Fanaka was beginning feel an attraction to Nalda. This bothered him. He wasn’t a stupid man, after all. He was a physicist with advanced training in transtempero-dimensional topography, which is about as far from being stupid as you can get. And not being stupid, he knew perfectly well that Nalda was an emotionless, murderous cyborg. He knew that she wanted every human being dead. It was only her perspective as a time traveler that prevented a murderous rampage. From her point of view all humans were dead, she was just waiting for the world to catch up with her memories.
Even if he hadn’t known that about her, sleeping on the sofa in her spare room had shown him quite a lot of warning signs. The impossibly neat piles of Soldier of Fortune magazine. The fact that no DVD in her collection didn’t have a gun prominently displayed on the cover. The way her kitchen contained two dozen razor sharp knives but no food. None of these suggested a person with a lovable nature.
Still, when the light struck her face in a certain way, it made her thin lips and square chin…
“Could you repeat that?” Marlon said.
Fanaka shook his head, bringing himself back to the present. He was seated in a small office on the other side of a beaten up looking MDF desk from Marlon. Damn it, he’d lost his train of thought. Nalda and Axel had given him so many tips to get through the barbarous ritual that the people of this weird future called a ‘job interview’, but he had he forgotten them already.
Coughing to imply that his vague answer had been caused by his throat, Fanaka said: “Well, sir, in that situation I would attempt to calm the customer, while walking her away from the affected area. I’d deploy one of those yellow ‘wet floor’ signs, and bring the matter to the attention of the Air Force.”
“I mean Police! You do things so differently here.”
“Where did you say you were from?”
“Nineteenth century Nairobi, but in an alternate Afrocentric steampunk timeline.”
“From… overseas,” Marlon said, as he made a note. “And you’re legally allowed to work in this country?”
“Uh… let’s go with ‘yes?'”
“Then we’re good to go,” Marlon said. “Congratulations, you start in cleaning products tomorrow. You’re lucky, we’re not really hiring at the moment. But we’re kind of going onto a war footing and Nalda said you have some useful skills in that area. Welcome aboard!”
They shook hands and Fanaka left the office, which opened onto the bathrooms department. Wellsey shot him a disapproving look as he trotted over, past curtains, past carpets, to arts and crafts to speak to Nalda.
Nalda was stacking plywood moneyboxes. She turned her head to look him in the eye, without ceasing her stacking. It should have been unsettling, but Fanaka found it endearing.
“They hired you?” she said.
“Good. You will be able to spend more time here,” she said. “If Laura was correct, then we have much to do, even if der Barn is defeated.”
“I love your voice,” Fanaka said.
“We have a choice,” Fanaka said, hurridly. “The Laura who came from the future said a particular man buying a pulley would somehow set off a cascade of events leading to…”
He couldn’t quite bring himself to finish the sentence. Neither could the stoic Nalda. “Ja, it leads to dat.”
For a while neither of them could speak
“So we have to do whatever we can to prevent that timeline coming into being,” Fanaka said. “But that means winning the war with the Barn first. My experiments… You see this hardware shop is built on a some sort of dimensional thingy.”
“I’m not sure yet if it’s a rift or a nexus. Precision is important. Could be a singularity? I just don’t know. I think that’s why I ended up here after my time travel accident rather than in your world’s Nairobi.”
“Dat would have made a lot more sense, if you think about it,” Nalda said.
“A lot more sense.”
Fanaka and Nalda both fell into silent contemplation for a moment. Nalda cleared her throat. Fanaka looked at his shoes. Nalda cleared her throat again.
Somewhere in the distance a cricket chirped.
“Anyhoo,” Fanaka said, “like I said, this place is a dimensional deally, and it will be much easier to work if we can hold it.”
“How do you know?” Nalda said. “About the dimensional vague noun?”
“Simplicity itself, my dear Nalda! My testing apparatus turned up some anomalous readings. I traced it to that glass skull that oily young man uses as a paperweight. There’s no way he could have known of it’s strange properties of course, so I borrowed it. Not only does it have some very strange dimension-distorting characteristics, but would you believe that it is impossible to remove from the Super Centre? It took all of my physical strength to get it out the door of the Handy Pavilion, and by no amount of effort could get it out of the Centre itself.”
Nalda frowned behind her dark glasses. The creases in her skin… No! Concentrate, Fanaka, concentrate. “He’s very possessive of dat ting. You asked to borrow it?”
“No, but I left a note.”
“Did you weigh it down?”
Fanaka laughed. “How could I? I just took the paperweight… Oh. Hm. Well, I am done with my experiments. I shall return it with an apology, and I assume all will be well.”
“Ja, dat seems reasonable,” Nalda said. She turned her head back to her stacking. “But look, dis theoretical physics must not be der first priority. We must defeat der Barn. How are you in a fight?”
“I’m a lover not a fighter,” Fanaka said, his voice full of hope.
“Ja, den you can help Axel with der weapons,” Nalda said. “Perhaps some sort of phased plasma rifle in der 40w range.”
“That would be vastly underpowered…” Fanaka said. “I mean seriously, 40w is barely…”
“Whatever, just make something dat can kill people. Ach!”
Fanaka noticed that Nalda had put some acrylic paints back into their rack all out of order. Why would such a supremely efficient machine do such a thing? Unless… unless there was something on her mind. Something distracting…
“Nalda…” Fanaka said.
“Would… when this is all over… would you… care…” Fanaka felt sweat on his brow. In his world, courtship wasn’t really a thing. Matches were arranged by parents, or at least they were among people of his class. And everything he’d learned about courtship on this world was weird and contradictory.
Still, Nalda probably knew as little about it as he did. How would she know if he got it wrong?
“Would you care to accompany me to some sort of social event?” he blurted.
Nalda stopped what she was doing. She didn’t turn back to look at him as she said. “Ja. Maybe. Do you like monster truck rallies?”
“I’ve never been to one,” Fanaka said.
Nalda’s head drooped a little.
“So you can tell me all about them,” Fanaka said.
Nalda’s head straightened. “Ja. Ja, maybe we do dat.”
“Excellent. Well, we’ll sort out the details later.”
Fanaka marched off to Cleaning Products with a spring in his step and a song in his heart.