Hoonworld Auto was having a sale. The Super Centre carpark was unusually noisy, both from the unusual number of cars for a weekday and the extreme volume of their engines. But on a little bench in a quiet corner, Fanaka sat next to the Brownie. Only a few Super Centre customers walked past, most studiously avoiding the man in the dashiki, a circlet of bronze gears around his head and his companion, a metre-high man with pointed ears, dressed in a black corduroy suit and silk waistcoat embroidered with skulls.
“So, I was wondering if perhaps you have seen him,” Fanaka said.
“Look,” the Brownie replied. “Thanks for voting to acquit me and all but I don’t think I owe you any favours.”
Fanaka scratched his bald head. He still didn’t quite know what to make of the Brownie. He was a man of science, after all, and dealing with the Fae didn’t come up much in engineering courses. All he knew is that for some reason the little creature was still hanging around the Super Centre even though the decision had been made not to exorcise him.
“I don’t say you owe me anything,” Fanaka said. “Not me personally. But, intentionally or not, we are both partly responsible for the rise of the Pyramid. If you can help me find Ron…”
The Brownie shook his head. “I’m a Brownie, not a bloodhound. I haven’t seen a twitchy guy with a rocket launcher. I think I’d remember if I had.”
“I just wonder if you’re lying,” Fanaka said. “After all, aren’t you evil?”
The Brownie shrugged. “One man’s evil is another man’s uncooperative.”
“You did meddle with a superweapon.”
“You built said weapon. Are you evil?”
Fanaka scratched his head impatiently. “Don’t you have… you know, magic powers?”
“Yes, but my magic is mostly housework related,” the Brownie sighed. “Look, I won my freedom, I went a little nuts afterwards. It happens. Now I’m mostly just wondering what to do with my life. I haven’t seen your friend and I don’t know how to find him. I’d find him if I could.”
“Would you?” Fanaka sighed.
“Well, it’s something to do, isn’t it?”
Fanaka rubbed his eyes. He was getting sick of the search for Ron. He wasn’t even sure that Ron’s plan to blow up the Pyramid was a bad plan anymore. But the woman; the woman in the Laplander hat… the way she’d told Fanaka that he could never stop Ron… He wanted to prove the enigmatic woman wrong. In his mind, he’d come to see her not as a person, but as a representation of the baffling mysteries that were increasingly causing him irritation.
“Do you ever feel that you have no control over events in your life?” Fanaka said.
“I was basically an unwilling servant for all my life,” the Brownie said. “So, ‘yes’.”
A sudden thought overtook Fanaka, a thought so very obvious that he was ashamed not to have thought of it before.
“What’s your name?” he asked the Brownie.
“It’s Timothy Brown,” the Brownie sighed. “And being that this is Australia, that makes me either ‘Brownie’ or ‘Timmo’.”
“And I don’t much care for ‘Timmo’.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
Fanaka stared into space. His naked eye could see nothing but blue sky, but his mind filled in details of stellar positions, planets, satellites – if you could dignify the flimsy space technology of this world with that term. Not a damn gear up there; not a spring not a brass armature. None of the technology on this world seemed right. Except for the watches. There were always the watches.
“You’re some sort of genius, aren’t you?” the Brownie said.
“Well why don’t you search for Ron in a more… uh… genius-like fashion?”
Fanaka felt his brow furrow under his circlet. “How do you mean?”
“Well, right now you’re trying to find this man by asking people. Nothing wrong with that, but isn’t that something that anyone could do? Why don’t you search more Sherlock Holmes style? Deductive reasoning and whatnot.”
“I believe Holmes tended to use abductive reasoning more than deductive. In deduction…”
“See? You’re smart. Why not take what you know about Ron and use that to figure out where he is.”
The conversation stopped briefly while a customer began loading up his Honda hatchback, which was parked directly in front of the bench. For a while, there was nothing for Fanaka to look at except the man’s behind. Silently, Fanaka promised to eat less and exercise more.
“I thought of that,” he said, once the customer had driven away. “Ron needed some sort of workspace to build his explosive device and he’s probably using that same space to attach the device to Mildred’s rocket. I’ve considered this, and I haven’t been able to locate any space in the vicinity in which he could easily do that.”
“So this is where you do the genius bit!” Brownie said. “You think to yourself, ‘where would I go if I was building a rocket,'” and…”
“Why would I want to build a rocket?”
“No, that’s not my point.”
“I could, you know. I helped Mildred with the rocket Ron stole.”
“I’m sure you could build any sort of missile,” Brownie said, pursing his lips. “My point is…”
“Yes, a missile… like an anti-missile missile?” Fanaka mused. “Like the Tanganyikans used against the Uzbeks at the battle of Palermo! I don’t have to find Ron, I just build an automatic missile defence for the Pyramid and stand back. Brownie – it is you, sir, who are the genius. I owe you a debt of thanks.”
Fanaka stood and walked away, his head full of equations and parabolas. And gears. Lots and lots of gears.
He didn’t stop to look back at Brownie. If he had, he would have seen the expression on the little creature’s face. Perhaps then he would have understood if Brownie was genuinely acting benevolently or not.