On the side of the Pyramid, Delia held Erik in place as the Bubble absorbed him, or tried to absorb him. It bubbled and howled as it engulfed the little old man. It blackened like a marshmallow in a fire, but it wasn't hot to Delia's touch. Alfred was panicking but, to his credit, his panic took the form of grabbing Erik's hand and trying to pull him out, rather than just flapping his arms.

"What have you done, Delia! What have you done?" he cried.

The Bubble/Erik/Marshmallow thing stopped struggling and was still. It seemed to shrink into itself before Delia's eyes, becoming more humanlike in stance and shape.

"I. AM. PARADOX," it said.

"Oh," Alfred said. "Good-o." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 49: Ma"

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It seemed to Delia that it took a very long time for her and Alfred to skirt the back of Hoonworld Auto and cross Wellington Road. Times seemed longer and distances seemed greater. Was it the power of the Pyramid interfering with the Watch and the Measure, throwing time and space into chaos? If so Delia prepared to do what she had done all of her life: fight against chaos.

Traffic was flowing freely in Wellington Road. Delia remembered the first Pavilion/Barn battle here, and how the entire street had been a riot scene. This time, the fight was localised in the Super Centre, leaving the road free. If it hadn't been for the plumes of smoke over the Centre parking lot, you not have known there was a battle on anyway. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 47: Edge"

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The fight was long and hard and, to Donna's supreme annoyance, indecisive. She checked her watch as she swept the legs from under a screaming Barnling minion. An hour! They'd been fighting for an hour. You'd think someone would have won by now. Or at least the police might have shown up?

To make matters worse, the four-way battle kept changing directions. Inevitably, the Pyramid cultists had betrayed the Pavilion to the Barnlings, but Donna had managed to negotiate a deal with Nalda's AI troops. Then the Barnlings had betrayed the Pyramidists, who'd sough help from the AIs, forcing the Pavilion to fight side by side with their old enemies in the Barn. That had been about a quarter of an hour ago, and Donna was no longer certain as to who was fighting whom.

Partly, she noted, the problem was that this battle was a good deal less lethal than the first one. Perhaps because the Barn and the Pavilion had lost too many people that day, this time around they were fighting with fists and sticks, rather than guns and chainsaws. It was probably a good thing in the long run. But seriously, how long does it take to beat someone just by punching? TV made it seem so quick, so efficient, but…

The Barnling that Donna had tripped slowly struggled to his feet. Sighing, Donna punched him in the kidney. He fell over again, but Donna just knew that he was going to be up again in a minute. So unfair!

"You only need to hold the line."

It was Sadie McGregor. Or her ghost. Do dead angels leave ghosts? Donna was unsure, and didn't really care anyway.

"Hold the line? Against the Barn, the Pyramid cultists and the coming of frikkin' Skynet? Fine. We can do it. But to say we 'just' do it?"

"You can fool the others, but you can't fool me," Sadie said.

"What did we agree last time?"

Sadie's ghost rolled its eyes and  started glowing blue. "Better? Okay. Anyway, I saw what you did. What your real plan is. Who you stationed by the Pyramid. I know you're just holding here until he does his job. Well, if you're holding, then hold."

"I'm afraid, Sadie. I'm afraid… Shit. Hold on."

The Barnling was standing again. Donna picked a heavy piece of debris from the ground and dropped it on his head. The Barnling collapsed again.

"Leave your troops to fight a while," Donna said. "You're needed elsewhere. A terrible crime has taken place at Emile's…"

Donna blinked, kicked the stirring Barnling and blinked again. "What? The fate of the world is in the balance!"

"The fate of the world is always in the balance," Sadie said. "Every act of wrongdoing, no matter how small, threatens to hurl us into the abyss."

"Literally?"

"Well, no, I guess… Look, please, go talk to Emile. It'll help the big fight, I promise."

Donna glared her anger at her dead, supernatural mentor and stomped off through the battle to see Emile at Emile's House of Fine Wines. The doors were closed, but a stray piece of spaceship debris had cracked a window. A garbage can had come loose of its single steel leg. Donna picked it up and hurled it through the cracked window, spreading glass everywhere. It should have seemed satisfying. It was anything but.

Behind the counter was a trapdoor leading down to a cellar. Donna paused. This was odd. Emile's liquor store was, like most big-box liquor store, a cellar in name only. There was only a ground floor, and the climate control of the building provided the equivalent of 'cellaring'. And yet, here was a rickety wooden ladder going down between stone walls, coated with damp and nitre.

"For real?"

She took a last look at the battle outside. Emile's storefront was at the edge of the warzone, so all she could see was a Barnling and a Pavilionite trading weary punches while some local teenagers egged the on. Even so, she felt a traitor going down the hole.

There was no light in the cellar. Donna found a candle and a box of matches in a little alcove by the entry. With this small light, she ventured down, past vast wooden shelves full of bottles and casks. At one end of the darkened room, was a newly built wall, and before that sat Emile Montressor.

"Emile? Is that you?"

"Donna?" Emile said. "Wh-what are you doing here?"

"I was warned that there was a crime going on."

"No, not at all. Harry Fortunado left here hours ago, alive and well."

"I didn't mention Harry."

"No, you didn't." Emile tried a little 'how silly!' sort of laugh, but it turned into a mad cackle. He bit down on his lips to silence himself.

"Emile… Is everything alright? I mean, obviously everything is not alright… But is it alright here?"

White faced, Emile nodded  as if he was trying to shake his head off. "Fine, everything is fine."

A muffled voice emanated from behind the wall. "Thufferin' thurfboards, thith ith a predicament!"

"What was that, Emile?"

Donna hadn't thought it possible for Emile to get whiter. "Nothing! It is nothing!"

"That'th a thretch, buthter!" the voice said.

"Ahhh! I have walled the cat up with him!" Emile said. He rushed past Donna for the ladder, and the breeze of his passing extinguished the candle.

Once Donna had relit it, she found Emile gone. She was alone, other than lisped complaints from behind a wall. Searching around, she discovered some building supplies – old cement bags and some tools – hidden behind a wine shelf. She hoped to find a crowbar among them, but the best she could find was a large trowel. Ordinarily, there was little a trowel could do against a wall, but the cement was barely solid between the bricks on this one. She painstakingly cleared the mortar out from around a brick, then pried it out of the wall. The empty space was immediately filled with two large round yellow eyes.

"Thanks, thithter!" the eyes said. Donna removed another brick, and saw that one of those weird cats was there, a black and white one. She'd seen it before, though she'd never noticed that the white patch on the thing's chest was in the shape of a noose. Behind the animal was Harry Fortunato from Harry's House of Ethanol based beverages, looking very pale indeed.

"Is he…" Donna began.

"Ath a doornail," the cat said. "But you have thaved my life. How can I repay you?"

"Do you have an army?" Donna sighed.

"You want the army?" the cat said. "Thure! I'll go get it mobilithed."

Donna's jaw dropped. She shook her head, then looked upwards. "Sorry, Sadie."

"No need to make fun of my voice," the cat said.

Next -- Part 47: Edge

Previously -- Part 45: Friends

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"Sitting in the ruins of your life, looking upon the detritus of your once proud hopes and dreams? Hey, I can relate."

Fanaka looked up to see Axel munching on a pastry in the middle of the ruins of the music shop. To his right, past the broken windows was a chaotic battle. Through his tears, Fanaka couldn't quite make out who the sides were, but he knew some of the combatants to be Nalda's army of solid-light holigrams. To his left, Jemmy and Mildred were trying to get to the hologram-generating equipment in the backroom, but the way was blocked by a shining forcefield.

"She was…" Fanaka said. "Nalda, I mean. I love her. How could she…"

"Fanaka, she loves you," Axel said. "Never doubt that. But she's a killer cyborg from the future, you know? And when you're dating a killer cyborg from the future who's programmed to help bring in the Age of the Automaton, then… well… things can get a little rocky, you know?"

"I crossed lightyears to find her," Fanaka said. "Dimensions. Never thought of returning to my own timeline to see my family. It was all for her."

"Do you two mind having the deep-and-meaningful later?" Jemmy shouted. "Because we could use some help, here." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 45: Friends"

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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. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 44: Afoot"

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As Donna expected, the Barnlings attacked in the early evening. In their silver ranks, they marched down Wellington Road, singing as they came.

“When you’re the Barn,
You’re in Barn all your life,
‘Cause we don’t give a darn
When we’re cooking up strife

“When you’re in Barn,
You’re the fightingest goons!
We’ll mess up our foes
We don’t think there’s no spoon.

“We don’t know a lot,
But that does not distress us.
Whither the plot?
Wherefore the Pyramid oppresses?
We have no guesses!

“Here comes the Barn with the strength of a tree,
And in these silver pants
It is quite hard to—“ ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 43: Tonight"

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Delia adjusted the zipper on Alfred's futuristic costume and stepped back to examine her handiwork. Honestly, the metallic material of the jumpsuit didn't suit him, and it's tight cut made him seem even shorter and chubbier than usual. Even so, she liked the look of him – Alfred, man of action at last.

"That future spacesuity thing really suits you, Delia," Alfred said. Delia flattened the metallic material of her own jumpsuit. Honestly, he was right. She'd had the sense to have her sci-fi costume made in a cut more suitable to the stout and middle aged. But it didn't really matter. What mattered was that finally

"You all ready?" Susan Hertling said. She'd eschewed the shiny jumpsuit look, retaining her usual mid-Victorian gown.

"Yes, we're ready," Alfred said, almost shaking with excitement. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 42: Pod"

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"It's all coming to a head," Karl said. "I can feel it. There are forces at work, finally coming together."

Karl was sitting in the backroom of his former shop. It had been closed up for non-payment of rent, but Mrs Lebeaux the Super Centre manager had – perhaps deliberately – been dragging her feet about throwing his things out. This meant that the backroom still contained not only his beloved conspiracy map with its string and pushpins, but also a cupboard full of spare suits.

"And why, exactly, do you keep a spare suit in your shop?" asked the grinning purple cat who sat on top of an ancient box of Dolly magazines. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Interlude: Chart"

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Donna tried not to think about what Donna had told her. Or what Delia had told her. Or Alfred, or Christian or Fanaka or basically anyone. She was doing something that she suspected anyone would argue her out of. But she was doing it anyway, because it needed to be done and there were few people around doing what needed to be done.

"One chicken and beef kebab, extra cheese, chilli sauce, Mr Theopoulos," she said, striding into the kebab shop.

Stavros Theopoulos smiled and paused in his restocking of his ice-cream fridge. He gestured Donna to a seat, and waved at his counterhands to serve her. "Donna, isn't it? Not usual to see any of the Handy Pavilion crowd in my shop. You don't like me, or something?"

"You're a ringleader of a weird cult that worships the Pyramid," Donna said.

"Am I?"

"We have witnesses."

"Do you? So what if you do. It's a free country."

"Is it?" Donna said. "I haven't checked today's news yet. Good to hear. Anyway, you've probably heard that the DIY Barn people have been making a comeback?"

Theopoulos shrugged, straightened his back and collapsed an empty Paddle Pop box.

"Yes?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 40: Yeeros"

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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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