Clocks and Boxes — Part 3: Hope

On the first Thursday of every month, the Time Lost Support group met at the old Scout Hut at South Hertling Reserve. In the draughty echoing space, a ragged circle of folding chairs was set up. Everyone was seated, except for an olive skinned man in a grubby military uniform.

"Hello, I'm Ronnie," he said.

"Hello, Ronnie," chorused the group.

"I fell through a portal from Nazi Dinosaur Earth," Ronnie drawled. "It's… It's better here in some ways. Not quite so many Nazis, you know? But you're not allowed to shoot the Nazis that are here, for some reason." He paused and shook his head. "I do miss the dinosaurs, though."

"I don’t quite follow," Fanaka said. "I suppose there are dinosaurs and Nazis on Dinosaur Nazi Earth, but are the dinosaurs Nazis?"

"Some of 'em, I guess," Ronnie said. "I'm probably stereotyping here, but mostly therapods. But most of the dinosaurs are just dinosaurs, you know? They're usually kind of apolitical."

Fanaka wrote this down carefully in his notebook.  Beside Ronnie and himself, the group that night included a little white man in a tight-fitting jumpsuit and an enormous head, a blonde woman in seventeenth century buccaneer regalia, a Japanese man built like a sumo but dressed as a Roman gladiator, a Aboriginal woman who wore a 1960s spacesuit and Lena, the counselor. A smaller turnout than usual.

"That's great Ronnie," Lena said. "Great. How is the job search coming?"

"Things are moving a little slowly," Ronnie said. "Turns out my degree in lemur husbandry doesn't open a lot of doors around here. I was thinking of maybe making and selling... uh... we call it 'bronto powder', but I think you guys call it crystal m…"

"And we're putting that idea on the backburner," Lena said, hurridly. "Who else has something to share? How about you Fanaka? How's Nalda?"

Fanaka grimaced. He was from an alternate past and his girlfriend, Nalda was from some sort of apocalyptic future, but somehow they made it work. She also didn't like coming to these meetings and only made the effort when Fanaka looked like he might sulk if she didn't.

"She's fine, thanks," he said. "She's working at the Disposals store now. It doesn't suit her. I think she'd have preferred something at the arts store, but they hired Belinda. For some reason. But anyway, yes. I do have something to share. Look at this!"

Fanaka held up a huge silver pocket watch. "Observe. It is currently set at the correct time, 7.47, yes? Now I set it to… say… 5.23. I close the watch. I open it, and look! It is back to 7.47."

Ronnie applauded, but his clapping slowed to a stop when he realised that the others were silent.

"Fanaka be no stage magician!" the bucaneer said. "He do be an engineer and physicist from… What was it? The Pan African Institute of Steampunk Technology and Wonderment. He's saying there's something up with that thar watch."

All eyes were on Fanaka, almost hungrily. Time is a one way street for most people, and for that reason it was not common for people to become lost in it. South Hertling had an abnormally high concentration of people from different eras and alternate worlds. The support group was there to help them make the most of the time lost people's new situation. Every other week they went there to share stories and help each other find their way. Some had ties to South Hertlings –jobs, friends, lovers. And yet, there were few amongst them who wouldn't go back to their own times and places if they only could. A magical watch in the hands of a temporal engineer… it made them hope.

"At the present, I don't know what this watch can do," Fanaka said. "It is not my watch, anyway. Soon I will have to give it back to its owner. In the meantime, I can do some experiments…"

A groan rippled around the circle. "You've been experimenting since before the Pyramid went up," the woman in the spacesuit said. "And what's that got us?"

"No firm results, ye lubber!" the buccaneer bellowed. "Every time ye believe ye have nailed down the true nature of causality, ye be finding a whole treasure trove of conflicting data!"

"Well, that's true," Fanaka said, defensively. "Time's a difficult thing. Even if I found the theoretical basis of time, there's no guarantee I could get you home. There's only one power source I know of that would be sufficient, but that's been lost since…"

"When raise our hopes, cuz?" the astronaut said. "Look I'm sick of this bloody dimension. I want to get back to Awakabal Moonbase. But hope... hope hurts."

"Look, Fanaka is doing his best," Lena said. "Although they do have a point. The purpose of these meetings is to come to terms with being lost in time, not necessarily to find a solution. Yes, Fanaka, I know you're an engineer, and engineering is about solutions. But maybe do that on your own time?"

Grumpily, Fanaka pocketed the watch. "I was only trying to help."

"When ye can help, then help," the buccaneer said. "Until then, still yer tongue, says I."

For the rest of the meeting, Fanaka was quiet, bordering on sulking. When the discussion ended and everyone helped themselves to instant coffee in Styrofoam culps, he sighed deeply and slunk off to the door.

"Can I have a word before you go?" Ronnie said.

Fanaka regarded him wearily. "Yes?"

"You were there, right? I mean, when the Pyramid went up."

"Yes," Fanaka shuddered. "I saw the whole thing. I still don't know what it was that happened. I'm told a man named Buck Dusty knew what was going on, but he's dead."

"But it's connected isn't it?" Ronnie demanded. "To the weak temporal boundaries in this place. To this power source you mentioned. This Pyramid is at the heart of it all."

Fanaka shrugged. "Perhaps. I'm a scientist. I like to control variables -- examine one element of a problem at a time. When the Pyramid went up, everything was happening all at once."

"But your gut feeling?"

Fanaka's gut said 'yes'. It said the Pyramid, the Skull, the battle -- perhaps even the mysterious Watch -- all connected. Obviously all connected. How could it be any clearer?

But he said: "I'm a trained scientist. My gut feeling is no more meaningful than your own."

"Well, I think it's all connected," Ronnie said. "I think that all the weirdness that's happened in this neighbourhood recently was like… like you know when a t-rex is coming and you see ripples in your glass of water?"

"Uh…"

"Or the local equivalent of what I just said. I think that all the strangeness lately was just the wobbles that preceded the arrival of that thing. Perhaps if we…"

"Well, there you're wrong," Fanaka said. "I've been examining time around the Pyramid and it's no different from background time. Whatever caused you to come here, whatever is holding you here, it's not the Pyramid. But I'm sorry, I cut you off. You were saying: 'perhaps if we…?'"

"Nothing," Ronnie said, suddenly defensive. "Just thinking out loud."

Next - Part 4: Food

Previously - Part 2: Space

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