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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Shortly before Storage Universe closed for the evening, Ms Lebeaux the Centre Manager stopped by. Delia was away at a trade show so she chatted to Donna for a while before going home, leaving a spice-scented plastic bag on the counter. Curiously, Donna didn't follow her to give it back, but she took it in into the back room of Storage World. There she opened the trapdoor to the oubliette and brought the evening meal down to Ms Shan.

The oubliette was about the size that Ms Shan's office had been, back at the Handy Pavilion. It was sparsely furnished with a camp bed and a single chair. Ms Shan sat on the bed in her combat fatigues, talking to Vincent Pizano the lawyer. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 9: Laws"

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It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a shovel may dig a hole in half an hour, but two men with shovels can take up to two hours to perform the same task. First, there is the need to closely examine the area to be dug out. This takes fifteen minutes to half an hour. Following this, there must be a rambling, expletive-filled discussion on hole digging in theory and practice. This takes at least half an hour. After that, a half hour cigarette break is a must, and then we dig the hole which, to the horror of maths teachers everywhere, takes almost exactly the same time to dig as if one man did the work.

Donna sat on a sunny bench outside of the Barbeque Imperium, watching two particular men digging a hole in a garden area next to the carpark. She wasn't watching them in a diet-soft-drink-ad sort of way. She wasn't particularly interested in either of them. It was just that the men leaning on their shovels was the only thing to look at in the carpark. Her attention was momentarily redirected upwards as a superhero flew overhead. Donna sighed at the realisation that it was not Voyager and went back to looking at the workmen.

"Hey, Donna."

Donna recognised Christian's voice, but didn't look up. "Hey, Christian."

"Mind if I join you?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 5: Maths"

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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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When the police arrived, Zorbar stopped stabbing a huge man in a gimp-mask and a DIY Barn apron and scrambled up a Moreton Bay fig tree that had somehow survived the battle. From there he escaped along the line of plane trees in Hurley Road.

Other than that, most of the survivors surrendered fairly easily. Axel seemed barely aware when the police strapped him into a Lechter-gurney and strapped on a hockey mask. Fiona was weeping in relief when she was bundled into the van, her guilt finally assuaged. Laura accepted the handcuffs with the bad grace of someone who knew she could tear the chains apart with a thought. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 72: Pyramid Scheme"

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Marlon was the first to be called. He was alone at home. He should have been in bed, he knew, but the empty bed was cold and uninviting. He sat on the couch watching old war movies. He'd bought a bottle each of rum and Coke to drink while he watched, but he'd grown bored of drinking before finishing the first glass.

His heart leapt when he heard his phone ring, then fell when he saw the caller ID. Not a friend or a lover calling to chat. It was Ms Shan. He answered, knowing what the message would be.

"Marlon here."

"The battle's on," Ms Shan said. "Tomorrow. Dawn." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 59: The Call"

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1

Wellsey leant against one of the pillars that held up the lofty roof of the Handy Pavilion and sighed deeply. It really was just one of those days. Marlon, leaning on the other side of the pillar, sighed even more deeply. From his jeans pocket he took a hip flask, took a swallow, and handed the bottle to Wellsey. Wellsey shook his head. Marlon shrugged, and slipped the flask away.

"You and Joyce got Valentine's Day plans?" Marlon said.

Something came hurtling over the nearest shelving unit. Part of a toilet? Something porcelain anyway. Both men ducked as it hit a nearby shelf, smashing a pile of paint cans, sending blue acrylic dripping to the floor.

"Nothing fancy," Wellsey said There's a Valentine's special at our local restaurant. Free bottle of champagne. And we don't get out as much as we used to. How about you?" ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 55 — Principles of Retail Management"

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Donna cast an eye over the morning deliveries of lightbulbs and sighed. She had never realised just how much work Sadie had accomplished until Sadie hadn't been there. Now, even though business was poor and customers were thin on the ground, Donna could barely keep up with doing the work of her supervisor as well as her own. Marlon had given her extra hours to try to deal with the workload, and Donna's studies were suffering. Still she endured.

She endured because that was what Sadie would have wanted. Sadie never quit or gave in. Sadie's job had been shedding light on her customers, and that is what she had done. She had never wavered, never faltered. Not until the end. Not until she had fallen into darkness. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 54 — Deliver Us Not"

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Norman was late to arrive at the party in Garden Furniture. Adam had spread drop-sheets over all of his beloved display tables and chairs and though he seemed happy, there was a sub-strata of worry every time someone put a drink down.

Only a month earlier, Norman thought, Ms Shan would have balked at the idea of using the Handy Pavilion as the base for Zorbar's buck's night. Now, she not only gave her blessing, but invited herself. Wellsey – who, like many old rebels was a traditionalist at heart – objected to a woman attending a buck's night. But Fiona and Belinda also ended up on the invitation list, and then Zorbar's fiancee Carol announced she was coming. With that, any chance that the evening would involve strippers vanished in a puff of smoke, so Wellsey had had to grin and bear it. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 44 — The Party"

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Fiona stood behind the plumbing orders counter, organising receipts. She was increasingly finding herself in de facto charge of the plumbing section. Wellsey was away on errands for Ms Shan so often these days. Fiona covered for him, working out rosters and making orders. The other team members in the plumbing section did not dispute this new hierarchy. Most of them spend their quiet moments searching the job websites anyway. No one wanted a promotion, least of all an unofficial promotion that came without a raise.

The Handy Pavilion was quiet on a Tuesday morning, allowing Fiona to catch up with some of Wellsey's paperwork. She muttered under her breath at her nominal boss' childish handwriting, then chuckled at herself. When she'd started working, she'd been considered a hopeless employee, one of the worst the Pavilion had hired. Now here she was criticising the work of her mentor.

It felt good. In a deeply uncomfortable way. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 39 – Testing Times"

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