Donna tried not to think about what Donna had told her. Or what Delia had told her. Or Alfred, or Christian or Fanaka or basically anyone. She was doing something that she suspected anyone would argue her out of. But she was doing it anyway, because it needed to be done and there were few people around doing what needed to be done.

"One chicken and beef kebab, extra cheese, chilli sauce, Mr Theopoulos," she said, striding into the kebab shop.

Stavros Theopoulos smiled and paused in his restocking of his ice-cream fridge. He gestured Donna to a seat, and waved at his counterhands to serve her. "Donna, isn't it? Not usual to see any of the Handy Pavilion crowd in my shop. You don't like me, or something?"

"You're a ringleader of a weird cult that worships the Pyramid," Donna said.

"Am I?"

"We have witnesses."

"Do you? So what if you do. It's a free country."

"Is it?" Donna said. "I haven't checked today's news yet. Good to hear. Anyway, you've probably heard that the DIY Barn people have been making a comeback?"

Theopoulos shrugged, straightened his back and collapsed an empty Paddle Pop box.

"Yes?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 40: Yeeros"

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The Babbage engine that Donna had retrieved from the carpark was just a little larger than a fridge, so it had been easy to find space for it in the backroom of the Storage Universe. Donna's understanding of computing was fairly decent, but her understanding of mechanical AIs was basically nonexistant.

Fanaka was the obvious person to examine it, but he'd had to go and open the watch repair shop. Nalda, as an AI herself, was also a good choice but her shift had begun at the disposals store. That meant that the task was in the hands of Axel Platzoff and Vincent Pizaro.

Professor Devistato and Captain Stellar. A former supervillain and a former superhero, working together. Donna wondered whether Sadie would have appreciated this, or considered it an unfortunate compromise.

"Nothing," Axel said. "I can't see any obvious problem, but it's shutting down anyway."

"Hang in there!" Vincent said. "Don't give up now, damn it!"

"How does that stop something from dying?"

"I don't know. It just does." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 36: Future"

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The morning sun was shining over the Super Centre carpark. The earliest retail workers were arriving as best they could with the entire Easter parking area occupied by the massive form of the great metal bird. Mostly, they avoided looking at it. The people of South Hertling were becoming adept at not seeing things.

Fanaka yawned wide as he kicked the bird’s landing gear. “It’s an ornithopter,” he said.

“Yes,” he added.

“Is that all you can say?” Donna asked.

Fanaka shrugged.

“But you’re an engineer from planet Steampunk, right?” Donna said. “This should be right up your alley.”

Fanaka scratched his head, kicked the landing gear and made a ‘maybe-maybe’ sort of gesture. “Well,” he said. “There are giant steampunk ornithopters, and then there are giant steampunk ornithopters, if you follow me.”

...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 34: Ornithopter"

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It was night, and a nearly full moon hung in the sky and/or orbited the Earth. Donna had been checking the potted shrubs near Carpets! Carpets! Carpets!, when the gunshot rang out. She raced across the tarmac of the carpark towards Harry's House of Ethanol Based Beverages. As she ran, she was joined by two or three of the fugitive Pavilionites, armed with sticks and crowbars.

At the door to Harry's, a silver-clad Barnling was running away from Harry Montressor, who was throwing bricks at the man. The air was scented with gunsmoke and there was broken glass across in the doorway, but Donna could see no sign that anyone had been hurt. She gestured for her colleagues to chase the Barnling, and went to talk to Harry.

"He had a gun," Harry said, in between heaving breaths. "Tried to rob me."

"Is anyone hurt?"

"Some bottles. Mostly I broke them. When he fired the gun, I think the bullet went into the ceiling."

Donna poked her head into Harry's shop. It was a large, brightly lit shop, with four aisles in the middle and beer and wine fridges around the walls. A couple of scared customers stood here and there, to shocked to move. Harry had been right – a chunk of the ceiling had been shot away and a pile of bricks stood behind the counter. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 32: Robbery"

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"Donna, I have to hand it to you and your Grampy," Carol said. "That massive prison break went like clockwork."

"Of course it went like clockwork!" Grampy Erik said.

"No offense meant," Carol said. "It's just that you see prison breaks on TV, you read about them in the paper, and it seems like there's usually some exciting incident during the escape that raises the tension and drama."

"Not with me in charge!" Erik said, squaring his skinny shoulders beneath his brown cardigan.

Donna nodded in satisfaction as she looked around the assembled Pavilionites. They were all there – mostly the ones whose names she couldn't remember, but also a very uncertain looking Laura Cho, and Axel Platzoff who was still strapped into his Hannibal Lechter gurney, in spite of being catatonic.

"Zorbar still have doubts about Zorbar's role in whole affair," Zorbar said, adjusting his silk ballgown.

"If your plan A is good, you don't really need a plan B," Erik said. "And yet, a sensible man still has a plan B ready to go. You were plan B. If the guards had found that gun made of soap that I baked into the cake, or noticed any of those bedsheets I made out of rope, you would have had to make the warden fall in love with you, then drug him and steal the keys."

"But there several actual attractive women in our group, so why Zorbar dressed…"

"So did we get everyone?" Donna said. It was good getting the whole Pavilion together, but on the other hand she knew it would surely lead to a vast uptick in the number of rambling conversations that didn't really drive events.

Carol and Zorbar began counting everyone. It looked like it was going to take a while, because Zorbar's counting skills were a little rudimentary. But it gave Donna time to think. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 28: Accompli"

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Later, Donna realised that things could have gone very differently. She could have left the South Hertling Super Centre by the Wellington Road exit, seen the plume of smoke and intervened in the conflict between Fanaka and Karl Wintergreen before it was too late. But in trying to avoid after school traffic by Local High School, she took her out the back way through Bideford Lane, past the Cal Meechum Memorial. Donna drove. In the passenger seat sat Belinda. On the rear seat were Belinda, Carol and Zorbar.

A killer cyborg from the future, an irritating woman who was into cosplay, hipster barista, a woman of deep (albeit eccentric) Christian beliefs and an ape-man who had to bow his head and shoulders just to fit in the back of a Subaru hatchback. It shouldn't be enough to organise a jailbreak for over a hundred people, Donna knew. But maybe if she prayed really hard...

"Here we are," Donna said, pulling up about outside of a nursing home, half a kilometre away.

"This isn't Long Bay," Carol complained.

"No, this is where we're getting the guy who can help us break everybody out," Dona said. "Our secret weapon. I've been keeping him in reserve in case we needed him: my great-grandfather." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 24: Grampy"

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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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"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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The number of people at the exorcism had gradually ballooned. Donna had originally intended to perform the ceremony herself, and had only added Christian under sufferance. But with Christian there, of course Gwen had to be there too. Then Fanaka had found out what was going on, so of course Nalda was there as his plus one. To top it off, the entire ritual was taking place in the deserted Handy Pavilion. The whole thing felt more like a reunion than an exorcism now.

Donna sighed and watched as Christian retrieved the Evil Brownie from the hidey-hole where the creature had been hidden. The little creature was tied up head to foot, but didn't seem the least bit put out by this. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 13: Trial"

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Fanaka's step always lifted a little when he walked into the Disposal store. This wasn't so much because of the merchandise. The camping gear and army jackets reminded him unpleasantly of his short stint the Air Force back home. He'd served as a Meteorologist's Mate on a stealth airship, running recon missions over Madagascar. He'd been so happy when his deferment had come through, giving him the chance to get to Nairobi and PAISAW. Then, of course, the accident had happened stranding him in this odd, non-Steampunk, non-Afrocentric world…

But there was one consolation. He'd found another lost soul to love… If soul was indeed the right word.

Nalda Teheintausand was restocking some camping pots when Fanaka entered, and his heart lifted at the sight of her. Nalda. The time travelling killer cyborg that had won his heart. Her hard, thin lips twisted upward when she saw him. Her smile was barely perceptible. But it was enough. He grinned broadly in return. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 11: Clues"

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