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Clocks and Boxes — Part 23: Downstage

Apologies, my tens of readers for for late posting; extra busy at the moment.


Fanaka was not a stupid man. He was a genius, in fact. And this, unfortunately was the problem – namely, that as a genius he knew a thousand more ways to be stupid; more paths to foolishness than the average person could even imagine.

Another aspect of not being stupid was that he deeply aware of the possibility that he was being foolish as he set up his anti-aircraft battery in Wellington Road, just outside the South Hertling Super Centre and across the street from the giant evil Pyramid that had risen from the ruins of what was once the South Bannerman Mega Centre.

But smart or stupid, genius or fool, once a man has begun building a steam-powered anti-aircraft gun in a public road, there's no easy way to walk back from it.

Fanaka stood back a little to admire his handiwork. He nodded and smiled – not a happy smile, but a satisfied one. It would work. It would work perfectly. Once Ron fired his rocket, the AA gun would automatically spring into action and shoot it down. Additional AA emplacements around the Pyramid ensured three hundred and sixty degree protection. Carefully prepared labels on each of the guns misidentified them as art installations. Since most of the citizens of South Hertling would happily have walked a mile to avoid an art installation, Fanaka judged them safe from tampering.

With a twist of a steam-vent, Fanaka activated this final emplacement. There! He had done it. Proved her wrong – that horrible woman with the Laplander hat. Ron would never be able to attack the Pyramid now, until Fanaka had determined it was safe to do so.

"Which I think was my motivation, last time I checked," Fanaka sighed under his breath. "Perhaps Nalda is right, and I would benefit from clearer direction and less absentmindedness."

Shrugging, he turned and ran straight into Ron. It was only an inordinate effort of will that prevented Fanaka from saying "Whaaaaaaa---???" in an obnoxiously loud voice.

"Whaaaaaa---??" Ron said.

It was then that Fanaka noticed that Ron's nose seemed literally bent out of shape, as if he was recovering from a fight.

"Ron! Are you all right?" Fanaka said, feeling a little annoyed with himself for worrying when he should probably be punching the man in the nose himself.

"I was attacked in my own house," Ron said, nasally.

The words 'serves you right' were on Fanaka's tongue, but instead he said, "What about the rocket! What have you done with the rocket?"

"It was stolen," Ron said. "I was going to bring it back, honest I was. But this guy, Karl something, he…"

"Karl!" Fanaka said. "What did he want with it?"

"He wanted to destroy the Pyramid," Ron said. "I think. I'm a little concussed."

Fanaka cursed in three languages that didn't even exist on this world. Karl Wintergreen! Fanaka didn't know him well, but everybody knew that the man was a conspiracy theorist. Not a particularly successful conspiracy theorist, granted, but even a bad conspiracy theorist was probably too suspicious to be taken in by a AA gun disguised as found object art.

"Why are you flapping in small circles like that?" Ron asked.

Fanaka took a deep breath to calm himself. "It's okay," he said. "We can deal with this. I don't know if Karl is a technical man. It might take him a while to get the rocket ready…"

"Oh, it was all but finished when he took it," Ron said. "Even someone with rudimentary mechanical knowledge could have…"



"I hate you."

Ron had the good grace to look miserable at this. "So what should we do?"

"I don't know," Fanaka said. "Everybody has been looking for Wintergreen for weeks. No one has been able to find him anywhere."

Fanaka began flapping again, though this time he was aware of it. He wished Nalda was there. She always calmed his panic attacks – usually by glaring at him so hard that he passed through 'panic' and into 'paralysed with terror'. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

But instead of his sweetheart's loving death-stare, he found himself stumbling over something small and soft. He righted himself and looked down, to see a pink cat – which, for some reason, was dressed in the collar and cuffs of a dress shirt, but without the shirt.

"Do you mind?" the animal said. "I am appreciating this work of sculpture. Art, even!"

"Uh…" Fanaka said. And then, because he was fast approaching the end of his rope, added, "You haven't seen a disgusting bum in a white suit, have you?"

It seemed as good a thing to say as anything. And, to his astonishment, it seemed to pay dividends.

"Karl Wintergreen? Heavens to Betsy! I just saw him around the corner. Up the street, even! Mind you, he's cleaned himself up a little..."

Fanaka stared down at the bizarre creature, torn between desperate gratitude and a desire to dissect it. He looked at Ron, who shrugged.

"Don't look at me, man. I once saw a triceratops reading Mein Kampf. To me, this is comparatively normal."

Taking a deep breath, Fanaka counted to ten. If there was one thing he'd learned since coming to South Hertling, it was how to just ignore crazy nonsense and get on with things.

"Come on, Ron," he said. "Help me catch Karl and recover the rocket, and we'll call it even."

"You know, it wasn't your rocket that I stole, so we're already pretty even."

"Come on!" Fanaka grabbed Ron by the arm, and ran in the direction that the cat had pointed. He stopped a second later to avoid being hit by a bus, then shouted, "Come on!" again and kept running.

"Exit, downstage, even!" the cat said from behind them. Fanaka wondered what the animal meant. But his train of thought was interrupted by an explosion and a plume of smoke in front of him, which he judged as consistent with a steampunk AA battery blowing up.

Next: Part 24 -- Grampy

Previously: Part 22 -- Revelation

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