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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Following the incident at the courthouse, Donna was held at the hospital for a while for observation. She discharged herself as soon as she was able, and hurried down to the South Hertling Super Centre to warn everyone that the DIY Barn was back on the march.

She went to warn Ms Shan, but found her gone from her hiding place. Delia was also nowhere to be seen. Neither was Christian, nor Fanaka, nor that weird old guy who Fanaka worked for. She considered dropping in on Belinda at the art supply shop, rejecting the idea after barely a second. It wasn't that big an emergency.

That left one person to talk to. Nalda.

It wasn't that Donna didn't like Nalda. She neither liked not disliked her. Sadie's mentorship had taught Donna much of human nature but surprisingly little about killer cyborgs from the future. As a result, Donna tried not to think about Nalda more than necessary. As bad luck would have it, Donna found both Nalda and Belinda at the disposals shop but -- cursed with being a decent person -- she smiled instead of sighing deeply. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 21: Plot"

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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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The trick, Ron had thought, was to find a place too small for his purposes. That was very important. Once the people of this world had discovered that he was in the process of building a missile, they would inevitably search for him in all the places where such work might easily been done. The abandoned factory on Blackwood St or that new building at the Harrison company that hadn't been opened yet.

But Ron had fooled them all. By doing the work on his missile in the share-house room he slept in, he could work in peace. Granted, it made sleeping a little difficult, and his housemates often complained about the smell of C-4 and aviation fuel, but work was proceeding, albeit awkwardly.

Ron was lying on the floor, one leg twisted around a guidance fin, and reattaching a panel with a ratchet spanner when the door opened. It only opened halfway when it hit the side of the missile with a clang. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Interlude: Rocket"

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Hoonworld Auto was having a sale. The Super Centre carpark was unusually noisy, both from the unusual number of cars for a weekday and the extreme volume of their engines. But on a little bench in a quiet corner, Fanaka sat next to the Brownie. Only a few Super Centre customers walked past, most studiously avoiding the man in the dashiki, a circlet of bronze gears around his head and his companion, a metre-high man with pointed ears, dressed in a black corduroy suit and silk waistcoat embroidered with skulls.

"So, I was wondering if perhaps you have seen him," Fanaka said.

"Look," the Brownie replied. "Thanks for voting to acquit me and all but I don't think I owe you any favours." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 19: Genius"

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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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"Faith, ye know oi'm surprised this worked," Seamus said. He wore a black robe and barrister's wig, and a harness around his waist. From a wire on the harness dangled a mobile phone with a picture of the full moon on it, the light of which glinted strangely off of Seamus' glazed hat. "Artificial lunar light, keeping me awake even in the daytime. Truly, this is an age of wonders."

Donna glared at the little fellow. She was in two minds about the little creature. On the one hand, she was still annoyed at him for getting the Dark Brownie acquitted. On the other hand, she needed good legal representation herself if she was going to avoid prison. If there was anything she'd learned from the gnome's utter dismantling of her seemingly solid case against the Brownie, it was that the little fellow was a first-rate lawyer. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 17: Barn"

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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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"Are you sure you haven't seen Ronnie anywhere?" Fanaka said.

"Nay, faith sir, I've not," replied the armoured knight behind the icecream counter.

The ice cream shop was relatively new, it's one staff member on duty was not. He was dressed head to toe in medieval armour, save for the steel gauntlets which had been removed to better facilitating the handling of gelato.

Fanaka sighed an angry sigh. Sir Kay was the last. He had now made contact with everyone from the Time Lost Support Group and no one seemed to know just where Ronnie had hidden himself – and, presumably, Mildred's prototype rocket. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 15: Frustration"

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In principal, Delia liked the idea of alternate Earths. They appealed to her sense of order. After all, the idea of a multiverse is the ultimate expression of the notion of 'a place for everything an everything in its place.' Having entire worlds to house entire histories suited her down to the ground.

But, as with so many things, there is a gap between the abstract admiration of a principal and the genuine enjoyment of a fact. The recent damage to the space-time continuum had left a number of people from alternate worlds stranded in South Hertling. They did their best to fit in, but they would keep trying to sit on the tops of busses, or paying for Delia's storage boxes with the currency of the Greater Albanian Empire.

"Tell me again what this fellow is up to," she said. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 14: Delivery"

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