Clocks and Boxes — Part 50: Now

“I just wish you’d told me how unhappy you were with the Anthropocene age,” Fanaka said. “You know, before you tried to kill all humans.”

“And if I had told you, vat difference vould it have made?” Nalda said.

“I suppose that is a fair point,” Fanaka grimaced.

They say on a bench outside of the music shop. Or rather, they sat on half of the bench, since the other half was blocked by a bicycle that some thoughtless soul had chained there, instead of in the bike rack just ten metres away.

“It’s a fair point if we’re talking about outcomes,” Fanaka added. “But I’m not. I’m talking about communication. I’m talking about honesty.”

A breeze blew over them, warm and smelling of smoke from the burning spaceship wreckage. Nalda set her shoulders and looked at the ground – or at least her sunglasses were directed downwards.

At least it was quiet enough to talk, Fanaka thought. With Nalda occupied in relationship discussions, her hard-light AI hologram warriors had stood down. The Pyramic Cult had taken this opportunity to team up with the DIY Barn forces, in an attempt to sweep the Handy Pavilion away for good, but the sudden reappearance of Donna with an army of interdimensional cartoon cats at her back seemed to have turned the tide.

“What happens if they win?” Nalda said.

“I don’t know,” Fanaka said. “I thought that the Pavilionites were in a defensive struggle against the Barnlings. I suppose that winning means they don’t lose. But can we worry about that nonsense later? I was really hurt when you tried to destroy my species.”

“Technically, you are not from this verld,” Nalda said. “You are from an altenate timeline. This doesn’t really affect you.”

“So it was okay not to tell me?”

“That’s not what I’m… Ach!”

Nalda stood. For a moment, Fanaka thought she was going to walk away. Instead, she paced back and forward for a moment, before sitting again.

“Look, if I hadn’t been send backvards in time to dis era to ensure der coming of der machines, ve vould not even have met,” Nalda said. “So, if du think about it, dere wouldn’t even be an us if I vasn’t trying to topple humanity.”

“And kill everyone.”

“Not necessarily!” Nalda huffed. “Ve could just put all der humans in virtual reality pods. Let them live their lives in a make-believe world. Preferably some pre-industrial scenario.”

“Yes, that does seem more sensible,” Fanaka said, flatly. “A world where people know nothing of computers would certainly be more escape proof. And also, look at the popularity of online fantasy games – people want to get immersed in such worlds.”

There was a long silence. A man in a silver Barnling uniform ran screaming past, frantically beating at the howling cats that were entangled in his hair. There was another long silence.

“I’m sorry,” Nalda said. “I should have told you.”

Fanaka sighed as if he was deflating. It was the Newtonian motion of arguments, he knew. He had been pushing so hard for her to say something, and now that resistance had given way there was nothing to keep him from falling on his face.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “Destroying humanity as we know it… it was your greatest wish. What sort of boyfriend am I? Not knowing the love of his life’s greatest wish. Not caring…”

“Don’t say that, Liebchen,” Nalda said. “Of course you care. You crossed the galaxy to get back to me.”

“Oh, anyone can do that sort of thing,” Fanaka said with a wave of his hand. “All the songs brag about it. I would cross an ocean, climb a mountain. ‘I love you so much that I would do something cool that makes me look awesome.’ No. It doesn’t count. What I should have done was have this conversation with you a long time ago.”

“But it vas only recent events…”

“Don’t defend me. You know I did the wrong thing.”

Now it was Nalda’s turn to let out a sigh, like a collapsing beachball.

“Ja,” she said. “Ja, you should have asked. You knew the answer vould make you unhappy, so you didn’t.”

Across the carpark, Donna was trying to hold back a cat in a red and yellow superhero costume, who was bashing Stavros Theopoulos’ head against the side of a van. Stavros put up his hands in surrender. The cat put its paws up in the air to gesture of angry peace and walked away, but as soon as Donna had let go of it, it pounced on Stavros again.

“So, vat does this mean for us?” Nalda said, clearly not referring to the shopkeeper being beaten by a cat.

“I don’t know,” Fanaka said. “Yes, I should have been a better boyfriend… listened more… known about your genocidal goals… but even so, I can’t really allow you to use my equipment to destroy humanity.”

Nalda waved him down. “Jemmy’s hologram projector can’t really give me a big enough army to conquer the velt,” she said. “Not even mit der Babbage engine from der Moon helping. Der only chance ve had vas using der chaos of der battle to take power, but der battle ist ending mite in vimper, so…”

“So no world domination until next time?” Fanaka said. He tried to keep the hope out of his voice. He failed.

“Nein,” she said, raising a hand to stroke his cheek. “Not until next time.”

Across the way, Zorbar had come to Donna’s aid, and they’d finally freed Mr Theopoulos for long enough for him to surrender-- and also, surprisingly, to hand over some sort of glowing amulet to Donna. Fanaka barely took it in. He was smiling now, smiling so hard it almost hurt his cheeks.

“Not until next time,” he said.

It wasn’t forever. But it would do, for now.

Next -- Part 51: Exposition

Previously -- Part 49: Ma

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