"So victory, eh?"

Donna put aside the glowing amulet she had been staring at, and looked up to see who was addressing her.

"Oh, hello Brownie," she said, without enthusiasm. "I guess victory. The AI holograms have stood down, the Barnlings are in retreat and most of the Pyramid Cultists have… well they're not dead or in retreat, but they've been pretty solidly beaten up."

"And you took Theopoulos' amulet?"

"Did you know Theopoulos had an amulet?"

"No, but it was always the smart bet that he did."

"I see," Donna sighed. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 52: Nope"

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Alfred had never run so fast in his life.

Well, that wasn't quite true. He'd been a respectable enough middle distance runner in high school, oh so long ago. But he certainly hadn't run so fast recently. When had been the last time he'd run more than a few steps at a time. A school carnival, probably? Decades ago. Back in the days when he found it hard to find time for his daughters. Before they reached the age when they found it hard to make time for him.

But this particular piece of self-pity was far in the back of his mind. Most of his misery was reserved for bodily discomfort as he pushed his chubby, aging body well past its limits to keep up with the others – Christian jogging with all the careless energy of youth; Gwen short and stout and yet hammering along like nobody's business. And Delia…

It was almost a relief when Delia stumbled. In helping her, Alfred could slow to a stop without feeling bad about it. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 25: Mayhem"

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When Delia found herself back in the real world, she observed that she was in the southeastern corner of the South Hertling Super Centre, in a discrete spot between Emile's Fine Vintage Cellar and Harry's House of Ethanol-Based Beverages. Delia didn't quite follow how she had been transported into the mundane world any more than she had understood how they had left it. All she knew is that she was back, and with Alfred and Christian… and a few others.

Mostly, the newcomers were cats. Not everyday cats with fur and whiskers and breathtaking narcissism. The King's subjects wore jackets and coat, shoes and boots and all sorts of hats. Immediately, the began fanning out across the carpark – searching, no doubt, for the missing Ms Shan. The sight of a cat in a little trenchcoat and deerstalker hat made Delia laugh as it examined its surroundings with a magnifying glass. Delia's amusement froze into horror as she saw another, a small white cat with a bow behind its ear, it's cuteness turned something ghastly by a lack of any visible mouth beneath its pink nose.

For the second time that day, she found herself taking Alfred by the hand. This time, Alfred squeezed back less timidly. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 22: Revelation"

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Alfred considered holding Delia's hand. The logic was, they were in a deeply unsettling situation and he ought to hold her hand to comfort her. In fact, he strongly suspected that he was more worried than she was, and mostly he wanted to hold her hand because he wanted to hold her hand.

In the end he didn't. With everything he believed to be true being wrung through some cosmic mangle, his fundamental timidity seemed calming. Perhaps more calming than having his hand held by the woman of his desires. Perhaps less. As it stood, he had no way of knowing.

They – Alfred, Delia and Christian – stood outside of normal space. That was obvious. The distances between objects was subtly wrong in ways he couldn't even begin to explain. Time was odd too, moving weirdly as if seconds were trudging through mud while minutes fluttered by like bees. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 20: King"

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It was early evening and the Super Centre was closing down. Behind the counter at Storage Universe, Delia was finishing the day's reconciliation. The work complete, she poured herself her evening tipple of a single glass of white wine, opened a notebook and readied her best pen.

Delia – as perhaps has been mentioned before – was an extremely organised person. Like many organised people who are faced with a deteriorating situation, her first step towards dealing with it was making a list. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 18: Parliament"

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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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The number of people at the exorcism had gradually ballooned. Donna had originally intended to perform the ceremony herself, and had only added Christian under sufferance. But with Christian there, of course Gwen had to be there too. Then Fanaka had found out what was going on, so of course Nalda was there as his plus one. To top it off, the entire ritual was taking place in the deserted Handy Pavilion. The whole thing felt more like a reunion than an exorcism now.

Donna sighed and watched as Christian retrieved the Evil Brownie from the hidey-hole where the creature had been hidden. The little creature was tied up head to foot, but didn't seem the least bit put out by this. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 13: Trial"

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Shortly before Storage Universe closed for the evening, Ms Lebeaux the Centre Manager stopped by. Delia was away at a trade show so she chatted to Donna for a while before going home, leaving a spice-scented plastic bag on the counter. Curiously, Donna didn't follow her to give it back, but she took it in into the back room of Storage World. There she opened the trapdoor to the oubliette and brought the evening meal down to Ms Shan.

The oubliette was about the size that Ms Shan's office had been, back at the Handy Pavilion. It was sparsely furnished with a camp bed and a single chair. Ms Shan sat on the bed in her combat fatigues, talking to Vincent Pizano the lawyer. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 9: Laws"

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Past

"Is Fanaka here?"

Alfred looked up from his laptop where he was balancing his shop's books. Before him was a thirty-ish white man in a camouflage jacket over a t-shirt, who spoke in an accent Alfred couldn't place. "Today's Fanaka's day off," he said. "If you need a watch repaired, you can leave it with me and I'll give it to him tomorrow."

The man scratched his head. This gesture caused his jacket to fall open, so Alfred could see his t-shirt more clearly. It showed what looked like a feathered velociraptor in a pickelhaube helmet, one tiny arm held up in a Roman salute. This image was framed by a circle, and featured a line through the middle. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 8: Ghosts"

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It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a shovel may dig a hole in half an hour, but two men with shovels can take up to two hours to perform the same task. First, there is the need to closely examine the area to be dug out. This takes fifteen minutes to half an hour. Following this, there must be a rambling, expletive-filled discussion on hole digging in theory and practice. This takes at least half an hour. After that, a half hour cigarette break is a must, and then we dig the hole which, to the horror of maths teachers everywhere, takes almost exactly the same time to dig as if one man did the work.

Donna sat on a sunny bench outside of the Barbeque Imperium, watching two particular men digging a hole in a garden area next to the carpark. She wasn't watching them in a diet-soft-drink-ad sort of way. She wasn't particularly interested in either of them. It was just that the men leaning on their shovels was the only thing to look at in the carpark. Her attention was momentarily redirected upwards as a superhero flew overhead. Donna sighed at the realisation that it was not Voyager and went back to looking at the workmen.

"Hey, Donna."

Donna recognised Christian's voice, but didn't look up. "Hey, Christian."

"Mind if I join you?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 5: Maths"

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