Fanaka's step always lifted a little when he walked into the Disposal store. This wasn't so much because of the merchandise. The camping gear and army jackets reminded him unpleasantly of his short stint the Air Force back home. He'd served as a Meteorologist's Mate on a stealth airship, running recon missions over Madagascar. He'd been so happy when his deferment had come through, giving him the chance to get to Nairobi and PAISAW. Then, of course, the accident had happened stranding him in this odd, non-Steampunk, non-Afrocentric world…

But there was one consolation. He'd found another lost soul to love… If soul was indeed the right word.

Nalda Teheintausand was restocking some camping pots when Fanaka entered, and his heart lifted at the sight of her. Nalda. The time travelling killer cyborg that had won his heart. Her hard, thin lips twisted upward when she saw him. Her smile was barely perceptible. But it was enough. He grinned broadly in return. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 11: Clues"

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Delia had been hoping not to have to talk to Alfred directly. Nalda had refused to work as her envoy for some obscure Teutonic cyborg reason. Delia hadn't yet come up with a Plan B when Alfred walked into Storage Universe. She shook her head gently. She really hadn't want it to come to this.

Alfred took his time looking at the items on display, as for the thousandth time he worked up his courage to talk to her. For the thousandth time Delia there was just more to the man -- that somewhere under the bald, chubby Clark Kent of his exterior there was a bald, chubby Superman.

Perhaps, just perhaps this might not be the thousandth time he disappointed her.

"Hello, Delia," he said as he finally willed himself up to the counter.

"Hello, Alfred. How's business?"

"Tolerably good," he said. "Tolerably good… that is not really what I wanted to talk to you about." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 10: Spine"

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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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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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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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Alfred's usual lunch was a roast beef sandwich with horseradish. Most of his life, he'd eaten that on white bread with the crusts cut off, but his doctor had all but twisted his arm over his diet and so now he ate it on multigrain with crusts and alfalfa sprouts.

Today, though, today he was doing a thing that he rarely did, and that was eat out. He did this perhaps once a year and never happily. The great comfort of a regular lunch is never having to decide what to eat, but he had left his sandwich at home in the fridge, so it was eat out or go hungry. And eating out meant making a decision.

Alfred leaned on the counter of his shop and chewed his lip. There was a food court in the South Hertling Mall, but that was far enough away that he felt justified in ruling it out. And both of the food outlets at the Mega Centre had been destroyed at the coming of the Pyramid. That left just two choices, Carol's or the kebab shop. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 4: Food"

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On the first Thursday of every month, the Time Lost Support group met at the old Scout Hut at South Hertling Reserve. In the draughty echoing space, a ragged circle of folding chairs was set up. Everyone was seated, except for an olive skinned man in a grubby military uniform.

"Hello, I'm Ronnie," he said.

"Hello, Ronnie," chorused the group.

"I fell through a portal from Nazi Dinosaur Earth," Ronnie drawled. "It's… It's better here in some ways. Not quite so many Nazis, you know? But you're not allowed to shoot the Nazis that are here, for some reason." He paused and shook his head. "I do miss the dinosaurs, though."

"I don’t quite follow," Fanaka said. "I suppose there are dinosaurs and Nazis on Dinosaur Nazi Earth, but are the dinosaurs Nazis?"

"Some of 'em, I guess," Ronnie said. "I'm probably stereotyping here, but mostly therapods. But most of the dinosaurs are just dinosaurs, you know? They're usually kind of apolitical."

Fanaka wrote this down carefully in his notebook.  Beside Ronnie and himself, the group that night included a little white man in a tight-fitting jumpsuit and an enormous head, a blonde woman in seventeenth century buccaneer regalia, a Japanese man built like a sumo but dressed as a Roman gladiator, a Aboriginal woman who wore a 1960s spacesuit and Lena, the counselor. A smaller turnout than usual. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 3: Hope"

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3

Delia loved untidiness. That would have surprised most people that met her. She wore immaculately tailored suits an kept her hair back in the tightest bun you could imagine. The jewellery she wore was restrained and tasteful. Her car was ten years old, but as clean and shiny as the day she bought it. Her staff at Storage World in the South Hertling Super Centre all looked at her with a mix of utmost respect and abject terror. She looked like the sort of person who said the phrase "a place for everything and everything in its place" more often than she said "good morning."

But she loved untidiness, sure enough. Mess, unruliness, chaos. She loved it like a valued enemy, a worthy foe. She loved it like a hunter might love a wily jaguar, like a chivalric knight might love his opposite number in the enemy lines, like a master detective might love a criminal mastermind. Oh, she'd fight her foe. Destroy it if she could. But that didn't for one moment make her love it any less.

The day she found the Measure, she arrived at work as she did every morning -- an hour before opening. She fed her guest in the cellar, then cleaned her little shop from top to bottom. She had already cleaned it before leaving the night before, but that made no difference. When her staff arrived, she would make them clean it again, for chaos is a tricky foe. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 2: Space"

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4

It was nearing midday. Alfred could tell because shadow of the tip of the Pyramid pointed directly at the door of his shop. Alfred looked up into the burning eye of the vast structure and shook his head. Like most of the locals, he found that the best way to deal with the Pyramid was to not think about it too hard.

From his doorway, Alfred looked around the South Hertling Super Centre. It had been weeks since the Battle of Wellington Road and the rise of the Great Pyramid. When the gigantic structure had arisen from the ruins of the Mega Centre it had initially been bad for business. But other people had joined Alfred in not thinking about it too hard, and gradually the customers had returned.

A clock rang – the only clock in Alfred's shop that was set to the correct time and which had the ringer turned on. Twelve o'clock. Usually, Alfred hurried to the door by the third ring, but now he had the good fortune to be at the right place at the right time to see Delia Crispin leave Storage World to go to Carol's Café. The same time ever day, precisely.

"Morning, Alfred," she said, her grey bun bobbing as she nodded at him. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 1: Time"

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