Delia had never been in the back of a police car before, but nonetheless she made herself at home. She shared her seat with Alfred and Fanaka, who were the only others who had been arrested. Gwen had avoided arrest by knocking a policeman to the ground and fleeing with the protesting Christian thrown over one shoulder.

"Wait, I haven't committed a crime," the young man had cried as his lover dragged him away.

Karl had disappeared in the confusion with Ron in hot pursuit, and so once again law enforcement proved meaningless to anybody who wasn't already law abiding.

Well, mostly law abiding. To Delia's exasperation, Alfred seemed to have had some sort of extremely quick identity crisis, and reinvented himself from 'aging shopkeeper' to 'teenage hooligan.

"Did you see that? Did you see Gwen take down that copper?" he laughed.

One of the constables in the front of the car turned around with a look that was meant to say 'imposing authority' but which Delia read as 'hurt feelings.' ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 26: Drive"

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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, 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 all. 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 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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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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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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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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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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