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Norman was late to arrive at the party in Garden Furniture. Adam had spread drop-sheets over all of his beloved display tables and chairs and though he seemed happy, there was a sub-strata of worry every time someone put a drink down.

Only a month earlier, Norman thought, Ms Shan would have balked at the idea of using the Handy Pavilion as the base for Zorbar's buck's night. Now, she not only gave her blessing, but invited herself. Wellsey – who, like many old rebels was a traditionalist at heart – objected to a woman attending a buck's night. But Fiona and Belinda also ended up on the invitation list, and then Zorbar's fiancee Carol announced she was coming. With that, any chance that the evening would involve strippers vanished in a puff of smoke, so Wellsey had had to grin and bear it. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 44 — The Party"

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It was almost a week before Christian saw Pennington again. This wasn't good news. Christian was holding onto his job by a thread, and he was terrified that he'd be fired before he could speak to the alchemist.

A whole dozen people had been fired. Low performers, chronic latecomers, suspected pilferers. To be fair to Ms Shan, she didn't play favourites – though to be unfair, that might just be because she never remembered anyone's name. Only a couple of weeks before, Christian would have thought himself invulnerable to anything less than a complete shutdown of the Handy Pavilion, but his KPIs were all down since the Phantasm's disappearance. He might have escaped the last round of layoffs, but the next round would take him out.

He needed Pennington's help before that could happen. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 43 – Never Pay Retail"

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Nalda distrusted the thinking of the humans. It was erratic, contradictory, illogical. In her downtime, she'd seen lots of episodes of old television shows in which some character or other claimed that the erratic basis of human intelligence was a strength, not a weakness. But Nalda had seen the future Empire of the Machines crushing humanity beneath its chrome-plated jackboots, so she knew that those old shows had it oh-so-wrong.

Even so, she was dependent on Fanaka and his frail human brain. She was a war machine and her hardware was optimised for tactical reasoning, split second decision making, rapid calculations of vectors and trajectories. Worse, she'd had to reallocate much of her capacity for deep abstract thinking into the arts and crafts in order to keep her job at the Handy Pavilion. So if she was to solve the conundrum of keeping her cold, robotic future intact, she needed Fanaka -- even if he was a something of a scatterbrain. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 42 – Time Considered as a Helix of Gossiping Retail Employees"

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Bruce was parked in his usual spot in the Handy Pavilion lot. He had a good position, not far from the main entrance. His life had become more sociable since he'd merged with the killer robot, but that was a mixed blessing. Carol still came around to visit, and try to get him to tell her something mystical. Zorbar was still scared of him, but he came with his fiancé anyway, grateful to Bruce for saving both of their lives. On nights of the full moon, Seamus the gnome came by. And most evenings Marlon would discuss the ongoing struggle against the DIY Barn.

And then there was Karl Wintergreen. Bruce wasn't certain about Karl. He was the only one outside of the Handy Pavilion family who knew about him. Bruce hadn't told anyone yet about Karl. Maybe he should…

"As a ghost, you can walk around invisible and unseen, right?" Karl was saying. "You could go anywhere. You could walk into Cabinet meetings… Boardrooms of huge corporations… The Vigilancer's Justi-Building… Anywhere!" ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 41- The Night Talker"

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Christian had not been at work the day the meteor struck. He was glad of that. He worried every time the glass skull picked up a spot of dirt, and the thought of a scratch terrified him beyond belief. The whole Handy Pavilion shaking at the impact… that might have given him a heart attack, straight up.

Now he stood behind the power tools counter, polishing the skull with a soft cloth as Belinda told him about the incident. Buck Dusty had already told him, but since all the laconic cowboy had said was, "Reckon that was a bad'n," Christian was a little short on details.

"So was it an alien, or something?" Christian said once she got up to the part with the monster. He held the skull up to the light. Ostensibly this was to check his polishing, but even after all this time he was hoping he could see his mistress, the Phantasm, in there. As usual, he could not. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 40 – Belinda is Helpful"

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Fiona stood behind the plumbing orders counter, organising receipts. She was increasingly finding herself in de facto charge of the plumbing section. Wellsey was away on errands for Ms Shan so often these days. Fiona covered for him, working out rosters and making orders. The other team members in the plumbing section did not dispute this new hierarchy. Most of them spend their quiet moments searching the job websites anyway. No one wanted a promotion, least of all an unofficial promotion that came without a raise.

The Handy Pavilion was quiet on a Tuesday morning, allowing Fiona to catch up with some of Wellsey's paperwork. She muttered under her breath at her nominal boss' childish handwriting, then chuckled at herself. When she'd started working, she'd been considered a hopeless employee, one of the worst the Pavilion had hired. Now here she was criticising the work of her mentor.

It felt good. In a deeply uncomfortable way. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 39 – Testing Times"

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An important order was late to arrive, so Ms Shan spent her morning the Trade section, assuring a local builder that his framing pine would be arriving soon. When it did turn up, the builder kept complaining about how long he'd been kept waiting, effectively adding another hour to his departure time after the half hour that the late delivery had cost him.

"It's a bloody outrage! I'm on a deadline, you know," he said at last, grabbing his bored apprentice by the shirtsleeve and pulling him away. "Come on, Gavin, let's get some lunch."

Ms Shan rubbed her weary eyes. At least it was normal. At least an idiot complaining was a normal, mundane thing. Nothing weird, nothing spooky. An everyday jackass was almost a treat.

She turned, and her almost-happiness dissolved. There, lounging awkwardly against a pile of cement sacks was Mr Smith from the DIY Barn. "Hello, Ms Shan," he said.

"Mr Smith," she said. She thought of asking what she could do for him, and decided that she didn't even have the energy to pretend to care. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself: Chapter 38 – Between Two Doors"

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Wellsey had always known about Axel's past. Known about his attempt to rob Fort Knox from orbit. Known about his plan to replace major world leaders with realistic marionettes, to teleport Hobart to the Sahara Desert, to turn the people of Melbourne into walking catfish.

Wellsey knew all that, but still he'd never been afraid of the man. Wellsey was an ex-con. To him, a dangerous man was someone with a shank, a grudge and a guard who owed him a favour. Axel was frightening in a way that Wellsey could barely get his head around.

Now, though… now Wellsey was afraid, but he was afraid for his friend, not afraid of him. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 37: Intervention"

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In spite of herself, Laura was getting to like Carlos from the key-cutting desk. Like like. It was weird. In her other life as the superhero Voyager, Laura spent much of her days hanging around with some of the most desired men on the planet. Tall, handsome, toned… Usually they had cool jobs, like international ace reporter or CEO and they somehow managed to keep hold of these positions in spite of only checking into the office when they felt like it.

And yet Laura found that she had not taken to any of them. Perhaps it was the way they were always gritting their teeth and narrowing their eyes at the slightest provocation. But then again, perhaps it was the way their wives and girlfriends were always being kidnapped. It was kind of a red flag. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 36: Where Have All the Pulleys Gone?"

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As with so many Australian big-box hardware stores, the charity sausage sizzle was a weekend tradition at the Pavilion. Service clubs, school groups, social clubs… all of them would take a turn cooking sausage sandwiches for the Pavilion customers. The organisations would provide the ingredients, their members would provide the volunteer labour and the Pavilion would provide them with a stall and a barbeque, gratis.

The Handy Pavilion's weekly sizzle had been going downhill with the Pavilion's customer base. Already the biggest charity groups had decamped to the DIY Barn. The Rotary Club, the Lions Club, Apex, Local High School and the South Hertling Ute Spotters Society… all gone. The last couple of weeks, the sausage sizzle had been run by the Pinecone Awareness League, the Friends of Lithgow, and an obscure church group that alienated its customers by refusing to put two sausages in the same bread. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 34: From Bad to Wurst"

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