
The Doctor went pale. “Liz, was there an Element in here? Did it get into the TARDIS?”
Oh, he was familiar with Silver’s kind. But he didn’t seem to appreciate them. Now she was irritated. “That Element’s name is Silver, and he saved your TARDIS from being drained completely by Time Gone Wrong. Silver cared for your TARDIS. More than he cared about what happened to me, frankly.”
“What in heaven’s name are the two of you talking about?” Now it was the Brigadier’s turn to look confused.
“If — if — the two of you will let me sleep for about the next 10 hours, I promise I will tell you everything,” Liz said. “Doctor, go check out the TARDIS if you wish. I think you’ll find that She —”
“She, Liz?” The Doctor looked at her very thoughtfully.
“It’s what Silver called Her. I assume he knew what he was talking about,” she said. “Now, let me sleep.”
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