1 The Puffin comes Home

It was the time of year when baked beans would be 33p in the shops, and the sunlight shone brightly on the gloss white bristles of Professor Ivan’s toothbrush. ‘My what a wonderful day it is, but I can tell it’s going to be another one of those days where the sunlight shines brightly on the gloss white bristles of my toothbrush, nobody will have a hairpin and for some reason I will shout Puffin as if struck by some sudden inspiration to make sea-bird pate,’ he exclaimed.

‘That’s nice dear,’ said his wife, who misunderstood the concept that the latter were game animals and not sea-birds.

Professor Ivan said goodbye to his wife as usual and then went to the bathroom. He sat on the toilet for two minutes while Fag, the computer, scanned his genetic make-up to make sure that he was him. He was. Fag made two plop sounds followed by a ten second flushing sound, so that the Professor could start the procedure. He got up, flushed the chain and then turned the hot tap on in the hand basin. After ten seconds he turned the tap off and climbed into the bath.

Suddenly the bath dropped away from the bathroom and two seconds later he found himself in his office. Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Dan the time travelling man. He was a dark man, but when it wasn’t night he was light. He was well groomed and kept an emergency shoe polish kit in the soles of his shoes, for emergencies. Fag, their highly intelligent and mechanically friendly computer, opened the door automatically and cleverly calculated by means of a binary code how to shut it again after he was inside.
‘Sir I have come as you requested. I have those top secret papers that you wanted,’ said Dan.

‘Good man, Dan the time travelling man,’ said the Professor, and then he continued, ‘Do you have a hairpin?’

Dan, surprised by the request, said no. He considered it, processing the enquiry with a sequence of chemical reactions in his brain, and finally he asked if he should have one. ‘Didn’t they teach you anything at Time Corps International ex tee zero three space nine four eight seven triple
zed zero space five six five tee gee tee eye three summer camp last year?’ asked the Professor.

‘You forget: I never went. I was given the photoclam implant,’ replied Dan the time travelling man.

‘Of course! So you won’t know about the hairpin. We left that out of the photoclam implant programme,’ said the Professor, realising his mistake.

Dan the time travelling man enquired about the significance of the hairpin. ‘It’s a zero three eight two one bee,’ said the Professor proudly.

‘Ah, got ya: a zero three eight two one bee,’ said Dan the time travelling man, who could memorise every number in the universe and its associated relationship according to clause six thousand four hundred and seventy-four, paragraph eight thousand, two hundred and sixty three, page four; what a big page that was; of the Jumbo Annual of Big Numbers nineteen fifty-three.

Just then there was another knock at the door and Dan the time travelling man wondered at that crazy door bell. It was Secretary Blondy, the secretary (obviously). She was a tall man with long flowing hair, but since the accident with the molecule reorganiser, she was a completely different person. She kept an emergency nail file up her left nostril ready for use in an emergency, in case she had to escape from prison and needed to file through the high tensile steel bars, or in case she broke a nail. Fag, the splendid computer, opened the door automatically and cleverly calculated by means of a binary code how to shut them again after she was inside. This was particularly clever since when he opened the door it was one, and now it was two.

‘Hello Ivan, I have come as you requested. I have those top secret papers that you asked me for,’ she said.

‘Good man,’ said the Professor, ‘Or should I call you woman?’

‘Man is fine,’ she said, ‘but of course woman would be more accurate.’

‘But which would you prefer?’

‘Yes,’ she said.

‘Good,’ said he, and then he continued. ‘Do you have a hairpin?’ he asked.

In her surprise secretary Blondy said no, before asking if she should. ‘Didn’t they teach you anything at Time Corps International Hairdressing Convention last year?’ asked the Professor.

‘Don’t be silly: I never went. I was given the photoclam implant,’ she replied.

‘Of course! So you won’t know about the hairpin. We left that out of the photoclam implant programme,’ said the Professor, realising his mistake. Blondy enquired about the significance of the hairpin. ‘It’s a zero three eight two one bee,’ said the Professor proudly.

‘Oh, I understand, a zero three eight two one bee,’ she said.

Dan the time travelling man was looking puzzled. After a while, he offered his opinion with very loud words. ‘Something very odd is going on, but I’m not sure what,’ he said.

He was right again: he wasn’t sure what.

‘Sean Watt? Wasn’t he that actor who invented the light-bulb?’ asked the Professor.

‘No,’ said Fag, the device operated by a complexity of binary orientated code. ‘By my calculations,’ he said, ‘using a combination of plot recognition systems and hypermedia applications, it’s time to thicken the plot.’

‘A HAIRPIN!’ exclaimed the three humans in one voice, which was almost the opposite of stereo.

‘Okay,’ interjected Fag, the very nice, off-white electronic appliance, ‘my calculations were a bit out, for I used zero-one-zero-one-zero-zero-one-zero-zero space zero-one-zero-one-zero-one space zero-zero-one-oneone-one-one-zero-zero-zero-one instead of zero-onezero-one-zero-zero-one-zero-zero space zero-one-zeroone-zero-one space zero-zero-one-one-one-one-onezero-zero-one-zero, so the plot curdled.’

The others weren’t listening.

‘Something very odd is going on, but I’m not sure what,’ said Dan the time travelling man.

‘Now, about that business,’ said the Professor, in exactly the same voice as he would say it next time.

‘Yes?’ asked Dan.

‘Now, about that business,’ said the Professor.

‘Is that with two sugars or three?’ asked Blondy.

‘Three please, now, about that business.’

‘Yes?’ asked Dan in exactly the same way as before.

‘Now, about that business,’ said the Professor, in exactly the same way as he would say it at any time, any where.

‘Sir I have come as you requested, I have those top secret papers that you wanted,’ said Dan the time travelling man.

‘Dan the time travelling man, do you want milk with your tea or Head and Shoulders?’ asked Blondy.

‘Give me the H and S, shaken not stirred,’ replied Dan the time travelling man.

‘On the rocks?’ asked Blondy, doing an impression of Roger the cocktail man who she had seen two nights before in the McVittie’s Fruit night club.

Dan replied coolly, as if nothing could touch him, ‘In a glass please, Blondy. And no ice!’

Professor Ivan became momentarily dazed, and whispered words to himself. ‘That’s some man!’ he said, before he pulled himself together and said, ‘Now, about that business.’

Dan the time travelling man interrupted again. ‘Sorry Sir, something very odd is going on, but I’m not sure what.’

The professor spoke quickly to get what he had to say in before anybody else could say anything. ‘It’s about the time machine: it’s repaired now.’

‘Are we going to attempt re-entry?’ asked Dan.

‘I don’t think so Dan the time travelling man, for the reader doesn’t know what’s going on and if we try going through it all again I think I’ll scream,’ said the Professor in desperation.

‘Check. Zero zero four seven five,’ said Dan.

‘Good, that’s what I thought too,’ agreed the Professor.

‘Is it bad?’ asked Blondy.

‘It’s hard to say, but I think there’s a zero compression rate,’ replied Dan the time travelling man.

‘It’s about the time machine,’ said the Professor again.

‘Something very odd is going on, but I’m not sure what,’ said Dan.

The Professor started again with his very familiar, and increasingly boring conversation starter: ‘Now, about that business.’
‘Yes,’ said Dan.

‘Now, about that business,’ said the Professor.

Then for the first time in a long time, Blondy offered, ‘May I make a suggestion?’

‘Of course, what is it?’ asked the Professor.

‘May I make a suggestion?’ offered Blondy again.

‘Of course, what is it?’ asked the Professor.

‘May I make a suggestion?’ offered Blondy once more.

‘Yes?’ enquired Dan.

‘I suggest that you turn the random repeat switch off on the time machine,’ she suggested.

For years now, Professor Ivan had been trying to say something about the time machine of utmost importance.

Eventually, he remembered what it was. ‘It’s about the time machine,’ said the Professor, ‘we’ve been having trouble with random time.’

‘I suggest that you turn the random repeat switch off on the time machine,’ suggested Blondy again, but maybe not really again.

‘This could go on forever,’ said Dan the time travelling man, ‘Where is that switch?’

‘Do you have a hairpin?’ asked the professor.

‘Why no, should I? asked Dan.

‘Didn’t they teach you anything at Time Corps International zed tee zero three space nine four eight seven triple zed zero space five six five tee gee tee eye three summer camp last year?’ asked the Professor.

‘This could go on forever,’ said Dan, ‘Where is that switch?’

This continued, and continued and many relative years passed by before Dan found the switch. Blondy helpfully reminded him: ‘I suggest that you turn the random repeat switch off on the time machine.’

Dan pressed the very big red switch, marked with the very big white notice, reading: ‘Very big red switch marked with very big white notice to be utilised in the event of random movey wordy type mixy uppy type thingy,’ and all matter wobbled like jelly.

‘Of course, so you won’t know about the hairpin. We left that out of the photoclam implant programme,’ said the Professor as a joke, shortly before the others jumped on him and ripped him to pieces.

Fag, the actually not very useful box of whirring irritation, who was feeling left out because his part in the story had been very minor, suggested that the others could develop the plot, but Blondy suggested that they should save that for the future, if random time did not get the better of them.

‘Puffin!’ shouted the Professor.

It seemed that the Professor had been right in his thoughts when spoke them that very morning, but, as it turned out, that was one very long day.

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