The moon was full that night, so Seamus the gnome didn't need artificial moonlight in order to remain active. He sat on a sat on the edge of a planter, just by Harry's House of Ethanol Based Beverages, his little ceramic legs dangling over the edge.

"Sure and so it be Ms Shan you were looking for?" he said. "Sure and I heard she was missing. Mind youse, there's a lot of that going around. Delia from Storage Universe is nowhere to be seen, and Alfred and Fanaka from the clock shop have…"

"I'm not interested in them," Karl said. The fellow had pulled himself together since Seamus had last seen him. He wore a clean white suit and a new straw hat, though he still seemed sunburned and emaciated. "Only Ms Shan."

Seamus sighed. "Why? What crazy conspiracy thing do you think she was involved in? Oh, I've been keeping me ear to the ground, Karl Wintergreen. I know ye've been running round with ideas even more tomfool than usual, bedad. Well, take it from me, Ms Shan has an advantage that a lot of you big folk lack, and that's that she's exactly as she seems. She's a bossy Indian lesbian who I wouldn't cross on a dare, and that's that. So you just leave her be." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Interlude: Searching"

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Delia opened her eyes slowly and took in her surroundings. She was lying on an old-fashioned chaise-lounge, fully dressed but covered by a light blanket. The chaise-lounge was up against one wall of a modestly sized living room, decorated with green patterned wallpaper, some potted ferns and a portrait of a stern looking moustachioed man in a crimson uniform. Other than the lounge, there were a couple of leather-upholstered armchairs and a coffee table. There was no sign of a television, or any other electronics for that matter.

A loud ticking sound seemed to come from several sources at once – a huge dark-wooded grandfather clock at one end of the room and a mantle clock over the fireplace at the other end. Delia noticed that the grandfather clock ticked slightly more quickly than the mantle clock, as if their mechanisms were running at different rates. In a way, this pleased her. After coming here in such a bizarre way, it would be unfortunate if 'here' was not a desperately odd place.

The door opened, and in walked a woman, a short Aboriginal woman in a white lace Victorian dress. She carried a tea-tray which she deposited on the coffee table. "Awake, aye?" she said.

"I'm awake," Delia said. Should she also ask where she was? No, the answer was probably coming whether she asked or not. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 29: Homewards"

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"Donna, I have to hand it to you and your Grampy," Carol said. "That massive prison break went like clockwork."

"Of course it went like clockwork!" Grampy Erik said.

"No offense meant," Carol said. "It's just that you see prison breaks on TV, you read about them in the paper, and it seems like there's usually some exciting incident during the escape that raises the tension and drama."

"Not with me in charge!" Erik said, squaring his skinny shoulders beneath his brown cardigan.

Donna nodded in satisfaction as she looked around the assembled Pavilionites. They were all there – mostly the ones whose names she couldn't remember, but also a very uncertain looking Laura Cho, and Axel Platzoff who was still strapped into his Hannibal Lechter gurney, in spite of being catatonic.

"Zorbar still have doubts about Zorbar's role in whole affair," Zorbar said, adjusting his silk ballgown.

"If your plan A is good, you don't really need a plan B," Erik said. "And yet, a sensible man still has a plan B ready to go. You were plan B. If the guards had found that gun made of soap that I baked into the cake, or noticed any of those bedsheets I made out of rope, you would have had to make the warden fall in love with you, then drug him and steal the keys."

"But there several actual attractive women in our group, so why Zorbar dressed…"

"So did we get everyone?" Donna said. It was good getting the whole Pavilion together, but on the other hand she knew it would surely lead to a vast uptick in the number of rambling conversations that didn't really drive events.

Carol and Zorbar began counting everyone. It looked like it was going to take a while, because Zorbar's counting skills were a little rudimentary. But it gave Donna time to think. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 28: Accompli"

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If Karl had learned nothing else during his time as a homeless fugitive, he had learned how to hide. After he slipped away from the police, he had ducked around the corner of the Pyramid and found the street beyond littered with an abundance of hiding place. There were cars, small trees and thick shrubs. On the Pyramid side, there was the remains of the lost Mega Centre's retaining wall. On the other was a motley selection of suburban fences.

Karl ignored all of these possibilities and slipped into a storm-water drain.

It was surprisingly easy. Months of living on garbage had slimmed him down so much that he didn't even need to remove his jacket. And with so many easily accessed and non-stupid hiding places, the cops were unlikely to pursue him here.

Even so, for a while he simply lay still -- waiting, observing. It was only when he was certain that the police were not coming that he took a battered flashlight from the pocket of his ragged jacket and began to look around. ...continue reading "Interlude — Underground"

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Delia had never been in the back of a police car before, but nonetheless she made herself at home. She shared her seat with Alfred and Fanaka, who were the only others who had been arrested. Gwen had avoided arrest by knocking a policeman to the ground and fleeing with the protesting Christian thrown over one shoulder.

"Wait, I haven't committed a crime, yet," the young man had cried as his lover dragged him away.

Karl had disappeared in the confusion with Ron in hot pursuit. Once again law enforcement had proved meaningless to anybody who wasn't already law abiding.

Well, mostly law abiding. To Delia's exasperation, Alfred seemed to have had some sort of extremely quick identity crisis, and reinvented himself from 'aging shopkeeper' to 'teenage hooligan.

"Did you see that? Did you see Gwen take down that copper?" he laughed.

One of the constables in the front of the car turned around with a look that was meant to say 'imposing authority' but which Delia read as 'hurt feelings.' ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 26: Drive"

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"Okay," Christian said, glancing around the now closed music shop. "Let me see if I have everything right. You've been invited to a meeting of a sinister secret society."

"Correct," Alfred said.

"And you believe that you should go and spy on this meeting and report back to Delia and Ms Shan who, as I'm sure we all know, are leaders of the resistance against the evil pyramid?"

"Again correct."

"Good, good. You know, in context, that almost makes sense," Christian said. "But the next part is, you're too shy and nervous to be a good spy, so you want me to disguise myself as you using a high-tech hologram created by a supercomputer. That's the bit I'm having trouble with." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 16: Light"

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In principal, Delia liked the idea of alternate Earths. They appealed to her sense of order. After all, the idea of a multiverse is the ultimate expression of the notion of 'a place for everything an everything in its place.' Having entire worlds to house entire histories suited her down to the ground.

But, as with so many things, there is a gap between the abstract admiration of a principal and the genuine enjoyment of a fact. The recent damage to the space-time continuum had left a number of people from alternate worlds stranded in South Hertling. They did their best to fit in, but they would keep trying to sit on the tops of busses, or paying for Delia's storage boxes with the currency of the Greater Albanian Empire.

"Tell me again what this fellow is up to," she said. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 14: Delivery"

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As she did every Tuesday, Delia stopped by the Place O'Pets to pick up supplies. She bustled in, studiously avoiding Captain Pete, the one handed aquarium specialist. She made her way past displays full of flea collars, chew toys and lizard dentures, to the food section. There she filled her trolley and took it directly to the counter.

At the till stood the imposing figure of Zorbar, husband of Carol from the coffee shop and semi-domesticated ape-man.  He scratched at his lime green Place O'Pets polo shirt as if he wanted to tear it apart.

"Zorbar have question Miss Crispin," he said. "You buy dog food. Zorbar smell dog. You buy cat food. Zorbar no smell cat. Why that?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 6: Friends"

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Laura stood out back of the burning ruins of the DIY Barn, knocking the few remaining Barnling minions about. It was unrewarding work. She didn't quite understand Vicilancers bylaws, but she was pretty sure she wasn't supposed to use her superpowers on basic thugs. Her isotopic skin meant that none of the Barnlings could hurt her, but taking them down one by one with basic judo was time consuming. She half hoped that the Barn would set a ninja or a war robot on her, but so far no joy.

At least her future self seemed to have vanished. Honestly, this didn't bother her. The woman's deliberate mysteriousness had bothered her from the start. Laura didn't even know why she was still hanging around in the present. She'd given her warning of the future. For all the good it had done. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 71: Laura’s Future"

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Bruce's bad back was starting to get to him. It didn't seem fair, somehow – being reincarnated in a giant robot body and still having a bad back. He hoped the giant lizard that he was fighting would go down soon, because he didn't know how long he could keep going anyway. Technically, he shouldn't be up at all. The sun was above the horizon, and as a ghost he wasn't active of a daytime. Somehow though, he was still fighting on, and he didn't know how.

He put the thought from his mind, just as he put from his mind the image of all the people dying in the street below. Concentrate. Concentrate on the lizard, the huge scaly lizard.

The thing was as big as him, and tough with it. Its bones seemed weirdly flexible, which was perhaps why the thing was able to absorb blows that should have crushed its skull.  Bruce had been a big guy in life and he was a big guy in death, and like a lot of big guys he'd never found it necessary to learn how to fight. All he knew how to do was trade punch for punch with the lizard and hope that the creature would go down before Bruce's back went out and he had to lie down. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 70: Bruce’s Back"

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