Shortly before Storage Universe closed for the evening, Ms Lebeaux the Centre Manager stopped by. Delia was away at a trade show so she chatted to Donna for a while before going home, leaving a spice-scented plastic bag on the counter. Curiously, Donna didn't follow her to give it back, but she took it in into the back room of Storage World. There she opened the trapdoor to the oubliette and brought the evening meal down to Ms Shan.

The oubliette was about the size that Ms Shan's office had been, back at the Handy Pavilion. It was sparsely furnished with a camp bed and a single chair. Ms Shan sat on the bed in her combat fatigues, talking to Vincent Pizano the lawyer. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 9: Laws"

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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"

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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"

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It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a shovel may dig a hole in half an hour, but two men with shovels can take up to two hours to perform the same task. First, there is the need to closely examine the area to be dug out. This takes fifteen minutes to half an hour. Following this, there must be a rambling, expletive-filled discussion on hole digging in theory and practice. This takes at least half an hour. After that, a half hour cigarette break is a must, and then we dig the hole which, to the horror of maths teachers everywhere, takes almost exactly the same time to dig as if one man did the work.

Donna sat on a sunny bench outside of the Barbeque Imperium, watching two particular men digging a hole in a garden area next to the carpark. She wasn't watching them in a diet-soft-drink-ad sort of way. She wasn't particularly interested in either of them. It was just that the men leaning on their shovels was the only thing to look at in the carpark. Her attention was momentarily redirected upwards as a superhero flew overhead. Donna sighed at the realisation that it was not Voyager and went back to looking at the workmen.

"Hey, Donna."

Donna recognised Christian's voice, but didn't look up. "Hey, Christian."

"Mind if I join you?" ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 5: Maths"

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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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On the first Thursday of every month, the Time Lost Support group met at the old Scout Hut at South Hertling Reserve. In the draughty echoing space, a ragged circle of folding chairs was set up. Everyone was seated, except for an olive skinned man in a grubby military uniform.

"Hello, I'm Ronnie," he said.

"Hello, Ronnie," chorused the group.

"I fell through a portal from Nazi Dinosaur Earth," Ronnie drawled. "It's… It's better here in some ways. Not quite so many Nazis, you know? But you're not allowed to shoot the Nazis that are here, for some reason." He paused and shook his head. "I do miss the dinosaurs, though."

"I don’t quite follow," Fanaka said. "I suppose there are dinosaurs and Nazis on Dinosaur Nazi Earth, but are the dinosaurs Nazis?"

"Some of 'em, I guess," Ronnie said. "I'm probably stereotyping here, but mostly therapods. But most of the dinosaurs are just dinosaurs, you know? They're usually kind of apolitical."

Fanaka wrote this down carefully in his notebook.  Beside Ronnie and himself, the group that night included a little white man in a tight-fitting jumpsuit and an enormous head, a blonde woman in seventeenth century buccaneer regalia, a Japanese man built like a sumo but dressed as a Roman gladiator, a Aboriginal woman who wore a 1960s spacesuit and Lena, the counselor. A smaller turnout than usual. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes — Part 3: Hope"

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4

It was nearing midday. Alfred could tell because shadow of the tip of the Pyramid pointed directly at the door of his shop. Alfred looked up into the burning eye of the vast structure and shook his head. Like most of the locals, he found that the best way to deal with the Pyramid was to not think about it too hard.

From his doorway, Alfred looked around the South Hertling Super Centre. It had been weeks since the Battle of Wellington Road and the rise of the Great Pyramid. When the gigantic structure had arisen from the ruins of the Mega Centre it had initially been bad for business. But other people had joined Alfred in not thinking about it too hard, and gradually the customers had returned.

A clock rang – the only clock in Alfred's shop that was set to the correct time and which had the ringer turned on. Twelve o'clock. Usually, Alfred hurried to the door by the third ring, but now he had the good fortune to be at the right place at the right time to see Delia Crispin leave Storage World to go to Carol's Café. The same time ever day, precisely.

"Morning, Alfred," she said, her grey bun bobbing as she nodded at him. ...continue reading "Clocks and Boxes – Part 1: Time"

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Bruce's bad back was starting to get to him. It didn't seem fair, somehow – being reincarnated in a giant robot body and still having a bad back. He hoped the giant lizard that he was fighting would go down soon, because he didn't know how long he could keep going anyway. Technically, he shouldn't be up at all. The sun was above the horizon, and as a ghost he wasn't active of a daytime. Somehow though, he was still fighting on, and he didn't know how.

He put the thought from his mind, just as he put from his mind the image of all the people dying in the street below. Concentrate. Concentrate on the lizard, the huge scaly lizard.

The thing was as big as him, and tough with it. Its bones seemed weirdly flexible, which was perhaps why the thing was able to absorb blows that should have crushed its skull.  Bruce had been a big guy in life and he was a big guy in death, and like a lot of big guys he'd never found it necessary to learn how to fight. All he knew how to do was trade punch for punch with the lizard and hope that the creature would go down before Bruce's back went out and he had to lie down. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 70: Bruce’s Back"

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Axel --or, as he was increasingly thinking of himself 'Old Axel' -- took cover behind a burning Volvo station wagon, and looked down the front of his shirt. He was covered with bruises. Fresh bruises. That wasn't how this was supposed to go down. If young Axel was being injured, old Axel should certainly be seeing new/old scars. It was one of the surest signs of temporal chicanery. But fresh bruises... that made no sense.

He glanced over the top of the car. Mild mannered Jane Nguyen was screaming as she beat a fallen Barnling with a garden rake. A barrage of rockets aimed at Bruce were absorbed by one of Fiona's water spouts. Axel ducked his head down again.

If he'd just been there, doing what was required of him... making super weapons for the Pavilion, then the Barnlings wouldn't  have stood a chance. Instead he had ended up in prison. Somehow.

Time! Something was going wrong with time. Well, whatever it was ought to be affecting his memories, too. Axel concentrated, clearing his head of the noises of the battle raging outside and thought back to the day it had all "happened."

...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 68 – So How Did Axel and Sadie End Up in Prison? or “Chapter 50.5”"

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Though the battle around her was bloody and cruel, Sadie MacGregor fought fair. That went without saying, perhaps -- that even in the middle of a bloody battle she fought Marquis of Queensbury style. It made no difference to her. She wasn't supposed to be involved at all. Not this way.

A Barnling ran shrieking at her with a weapon made from a broom handle and two garden forks, and she simply felled him with a well-placed sock to the chin. That was how your do it. The Barnling was unconscious, but would recover. Sadie checked the sleeping man's conscience and noted that he'd been padding his hours for weeks. That was morally wrong, and yet Sadie felt a brief flicker of sympathetic triumph on the man's behalf for ripping off the DIY Barn.

This mission. It had… It had weakened her. Watered down her resolve. Done something to her, anyway. The only consolation was that it had done the same thing to her sister. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 67: Gaslight"

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