Delia arrived at the intersection where Alfred had been cornered by the Huge Evil Bubble. He was pressed against the wall, his hands up in a gesture of surrender. For once, she didn't feel annoyed with Alfred's timidity. She hadn't known exactly what the Huge Evil Bubble would look like, but she hadn't been prepared for… well, a huge bubble. She'd assumed that the description was more poetic than prosaic, and the discovery that it was actually a straightforward, factual description came as a surprise.

The thing was a little under two metres in diameter, translucent and spherical. Some long-forgotten schooling floated to the top of Delia's mind, and she began calculating its volume in cubic centimetres before quashing that foolish equation half completed. The bubble looked basically like a giant white party balloon, except that it was clearly alive and exuded an aura of sheer, unholy menace.

"Don't make any sudden moves," Alfred said, quietly. "I think I've managed to talk it out of eating me, but it won't back off." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 39: Romance"

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Fanaka stood in the clock shop and thought about time. This wasn't unusual, as he was a scientist and engineer specialising in the study and control of time. And yet he wasn't thinking about time as a scientist would. He was thinking of it more as a poet, wondering at how it came and went and how you always seem to have too much or it at any given minute, but too little in any given week. He was thinking of how time felt, not how it moved. The sound of all the clocks ticking away was a reminder just how many years it had been since he'd last stood in the shop.

It was while he was thinking of how odd time was that Axel Platzoff walked into the shop and reminded him of how easy his own relationship with time had been. Axel's villainous younger self had been catapulted forward in time from the 1990s to the Battle of Wellington Road, where he had died, somehow leaving Axel's present self alive and well.

There, Fanaka thought. It was impossible to understand that malarkey as a scientist. A man's evil past killed, leaving his reformed present alive? That wasn't science, it was magical realism. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 38: Tulpa"

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As he hunted for the Huge Evil Bubble through the wood-panelled halls of Alice Hertling's Victorian-themed spaceship, Alfred found himself thinking about his daughters. He didn't see as much of them as he would have liked, now they had moved on to uni. They still came and visited now and then, but it was always a little awkward for some reason. He'd never been as close to them as he wished he'd been when they were younger, and he had no idea how to connect to them.

He had two daughters. Janet and Petra. Janet was a bookish type who wore oversized glasses and was studying political science or sociology or one of those feel-bad-about-bad-things sort of subjects. She tended to date earnest looking young men who were so keen to argue about everything that Alfred hardly dared open his mouth in front of them. Petra had ostensibly been Alfred's son, Peter, until the age of twenty when she'd tearfully explained that she really a woman, and Alfred had feign surprise and pretend he hadn't seen that coming a mile off. Actually he'd been a little pleased, since it was the one and only time he'd shown more insight into his children's lives than his ex-wife had.

Not that this insight had brought him closer to Petra. She still left her computer programming books everywhere, only now she had taken over half of the counter in Alfred's bathroom. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 37: Bubble"

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The morning sun was shining over the Super Centre carpark. The earliest retail workers were arriving as best they could with the entire Easter parking area occupied by the massive form of the great metal bird. Mostly, they avoided looking at it. The people of South Hertling were becoming adept at not seeing things.

Fanaka yawned wide as he kicked the bird’s landing gear. “It’s an ornithopter,” he said.

“Yes,” he added.

“Is that all you can say?” Donna asked.

Fanaka shrugged.

“But you’re an engineer from planet Steampunk, right?” Donna said. “This should be right up your alley.”

Fanaka scratched his head, kicked the landing gear and made a ‘maybe-maybe’ sort of gesture. “Well,” he said. “There are giant steampunk ornithopters, and then there are giant steampunk ornithopters, if you follow me.”

...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 34: Ornithopter"

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Alfred awoke slowly and groggily. His mouth tasted sour and his tongue felt like it was made of gum.

"Must have been N on drugging duty last night," he groaned. "Always goes too heavy on the chloroform."

As soon as his head felt up to the task, he looked around. He was seated on a bench in a sunlit park. To his left was an open field, where some men in blazers were having a three-legged sack race, complicated by the fact that they were all running in different directions. To the right was the Huge Evil Bubble, the smooth white surface of which was smeared in mud. It groaned quietly.

"Bad night too, eh, mate?" Alfred said. He fished some biscuits from his pocket and placed them on the ground before the creature, which absorbed them into its body. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 33: Computer"

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It was night, and a nearly full moon hung in the sky and/or orbited the Earth. Donna had been checking the potted shrubs near Carpets! Carpets! Carpets!, when the gunshot rang out. She raced across the tarmac of the carpark towards Harry's House of Ethanol Based Beverages. As she ran, she was joined by two or three of the fugitive Pavilionites, armed with sticks and crowbars.

At the door to Harry's, a silver-clad Barnling was running away from Harry Montressor, who was throwing bricks at the man. The air was scented with gunsmoke and there was broken glass across in the doorway, but Donna could see no sign that anyone had been hurt. She gestured for her colleagues to chase the Barnling, and went to talk to Harry.

"He had a gun," Harry said, in between heaving breaths. "Tried to rob me."

"Is anyone hurt?"

"Some bottles. Mostly I broke them. When he fired the gun, I think the bullet went into the ceiling."

Donna poked her head into Harry's shop. It was a large, brightly lit shop, with four aisles in the middle and beer and wine fridges around the walls. A couple of scared customers stood here and there, to shocked to move. Harry had been right – a chunk of the ceiling had been shot away and a pile of bricks stood behind the counter. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 32: Robbery"

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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," he added.

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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