In principal, Delia liked the idea of alternate Earths. They appealed to her sense of order. After all, the idea of a multiverse is the ultimate expression of the notion of 'a place for everything an everything in its place.' Having entire worlds to house entire histories suited her down to the ground.
But, as with so many things, there is a gap between the abstract admiration of a principal and the genuine enjoyment of a fact. The recent damage to the space-time continuum had left a number of people from alternate worlds stranded in South Hertling. They did their best to fit in, but they would keep trying to sit on the tops of busses, or paying for Delia's storage boxes with the currency of the Greater Albanian Empire.
"Tell me again what this fellow is up to," she said. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 14: Delivery"
Alfred generally tried to avoid talking to Jemmy Harrison. Jemmy was the proprietor of the South Hertling Super Centre's music shop, an establishment that had once been known as 'World of G-Strings'. The name had to be changed after it began attracting an undesirable – and disappointed – brand of customer. Jemmy had decided that that the new name had to be something cool and so, against Alfred's advice, he had renamed the place 'Ice Dealers'. Naturally, this caused even more problems.
Now the music store's sign was down, awaiting some new brainwave of Jemmy's. In the meantime the massive display of guitars in the windows did all of the work of attracting customers.
Alfred breathed deeply as he approached the nameless shop. He knew perfectly well that he was an aging divorcee slowly fossilising in his clock and watch shop. But Jemmy... Jemmy was boring. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 12: Music"
Down the road from the South Hertling Supercentre was a little packet of parkland called South Hertling Reserve. It contained a concrete picnic table, a tiny swing set, and old Scout hut. It also contained the water feature called Hertling Creek, though it was really more of an open stormwater drain than a creek. A footbridge stretched over it, leading to South Hertling railway station.
It was raining gently that night, so Karl prepared to sleep under the footbridge, on a dryish patch of ground. From where he lay, he couldn't see the massive shape of the Pyramid, but it was never far from his mind, its great eye burning into his mind. It just was like that movie where there was a terrible burning eye – what was it called?
Oh, yeah. The Fantastic Four. The Eye was like the sinister gaze of Johnny Storm himself.
"I fear, Karl, that you have gone quite mad," said a cat. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Interlude: Cats"
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"
Delia had been hoping not to have to talk to Alfred directly. Nalda had refused to work as her envoy for some obscure Teutonic cyborg reason. Delia hadn't yet come up with a Plan B when Alfred walked into Storage Universe. She shook her head gently. She really hadn't want it to come to this.
Alfred took his time looking at the items on display, as for the thousandth time he worked up his courage to talk to her. For the thousandth time Delia there was just more to the man -- that somewhere under the bald, chubby Clark Kent of his exterior there was a bald, chubby Superman.
Perhaps, just perhaps this might not be the thousandth time he disappointed her.
"Hello, Delia," he said as he finally willed himself up to the counter.
"Hello, Alfred. How's business?"
"Tolerably good," he said. "Tolerably good… that is not really what I wanted to talk to you about." ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 10: Spine"
"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"
The day was bright, so Fanaka had to press his face against the front window of Wintergreen's stationary shop to see inside. Nothing had changed from the last time he looked, except perhaps that the film of dust that covered the shelves had grown deeper. He shook his head. Fanaka had never been a particular friend of Karl Wintergreen, but his mind troubled him whenever he thought about the man's disappearance. And now Alfred said he'd seen Karl around…
It meant something. Fanaka was a scientist, and discrepancies and anomalies were to him like a pea beneath a mattress was to a princess. He grimaced at the empty shop and carried on his way to his destination – Stars in Their Eyes Optics next door.
The proprietor, Mildred Po, was with a customer, so Fanaka passed the time examining a reflecting telescope by the door. The fellow finished his business, turned for the door and saw Fanaka standing there. He hesitated for a second. Fanaka smiled politely, the man gave a brittle smile in return and hurried out, clutching his purchase a little tightly to his body. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 7: Help"
As she did every Tuesday, Delia stopped by the Place O'Pets to pick up supplies. She bustled in, studiously avoiding Captain Pete, the one handed aquarium specialist. She made her way past displays full of flea collars, chew toys and lizard dentures, to the food section. There she filled her trolley and took it directly to the counter.
At the till stood the imposing figure of Zorbar, husband of Carol from the coffee shop and semi-domesticated ape-man. He scratched at his lime green Place O'Pets polo shirt as if he wanted to tear it apart.
"Zorbar have question Miss Crispin," he said. "You buy dog food. Zorbar smell dog. You buy cat food. Zorbar no smell cat. Why that?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 6: Friends"