Night had just fallen as Carl Wintergreen reached the Pyramid. A Greek demi-god, a robot truck, a water-witch were escorting a lady gunslinger off of the vast structure. A frumpy looking middle aged couple were standing a little higher up, and wearing silvery uniforms that, Carl thought, should probably have been fitted a little less tightly.

"Oh," Carl said to the Water-Witch. "I was just about to report that my attempt to crack the Pyramid open failed because of a second time distortion. But it looks like you have everything in hand, so..."

"Yeah, about that," said the Water-Witch, whose name was Fiona. "Yeah, Carl, I'm not going to lie to you. I didn't really need you to do that. I just wanted you out of the way so..."

"So when you say you 'don't want to lie to me,' you mean 'any more'," Carl grumbled.

"Yeah, well," Fiona said. "For a guy who's super paranoid, you're really kind of gullible." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 54: Finale"

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The water came rushing through the corridors of the Pyramid, like a river somehow running uphill. The flinty-eyed Ma Dusty was so shocked, she lowered her six-shooter. Delia took the opportunity to elbow the horrible woman in the ribs, before both of them were swept along by the raging torrent.

Darkness fell as Delia and Ma were swept away from the huge robot that was the source of the light. And then even Ma was gone, and Delia was alone, buffeted down a stone corridor by a raging stream. Perhaps she heard the shouts of human voices behind her. Perhaps she did not. Most of her mind was concentrated on keeping afloat while also protecting her face from impacts with the unseen walls. For the walls were of rough stone which scratched and abraded bare skin. Delia's silvery space costume protected most of her body, but keeping her face and hands clear was not easy.

Delia hit a wall as the stream turned a corner. A struggling body hit her as she adjusted. Whose body? Friend or foe? Human or… ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 53: Cosmos"

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Alfred  felt the smooth surface of the Watch as he wandered in the darkness. It didn't help, not even to reassure him. But he was too afraid to try to put it back in his pocket, lest it slip from his fingers and be lost in the tunnel -- if tunnel it was.

It had begun as a round, tunnel with granite walls. as the light had died, the tunnel had become square, the walls rougher. Then it had become round again, with walls clad in what felt like metal sheeting. Then the walls had become soft, with a peaty smell. Then the corridor had widened, and Alfred was almost glad he couldn't feel the walls any more.

In the silence, Alfred heard a sudden clang. He started and tried to run, but was grabbed by a strong arm, and there was cold metal at his throat.

"Who are youse?" came a voice from the darkness.

"Alfred Pilbrook," Alfred said. "Um, I hope you can see in the dark or something, because otherwise it's not very safe to have a knife…"

Suddenly there was light, bright electric light. Alfred squinted, his eyes feeling like they hadn't seen brightness in a year. When his pupils had adjusted, he looked down, to see that the implement at his throat was not a knife, as he'd imagined, but a bronze sword.

"Good-o," he sighed. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 51: Exposition"

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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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