In the darkening car park in front of the Handy Pavilion, Laura listened patiently to Buck Dusty's long expository story of magic, conspiracy and the eternal peril approaching all dimensions. She listened in silence as he explained the origins of the Grey Barn and how the fate of all dimensions is intertwined, all along the vast wheel of fate.
Once he had finished, she turned to Bruce. "You buying this?"
"Yeah, yeah, secret war, fate of civilisation," Bruce said. "Think I read this story I was a kid. Reckon it had the Silver Surfer in it. Hey, you're a super hero. Do you know the Silver Surfer? What's he like?"
Laura looked up at Bruce's immense robotic face. "Don't be silly. The Silver Surfer's not real."
Bruce looked so disappointed that Laura took pity. "Mind you, I met Aquaman once," she lied. "Total class act."
"I don't think y'all are taking my explanation serious, like," Buck said.
"Why should we?" Laura said. "It doesn't change anything. Before you explained all that mysterious-conflict-defining-the-universe crap, we were at war with the DIY Barn and now we're at war with the Barn and we have to remember some stupid backstory that sounds like you were snorting peyote at a Twin Peaks marathon."
It was dark now, and the only illumination came from the massive overhead lights of the parking lot. Buck's face was invisible in the shadow of his hat, but he shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
"Do people snort peyote?" Bruce said.
"Yeah, I think so," Laura said. "Pretty sure."
"Enough!" Buck said. "This is important. The Pavilion's role in the cosmic…"
"Why are you telling us this anyway?" Bruce said.
"That should be clear," Buck said. "Remember what I said about the third epoch of the second conflict on the axis of…"
"Oh, so we have to win this fight because of the prophecy?"
"What prophecy? I didn't say nothing 'bout a prophecy."
"Yeah, you did. Didn't he Laura?"
"He might of. I was drifting in and out," Laura said.
"Look, this is simple, now," Buck said. "Since the days of Hammurabi, three Barns…"
"Hammurabi? I thought you said Nebuchadnezzar?"
"I mentioned Nebuchadnezzar. In passing. But it was Hammurabi that…"
"Hey, Laura! We have always been at war with Hammurabi! Get it?"
"Oh, it's from this book I read in high school. Reckon the hero was a wuss, but. What's wrong with rats?"
Buck looked up at the sky and scratched his chin, like he was trying to take the skin off it.
"Look," he said. "This ain't complicated. Let me tell it again, usin' small words. In the Time of Gardax, when the Sons of Horthan reigned supreme, King Zeblec was first of the the Chosen Ones…"
"Choose this!" Bruce said, extending a mechanical middle finger the size of a bar fridge.
"You know what?" Buck said. "You can all go to heck, you consarned hoopleheads! I come over here to explain matters, let y'all know why it is you gotta die. Help you understand the cosmic purpose of your annihilation will serve. But fine, you wanna die ignernt? Be my guest!"
Buck turned and stalked away. Bruce moved to follow him, but Laura checked him. "We need you here," she said. "I put a tracer on him. With any luck, he'll lead us to where they're keeping Christian. In the meantime, we need you here."
"Because the final battle is coming in the morning."
"How do you know?"
"Because he wouldn't have told us any of that shit if he thought we'd have time to use it to our advantage."
Bruce stood to his full height and stared at the DIY Barn. A distant, determined look settled over his electronic eyes. "Seriously," he said. "What was with that bit about King Arthur being a Sasquatch?"
"I know, right?" Laura said. "And the Great Wall of China is a spaceship? Puh-lease! I'd buy an Egyptian Pyramid spaceship, just about. But the Great Wall? That's just stupid."
"It was like bad fantasy novel, written by an idiot."
For a second, both Laura and Bruce crumpled up their faces in deep thought. For a long moment, they were lost in deep consideration, but they seemed to reach the same conclusion simultaneously, and they shook their heads.
Laura looked up at the full moon. Somewhere inside the Pavilion, she could hear noises. It sounded like a gunfight. Blaster pistol versus shotgun from the sound of it. She sighed, knowing that she would have to deal with it.
Soon. Not now. Priorities, yeah?
"They'll attack at dawn," she said. "The Barn."
"They'll want light, but they also won't want to deal with the peak hour traffic on Wellington Road."
"Do you think… Do you think there'll be casualties?" Bruce said.
"Not worried for myself," Bruce said. "I'm dead, you know. But dyin' isn't pleasant. Wouldn't wish it on any of you. Not even Adam."
Laura was jolted out of her thoughts. "What's wrong with Adam?"
"Oh, he knows."
"I better call Ms Shan," Laura said. "Could you look through one of the high windows and tell me what's going on? I don't want to know, but I'll have to break."
Laura dialed Ms Shan's home number. Mrs Lebeau answered, and turned it over to a barely awake Ms Shan. There was the slightest pause after Laura had said her piece. Just the slightest.
"Thank you Laura," said Ms Shan. "I'll summon the troops. Stay where you are."
The phone slipped back into Laura's pocket. "So what's going on inside?"
"Looks like Axel is fighting Nalda." Bruce said. "Oh, now the Phantasm's gone and gotten involved. Looks like she doesn't like Axel. Oooh! That's gonna sting come morning."
Laura breathed deeply. A strange calm came over her. The alternate future version of herself had told her that she would not die battling the Barn, but she wasn't sure she trusted the older woman. No, tomorrow, she would live or she would die. If she lived, there was a greater threat to come, thanks to Axel's careless sale of a pulley. But, bottom line, if she lived, she lived and if she died, she died.
There was something simple about that idea. Almost comforting.