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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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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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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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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As he hunted for the Huge Evil Bubble through the wood-panelled halls of Alice Hertling's Victorian-themed spaceship, Alfred found himself thinking about his daughters. He didn't see as much of them as he would have liked, now they had moved on to uni. They still came and visited now and then, but it was always a little awkward for some reason. He'd never been as close to them as he wished he'd been when they were younger, and he had no idea how to connect to them.

He had two daughters. Janet and Petra. Janet was a bookish type who wore oversized glasses and was studying political science or sociology or one of those feel-bad-about-bad-things sort of subjects. She tended to date earnest looking young men who were so keen to argue about everything that Alfred hardly dared open his mouth in front of them. Petra had ostensibly been Alfred's son, Peter, until the age of twenty when she'd tearfully explained that she really a woman, and Alfred had feign surprise and pretend he hadn't seen that coming a mile off. Actually he'd been a little pleased, since it was the one and only time he'd shown more insight into his children's lives than his ex-wife had.

Not that this insight had brought him closer to Petra. She still left her computer programming books everywhere, only now she had taken over half of the counter in Alfred's bathroom. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 37: Bubble"

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Sorry for delay. Should be back on track now.

...

Delia wasn't jealous of U. Not really. After all, it was Alfred we were talking about, wasn't it? And a drop-dead gorgeous twentysomething blonde was not likely to have been interested in Alfred with his cardigans and comb-over.

(Except that he looked a little dashing in his black blazer. And the comb-over had given way to a buzzcut that made him look like a short, fat Patrick Stewart except with a moustache.)

"So run this by me again," Alfred said. "We are in…"

Alice Hertling topped up Alfred's tea. The four of them – Delia, Alice, Alfred and U – sat in the crinoline-draped tea room of Alice's spaceship, hovering over the Suburb. Delia sipped her lapsang souchong, while U tossed back jam-and-cream scones like there was no tomorrow. By great effort of will, Delia refrained from thinking something stereotypical about U's figure and the future thereof.

"We are in North Hertling, Mr Pilbrook," Alice said.

"There is no North Hertling," Alfred said. "Only South."

"Why?" Alice said. "Why not just call it 'Hertling'?"

Alfred sipped at his tea and scratched his head. "There is no North Hertling," he said. "Only South." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 35: North"

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Alfred awoke slowly and groggily. His mouth tasted sour and his tongue felt like it was made of gum.

"Must have been N on drugging duty last night," he groaned. "Always goes too heavy on the chloroform."

As soon as his head felt up to the task, he looked around. He was seated on a bench in a sunlit park. To his left was an open field, where some men in blazers were having a three-legged sack race, complicated by the fact that they were all running in different directions. To the right was the Huge Evil Bubble, the smooth white surface of which was smeared in mud. It groaned quietly.

"Bad night too, eh, mate?" Alfred said. He fished some biscuits from his pocket and placed them on the ground before the creature, which absorbed them into its body. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 33: Computer"

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Delia opened her eyes slowly and took in her surroundings. She was lying on an old-fashioned chaise-lounge, fully dressed but covered by a light blanket. The chaise-lounge was up against one wall of a modestly sized living room, decorated with green patterned wallpaper, some potted ferns and a portrait of a stern looking moustachioed man in a crimson uniform. Other than the lounge, there were a couple of leather-upholstered armchairs and a coffee table. There was no sign of a television, or any other electronics for that matter.

A loud ticking sound seemed to come from several sources at once – a huge dark-wooded grandfather clock at one end of the room and a mantle clock over the fireplace at the other end. Delia noticed that the grandfather clock ticked slightly more quickly than the mantle clock, as if their mechanisms were running at different rates. In a way, this pleased her. After coming here in such a bizarre way, it would be unfortunate if 'here' was not a desperately odd place.

The door opened, and in walked a woman, a short Aboriginal woman in a white lace Victorian dress. She carried a tea-tray which she deposited on the coffee table. "Awake, aye?" she said.

"I'm awake," Delia said. Should she also ask where she was? No, the answer was probably coming whether she asked or not. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 29: Homewards"

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