Fanaka's step always lifted a little when he walked into the Disposal store. This wasn't so much because of the merchandise. The camping gear and army jackets reminded him unpleasantly of his short stint the Air Force back home. He'd served as a Meteorologist's Mate on a stealth airship, running recon missions over Madagascar. He'd been so happy when his deferment had come through, giving him the chance to get to Nairobi and PAISAW. Then, of course, the accident had happened stranding him in this odd, non-Steampunk, non-Afrocentric world…
But there was one consolation. He'd found another lost soul to love… If soul was indeed the right word.
Nalda Teheintausand was restocking some camping pots when Fanaka entered, and his heart lifted at the sight of her. Nalda. The time travelling killer cyborg that had won his heart. Her hard, thin lips twisted upward when she saw him. Her smile was barely perceptible. But it was enough. He grinned broadly in return.
"Nalda," he said.
"Liebchen," she replied.
"You haven't seen a strange looking woman around? Possibly in a Lapplander hat?"
"Nein, no such person."
"Good. Maybe I can hold onto her watch a little longer."
"Ach, Fanaka, still you obsess over this watch?"
It might have sounded like a criticism, if Fanaka heard not detected the faintest whisper exasperated mockery in her mechanical tones. 'Oh, you,' she was saying.
"Do you remember when I told you the casing was impossibly smooth?" he said, producing the watch from his pocket. "I was not exaggerating. It is literally impossible to produce a surface as smooth as this in any matter of any sort. Conclusion: it is not made of matter."
Nalda looked at the watch with suspicion. Fanaka knew that problems that were invulnerable to shotgun blasts made her edgy. "Not matter? Then what is it?"
"It's made of time, Nalda," Fanaka said. "It is made of pure time, condensed into non-crystaline solidity, and then engineered into a watch. It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen." He looked from the watch to Nalda's impassive face and felt his lips part in a grin. "Make that the second most incredible thing."
Fanaka could not seen Nalda's eyes behind her sunglasses, but he was certain that she was rolling them. She placed a hand on his arm. "Liebchen," she said. "What does it mean? To have a watch made of time?"
"I don't know," he said. "Yet. It's another piece in the puzzle."
The puzzle. How does time work? That was the question everyone wanted him to solve. The people at the support group. Ms Shan. Laura Cho. Even poor Axel, on his lucid days. Time. It's like air – all around you, but you never notice it until something is wrong with it. And if he found out how it worked… What would happen? Would he be able to stay with Nalda? Or was their relationship contingent upon both of them being stranded in the wrong time and place? As a scientist, he needed an answer. As a lover, he dreaded having one.
"The closest thing I saw to the fabric of the watch was the skull," Fanaka said. "You know, that weird extradimensional energy source McThingus."
"Working on my colloquialisms. What thinkest thou?"
"I vould them a rest be giving."
Fanaka shrugged his wide shoulders. "No one's seen the skull since the Battle. Laura says that she lost track of it after destroying my superweapon."
"Ja, der superweapon dat broke reality und nearly destroyed time itself."
"It had some teething issues, yes," Fanaka said, waggling his hand in a 'there were problems on both sides' sort of way.
"I tink I heard Donna talking about der skull," Nalda said. "She has been looking for it."
"Don't you mean, 'She has for it been looking?'"
"It's been a long day, Liebchen," Nalda sighed. "I'm an not in the mood being."
Fanaka scratched his earlobe. "I guess I could go ask Donna," he said. "Have you seen her about?"
"Right dere," Nalda said, pointing through the shop's window. Outside, Donna was strolling back to the Storage Empire, munching on a salad wrap. Fanaka went to the door and gestured her in. She entered and stood at the counter, looking slightly baffled.
"Donna, Nalda tells me you've been looking for the Skull," Fanaka said.
"Amongst other things," Donna said. "The Skull and the Brownie. We found the Brownie and we've been trying to exorcise him but…"
"Christian, Gwen and me."
Fanaka's jaw dropped. "But Gwen tried to destroy the Pavilion."
"True, but she also helped us save it."
"She tried to murder Axel."
"Well, she says that she didn't really want Axel dead. She just wanted to beat the shit out of him. Look, I don't trust her for a second. But she did help us take down the DIY Barn.... Anyway, I have no idea where the Skull is. I tried using the same technique as I used to find the Brownie…"
"Vas technique is dat?"
"Oh, I used this," Donna said. From her pocket, she produced a brass tape measure. Even before she began speaking, Fanaka guessed what it was.
"It doesn't measure in standard units. It measures in concepts. So once I had a rough idea where the Brownie was, all I had to do was measure one brownielength in two directions, triangulate…"
"May I see that please?" Fanaka extended a hand, Donna thought for a moment, shrugged, and handed him the Measure.
Fanaka held the Watch in one hand and the Measure in the other. "Did this come from an odd looking woman in a Laplander hat?" he said, already knowing the answer.
"Yes. What's up? What's with that watch?"
Without taking his eyes off of the objects in his hands, Fanaka explained his theory. The Watch was made of time. Fanaka was sure of it. The Measure… it was made of a different material. Built in a different style. And yet there was something in the way it felt, something similar to the feel of the Watch. The Measure… it must surely be made of space? It made sense.
Well, yes, it also made no sense at all.
But it made sense.
Fanaka held the Watch in his left hand and the Measure in his right. An impulse overtook him, and his breath caught as he slowly brought them together. He could hear that Donna had stopped breathing. Even Nalda was making that slight buzz she made when she was overwrought. The two objects came closer and closer...
But they never touched. At the very last millimeter, Fanaka blinked. He moved the items away from one another. The sound of breathing filled the air, and the bell over the door rang as a customer walked in. Nalda went to tend to the newcomer, leaving Fanaka with Donna.
"May I borrow this?" Fanaka said. "I'd like to do some experiments."
"What will I say if its owner comes back?"
"Tell her to come and pick up her watch," Fanaka said. "And feel free to add that she owes $37.50 plus GST."