Life may not be the party we'd hoped for, but while we are here we should dance

Old proverb

Steel walked onto the lawn and looked around, his grey eyes coolly studying and recording everything he saw. It was a typical backyard of a typical house on a presumably typical day, or so he gathered. In his world, typical was a word that he had very little contact with.

This one had a picnic table, still decorated for some type of celebration, although everything on it was covered with a thick coat of dust and the wind had blown some bits away.

"What was it, Sapphire?" He looked out across the fence to the backyard of the house next door. There a swimming pool, once filled with water, now stood empty and acting as a garbage pail. "What happened?"

The woman was wearing a pair of blue silk pants, and a neat white blouse, its collar decorated with bright thread, embroidery, she'd called it. A party.

Yes, I know it was a party.

I wasn't sure, since you never seem to show an interest in them.

I have more important things to do with my time.

All work and no play makes Steel tired and grumpy.

How would you tell? He wasn't above poking fun at himself, at least not with Sapphire. What happened here? Everything is just abandoned, this house, the one next to it. Where are all the people, Sapphire?

She let her hand just touch the picnic table and brushed the dust. Her eyes widened slightly and became fixed, pulsating blue as she answered. "This dust contains high levels of iron, aluminum, sulfur, and barium."

"Is that normal? For here, I mean?"

"No, there should be trace amount of silica. There are no traceable amounts of plant spores or normal minerals from outside soil. And there are no human cells."

"Meaning? Is that significant?"

"This was some sort of party, birthday from the looks of it. Human children would have sat around this picnic table –"


"It's an outdoor celebration with food, and for some reason, ants. This dust was most assuredly placed here artificially. It's almost as if whoever put it here knew what the concept of dust was, but not how to make it."


She crossed her arms and sighed. For someone as intelligent as he was reputed to be, there were times when her partner was insanely dense. Steel, dense. She almost laughed out loud. "If we knew that, we wouldn't be here."

Of course I'm dense. Have you ever known steel not to be dense? He didn't pick up on her joke. He wouldn't.

She looked around. In his neat three piece suit, Steel looked as if he stepped from the pages of some men's fashion magazine. She rarely quibbled at his choice in outfits though… a benefit he didn't always give her. He couldn't understand her need to blend in, dress appropriate at times. But of course, Steel had no more desire to be human than he did anything else. To him, it was all about the assignment, and the next, and the one after that. All the other Elementals relaxed from time to time. Not Steel, it wasn't in his composition to relax. That's what made him dependable, strong and ever forward looking.

He had wandered back to the table and was examining it, while staying a few inches from it, ever suspicious. "But where are the people, Sapphire?"

"I don't know." She stared off into the distance. "I'm sensing no one at all."

"No one? Not even… residue?"

Her eyes glowed blue and she slowly shook her head. "Nothing. No elevated levels of carbon that would indicate that bodies had been destroyed."

He was on edge before she could even finish. Even without touching his mind, she could feel the tension vibrate off him. "A trap?" Ever since they'd escaped from the prison the TransUrnanics had tried to lock us he, he'd been on edge for another attack.

"I don't think so."

"Then what?"

"Well, perhaps not a trap as you would think of one, but perhaps more of a false pretense." She couldn't keep up the charade any longer.

His eyes narrowed and he walked over to her, the air practically crackling around him. "I don't understand, Sapphire, and I want very much to understand." He grasped her arms, firmly, but not so hard as to hurt her.

"It was Jet's idea. Something to keep you occupied for a short while."

"Why, Sapphire?"

"Don't you realize what today is, Steel?"

The world began to shimmer around him and he let go of her, staggering back a step to regain his sense of balance. He hated being time shifted when he wasn't expecting it. When his vision cleared, he was in one of the assignment rooms.

"I do not like being played as a fool, Sapphire." He was very angry, angrier than she'd even seen him before, then suddenly Silver, Jet, and Lead were there, dragging him away, laughing and jostling him. Sapphire saw a look simmering in his eyes and dropped her gaze to the floor.

This was a mistake, she thought.

Yes, but not one that you made. Steel answered her back and then nothing. He'd broken the connection between them.

Sapphire sat alone in her chambers for a long time, trying to put the act to rights in her mind. It had seemed harmless enough and she felt she was close enough to Steel to dupe him. That hadn't been right. It would be a long time before he trusted her again.

A soft chime announced someone's approach a split second before the door whispered out of sight. Steel was standing there, his presence filling it in a way few others could.

"Steel, -" she started, but he held up a hand and she stopped.

"This was wrong, Sapphire." His voice was not quite as angry as it had been.

"I know, I didn't think it would turn out quite this way. It's seemed quite innocent when Silver and Jet proposed it."

"No, I meant, this was wrong. I was never born, Sapphire."

"What? Of course you were, you're standing in front of me."

"I wasn't born, I was forged, to be hard, unyielding, the one absolute in a world of chaos. I was created to fulfill a need. My duty is to fulfill that assignment, nothing more. I cannot nor will I allow myself to be swayed from that purpose. I hope you can understand that."

She wanted him to leave so she could let the tears forming in her eyes to spill over. He was going to request reassignment with another partner, one who would not distract him. It was her own fault for forgetting that Steel was who he was.

"Of course." Sapphire hated that her voice sounded so small when his was so full of conviction. "I understand completely."

"I'm not sure that you do." He sat beside her, staring at the far wall. Then he turned and took her chin, his eyes softer now. "What do you think this means?"

"That… I will be reassigned."

"No, that's not what I meant. I meant that I cannot be distracted with such trivialities as parties and meaningless celebrations." He leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers. "My focus must stay upon my duty."

"Is that what I am to you, Steel, a means to complete your duty?" She didn't mean to make it sound so bitter, but she was hurt and angry and very, very sad.

He smiled then, very gently, almost shyly. "No, my work is my duty, my world is you."

And for now, that was enough for her.