The water came rushing through the corridors of the Pyramid, like a river somehow running uphill. The flinty-eyed Ma Dusty was so shocked, she lowered her six-shooter. Delia took the opportunity to elbow the horrible woman in the ribs, before both of them were swept along by the raging torrent.

Darkness fell as Delia and Ma were swept away from the huge robot that was the source of the light. And then even Ma was gone, and Delia was alone, buffeted down a stone corridor by a raging stream. Perhaps she heard the shouts of human voices behind her. Perhaps she did not. Most of her mind was concentrated on keeping afloat while also protecting her face from impacts with the unseen walls. For the walls were of rough stone which scratched and abraded bare skin. Delia's silvery space costume protected most of her body, but keeping her face and hands clear was not easy.

Delia hit a wall as the stream turned a corner. A struggling body hit her as she adjusted. Whose body? Friend or foe? Human or… ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 53: Cosmos"

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"So victory, eh?"

Donna put aside the glowing amulet she had been staring at, and looked up to see who was addressing her.

"Oh, hello Brownie," she said, without enthusiasm. "I guess victory. The AI holograms have stood down, the Barnlings are in retreat and most of the Pyramid Cultists have… well they're not dead or in retreat, but they've been pretty solidly beaten up."

"And you took Theopoulos' amulet?"

"Did you know Theopoulos had an amulet?"

"No, but it was always the smart bet that he did."

"I see," Donna sighed. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 52: Nope"

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“I just wish you’d told me how unhappy you were with the Anthropocene age,” Fanaka said. “You know, before you tried to kill all humans.”

“And if I had told you, vat difference vould it have made?” Nalda said.

“I suppose that is a fair point,” Fanaka grimaced.

They say on a bench outside of the music shop. Or rather, they sat on half of the bench, since the other half was blocked by a bicycle that some thoughtless soul had chained there, instead of in the bike rack just ten metres away.

“It’s a fair point if we’re talking about outcomes,” Fanaka added. “But I’m not. I’m talking about communication. I’m talking about honesty.”

A breeze blew over them, warm and smelling of smoke from the burning spaceship wreckage. Nalda set her shoulders and looked at the ground – or at least her sunglasses were directed downwards. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 50: Now"

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It seemed to Delia that it took a very long time for her and Alfred to skirt the back of Hoonworld Auto and cross Wellington Road. Times seemed longer and distances seemed greater. Was it the power of the Pyramid interfering with the Watch and the Measure, throwing time and space into chaos? If so Delia prepared to do what she had done all of her life: fight against chaos.

Traffic was flowing freely in Wellington Road. Delia remembered the first Pavilion/Barn battle here, and how the entire street had been a riot scene. This time, the fight was localised in the Super Centre, leaving the road free. If it hadn't been for the plumes of smoke over the Centre parking lot, you not have known there was a battle on anyway. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 47: Edge"

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The fight was long and hard and, to Donna's supreme annoyance, indecisive. She checked her watch as she swept the legs from under a screaming Barnling minion. An hour! They'd been fighting for an hour. You'd think someone would have won by now. Or at least the police might have shown up?

To make matters worse, the four-way battle kept changing directions. Inevitably, the Pyramid cultists had betrayed the Pavilion to the Barnlings, but Donna had managed to negotiate a deal with Nalda's AI troops. Then the Barnlings had betrayed the Pyramidists, who'd sough help from the AIs, forcing the Pavilion to fight side by side with their old enemies in the Barn. That had been about a quarter of an hour ago, and Donna was no longer certain as to who was fighting whom.

Partly, she noted, the problem was that this battle was a good deal less lethal than the first one. Perhaps because the Barn and the Pavilion had lost too many people that day, this time around they were fighting with fists and sticks, rather than guns and chainsaws. It was probably a good thing in the long run. But seriously, how long does it take to beat someone just by punching? TV made it seem so quick, so efficient, but…

The Barnling that Donna had tripped slowly struggled to his feet. Sighing, Donna punched him in the kidney. He fell over again, but Donna just knew that he was going to be up again in a minute. So unfair!

"You only need to hold the line."

It was Sadie McGregor. Or her ghost. Do dead angels leave ghosts? Donna was unsure, and didn't really care anyway.

"Hold the line? Against the Barn, the Pyramid cultists and the coming of frikkin' Skynet? Fine. We can do it. But to say we 'just' do it?"

"You can fool the others, but you can't fool me," Sadie said.

"What did we agree last time?"

Sadie's ghost rolled its eyes and  started glowing blue. "Better? Okay. Anyway, I saw what you did. What your real plan is. Who you stationed by the Pyramid. I know you're just holding here until he does his job. Well, if you're holding, then hold."

"I'm afraid, Sadie. I'm afraid… Shit. Hold on."

The Barnling was standing again. Donna picked a heavy piece of debris from the ground and dropped it on his head. The Barnling collapsed again.

"Leave your troops to fight a while," Donna said. "You're needed elsewhere. A terrible crime has taken place at Emile's…"

Donna blinked, kicked the stirring Barnling and blinked again. "What? The fate of the world is in the balance!"

"The fate of the world is always in the balance," Sadie said. "Every act of wrongdoing, no matter how small, threatens to hurl us into the abyss."

"Literally?"

"Well, no, I guess… Look, please, go talk to Emile. It'll help the big fight, I promise."

Donna glared her anger at her dead, supernatural mentor and stomped off through the battle to see Emile at Emile's House of Fine Wines. The doors were closed, but a stray piece of spaceship debris had cracked a window. A garbage can had come loose of its single steel leg. Donna picked it up and hurled it through the cracked window, spreading glass everywhere. It should have seemed satisfying. It was anything but.

Behind the counter was a trapdoor leading down to a cellar. Donna paused. This was odd. Emile's liquor store was, like most big-box liquor store, a cellar in name only. There was only a ground floor, and the climate control of the building provided the equivalent of 'cellaring'. And yet, here was a rickety wooden ladder going down between stone walls, coated with damp and nitre.

"For real?"

She took a last look at the battle outside. Emile's storefront was at the edge of the warzone, so all she could see was a Barnling and a Pavilionite trading weary punches while some local teenagers egged the on. Even so, she felt a traitor going down the hole.

There was no light in the cellar. Donna found a candle and a box of matches in a little alcove by the entry. With this small light, she ventured down, past vast wooden shelves full of bottles and casks. At one end of the darkened room, was a newly built wall, and before that sat Emile Montressor.

"Emile? Is that you?"

"Donna?" Emile said. "Wh-what are you doing here?"

"I was warned that there was a crime going on."

"No, not at all. Harry Fortunado left here hours ago, alive and well."

"I didn't mention Harry."

"No, you didn't." Emile tried a little 'how silly!' sort of laugh, but it turned into a mad cackle. He bit down on his lips to silence himself.

"Emile… Is everything alright? I mean, obviously everything is not alright… But is it alright here?"

White faced, Emile nodded  as if he was trying to shake his head off. "Fine, everything is fine."

A muffled voice emanated from behind the wall. "Thufferin' thurfboards, thith ith a predicament!"

"What was that, Emile?"

Donna hadn't thought it possible for Emile to get whiter. "Nothing! It is nothing!"

"That'th a thretch, buthter!" the voice said.

"Ahhh! I have walled the cat up with him!" Emile said. He rushed past Donna for the ladder, and the breeze of his passing extinguished the candle.

Once Donna had relit it, she found Emile gone. She was alone, other than lisped complaints from behind a wall. Searching around, she discovered some building supplies – old cement bags and some tools – hidden behind a wine shelf. She hoped to find a crowbar among them, but the best she could find was a large trowel. Ordinarily, there was little a trowel could do against a wall, but the cement was barely solid between the bricks on this one. She painstakingly cleared the mortar out from around a brick, then pried it out of the wall. The empty space was immediately filled with two large round yellow eyes.

"Thanks, thithter!" the eyes said. Donna removed another brick, and saw that one of those weird cats was there, a black and white one. She'd seen it before, though she'd never noticed that the white patch on the thing's chest was in the shape of a noose. Behind the animal was Harry Fortunato from Harry's House of Ethanol based beverages, looking very pale indeed.

"Is he…" Donna began.

"Ath a doornail," the cat said. "But you have thaved my life. How can I repay you?"

"Do you have an army?" Donna sighed.

"You want the army?" the cat said. "Thure! I'll go get it mobilithed."

Donna's jaw dropped. She shook her head, then looked upwards. "Sorry, Sadie."

"No need to make fun of my voice," the cat said.

Next -- Part 47: Edge

Previously -- Part 45: Friends

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"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.

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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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