"Sitting in the ruins of your life, looking upon the detritus of your once proud hopes and dreams? Hey, I can relate."
Fanaka looked up to see Axel munching on a pastry in the middle of the ruins of the music shop. To his right, past the broken windows was a chaotic battle. Through his tears, Fanaka couldn't quite make out who the sides were, but he knew some of the combatants to be Nalda's army of solid-light holigrams. To his left, Jemmy and Mildred were trying to get to the hologram-generating equipment in the backroom, but the way was blocked by a shining forcefield.
"She was…" Fanaka said. "Nalda, I mean. I love her. How could she…"
"Fanaka, she loves you," Axel said. "Never doubt that. But she's a killer cyborg from the future, you know? And when you're dating a killer cyborg from the future who's programmed to help bring in the Age of the Automaton, then… well… things can get a little rocky, you know?"
"I crossed lightyears to find her," Fanaka said. "Dimensions. Never thought of returning to my own timeline to see my family. It was all for her."
"Do you two mind having the deep-and-meaningful later?" Jemmy shouted. "Because we could use some help, here."
Axel's face screwed up in annoyance. "Did you try turning off the mains power?"
"What do you reckon?" Jemmy said impatiently, before gesturing for Mildred to keep hammering while he slunk off towards the junction box.
"It won't work," Fanaka said. "All that stuff is being powered by the Skull now. It's using a power as far beyond mere electricity as electricity is beyond rubber bands."
It bothered Fanaka that he could still think of such things – that even as his heart broke his engineer's mind would not turn off completely and leave him to his pity and gloom.
"Fanaka, you have to pull yourself together," Axel said, munching on his pastry. "We need you. Nalda needs you. She still loves you. She said so herself, just before everything went haywire."
"She's trying to eradicate human kind to create a machine age!"
"And you're against that," Axel shrugged. "Honourable people can disagree. Are you just going to let a little political quarrel keep you from the love of your life? No. Perhaps you can reason with her, convince her that human beings…"
Axel twisted suddenly, his face distorting with anguish.
"What's the matter?"
"I'm falling apart, Fanaka," Axel said. "I'm holding onto my damaged timeline as hard as I can. The trouble is, if you think about it, that last sentence I said doesn't really mean anything. How do you hold onto a timeline? Seriously. You might… Fanaka, I hate to say it, but your father may have been right. You might have to… you might have to kill me to save all of space/time. It's… It's not what I want. But if someone has to do it, I'm glad it's you, my friend."
A ceiling tile, that had been wobbling since the spaceship crash, chose that moment to fall. It landed on a snare drum, bounced and hit a cymbal.
It took a moment for Fanaka to process what had just happened. Then he chuckled. Axel seemed shocked at first, but soon joined in. Soon the two were helpless with racking laughter, tears streaming down their faces, their sides in agony. Fanaka wasn't sure how long it took for their hilarity to die away. But as they wound down he heard a 'zzt!' sound, followed by Jemmy swearing, and then the fluorescent lights went out. There was nothing for it but to start laughing again.
"Ah, man," Axel said, when he finally regained control of himself. "Oh, it does you good to laugh. Crap! I squashed my cake."
There was more laughter, but not as helpless this time.
"What is that thing you're eating, anyway?" Fanaka said.
"Homemade Twinkie," Axel said. "It's an American confection. Hard to find here in Australia, so I make my own."
"I'd heard that supervillains love those things."
"It's a cliché, yes. But it's also very true. Look, Fanaka, everything has gone to hell. I don't know what your lady friend is up to… I don't know what the coming of the malevolent singularity will mean for your relationship. But I know that there's no point wondering how things will go if there are no things to go. You need to kill me before I destroy the universe."
Fanaka looked down at his hands and shook his head. Somewhere outside, something exploded. His eyes widened in the light of the burning whatever-it-was, and his lips parted into a huge grin. "No, Axel," he said. "No, that's not right. You're a temporal anomaly? Well, I'm a temporal engineer. You're not a threat, old friend. You're a power source."
It was all so clear. He took a marker pen and started scribbling equations on a whiteboard behind Jemmy's counter, but this was more to have something to do with his hands than because he needed to.
"We need to go back and talk to Nalda before she began her mission."
"Back?" Axel said. "Isn't she from the future?"
"Yes. And as you know, the future lies in the years ahead," Fanaka said. "I can adapt some of the electronics… Casio organ… 240v… I can do it! We can go to future, talk to the young Nalda and convince her not to go through with this."
"...Or you could go outside now and try to talk sense to…"
"No time!" Fanaka said. "There's never any time for the present, not with the future-past and past-future and whatnot all taking up so much of my goddamned time!"
Fanaka didn't notice Jemmy wander over until the shopkeeper was right next to him. "I electrocuted my hand, so I had to run it under a cold tap."
"That's burns, Jemmy," Axel said.
"What are you doing with that Casio? Time travel? Man, I always steered clear of that juju. Gives me a headache."
"That's my secret, Jemmy," Fanaka said, pointing to the circlet of gears that he wore around his head. "I always have a headache."