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Greater than the sum - Chapter one of my NaNoWriMo entry this year

“Explain this agency, how may we help you?”
“It’s THE Explain this agency, Carla!” said Simon Banks, the agency’s owner but Carla wasn’t listening to him. Once again her eyes rolled upwards as she started to type furiously.
Simon sat down at his screen to see what was coming in. This time it was his turn to roll his eyes. Yet another member of the Great British Public had failed to ‘get’ the point of his investigation agency.
“Forward it to her MP,” he said to Carla as she came off the phone, “let him explain the government’s stance on immigration. Any news from Rich?”
“Yeah. His report came in last night”
“Carla, are you chewing?” Simon saw her swallow hard and then theatrically open her mouth wide as if to allow him to inspect it. “I told you to masticate on your own time but especially not while you are on reception duties.”
Simon Bank’s investigations agency was called “Explain this!” because he was interested in apparently unexplained and unexplainable phenomena. Not exactly ghost hunting, though he had had his fair share of those to investigate; more a sort of investigation into rum goings on.
As a premise for a detective agency, “the unexplained” was doing about as well as you might imagine, which is not very. It operated out of a small office on the third floor of a soon to be condemned Victorian edifice. This building, situated as it was in the upcoming Brixton area of south London, would soon be bought up and developed into luxury apartments for the people who left the East End of London after having made their fortunes in the Olympic property boon.
Currently the property was being run-down in order to encourage the occupants to leave for as little expense as possible.
The office itself looked out over Brixton Green. Or, at least it would, were it not for a huge neon sign proclaiming “Brixton! Murder free for – and then a number that would change daily – days.” Usually, the number hovered around zero but, rather optimistically, it allowed for three digits.
Simon and Carla could only see the back of this sign, of course. Their window was behind the ‘x’ of Brixton which added to the seedy atmosphere such that the office could almost have been in Soho.
Simon himself only added to the atmosphere of decay. Though he lied to himself that it was expected of him to dress like he did in his line of work, the truth was he had gradually run himself down. Perhaps, like the building, he secretly hoped that someone would come and renovate him, providing re-development of his soul.
He wore black shoes, which for reasons so complicated that he no longer proffered any, were a size too large and blue chinos which were correspondingly a size too small. The explanation for this was, however, quite simple. Though he swore that they fitted when he bought them (they probably did) and he would soon slim down again to fit them once more; Simon had put on weight.
His shirts, all eight of them, (for, as he delighted in explaining to Carla over and over again; unless you bring washday forward by a day each week, you have to have eight), were the colours of a pastel rainbow plus white. Today was a white day though it really was a grey-blue day following the accidental washing of shirts and chinos together about three months ago.
Simon wore thick rimmed (though thin lensed) glasses. Bucking the fashion for rectangular frames, his were defiantly round, circular in fact which did nothing to complement his rounded face and bald head.
The overall look, he convinced himself, was one of ‘discrete but with an air of authority when required’. However, he was more conspicuous then he imagined.
Carla was another of the Great British Public that didn’t ‘get’ the Explain this agency. But she knew the difference between something that Simon would want to pick up off the pavement to get a closer look and something that he would rather cross the road to avoid treading in. She liked Simon, for all of his eccentricities and though she never saw enough work come through the door, he always paid her on time and always paid her well. “Do you think Rich is on to something?” she asked, after waiting enough time for Simon to have skimmed through the report.
“Not sure, at this stage, could be simply good soil or local weather conditions. Downham is in a valley and it is often said that they have their own micro-climate. But, then again, there is the fact that the extra-rapid crop maturation only started around 1990. According to the records, there was nothing especially unusual until then. His report also says something about an apparent zoning of the effect. Perhaps I’ll pay a visit to the epicentre – see what I can ‘dig up,’ geddit?” Carla just rolled her eyes again. “I’ll give Rich a call.”
Rich Bear was a field investigator for Simon’s agency. Scientifically trained and it showed because Rich was a classic nerd. From his fawn corduroy trousers to his tweed jacket with the leather patches on the elbows, Rich looked like a teacher from the old school in both senses of the expression. Complete with the obligatory black tee-shirt bearing the logo of some obscure computer conference from years ago, his straggly hair, which kept getting in his eyes, left drifts of dandruff on his collar.
Simon employed him for two reasons; firstly he didn’t look anything like a private investigator and secondly, he had a brilliant mind and he totally ‘got’ what Simon’s agency was about.
Rich was investigating something very rum in the valley-locked community of Downham just south of London. It was commonly known that this valley had good soil and, due to the topography of the area its own weather but, since 1990, something very strange had started happening on the farms there. On the arable land, crops would sprout early and grow so fast that they could be harvested twice and livestock would grow at an alarming rate. They did not grow to super sizes but, instead, they reached slaughter weight much more quickly than normal.
The effect varied down the valley and Rich’s report said that it was most strong near Preston Manor. This replica of a seventeenth century manor house was built in the late seventies by Sir Vincent Salyson who fancied himself as the lord of all he surveyed. SirVee, as he liked to be called, had made his money selling Clackers. These were plastic balls on lengths of string that you were meant to clack together with a wrist action that would cause them to clack at the bottom and the top of their arcs of motion.
Clackers were eventually banned due to the fact that users were getting severe wrist injuries but not before SirVee had made his million. He chose Downham for his family seat and had the Manor House built. People said he was crackers to build it in the seventeenth century style; to which he would invariably reply “Clackers! You mean,” followed by a hearty laugh.
Despite his belief that the lord of the manor should be aloof and keep himself separate from the huddled masses, Sir Vincent could never quite pull it off and it was known that he got his knighthood for his charitable donations to the children’s fracture clinic of Croydon’s Mayday hospital.
Rich’s online researches had found that the people of Downham were reluctant to talk about the effect. They wanted to pass it off as merely the effect of the valley’s different climate combined with Global Warming but, while this may have explained the crop growth, it couldn’t account for the early maturation of the livestock. Nor could freak weather explain why the people of Downham seemed to be aging faster than normal.
Rich started his investigations in the traditional manner – by pitching up at the local pub. As is also traditional when strangers arrive in town, the pub fell silent upon his entry. The silence could have hung in the air for a much longer time too, if someone behind the bar hadn’t noticed Rich’s tee-shirt, “Hey! Video Games Live – Royal Festival Hall – I went to that!”
It was all the intro he needed. It turned out that the barman, Eric, was a fellow fan of video games and had also been to the Festival Hall for a concert of video games music in the same year as Rich. They got chatting about that evening, the fun of the 8-bit plinky-plonky tunes right up to the fully scored orchestral pieces that were written by well known composers to provide the backdrop to some of the very latest video games of the day. They reminisced about both their favourite games and their favourite musical scores.
Rich was too much of a pro to come right out with some questions about the accelerated growth right away. Over several beers they discussed the merits of BioShock versus Metal Gear Solid (having already acknowledged that Halo had the best music). Only when he had scored a place to stay that night had the subject of the anomaly cropped up. Rich was careful enough to manipulate the conversation such that Eric had raised the subject first. After closing time Rich helped Eric clear up the pub and then went with him to his place for it was a space on Eric’s floor that Rich had secured for the night. After locking up, they made their way to Eric’s flat which seemed, in the dark, to be in a large block near the edge of town.
“What’s in the bag?” asked Rich but all Eric would say was that he’d see tomorrow.
Several games of Wii Sports later they got to chatting about the rum nature of the plant and animal growth in Downham.
“Daddy was pleased at first,” said Eric, “especially since the effect seemed to be centred on his pile but then he noticed all the aches and pains creeping up on him.”
“You are SirVee’s son?” asked Rich, astonished. “Why are you working in a pub?”
“Daddy says you need to make your own way in this world. He even makes me pay rent on my room here.”
“You mean we are actually in Preston Manor?” In the dark, Rich had not noticed the full outline of the building and when Eric let himself in through a side door he had nothing else to indicate that this was the Manor House.
“Sure, you can have a look around tomorrow if you like but right now I need some sleep.” And, with that, Eric seemed to go out like a light. Rich would have gone exploring himself but, since he had literally been invited to snoop tomorrow, he felt it wasn’t needed. So, after a quick visit to the bathroom, from where he could file his report, he took his place on the sofa and drifted off.
The next day the contents of the bag were revealed. Despite his years as a student, Rich had never had cold shepherd’s pie for breakfast before. And, even slightly hung over from the night before (or maybe because of it) it tasted delicious. Two games of bowling on the Wii later and Eric finally left to open up the pub and Rich could, at last, begin exploring the Manor House. The only restrictions that Eric had given him were to avoid the top floor where his father lived and don’t, under any circumstances, enter the trophy room.
Rich was exploring the second floor when he got Simon’s call. Simon wanted to come down and meet SirVee himself which Rich wasn’t sure about but they arranged to meet at the pub that afternoon. As he toured the Manor House, Rich got the impression that the early stages of dementia were creeping into SirVee’s life. He kept finding post-it notes on the doors to rooms, labelling them and then with a series of dates scribbled beneath the name. He could hear someone moving around upstairs chunnering away to no one in particular but he decided to wait until Simon arrived before trying to meet SirVee himself.
What he did find was the trophy room that he had been warned about. Through the keyhole he could see various cups, plates and other silverware on display and he quickly assessed that the door would take too long to crack and so he did not try to enter. At this stage, he felt he could get more from Eric if he played him along. When he’d seen enough he headed off to the pub to see if he could get any more from Eric about his father’s deteriorating state of mind.
“Just how old is SirVee?” asked Rich after ordering his beer.
“Fifty eight, I think,” said Eric, “why do you ask?”
“Well, I think I heard him, this morning, wandering around upstairs. Is he OK? – It’s just that the person I could hear seemed a lot older.”
“It’s like I was saying last night,” began Eric, “he may be fifty eight but he’s acting like he’s eighty.”
Rich decided the time had arrived for him to come clean about his reason for visiting. “The thing is, Eric, I think that all these things are related. Now, I don’t know what is causing them but I know someone who investigates stuff like this and he might be able to help. He’s coming here this afternoon.”
By the time Simon arrived and introduced himself, Rich had explained some of the things that the Explain This investigations agency had solved before and he had convinced Eric that he should give him a chance to explain the mysteriously rapid growth. So eager was he to help his father that Eric closed the pub for the afternoon since they were the only customers that day, and they returned to the Manor House to see SirVee.
At first SirVee was reluctant to see them saying something about the house being in a bit of a state and they should have given him warning of their coming so that he could tidy it up. Eric revealed that his father had fired the cleaner over a month ago. Eventually Eric persuaded him to give them some time and SirVee relented. It was clear that he wasn’t happy about the state of the place and also of the state of himself but that he couldn’t help it. What was also abundantly clear was that this was neither the body nor the mind of a fifty eight year old. The effect that the valley had become famous for had taken its toll most dramatically on its most famous resident.
“Remind me SirVee, how did you make your fortune?” asked Simon, though he knew full well.
“It was the Clackers that did it for me,” said SirVee, “I invented them back in 1970 after I found a pair one night in August.”
“He’s rambling,” said Eric, “he does that more and more just lately.”
“I don’t think so,” said Simon, “Do go on SirVee. You say you found a pair. Was this on August the twentieth?”
“Why, I do believe that it was! How could you possible have known that?”
“Never mind – what did these first Clackers look like?” continued Simon.
“Pretty much like the finished product, in fact,” replied SirVee, “Only the balls and strings were silver. Not stiff wires, mind, but string-like flexible and silver in colour.”
“And from this first pair you got the idea for Clackers?” Simon asked as though it was the most natural thing in the world to just find the prototype for a world beating toy.
“Yes!” SirVee was getting excited now, it was the first time that he had told anyone the truth about the inspiration for Clackers and it felt good not to have the weight of that secret anymore. Simon had an uncanny ability to put people at ease like that. It was the way that he never seemed phased by otherwise remarkable events or coincidences.
“Yes! As I picked them up by the string I must have held it near the middle and the pair of them just clacked together with a lovely crisp clack! Then they flew apart and clacked at the top of their arc and then again at the bottom. I only managed to hold onto them for three oscillations before the shock of it all made me drop ’em.”
“Where were you when you found it ... err … them?”
“I was on my way home from a star spotter evening that my school’s astronomy club had arranged. I may be getting old before my time, Eric, but I’ll never forget that evening. It was a beautifully clear night and the moon was just rising. I had decided to take a short-cut across the fields to home because my eyes had adjusted to the dark. The skies were wonderful in those days, Eric, not like today with all the light pollution. I could see the Milky Way perfectly as it arched across the sky. Suddenly, for a fleeting moment the whole scene turned bright purple. It hurt my eyes, it was that bright. I had to sit down since any dark adjustment I had was completely wiped away and I couldn’t see the path anymore. I think I must have fainted or something but I couldn’t remember feeing faint. Anyway, when I got up, as my eyes got better, I saw them just lying in the grass. The rest, as they say, is history – young entrepreneur of the North West. I was one of the first to get my product mass produced in China, you know.”
“Yes, Yes,” interrupted Simon, “now, the next thing I am going to ask you is very important. Where is it, I mean, where are they now?”
“Downstairs, of course, in the trophy room. I had them mounted into a memento of my invention. Would you like to see them?”
“Yes, I would,” replied Simon; trying to hide the excitement in his voice. They all headed downstairs. SirVee de-activated the elaborate alarm system that Rich had rightly concluded would have taken him too long to hack and they entered the trophy room. The Clackers trophy took pride of place in the centre of the main cabinet. Simon’s eyes sparkled as he saw them and he took a closer look.
“OK, SirVee. I think I know what is causing your present predicament. I am afraid that these Clackers are, in fact radioactive. If I am not mistaken they are the highly radioactive thermal batteries from an early soviet prototype satellite fuel cell. They must have landed at your feet as the satellite broke up on re-entry. These are why you are feeling so unwell. Do you remember the Litvinenko spy murder case a few years ago? In their own way these little orbs are doing the same to you that they did to him. I can arrange for their safe disposal – there needn’t be any charge, all part of the service, it is what we do,” suddenly Simon seemed to be in a hurry.
“Oh no you don’t!” said Eric. “Those are collector’s items. They’ll be worth a fortune on eBay. If it’s just radioactivity then we’ll put them away in a lead box or something. Down in the cellar or the garden.”
“I’m afraid that a lead box won’t suffice. These are made of chromium; an especially radioactive material. I’m even putting myself at risk even being in the same room as them but I am prepared to take them away from here for safe disposal. Otherwise I might have to get Health and Safety involved.”
“Right, That’s it. Anyone who threatens Health and Safety isn’t welcome here,” shouted SirVee, “If it wasn’t for Health and Safety, I’d still be selling Clackers today. Get out. Get out right now!” With that, SirVee and Eric ejected Simon and Rich from Preston Manor.
“You weren’t much help in there,” said Simon as they drove away from the Manor House.
“SirVee took me by surprise.” Said Rich, “I didn’t know he’d get so upset about Health and Safety and he’s stronger than he looks.”
“That’s because he’ younger than he looks too.”
“Simon, what was all that bull about radioactivity and soviet fuel cells?” asked Rich.
“That’s not important right now. What is important is that we get it.”
“It’s a pair of Clackers! – why do you keep referring to them in the singular?”
“It – they – them. What does it matter? I have to have it,” said Simon anxiously.
“And how do you plan on getting it without my help?” asked Rich, who never was any good at threats.
“OK, OK, if you help me get them, I’ll explain everything. Now, did you get the de-activation code for the trophy room?”
“Of course – what do you take me for? I’m not a complete idiot,” said Rich unnecessarily.
They returned to Preston Manor that night. Breaking into the house was easy since Rich still had the key that Eric had given him to lock up with earlier that day. They made their way to the Trophy room and Rich entered the de-activation code that he saw SirVee use to turn off the alarm. It still worked. Once in the room they headed straight for the main cabinet but the Clackers were not there.
“Of course! After your little story about Chronium they will have put it in the cellar. Now, can I remember where the entrance is?” whispered Rich.
They found the door to the cellar in the corner of the kitchen. It wasn’t locked. Like the burglars they were, they shone their torches around the cold dark cellar. In the corner they found the butter chest that SirVee had had reproduced from an original at Poulsden Lacey. Sure enough, inside was the Clacker thing. Simon held it reverently before putting it into a bag that he had bought specially for the purpose. It had the word “Swag” in large black letters painted on the side.
“Nice touch,” said Rich, who hadn’t even noticed that Simon had brought a bag along until then.
“I thought so,” joked Simon.
Just as they got to the top of the stairs, they heard someone coming in the side entrance.
“Eric!” They said in unison. Unfortunately they said it just slightly too loud and Eric rushed into the kitchen and turned on the light. Though not pleased, he didn’t seem surprised to see them.
With lightening speed, Simon rushed him and without saying another word, suddenly Eric was on the floor.
“What have you done to him? Is he dead?” a dismayed Rich asked.
“Don’t be silly! He’ll just be out for a while, that’s all,” said Simon who then revealed, with a flourish, the hypodermic syringe in his left hand.
They made their exit from the Manor House and back to the car.
“OK, I helped you steal it. So … what is it?”
“It is an LTA. That stands for Local Time Accelerator and it is damaged,” replied Simon in his school master’s ‘matter-of-fact’ voice.
“Sorry Simon, you’re going to have to take it a bit more slowly than this. What is a Local Time Accelerator and how come you even know what one is in the first place?”
“Have you ever seen a steam engine such as a Traction Engine?” asked Simon. Rich nodded. “Do you know what the ‘Governor’ is?” Another nod. “Well think of this as a very special Governor, though not for a steam engine but for a machine far more sophisticated than that.”
“You weren’t kidding when you said that it was made of Chronium were you? This thing governs time doesn’t it?” Rich, recognising the Greek for time, caught on quickly.
“Yes it does. It was an essential part of my time machine before it was / will be destroyed in twenty eighty nine. And I need to get it back to my lab to stop it leaking before it is too late.”
“OK, putting aside the fact that time machines are impossible, are you telling me that you are from the future?”
“Yes I am. You are right. Time Machines are impossible which is why mine blew up. All the parts are scattered throughout time and what we have here is the LTA that appears to have landed in a field up north at the feet of Vincent Salyson, Young Entrepreneur of nineteen seventy. The LTA is used to govern the time machine and regulate the flow of time. There must have been a minute flaw in one of the spheres which could have caused my machine to malfunction. What is evident is that they have been leaking Chronium particles into that benighted valley ever since SirVee took it there in the nineties. Hence the accelerated aging. Chronium particles are great for regulating time but they need to be kept away from any biology since they have the unfortunate side effect of increasing the passage of time for metabolic processes.”
“That is why you investigate strange goings on; because they might be due to different parts of your machine. Wait a minute. What about Eric? Won’t he get the cops onto us when he wakes up?”
“Get the cops onto us? What a quaint turn of phrase you have, Rich,” laughed Simon.
Over the course of the journey back to Brixton, Simon explained how he had injected Eric not just with knock-out drops but also with an amnesia serum and how he had substituted a pair of real clackers, sprayed silver, for the LTA in the trophy room. He also explained how the effects of Chronium particles wear off once you are no longer exposed to the source such that SirVee would return to a normal rate of aging now. Rich was much more interested in the Time Machine, how it worked, what it looked like, how many there were in twenty eighty nine and what the world would be like then.
Simon happily answered all Rich’s question whilst, at the same time, emphasising how important it was that Rich didn’t repeat what he had learned about the Machine, the future and their mission to investigate the rum. Then, to really drive that point home, Simon stuck Rich with the second syringe of serum. They had arrived at Rich’s house so he dragged him up the steps and through the front doorand installed him in his bed.

Oh, this was fun! Simon's

Oh, this was fun! Simon's agency is amusingly squalid, and the video-games music connection was a good, unexpected twist.

The premise, with Simon recollecting all the parts of his time machine, is terrific. Got to love that double-cross at the end too.

Hope we get a chance to see more of him.


To do the NaNoWriMo at all is pretty amazing, but to take time out to give us your first, very entertaining chapter, is spectacular.

Thanks for the encouragement

Sticking this up here is not the problem - hitting about 2000 words a day consistently is the problem. I am already behind.

Glad you found it entertaining - I aim to be reasonably light hearted with my writing.