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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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, yet," the young man had cried as his lover dragged him away.

Karl had disappeared in the confusion with Ron in hot pursuit. Once again law enforcement had 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, oh 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 a time. 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 well 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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