By Helen Rhodes
Detective Inspector Hudson sighed into his empty Jager glass.
“What’s up?” said Becky, smoothing her hand over his tweeded back.
“Oh, I dunno. This is all very well isn’t it? Good ale, nice company, a fine filly to look at.” The Knight Mare sniffed in a warm hearted manner. “But, I’m a detective. I’m supposed to be detecting this murder. It could mean a promotion, which means a finer life for my family. And I miss my wife. My beautiful Clara.” The Detective sniffed behind his shirt cuff. Frank fluttered over to the Detective’s shoulder and belched in a sorrowful tone. A crash, followed by a muttered expletive came from The Door where The Supervisor and the Knight Before Christmas were attempting to help the Fourth Dimension Emergency Service man fix the time machine.
“Another pint, mate,” said Dave, positioning a full tankard of Hags Wobbling in front of the dejected Detective, who picked it up with his left hand.
“And that’s another thing. I’m sure I was right handed before.”
A faint banging emanated from beneath the bar. It got louder. Dave’s feet shuffled, unnerved. The banging turned into pounding, drowning out the walking sticks attacking the windows. Above their heads pipes creaked and groaned with effort, enough to stir the patrons into neglectful drinking and stare towards the ceiling. The light fitting wobbled, then started to swing from side to side. With bullet precision a yellow pool ball shot across the room, narrowly missing the Knight Mare, and impaled itself in the floorboards at the foot of the bar. It seemed to smoulder where it lay, while the pipes roared and the thumping pounded and the whole building creaked as if it were about to collapse. A rumble stirred from the direction of the ladies loos. A rumble that required all minds to cry out ‘Oh shit!’ The rumble got louder, closer, vigorous in its intent. Then the toilet flushed.
Squelch… Squelch… Squelch…
Becky stared at Daz. The whites of her eyes getting paler by the second.
Daz stared at Helen, a bit of dribble forming around the corner of his mouth.
Helen stared at the entrance to the ladies. “What the hell…?”
A figure stood in the doorway. “Oh boy,” it said, as it dripped on the dreary carpet.
“Oh wow!” said Becky, beholding the sodden man before her, who seemed to have a few dollops of crusted bird shit on the shoulders of his long black leather coat. He had a cane with what looked like a question mark shaped handle. Underneath his coat he wore a cricket jumper with a red bow tie. A multi-coloured striped scarf draped round his neck and reached almost to the floor. He had a cheeky look in his eye as he regarded Becky.
“Ah!” boomed the man. “There you are, you little bugger.”
Frank promptly averted his gaze and found a secluded perch atop the Captain’s Organs bottle.
“And you are?” enquired Helen.
“Benjamin Beeblebrown, Space Time IT.”
“Er… Very good,” said Helen. “That’s good isn’t it, Daz?”
After a swift kick to the shins, Daz replied articulately, “Oh…erm… Yeah. Good. Yeah. Is it?”
Benjamin took a stance not too dissimilar to Superman, his long coat insinuating itself about his masculine form. “We detected an emergency on the TITS scan (Time and Information Technology in Space). We were monitoring this space time following a bright yellow flash some weeks ago. I saw him fly past, the little…” Benjamin pointed an annoyed finger to Frank, who was innocently filing his claws in his new hiding place.
“Snort,” something said in a vague Somerset accent. A very pink, very small, quite attractive pig trotted out of the ladies toilet and sat at Benjamin’s feet.
Helen laughed, for the ridiculous can only be laughed at. “And this is your pig, obviously,” she said sarcastically.
“A pig?” Benjamin looked puzzled. “This is Piggy. She’s a super hybrid computer.
“Of course she is,” smirked Helen.
“She is capable of doing a trillion floating point calculations per second.”
Daz grabbed his half eaten packet of pork scratchings and swiftly hid them under his t-shirt. “Hey, Pig,” he said, innocently.
“And she’s made of stardust. But aren’t we all! Ha! Ha! Ha! Haarrr!” boomed the intergalactic IT tech.
With a fourth creature which held less regard for toileting etiquette now in the vicinity, Dave fetched the mop and placed it at the end of the bar, just in case.
The pig shaped super computer took out a rather pretty black Gibson Les Paul from the folds of Ben’s coat and started to strum at the strings contemplatively.
“So… So… you’re a Time Traveller?” Becky managed, hardly able to contort her numb body around the sentence.
The man swaggered towards Becky, and leaned on the bar next to her. “A TITS tech. A sort of time traveller, I suppose,” said Benjamin confidently.
Becky managed a weak smile that gave way to a glazed and somewhat overwhelmed look.
“Oh,” she said, faintly. “And you got here through the ladies bogs?”
“Its vortical flow is a bit on the piss, if you’ll pardon the pun, Miss.”
Becky giggled as if she was in some kind of Sunday prime time ITV drama.
“But, yes, it is a well known portal.”
The Detective, although confused, had read many H G Wells novels, and was able to connect the words originating from this new visitor to cognitively compute the formation of an idea. “A porthole?” he said. “You mean you can freely travel to and from the past?”
“Of course!” boomed Benjamin.
“So you could take me home? I mean, back to my time. Good old 1885?”
“Thought you weren’t dressed for the correct time. That explains it all.”
“Yeah,” said Becky. “He turned up a couple of weeks ago.”
The Detective tried to remember two weeks back through the fermented haze in his head. “I was just on my way here to investigate a murder and…well, I don’t know what happened, but I ended up in the wrong time.”
“I said it was some timeywimey thing,” said Becky, proudly.
Benjamin took in the entire floor space with his wide struts, as though modelling himself for a catalogue shoot. Becky weakened at his radiating presence. He smelt of chips. “Interesting,” he said thoughtfully. “Do you remember exactly where you fell through time, sir?”
“Just outside there, on the cobbles. When I came through the door of the pub it seemed a bit different, but I wasn’t really thinking about that. Other things on my mind, you see. The murder, that is. Imperative that I solve the case. Some very important people will be very upset if it’s not dealt with.”
Benjamin climbed competently onto the seat by the window and peered down the street outside. The bash of a walking stick next to his nose didn’t deter his thoughts. “Hmm, I see. I see. Yes, yes, that’s it. Yes.”
“What’s it?” said Becky, as she watched him climb down and resume his strutting.
“There’s another porthole outside.”
“Another one? Huh! That’s lucky, innit Daz?”
Daz’s shins conveyed the message from Helen’s foot to Daz’s mouth that it should be moving in some way. “Er, yeah. Is it?”
“Well,” postulated Benjamin, “it would explain how you, sir, ended up in here.”
“Does it?” said Daz.
“Yes. That pothole out there.”
“Pothole? Don’t you mean porthole?”
“Well, yes, the pothole that is also a porthole. It’s creating a ringworm hole between out there and in here. A self perpetuating vortex. No wonder I had such a rough ride getting here.”
Helen’s brain fizzed. “You mean a loo-loop hole? Between the pothole and the loo. See?” She nudged Daz’s arm, which promptly fell off the bar bringing his chin with it, “A loo-loop hole. Hahahaha…hergh…hmm.”
“You were saying, Benjamin?” said Becky, fully focused on this package of pure manly wonderment in front of her.
“The ladies toilet is the way in, the pothole out there is the way out. It’s quite understandable that this Detective should happen upon it with his feet and fall through, even without realising. You just need to go back the way you came, through the pothole porthole. We can go together, now I’ve found that stupid bird, take you back to your own time.”
“But they’re out there, the Purple OAPs,” said Becky. “You can’t go out there, they’ll tear you apart!”
“Purple OAPs? Is that what they are?”
“Yeah. Apocalypse, blah, blah. Rules, blah, blah,” said the Detective, disheartened.
“Hmm, that is a bit of a predicament.” Benjamin thought for a moment. Everyone waited with firm expectation. “Bugger,” he said.
“Does that mean that both of you are, sort of, stuck here?” asked Becky, hopefully.
“Will you stop with the slaughtering, please!”
The Supervisor hurried from The Door, closely followed by a rather crestfallen Knight Before Christmas. “If you keep slaughtering everyone that comes to help us we’ll never fix the damn thing!”
The Knight Before Christmas returned his sword to its holder, then spied the mop at the end of the bar, which cheered him a little.
“Oh,” said The Supervisor, beholding the fine figure that was Benjamin… “See what you’ve done?” he said to the Knight. “You’ve managed to enrage The Salient Council. We’ll be in real trouble now.”
“Wait, he’s nothing to do with you,” explained Becky. “He’s here because of the budgie,”
“The budgie?” puzzled The Supervisor.
Frank belched, then continued filing his middle claw.
“Okay. Anyway, while you’re here, do you think you could help us fix our time machine?” enquired The Supervisor, somewhat flustered.
Benjamin’s face lit up. “You have a time machine?”
“Well, yes, but it’s a bit…” The Supervisor glared at the Knight Before Christmas, who adamantly stared straight at the mop. “…um, broken.”
“It’s the origami circuit. The time gasket has been severed. Bit of an accident. The folds still work, but the time doesn’t.”
“I see,” said Benjamin, rubbing his chin.
“Do you?” said Daz.
“So you can fold time but not move it.”
“Yes,” said the Supervisor. “We called out the Fourth Dimension Emergency Service but the mechanic said he’s not authorised to fix it because its warranty ran out two months ago when SOMEBODY forgot to set up the direct debit.” A glare hit the Knight where it hurts. The Knight concentrated firmly on the mop. “And now an unfortunate – ahem – accident has occurred meaning the mechanic is no longer of any…erm…use, so to speak.” The Knight shuffled a bit, then returned to his special mop place.
“I see,” said Benjamin.
“You do?” said Daz.
“And even if we can fix it we still can’t get anywhere,” The Supervisor sighed. “The navigator’s sort of broken too. His prescient planning is all out of whack. Can’t plot a safe course.”
“Too much Spice Melange?” said Benjamin.
“Indeed,” The Supervisor nodded.
“Eh?” said Daz.
“Spice Melange. Navigator sustenance, inhaled through the gills. Too much and…well, let’s just say he’s not safe to navigate anything.”
“So, in other words, he’s stoned off his box?” said Daz.
“We need something to snap him out of it, and quickly,” said The Supervisor.
“Jager!” said Helen. A flash of blond appeared at the bar.
“You yelled?” said Harry.
The Supervisor went to fetch the navigator from the time machine. Becky decided to make the mistake of asking how the origami circuit worked, coupled with a small explanation of how time travel happened, and whether or not, by the by, Benjamin was seeing anyone at the moment. Benjamin settled himself expertly and very cosily between Becky and the Detective ready to explain the origami circuit to the enthralled participants in this horrendously convoluted story.
“Ah yes. Well, the origami circuit is a clever little invention. Do you have any synthehol, Dave, is it?”
Dave roused himself from his brain freeze. “Er…no, don’t think so.”
“Any Janx Spirit?”
“Janx… Er, no. We’ve got Newky Brown, that do?”
“Oh, I suppose so. Can’t be as bad as that Aldebaran whiskey I had last weekend. Phoor! Blow your nuts off that! Har! Har!” Ben’s teeth sparkled, mirrored by Becky’s delighted eyes.
“You see, you need two things for time travel: being able to move in time, and being able to move in space. If that part origami circuit is broken it means it can’t fold space, but moving in time still works. The origami circuit is acting like the old style fluxing capacitor which could only move in time, not space, so you could appear in the same place but in a different time. It’s your basic Holtzman effect, the folding of space time, relating to the repellent force of subatomic particles.”
Daz stared at the speedy commotion of Benjamin’s mouth, considered trying to understand what was exuding from it, then said, “Yeah….. Is it?”
“So,” piped up Becky, scooching her stool a bit closer to Benjamin’s elbow, “Like, how do you actually move around in space?”
Benjamin was silent. Locked in. Lost in a moment.
Frank belched, acting like a dubious alarm clock. “Oh, sorry. You have such an intenseness about you, Miss…erm…?
“Becky,” said Becky, through a grin almost half a light year wide.
“Becky. Lovely name. Lovely…hmm. Yes, well…space.” Shaking off his daydream, Benjamin continued. “Space is like an open ended curve. You can splice geometries together to make any shape you wish, depending on where you want to go. When you physically enter the geometry, in, say, a U shape, you would sort of curve back on yourself, and exit the other end. Of course you’d then come out backwards. Basic CPT symmetry. Physical laws of the universe and all that. Har! Har! Har!”
Becky’s doe eyes shimmered. “Backwards?” she said.
“Yes, back to front. You’re basically a mirror image moving back in time. Sometimes I can’t even remember which side should be on which side!”
“So that’s why I keep using my left hand instead of my right,” said the Detective.
“Of course!” continued the mesmerising IT tech, “You have to be careful though. You can’t go mucking about in four dimensional space time. The relatives don’t like it. Especially antimatter. She can be a right bitch!”
Silence of the head wrapping kind lasted for all of five seconds before…
“Har! Har! Har!”
…the booming laughter shook everyone back into consciousness, just in time to take in The Supervisor’s return. He was holding the navigator in his cupped hands. “He’s not happy about having to move,” said The Supervisor. “He says everything’s a bit spinny.”
The Supervisor put the goldfish on the bar in front of Harry. Everyone watched the slightly hazy fish circle its spherical tank.
“Huh. Huh,” chuckled Daz. “But that’s a goldfish. Isn’t it?”
“That’s the navigator,” corrected The Supervisor. “Do you think you can fix him, young man?”
“Sure,” said Harry. Although I think the dilution may bugger up the cooling time. But I’ll give it a go.”
Piggy appeared at Benjamin’s feet and tugged on the corner of his long coat. He looked very worried, like super computer pigs can do. Benjamin picked her up. “Ah, Piggy. What’s the trouble?” The pig snorted for a length of time, with an occasional squeal, which sounded very serious. “Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear.”
“What’s the matter? What did she say?” asked Becky.
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. That isn’t good. No. No.” Benjamin placed Piggy in his coat pocket and turned to the Detective. “Excuse me, sir, but would you be Detective Inspector Hudson of the Wakefield City Police?”
The Detective dragged his heavy head at the mention of his full name. “Indeed I am.”
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.” Benjamin’s appendages fidgeted in a way that suggested that something significant was going on in his vast brain and very high speeds.
“What? What is it? What’s wrong?” asked a very worried Becky.
“We need to get him home.”
“Well, yeah, “ laughed Becky, “We all know he wants to go home. Silly.”
“No, you don’t understand. We MUST get him home.”
“Why, sir?” The Detective rose from his stool, alarmed by the obvious agitation in Benjamin’s voice. “Why MUST you get me home?”
Benjamin grabbed the Detective’s shoulders with immediacy. “This murder you need to solve. Was it the murder of Emily Smythe, daughter of Joseph Smythe, sole benefactor of the Inns of Court, 1865 to… erm, well, from your time?”
“How did you know that?”
“Oh dear, oh dear. We have to get you back.” Benjamin turned to Becky, a look of horror and sadness overcame him.
“Why?” said Becky, holding the IT tech’s hands in hers. He looked deeply lost in her eyes, and said.
“Otherwise you will cease to exist.”
“All this will cease to exist. This pub, all these people, the beer, everything.”
“What?!” exclaimed Daz. The dry mouthed terror of Episode 5 overcame him.
“The Inns of Court’s very existence depends on you solving this murder. If we don’t get you back then everything and everyone in this building will disappear.” Becky’s eye sockets bulged as Benjamin wrapped his arms around her, holding her so tight she thought she might pop in an explosion of aroused senses.
Everyone was shocked. Even the writers broke out in a sweat. All this time and effort and now there was a possibility this story might not even exist in the first place! What a waste of time. Or was it a waste of space? Not sure. Maybe both? Anyway…
Remembering the mess that explosions of aroused senses can cause, Becky struggled for a breath, “But the time machine’s broken, and we can’t get outside to the pothole porthole. How are you going to get him back?”
“Not only that,” said the Detective. “What if I can’t solve it? This murder that you say holds so much weight in the continuation of this fine establishment, what if I can’t solve it?”
All faces looked in horror. Horror stared back.
“Oh, that’s okay,” said Benjamin. I can tell you how to do that.”
“Well, Piggy can. Hang on.” Piggy appeared from her snug coat pocket and made small snuffling noises as Benjamin fed her some chopped potatoes. She gurgled for a minute, then, in perfect English, said, “It was the victim herself, it was her fault.”
Ignoring the fact he was now conversing with what he thought was indeed an actual pig, the Detective flung his arms in the air in exasperation. “And how can you possibly come to that ludicrous conclusion? She’s the victim! How can she murder herself?!”
“Look, this place, the Inns of Court, a place for those of the legal persuasion, yes?”
“Provider of lodgings as well as nourishment for the bellies and brains of many fine barristers passing through this city.”
”The whole point of the Inns of Court establishments was to foster collegiality among the profession, to provide learning materials and informal information exchange between likeminded gentlemen.”
“Indeed,” said the Detective, still confused, and still slightly uncomfortable with the whole pig talking thing.
“And that’s exactly it,” said Piggy. “Gentlemen. Women weren’t allowed to enter the legal profession. The murdered woman, Emily Smythe, was cunning as well as clever. She managed to pass herself off as a learned gentleman for six months or so, learning about the law, participating in challenging debates and mock trials. Her intellect was so compelling she gained the respect of all the trainee barristers that encountered her. All but one. Mr George Sinclair. He not only respected this young man, as he thought, he also admired him, maybe in a little too much of a physical way for some to comprehend according to the customs of your time, sir.”
“You mean, he…he…?” wavered the Detective.
“He fancied the pants off her,” blundered Daz.
“Well, yes, but he didn’t know she was a he. He thought he was a he, and a fine specimen at that. This is what so infuriated him when he discovered her secret during one very merry winter evening, having staged an audience with her alone with a view to revealing his true feelings. His embarrassment raged within him, and the fear of his own wants becoming public via the gossip that women folk were supremely accustomed to made his logical mind conclude the only course of action he felt he had. He strangled her to death on this very spot.”
All eyes looked at the stain on the carpet beneath them. Then the next stain. Then the next. Then they gave up and went back to the enthralling story unfolding before them.
“Well, not this exact spot. Or that one,” the pig continued. “Panic stricken, George escaped unseen, and the body was found later that evening slumped in that booth over there – for how long, no one knew. When her true identity was discovered there was much outrage from the judges at the court house, and no more so than Sir Joseph Smythe, a distinguished judge of Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice, and sole benefactor of the Inns of Court. And, Detective, a very close friend of your Chief Inspector. Mr Smythe vowed to withdraw all his funding and demolish this building in which his daughter perished should the perpetrator not be captured and brought to justice. You were assigned to the case, Detective, because you are the most highly regarded detective of the Wakefield City Police, and your Chief Inspector would entrust such a sensitive and imperative case to only one man. His next in line. You.”
The Detective stood aghast at the story he’d just been told. And told, although very eloquently, by a small pink pig with a slight Somerset accent.
“But won’t the fact he’s even been here fuck up space time something or other?” said Becky.
“The future can interact with the past so long as the past is not modified. That’s the Grandfather Paradox,” said Benjamin.
“So that means I DO solve the murder, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.” The Detective became very animated at this thought.
“You do, so long as we can get you back.” Benjamin’s brow furrowed as the thought weighed on his mind. He turned to Becky. “If we can’t, then… Well, you’ll all…all this, it’ll start dissolving.”
Daz stared at the Hags Wobbling pump in disbelief. The pump flickered slightly. “Right, come on, we need to sort this out. I was in the army, you know. I can do this. I can figure this out. It’s simple, really.” There was a pause while the simple answer mooched along the bar and disappeared as if it hadn’t even been there in the first place. “Isn’t it?”
“Well,” said Benjamin, looking at The Supervisor “depends what shape the time machine’s in really.”
“Dunno about that. The mechanic didn’t look too positive,” said The Supervisor. “And the exterior has a thick coating of innards, thanks to Mr Happy Sword over there. The rotational mass efficiency will be severely reduced.”
“Oooh, oooh, ooh!,” said Becky. Couldn’t we combine the time machine and the porthole in the ladies somehow? Like make our own time machine. Like on Scrapheap Challenge?
Everyone stared at Becky.
“Yeeeaaah,” said Daz, “I’m good with my hands. Got any spanners, Dave?”
“Scrapheap Challenge?” said Helen, “Really?”
The Supervisor sniggered.
“Wait, she has a point,” said Benjamin. Becky blushed. “We could use the time rotor from the machine to reverse the polarity of the pothole. Make in out and out in.”
“Ah,” interjected The Supervisor, “Fraid the starter motor’s buggered too. We may have been a little too enthusiastic in trying to start it the other day. It was a cold day.” The Supervisor shrugged. “It’d need one hell of a boost to get it going again.”
“Like a jump start?” said Daz.
“Sort of, but it needs to have the equivalent power of an exploding star.”
“Oh.” Daz hunched over and sipped his pint, giving up. Exploding stars had nothing to do with spanners.
The Supervisor trudged back through The Door in search of the time rotor.
“An exploding star,” said Becky, dreamily.
“A beautiful sight,” Benjamin said, not sure if he was describing such a star or something…someone else. Becky caught his gaze and turned her shy blush towards their hands, now firmly clasped together like they would fall into an abyss of pleasure if they let go.
“A spark,” said Becky. “Something so powerful it could literally turn the world upside down.”
The space between them dissolved as something strong, magnetic, pulled them together, and…and…
“That’s it!” shouted Benjamin.
“Eh?” said Becky, one eye open, mid pout.
“You’re the key! It was meant to be! This was meant to happen. All of it. The Detective turning up, you, Becky, the key to the universe, right here.”
“Um…,” ventured Becky, unsure where this particular chat up line was going.
“Space time is affected by the overwhelming free will of sentient beings. It’s almost like space time has its own conscious, like it knows where you need to be even if you don’t know yourself. The Detective needed to come here so Piggy could tell him how to solve the murder. All because of you lot. You all want this place to exist so much, space time was affected by you. I had to come here to explain all that.”
“And get me home,” said the Detective.
“Yes, and get you home, by reversing the porthole. Which means something else is meant to happen, and, Becky, you’re the key.” Becky smiled a somewhat confused but nevertheless ecstatic smile as Ben took her in his arms. “Come with me, now,” said Benjamin softly.
Becky was breathless once again, “Where to?”
“The ladies toilets.”
“Ahh. Oh. Okay.”
Benjamin grabbed the time rotor from the Supervisor’s slightly bloody hands. “You too, Detective. To the toilets!” The three figures disappeared into the ladies. The broken loo seat took on a whole new meaning as Ben positioned the Detective on its rim, his feet astride the watery hole below. He placed the time rotor in his pocket with Piggy and clambered up in front of the Detective. “Hold on to my waist.” The Detective complied.
“But…” said Becky, “But…will I ever see you again?”
“You will see me in the stars every night. And I will be with you, for all time.” Benjamin leaned over and scribbled something on the toilet door. “And I will never forget you, Becky. My key to the universe, and my heart.” Becky fell into his arms like melted chocolate. Benjamin kissed her lips, almost afraid of the power they imparted. Arcs of blue silver spread across the toilet, into the bar. The crackling sparks flew around the drinkers, most of whom clambered under the tables for cover. Daz cradled his pint, shielding his only love from the bouncing bolts of energy. A deep rumbling buzz emanated from the toilets, reverberating through the collected stomachs, vibrating through the foundations, the earth, the core of existence.
Then it was gone. Silence, except for a small fizz zipping about the light fittings.
Becky slowly emerged from the ladies toilets with a look of satisfaction and loss.
“Did he do it?” asked Helen.
“Yeah,” Becky sighed, “Oh yeah, he did it all right.”
“So they’ve both gone? The Detective too?”
“Oh that. Yeah, they’ve both gone.”
Daz stared suspiciously at the Hags Wobbling pump. He reached out a finger and prodded it inquisitively. Relieved, he downed the dregs of his pint glass. “The beer’s still here, we’re still here, so everything must be okay. ‘Nother pint please, Dave.”
The Knight Before Christmas could contain himself no longer. He swept the mop up and started slopping it about happily around the floor. The Supervisor rolled his eyes to the ceiling and returned to the time machine in the vain hope he could piece back enough of the mechanic to at least hold a screwdriver or three.
“I think that’s about the right temperature now,” said Harry, holding the backs of his fingers to the Jager glass, then picking it up and pouring it straight into the goldfish’s globular home.
There was a flash of blond, then the comforting sound of the jukebox clicking into life.
Daz fished his half packet of pork scratchings from under his t-shirt. In this space and time, he thought, all was well.
To be continued…