TSP064: Tokyo Oh-No

March 13, 2013

“But I’ve been to Tokyo, like, three times already.”  “And you’ll be going a fourth; now button up and eat your crab sticks.”

Japan had been on Sigurd’s radar for months now and every time he’d made plans to go, something had come up.  Back in May, that volcanic eruption had destroyed his secret lair and he’d had to call off a trip to Kyoto to oversee the renovation work.  The re-scheduled visit – arranged for the August bank holiday – had gone the same way when Sigurd’s father got himself trapped in the freezer section at Tesco in Abingdon.  And the less said about the failed outing to Osaka in November, the better (one thing was for sure – Agnetha would think twice before shopping at a WHSmith store again…).

The city break in Tokyo had been planned in a hurry and Sigurd’s visa had only just come back from the dry cleaners in time.  Now he and Agnetha were at the airport awaiting their flight.  He had managed to keep their destination secret right up until reaching the departures lounge, and even then Agnetha had needed more than just the subtle hints provided by the hordes of Japanese passengers, the troupe of geishas, the trio of sumo wrestlers in ‘full’ garb, and the name of the destination on the wall in four-foot high neon letters.  “What do you mean we’re going to Tokyo?!” she’d said after Sigurd had revealed a tattoo across his chest that said ‘We’re going to Tokyo’.  “But I’ve been to Tokyo, like, three times already.”

Sigurd sighed, explained that this would make it a nice square four and politely requested she hushed a little and finished consuming her overpriced sashimi.  Out of his pocket he produced the maps he’d been poring over for months, the best tourist attractions circled in red fineliner and little stick-pirates drawn in where space permitted.  Donning his spectacles and casually tweaking the next man’s moustache, Sigurd traced a path from the airport to the hotel where they had a reservation for the next two weeks.  Thoughts of the activities lined up over the fortnight brought an evil chuckle forth from his lips – he was especially looking forward to the satellite-mounted death laser workshop on Tuesday, and the seminar on biological warfare at the University was sure to give him some new ideas for world domination.  But although he’d been salivating in expectation of the military robotics exhibition, the highlight of the vacation was definitely going to be the day out at Miniature Goat World – he would have to buy an ice cream, for sure.

“What am I going to do in Tokyo?!” Agnetha blathered, crossing her arms, legs and eyes in an attempt to look put out and mildly deranged.  “The same as everyone,” Sigurd replied, “Go to the shops, sit in on a couple of catwalks, eat lots of fish and play hide-and-seek with self-employed locals dressed as Pokémon.  Anyway, I don’t know why you’re moaning so much – you always say Tokyo’s your favourite city of them all.”  “I was impersonating Michael Mcintyre – it was a joke.”  Sigurd ignored her.  “Well at the very least I thought you’d be happy that I was finally managing to attend the Symposium of Ultra-Evil after all these years.  I mean, come on – I’ve chaired the Committee since the turn of the century and not once have I been able to get to the annual conference.  Finally, this year, all of the arrangements fall into place, I whisk you off for a surprise break in a foreign country which you’ve expressed a fondness for in the past, we’re sitting in the airport with 10 minutes ‘til boarding, I’ve got a chocolate egg in my pocket that I found on the floor and am saving for later, and you decide that now is the perfect time to pour burning oil on my dreams and kick up a fuss?!”  Hurriedly he pulled out his notepad and jotted down ‘Burning oil’ under the heading ‘Home security’.

Agnetha unfolded her arms and smirked.  “Sigurd, you fool – do you really think I’m going to allow you to go to Japan this time, after all the other times I’ve thrown the spanner into the works?”  Sigurd stopped chewing on his calamari and looked into her eyes, confused.  “Sorry, run that by me again?”  Agnetha had a look of pure mastery shining out from her purple irises, and her crooked smile had become more feline without the need for a cat-mouth transplant this time – she was getting good at this.  “You think that all the times you’ve been prevented from going to Japan in the past year you’ve been a victim of accident?  It takes forethought Sigurd – months of scheming and preparation, all carefully calculated and then executed with precision.”

Sigurd blinked awkwardly (and I mean really awkwardly).  “But… it was a volcano!” he stammered.  “How could you possibly mastermind a volcanic eruption?”  “I studied Geography at school, don’t forget,” Agnetha shot back, “and there’s, like, a whole module on natural disasters when you get to GCSE level.  I chose to do my end-of-year project on Montserrat.”  “I don’t know what that is, but I’m guessing it’s a type of rice dish,” hazarded Sigurd.  Agnetha just stared.  “Didn’t you ever wonder what I was doing that time in WHSmith?  Didn’t you think I’d purchased rather more stationery than is healthy for a happy marriage?  Oh, and Sigurd…”  She paused for effect; the sumo wrestler in the seat behind her very visibly scratched his behind, which temporarily distracted her husband just at the critical moment for maximum impact, which was rather a shame as she’d been preparing this speech for ages.  “Sigurd dear,” she leaned in closer…  “I shut your dad in the pizza freezer.”

Suddenly it all became clear.  The books on plate tectonics casually strewn around the apartment they shared, the constant cutting out of WHSmith vouchers from the newspapers, the trail of frozen peas and baby carrots that led from Tesco back to her abandoned burnt-out car.  A master of evil Sigurd may well have been, but his attention to detail up to now had been somewhat lacking.  “And now,” Agnetha rallied, her enthusiasm rising in a crescendo, “I think you’ll find that the 1535 flight to Tokyo is cancelled.”  Sigurd had just enough time to glimpse Agnetha depressing a button on the side of her wristwatch before the room turned white and the buzzing filled his ears…

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The bin men had come early.  Although unusual in itself in Reading, what made this occurrence even more extraordinary in this instance was that the two waste collection officials had come far too early – about 200,000 years too early in fact.  Looking up from the driver’s seat of his vehicle Dustin was shocked, to say the least, to see that the residences of Hawthorn Drive had completely vanished from their usual locations, whilst in their place a great rolling savannah could be seen stretching out to the horizon.  Liam, his assistant beside him, was equally surprised at this happening.  After all, if truth be told, he hadn’t really been expecting this.

Looking out from their cab the duo could see great tusked elephants roaming the land in packs, herds of what looked like the result of a lizard-wildebeest crossbreed gambolling across a dusty plain, and an erupting volcano right where Mr Althorpe’s prize begonias used to be.  Dustin wasted no time in diagnosing the situation, “We’ve gone back in time Liam.”

“Back in time?!” replied Liam confused, “How far?”  Dustin’s response was rational to the last: “Definitely before last Thursday.  Mrs Wilson bought a new gnome last Thursday but I can’t see hide nor hair of it now.”

Liam looked up at his line manager, his mouth hanging agape at this remark.  “Is that really the major difference you can see in the vista before us?  Mrs Wilson’s gnome is missing?!  Have you noticed by any chance that the road itself and all the buildings that are usually fixed along its edge have completely disappeared, being replaced by what looks like some kind of giant steaming geyser-filled prairie?  Or that swarms of completely unrecognisable wild animals are running about our heels?  Or that a stream of lava is flowing alongside the truck?”

Dustin reached into the glove compartment and pulled out his specs, almost jumping out of his seat as he raised them to his eyes.  “Woah!  Liam, it’s…  It’s…”  “Yes?” Liam urged, “It’s what Dustin?”  “It’s…  It’s 3pm – look at the dashboard clock.  We’re supposed to be back at base in half an hour and we’ve still got all of Silversmith’s Park to do!”

Liam held his head in disbelief.  “Dustin, have you seriously not seen what’s going on around us?!  Beyond that baobab tree there is a band of sabre-tooth tigers stalking what can only be described as a miniature stegosaurus; in the giant ferns to our left I’m pretty sure I just saw a flash of colour belonging to a ten-foot-high wasp; and up in the sky above us – which is red, in case you haven’t noticed – there are more than 100 pterodactyl-esque creatures eyeing up the ‘luggage’ we’re carrying in the back.  Does this situation really only say to you that Mrs Wilson’s non-existent property is minus one novelty garden ornament which hasn’t been invented yet (by several hundred millennia, mind) and that unless we get a move on we’ll be late to pick up the bins on the housing estate?!”

Dustin examined the sights around him more closely, taking it all in.  Finally, he conceded, “You’re right Liam.  There’s a little bit more wrong than just those facts…”  “At last!” Liam rejoiced, before Dustin continued, “The postman hasn’t been either – by the time we get here there’s always a parcel behind the gas meter at number 6.”

Liam burst with the suppressed emotion.  “Dustin, there is no number 6!  Where we are right now there is no such thing as a parcel – there is no postal system whatsoever – and I’m not even convinced that anything exists in this time period that can even be loosely described as a ‘man’ let alone a ‘postman’ – if anything at all we are most definitely pre-man.  Do you not see?!”

Liam’s voice was strained, his body shaking with exasperation.  At last, Dustin appeared to grasp the gist of Liam’s strenuous efforts.  “Oh, do you mean…  You’re saying that…  Are you referring to the fact that we seem to have accidentally entered some kind of temporal wormhole which has transported us back along the known time axis to a period in history long before the evolution of humankind and modern life as we know it?”

Liam blinked heavily.  “Um… yes,” he uttered.  Dustin nodded sagely, “Ah.  No need to worry lad – this tends to happen about once a week.”