Clocks and Boxes — Part 44: Afoot

Alfred couldn't breathe. But then again, he thought, if he was suffocating then he must be alive. That was better than he'd expected to be, after the crash.

Alfred could see, dimly. He could make out no details, but he could see a sort of white light all around. If he'd been a religious man, perhaps he would have assumed that he was dead after all. As it was, his frantic brain came up with idea after idea until realisation struck:

"The Bubble!" he said. "I'm in the Big Evil Bubble!"

Or he would have said it, if he could talk.

Okay, inside the Bubble. Unable to breathe. Probably being slowly digested? Alfred wasn't sure what happened to people once the Bubble had them, just that they were never seen again.

The light outside the Bubble was turning red. Fire? Had the pod crashed? What sort of escape pod is flammable anyway? Though he could see the presence of light, Alfred could hear nothing but the sound of blood in his own ears. Alfred briefly considered self-pity followed by death, but then he remembered Delia's kiss and decided on futile defiance. Followed by death.

He pushed out hard with his arms and his legs. They moved with little resistance, like he imagined moving through jelly might be like. But the outer skin of the Bubble seemed infinitely flexible. There was no puncturing it with a limb.

The Watch? It was in his pocket. Perhaps he could stop time or something? That would at least give him time to think. That was what he needed. Some time to think. Seriously, he wasn't a thinker. He was more a deal-haplessly-with-things-er. Delia was the one for thinking ahead and whatnot. Maybe giving up on the 'self-pity' idea had been premature…

Wait! That was it! The Bubble was activated by thoughts of escape. As soon as it enveloped anyone, their thoughts of escape kicked into overdrive. All Alfred had to do to escape was give into his fate! Alfred thought hard. He pictured all his childhood dreams and ambitions and remembered how one by one he'd given them up to own a clock shop… He remembered the numbing comfort of his routine and let it wash over him. The next he knew, he was gasping air – sweet South Hertling air scented with petrol smoke and blood.

"Alfred! Alfred!"

Arms were thrown around him, and Delia was holding him tight. He wished she'd squeeze less tightly, what with the gasping for breath and all, but he didn't have the heart to say so.

"I… I did it, Delia," he gasped. "I got out."

Delia looked at the Measure in her hands. "No, I teleported you out of there."

"Oh," Alfred said. "Thanks."

"Uh… I'm sure you loosened…"

"Don't bother."

Alfred's head had finally cleared enough to assess his surroundings. Oddly, the burning wreck of a neo-Victorian spaceship escape pod was the least chaotic thing happening. A massive brawl was going on in the SuperCentre carpark, with at least three factions whaling on each other as they sang tunes from West Side Story.

"I know," Delia said. "This place never changes."

"I suppose this is what Sarah wanted us to deal with," Alfred said. "The final battle over the Pyramid."

Delia looked pointedly across the street. "Pyramid seems perfectly fine."

A silver-clad Barnling trooper came pelting out of the melee. He cracked his head on a girder from the space pod and fell to the ground. Delia sighed. Alfred sighed.

"So, if I am following correctly," Delia said. "Those people there are the survivors of the Handy Pavilion who were at large or rescued from gaol."

"And those people beside them look like the Pyramid cultists," Alfred said. "Did we ever get around to finding out what their agenda was?"

"It was a little vague."

"Isn't everything?"

"And those people there must be the DIY Barn people," Delia concluded. "No sign of the police."

"Hey," Alfred said. "With all this musical theatre, do you think those weird cats will grow to human size and start singing too? 'Midnight,' and what have you?"

Delia waggled her hand. "Bit of a long-shot."

A tomahawk came whirling through the air. Delia ducked slightly and it passed over her head, burying itself in the hood of a Mini behind her.

"So where's the Bubble?" Alfred said. "It was supposed to be the key to this fight, wasn't it?"

Delia pointed, and Alfred saw the Bubble behind a pile of space wreckage, rolling in small circles as if it was bored. Alfred was a little disappointed to see the creature that had almost killed him twice reduced to a loose end.

"Okay, so… what do we do?" Alfred said. "It's down to us, isn't it? This whole situation. So what's going on, and what can we…"

"Look!" Delia said. Alfred turned to see the Evil Bubble quivering in the direction of the Pyramid.

"It's keyed to escape," Afred said. "Is the Pyramid trying to escape?"

Delia grabbed him by the arm and his heart skipped a beat. She was clearly trying to remember something important, but still. Gripping him by the arm.

"Maybe there's someone trying to escape the Pyramid?"

They both paused to sidestep a fast-rolling burning tire.

"Like who?" Alfred said. "A mummy? It isn't a mummy, is it?"

"No, no. Ms Shan was telling me, a couple of Pavilionites got stuck in there after the Battle. The First Battle, I suppose."

"Who?"

"A ghost truck and a Greek demigod."

"But not a mummy. That's something."

The Bubble stopped quivering and took off like a greyhound. "Come along, Alfred," Delia said. "The game's afoot!"

Next -- Part 45: Friends

Previously -- Part 43: Tonight

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