Has Beans

I would like to apologise for not saving the world from the musical scourge of the Boy Band phenomenon. When I headed into work I had a fully-formulated proposal, needing no more than a few decades of time-travel to disrupt certain key individuals but, as ever, the Bean Counters said no. In the outside world, young and up-coming members of staff are supposed to be proactive, but in the very traditional and hide-bound world of the Royal College of Horographers, not so much.

I went to a certain blank wall just off Bond Street and waited for the College doors to catch up. We keep them yesterday, most of the time. Ever since William Cecil was secretly appointed Her Majesty’s Master of the Years in fifteen-eighty-two, to correct the flow of history as Her Majesty shall direct, the College has taken security very seriously. Compared to us, the Royal Mint runs an open-house policy.

The entrance hall is a bit pokey, to be honest. There was a Victorian make-over, but because we are so secret, and no-one in power ever visits, the same old portraits try to out-stare the same old statues, and none of them moves aside to make room for anyone new.

I work for the Master of the Leap Years, Sir Walter Gillkelly, or Sir Wally as we call him behind his back. When I knocked on his door the chief Bean Counter, Wilf Bristle, was already with him. It was as if they had looked ahead in the day and had the no prepared already.

I made my pitch regardless.

“We are not in the music business,” Mr Bristle said, which was a seriously wishy-washy no by Bean Counter standards.

“We have something more urgent,” Sir Wally told me, tapping his desk with his forefinger for emphasis, and looking like a morse operator from one of those old war films. It’s a habit of his which we track and the most recent recognisable word, witnessed by three people, was BURP. “Mr Bristle has authorised a whole half-kilo of year beans for this operation.”

“Half-kilo?” I was only looking for two small year beans for my Boy Band project, not a whole bag. I mean, half a kilo of beans… that’s potentially millennia of time travel. “That’s serious.”

I have never seen more than a half-dozen beans at any one time. They say that the door to the Year Gardens, where the Royal Horoculturalists tend to the year bean bushes, is kept the day before yesterday so that not even general members of the College can enter without permission.

“It’s the end of the world,” Sir Wally said, and gave the desk a whole run of nervous taps, which I think spelled out QLV. My morse is not that good. “What I am about to tell you is Top Secret, code-word Anchovies, and covered by the Secret Official Secrets Act as originally authorised by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the First. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” But no. “Um… Secret Official Secrets Act?”

“Exactly. Breathe a word…” He tapped at the desk in an urgent pattern, da-da-dum, da-da-dum, da-da-dum, which is UUU. “Just one word and we ship you back to a time when they dealt with traitors properly.”

“Got it, sir.” Not only do I work for the most amazing, most secretive branch of the government, I am also subject to long-discarded legal remedies.

“Good.” He tapped the desk more slowly, dum, dum, dum, and I’m not sure TTT is any more reassuring that UUU. “As you will not know, somewhere around sixteen-ninety, a Jacobite sympathiser stole a newly sprouted year bean plant from our garden. As you will also not know, year beans are very hard to cultivate, but we believe that the heirs of the Jacobites have managed to harvest several beans from their plant over the last few centuries and have caused a certain amount of mischief. As you will also not know, we recently had to expend nearly two dozen beans just to thwart their attempt to prevent ABBA from winning the Eurovision Song Contest.”

Well, dammit, end of the world or not, Sir Wally’s musical tastes might also stretch to Boy Bands. My plan was doomed before I even walked in the door. And so much for Mr Bristle’s we are not in the music business.

“And now, sir?”

“Now, we believe that over a hundred grams of raw beans have been sold to a man called Harry Pistol, a doomsday cultist who has travelled back in time to a point somewhere in the early eighties, where he hopes to procure a set of nuclear launch codes that will still function now. This is all quite impossible, but as you will also not know, the hour bean bush is also known as preposterous grandiloquia, because not only do the beans travel in time but they allow paradoxes, impossible outcomes and wildly exuberant declarations.”

Wow. I mean, I did know that, because it’s one of those Top Secret secrets that everyone at the College knows, but WOW, a serious mission. An end-of-the-world mission. I have always wanted one of those. I’ve spent my career catching taxis to change traffic patterns so that government ministers don’t get delayed on critical matters, or sometimes ensuring that they are delayed. Seriously, my career highlight was nipping back ninety years to change some old dear’s name from Sarah to Susan to avert an embarrassing moment during the Home Secretary’s tour of a care home, which would have apparently snowballed into the fall of the government. They say a day is a long time in politics, but it doesn’t matter so long as the horoculturalists turn in a good bean harvest.

Not many people realise that most political disasters in this country could be corrected if it weren’t for late frosts, overly-cool summers affecting the year bean bushes, or the Historical Amendment Committee taking too long to reach a decision.

“You want me to go back to the eighties and stop him?”

Sir Wally shared a look with Mr Bristle. “Not quite. The Bean Counters have calculated that it will take eighteen kilos–“

“Eighteen point three seven kilos,” Mr Bristle corrected.

“More than eighteen kilos of beans to overcome the extreme doomsday scenario horographical drag, which far exceeds our bean budget. And we had a bad harvest last year. No…” He did a sharp da-da-da-dum tap – V for victory, or just a nervous tic? “We need you to go back to the seventies, in fact very specifically March fourteenth, nineteen-seventy-three, and rescue one Lucy Pickle, aged fifteen years and three months, who is giving birth behind a bus shelter just after seven in the evening. I am sorry, young man, I know it sounds ridiculous. I need you to ask her what she wants to call the child, and if the answer is Harry, then carry mother and child as far into the past as your beans will take you.”

No more messing around in taxis for me. I’ve hit the big time, because as historical amendments go, that is seriously extreme and I am a go-getting, rising young employee.

“Yes, sir. Um… how do I get back?”

“I am sorry, young man, but this is a… well not exactly suicide mission, but there is no return, so you will actually die long before you were born. We estimate that you should be able to reach the early nineteenth century, in spite of the horographical drag caused by averting the end of the world. You may be able to reach the College at that time and they will look after you.” Sir Wally tapped his desk again, FK I think. “It is the only way to avert the end of the world.”

“Yes, sir, I understand. If I make it to the college, will they be able to send me back to now?”

“I am sure that they will make their very best efforts to assist such a dedicated future member of the college.” He tapped a hesitant da-da-dum-dum-dum, which probably translates as UM. “We will endeavour to send back a document to identify you.”

My end-of-the-world mission euphoria faded and I had a sudden suspicion that the bean harvests might not have been good in the early nineteenth century. I had a further suspicion that last year’s bad harvest might have been totally rubbish, and half a kilo of beans was the entire supply.

“Where do I start, sir?”

“Mr Bristle?” Sir Wally gave the Chief Bean Counter a nudge. “If you would…”

Very reluctantly, Mr Bristle gave me a sealed jiffy bag, hand labelled as prime beans, half-kilo. Through the plastic I could see that some of them were far from prime, so my totally rubbish harvest theory was right.

“Now,” Sir Wally said once I had signed for the beans. “There’s a car to take you to the bus-stop, and this…” He presented a plastic pot that looked suspiciously like a urine sample bottle. “One scoop ought to be enough to get you back to the birth of Harry Pistol. You will need all of your bean-shaving skills to get just the right day.”

“Thank you, sir.” It’s amazing what can be done with half a kilo of year beans and I held up the bag with genuine reverence. “I will use them wisely, sir.”

# # #

I would like to apologise for not saving the world, but I am using the beans as wisely as I possibly can. I used a very small bean to get a glimpse of the future, which is never easy, and regret to inform you that the nuclear holocaust starts next year, on the fourth of July. It turns out that Harry Pistol, née Pickle, has a nasty sense of humour.

Honestly, the end of the world is not that bad. Lots of people survive, for a while. It’s hard to be certain as I didn’t hang around. Maybe someone with a bigger bag of beans will come along and fix it.

I’m heading to the seventies to invest in tech stocks, make my fortune, and then travel the world during the best times. I’ve always wanted to hear Elvis live.

# # #

This was inspired by the #BlogBattle prompt eschaton.

Pictures from pixabay.com


9 thoughts on “Has Beans”

  1. Very good take Mark. Is it possible bean productivity was being inadvertantly displaced by a canning industry intent on smothering said beans in rich tomato sauces?

    I do like the political intrigue and terrible dilemmas involved in temporal correction. I have a Guild in Dragon Stone that sends Monks back to correct temporal aberrations too. It all gets very paradoxical. Go back, change something….do you then exists to go back and change something… or happily wander off in a totally different time stream in another multiverse having not changed anything in the one you went back to fix!

    Such matters are best resolved munching toast smothered in absconded year beans…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did have fun writing this, and it’s something of a departure from the current novel series which is also time-travel based, but using technology instead of beans.

      And what can I say? Those adverts from my childhood are still in my head. Beans means not having to say you’re sorry. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a witty and clever story. The concepts of literal bean counters and in consequence vegetable powered time travel were priceless.
    I did enjoy the whole theme, particularly the way events, persons and offices did not remain linear.


    1. Thank you! 🙂

      This is one of those where I have a conversation with my partner that goes…
      “I was on a roll with this one”
      And she replies,
      “You were certainly on *something*.”

      I can’t remember how I arrived at the year beans, but the idea really caught me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nothing quite like a good time travel story! The concept of using beans to travel through time is certainly unique, and I liked the comment how it appeared to the narrator when he met with the two bean counters it was as if they looked ahead and already determined ‘no’ to his request. If only they’d used one bean to see if he was really the man for the job. This seemed to be building into a gentler version of the original Terminator movie, but in the end the ‘hero’ looked out for himself. Maybe he’ll still at least try to figure out a way to thwart those boy bands. Very entertaining!


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