In Which Dr. Watson Peers Behind the Curtain
At NorthPark, an upscale mall in Dallas, I’ve wheeled us over to a nice bench in the middle of traffic.
“Look at that,” Thorne says, pointing to a pair of young women. They are talking to each other, but both have their phones up and are texting. Their bags stick out from their bent arms like wings, and because of this, they take up nearly half of the area as they walk.
That’s their life. Oblivious to everything else. It’s sickening.
Yeah, they’re alright. They’ll make great trophy wives. Rockin’ bods for another twenty years, but dumb as a box of rocks.
“Not them, you idiot. What they represent is marvelous.”
I don’t follow you.
“It’s the perpetuity of the human machine. They’ve become automatons for the larger unit. They are vessels of information,” Thorne says in awe. “That’s how you change things.”
I’m fairly sure that anything they are saying through text or to each other means very little to the rest of the universe.
“That’s the point. It’s perpetual flow in miniature. It’s the sand in the jar of golf balls. Think about how fast they could spread an idea, if you could just get them to latch on it. You could topple empires. They attract and are attracted to others like them. They are conduits – neurons in the body of the human species as a whole.”
Thorne elbows me violently. “Your problem is you try too hard to see stupidity in everything outside you. You’re no prodigy. You’re no superhero. You’re worse than them because you have no place. They’ve found their place and they live in it. You’re a floater.”
Wouldn’t a society run by the artists and dreamers be better than the circus people like them would create?
“They don’t want power. You do. The problem with you artistic intellectual types is that you want to be the whole brain. No man is a brain unto himself. You choose that path and you’re a brain cell at most.”
Collective intelligence is where you’re going with this. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work because of people like that.
“It doesn’t work because of people like you.”
There is silence. I try, with difficulty, to stop thinking. I realize I’m running from the room I’m trapped in.
I’ll admit, I can see where you–
“Shut up. I was just joking. These people are filth, all of them. Why are they here?”
You really are an asshole.
“I’m just proving to you that no matter what the right answer is, you can make it wrong if you try hard enough.”
I’m watching those two girls who haven’t stopped texting. I wish my life were that easy, but I see, for a brief moment, that my life is chaos because I refuse to accept that it can be as easy as that.
“Allons-y!” Thorne says and stands up.
You watch one Doctor Who marathon and now you’re the number one fan.
“Best thing on television.”
There are plenty that would disagree.
“I agree. No one understands science fiction anymore.”
So, they won’t understand your Holmes story then.
“I don’t understand my Holmes story, but I’m going to finish it. All it needed was a Timelord.”
About that. I’m not sure it was a good idea to just suddenly switch gears like that. It doesn’t really make sense at the moment.
“A speck of rock floating in a sea of nothing circling a massive ball of energy doesn’t make sense – so what does that mean for the egos of the self-important lifeforms that have evolved from sludge on the speck’s surface?”
It means that–
“Perspective!” Thorne says. He heads in the direction the girls are going, then stops and raises his hands to his mouth and shouts, “Stupid bitches!”
Quickly, he turns the other way and walks away from me in the opposite direction. No one else has looked around but the two girls, and they’re staring straight at me.
Adventure of the Prime Machine
6. Behind the Curtain
I recall staring blankly at his extended hand and feeling suddenly very alone. No thoughts coursed through my brain as I stood there in a stupor, the recent events having evaporated all rational cognitive processes from my mind.
The Doctor, who until so recently had been known to me as Tristan, took a step forward, seeing that my hand was not on a path to meet his own. Instead, he placed a hand awkwardly on my shoulder and rubbed it vigorously.
“Yes, yes, I know. I have this effect on people,” he said boastfully, grinning with an unconvincing empathy. “I think I know what’s going on in that brain of yours, Watson.”
He maneuvered to stand directly in front of me and held eye contact.
Quietly he said, “Your mind has been evacuated. It’s empty in there, and you’re alone rattling around inside looking for something familiar. It’s shock, Watson, but it’s only shock because you’re intelligent enough not to be able to dismiss it. Anyone else in this situation would have already glossed over it with conjured irrational explanations.
“You’re a very, very smart man,” he emphasized. “That brain of yours, inside that confining skull -”
He smirked at me, and for a moment I felt like joining in his mirth.
“It’s bigger on the inside, isn’t it Watson?” he asked knowingly.
With a final slap on my back he bounded away and brandished his device, his sonic screwdriver, and held it as one would hold a flashlight, pointing it about as it emitted a high-pitched warbling sound.
“Reminds me of a woman I know, bigger on the inside,” he remarked, then suddenly stood up very rigidly.
“And, er, ha! …” He bounded back to me and put his arm around my shoulders conspiratorially. “And by that I mean, the TARDIS is bigger on the inside,” he coughed nervously. “The old girl, the TARDIS … that wasn’t … ah, innuendo, you understand, Watson.”
He looked at me for a moment as a physician would, scanning for surface symptoms, angling his head as he did so.
“Well … I thought for sure that would snap you out of it.”
After I didn’t respond, he went back to operating his sonic screwdriver pointing it at different areas of the wooded area we were in, occasionally stopping to look at small readouts on the side of the device.
One thing he had said stuck with me. In my mind, addled as it was, there was a solid thing forming. I grasped on to it with all my mental effort and held it. The word melted through to other areas of my consciousness, leaving a residue of cognizance my brain used as fuel to power my recovery. The word pulsed through me and pushed its way through my lips.
The Doctor stood still and his hand holding the sonic screwdriver fell to his side.
“Oh, Watson,” he said, still facing away from me. “That’s brilliant, old chum.”
He spun around, his face beaming with pride. “Well done, sir! Ha!”
He briskly walked passed me and marched through the underbrush, still scanning the area.
Slowly, I was regaining some awareness. “Where are you going?” I asked.
From a distance, he called out, “We have to get back to London. On the double, good man.”
“The horses have run off back to their stable, no doubt. We’ll have quite a walk ahead of us,” I pointed out to him.
“AHA!” I heard him shout. His sonic device was squealing excitedly, and he suddenly jumped out from behind a tree.
“Nonsense! I’ve found us a door!” he exclaimed.
I cautiously walked over to the area he was indicating, no longer sure I would be surprised by anything I would see while in his company.
I saw only trees and underbrush.
“When I say door, I mean an ancillary data stream connecting this location to another future point, feeding it with information and statistics on our actions here and preparing the next area in our quest to be incrementally more challenging,” he explained, as if I understood.
“All we have to do is-” he paused a moment to make some adjustments on his sonic screwdriver. “Translate your pattern and mine into the language of the system and -”
He pointed the device at me and made adjustments to the tiny dials as he did so.
Turning the device away from me, the Doctor once again pointed it at the area where he had previously indicated a door existed, made some final adjustments, then turned to face me with a grave look.
“Now, listen to me very carefully, Watson. You haven’t been asking very many questions. You seem to be trusting me. Why is that?”
The Doctor’s manner had changed suddenly. His eyes reflected a dangerous graveness that made me feel as if I was on trial for some heinous crime.
“Not that long ago you were trying to smash my face in, and now you’re absorbing what I say and displaying no amount of doubt in it.”
The anger came flooding back to me in an instant. “I have just seen a man murdered in a fashion that would only suggest that some pre-cognizance of events had occurred. My friend and companion, whom I felt I knew absolutely everything about, has secretly been hiding an exact duplicate of himself from me for God knows how long. That duplicate has turned out to some bizarre doppelganger who can change his appearance at a whim. A fantastical creature has just chased me through the woods with the intent of devouring me only after it has cooked me thoroughly by breathing fire like a dragon. You dispatched said creature with a magic wand-”
“It’s a sonic screw-”
“And now you’re telling me we’re about to walk through an imaginary door in the woods of northern England and suddenly end up in Piccadilly bloody Circus. I will tell you plainly, Doctor, I bloody well don’t want to know the answers! That’s why I’m not asking questions!”
My fists were clenched so tightly then that my fingernails were gouging cuts into my palms. I could feel veins pumping visibly at my temples.
“That’s not it, Watson. And you know it.”
He was studying me again, taking in as much of my reaction as he could.
“It’s starting to bleed through, I think,” he said in an off-handed manner.
“What are you talking about now?” I demanded, losing my patience.
“When I say daughter, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?” he asked quickly.
The name was spoken by me, but it felt as if the answer had come to me from a very long distance. An image flashed in my head of a young auburn-haired girl chasing butterflies in a garden. I recognized the garden but couldn’t place it. In my mind’s eye, the scene seem caged. There were impossible bars in the sky, confining the place I saw. It seemed a prison.
I couldn’t explain the name or the image, but both felt extremely familiar. A rush of feelings hit me at that moment, accompanied by a stream of what seemed like memories. I saw myself with the little girl and an older woman who she favored. I saw a mirror image of me staring forward. I saw the cage.
The Doctor slapped me with force and I quickly noticed I had been on the ground and out of breath before he had brought me to.
“Sorry. Terribly sorry. Not yet, Watson. Not yet. We need to get away from here first,” he apologized.
“What happened?” I asked him, feeling light-headed as I pushed myself up to stand.
“You fainted. It was expected.”
“I saw visions. Places and people,” I said, the words sounding ridiculous to me.
“I know it’s difficult, but you should ignore them for now.” He helped steady me and then lead me over to the area containing his “door”.
“I need you to trust me just a bit longer, my friend, Watson. I’ll tell you everything you need to know once we get to London and see Mycroft.”
I nodded vaguely, still reeling from the flood of mental flashes that had just overwhelmed me.
The Doctor pull a small handheld rectangular device from his pocket and spoke to it, “Alright, Chief. Can you lock onto our signal?”
A voice answered him, emanating from the device the Doctor held in his hand.
“Locked on, Doctor.”
“Excellent. I’m feeding our patterns into the data stream now. If you’d be so kind, please make sure we end up with our good friend Mycroft, and not in Siberia,” he said with a sideways wink to me.
“I’ll try my best, sir,” came the response.
The Doctor turned to me and exuded a mysterious sense of infinite wisdom as he spoke to me, “I knew a fellow that said, ‘All the world’s a stage’. And, well, he’s partly right. There is that which is apparent to all of us, being enacted by us and before us by other people. We are all part of the same endless act. But with any successful production, dear Watson, there’s a great deal going on behind the curtains that we can’t see – that we shouldn’t see. I’ll say this: Don’t go looking for the men behind the curtain unless you’re prepared to face the possibility that you are merely a puppet in someone else’s show.”
The Doctor wielded his sonic screwdriver again and aimed at a point in space. “Brace yourself, Watson. This ride may be a bit unsettling.” He activated the sonic screwdriver which emitted a painful high-pitched shriek. ” Chief, on my mark. Three … Two … One … Now!”
The sound of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver grew louder and I felt something akin to a violent push from behind me. My body did not change position, but a small circular hole grew in mid-air before me. I then realized the hole was not growing larger – I was growing smaller in proportion to it. The scene froze momentarily and then the woods around me begin to smear like someone had rubbed up against a wet painting of trees. All around me, the environment was stretching out to infinity. I could no longer feel my body, but I felt my soul being stretched out along a thin line as I, too, began to smear. With a deafening explosion of light and sound, I felt myself being pulled across a phenomenal distance at terrible speed. My sanity threatened to evaporate and my attempts to scream were blunted by the sudden realization that I no longer had a body.
With a lurch and a grotesque sense of being reassembled from scratch, I was whole again, in London, standing outside the home of Mycroft Holmes, my good friend’s similarly adept sibling. I promptly pitched forward in a faint and collapsed into a refuse bin set outside Mycroft’s front door.
When I awoke, I noticed I had been propped up in an alley next to Mycroft’s building. The Doctor was speaking into the rectangular device again.
“I haven’t told him yet, no,” he was saying. “The realization of the truth at this point could unravel everything. We have to keep him in the mindset he was in previously for just a bit longer. This all hinges on him.”
“Doctor, you’re risking his life,” the voice answered. “There must be another way.”
“There is no other way!” the Doctor shouted, obviously louder than he had wanted. He quickly turned towards me, but I remained still with my eyes shut, feigning unconsciousness.
“Trust me,” the Doctor said in a calmer tone. “I can get us all out of this, but you must do as I say. You probably have one last chance to do this before it’s on to us, and we need him focused and not thinking about his past.”
“Very well, Doctor,” the voice replied. “Give us a few minutes.”
Without warning, a desperate idea formed in my head. I know not why the thought suddenly occurred to me, but I felt I only had a short time to complete the task I felt needed to be done. An broken inkwell had been discarded in the alleyway and a minute volume of fresh ink was reserved in the broken glass. The Doctor still had his back turned to me and I stealthily reached out and stuck a finger in the ink. Rolling up my right sleeve, I wrote “Coraline” with my inked finger across my bared forearm. I quickly covered my arm again with my sleeve and feigned sleep again.
As I lay there, I sensed the Doctor approaching me and standing over my seated form. A strange tingling sensation began in my head and I felt distinctly as if heavy parts of my brain were dropping away. My mind felt lighter and I opened my eyes not understanding what had just happened.
The Doctor took my hand and helped me to my feet. “There we go, old boy. Upsy-daisy. Let’s go see our friend, Mycroft, shall we?” He bounded off down the alley towards the front street expecting me to follow, but he stopped short and looked at his hand.
“What’s this?” he queried to himself. “I don’t have a leaky pen on me again, do I?”
His left hand was smeared with ink and he began vigorously wiping it on his trousers.
“Pencils, Watson. Always use pencils, I say. Pens are very bad for the wardrobe – very bad indeed. I wonder where this ink came from.”
He spun on his heels and marched off again to the entrance of Mycroft’s building. When he was out of sight and around the corner of the alley, I looked down at my left hand and the ink smeared there. I had no recollection at all of how it had come to be on my hand. Calmly, I followed the Doctor without a word.
As I turned the corner, the Doctor was brazenly entering Mycroft’s door without knocking. I chased after him and only just slipped in the door before he slammed it shut behind him.
He turned and started violently, “Oh! Watson! You sneak!” he exclaimed.
“Nearly stopped both my hearts. I thought you were outside,” he panted, holding his chest. “Good gracious me. Good lord.”
I huffed my displeasure at him and proceeded into Mycroft’s study ahead of him.
The elder Holmes’s study was large and impressive. Legal tomes lined shelves set into every wall, which were a rich and dark polished wood. The floor was adorned with impressive rugs covering the worn wooden slats. The furniture seemed pristine and untouched, and two large leather chairs seemed to have never been sat upon in their life.
Mycroft himself was a large fellow, boasting a rotund stature in opposition to his gaunt younger brother’s. When the Doctor and I entered the room, the elder Holmes was seated at a large desk facing a huge curtained window that normally offered a view of a poorly maintained, yet expansive garden. At least one of the windows was cracked open and a breeze gently rolled through the curtain like waves on the ocean.
Before I could clear my throat, Mycroft spoke to us in admonishing tones without turning to face us.
“I trust you haven’t tracked in the week’s rubbish, Watson,” he said, scribbling in a large opened ledger.
Mycroft’s powers of deduction surpassed even that of my friend’s; however, his excessive apathy to anything but his own business did not lend the same sense of nobility found in the younger Sherlock, exhibited by the latter through his repeated, if circumstantial, contribution to the welfare of society.
“So you heard us then?” the Doctor surmised.
“I can smell you,” he spat, still writing. “I assume that’s Tristan’s voice I hear, disguised as it might be.”
“Yes, Mycroft,” I sputtered. “We’ve come to -”
“Where is my brother? Too good to show his face here?”
“He’s in Yorkshire where you sent him,” I answered. “He sent us back to investigate the murders here.”
“Ridiculous!” Mycroft barked, refusing to stop his writing to turn around to face us. “Why would I send Sherlock to Yorkshire?”
“Careful, Watson,” the Doctor whispered to me.
I was at a loss. Sherlock had told me that it was specifically Mycroft who had turned him onto the cow case we had been on our way to investigate when our train was stopped.
“Sherlock said you had turned an acquaintance of yours to him for aid in a matter,” I explained.
“What acquaintance was this, Watson?” Mycroft had stopped writing and sat up straight, but still did not turn to face the Doctor and myself.
“He said you had met the gentleman on one of your occasional trips to Yorkshire.”
“Trips to Yorkshire? Me? Preposterous!” he snapped, pushing his mass up from the desk. “Now look -”
Mycroft spun as fast as his girth would allow and his eyes fell immediately on the Doctor.
“My God, Watson, what have you done?” whimpered Mycroft, his face completely drained of its color. He backed into his desk, overturning his inkwell which spilled black ink onto the rug. “You’ve brought the devil himself into my home!”
“Uh yes,” began the Doctor. “Bit of a mix-up here, I think. I’m -”
Mycroft turned a lethal gaze to me and pointed a stubby accusatory finger at the Doctor. “You’re in league with this villain?”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” the Doctor protested. “I’ve never been so insulted in my … well, there was that one time, but come on, really? Name calling?”
Mycroft turned back to the Doctor. “How are you even alive? My brother said you fell to your death, you fiend!”
Holmes words set off sudden alarm bells in my head. The man standing next to me was no longer recognizable in my mind, though his appearance had not changed. Panic gripped me as I berated myself for having been such a blind and ignorant fool. Without a second wasted, I lunged for the bookcase to my right and opened a hidden compartment where I knew Mycroft stored a loaded handgun. Snatching it I spun around and aimed it directly at the man who I had been traveling with since I parted company with Sherlock.
“Moriarty!” I shouted victoriously. Hatred seethed within me, though my mind had not reconciled how our most dangerous nemesis had cheated death and managed to dupe both my brilliant friend and myself all this time.
“Whoa!” the Doctor shouted, throwing his hands up in the air. “Now wait a minute, Watson! Don’t listen to him!”
“Kill him, John!” Mycroft shouted. “Kill him now or he’ll wreak havoc across the globe! You’ve got him!”
My hand clenched tight around the gun and my finger began to tighten on the trigger. The villain had nearly killed all of us. His evil machinations had very nearly defeated my friend. Moriarty was the worst foe any of us had ever faced. At that moment, I knew that it was my duty to rid the world of his filth once and for all. I squeezed the trigger.
“Jeffrey don’t!” shouted the Doctor.
My finger straightened within at atom’s width of the trigger firing the gun. He had called me Jeffrey, and somehow I was convinced that Jeffrey was my name. Furthermore, I noticed ink on my right arm, peeking out from under my sleeve. With my left hand, I pulled back the sleeve and saw, in ink I had fingered onto my skin, the name “Coraline”.
Again, my mind was flooded by images of the girl, the woman, and the cage across the sky. My arms dropped to my sides and I saw the Doctor, paler than Mycroft had been, heave a sigh of relief. I knew it wasn’t Moriarty in front of me, and I couldn’t explain why I had suddenly felt it was.
“You humans,” he remarked. “Always finding a way over the wall. When did you write that -”
Both of us saw it at the same time in the periphery of our vision. The curtains were moving in a manner unlike waves on the ocean. Someone was there.
“Mycroft!” the Doctor shouted. “Behind the curtain!”
Both us bolted towards the doomed man, and I clearly remember seeing the gun emerge in slow motion from between the billowing curtains. Mycroft neither saw nor felt his death. The Doctor dove too late, and by the time he impacted the elder Holmes’s body, the bullet had done its fatal damage. Both men fell to the floor heavily before me and I began to fire wildly into the curtains, not caring who or what lay in wait behind them.
Having emptied the gun of bullets, I brazenly ran forward and ripped the curtains aside. No one was there. I stepped gingerly out the open window and gazed around the garden looking for the murderer. Scrambling over an exterior wall, I leaped down to the street and sprinted up and down the block, trying to discover where the person behind the curtain had gone. Whoever it was had made a swift retreat.
Reluctantly, I returned to the study to what I knew was another victim in this horrible game being played.
The Doctor was kneeling over the body and waving his sonic screwdriver over its crumpled mass. He then looked at the readings on the bizarre device.
“Poor Mycroft,” I sighed. “Sherlock will have my head for this.”
“No worries,” said the Doctor, leaping to his feet. He looked down at his trousers and noticed he had knelt in a puddle of spilled ink. “Oh no! Ink! Again! I swear I’m going to travel back and wipe the mind of the idiot that invented ink before he has a chance to ruin a pair of trousers. Pencils! Pencils!”
“No worries? He’s dead!” I shouted, my anger rising once again to a boil.
“He was never alive,” the Doctor said. “He’s an advanced positronic construct. Watch.”
He aimed the sonic screwdriver at the body and in a flash the flesh that was once Mycroft Holmes dispersed into glowing particles like dust motes in a ray of sunlight.
I was not shocked. I did not even blink at what I had just seen. What I needed to know more than anything was exactly who I was and why I was there.
“You called me Jeffrey.”
“That’s your name.”
“I’m not Dr. John H. Watson?”
“No,” he said quietly. “You’re not.”
“Who is Coraline?” I muttered, tears filling my eyes as I knew the answer already.
“She’s your daughter, Jeffrey. And she’s safe. So is your wife. I’ve seen them both.”
Staring at the Doctor I asked the most important question.
“Why am I here?” I demanded.
“Jeffrey,” the Doctor said with sadness. “You’re not really here.”