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Clocks and Boxes — Part 22: Revelation

When Delia found herself back in the real world, she observed that she was in the southeastern corner of the South Hertling Super Centre, in a discrete spot between Emile's Fine Vintage Cellar and Harry's House of Ethanol-Based Beverages. Delia didn't quite follow how she had been transported into the mundane world any more than she had understood how they had left it. All she knew is that she was back, and with Alfred and Christian… and a few others.

Mostly, the newcomers were cats. Not everyday cats with fur and whiskers and breathtaking narcissism. The King's subjects wore jackets and coat, shoes and boots and all sorts of hats. Immediately, the began fanning out across the carpark – searching, no doubt, for the missing Ms Shan. The sight of a cat in a little trenchcoat and deerstalker hat made Delia laugh as it examined its surroundings with a magnifying glass. Delia's amusement froze into horror as she saw another, a small white cat with a bow behind its ear, it's cuteness turned something ghastly by a lack of any visible mouth beneath its pink nose.

For the second time that day, she found herself taking Alfred by the hand. This time, Alfred squeezed back less timidly.

"I don't know about you," Christian said. "But after that I could do with a drink. And for the rest of you. I'm buying."

Delia and Alfred were left with the other human while Christian went into Harry Montresor's bottle shop. Delia sighed, having forgotten about her. She wore a patchwork coat and a Laplander hat, and she looking up at the Pyramid and scratching furious notes.

"How long has that been there?" she asked.

"Never mind that," Delia said. "It's time you came clean. You've caused enough trouble…"

"Will cause enough trouble," the woman said.

"Stop that. You've caused enough trouble. It's time for you to tell us who you are."

"Oh, is that all?" the woman said. "My name is Professor Femur and I am one of the Science Lords of Atlantis. You see, Atlantis never sank, it relocated itself to the centre of Time itself, from whence…"

"I got some tequila," Christian said, returning with a bottle in a brown paper bag.

"Too late, I think this young lady already ate the worm," Alfred replied.

Christian was the youngest of the four, but even he was too old to drink in an alcove of a shopping centre, so the decision was made to go to the storeroom of Storage Universe and drank from water-cooler paper cups. Delia gave a friendly wave to Emile Fortunato in his liquor shop as they went.

Delia was not a big drinker and neither, it turned out, was Alfred. But Professor Femur seemed able to drink the booze like it was water, without the slightest sign of ill effect and ended up consuming most of the bottle.

"I have two livers," she explained, though nobody asked.

"So these things," Delia said. "The Watch and the Measure. What are they?"

"No one knows," Femur said.

"Sounds about right," Christian muttered.

"I know, right?" Alfred said. "I mean what is it about this place and getting a straight answer out of people, eh?"

"They are mysterious artefacts from the dawn of time," Femur said, making spooky 'dawn of time' gestures with her hands. "Or possibly the end of time. It's hard to tell sometimes. I was given them by the Science Lords of Atlantis to help me find the fissures in time and space to explore the cosmos."

Delia thought that this was said in a way that it was meant to impress. As it was the Professor's bombshell was met with a raised eyebrow from Delia, a shrug from Christian and a sigh from Alfred. After a very long, expectant pause Delia added: "Oh, good for you."

"Yeah, is the money good?" Christian asked. "Only it's got to be tricky filling in your paysheets if you go backwards in time and wipe out an hour or two of paid work."

"Why did you give these artefacts to us, Professor?" Delia sighed.

"I didn't. I will, later."

"Why might you give them to us?"

The Professor stood, swallowed half a glass of tequila at a gulp and began pacing the little stockroom. She immediately barked her shin against an angular plastic box, and sat down again.

"It's hard to say," she said. "Possibly there is some other ancient artefact at work here which needed to be countered?"

Again Delia and Alfred shrugged, but Christian piped up: "Oh, yeah, the skull! It's some sort of cosmic power source. It's pretty gnarly, but I haven't seen it since the Battle."

"So that's probably it," Femur smiled. She took the watch from her pocket and checked it. "Well, I'll leave you to sort it out. I have to catch a wormhole to the Lemon Slice Nebula, and it's leaving soon…"

She stood to leave, banged her shins again, grimaced, and made for the door.

"Wait," Alfred said. "What about this skull?"

"I don't know anything about it yet. I'll tell you when I do."

"No you won't!" Alfred said. "You'll come back and be really mysterious and unhelpful. I know. I was there!"

Professor Femur shrugged. "They say you get more like your parents as you get older. And my parents were, like, super unhelpful. Anyway, use the Watch and the Measure to find the Skull, and it'll probably all work out or something."

She turned to go, and narrowly avoided being hit in the face by the storeroom door opening. It was Gwen coming in, and she gave Femur a suspicious look as she came.

"What's going on?" she said. "Nalda tells me that Donna said that Ms Shan is missing. Don't think Donna likes me much," she added. "Who's this?"

"I was just leaving," the Professor said. "Remember, use the all-powerful artefacts I gave/give/will give you wisely."

"But Fanaka has them," Delia said, but it was too late. The Professor had slammed the door behind her. By the time Delia opened it, she was gone.

"Fanaka?" Gwen said. "Just saw him a minute ago. He was setting something up on Wellington Street. He said it was found-object art, but it looked like an anti-missile battery to me."

Alfred clapped his hand over his ears, presumably so that he could hear no more of this. Christian facepalmed and rubbed his eyes. Delia did not want to clap her hand over her mouth, but in the circumstances, she felt that she had very little choice.

Next -- Part 23: Downstage

Previously: Part 21 -- Plot

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