"Sitting in the ruins of your life, looking upon the detritus of your once proud hopes and dreams? Hey, I can relate."

Fanaka looked up to see Axel munching on a pastry in the middle of the ruins of the music shop. To his right, past the broken windows was a chaotic battle. Through his tears, Fanaka couldn't quite make out who the sides were, but he knew some of the combatants to be Nalda's army of solid-light holigrams. To his left, Jemmy and Mildred were trying to get to the hologram-generating equipment in the backroom, but the way was blocked by a shining forcefield.

"She was…" Fanaka said. "Nalda, I mean. I love her. How could she…"

"Fanaka, she loves you," Axel said. "Never doubt that. But she's a killer cyborg from the future, you know? And when you're dating a killer cyborg from the future who's programmed to help bring in the Age of the Automaton, then… well… things can get a little rocky, you know?"

"I crossed lightyears to find her," Fanaka said. "Dimensions. Never thought of returning to my own timeline to see my family. It was all for her."

"Do you two mind having the deep-and-meaningful later?" Jemmy shouted. "Because we could use some help, here." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 45: Friends"

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As Donna expected, the Barnlings attacked in the early evening. In their silver ranks, they marched down Wellington Road, singing as they came.

“When you’re the Barn,
You’re in Barn all your life,
‘Cause we don’t give a darn
When we’re cooking up strife

“When you’re in Barn,
You’re the fightingest goons!
We’ll mess up our foes
We don’t think there’s no spoon.

“We don’t know a lot,
But that does not distress us.
Whither the plot?
Wherefore the Pyramid oppresses?
We have no guesses!

“Here comes the Barn with the strength of a tree,
And in these silver pants
It is quite hard to—“ ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 43: Tonight"

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Jemmy Harrison's unnamed music shop wasn't the best place for a scientific conference, but it would have to do. Jemmy had quite an impressive array of computers, albeit mostly obsolete ones. The Babbage-engine brain of the dead steampunk ornithopter was also there, with Nalda translating. And Axel was there, and he was a genius after all, as was Mildred Po, perhaps the world's most talented amateur rocket scientist. And of course there was Fanaka, who seemed to be in charge of everything, after retrieving the mysterious Crystal Skull from its hiding place in Emile Fortunado's cellar.

That had proven more difficult than he'd hoped. Emile's shop had been closed, so Fanaka had gone to see Emile's colleague in the liquor business, Harry Montressor. But Harry's shop was also closed, and building noises were coming from inside, so no one could hear Fanaka knocking. In the end, Fanaka had to bribe a dodgy looking yellow cat in a straw boater to pick the lock on Emile's door, and retrieve the Skull from under a pile of receipts for fortified wine.

Now the Skull sat on a piano stool in the middle of Jemmy's floor, while the assorted geniuses and AIs stared at it, glowing softly in the dark.

"Creepy, isn't it?" Jemmy offered. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 41: Destiny"

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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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Welcome back! Sorry for the delay. When last we left off, Donna was instigating the rescue of the Handy Pavilion staff currently in prison, in order to raise a force to fight the resurgent DIY Barn. The issues of what's up with the Brownie, the weird cult in the kebab shop, and the missing Ms Shan are still up in the air. And surely that subplot about the cartoon cats will start to make sense at some point? Meanwhile, Alfred, Delia and Fanaka have all been arrested and Delia tried to deal with the situation by combining the power of the Watch and the Measure. We open on Fanaka dealing with some of the consequences of that action.

__

Fanaka stood on the roof of the police car and scanned in every direction, and in every direction he saw nothing. Nothing. Not a white void, nor a grey void, nor even a black void. Nothing at all. It hurt his eyes to look at it, and the fact that he could see at all without any ambient light hurt his brain.

"Well," he said in his own language, "there's a thing." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 27: Occupants"

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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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Past

"Is Fanaka here?"

Alfred looked up from his laptop where he was balancing his shop's books. Before him was a thirty-ish white man in a camouflage jacket over a t-shirt, who spoke in an accent Alfred couldn't place. "Today's Fanaka's day off," he said. "If you need a watch repaired, you can leave it with me and I'll give it to him tomorrow."

The man scratched his head. This gesture caused his jacket to fall open, so Alfred could see his t-shirt more clearly. It showed what looked like a feathered velociraptor in a pickelhaube helmet, one tiny arm held up in a Roman salute. This image was framed by a circle, and featured a line through the middle. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 8: Ghosts"

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Alfred's usual lunch was a roast beef sandwich with horseradish. Most of his life, he'd eaten that on white bread with the crusts cut off, but his doctor had all but twisted his arm over his diet and so now he ate it on multigrain with crusts and alfalfa sprouts.

Today, though, today he was doing a thing that he rarely did, and that was eat out. He did this perhaps once a year and never happily. The great comfort of a regular lunch is never having to decide what to eat, but he had left his sandwich at home in the fridge, so it was eat out or go hungry. And eating out meant making a decision.

Alfred leaned on the counter of his shop and chewed his lip. There was a food court in the South Hertling Mall, but that was far enough away that he felt justified in ruling it out. And both of the food outlets at the Mega Centre had been destroyed at the coming of the Pyramid. That left just two choices, Carol's or the kebab shop. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 4: Food"

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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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Laura stood out back of the burning ruins of the DIY Barn, knocking the few remaining Barnling minions about. It was unrewarding work. She didn't quite understand Vicilancers bylaws, but she was pretty sure she wasn't supposed to use her superpowers on basic thugs. Her isotopic skin meant that none of the Barnlings could hurt her, but taking them down one by one with basic judo was time consuming. She half hoped that the Barn would set a ninja or a war robot on her, but so far no joy.

At least her future self seemed to have vanished. Honestly, this didn't bother her. The woman's deliberate mysteriousness had bothered her from the start. Laura didn't even know why she was still hanging around in the present. She'd given her warning of the future. For all the good it had done. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 71: Laura’s Future"

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