The skirmishing was over and war had come at last to the Handy Pavilion. Employees that had once arrived by bus or on foot were now in mandatory car pools. Safety in numbers. Every effort had been made to conceal from the public all of the preparations for battle. Still, an observant customer might have noticed how the theft-prevention people on the door now focused their attention on the outside rather than inside; how the skylights all suddenly sported heavy iron grilles; how the woodwork demonstrations now seemed to produce nothing but baseball bats.

Axel Platzoff sat alone in the cramped little breakroom, building a matchstick model of the Riechstag and wondering about the role he would play in the coming conflict. He'd been involved in wars before. He was a veteran of wars of secrets, wars of infinities, invasions, civil wars and a seeming endless array of world crises. They were always hard. Hard on survivors, harder on the dead. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 46 — Farewell"

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Norman was late to arrive at the party in Garden Furniture. Adam had spread drop-sheets over all of his beloved display tables and chairs and though he seemed happy, there was a sub-strata of worry every time someone put a drink down.

Only a month earlier, Norman thought, Ms Shan would have balked at the idea of using the Handy Pavilion as the base for Zorbar's buck's night. Now, she not only gave her blessing, but invited herself. Wellsey – who, like many old rebels was a traditionalist at heart – objected to a woman attending a buck's night. But Fiona and Belinda also ended up on the invitation list, and then Zorbar's fiancee Carol announced she was coming. With that, any chance that the evening would involve strippers vanished in a puff of smoke, so Wellsey had had to grin and bear it. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 44 — The Party"

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It was almost a week before Christian saw Pennington again. This wasn't good news. Christian was holding onto his job by a thread, and he was terrified that he'd be fired before he could speak to the alchemist.

A whole dozen people had been fired. Low performers, chronic latecomers, suspected pilferers. To be fair to Ms Shan, she didn't play favourites – though to be unfair, that might just be because she never remembered anyone's name. Only a couple of weeks before, Christian would have thought himself invulnerable to anything less than a complete shutdown of the Handy Pavilion, but his indicators were all down since the Phantasm's disappearance. He might have escaped the last round of layoffs, but the next round would take him out.

He needed Pennington's help before that could happen. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 43 – Never Pay Retail"

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Nalda distrusted the thinking of the humans. It was erratic, contradictory, illogical. In her downtime, she'd seen lots of episodes of old television shows in which some character or other claimed that the erratic basis of human intelligence was a strength, not a weakness. But Nalda had seen the future Empire of the Machines crushing humanity beneath its chrome-plated jackboots, so she knew that those old shows had it oh-so-wrong.

Even so, she was dependent on Fanaka and his frail human brain. She was a war machine and her hardware was optimised for tactical reasoning, split second decision making, rapid calculations of vectors and trajectories. Worse, she'd had to reallocate much of her capacity deep abstract thinking she had into arts and crafts in order to keep her job at the Handy Pavilion. So if she was to solve the conundrum of keeping her cold, robotic future intact, she needed Fanaka -- even if he was a something of a scatterbrain. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 42 – Time Considered as a Helix of Gossiping Retail Employees"

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Wellsey had always known about Axel's past. Known about his attempt to rob Fort Knox from orbit. Known about his plan to replace major world leaders with realistic marionettes, to teleport Hobart to the Sahara Desert, to turn the people of Melbourne into walking catfish.

Wellsey knew all that, but still he'd never been afraid of the man. Wellsey was an ex con. To him a scary man was someone with a shank, a grudge and a guard who owed him a favour. Axel was dangerous in a way that Wellsey could barely get his head around.

Now, though… now Wellsey was afraid, but he was afraid for his friend, not afraid of him. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 37: Intervention"

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In spite of herself, Laura was getting to like Carlos from the key-cutting desk. Like like. It was weird. In her other life as the superhero Voyager, Laura spent much of her days hanging around with some of the most desired men on the planet. Tall, handsome, toned… Usually they had cool jobs, like international ace reporter or CEO and they somehow managed to keep hold of these positions in spite of only checking into the office when they felt like it.

And yet Laura found that she had not taken to any of them. Perhaps it was the way they were always gritting their teeth and narrowing their eyes at the slightest provocation. But then again, perhaps it was the way their wives and girlfriends were always being kidnapped. It was kind of a red flag. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 36: Where Have All the Pulleys Gone?"

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"Hi, what can I get you?" Norman said. He was under the counter, taking stock when the customer came in. Why did the Handy Pavilion coffee shop have three times as many small cup lids as it had small cups? It just didn't make any sense.

"Can you do me a Greek coffee?"

"Don’t have the settup for Turkish coffee."

"I didn't ask for a Turkish coffee, I asked for a Greek coffee."

"It's all the same sh… Oh, it's you, Dad." Norman rose, dusting his hands with a paper towel. "Basically we're just set up for espresso. I can get you a short black, if you like."

Norman's father was a handsome, broad faced man with thick salt-and-pepper hair and a neatly trimmed grey beard. He was a couple of inches taller than Norma and looked like he worked out. The sleeves of his fawn windcheater bulged with muscle.

"Just a cup of tea will be fine," he said, "if I can't get a proper coffee."

...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 33: Family Business"

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Axel looked down at the pile of glass terrarium bottles he'd just unpacked, and realised that he'd put them all on the wrong shelf. In his frustration, he kicked the base of the shelving unit, which hurt his toe far more than it did the massive steel form of the unit.

Why didn't Captain Stellar just fight him?

That was the thing. A week before, Stellar had confronted him about the incident with the death ray. He'd guessed everything. Everything!

Axel ought to have known that Stellar would figure it out eventually, once he'd sobered up and pulled himself together. But no, Axel had been caught flatfooted. His mind had raced, searching for some strategy for fighting Stellar without causing any damage to the Handy Pavilion. But before he'd even finished ironing out the issues with his third contingency plan, Stellar had waved goodbye and walked away.

Ever since then, Axel had been off his game. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 28: Axel’s Enemy"

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Hot autumn was turning to freezing winter when Wellsey returned to the Pavilion. He stopped just before the automatic doors. He knew exactly where the invisible line was, that opened them if crossed. He drew a deep breath, held it for the count of ten, then let it out slowly.

He spotted Axel, helping an elderly customer find a cardboard box of an appropriate size for the old girl's gardening supplies. Wellsey felt his eyes narrow.

"Axel," he said in the most neutral tone he could manage.

"Morning, Wellsey," Axel said. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 22: No Way Out"

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The Handy Pavilion was packed to the gills with customers. This was always the way on a Saturday. But on this Saturday things were even more hectic thanks to the public appearance of Sydney's newest superhero, Voyager, just out the front, downwind of the Rotary Club sausage sizzle.

The scent of sausages and onions made Voyager's mouth water. She couldn't buy a sausage sandwich, though. Her stupid costume didn't have any pockets. Her utility belt was full of crime-fighting gear, but the designer had neglected to include a change pouch. She decided that she should get rid of one of the micro-torches. She could melt steel with her eye beams, what did she need it for anyway?

Voyager took photo after photo with her new fans. "The public loves its newest hero best," Aquaticwoman had told her with a touch of bitterness. Voyager didn't quite know yet whether she liked the attention, as she had her picture taken with customer after customer. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 20 The Return"

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