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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Alfred had lost track of how long he had been in the Suburb. He shouldn't have. After all, the only one of his possessions that remained to him was the Watch. It was just that the time it showed was not the time he experienced. How long had he been away? Away from Delia?

He looked out the window of his flat above the milk bar, and saw the awnings and shops of the Suburb, just as he did every day. He shook his head. Time to face the day. Donning his black slacks and, polo-neck and blazer, he walked down the back stairs, past Mrs R smoking by the back gate and out into the alley. Then he remembered that he'd forgotten his enormous white badge with the letter 'F' on it and, swearing, went back to retrieve it.

Thus fully clothed, he made his way to the Suburb tea shop, which for reasons he didn't fully understand was located in the middle of a hedge-maze in the Suburb Park. Fortunately Letter N, the park gardner, had gotten lazy and mown a park directly to the centre. There, the little café kiosk was doing a brisk business to the black-blazered Suburbanites.

"Usual, F?" said L, the waitress.

"Maybe this time I could have it without the hallucinogens?" Alfred sighed.

"One Devonshire tea, half hallucinogens it is."

...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 30: Imprisoned"

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Delia opened her eyes slowly and took in her surroundings. She was lying on an old-fashioned chaise-lounge, fully dressed but covered by a light blanket. The chaise-lounge was up against one wall of a modestly sized living room, decorated with green patterned wallpaper, some potted ferns and a portrait of a stern looking moustachioed man in a crimson uniform. Other than the lounge, there were a couple of leather-upholstered armchairs and a coffee table. There was no sign of a television, or any other electronics for that matter.

A loud ticking sound seemed to come from several sources at once – a huge dark-wooded grandfather clock at one end of the room and a mantle clock over the fireplace at the other end. Delia noticed that the grandfather clock ticked slightly more quickly than the mantle clock, as if their mechanisms were running at different rates. In a way, this pleased her. After coming here in such a bizarre way, it would be unfortunate if 'here' was not a desperately odd place.

The door opened, and in walked a woman, a short Aboriginal woman in a white lace Victorian dress. She carried a tea-tray which she deposited on the coffee table. "Awake, aye?" she said.

"I'm awake," Delia said. Should she also ask where she was? No, the answer was probably coming whether she asked or not. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 29: Homewards"

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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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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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If Karl had learned nothing else during his time as a homeless fugitive, he had learned how to hide. After he slipped away from the police, he had ducked around the corner of the Pyramid and found the street beyond littered with an abundance of hiding place. There were cars, small trees and thick shrubs. On the Pyramid side, there was the remains of the lost Mega Centre's retaining wall. On the other was a motley selection of suburban fences.

Karl ignored all of these possibilities and slipped into a storm-water drain.

It was surprisingly easy. Months of living on garbage had slimmed him down so much that he didn't even need to remove his jacket. And with so many easily accessed and non-stupid hiding places, the cops were unlikely to pursue him here.

Even so, for a while he simply lay still -- waiting, observing. It was only when he was certain that the police were not coming that he took a battered flashlight from the pocket of his ragged jacket and began to look around. ...continue reading "Interlude — Underground"

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Delia had never been in the back of a police car before, but nonetheless she made herself at home. She shared her seat with Alfred and Fanaka, who were the only others who had been arrested. Gwen had avoided arrest by knocking a policeman to the ground and fleeing with the protesting Christian thrown over one shoulder.

"Wait, I haven't committed a crime, yet," the young man had cried as his lover dragged him away.

Karl had disappeared in the confusion with Ron in hot pursuit. Once again law enforcement had proved meaningless to anybody who wasn't already law abiding.

Well, mostly law abiding. To Delia's exasperation, Alfred seemed to have had some sort of extremely quick identity crisis, and reinvented himself from 'aging shopkeeper' to 'teenage hooligan.

"Did you see that? Did you see Gwen take down that copper?" he laughed.

One of the constables in the front of the car turned around with a look that was meant to say 'imposing authority' but which Delia read as 'hurt feelings.' ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 26: Drive"

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Alfred had never run so fast in his life.

Well, that wasn't quite true. He'd been a respectable enough middle distance runner in high school, oh so long ago. But he certainly hadn't run so fast recently. When had been the last time he'd run more than a few steps at a time. A school carnival, probably? Decades ago. Back in the days when he found it hard to find time for his daughters. Before they reached the age when they found it hard to make time for him.

But this particular piece of self-pity was far in the back of his mind. Most of his misery was reserved for bodily discomfort as he pushed his chubby, aging body well past its limits to keep up with the others – Christian jogging with all the careless energy of youth; Gwen short and stout and yet hammering along like nobody's business. And Delia…

It was almost a relief when Delia stumbled. In helping her, Alfred could slow to a stop without feeling bad about it. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 25: Mayhem"

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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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Apologies, my tens of readers for for late posting; extra busy at the moment.

------

Fanaka was not a stupid man. He was a genius, in fact. And this, unfortunately was the problem – namely, that as a genius he knew a thousand more ways to be stupid; more paths to foolishness than the average person could even imagine.

Another aspect of not being stupid was that he deeply aware of the possibility that he was being foolish as he set up his anti-aircraft battery in Wellington Road, just outside the South Hertling Super Centre and across the street from the giant evil Pyramid that had risen from the ruins of what was once the South Bannerman Mega Centre.

But smart or stupid, genius or fool, once a man has begun building a steam-powered anti-aircraft gun in a public road, there's no easy way to walk back from it.

Fanaka stood back a little to admire his handiwork. He nodded and smiled – not a happy smile, but a satisfied one. It would work. It would work perfectly. Once Ron fired his rocket, the AA gun would automatically spring into action and shoot it down. Additional AA emplacements around the Pyramid ensured three hundred and sixty degree protection. Carefully prepared labels on each of the guns misidentified them as art installations. Since most of the citizens of South Hertling would happily have walked a mile to avoid an art installation, Fanaka judged them safe from tampering. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 23: Downstage"

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