Stand in front of a mirror and punch yourself.
Drink a tall glass of scotch and smoke Camel Turkish Silvers.
Pick up a bad habit, like borrowing other peoples cell phones to report bad driving to numbers you pick up from “How’s My Driving” stickers on trucks you see on the road. Make shit up. Be belligerent, and give other people’s names as references.
Bars are your home, whether you drink or not. Own the end of a bar. Showers are not your friend. Grow a beard to catch the scotch and guinness that misses your mouth. Always order sausages.
Spend a good amount of time on an apartment search and then spend more money than you make on a flat that is too small and drafty. Force yourself to wear scarves on a 24-hour basis. Become intimate with instant food and noodles.
Borrow your stuck-up friend’s Mac and go to a Starbucks. Play some bad Radiohead over the speakers. Try Pablo Honey, and hit repeat on creep. Order only Triple Grande Non-fat No whip Zebra Mochas, and always send one back. Stand in line and look at the scones, but don’t ever order anything and don’t let people know you’re not actually in line.
Spend some time in Asian markets. Buy some Tom Yum Crisp and leave the dried up shrimp wherever you can. Box office window sills are prime real estate.
Steal jackets from business men after they’ve given you their business cards. Mail the jacket to people around the world and instruct them to take pics of themselves wearing the jacket in odd situations, like defecating in a public park on a merry-go-round, or fornicating in a dirty broom closet. Once the jacket has been around enough, mail it back to the business man and enclose a link to the website that now showcases the jacket’s amazing journey. Tell him he’s a twat.
Superglue car magnets to other people’s cars that blatantly contradict or nullify a bumper sticker they already have. Like the anti-obama “Keep the Change” countered with “‘Cuz I can’t fuckin’ count”.
Why do all this, you ask?
Because, being a successful writer has nothing to do with writing. Being a successful writer requires that you be an asshole, a troublemaker, a fascist and elitist fuck that people would rather punch in the face than listen to.
If you’re anything less than a scumbag, you’re just a business man with a penchant for metaphor.
– A.K. Thorne, Dirtbag Sessions: 1987
It’s sunny outside, but the wind is biting. My eyes feel dry and my nose is clogged. Thorne is threading his rocket onto the launching pad in the middle of the abandoned field I’ve taken him to.
Have you done this before?
“Certainly I have,” he says. Attaching the igniter, he walks away, spooling out a length of wire in his wake.
How high will it go?
“It’s not the height that matters, its how far it falls that determines whether its a success or not.”
I guess I follow you. The harder they fall.
“Yes, well. I’ve solved that problem. When I was younger, a friend of mine rigged up a model rocket to fire its engines in stages. He thought he could get his rocket into space. He had 37 engines on it, all timed to fire in succession so that momentum was never lost.”
Did it work?
“He blew himself up.”
Smiling, Thorne flipped the switched and the model rocket shot up into the air with a whoosh. It seemed like it would go on forever, but then it noticeably slowed and reached an apex. Then it promptly exploded.
“Always quit while you’re ahead. Then you won’t have to worry about the fall.”
So, are we going to finish this story, or what?
“Prepare for explosions.”
Adventure of the Prime Machine
I groggily clawed my way back to consciousness as I felt my body being jostled roughly. It took several moments to orient myself with the environment, but soon I deduced the truth of my predicament. I was still bound by the wrists and ankles but my gag had slipped away from my mouth. I found myself tightly bound to the side of a hansom with little ability to move. Next to me sat Sherlock Holmes, whipping the frothing horses that pulled our carriage.
I did not recognize the countryside surrounding us, but it reminded me of Switzerland, if not some bizarre mock-up of it. A cold wind bit my face and tears cut cold paths from my eyes as we moved at unsafe speeds down a dirt road.
“How do you know about the Doctor?” I asked aloud.
“It’s my business to know the facts, Watson,” he said evenly. “Do you really think that all this time I didn’t know exactly what was going on?”
“You’re not Sherlock Holmes,” I challenged. “None of this is real.”
Holmes jerked his head to regard me momentarily with a look that might have been surprise, but the glance soon faded into a sneer. “You’re out of your depth here. Don’t be so sure you know the truth.”
“I suppose you expect me to believe your little charade about this all being the result of breathing fumes at the opium den?” I snapped. “Ridiculous. This is a game – a game being controlled by a computer.”
“Now it’s you who are being ridiculous, Watson,” he replied.
“You, yourself, admitted that you know who the Doctor is,” I cried in retort. “You do not exist. You are a construct of a very complicated game being played out by -”
With a speed unlike anything human, Sherlock Holmes reached a hand over and grabbed my forehead. Before I could pull away I experienced a sharp blinding pain that echoed down into my spine. The scene slowed and I felt myself being blurred and stretched in time and space until all light was pulled into a pinpoint set within a deep and foreboding void of darkness.
My mind flashed through the events of the last several months, time I had spent in the game, trapped by the Prime Machine. A whirlwind of visions assaulted me and I witnessed past occurrences being replayed in my head. With each vision, a new altered one replaced it. Holmes was erasing my memories – rewriting my personal history as I watched.
“You didn’t really think you were the smartest being in this universe, did you?” his voice echoed in my head. “Haven’t you ever asked yourself why you play the part of the sidekick, and not the master?”
In fact, I had pondered that point many times since I had learned the Doctor’s version of the truth. It was that nagging doubt in the back of my mind, that question never asked aloud that faded as quickly as it came to the surface – the one piece of the puzzle that all others suggested existed by the void it left, but was never found to fill it.
“This goes beyond tests of intelligence and games of wit.”
I saw Coraline and my wife, Chief Galen and the people of Dreides VII, my whole life vaporized and replaced by a story I knew so well that I had created an entire miniature universe from my visions of it alone.
“I am the one chosen to beat this game. You are merely a pawn in a greater struggle.”
I struggled to breathe. His hand felt like hot coals against my skin and I could not move away from that searing pain. I tried desperately to hang on to some memory of my life I had just rediscovered and my eyes flashed to my forearm, covered by the sleeve of my overcoat. I knew there was a truth there, something to hang on to, but I could not move my hand to pull back the curtain covering what was hidden there.
“They chose poorly. Even the great Prime Machine doesn’t realize it is being used.”
Slowly the trees at the sides of the dirt road were coming into focus and I could make out the forms of the horses pulling us in our carriage.
“Listen, Watson, as I tell you this before I erase it forever from your mind. My race was destroyed long ago, erased from history forever. We were the pinnacle of sentience in the universe and our master race was the supreme force of change sweeping across the galaxies as we wiped out all those lesser than us. This man, The Doctor, fought us, tricked us, and destroyed us, binding our fate forever to the void. Some of us escaped to return here, but always this one figure stood in their way, preventing our return to supremacy.”
As he spoke, he transferred some of his thoughts to me in visions. I saw a humanoid race, proud and vicious, mutated and changed into a superior form – a perfect machine. I saw a man battling their evil through time, always wearing a different face, but obviously the Doctor.
“The race of beings that created the Prime Machine created a universe from scratch, and in doing so unwittingly wrote the laws of that alternate universe to allow for gaps – holes in the fabric of space and time. It sought out the greatest minds to test, and, without knowing it, pulled me from the void. I am a god in this universe, and soon, using the ramshackle physics that allow this alternate universe to exist, I will pass into your universe, where I will retain my powers. Even now, your Doctor struggles against me, thinking he faces off against a powerful artificial intelligence, but soon he will come here and he will learn the truth. And then he will be destroyed once and for all. I am the last hope for my kind.”
The visions faded as I slowly came back to full consciousness. Holmes’s words slipped into my mind and then faded away as they were spoken.
“We will survive!”
With extreme mental struggle, I managed to whisper a question before my last true memory faded away forever.
“Who are you?” I gasped.
“As far as you will ever know,” he said with an evil laugh, “I am Sherlock Holmes.”
As he pulled his hand away, the sounds and vibrations of the carriage came rushing back to the surface of my senses.
Once again, I was Watson.
“Goodness, Holmes,” I said, shaking my head to clear it. “Why am I tied up? And how did we get to Switzerland so quickly?”
“Feeling better, Watson?” he said with a smile. “Let me help you.”
With one hand still holding the reins, he untied my bindings and tossed the ropes to the road.
“You were slipping in and out of consciousness throughout the trip here and I’ve taken excessive measures to ensure your safety on our long journey, but we could not delay this part of it any further, so I tied you firmly to the side of the carriage to prevent injury,” he explained.
“A bit tight on the knots, I’d say,” I remarked, rubbing my wrists vigorously. For a moment I felt the sudden urge to pull back my sleeve. I did so, but was unaware of what I expected to see there. I saw only pale skin, reddened at the wrist where the ropes had rubbed the flesh.
I quickly ran my hands over various parts of my body, feeling inexplicably sore in several places. My hands fell upon the gag hanging loosely around my neck.
“A gag?” I queried.
“You were feverish. The cloth served to soak up some of the sweat,” was Holmes’s reply. His eyes were distant, but focused on the road ahead of us.
“Here let me take over the reins,” I offered. With a queer smirk, Holmes surrendered control to me. Using my familiarity with horses, I was able to coax more speed out of them and we tore through the countryside at incredible speed.
“Keep following this road until it forks. Take a left and follow the river for a distance until you see a large barn in disrepair. The rest of our journey will start there on foot.” Holmes removed his pipe from an inside pocket and tamped the tobacco before lighting it. Puffs of smoke swirled around underneath the canvas top covering us before being caught in the rush of air from our movement.
“That damned Moriarty,” I spat. “He’ll pay for his crimes.”
“What a brilliant plan to lure him to the location of your last meeting with him. Reichenbach Falls. If only his tumble into the falls had killed him the first time, both Tristan and Mycroft would still be alive,” I remarked with a sigh.
“This is the end game, Watson,” he stated. “I will need your complete devotion to the task at hand. You are the bait. Our subtle communications through his network of thugs and lackeys will bring him out of hiding, but rest assured he knows what this is leading to. Once he arrives, leave him to me.”
“As always, old friend, you can count on me.”
The rest of our trip by carriage was colored in silence and scenery. After the fork in the road, the elevation gradually began to grow. Our horses showed signs of tiring and the last few miles to the abandoned barn were at a noticeably slower pace.
Once we arrived at our last destination by carriage, Holmes and I both quickly exited the carriage, not bothering to secure our transportation. The horses were unhitched and allowed to forage and drink from the running river nearby. They would not stray far in their state.
“Up for a bit of a hike, Watson?” Holmes asked, proceeding towards the foot trail that would lead us to the falls.
“Lead on,” I replied.
The path gradually climbed upwards for a few more miles, and it was close to sunset by the time we were close enough to see the falls in the distance. I found myself full of energy, even after my trials since the incident at the opium den. As I walked I tried to remember exactly what happened, but the details were shrouded, as if seen through silk. I remembered the meeting with Tristan, Holmes’ bizarre doppelganger, but no events after that point. Even the details of our trip by train were cloudy in my mind.
“I will wait here in cover,” Holmes said as we reached a dense growth of bushes and trees. “You go on to the end of the trail and soon Moriarty should find you there. I will then come up behind and surprise him.”
I nodded my understanding and left Sherlock to hide in the brush.
Again, I felt the urge to look at my forearm, and this time I distinctly felt I should see something written there, but again I saw only bare flesh under the sleeve.
Approaching the falls, I wondered if Moriarty was watching me ascend. Mist from the roaring water washed over me in curtains sporadically. Feeling the chill, I shoved my hands in my pockets and in the right one I discovered a pistol. This struck me as unusual, as the entire hike I should have felt the weight of the gun there, but did not. It was if it had suddenly appeared there as soon as my thoughts drifted towards the possibility of it being there.
My confusion quickly dissipated as I reached a narrow ledge, barely wide enough for a cart to traverse, that led to the spot where Holmes and Moriarty had grappled with each other those many years ago.
I had not been present for that climactic battle, but had heard its telling in detail by Holmes himself many times.
At the end of the trail, I chanced a look over the ledge to the bottom of the falls. How a man could have survived the fall was beyond me. The rocky walls were slick and seemingly devoid of any handholds or place to make as ascent. Moriarty must have survived by a miracle to have fallen that distance and not been broken against the rocks at the fall’s base.
Turning around and steeling myself for possible combat, I prepared to meet my friend’s arch nemesis. His method of arrival, however, completely caught me off guard.
From out of the roar of the falls I heard an all-together different sound – a groaning of machinery that seemed somewhat familiar, but at the same time completely alien. I glanced around for a mill or man-made structure that might house machinery that would make such a racket, but as the sound grew louder I determined its source.
A strange blue box, with English text labeling it as a Police Box, suddenly shimmered into view out of thin air. My pulse began to race at such an unusual site. I clamored for some rational explanation, as my friend had often instructed during moments of seemingly irrational occurrences. No rational deduction of the clues at hand came close to making sense of what I saw.
With a final thump, the strange box appeared fully and its door opened. Immediately, and mostly by instinct, I removed my pistol from its pocket and leveled at the door and whatever might come from within.
Professor Moriarty stepped out and immediately jumped in surprise.
“Jeffrey!” he said. “What are you doing here? I told you to stay on Dreides VII!”
He seemed very cross at seeing me there, which was contrary to what I had been led to believe would happen. His mention of the name Jeffrey and Dreides meant nothing to me.
“Stay where you are, Moriarty,” I snapped. “I will fire upon you if I must, but your life is not mine to take at this time.”
Moriarty sighed, placing his hand to his brow, and said to himself, “Not this again.”
Exasperatedly, he ran his hands through his floppy hair. “Jeffrey -”
“My name is Dr. John Watson.”
“Your name is Jeffrey, and you’ve made a very silly, very human error in coming here,” he replied.
“You’re the one who has made the error, fiend,” I stated confidently. “You escaped death here once before, but not this time. One way or another, Professor, your end comes here and it comes soon.” I glanced down the trail and did not see Holmes approaching. I wondered what was taking him so long.
“Look,” Moriarty said calmly. “Let’s just put away the gun and talk for a moment. Surely, I’ve got no where to run. For you to be that confident in my demise, you must have some cunning trap laid for me. It won’t hurt to point that thing somewhere else before you hurt one of us.”
I thought briefly about the situation for a moment, and decided he was right. He had no where to run – except back into his box.
“Step over to the edge,” I directed. “Away from the box.”
“Fine. Fine.” Acquiescing to my demands, he carefully moved toward the ledge and looked over. “I’ve seen bigger.”
I moved between him and his box to cut off any escape, and then lowered the gun.
“So,” he said casually. “Where is old Sherlock, by the way? Sent you off again to do the hard work while he puffs away on his pipe like some pompous prat?”
“He’s a better man than you, Moriarty.”
“Yes, well, it remains to be seen if he even is a man.”
Incensed, I raised the gun at him again.
“Alright,” he said quickly, raising his hands. “What have they done to you, Jeffrey?”
His face fell into a look of concern. “I told you to stay out of this. Your wife and child need you.”
“My wife is dead, and I have no children,” I snapped. “Now shut up, or I will take your life whether Holmes arrives or not.”
“You don’t remember?” he said, lowering his hands slowly. “You don’t remember Coraline?”
His words meant nothing to me. Purposefully, I cocked the pistol.
Before I could fire, there was a loud explosion above us. Huge pieces of the cliff wall broke loose with sickening slowness. With an overwhelming feeling of dread I realized I had been tricked by my only friend. He had sacrificed me for his own sick game against his adversary.
As rocks began to rain down upon us, Moriarty sprinted towards me. I didn’t bother to lift the gun. At that moment, seeing an enormous sheet of rock teeter over my head, I resigned myself to my fate – death at the hands of a man I trusted completely.
Moriarty hit me hard and propelled me backwards into his unusual box. As large rocks hit us, the door opened and we fell in a heap inside. He quickly shut the door and I noticed immediately that we seemed to have been transported somewhere else. My first thoughts were that I had died, but soon I realized I had been here before.
“It’s bigger on the inside,” I said, a trickle of blood running into my eye.
“That’s more like it,” Moriarty said. He pulled a handkerchief from one of his pockets and dabbed a wound on my temple. “Not so bad, not so bad. You’ll survive.”
“TARDIS,” I said, the word sounded familiar and fitting, and with the spoken word images flooded my thoughts.
“Yes, Jeffrey,” he said, smiling as he stood. “You’re getting now.”
As quickly as the memories had been erased by the being pretending to be Sherlock Holmes, they came rushing back in full clarity.
“Doctor,” I said, recognizing my savior for the first time. “There’s something you must know. Holmes is not part of the game, he’s a competitor in the game.”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “My little trip to see the Huulanix yielded some unexpected surprises. That realization was just one of them. Did he tell you who he was?”
I shook my head, struggling to stand, then decided to remain on the floor. “Not directly, just that you had faced his kind before and destroyed his race.”
“Well, that could be anybody,” he said, slightly smirking. “Everyone’s always saying I’ve wiped them out, or knocked them down, or beaten them up, but they always come back. Especially, the really evil ones.”
The Doctor strode over to a large console rising to the ceiling in the center of the room. Half of it looked extremely complex, the rest looked remarkably like random junk tossed together. Pulling a suspended screen towards him, he tapped it and seemed to be pleased with what he saw.
“We’re a bit buried, but no worries. She took the rockfall like a champ, the sexy old gal.”
Turning back to face me he asked, “Was there anything else he said?”
I nodded, “Something about the void. And how the miniature universe would give him the ability to cross over into our universe. He said he was his race’s last hope, and that they would survive.”
The Doctor looked suddenly weak and turned, bracing himself against the console.
“No,” he said. “It couldn’t be.”
Watching him, I noticed that for the first time since I had known him, he looked genuinely scared.
“How did he say it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Angrily, as if he didn’t like you very much at all.”
“No, I mean the last part about surviving. What were his exact words?”
“He said, ‘We will survive’,” I said. The Doctor bent over and softly banged his head against the console.
“No, no, no. Not them, please. And if so, why them?” he moaned. “Anyone but one of them. An infinite number of races in the history of the multiverse and it would just have to be them.”
“We should get away from here,” I pleaded. “He … did something to me. Erased my memories. He said he was a god here and had powers.”
“Oh, we’re not going anywhere,” the Doctor said, suddenly standing up straight. He made a few adjustments to dials on the console and pulled a lever. The room shook and the roaring sound I had heard earlier echoed through the room. “We’re moving just a bit, but we’re staying right here and waiting for our good friend to show himself. We have to stop this right now and right here.”
Leaping from the console he trotted over to the doors and listened. The shaking and roaring stopped. The Doctor turned towards me, a serious look on his face. “I told you not to come, but I understand why you did. I’d have done the same thing, but what we’re about to face is possibly beyond both our abilities. The thing is, you have powers here too. Remember the rottweiler?”
I nodded, once again resigning myself to a fate that might not end with survival.
“You may be our only hope here, Jeffrey. If it comes down to it, I may not be able to help at all. If he really does have powers here, you’re the only one who can stand against him. My skills are useless in the face of that much power.”
“I was always the only one who could fix this,” I said to him.
Smiling slightly he walked over to me and patted my shoulder in encouragement. “Just remember, you’ve got a family waiting for you back home.”
Smiling back, I raised my sleeve and showed my forearm to him. Written in ink, just like it had been during our visit to Mycroft, was the name of my daughter, Coraline.
“Right. Let’s end this adventure, Jeffrey. And hope for a happy ending. I always like happy endings – not enough of them these days.”
With a flourish he opened the door and stepped out on the ledge. The TARDIS had moved about twenty feet from its original position. Where it had stood, a huge pile of rocks stood – dust and pebbles still trickled down from the cliff walls above.
“Here I am, whoever you are!” the Doctor shouted. His voice echoed deeply through the area, only slightly dampened by the roar of the water over the falls.
“I knew you’d fail me, Watson,” said a voice behind the TARDIS. Brazenly, Sherlock Holmes strode out from his hiding place, puffing on his pipe. “I’d hoped he’d have goaded you into killing him for me, but I suppose the hard work is really the master’s work after all.”
“”Let’s end this charade,” the Doctor said confidently. “Who are you?”
“You mean you haven’t figured it out yet?” Holmes said, then burst into laughter. “Some Time Lord you are.”
I raised my pistol and aimed it at our adversary. “The Doctor asked you a question.”
“And I will tell him when I chose,” Holmes snapped. “Just before I extinguish his life and his remaining regenerations, once and for all.”
Raising a hand, Holmes gestured towards the Doctor. A shimmering wave of energy erupted from his hand and encircled the Doctor’s neck, raising him off the ground. The Doctor struggled, frantically grasping at the energy beam choking him.
I fired the pistol three times directly at the head and torso of Holmes, but the bullets never reached him. They stopped in mid-air and fell to the ground.
“Your weapons cannot kill me!” Holmes shouted triumphantly. “I am superior!”
Gesturing with his other hand, another energy beam snaked toward me and knocked the gun from my hands.
“This universe has given me powers beyond your conception. Once I vanquish you, I will receive the reward promised me by the Prime Machine – this universe to control!”
“You forget,” I said cryptically. “We are competitors on equal ground here. You’ll not find me so easily put down.”
Suddenly, there was the sound of great amounts of air being inhaled. A noise like a balloon inflating caused Holmes to turn towards the new threat. His eyes fell upon the firebear I had conjured up from the depths of my mind. The fantastic creature expelled a concentrated fireball directly at Holmes. A look of pure fear crossed over his face before he vanished, along with the energy beam suspending the Doctor.
Running over to the Doctor’s crumpled form, I motioned for the firebear under my control to stand near us, in case Holmes returned.
“Great idea, Jeffrey,” the Doctor gasped. “Nearly had me there, he did.”
“Are you alright?” I asked, glancing around for any sign of Holmes.
“I’m fine, just keep on your guard. It only gets rougher from here.”
Just then, Holmes blinked back into existence beside the firebear. Before the creature could unleash another fiery blast, Holmes raised a finger at it and fired a concentrated beam of energy at it. For a moment, we could see the creature’s skeleton glowing through transparent flesh before it crumpled in a heap, dead.
“I know that weapon,” the Doctor said quietly.
Next, Holmes gestured towards me and I felt myself shifted from my position faster than I could think. The world went dark and I was paralyzed, unable to move or breathe. After several minutes, I realized I could project my mind outward from my position. Holmes had transported me into the solid rock wall. I was trapped.
Using my mind projection, yet completely unfamiliar with how to use it effectively, I saw the final struggle between the two adversaries through the rock.
Just as the story went, detailing the original fight between the detective and his nemesis, Holmes charged the Doctor, intending to throw him over the falls. The Doctor deftly maneuvered to brace himself and physically grappled with Holmes at the precipice. For several seconds, with both men seemingly about to topple over the edge, they wrestled for dominance.
“I’ll kill you without use of my powers, Doctor,” Holmes shouted, spraying spit as he desperately tried to gain the upper hand. “Then you shall know once and for all that we are supreme.”
“Nice weapon you used against the firebear,” the Doctor retorted. “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before. And it makes me wonder …”
With a brilliant shifting of his weight, the Doctor bent and propelled Holmes over his shoulder. Holmes landed on his feet but teetered on the edge, his arms flailing. Unfortunately, he regained his balance and stood defiantly, prepared to continue.
“I bet you’re wearing a perception filter, aren’t you?” the Doctor said. Brandishing his sonic screwdriver, he aimed it at Holmes and used the device. Holmes form shimmered and faded to reveal a metallic being with a dome top. Two implements extended from an area at its front, and strange spherical protrusions lined its lower plating.
“Dalek!” the Doctor shouted triumphantly.
With an altogether different voice, one metallic and grating as befitting its appearance, the Dalek responded, “Your discovery of my identity makes no difference! You will only know me as Death!”
One of the forward implements, obviously its weapon, pointed at the Doctor and fired. There was no way to escape it.
As the Doctor braced himself for his death, I concentrated on the scene. Closing my eyes, I imagined time stopping completely. The sound of the waterfall stopped and I found myself in complete silence. I willed myself forward out of the solid rock until I felt ground beneath my feet. Opening my eyes, I saw the scene frozen before me.
The waterfall was frozen, sheets of rushing water suspended in mid-air. A beam of energy was extended from the Dalek’s weapon and reached halfway to the Doctor, who stood frozen waiting to die. Mentally, I moved the Doctor’s position to the right enough for the beam to miss him. Seeing that I had done what I could and losing focus on holding the scene in time, I let go.
The beam exploded against empty rock wall. Before the Dalek could reorient itself and target his nemesis again, the Doctor rushed forward with a war cry and shoved the Dalek over the edge of the precipice. With an inhuman scream, the Dalek toppled over to its demise.
“Well done, Jeffrey,” the Doctor said, panting. “Excellent show. You saved my life.”
“We’re even,” I said flatly. “But what about this place and all the people still trapped here?”
“Yes, well,” the Doctor hesitated. “About that.”
“I’ve got nothing.”
“I’ve won the game,” I exclaimed. “My prize is this universe as a sandbox, like the Dalek said.”
“Yes, that is the prize,” the Doctor agreed. “But you obviously didn’t read the fine print. No cheating.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You manipulated the game world. The game will keep going with all its participants until someone wins legitimately. We’ll have to go back to the Huulanix and figure out a way to stop the game at its source.”
“But thousands more could die here!” I yelled. “We have to destroy this place.”
“We’ll figure out something,” the Doctor said placating me. “But for now, we need to leave. The Prime Machine won’t like what we’ve done here and may send something unpleasant to make sure we get a real ‘game over'”
“GAME OVER IS NOW!” came the cry of the Dalek. Using jets at its base it rose over the ledge and hovered with its weapon aimed at the Doctor. “DALEKS MUST SURVIVE!”
Concentrating again, I mentally bent the weapon to fire back at the Dalek. With a tremendous explosion, the Dalek’s own weapon blew a hole in its casing. The Dalek fell to the ledge with a crash. Inside I could make out a disgusting creature set within the machine shell.
Both the Doctor and I walked over to the incapacitated creature and knelt down to observe its true form.
In a weaker, non-amplified voice the Dalek spoke, “Have … mercy …”
“Always the same with you Daleks,” the Doctor remarked. “You show no mercy, yet you beg for it at your pitiful end.”
“Daleks … must … survive.”
“And always I show you the mercy that you’ll never visit upon anyone.”
“Daleks … must … sur-”
The Dalek froze and spoke no more. The Doctor’s eyes widened and he turned to me wrathfully. “You had no right to do that!”
“And you did? Would you have let him suffer?”
“I would have let him breathe a final breath of this universe! You murdered him when he was defenseless!” the Doctor shouted.
“I merely froze him in time,” I said. “There will be no more deaths here.”
Looking quickly back to the Dalek’s frozen form, the Doctor apologized, “I’m sorry. It’s just …”
“I know how you feel,” I replied.
“I think you do now,” he said, rising to his feet. “Let’s get out of here.”
I stood up straight but did not move from my position.
“Come on, Jeffrey. We should go pay a visit to the Prime Machine.”
“I’m not leaving,” I stated.
Coming back to stand before me, the Doctor grabbed my shoulders. “You can’t stay here. You have people that need you back on Dreides VII. What can you possibly do here now? The Prime Machine will use all its power to eject you from the game alive or dead.”
“Not while I still have these powers, Doctor.”
“Jeffrey,” the Doctor said quietly. “What are you thinking?”
“Every universe has an end. I can control time and space in this universe,” I said. “I can collapse it into nothing.”
“Jeffrey don’t,” he pleaded. “Jeffrey please don’t do this. There’s another way.”
“This is the only way.”
“For the love of your family, Jeffrey, you can’t do this!” he said, shaking me roughly.
“For the love of my family, I have to do this,” I replied.
Concentrating my power, I transported the Doctor into the TARDIS. For a brief moment, my energies mingled with that of the TARDIS and I felt it say to me, “This is the right thing to do. I shall keep him safe.”
Projecting my voice and awareness, I asked the Doctor a final question. “What will happen to my body back on Dreides VII?
The Doctor slumped against his console, and banged a fist against what looked like a puzzle cube set into its face. “I don’t know. Maybe you die, maybe you turn into a vegetable, maybe you go ‘poof!’. I don’t know. Jeffrey, I beg of you one last time, think of Coraline.”
“And I tell you one last time, Doctor: I am.”
The TARDIS began to fade as the roaring sound of its passing grew in intensity.
“Thank you, Doctor. Farewell.”
As soon as the blue box disappeared, I imagined the entire universe drawing into my head. I could see outside my body as a brilliant white point of light erupted from the center of my forehead and suddenly drew inwards.
“It’s bigger on the inside,” I said as rocks began to roll towards me.
The Dalek, now unfrozen, said in its weak voice, “We all are.”
Reichenbach Falls shifted its downward course and the entire waterflow was sucked into my mind. The force grew and the cliffside buckled under me. I reached out and cradled the broken Dalek’s fragile form and pulled it into me. With loud cracks, the rock shelf around me broke and I floated in mid-air as I swallowed it whole into the supermassive void I was creating in my mind. I would take it all.
The clouds erupted in brilliant lightning. The moon stopped its slow pace across the sky and started to grow in apparent size. I reached a point that I knew I could not turn back from, and one last time I thought of Coraline.
The Earth exploded into flames and the seas boiled in protest, and still I pulled it in. The sky became impossibly bright as every star I could imagine came hurtling towards me. I heard a noise I soon realized was my own screams of anguish, and still I pulled on.
In a tremendous rush of light, matter, and energy, the universe collapsed into my mind and was no more.
I remember waking from that dream in a cold sweat. Apparently, I had been in a non-responsive state for several weeks before I finally came to. The events that had transpired in the dream were fresh on my mind, and I knowingly categorized the entire affair as a flashback to the episode I had in the opium den with my good friend, Sherlock Holmes.
This place they keep me in is bizarre. The leaps our human race has made in such a short time amazes me beyond comprehension. I still remember a time when I thought locomotives were the most advanced human construction I had ever seen, but now I stand corrected.
I’m an old man now, senile and incoherent. They take me for walks in a strange garden where I think I can see bars in the sky. Perhaps it is just the effects of the drugs they give me to counteract my quickly increasing dementia. How long I have been here, I cannot tell. Occasionally, I’ll remember times when I had visitors, especially a young girl who I think I may have seen grow old before my eyes.
One day, the visitors stopped coming. For a long time, I think they’ve tried to tell me that my dreams were real, but I know that to be untrue. The ridiculous nature of the dreams can easily be refuted by logic – the one thing I retain from my time spent with my one true friend, Sherlock Holmes. I ignore what they say, realizing that its my own warped mind creating the false conversations about that ridiculous dream.
In my spare time, I chronicle my adventures with the great detective. At least those events are clear in my mind. Sometimes, its as if that time and place exists in permanence in my mind, easily extracted to detail.
Often throughout my life, and growing less so now that I reach a doddering old age of forgetfulness, I suddenly remember a case we had shared involvement in that I had forgotten for a great many years only to have every detail flood back with a connecting familiar scent, or locale. Such sudden remembrances have fueled my writing for years after I felt I had written all there was to be written about my friend.
That is what this tale has been – a forgotten adventure, my last adventure.
The incident in the opium den has never been explained to me. I feel that they don’t truly know why I so violently reacted to the mix of fumes of smoked narcotics in that place. That incident ended my life as it was. Since then, I have remained here, alone.
Holmes is lost to me now, having apparently died many years ago. He never once came to see me here under my conjured cage in the sky, where phantom visitors pretend to be family I never had. I know he stayed away because he blamed himself for what happened. I do not blame him, though.
All along I’ve known the danger of being an assistant and close friend to Sherlock Holmes, and I wouldn’t have changed the way my life turned out for the world – for the universe.
And so, here I sit, writing what I hope will be my last tale about my friend and my final adventure with him. I grow weary and know that I am not long for this world.
Just the other day I imagined a man came to see me. He had brown floppy hair and a ridiculous bow tie. With him, he had brought a young red-haired girl and a young, slightly gangly looking boy. I remember the imagined words he spoke to them very clearly.
“This is the man who saved my life.”
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.”
“Leave me alone,” Thorne says to me. His face is buried in his pillow and his blinds are still closed. It’s ten o’clock in the morning and unusual for him not to be up and about at this hour.
How long has he been like this? I ask Fidel.
“You can’t change,” the old El Salvadoran croaks.
Alright, what’s wrong, Mr. Thorne.
“Stayed up late and got shitfaced,” Thorne moans from his pillow. “Damned presidential debates.”
I didn’t know you followed politics.
“I don’t. Fidel and I used the debate as a drinking game.” Thorne rolled over and belched. The miasma of stench rolled quickly through the air and was distinctly rummy.
So what were the rules.
“Every time one of them said something that proved that they were not acting as a representative of the human species, we had to drink.”
Look, I’m not going to get into politics with you, but aren’t they just representatives of the America people?
Thorne looks up at me like I just tried to tell him the world is a turtle. “Are they humans?”
Yes, but —
“Yes, but nothing. Neither right nor left is forward. The species has to evolve, but we don’t want to equate ourselves with the rest of the universe. We want to be gods. There’s a path we refuse to take, the Promethean path.”
I didn’t realize you knew the Halo universe.
“I mean that man wants to be god, and gods want man to stagnate. Every question has a correct answer if you ask of it first, ‘does this impede progress?'” Carefully, Thorne rolls himself out of bed. “Government is essential as long as it does not impede forward progress. A two party system impedes progress, people equate the stagnation with one party or the other, and no one can see that only futurism is the forward path.”
Interesting, but I think its more complicated than that.
“Is it? What do you think science fiction is all about? Aliens? Spaceships? Laser swords?” Thorne preaches, slipping into his trousers.
“I had some lightsabers once. The pineapple ones are my favorite,” Fidel chimes in.
“Science fiction writers, on principle, tell society that they are ignorant, stupid, stagnant, and useless, and then they offer a lesson in progress.”
I don’t think that’s true. I think writers like Asimov were expanding on our success and intelligence. They were saying that the only reason we can get to the stars is because we are brilliant and our ingenuity and adaptability are what makes our species superior..
“The Spacers went into space, and then came back and kicked Earth’s ass. I wrote that. It was my treatise on a third political party of futurists that would far exceed the near stagnant progress of the Earth humans.”
That is such bullshit. There is no way Asimov stole from you.
“Asimov was a very hairy man. You can’t trust hairy men.”
This is ridiculous. I’m leaving. I can’t believe you’d sit here and pan one of my favorite authors by lying so blatantly.
“I’ve got another chapter of the Holmes story,” Thorne says wiggling his eyebrows. He knows I’m interested. He’s been fucking with me this whole time.
Is it any good?
“There’s marijuana in it.”
I don’t seem to recall any of the original stories ever mentioning marijuana.
“Holmes was an addict. He had his seven-per-cent solution. Just because Doyle didn’t mention them doesn’t mean the other drugs didn’t exist.”
I hope you’re tying up loose ends. You can’t string us along for too much longer. The reader has to have a sense that progress is being made.
“Touché,” Thorne says. He smiles and a circle of darkness grows from the crotch of his trousers.
Are you … okay?
“I’ve just relieved tremendous pressure in my bladder. Of course I’m okay.”
Adventure of the Prime Machine
Holmes’ contact in Leeds was a gentleman named Kenneth Buchanan, a chemist who operated a small collection of laboratories attached to the university there. Holmes had been corresponding with Buchanan for several years in regards to his own independent experiments in chemistry, and apparently the two held a great deal of respect for each other. Most often, when Holmes was unable to manufacture the results he desired in an experiment, Buchanan would be able to direct him towards a solution. It is for this expertise in the field of chemistry that Holmes had chosen him to assist us in this most unusual case.
One would think by the gracious amounts of geniality displayed by the two masters that they had been long friends. The truth was that neither had met each other in person. Buchanan was exceedingly pleased by our sudden visit and set right to inquiring as to the case his specialization would benefit.
The chemist was middle-aged, of short stature and dark in complexion. From above his lips sprouted an immense black moustache that was rivaled only by the hair on top of his head in its chaos. He wore spectacles perched on the knob of his nose and it was through these that he peered at the contents of the vial I produced for him.
“Interesting coloration,” he said. “I presume that this is most likely the byproduct of some reaction, and judging by uneven coarseness of the granules I’d have to say it’s likely a mixture of substances we’re looking at.”
“Precisely my feelings,” commented Holmes. “Being lacking in the proper instruments in the field, I held off judgment towards any specifics.”
“Well, we have all that you shall need here,” Buchanan responded while gesturing to his lab and its collection of retorts, crucibles, alembics, and Bunsen burners.
“Though I would enjoy the opportunity to see you gather your results in person, Dr. Buchanan, I regret that Dr. Watson and I have some other business to attend to. We shall rejoin with you in an hour at the most,” explained Holmes.
“Understood, my friend. I shall have something for you upon your return,” replied the chemist and set off immediately to work.
We departed the laboratory with Holmes appearing in good spirits despite the serious and personal nature of the case we were now entangled in.
“I have the greatest confidence that Buchanan will be able to provide a most important clue to the events on the rail, and perhaps to the entirety of our current problem.”
“He did seem rather keen on the idea of providing assistance to us,” I mused.
“Indeed. Buchanan is one of the best in his field, and boasts an attention to detail that I find refreshing. It is rare to find an individual with such an eye for hidden meanings in chemical residues. Our interests in this regard are in the best of hands.”
We passed quickly through the campus of the university, it having been only just incorporated following a number of years as a prominent school of medicine. Holmes had returned to his quickened pace and stalked through the streets with purpose. We departed from the sleek architecture of the blocks surrounding the campus university and soon found ourselves in the shadows of a neighborhood of lesser repute. The sun was finding rips in the clouds which allowed a fair amount of rays to beam down on us throughout the campus, but the district we had just entered seemed to repel sunlight unnaturally.
After several turns down dark twisting alleys, Holmes stopped in front of a low building with no windows. Being wedged between two larger buildings that appeared to be warehouses and having no street entrance, the place would have been easy to miss. This was probably due to its dark purpose – a haven for addicts – which I deduced from the acrid odor surrounding it.
“An opium den?” I whispered in surprise.
He elbowed me in the ribs with force and gave me a glare that immediately shut off any further attempt to question him or the purpose of our visit to such a low place. Just then, seeming to melt away from the wall of the place, a man appeared. I was shocked by his sudden appearance as just a moment before I would have sworn there was nothing in front of the building other than a pile of refuse.
The man was an Oriental – I thought most likely Chinese considering the number of them involved with these vile drug pits throughout England. My first thoughts were confirmed as he barked out a line of Mandarin at us. I noticed, to my surprise and sudden fear, that he was holding a cruel dagger just under the patchwork coat he wore. I surreptitiously slid my hand into my pocket where I kept a small knife of my own, cursing myself for having left my revolver on the train.
Holmes then responded in similar style to the man, and made a subtle gesture with his fingers at his waist. The Chinaman nodded and returned to his post, appearing once again as a pile of garbage. I had no time to ponder over the events that had just occurred as Holmes was then pulling me into a hell I had only entered once or twice before in similar dens back home.
The ceilings were uncomfortably low and most of the decorations were a dark tar-stained red. It was difficult to tell where the stains ended and the shadows began. Smoke hung like thin curtains drifting down from the hanging lamps sparsely scattered through the place. Holmes led me down a long corridor. I tried, but I could not keep my eyes from peering into the depths of the rooms to either side of us as we passed. All manner of men could be found here – fallen nobles, lost students, wastes of men, vaporous apparitions of humankind. Some stooped over low flames, some danced about chanting with eyes as luminous as the moon. One man stood naked in front of a broken mirror and wept.
I began to feel nauseous from the fumes, but Holmes pulled me forwards down an adjoining hallway. Finally we entered a room, but my relief turned to serious shock at what I witnessed there. The room was bare of furniture save for a ratty, old-fashioned chair with a high back. A small pit of coals lent the only light in the room, and there, lounging lazily in the chair with his feet propped up on a pile of dusty books was Sherlock Holmes!
Hearing us enter the room, he lifted his head from his semi-slumber and said in a voice I had heard a hundred times before,” Holmes! What brings thee to this hebetudinous warren of langorous lassitude?”
“Lord Almighty!” I exclaimed and, whether a result of shock or simply the heavy inhalation of fumes, promptly fainted.
I recovered after a few moments and a few pulls from a flask of brandy the other Holmes had on hand. I nearly fainted again seeing two of them standing over me, but soon I could see the difference in the hairlines and intricate details of the facial structures. The other man was nearly an identical twin.
I was still speechless and the real Holmes quietly smirked to himself waiting for my assessment of this development. The other man handed me a cigarette which I gladly accepted and inhaled deeply, hoping the touch of tobacco smoke would refresh my lungs after the assault from the opium fumes.
“Dear me, Watson, take it easy on that,” remarked Holmes a bit too late. I had just inhaled a large amount of marijuana smoke. I began to cough in spasms and the two men hauled me to my feet and forced another two swallows of brandy down my throat.
“May I introduce Mr. Tristan Brady,” said Holmes, gesturing to the man next to him. “Tristan, this is my associate Dr. Watson.”
“The ambit of such a momentous and fortuitous intersection of luminaries exceeds the limits of my skills in delineation,” spoke the man.
“You will have to forgive Tristan’s eloquent manner of speech,” chimed Holmes. “The only book he has ever read was Roget’s Thesaurus.”
“The only book I ever finished, you mean, old boy.”
“It is certainly a …” I hesitated a moment before continuing, “pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“A pleasure shared, I’m sure,” he replied, simply beaming. “The ever loyal Watson. At last we meet. Holmes speaks very highly of you. So much in fact that I sometimes wonder if you’ve both gone a bit Greek in all the time you have spent in each other’s company.”
At this he squeezed the plumpness of my stomach in jest.
“How dare you!” I exclaimed, extremely upset by his manner.
“Now, now, gentleman,” chided Holmes. “We have serious matters to attend to. Will you join us, Tristan? We are returning to Buchanan’s laboratory for the results of examination of evidence. We shall fill you in on the way.”
“By all means, lead the way, dear Holmes,” said Tristan.
As we exited the room Tristan winked and pursed his lips at me and it was all I could do to keep from giving the clown a bunch of fives.
“Watson’s moustache dost bristle like the hackles of dog when he’s fit to snap, eh?” he whispered to Holmes as we made our way back through the opium den. If I had not started to feel the shallow effects of the marijuana, I may have tackled him.
The walk was more leisurely as we made our way back to the campus. Holmes explained our adventures thus far and in turn relayed to me the relationship between the two strikingly similar gentlemen. Tristan had actually been an adversary of my friend in a case of theft some years back. Holmes had won out in the end, but not after he himself was nearly accused of the crimes by Scotland Yard. Tristan, discovering the famous Sherlock Holmes was on his trail, used his natural similarity to the man to his advantage and had proceeded to perpetrate several petty crimes in the guise of the famous detective. Once Holmes had sorted out the case, Scotland Yard dropped its case against my friend, but not before Holmes interceded on behalf of Tristan, succeeding in having his sentence commuted to community service as a tool against crime. Holmes paid him little, but apparently kept him in good supply of his drug of choice. When I questioned why I had never met the man before, Holmes explained how his look alike fit into to his methods.
“It is elementary. You have never met him, Watson, because I wish him only to be seen where I am not. Since you are often by my side on these cases, it is logical that you would never see the man,” he explained.
I accepted this explanation, but I did not accept the conduct of this jester we had picked up. His attitude towards me was as if I were a sideshow act to be ridiculed and chuckled at. If not for my friend Holmes’ need for the man, I would have promptly dispatched the poor fellow in the manner any former soldier would dispatch a pestering hoodlum such as he.
Suddenly it dawned on me what the course of action would be after we left Buchanan.
“Holmes!” I said, stopping on the sidewalk outside the laboratory. “I absolutely refuse to have this man accompany me back to London.”
“Me thinks the Watson dost protest too much,” came the retort from Tristan, and it was the last straw.
I lunged at the man with my fist cocked back, ready to deliver a punch that would lay out an ordinary man. I found out quickly that Holmes’ profile was not the only trait they shared. In a move so quick that I was unaware it had passed until I was on the ground, Tristan used my momentum against me, cast me over his shoulder and flat onto my back. I lay there dazed for a moment, attempting to reconstruct where my attack had gone wrong.
“Do get up, Watson, we have no time to dawdle.”
I had no idea which of them said it, but both stood over me with the same sly smirk on their faces.
When we returned to receive Buchanan’s verdict we found the laboratory in a state of violent disarray, even on fire in some areas. Buchanan himself was considerably singed and covered with soot.
“Rubidium!” the chemist exclaimed, his face a radiant presentation of triumph.
“Are you sure?” replied Holmes.
“Normally found in extracts of zinnwaldite and other ores, but rarely ever in this state!” Buchanan cheered. “I have never actually had it available to study here in the lab. It was only recently discovered, you know. The thirty-seventh element. It is felt that in a decade or so we may use it for any number of highly advanced medical and scientific experiments. Its properties are quite remarkable.”
“Remind me to apologize to you later, Watson,” Holmes said absently in my direction.
Tristan chuckled at this and I began to fume once again.
“Yes, yes, it’s a wonder the both of you were not blown to pieces on the way here – holding such a volatile substance in a glass vial without a protective oil to encase it. This can ignite merely with exposure to moisture,” Buchanan explained.
I was not amused.
“But the remaining question is how does this fit in with the series of events so far?” mused Holmes.
He began to pace, sidestepping the debris in his path.
“Now that we know it is Rubidium, I think we can rule out that it is the byproduct of a reaction. More likely this is excess from it being the catalyst in the reaction,” stated Buchanan.
“Could that mean that the man blew himself up?” I queried.
“That would not fit with Mitchell’s description of the event. I have full confidence that what he saw actually happened. The man simply vanished. Besides it would take a blast of excessive magnitude to completely vaporize a man, and such a blast would most likely have derailed the train.”
“This reminds me of the stories a friend of mine has written,” said Tristan. He had seated himself upon a writing desk and was twirling a test tube between his fingers. “Wells is his name. Future fiction they are calling it. More science than fiction, I say. His ideas aren’t too far from possibility.”
“Yes, I’m acquainted with him,” said Holmes. “However, I am not yet prepared to accept that there is anything but a simple solution to all of this.”
“Well, I am sorry I cannot help you further,” the chemist apologized. “Thank you though for the opportunity. I have saved a sample for further study. It will keep me busy for weeks.”
Holmes stopped pacing and moved to shake Buchanan’s hand in thanks.
“I cannot thank you enough for …” A reflection of light danced over Holmes face, and he suddenly turned his head towards the window. In a flash he was lunging at the chemist.
There was the sound of shattering glass and a second after Holmes hit the chemist with his full body, Buchanan’s head erupted in a fountain of blood.
Tristan and I both dropped to the ground below the level of the windows. Holmes was cursing himself as he examined the chemist’s wound.
There was silence for several moments before Tristan pushed himself to his feet and removed a revolver from a hidden holster under his coat. He peered out the window cautiously, using an unwindowed area of the wall for cover.
“There’s an open window across the courtyard. I don’t see anyone there,” he reported.
“No doubt he has done what he came to do,” spouted Holmes in fury.
I rushed over to Holmes and the chemist to see if there was anything I could do for the man, but Buchanan was already dead.
“Soft bullet,” Holmes explained, turning the skull side to side to show the small entry wound and the gaping bowl of an exit wound. “Maximum damage. Tristan, head over to that open window across the way and see what you can find. If you have the chance, send someone for the local authorities. Be careful, and try not to touch anything.”
Tristan nodded and left the laboratory, gun in hand.
“We have lost another good man to this damned scheme,” Holmes lamented. “I cannot help but blame myself. How in God’s name have I erred so much that death has seen fit to follow me in such a manner.”
Holmes sat up and sighed, running his hands over his long face, now pale and gaunt from overexertion. He chanced to turn his head slightly and in doing so he noticed something embedded in the high wooden examination table.
“What’s this then?”
He moved quickly to get a better look at it, then turned to face the shattered window. The object that had caught his attention was the bullet and its final resting place in the table, just below the thin granite top.
“The shooter could certainly have cleared the sill to hit the table at that angle,” I noticed.
“Indeed, Watson, but what does that say about the shooter’s aim?”
Holmes’ brow was furrowed as he stood. For several repetitions he walked back and forth from the window to the table, holding his hand at different angles to measure trajectory.
“Watson, stand here,” he said, pointing to approximately the point where Buchanan had been standing when Holmes had attempted to save him.
“Why would the assassin not aim at the point Buchanan’s head was while he was standing where you are? It’s readily apparent that I was not his target, and that in itself brings up a further line of questions. Why would our adversary not wish to kill me, thus taking me out of the equation? Either the man was a terrible shot and by some amazing coincidence happened to hit the mark as Buchanan fell …”
“Or the shooter knew that you were going to try and save him, and he aimed exactly where the chemist’s head was going to be at the exact moment he fired.”
The last voice was from Tristan who had returned with both the police and an ashen countenance.
“You need to come see this, Holmes.”
Holmes silently nodded and we both followed Tristan over to the building with the open window. The building was an annex of the library that acted as a holding area for books not officially entered in the library’s records. Literally thousands of books lined bookcase after bookcase. At the open window there was an apparatus which only slightly resembled a rifle. Its long barrel was thin but the butt end of the gun was heavy and square. A counter-balance hung from under the barrel to keep it from falling backwards on its stand. Holmes took great care to examine every detail of the scene.
“You two, please stand away from here, I don’t want this area disturbed.”
Tristan and I acquiesced and took up positions ten feet further away.
“This stand was preset so that the shooter only had to pull the trigger. The legs are kept steady by a strong adhesive on the stand’s feet. But why would the suspect leave such a telling scene? The adhesive, the weapons construction – it can all be traced in the end.”
Holmes peered down the barrel of the weapon which bore a remarkable telescopic sight.
“Just as I thought,” remarked Holmes. “He was aiming exactly where the bullet hit.”
Holmes then proceeded to examine the weapon itself. After a thorough examination, he depressed two buttons on its top, at which point a soft hissing sound began. The sound continued to grow in volume for several seconds before Holmes reached up and pulled the trigger. There was an audible and visible release of steam from the bottom of the butt of the weapon and a slight pop.
“A steam-powered rifle,” concluded Holmes. “There are pellets of a volatile substance in the rear section of the gun that are released into a water reservoir with water from another compartment by pressing these two buttons. After a sufficient build-up of pressure, the trigger releases the steam with enough velocity to propel the bullet at speeds high enough to kill a man.”
Tristan and I looked at each other, both only glimpsing the significance of the discovery in our minds.
“Two singular points are now clear, gentleman, and both point to one explanation,” Holmes stated while standing up straight. His face was grave but I detected the same twinkle in his eyes that accompanied a sudden break in the case.
“You were not too far off when you mentioned Wells, Tristan. Particularly, I recall his fantastic story about the Time Machine. I put it to you both that, firstly, this adversary knows my every move before it happens, and secondly we are dealing with forces beyond our capacity to imagine. I bring to your attention also the small amount of familiar residue approximately where the shooter would have been standing to fire the weapon. Rubidium again.”
I was dumbfounded at his statement. Always the rational man, Holmes never gave a moment’s thought to the fantastic, the magical, the impossible.
“Our adversary, gentleman, is not from our time.”
What does A.K. stand for anyway?
“Ass Kisser,” he says. Today we’re spending time in the recreation room. In this nursing home, there is no recreation but Jeopardy.
You don’t seem the type.
“I’m not, now shut up,” he says, waving me away.
“The answer is,” Alex says, “Based on a book by Terry Southern, this movie stars Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.”
“What is The Magic Christian?” Thorne bellows.
I went ahead and posted the first two parts of your Sherlock Holmes story.
“It’s not a Sherlock Holmes story.”
You could have fooled me.
“Don’t judge a story by the obvious presentation of the characters involved,” he says, waving me to be quiet again.
“Proceeding the jejunum and ileum,” Alex states, “it is the shortest part of the small intestine.”
“What is the duodenum?” Thorne barks.
You’re good at this.
“There’s a nursing home pot. Winner takes all.”
Well, it seems your knowledge might pay off.
“Knowledge? Hell, I recorded this a week ago. I tipped the orderly to play it through the VCR like it was live.”
You’re a sick man. So if its not about Sherlock Holmes, who is it about?
“I’ve been watching a lot of PBS lately. Old British shows.”
Adventure of the Prime Machine
3. A Web of Deceit
My friend began to exhibit the usual symptoms of keen interest in strange circumstances. His gait became noticeably different, stalking more than leisurely strolling. His eyes were afire with life, taking in every detail of every nook and cranny. His fingers twitched in purposeful patterns as if he were calculating important figures in his head.
The attendant who had been helpful to us so far escorted us back to the rear-most car where the lead engineer had been taken. A railway official had Mitchell seated in a folding chair at the end of the car on the ties, thus hiding him from any curious passengers. The lead engineer was given a glass of water and though his color was returning, he was still very agitated.
“I tell ye I saw a man standin’ there plain as day and then he just disappeared,” the man explained, presumably repeating the same story he had been conveying to his inquisitors.
“What was this man wearing?” asked Holmes as we walked up to the scene.
The official turned to face us, seeming rather upset at the interruption of his investigation.
“This is official business, sir,” he barked. “You should return to your cabin at once. We’ll be underway shortly.”
Our helpful friend stepped forward at this point and said, “This is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, sir, and his assistant, Dr. Watson.”
Whispers broke out among the other attendants, porters, and railmen at the scene. The official obviously recognized the name. His jaw jutted forward and his bottom lip pursed outward in annoyance.
“A freelance meddler, nothing more,” he said gruffly. “You show me some paperwork of authority from Scotland Yard and I will gladly turn over the investigation to you. Otherwise, you had best turn back towards the passenger cabins and wait until we are underway or I shall have you escorted back.”
Holmes stood his ground and removed a parcel of paper from his pocket with the official seal of Scotland Yard imprinted upon it. I glanced and saw that it had been signed by Inspector Lestrade. Holmes handed the document to the official whose eyes widened.
The official perused the text and quietly handed Holmes the document back.
“If you would be so kind as to give us some privacy, gentleman,” Holmes said to the crowd, “this is official business.”
The assorted rail workers turned and left the scene, but the official hesitated a moment, his face turning a thousand shades of red, before he stomped off in defeat.
“Where did you get that?” I asked my friend after we were alone with the engineer and our good attendant.
Holmes smirked and said, “Oh I keep several on hand for emergencies – some from the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Agriculture, all clever forgeries. Lestrade’s signature is one of the easiest to mimic as it resembles the scrawling of a five-year-old.”
Even Mitchell chuckled at this, and I doubled over with laughter, “You old rogue. You would find yourself in a great deal of trouble if someone were to find out.”
“Indeed, Watson. That is why I only use them in the most desperate situations.” He then turned to our engineer and gave him a gentle smile before proceeding to question him about the events.
The engineer was happy to answer our questions, no matter what direction they took. Mitchell had been riding the rails since he was sixteen, and had a keen interest in locomotives all his life. He had never touched a drop of alcohol his entire life and had no vices to speak of. He was unmarried and traveled extensively as his position allowed.
Holmes returned to his initial line of questioning in regards to the clothes the vanishing man had been wearing.
“He had a long dirty coat,” Mitchell replied. “His pants were thick material, leather maybe, and his boots had heavy thick soles.”
“Aye, they had to have been as they were thickly treaded like mountaineering boots. And the feller wore goggles that he had set up on his forehead, holding down the brightest yellow hair you ever seen.”
“You mean blonde?” interrupted Holmes.
“Nay, when I say yellow I mean yellow as a canary. That’s all I can tell ye. I didn’t have long to look afore I had to pull the brakes.”
“Now, in regards to that precise moment and the moments following, were you the only man in position to be looking out the forward glass?” questioned Holmes.
“Aye, I was. The others had tasks to attend to that wouldn’t allow a view of the rails in front. No matter what they say, I’m the only that could have seen him.”
“So you engaged the brakes. Did you look away to do so?”
“I did not. I know my engine blinded. I set my hands on the lever and never once did my eyes leave that face. I thought for sure that he was a goner.”
“And the man vanished, you say. Did he make any gesture before you saw him disappear?” continued Holmes.
“Yeah, he did, in fact. He brought his hand up to his chest just before he went ‘poof’”
“Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. You’ve been most helpful,” concluded Holmes.
“So you believe me then?” the engineer asked, looking hopeful.
“I’m sorry,” replied Holmes. “Given the description of the circumstances in addition to your history, I’d have to say the apparition was a result of stress and overwork. You should really look into a holiday.”
Dejectedly Mitchell let his chin fall to his chest.
Holmes turned to the attendant still with us and asked if it was true that there was telegraph station only two miles to the west. The attendant verified it was true and Holmes instructed him to have our bags rerouted from York station to Leeds, giving him enough money cover the expense plus a generous tip.
“Up for some exercise, Watson?” Holmes asked as he grabbed my arm and turned me towards the direction of the telegraph station.
I nodded and began to walk with him away from the train. After a few minutes of walking we heard the train whistle sound and the engine roar to life as the train continued its journey without us.
“Surely the man’s testimony coupled with the evidence we found on the track was enough to prove his story,” I voiced after being able to stand the silence no longer.
“Very good, Watson. He was indeed telling the truth. Subtle facial and body language confirmed that at least he believed he was telling the truth, and our investigation of the scene corroborates.” he replied.
“But why the deception?”
Holmes’ face was serious and we walked several meters before he spoke.
“Watson, we are dealing with powers I’ve not come in contact with before. On many occasions, as you may well remember, the facts presented in our cases lean towards a supernatural or otherworldly cause, though in the end we always are able to bring light to the simple truth behind them. Recall the cases of the Speckled Band and the curse of Baskervilles, both odd circumstances leaning towards weird phenomena, but both simply and scientifically explained – both simply evil plots of desperate yet clever men.
“This time, however, I cannot account for the situation. The strange clothing, the boot print, the residue on the tracks, the timely telegram, the case of the cows, and the murder of Inspector Bridges are all somehow connected and at the moment I am at a loss as to what the connecting strands are in this web of deceit laid about us.”
“You mention only the Bridges incident,” I said, “Do you believe the telegram was entirely a fake and that a second official from Scotland Yard was not murdered?”
“We shall know soon enough. Assuming the messenger from the train was not an accomplice to the scheme, we should be receiving a telegram from Lestrade upon our arrival at the telegraph office either confirming or denying the murder.”
We continued our walk and soon discovered that the distance to the telegraph office was more likely three miles instead of two. At Holmes’ determined and unbroken pace, I was slightly winded by the time we walked up the steps and into the offices of the telegrapher.
“Yes, sir. We’ve just received a communication for a Mr. Tobias,” the telegrapher said to us after Holmes’ had given him the false name. “I’ve not typed it up yet, but here’s the text if you can read my handwriting.”
He handed the hand-written message to Holmes which read as follows:
“Tobias – Sorry haven’t written. Two dogs have died and now a pup as well. My condolences, as pup is Bradley. Your rooms have been redecorated. Come home soon. – Margaret”
I raised my eyebrows at the unusual message, but looking at Holmes’ face I saw a deep grief that I had not witnessed before. He seemed on the verge of tears and quickly exited the building without a word. I followed him in confusion, but waited for him to speak. He began to pace rapidly only stopping to bash his fist into a lamppost outside the telegraph office.
“Blast it all, Watson!” he exclaimed, pounding the lamppost in time with the syllables of his outburst.
“A coded message from Lestrade?” I asked.
“Yes, and a most disturbing one. This case has suddenly become very personal. Not since the Moriarty business have I felt so set upon,” he said, still pacing up and down the sidewalk. “What to do, what to do?”
“What did Lestrade have to say?”
“He says he did not send the first telegram, but confirms that a total of two policemen have been murdered. And not only that, Watson, the fiend has struck out at an innocent. He has murdered one of the Baker Street Irregulars, poor Bradley … but a child …” Holmes was obviously overcome with emotion at this point, and halted his ceaseless pacing.
I stood silent and waited for him to compose himself.
After a minute, he stood up straight, the stoic presentation of resolution across his face.
“We shall take a coach to Leeds and visit my chemist acquaintance there to ascertain the properties of the residue we have collected. There we will break company, Watson. I will continue on to the Dales in disguise and see what I may learn there of this treacherous series of events. You will return to London and immediately track down my brother Mycroft. The message also says that Baker Street has been raided. If this criminal is set on hitting at me directly, he may go for my closest acquaintances, so Mycroft and Lestrade may both be in danger, not to mention yourself, Watson. You must arm yourself at all times and be prepared for anything.”
I nodded my understanding, feeling a wave of dreadful foreboding wash over me. Again and again in the past had I moments of fear and trepidation when heading towards a climax of action while assisting Holmes, but this particular time I began to wonder if this would be the one adventure we would not survive.
Holmes went back in and sent a telegram to both farmers, Davison and Baker, to say that he was unavoidably detained and could not offer his assistance in the strange case.
We hired a hansom for the trip to Leeds and Holmes drove us at breakneck speed down the winding roads. He spoke in a near frantic voice as he drove and I had not seen him so flustered in all my years with him.
“Magicians can cleverly use smoke and mirrors to produce illusions. I’ve even known the necessity to use such methods myself on occasion, but the event on the rails is quite honestly beyond me. Our only lead is that vial you carry in your pocket.”
“What do you make of the engineer’s description of the vanishing man?” I asked.
“I can make nothing of it, Watson, and therefore I will leave it alone. We have been breaking one of my primary rules. We must follow the path of least resistance from now on, no matter how outlandish an ending it leads us towards. Our adversary obviously knew of my trip to Yorkshire before we left, which means he must have somehow gleaned the information from Mycroft. The murder of Bridges was an obvious attempt to get me to remain in London, whether for some sinister plan at that location or to keep me away from some crime about to occur in Yorkshire.
“Discovering I had left London, our adversary masterminded the interruption with the train and the delivery of the false telegram. Since we don’t know the particulars of the two most recent murders, we cannot assume they are related, but it is most likely the same murderer after the same end result of me returning to London.
I tried to listen as much as I could, but my attention was diverted time and again to the road as we shot over bridges and through curves recklessly, once even turning the cart up on one wheel.
“Once we get to Leeds, I will send another coded message to Lestrade to make preparations for our return. You and I will be returning on horseback under cover of night.”
“But Holmes,” I interjected, gripping the seat cushion in fear of flying out of the hansom. “You said you were going to the Dales.”
“I am going to the Dales, Watson,” he replied. “But I am also returning to London. I shall explain once we reach the laboratory in Leeds.”
The scenery shot by us in a blur. Considering our diversion away from the train, our enemies could not know our current whereabouts or our next destination. That did nothing to alleviate the feeling that even as we flew across the countryside we were being watched.
Mr. Thorne’s bed is pushed up against the corner of his small room. The room has become even smaller recently after the addition of a new tenant – an elderly man from El Salvador named Fidel.
The area underneath Thorne’s bed is dark and thick with shadows. It’s in these shadows that I now lurk, seeking desperately to find his dentures.
“I’d do it myself, but you know how bad my back is.”
Did you know there are syringes under here?
Ignoring my question, he hops on the bed, more spryly than his phantom back pain might have allowed had it not been, indeed, phantom. The springs bash into my back and knock the breath out of me.
Why do you have a sword under here?
“I won it in a raffle.”
Well, there’s no dentures under here, Mr. Thorne.
Pulling myself out from the bed I notice my hands and shirt are black with filth.
“Well, no shit, dummy. They’re in my mouth.”
Then why was I digging around down there?
“Hell if I know.”
You deliberately did that to me.
Can we get on with it now?
“Oh, right,” he says, nodding. “The doctor is in.”
I just want to know if you’ve got any serials. I may have a market for them.
Well, how about something you could split up in a serial format.
“I can do that with just about anything,”
Not necessarily. For this opportunity, you would need to present something that could be perpetual. A continuing story that leaves every episode’s ending with loose threads that never get resolved. Something that would keep a reader waiting and longing for each new episode.
“Give me an example.”
Like Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Who.
“I don’t know who they are, but I’m sure I can figure it out.”
Well, if you can, we might have found a gig for you.
Adventure of the Prime Machine
1. Baker Street and Turmoil
In the multitude of years I have been chronicling the adventures of my friend, Sherlock Holmes, I have taken great pains to present a fair and balanced portrayal of the events surrounding the cases he has sought out or found himself a part of. Many of these adventures I relate from personal experience, though a few I translate to written word from the singular description of Holmes himself.
Often throughout my life, and growing less so now as I reach a doddering old age of forgetfulness, I suddenly remember a case we had shared involvement in that I had forgotten for a great many years only to have every detail flood back with a connecting familiar scent, or locale. Such sudden remembrances have fueled my writing for years after I felt I had written all there was to be written about my friend.
Now though, unlike the smiles that accompany the fond memories of our adventures, my mood is dark as an unlit alley and my face is a portrait of fear and distaste for the past suddenly dredged up from a foul, murky lake bottom where I had hoped it would stay for eternity.
I cannot recall at what point I tied rocks to this memory and cast it away in disgust and loathing, nor how long ago the incident truly occurred. Only just now did the first shimmering glimpses of the case suddenly spring back into my mind’s eye, and I feel it necessary to relate them as they come, in fear that they may be lost forever as I, in my old age, grow ever nearer the long kiss of eternal sleep. Holmes has been lost to us for several years now, and it is for him and his memory that I trek back through this darkest adventure … towards whatever terrors may come.
My wife had only just passed on and the time was shortly after I gave in to Holmes’ demands and moved back in to share with him the dwelling on Baker Street. I found myself in a haze of depression that was unrelenting and my practice had begun to suffer until, through intervention by Holmes himself, I sold it. Holmes was my only friend during that time, save my personal psychiatrist who I saw on a regular basis to alleviate some of the fear, guilt, and loss I felt daily. On this particular day, being the first day that I can remember of the affair, I entered the door to our shared rooms and found him sprawled out lazily across an old ratty chair and footstool with his fingers steepled, and his eyes shut while he drew heavily on his pipe.
It was mid-morning and though the shades were drawn, the fire had on a good blaze and lit the room in bursts of orange and yellow. For a moment, it appeared that the room was in a terrible state of disarray – more so than usual – but I soon put to right the true situation of the room. In the middle, lying tipped over and somewhat smashed, was a brand new reclining chair. A moment’s thought brought the chair’s origin to mind. It had been a gift to Holmes after he had solved a difficult case of forged identities and false claims to birthrights in a small hamlet in Northern Scotland. The man who had hired Holmes had been a keen engineer, as most Scotsmen tend to be it seems, and had built the chair with an automatic lever system that both reclined the back of the chair and extended the equivalent of a small foot stool from the chair’s front. It really was quite ingenious; however, Holmes, being eccentric as he is about his furniture and his space in general, had obviously given the recliner a try, found it lacking it whatever traits he felt necessary for a recliner to have, and promptly tipped it over and begin destroying it for firewood. I deduced this more by obvious association of a wooden leg in the fire matching one still attached to the chair than by anything bearing resemblance to Holmes genius of deduction and observation.
As I sat putting together the state of the room, my friend had obviously allowed one eye to open and in a few seconds gathered enough facts to detail my entire week so far.
“You’ve been drinking at the public house again, Watson,” he spoke to me with eyes closed again. “And not only that, you’ve tried to hide it from me.”
“Holmes,” I began but could not continue as he interjected.
“You spent last night sleeping outside Jeffrey Tobin’s out of shame, and decided at some point very early this morning to come to Baker Street through the alleys, hoping to avoid the notice of my young spies.”
I stood stunned.
“You should really get that hand looked at by a doctor other than yourself,” he continued. “It was the Rottweiler, was it not?”
I pulled my left hand from behind my back and stared silently at the bandages Holmes had no way of having been able to see.
My friend’s eyes were then upon me, but the lids were still heavy over them in that way they often were when Holmes was still going over the scene presented in his head. I sat down heavily in the remaining unbroken chair in the room and heaved a sigh of surrender.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“You really are quite off the game, Watson. Years ago you’d have been keen as a dog on hares to my methods in this singular case.” He rose suddenly and glided over to where I sat, looking down his stately nose at me.
“You only drink ale at the public house, but you drink in excess. And there you also smoke the poor tobacco offered you by Henry Juddholm. You’ve attempted to hide this by dipping your fingers in brandy and running them down your lapels to hide the stale smell of ale. This I noticed as the firelight gave away the streaks with a subtle shine and discoloration from the normal color of your coat. You have also gone out of your way to tip ashes from an expensive cigar onto your lap and midriff, but you failed to address the most telling part of your wardrobe. The bottom of your pants show stains where you’ve leaned too close to one of the public house’s leaking kegs, and additionally the ash from one of Juddholm’s atrocious cigarettes still lies lodged in a lace hole of your left shoe.”
I put my head in my hands, guiltily awaiting the rest of his sentence.
“There is a white mixture of dirt and mortar on the heel of your left shoe, a mortar made by only one who specializes in the restoration of historic districts who uses that particular blend to more closely resemble the aged mortar used in older surrounding buildings. The only such restoration project I know of between here and your usual haunts connects directly to our back alley through the series of dark corridors interwoven throughout the neighborhood.”
He began to pace, pausing intermittently to pick up various sheets of paper and artifacts only to gaze at the momentarily and then return them to their place.
“You often stand with one hand behind your back when hiding something, whether gun or warrant; but never your left hand. I therefore surmised that the object meant to be hidden had something to do with the hand being hidden itself. Having deduced your course through the alleys to us this morning and your likely time of intersection with the Uxbridge’s garden, I surmised that either one of the two Uxbridge dogs gave you a nasty bite as you squeezed through the narrow passage between the garden and the Smith house. Seeing as how the terrier sees you on a regular basis at the Danvers with his master, it could only have been the Rottweiler.”
“And Tobin’s place?” I queried painfully, but still in awe of his intellectual prowess.
“You have the distinct impression of burlap on the left side of your face. Which means since today is Wednesday, Jeffrey, as usual, had his rags out for collection in his usual burlap sack and set upon the very bench you used as a bed.”
“I can’t hide anything from you, Holmes,” I lamented.
“On the contrary, Watson,” he spoke in retort, “I am at a loss as to why, being so inebriated as you must have been last night, you have come at this hour to my doorstep.”
I sat bolt upright with a start. I had forgotten the reason I had come until just that moment. Quickly, I pulled out the morning’s paper from my coat and handed it to Holmes opened to the front page where a spectacular story was taking up most of the space.
Holmes’ eyes darted back and forth over the words I had read in shock earlier that morning. In the earliest hours after previous nightfall, while investigating a disturbance near one of London’s handful of opium dens, an Inspector Bridges, who was well known to both Holmes and I, had been brutally murdered and dismembered in a manner so foul that the entire area had to be evacuated not only to keep innocent eyes from seeing such a horrible sight, but to keep the bodily evidence intact over the fifty or so yards it was spread. Scotland Yard was bustling like an anthill that had been kicked by a wrathful child.
Holmes, much to my disappointment, merely scoffed and handed the paper back to me.
“Have you ever heard of such a thing?” I expelled. “What dastardly manner of criminal would have the nerve to do such a thing? There must have been a dozen people loitering around that area. Serial killers there have been who were less brazen than that.”
“A simple murder. An obvious location. No case of interest to me, though my heart goes out to his family. Scotland Yard has lost a good man,” Holmes said, sitting back down in his chair.
I stood slightly shocked at his bland reaction to the crime; but his manners, as I have said were eccentric. Many times he would pass up case after case of murder, espionage, rape, ransom, royal theft, and worse for a simple case of fraud.
“I realize, Watson, that you hope that I shall get involved in so spectacular a case,” he said as he stared into the fire. “Scotland Yard, however, is not at my door asking for my assistance. And as the case, so far, is singularly uninteresting save the method of murder, I was hoping you would assist me on another matter in the Yorkshire Dales.”
My eyes lightened at this news, “A better case then?”
“A simple case of fraud,” he said with a slight smirk. “We shall set off this afternoon, if you are willing.”
“I need a respite,” I responded. “I shall return refreshed at noon.”
Holmes absently waved his approval and I showed myself out. It was truly a highlight to the darkness I had found myself drowning in of late, but I had no idea the depths of darkness I was about to stumble into.
So back to the vampires.
Thorne is soaking his feet in a foul-smelling concoction of cabbage water, cheap vodka, and orange fizzies.
“What do you want to know about vampires?” he asks.
You left that story open-ended. Did you ever write anymore?
“Maybe. What does it matter to you?”
Look, I’m still trying to help you out here. I need more material if I’m going to have success getting your remaining works published. You haven’t been exactly drowning me with your written word here.
“Maybe I have a damned good reason not to,” he barks. “Writers get bit and they get shy. Some grease-slick bastard with an MBA turns up his nose to your masterpiece and you pull back into your shell like a snail who has run too close to salt before.”
He’s agitated and the tub spits water over its rim as his feet twitch.
“You’ve not proven your character to me yet. You come in here and waste my time, trying to pull profit out of my work, promising me that I’ll get the recognition I deserve, and what have I to show for it?”
The satisfaction of intelligent conversation?
“Screw your conversation. If I want conversation, I’ll roll my happy ass down to the cafeteria and talk torture and freemasonry with a Korean War vet.”
You can’t expect to just suddenly be a successful author. You’ve got to work at it. There’s a certain amount of sacrifice required. You have to walk the gauntlet just like everyone else.
“That’s bullshit! You know it!” he accuses. A slowly expanding pool of fizzy stench encroaches upon my Skechers. “That secret club mentality is a bunch of crap. Why do you think nothing good gets published anymore? There are no original voices out there. And worse yet, there are no original readers. People these days read what they’re told to read. They pull hardbacks off of ‘recommended reading’ shelves and ‘Best Seller’ tables, and how do you get there? You run the gauntlet – the right of passage that is deemed necessary by those that have run it. It’s just like with anything else, college degrees, the film industry, art, music – if you didn’t follow the same initiation process of bending over to have your creativity raped out of you by a cadre of greedy, self-important despots who skated by just by following the formula, then you live your life in a pool of your own rejected filth. It’s turtles all the way down.”
Whoa. You’re getting all riled up. I just wanted to know if the story continued or not.
“Of course it does, I’m a god damned writer, you dumb shit. I don’t write chapters, I create universes. Ad infinitum.”
There are still some readers out there that crave continuity. They want the serial epic. You can keep a reader attached as long as you keep the string going.
“Turtles all the way down!”
Thorne dumps another handful of Fizzies in the cloudy water.
Does that really help?
Thorne shrugs. “I don’t know. I thought I’d give you something to write about.”
Trust me, you’ve given me plenty to write about.
He nods knowingly. “Right, the vomit and feces and urine pooled in my bed. The prostitutes and abuse of nurses and my theft of other residents medication. You think that’s all just my sick and twisted mind, caught in some tragic loop of obliviousness, where I’m so far gone I don’t realize that I’m running counter-clockwise to the rest of my environment.”
I’d like to post the rest of your Wynter piece, if you’ll share it with me.
“You are being written by me,” he says, pointing a bony finger at me. “You play around with your little blog and your magazine submissions, but what you don’t realize is that I brought you here. You’ve been guided to me from the beginning. Two minutes out of the vagina and you were already headed right here.”
Thorne flicks a wrinkled foot at me, showering me with cabbage-smelling foulness.
“A real writer is not just putting his story to paper – he’s weaving the tapestry of the universe outside the printed word. A writer is a catalyst and a chaotic attractor. He doesn’t just write. He creates gravity at the end of bars. He is the blackhole in the corner of a coffee shop. His clever scarf siphons off the will to resist him from those that surround him on the train.”
Wiping the liquid from my face, I realize something. I don’t remember exactly how I met this man.
“I wrote you,” he says.
Did you take your meds this morning?
“Turtles all the way down.”
–Episode Two: Daddy Issues–
The markets were beginning to hum with the mid-morning rush. Between the barking of stall vendors, one would occasionally hear the bleats of livestock or the sounds of the kitchen from the many food tents littering the Grand Market. Huge beasts of burden cried out from the strain of their heavy loads as they entered the gates in long caravans. Among these caravans, a dusty-robed man pulled a younger boy behind him impatiently.
The man had a heavy growth of beard that set him apart from the other patrons and vendors of the Grand Market. In the Galselka province, which was home to the vast walled structure housing the markets, it was the fashion for men to be clean shaven, but occasionally members of the northern tribes would venture southward to buy or sell goods. Most of the people in the Grand Market that paid the bearded man and his companion any mind at all marked them as travelers from the north.
Two persons that had been monitoring the gates knew better.
As the bearded man tugged on the younger male and broke away from the line of carts rolling in through the gates, the two persons that had been waiting for their arrival left their positions and began to follow them.
The larger of the two men was named Telonn. His dark brown skin and heavy sand-colored robes allowed him to appear as one of the Jelihean mercenaries often hired as guards by the Galselkan merchant princes who ran the Grand Market. He took a position even with the bearded man but along a parallel row of stalls. His eyes never left his target as they passed through crowds of bickering vendors and potential buyers. Telonn pressed the middle finger of his right hand against one of the two sensors embedded in his palm and spoke in a calm voice, “Positive match in Galselka. The boy is with him.”
Through the implant in his ear, he was given further instructions from his superiors and continued to shadow the bearded man.
Telonn’s associate was named Gast. While Telonn tailed his target through the market center, Gast quickly navigated around the perimeter of the Grand Market, hugging the enclosing walls and sometimes cutting through stalls of angry vendors. Both Telonn and Gast knew where the bearded man was headed, but it was Gast’s intention to reach the destination first and get himself in position.
Gast was much younger and less experienced than Telonn in these situations. Where the large, dark-skinned Telonn was calm and collected, the wiry, blond youth known as Gast was bordering on over-stimulation. His muscles twitched faster than he needed them to even in his haste and clumsiness began to affect his progress. He heard Telonn’s report to their superiors and after the response to it, Gast accelerated his progress, pushing people aside to get into position faster.
The bearded man continuously had to drag the youth along though the crowds and intermittently scanned his surroundings with nervous jerks of his head. He did not notice Telonn shadowing him. The youth that accompanied the man was a teenager, only fourteen years old by the standard measurements of his home planet. He appeared lethargic and unaware of his surroundings, letting the older man push and pull him through the crowd without protest.
All four persons were closing in on the center of the Grand Market where the largest tent was located. The center of the Grand Market was once a temple to the Galselkan god of wealth before invading warlords destroyed the city surrounding it and brought with them their own pagan gods. The temple was allowed to remain, but was converted into a temple for the worship of Hasmina, the goddess of creation. Hasmina’s disciples were prostitutes, but the priestesses were biological mutations. They acted as vessels of immortality to those wealthy enough to pay for it.
One of the peculiarities of the planet Kulyo, on which the Galselkan province and the Grand Market were located, was the presence of certain females whose reproductive systems did not combine the genetic material of the the mother with the father to create a new original lifeform, but rather copied only the father’s material and created an exact clone of the impregnating male. All that male’s memories transferred over to the clone, therefore making the clone an exact copy of the father – only in egg form. Over thousands of years, the Galselkan merchant princes, descendants of the warlords who originally brought the worship of Hasmina to the region, perfected the process of harvesting the fertilized eggs from the females and incubating them until the time they wished the clone to be awakened. These clones, once hatched, were immortal – or at least aged at a rate somewhere near a thousand times slower than normal. Thus, those who had the means could effectively make themselves immortal. Beyond the inability of a clone to perish of natural causes, they were also equipped with advanced healing properties that rendered them nearly invincible, with some exception. Females, due to the obvious biological impossibilities, could never be cloned.
Due to the ramifications of such a mutation and its effects, strict laws were put in place and the process was closely monitored by the merchant princes and the heads of all the tribes of Kulyo. Any female exhibiting these biological anomalies was immediately transported to Galselka to become priestesses of Hasmina, or was executed – usually at the discretion of the authority first informed.
Rogue females with this quality were not uncommon, and with their existence came organizations that used the females to clone armies and otherwise wreak havoc on the population balance. However, the technology to harvest the eggs and leave the priestess alive was extremely expensive and unattainable by just anyone. Therefore, it was the case that most often only the merchant princes themselves could afford the price to sleep with a priestess and then have the extraction procedure performed. Again, there were some exceptions.
The giant tent built over the remains of the original temple of Hasmina was two miles in diameter and dark red like blood. Giant chains held the tent’s supports taut – their individual links the size of elephants. The supports towered high into the air and were embedded deep in the ground twice as deep as the height of the supports. The tent itself was made of thick Ulfwer hide, nearly indestructible but flexible to bend against the onslaught of the highest winds. Travelers could see the tent for miles in the desert surrounding the Grand Market. It was estimated that over five million Ulfwers were slaughtered to provide the hides for the tent. The huge beasts that once roamed the desert of Galselka were now rare and sporadically hunted when the need to expand the tent exceeded the merchant princes sense of conservation of the species.
Though the priestesses of Hasmina were the main attraction for the wealthy, the tent also housed the largest collection of prostitutes on the entire planet. Travelers came from all over the vast planet for the services of these men and women. As such, this particular tent represented the largest amount of cash flow in the entire market.
The bearded man and his companion approached the giant tent that towered over them and entered among a throng of people. Telonn quickly cut through a stall and as he entered after them, he nodded to Gast who had caught up and was entering a separate side entrance.
After half an hour of searching, Telonn and Gast met up near the remains of the temple where the priestesses were held.
“I think he went inside,” Gast said. “I didn’t see him or the kid anywhere.”
“Then we’d best be ready,” Telonn responded and pulled his blaster from under his heavy robes. “You will wait until my signal, Gast. If you can get the boy away, I’ll take the shot.”
“If not,” Gast asked, pulling his own blaster out.
“Both expendable,” came Telonn’s grim reply.
Gast took a step towards the entrance, but Telonn put a hand on his shoulder. “Do not signal for the jump unless you are absolutely sure you have the boy within your jump perimeter.”
Gast nodded his understanding and both men entered the temple with their weapons ready.
The temple was arranged in concentric circles. Splitting up, Gast and Telonn proceeded towards the innermost chamber from different angles. The halls of the temple were silent and both men took that as a bad sign. The sound of words spoken in anger echoed through the vented ceiling and grew louder as they approached the center.
Telonn reached one of the doors to the inner chamber and crept up to it, his blaster leveled. The door was ajar and he listened a moment before pressing himself against the wall beside it. He could hear a number of women whimpering and the voice of a man ordering them to stay quiet.
Carefully, Telonn peered around the doorway. The bearded man had a large plasma rifle leveled at a man wearing the silken robes and vestments of a high-ranking merchant prince. Several priestesses were cowering in a corner watching the two men. The boy stood to the side of the bearded man and looked around lazily.
Telonn cursed to himself. He tapped his palm twice to change the frequency of his communicator to match Gast’s. “He’s got a plasma gun.”
Telonn heard Gast curse through the implant in his ear. The situation was going to become more difficult than their superiors had been lead to believe.
“You’ll do as I say, or I’ll kill all of them!” the bearded man shouted at the merchant prince.
“And how, pray tell, will you manage to join impregnate a priestess without dropping that weapon?” the merchant prince asked him confidently.
“It’s not for me, it’s for my …” the bearded man hesitated for a moment, “for my son.”
“Neither of you will make it out of here alive with the egg,” the merchant prince retorted. “Even if you manage to hole up here long enough for the process to take place.”
“I have a way to leave, don’t worry,” the bearded man explained. “That blonde one there,” he said pointing to the closest priestess to him. “Move!”
The priestess began to weep and with impatience, the bearded man crossed over to her, rifle still leveled at the merchant prince, and grabbed her roughly by the arm. Dragging her behind him, he set her in front of his young son.
“Do it, now,” the bearded man barked at them.
“Here?” the priestess asked.
With a burst of bright light the rifle incinerated the priestess and was quickly aimed back at the merchant prince, who was now visibly shaking.
“You!” the bearded man barked at the next priestess, this one auburn-haired and athletic. “You do it! Now!”
As the priestess slowly walked over to the boy, she removed her top and began slipping out of the rest of her clothes. The boy was staring calmly at the pile of ashes that once was the blonde priestess.
Telonn pulled his gaze away from the priestess long enough to see Gast foolishly opening a door across the chamber. Before he could warn Gast, the bearded man saw the movement. The door exploded outward into the hallway where Gast had been laying in wait. The force of the blast from the bearded man’s rifle threw Gast against the opposite wall and dislocated his shoulder.
Telonn moved in.
“Put your weapon down!” he yelled, firing two shots just shy of the bearded man’s head. One shot was close enough to singe a few beard hairs and the man hesitated before grabbing the merchant prince and making him a human shield, pressing the barrel of the rifle against the back of his skull.
“You put the weapon down!” the bearded man challenged. “Or I’ll murder one of your merchant princes!”
Had Telonn actually been from that planet, the threat might have worked. Telonn, however, was not even from that universe.
“Temporal Defense Initiative!” Telonn shouted, following regulations. “You have been witnessed breaking the multiversal regulations regarding the travel of individuals through universal portals. You will hand over any jump devices, weapons, or any other technology not from this universe immediately and submit yourself into our custody.”
The bearded man was visibly shaken, but the plasma rifle did not move.
Telonn noticed that beyond the man’s sight, Gast was moving in through the blasted door. He had a clear path to the boy and the bearded man would probably give up if Gast could just get there. Assuming the bearded man’s intentions, Telonn surmised he would not risk any injury to the young one.
“I’ll tell you again,” Telonn said, in a calmer tone this time. “I am an agent of the Temporal Defense Initiative. We know you have traveled here without the proper sanctioning from any of the recognized universes currently authorized to use multiversal travel. You are in violation of multiversal regulations regarding the travel of individuals between universes. Place your weapon on the ground and surrender any technology you may have in your possession not from this universe.”
“I’ve done nothing wrong!” the bearded man yelled. “I had the means! I deserved this!”
Gast was inching closer to the the boy’s position. The priestess had stopped disrobing and stood stupidly in between the approaching agent and the boy.
“Last chance!” Telonn shouted. Gast recognized the signal and sprinted for the boy. Without missing a step, he hit the priestess in the back and sent her flying. As soon as Gast had his hands on the boy, Telonn fired at the bearded man’s shoulder. The impact spun the man around and the plasma rifle flew away from him. Quickly, Telonn closed the distance and tackled the bearded man. In seconds he had him secure and began binding him.
“You got the boy?” Telonn asked without looking up from his work.
“I got him,” Gast replied.
“Check identification then jump out,” Telonn ordered.
Gast pulled a small black rectangular device from his robes and held it in front of the boy’s eyes. There was a rectangle of light across the boy’s face and Gast read the data on the small screen. Telonn did likewise with his captive.
“Arthur Durin,” Gast reported.
“Arthur Durin,” Telonn said to the bearded man, after confirming his device read the same. “Let me guess, you decided you would cross over to a parallel universe, pick up a younger version of yourself without all the undoubtedly boring experiences you’ve accrued over your miserable existence, and thought you’d bring him here to impregnate a Hasmina priestess so you could, in a way, live forever. Believe me this isn’t the first -” Telonn’s eyes went wide as he noticed the boy pulling away from Gast just as the telltale sparks began to burst around them.
After a flash of energy, all that was left was the boy’s right arm, severed just below the elbow.
The bearded man screamed in agony and Telonn watched as the man’s own right arm mutated slowly and grotesquely into a metal prosthetic arm from the inside out.
Gast blinked his eyes blearily and tried to focus on the room. To his left, printed in red on the wall, was the insignia of his starship, the Galactic Cruiser Yazoshea.
“You’re lucky,” said the nurse to his right taking his vitals. Gast winced as she prodded his shoulder, which he noticed had been reset in its socket. There were a thousand other nurses just like her, on a thousand other ships operated by the Temporal Defense Initiative, checking vitals on other Versejumpers across the multiverse.
“Why is that?” Gast managed to ask from his position on the cot in the ship’s recovery room.
“You jumped back with a boy missing an arm and gushing blood all over the place. They’re still cleaning up the mess. That would be the brig for you any other day.”
“Shit …” Gast exclaimed. “What’s different about today?”
The nurse packed up her monitors and prepared to leave, satisfied with his condition.
“We just got a distress call from the Jiang Shi,” she explained. “And you are on Search and Rescue now, big shot.”
With a smirk she left him there. Gast looked over on another cot and saw Telonn still unconscious but apparently unharmed. Gast smiled to himself. He liked his partner and was glad they’d be able to work together again. So many of his other partners and team members had been lost in botched missions. Telonn was a good companion and mentor. Gast only hoped now that his bungle with the boy wouldn’t cost that friendship he had been building for the past three months.
Sirens began to wail and red lights flashed from the ceiling. With a lurch the ship jumped to another universe to investigate the distress call and assess the Jiang Shi‘s situation.