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 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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During his absence, Fanaka had stopped shaving his face and head. The hair on chin had sprouted and begun to go grey. Over the years, these grey hairs had spread across his jaw and up his sideburns, almost reaching his hairline. The shirt and slacks that he had worn when he left Earth had long since worn away, and he wore some undergarments that he'd stolen from a Zalgon starcruiser under a worn camelhair dressing gown that he'd been given by an old friend.

He walked down the steps of the saucer shaped craft that had brought him home and tested the ground with his foot. Yes. Earth. He had a satchel full of equipment that he could use to test this hypothesis. There was no need. Every fibre of his body said 'Earth'. More to the point, he could see a little shack with a sign that read 'South Hertling Cub Scouts'. The shack shook slightly and a deeply unpleasant music issued from within. Highland Dance group. That made it the second Wednesday of the month.

Fanaka turned back. "We made it," he said. "Earth." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 31: Homecoming"

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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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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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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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