the papers of John Watson, M.D.; transcribed)
On glancing over my notes of the scores of
cases in which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes has been involved, I find many
that were out of the common run of things. Some few might even be described as
bordering on the fantastic. If, however, I were pressed to name the one case
which presented the most singular features, I would after the briefest
consideration choose the adventure of the Captive Sleuths.
The events in question
occurred in November of the year '97. They began tamely enough, but before they
were concluded Holmes and I had made odder acquaintances, and travelled farther
from home, than we had ever done before, or might reasonably expect to do in
It was late on a dark, foggy
November afternoon that I stood looking out into Baker Street, on the alert for
Holmes's return. I glanced at my watch -- not for the first time that hour --
and wished that he would soon conclude his business and come home, since I was
eager to have my tea. At this moment Mrs. Hudson tapped at the sitting room
door and entered. "Two visitors for you, sir. A young lady and a
"Clients for Holmes, no
doubt. Very well, Mrs. Hudson. Show them up: I will entertain them until he
When the two visitors were
seated by the fire, I apologized for Holmes's tardiness.
"Quite all right,"
said the gentleman agreeably. "We were not expected. As a matter of fact,
we weren't really hoping to find Mr. Holmes in. It was you we came to see, Dr.
"Then pray tell me how I
may be of service," I replied, surprised but not at all displeased at the
chance to act as substitute for the eminent detective. Here was a rare opportunity
for me to demonstrate my own abilities as a sleuth, which I venture to say are
"First, let me introduce
my adopted daughter, Fayette Calonne. I prefer to be known simply as the
I nodded, intrigued but not
unduly so. This discretion on my visitor's part was not uncommon among Holmes's
clients, among whom have numbered some of the noblest personages in the land.
The Doctor was a man
somewhere in his thirties, tall, lean and dark-haired, with clear-cut features.
Indeed, he bore a slight resemblance to my noted associate, a likeness that was
intensified by his faint air of benign remoteness and the incisive glance of
clear grey eyes. He was dressed in dark clothes of an unusual but subdued cut.
From this I deduced -- I was attempting to duplicate Holmes's methods -- that
the Doctor was a visitor from overseas, possibly from one of the Dominions. Try
as I might, though, I utterly failed to place his accent.
Far more striking, to my eye,
was the appearance of Miss Calonne. She was of the tall, graceful and spirited
type which I most admire. Like her father she was dark, and like him her dress
suggested the eccentric, consisting of a simple, almost antique white gown
beneath a flowing cloak. I surmised that she was no native to bustling, grimy
London, an impression born out by her unaffected manners and look of glowing
health. I would have guessed that she had been raised in some remote outpost of
civilization, but that her confident and polished bearing was that of the
well-travelled cosmopolitan lady, not the provincial Miss.
"I am one of your
admirers, Dr. Watson," she said with a pretty smile, after I had greeted
her. "I have read, I think, every one of Mr. Holmes's cases, as recorded
by you." I noted that her English, though excellent, still bore the
imprint of her French heritage. The effect was charming.
"Surely you mean you are
an admirer of Holmes," I returned: for such is generally the truth.
"Not at all. Where would
Holmes be without his Watson? I am surprised, though, to find you seem such a
young man. I had thought you were older."
"You are not alone, Miss
Calonne. Strangers often expect me to be an old duffer. I suppose it is a
natural assumption, since all they know of me is that I am a retired army
surgeon. But in fact I retired due to wounds at age 32 and I'm now barely in my
mid-forties. And now," I added, "how may I be of service?"
A silence fell upon us. The
Doctor hemmed once or twice, apparently at a loss for words. This matter which
he wished to broach must, I thought, be an exceedingly delicate one. As he
paused, Miss Calonne broke in brightly. "We have lost -- "
"We fear," the
Doctor smoothly cut her off. "That is, we're afraid we have been the cause
of Mr. Holmes becoming lost."
"Lost? Holmes?" I
gazed at them in astonishment. I could hardly imagine Holmes becoming lost in
any corner of the globe, much less his own well-trodden and thoroughly familiar
London. Then another possible meaning of the word "lost" occurred to
me and I felt myself growing pale. "You do not mean he is dead!"
"Mais non!" the
"At least, not so far as
we know," the Doctor added.
"Not so far as you
know?" I gazed from one face to the other, unable to disguise my
bewilderment and dismay. "I beg you, tell me what you mean!"
"I see," the Doctor
said, "that I'd better begin at the beginning."
"Please do so without
"It happened while
Fayette and I were in conversation with Mr. Holmes on the Strand. You see,
we're on a flying visit to dear old London, 1897 - " (This I thought at
the time merely an odd turn of phrase. I was soon to discover how odd.) "
- and I happened to recognize the famous detective. He was kind enough to let
us make his acquaintance and spare us a few minutes of his time. It was while we
were discussing the recent case known as the Reigate Puzzle, that Mr. Holmes
was -- er -- abducted."
At this I sprang up and went
to the table where I kept my old army revolver in a drawer. "You must take
me to the place. Surely they can't have gone far!" As I snatched up the
revolver I was mentally scanning a list of possible assailants. "Professor
Moriarty and Colonel Moran are both long gone, but London swarms with villains
who harbour a vengeful resentment against Holmes."
"Better put the gun
back, Watson. I doubt it'll be much use. I don't think the abductor was a local
man. Certainly he wasn't native to this time..." The Doctor delivered this
last sentence in a musing tone, as if to himself. It was a strange thing to
say, indeed almost nonsensical, and I began to think this visitor very fishy
"Well, then!" He
suddenly rose energetically from his chair. "It's time for action. No,
Watson, you needn't disturb yourself. Fayette and I will handle the
"But surely -- "
"No, the obligation is mine.
I feel that since I failed to prevent the abduction, I ought to put things
right. Besides," he added with a peculiar smile, "I'm probably the
only man in London -- at the moment -- who can do it."
He would not explain himself
further. "At least," said I, "you might tell me what you propose
"We will track him,
using a very special hound. All we need is some of his DNA."
This term was so much Greek
to me. "What do you mean?"
But the Doctor was roving
about the room, and appeared not to have heard me. Suddenly he cried,
"Aha!" and, pouncing on the pipe-rack, abstracted Holmes's favourite
cherrywood pipe. "The very thing!"
Miss Calonne had risen from
her chair to join him. "But, Papa! A pipe is wood, not DNA."
"Yes, but Holmes often
used this pipe, and all we need from him is a molecule or two."
It occurred to me then to
wonder how the Doctor, certainly a stranger to this household, knew so much
about Holmes's domestic habits. Cautiously, I only observed that this hound of
his must have a very keen nose.
does." His eyes twinkled as he glanced at me, though whether in amusement,
malice or benevolence I could not say. "Take it easy, Watson. We'll have
him home in no time, if not sooner. Tell Mrs. Hudson she can start setting out
the tea things!"
My visitors then took their
departure so briskly that I knew I had been purposely shaken off. I had to
wonder now if these two were enemies rather than allies, and whether all their
talk of rescuing Sherlock Holmes had been a sham. What purpose such a
fabrication might serve, I could not begin to guess; but there was a mysterious
air about the Doctor which made me look upon him with suspicion. I found it
more difficult, though, to cast the delightful Miss Calonne in the role of
Of course I had no intention
of kicking my heels by the fire till my visitors returned. I waited a few
minutes, long enough to give them a short lead. Then I pocketed my revolver,
ran down the stairs and emerged into the foggy dusk, in time to see the oddly
garbed pair turn the corner of Baker Street.
They kept up a brisk but not
hectic pace, and gave no sign that they were aware of any pursuit. A moist and
murky night drew in as I followed. Presently I found myself in a seedy district
of immense, looming, unlit warehouses, interspersed with gin-shops of the
vilest sort, like scabs upon a filthy body. By this time I was certain they
were far from the respectable citizens they pretended to be, since I could
think of no good reason for a gentleman to bring a young lady to such a
neighbourhood as this.
By the light of a guttering
gas lamp, I watched them turn into a narrow lane. A moment later I had gained
that same corner and peered around it. The lamplight was yellow and fitful, and
at first I saw nothing but brick walls shining black with soot and drizzle.
Then, as my sight penetrated to the rear of this blind alley, I spotted my
quarry, splashing through puddles across the uneven cobbles.
Against the rear wall stood a
tall blue closet-like affair which was like nothing I had seen before, though
it bore some resemblance to the old type of London watch box, as well as to the
new police boxes which had recently been introduced from America. Staring in
amazement, I saw them pass, the lady first, through the door of this remarkable
Why a police box -- if that
indeed was what it was -- should be standing at the end of this dismal alley,
was a mystery. At the moment I had no time to spare for speculation. However,
an idea did spring to my mind, suggested by Holmes's accounts of his forays
into London's criminal underworld. I guessed that the anomalous blue box was a
false front, a disguised entry to some secret warren, and that the Doctor and
his adopted daughter were members of an organization devoted to crime.
Swiftly I reached the spot,
pulled open the door and slipped inside.
It was as I suspected. After
one or two turns I found myself in a large, irregularly shaped chamber which
must have been fashioned out of the bowels of the warehouse behind the box.
Some of its furnishings were ordinary enough: a leather-covered wing chair, a
hat stand draped with hats and coats, and a sofa upholstered in shabby brown
brocade. Piles of books, papers and other unidentifiable objects lurked in the
But there the commonplace
ended and the extraordinary began. The walls of this immense room were pale and
glowing, and formed of hundreds of sunken discs. Pieces of complex machinery
stood about, the purpose of which I could not begin to guess. The most striking
piece occupied the centre of the room. It was an hexagonal-shaped structure
which flashed and twinkled with small lights and the movement of glass and
metal dials, evidently a marvel of modern science put to the most nefarious
My surroundings mystified me,
but they told me one thing with certainty: that I had stumbled on no ordinary
thieves' den. Rather I found myself at the hub of some powerful organization
such as Moriarty himself might have commanded.
When I first slipped into
this amazing room, I found it deserted. Then, hearing a voice which rapidly
grew louder, as if the speaker were walking toward me, I cast about feverishly
for a hiding place. It went against my grain not to confront the criminal on
the spot, but prudence advised me to wait for a better understanding of the
situation before acting. I darted behind the shabby sofa and crouched down just
as the Doctor and Miss Calonne walked into the room from some inner corridor.
From this vantage point I
watched, fascinated, as the Doctor busied himself about the central structure.
A glassy cylinder rose from the machine's core and began a steady up-and-down
motion, accompanied by a peculiar mechanical groaning sound.
As I gazed I speculated on
the purpose of the thing. I had got so far as to conclude it must be for some
form of illegal manufacture, and the machine must be a sort of press, when a
sharp, shrill whistling erupted from it.
said the Doctor in a surprised tone. "That hasn't happened in a
Calonne sounded nervous. "But where is this person? I see nobody."
"Umm... let's see.
Should be... " Footsteps sounded close to my hiding place. "Right
here," said the Doctor. Looking up, I saw his face gazing down at me over
the back of the sofa. I stood up at once, determined to keep his advantage to
To my surprise he produced no
weapon and made no aggressive move. He did not even look angry. A brief,
startled widening of the eyes, then he sighed. "I should have known,"
"Oui, we should have
known!" Miss Calonne came up beside us, linked her arm in mine and smiled
up at me in an impish yet friendly manner which went far to set my mind at
ease. "Doctor Watson might often be baffled, but he is like a bloodhound
once he is on the scent! You shadowed us here, did you not?"
"Can you blame me?"
I returned. "Forgive me, Miss Calonne, but I do not trust you -- you or
your companion! I owed it to Holmes to see what you were up to, and stop you if
I could. And I still mean to!"
She bit her lip at this
speech, then shrugged. With a slight pressure of her slim fingers on my sleeve
she urged me to sit beside her on the sofa. "Tell him," said she,
turning grave eyes up at the Doctor. "He will not be put off, that is easy
"Yes," I seconded
her decidedly. "Whatever it is you're doing, whether for ill or good, I
The Doctor shook his head.
"He won't believe it even if I do tell the truth," he said to his
daughter. "And if he does believe it, the result will amount to time-meddling.
We can't risk it."
"But someone else has
already badly meddled with time, Papa. Is that not so?"
"True," he said
"And if we are to put
things right we must do it as quickly as possible, oui?"
"So! To move quickly,
now that Watson is here, we must have him on our side, not against us. Unless
you want to lock him up!" Here she gave him a stern look.
I held my breath through this
exchange. Why Miss Calonne should have appointed herself my champion I could
not fathom, but it was to my advantage to discover as much of the truth as
possible. I watched the Doctor narrowly. He paced a moment, evidently debating
the matter in his own mind. Then he swung around with a smile.
"You're right, Fayette.
Watson's a shrewd fellow with a lot of common sense, and we could probably use
his help. I just hope he's capable of listening with an open mind."
"I am listening," I
said calmly. "Please proceed."
"Very well." The
Doctor resumed his slow pacing back and forth. "First of all, Watson, that
police box you saw outside is not a police box at all."
"I thought as
"Please don't interrupt:
hear me out. It is a vessel called a TARDIS, designed to travel through time
and space." At this he paused and cocked an appraising eye at me.
The notion of a
time-travelling machine was not new to me. Mr. H.G. Wells had described such a
device two years previously. However, like most of his readers I had placed
little credence in the tale, and I was prepared to be equally skeptical in the
present case. "Pray continue," I said, as dryly as possible.
"Well, to get to the
point: Holmes has been abducted by someone who must also be a time traveller.
The person was certainly not of this time, because he was dressed in a style
which will become fashionable only in another three centuries, and on another
planet. Also, the trap used to abduct Holmes was some sort of force field
chamber, resembling a large glass box. And you don't have force fields here on
Again he stopped and waited
for my reaction. I did my best to remain impassive, as I now feared I was shut
in with a lunatic, or possibly two lunatics. After a moment he went on: "I
intend to locate Holmes using a new tracking program -- a program I myself
recently devised. I shall trace him through time and space using the spoor of
his DNA, his unique organic makeup. In fact," he said with growing
enthusiasm, "we are at this moment hurtling through the cosmos, hot on the
trail of the missing sleuth, and soon..." (Here he crossed the room to the
central machine, where he inspected a screen filled with streaming figures.)
"Yes, very soon we will be landing smack-dab in the right spot."
He turned and shot a
triumphant look at Miss Calonne, who returned a tolerant smile. "I hope
so, Papa." From this I gathered that, whatever might be the enterprise
which engaged them, the Doctor's efforts had not always met with unqualified
The Doctor looked at me,
then, and must have observed some trace of expression on my face, for he
grimaced wryly. "Watson doesn't believe a word of it, I see."
"You will grant,"
said I, rising to my feet, "that this talk of 'hurtling through the
cosmos' is hardly convincing. The floor is motionless under us: I feel no
pitching, no vibration. In fact, I cannot feel that we are other than solidly
at rest -- which indeed is no more than one would expect of a well-founded
The last word had barely left
my lips when, as if to give me the lie, the room began to shudder and jolt
around me, nearly throwing me off my feet. At the same time a nauseating
sensation flowed through me, which I could liken only to what a mould of aspic
might feel while being squashed between two plates, and then permitted to
rebound into its proper shape.
The Doctor muttered curses,
and clutched at the central machine to keep his balance. Miss Calonne cried out
and lurched against me, and would have fallen had I not supported her. Within
moments, fortunately, the sickening sensation had passed and the floor lay
quietly beneath us as before.
gasped Miss Calonne.
perhaps," I offered, unlikely as that seemed. But I could think of no
The Doctor was busy at his
machine, where the instruments were whirling, beeping and flickering as if in a
frenzy. He darted to and fro adjusting them, and after a few moments they
calmed down. "More like a spacequake," he retorted over his shoulder.
"We've just passed through a dimensional shift, something I hadn't been
expecting. I'll have to work out a method of forewarning if I'm going to use
this program again."
inquired Miss Calonne, having regained her poise.
"A barrier between one
dimension -- or universe -- and another. In other words, we've not only
travelled in time and space, we've also passed into an alternate universe. The
big question is, which one?"
This wild talk of alternate
universes further confirmed me in my conviction that the Doctor was mentally
unhinged. Undoubtedly he was a man of some learning, but his science appeared
to be of the most unsound and even fantastic variety. However, I no longer
suspected him of being a criminal. It seemed wisest to appear accepting of
whatever he might say, especially as his daughter was listening to him with
every appearance of serious attention.
"Papa," she said
now, reproachfully, "have you any idea where we are?"
"Not the slightest, but
we'll soon find out." He peered at a dial. "There, that's
encouraging! At least the atmosphere is breathable, and there seems to be
nothing that will kill us out there, not right outside, anyway. The scanner
doesn't help much, I'm afraid." He indicated a blank grey screen.
"Papa, you have landed
us up against a wall again!"
"We'll see. Ready,
replied, though I had no idea what he meant. He gave me a smile, which seemed
to convey that he knew more of my thoughts and feelings than I had intended to
reveal. Then he led the way toward the door by which we had entered.
"Ah!" he said in a
tone of satisfaction, as he pushed open the door. "I didn't navigate so
badly after all. There's just enough clearance. And, yes, the tracking program
worked!" I heard his voice now from outside. "Mr. Holmes, I am glad
to find you unharmed."
resourcefulness, it would not have surprised me in the least to find him
waiting for us in the blind alley outside the warehouse. As I stepped out the
door after Miss Calonne, I fully expected to smell the river fog and feel
cobbles under my boot soles. Despite the Doctor's ramblings about alternate
universes and time travel, I was not prepared for what did meet my eyes, and at
first I could only stand and stare.
We were not in the alley
outside the warehouse. We were in a small room, grey and featureless but for
the outline of a narrow door without a handle. The only furniture was a cot
attached to one wall, where Holmes had just invited Miss Calonne to take a
seat. He then sat down at her side, for there was barely enough space for the
four of us to stand on the floor.
Now I began to wonder if
perhaps I, not the Doctor, was insane. The most disconcerting element was that
the greater part of the cell was occupied by the blue police box which I had
thought was the disguised entry to a criminal warren.
I found that I could now walk
all around the box, though on two sides there was very little space between it
and the cell wall. Nevertheless, there could be no doubt. The police box was free
standing, and there was no door in the back.
But how could it be possible
that that huge room, with its furniture and machines, should be enclosed in
this small structure barely half the size of the wardrobe in my bedroom in
Baker Street? I took hold of the door, meaning to go back inside and make sure
of where I had been. Then I hesitated and at last decided not to put myself to
the test. I was not prepared to deal with what I might find in there.
"Well, Watson! Not even
a word of greeting?"
The crisp, rather strident
voice of Sherlock Holmes recalled me to myself. I leaned across the Doctor to
shake my friend's hand, at the same time running my gaze over his face and
person. He did appear to be unhurt, though I detected a pallor and strain in
his aquiline face which had not been there when he left our quarters that
He was evidently not in a
cheerful mood. "It amazes me, Watson," he said caustically,
"that in our long association you should have learned so little of the
science of detection."
"I beg your
"You may well do so!
Were our positions reversed, and were in charge of an investigation to
determine your whereabouts, I doubt very much that it would take me all of five
days to effect a rescue!"
"Five days! But my dear
Holmes, you've been gone no more than an hour or so."
Now it was his turn to stare.
"Oh, come!" he said at last. "You are joking!"
"Non, it is true,"
Miss Calonne put in. "I am sure it has been not quite two hours since we
spoke with you on the Strand."
"Have you any clear
memory of your abduction?" the Doctor asked. "Who did it, and
Holmes placed his fingertips
together and tapped them gently against his pursed lips, as was his wont when
in deep thought. Finally he shook his head. "I recall nothing of what
occurred after our conversation, until I found myself in this cell. I assumed I
had been drugged; and," (here he gave the Doctor a penetrating glance)
"it seemed reasonable to assume as well that you, Doctor, had been the
"I assure you, I had nothing
to do with it."
"I am inclined to
believe you. If indeed you were the kidnapper, you would have had no good
reason for seeking out Watson, here."
"But what," I
asked, "makes you think you've been away five days?"
"In this place it is
impossible to be sure of exactly how much time has passed. Each hour wears away
as tediously as the next or the one before. However, I have been obliged to
sleep at least four times despite my efforts to stay alert. And just as
telling, my watch, which you know is perfectly regulated, has run down and had
to be rewound five times."
"So, in this
universe," the Doctor said, "time moves quite a bit faster than in
your own. Interesting! Oh, and by the way... " He reached into a pocket of
his coat. "I thought you might like to have this." He placed the
cherrywood pipe in Holmes's hands.
"Ah! I thank you. Yes, I
have missed it sorely." As he lit up, Holmes watched the Doctor keenly
across the bowl of the pipe. "You did say, 'in this universe,' did you
not? With how many universes are you familiar?"
The Doctor sighed, then
launched into his speech about time travel and dimensional shifts. Holmes's
eyebrows rose as he listened. His immense intellect, of course, was as always
proof against astonishment. At the end of the Doctor's discourse he pondered a
moment, blew out a ring of smoke (to Miss Calonne's evident amusement) and
"I confess, even before
your arrival I had begun to suspect I was very far from London, anno domini
"How can you be so cool
about it?" I demanded.
He shrugged. "You have
heard me say it before, have you not? When one has eliminated the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And there is no point
in protesting against the truth."
"And you have no idea
why you were taken?" asked Miss Calonne.
"On the contrary, I know
perfectly well why I was taken." Holmes scowled. "I have been
confined by some hack publisher who has demanded the contents of my memory as
the price of my freedom."
"Your memory!" I
"I have been ordered to
dictate my professional memoirs to that devilish object." He pointed to a
small black cube which sat on the floor in a corner, and which until that
moment I had overlooked. I picked it up and turned it over in my fingers,
puzzled as to its purpose. It might have been a child's building-block, except
that it was metallic, and colored an unrelieved black.
"Why do you call it
devilish?" I asked. "It seems quite harmless."
"That appearance is
deceptive. It has been the source of endless irritation to me!" Holmes
took the cube from my hand and angrily hurled it against the side of the police
box. It fell to the floor. Then, with a mechanical beep it began to jiggle and
vibrate, and a voice issued from it.
"Give it up, Sherlock.
The transmitter is indestructible, so you might as well stop trying to mangle
it. Have you seen reason yet?"
Now it was evident that the
cube was a sort of microphone or telephone, though it resembled no device of
which I had heard, no matter how advanced. But there was no ambiguity about the
role of the speaker. I opened my mouth to demand Holmes's release in the most
vigorous terms, when the Doctor touched my sleeve and silently held a finger to
I saw his meaning. The
speaker was unaware Holmes was not alone in his cell and it was to our
advantage to keep the enemy in ignorance. We all, except Holmes, kept very
"I would return the
question," Holmes snapped, "were I not certain that you are incapable
"Now, now." The
cube adopted a soothing tone. "Aren't you supposed to be a man of cold,
clear logic? I know -- we both know -- that you solved many more cases than the
few dozen Watson published. All I want is the details of those unrecorded
cases, and then you'll be free to go. Where's the problem?"
"You may save your
breath, sir, to cool your porridge. I do no business with blackguards."
The cube emitted a snarl.
"Listen, Buster, you better change that attitude. Are you going to deal or
Holmes smiled coldly.
"I'll see you in perdition first!"
"Make yourself at home,
then, because you're going to be in that cell a long, long time." The cube
emitted a loud, angry-sounding beep and stopped vibrating. Almost immediately
it beeped again and added, "One more thing. Exercise period has started,
so I want you to go out there and mingle with the others. I suggest you have a
word with Dupin. He's already seen the light and he'll soon be on his way
The box uttered another beep
and fell still. We watched it a moment. Then Miss Calonne rose from the cot,
stepped to the police box and put her hand to its door. "Now we can
leave," she said in evident relief.
But to our collective dismay,
Holmes shook his head. "We shall leave, by all means, but not yet. We must
first secure the release of the others."
"How many others are
there?" asked the Doctor.
"I estimate that there
Miss Calonne. Her dark eyes flashed with horror. "Thousands like you,
kidnapped from their own worlds? But how can we rescue them all?"
"That we have yet to
discover. But it must and will be done!" Holmes's features sharpened to
their most hawk-like.
"Hm," said the
Doctor in a dubious tone. "What's this about an exercise period?"
"From time to time the
prisoners are all sent out of their cells and into a large open yard,
ostensibly for the taking of fresh air and exercise, but really, I suspect, to
encourage them to betray themselves through rash talk. You will see what I mean
in a moment."
The cell door sprang open as
he spoke. One by one, with Holmes in the lead and the Doctor in the rear, we
passed out into a smooth-walled grey corridor. As soon as the Doctor had
crossed the threshold, the door clashed to behind us like the snap of a mastiff's
Miss Calonne looked back
regretfully, and with a trace of fear. I understood her dread and could share
it. We were cut off from the Doctor's time-travel machine, and through it from
all that was safe, familiar and homelike. Now we faced the unknown.
I gave her a smile which I
meant to be encouraging. "Don't worry," I whispered, "I will see
no harm comes to you." But underneath my brave front I felt a quaver of
fear such as I had never felt in my life before, not even in the Afghan
campaign. I suspected at once that Miss Calonne was not deceived, for the
twinkle in her eye as she thanked me was quite distinct.
This prison was a bleak,
soulless place. The corridor walls, the colour and texture of steel, were
broken only by identical rectangular cracks, outlining knobless doors like the
one by which we had just emerged. This grey slot stretched off into such a
distance that its farthest reaches were lost in a haze of shadows.
We were alone. Besides
ourselves we saw no-one, neither guards nor inmates. The only sounds we heard
were the echoes of our own footsteps and, beyond those, an almost
imperceptible, all-pervasive soughing whisper, like the sound one hears when a
sea-shell is held to the ear. I gradually absorbed the impression that I and my
companions walked through a structure that was unimaginably vast and of a
soul-deadening regularity: a beehive built for humanity. I would not have been
surprised to learn that a thousand other corridors exactly like this one lay
about us on all sides.
Then, at last, at the end of
the corridor we glimpsed a sudden prick of light, not yellow-white like
daylight but only a brighter greyness. A door had swung open. As we approached,
a murmurous clamour of many voices came to our ears and grew in volume until we
emerged from the door.
Beside me, Miss Calonne
checked and breathed, "Sacre ciel!" Wordlessly, I agreed with her.
It was a scene which even
Piranesi never captured in his pictures of vast, looming and fantastic palaces.
The exercise yard was in fact a vaulted room rather than a yard, but a room so
large that St. Paul's, with its great dome, would have seemed a dollhouse in
it. I could not discern the opposite wall. When I looked up, searching for a
glimpse of sky, I saw vapours drifting like clouds high overhead. Yet they were
not natural clouds, for above them, barely to be seen, arched the buttresses of
a far-off ceiling.
Such a structure should have
been magnificent. But the place was so grim, so swathed in ash-grey hazes, and
loomed so menacingly about us, that the mood it inspired was rather one of
Here at least we were not
alone. Thousands of men and women, but mostly men -- some in contemporary
European costume, others outlandishly garbed -- walked disconsolately about the
yard, or stood in pairs or clusters, murmuring together, occasionally disputing
or gesticulating. The general mood was depressed rather than animated. Few of
the prisoners had retained enough curiosity to do more than give us a passing
Gazing at this scene, I could
easily believe I was dreaming, or suffering some hallucination... except that I
could never have drawn from my own imagination, no matter how fevered, the
sight which confronted me. For among the thousands of figures were some which
could never have been described as human.
One of these now ambled past.
It walked upright on its hind legs like a man, while two clawed appendages
which might have been arms were clasped behind its massive reptilian back. A
ferociously fanged head hung low between spurred and armoured shoulders. Yet as
I gazed in amazement and not a little fear, it struck me that despite its
brutal appearance, the creature conveyed, more than anything else, an air of
The Doctor drew in a quick
breath of astonishment and uttered a word which sounded like, Mhryrragth!"
(I cannot hope to duplicate the actual sound.) The effect on the reptile was
instantaneous. Its head swung around, it stopped short, gasped and took a step
"Doctor! Not you
too!" it cried, in a rather high but pleasant and well-modulated voice,
much at odds with its appearance. The accent was pure Oxford.
Mhryrragth. Not if you mean, have I been kidnapped. No, I came here of my own
accord. Let me introduce you to my friends. First, my adopted daughter."
As Miss Calonne placed her
small hand within the scaly paw of the monster, I admired her as much as I have
any woman of my acquaintance. Only the slightest tremor in her voice betrayed
the fact that she was not entirely at her ease. When my turn arrived, I hope I
played my role as well, for it was truly disconcerting to gaze up into those
yellow, slit-pupilled eyes and watch those razor-sharp fangs exposed in what
must be meant for a cordial smile.
The monster, it developed,
was Detective Chief Inspector Mhryrragth of Vgethh, on Eridani 2, well known to
the Doctor as the hero of a long string of dramatic criminal investigations. He
(for despite all he is a gentleman, and I cannot continue to call him
"it") pursued post-graduate studies in criminology at Oxford, or will
have done so at some time far beyond my future, in some other but similar
"I was abducted six
weeks ago," he said, "only to find that my captor will not free me
until he has rifled my memory."
"Six weeks!" Holmes
exclaimed with dismay. "I have been here only five days, and already it
seems an eternity! How have you held out so long?"
"I credit a stubborn
streak in my nature. The fellow wants to grow rich on the fruit of my labours,
and that offends me. It has become a matter of self respect, not to give in.
Mind you, I have observed many other arrivals -- and departures -- over the
weeks. Too many have succumbed, too quickly."
Mhryrragth turned and waved
his clawed paw in this and that direction, pointing out some who had resisted
the exploiter. The Doctor uttered an "Ah!" of recognition.
"Look, it's Dupin!"
Mhryrragth very dryly. "I hoped at one time he would lead the way to a
solution of our joint predicament, but unfortunately he has not proved one of
the more resistant. It is rumoured he leaves us tomorrow."
Dupin?" I gazed at the man with the liveliest interest. His heyday was, of
course, decades before my time, and I had never met him, but the memory of his
brilliance lingered on both in Paris and in London. It was saddening to learn
that such a mind could be so humbled.
"Our abductor does not
do things by halves, does he?" murmured Holmes. "Not only Holmes, but
"He's cast his net on
the other side of the Atlantic, too," the Doctor commented. He nodded to
our right. There, leaning against the wall and smoking cigarettes, lounged
several ineffably American-looking men with hard faces and soft hats.
"Oh, don't I wish I had
the time to talk to them all!" The Doctor was clearly enthralled.
"There stand three of the finest in the hard-boiled tradition, Holmes.
Your American rivals: Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Lew Archer."
Holmes sniffed. He has never
admitted rivals, much less equals, though he has always had a weakness for the
Taking our leave of
Mhryrragth, we began to walk slowly across the prison yard, studying the nearby
faces and attempting to put names to them. It would have been impossible, of
course, to identify each one of the thousands who thronged in that dreary
place. I contented myself with listening to the Doctor's low-voiced commentary.
As we strolled on, my wonder grew at the extent and variety of his
Here, a youngish gentleman,
impeccably turned out and swinging a monocle on a ribbon, engaged in sharp
debate with a hugely fat man who sported a withered orchid in his coat lapel
and growled out his replies in an American accent. A second fat man thundered
at them through an unkempt bandit's moustache and waved his crutch-handled stick
in a manner that looked positively dangerous.
"Lord Peter Wimsey, Nero
Wolfe and Dr. Fell," the Doctor whispered. "And Archie Goodwin."
He indicated a young man who stood listening to this trio, hands stuck in
pockets and a derisive grin on his face.
A little further on our eyes
were drawn to a middle-aged man in a rumpled suit, smoking a pipe. His worn,
cynical face creased into a smile at some sally of his companion, a short man
with a receding hairline. "Jules Maigret and Benny Cooperman," said
We walked on, passing a
fussy-looking little man with a noticeably egg-shaped head and the largest,
most dandily groomed moustache I had ever seen. He was holding forth in heavily
accented English to a sweet-faced, eagle-eyed old lady who listened with
tolerant contempt. "Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple," the Doctor
Two clerics strolled by in
the opposite direction, arm in arm: a short, plump little priest in a black
cassock and shovel hat and a leathery-faced tonsured monk. They were conversing
amicably in a mixture of Latin and English.
"Father Brown and
Brother Cadfael. You see, of course," the Doctor added, "what they
all have in common."
"I confess I do
not," Holmes said irritably, for he was accustomed to being master of any
situation and it galled him to yield that place to the Doctor. "These
people differ on the counts of race, age, social class, physique and personal
habits. Many are not of the same species, still others are not of our time.
Where is the similarity?"
"I think I see it,"
announced Miss Calonne. "Though I cannot be certain, for I am not so well
read as you, Papa. Are not these all famous detectives?"
"Quite right!" He
beamed at her. Then half under his breath, so that perhaps only I heard him,
"All the heroes," he said. "None of the authors." This
remark puzzled me a good deal. After a moment I understood it to mean that the
captives were all practicing investigators, there were no mere scribblers among
"But where are all the
women?" Miss Calonne looked about and spotted a group who had seated
themselves on the dusty ground, the better to hold conversation. One was a
lovely young lady with mahogany-coloured hair, who by her dress must have been
snatched up from my own place and time. The second wore a coat resembling the
Doctor's, and her face, under short blonde hair, was strong and plain. The
third, tall and not young, produced ironic answers in the flat accent of the
American Midwest, while the fourth was a mere girl, with golden hair cut to
"Who are they?" I
inquired of the Doctor.
"Charlotte Pitt, Jane
Tennant, V.I. Warshawski and... Hm. I don't recognize the girl, though there is
something familiar about her."
"Oh, that is Nancy Drew,
of course." Miss Calonne smiled her satisfaction. "For once, Papa, I
know more than you do! But I still don't understand why I see so few women
"It surprises me that
there are any women here at all," I remarked. It was perhaps a rash
comment, for Miss Calonne's fine eyes at once flashed with anger. I hastened to
explain. "When engaged in the investigation of crime, one cannot avoid
contact with the meaner sort of people. And even when the case takes one into
the higher ranks of society, one often ends by dealing with cheats, thieves,
murderers and blackmailers."
"And so?" She did
not appear mollified.
"Well, the role of
detective requires a certain sensitivity, you see, as well as high intelligence
and the understanding of human nature. Undoubtedly many such women exist. But I
cannot conceive of such a woman -- wise, sensitive and intelligent -- being
able to tolerate contact with the baser sort of person I have described."
"And yet a man could
"My dear Miss Calonne, a
lady's delicate nature -- "
"Delicate! Mon Di
eu!" She emitted what I can only describe as a snort.
Holmes chuckled. "I
believe we have here a disciple of Mrs. Pankhurst, Watson. You had better
prepare to retreat in good order, before you are forced into a rout."
"Come on, Fayette,"
the Doctor said to her mildly. "Remember what I told you about seeing
everything in its historical context?"
"Ah, oui." She
shrugged. "After all, Watson, you are only a man, and a Victorian at that.
I must respect your limits."
I sensed an obscure slight in
this tolerant remark, but was glad at least to see her scowl replaced by a
smile. I offered an apology, she accepted, and we walked on, returning toward
the wall by a circular route.
At this point we became aware
of the presence of some hundreds of the eavesdropping black cubes, fixed to the
walls of the prison at intervals of a yard or so. Others hovered in the air
above our heads without any obvious means of support, and just beyond the reach
of an up stretched arm. As soon as Miss Calonne noticed these she pointed to
them and put a finger to her lips, but the damage was already done, if damage
there was. Our jailer must now know that Holmes had received visitors, and that
one of them at least must be a time traveller.
Holmes halted and faced our new friend, with something of challenge in his
manner. "You have seen the extent of the outrage. What plan have you
formed to put it right?"
As he spoke, the sound of a
struck gong reverberated through the yard. A series of doors flew open in the
prison wall. The shifting crowds of inmates halted all at once, so that it
seemed all movement in that vast space had frozen. A mutter of protest swept
across the throng, yet simultaneously they began a general wall-ward drift.
Those nearest to the doors were already filing back inside, followed in long
lines by the others.
I could not contain my
indignation. "What is the matter with them? Why do they submit to being
tamely herded about like that?"
"What else can they
do?" Holmes asked bitterly. "Can you see any means of escape from
this yard? Are there guards to be overwhelmed, gates to be stormed? No, they
have no choice but to return to their cells."
Holmes could have escaped
easily now. We had only to make our way back to his cell, where the Doctor's
vessel awaited us. But true to his nature, he was still adamant that he would
not leave until he could devise a way to free his fellow captives.
"But that is
impossible!" cried the young lady, and I found myself in agreement with
"Perhaps not." The
Doctor was smiling. "Holmes, you asked if I had a plan. Well, I haven't.
But I do know that we won't accomplish anything either here or in your
"Then you think, as I
"... that we must
confront your jailer, yes. He controls this complex, so he's the man we want.
Let's get to the centre of this web!"
Executing this manoeuvre, at
least, proved to be an easy matter. Presumably the black cubes had passed on
the information that an unscheduled visit had been made to the prison, for as
soon as we set foot inside and started back along the corridor, Holmes, in the
lead, exclaimed in surprise.
he said. "It must be glass, but if so it is the clearest glass I have
ever... not seen."
The Doctor ran his hands
across what seemed empty air. I followed his example and felt a strange
sensation, as if I had tried to force my fingers into a wall of hard rubber.
"Not glass," the
Doctor said. He clucked in annoyance. "It's a force field. This corridor's
"How shall we return to
the TARDIS?" demanded Miss Calonne in alarm. She turned to walk back
toward the prison yard, and abruptly lurched backward. I quickly put out a hand
to steady her.
"A second force
field," said the Doctor. "He's got us in a cage. Now what?"
Then, as we stood there, I
saw the walls of the corridor beginning to slide past us. I received a brief
but terrifying impression that the whole huge building was being pulled away
from around us by some giant hand. Then I understood what was happening. Our
invisible cage had become a carriage. We were being transported.
The Doctor turned his palms
upward. "Well, we did say we wanted to find the man in charge. It looks
like that's exactly what we're going to do, sooner than we'd hoped."
A door slipped past, then
another. Then faster and faster they whipped by till we lost sight of all
markings, and were encased in a dizzying blur. Curiously, I felt no sensation
of movement, and our passage created no sound. Once or twice we were jerked
suddenly to one side, which I guessed meant that we had turned a corner.
After perhaps five minutes of
this strange mode of travel, the blur to either side slowed down, the racing
walls reappeared, and we saw we were approaching a brightly lit doorway. It
appeared as a slot of distant light, grew steadily larger, and suddenly
engulfed us. Once within, we came to such a sudden halt that we were all flung
against the front wall of the carriage. Abruptly, the "glass" was
gone, and we found ourselves tumbling in an undignified heap. I scrambled up and
offered a hand to Miss Calonne, who gave me an oddly long-suffering look as she
The room was large, high and
lined with flickering machinery. It reminded me of the room inside the TARDIS,
and I noted that the Doctor looked about him with an air of more than passing
interest. For my part, I was more interested in the individual who sat behind a
utilitarian steel desk, gazing at his visitors across its bare surface. I
wondered what sort of man was this, who had the arrogance to hold captive the
finest criminological minds of the known cosmos.
He was far from what I would
have expected. I looked upon a weedy little fellow with badly cut, thinning
hair and an uneven moustache. As if to make up for his unimpressive appearance
he wore an outlandish, loosely flowing costume of garish gold and scarlet
silks, which I supposed must be the current fashion. This gorgeous garb was
stained down the front with what seemed to be the debris of several meals.
The fellow had made no move
to help Miss Calonne to her feet. Instead, he leered at her so offensively that
I wished he were within reach of my fist. He then swept the rest of us with a
triumphant grin, and waved a hand.
"Welcome to the head
office of Star Pulp Classics," he announced in an unpleasantly high, nasal
voice -- the voice of the black cube. "Stan Babbage here. So, Sherlock,
you've decided to see things my way, have you? Good thinking!"
Holmes ignored him, turning
instead to the Doctor. "As I thought, a hack publisher."
"Mm, yes. You can tell
by the shirt front," the Doctor replied with the ghost of a smile.
"Star Pulp, eh? I've heard of this outfit."
"And have you heard
anything to their credit, Doctor?"
"Not much. They aren't
known for straight dealing, and they've been accused of pirating books before this.
But surely this is taking the concept of literary piracy a bit too far!"
"Times are tough,"
said Babbage, with a shrug. With a bored glance at the Doctor he added, "I
don't know who you are. Which means, of course, that the reading public won't
have heard of you either, so you're of no interest to me. But since you're
here, you and the girl, you'll have to stay, just like all the others."
I could contain myself no
longer. "You ought to be horsewhipped! Release these people at once!"
Babbage smirked. "Not
much you can do about it, is there?"
Goaded beyond measure, I
started forward, intending to pick up the disgusting little man and give him
the shaking of his life. I had come within three feet of the desk when I
bounced off an unseen wall and fell backward onto the floor.
As I lay there a moment,
stunned by the suddenness of the fall and struggling to draw a breath, I heard
Babbage's high-pitched giggling. I felt a fool. I felt worse when I saw Miss
Calonne bending over me, holding out her hand.
"Turn and turn
about," she said with a smile that at once teased and sympathized.
"Let me help you up, Dr. Watson."
"Thank you." I
climbed to my feet. "I think I can manage..."
"Mais non, allow
me!" She made a business of brushing dust from my coat and as she did so
she murmured, "It was another force field. Even that big gun in your
pocket would not hurt it, I think. But do not despair! I know the Doctor. The
chance for action will come, so be prepared."
Babbage had not even flinched
when I strode toward him. "Did you think I'd be fool enough to let you in
without some protection?" he sneered. "In this business I have to be
careful. And don't bother trying to break the barrier. It's been kicked,
punched with brass knuckles, stabbed with stilettos and knitting needles, shot
with Smith and Wessons, blasted by phasers, burned with cigarettes, had acid
thrown at it... No go. Like everything else around here, it's indestructible.
So let's cut the guff and get down to business, okay?"
Miss Calonne's lip curled.
"And just what business would this... this espece de salaud do with his captives?"
"Can you not see
it?" Holmes asked ironically. "What would the public not pay to read
of a new, so far untold adventure of Sherlock Holmes?"
"Not to mention a new
Philip Marlowe, or a new Maigret. All fresh, never before published, yet
guaranteed the genuine article." Babbage sounded smug. "It'll be the
publishing coup of the century! No, the millennium! And what's even better, the
supply of new, original classic stories is almost inexhaustible! All I have to
do is keep nabbing these mugs and hauling them in."
"And why do you not
simply buy books from writers, the way normal publishers do?" the lady
Babbage leered at her again.
"Times are tough. The industry is horrendously competitive. And people
don't read as much as they used to, in case you haven't noticed. The kids are
only interested in playing computer games and watching videos. Up to now Star
Pulp has survived by reprinting the genre classics, but we can't keep doing
that forever. We need fresh classic material, if you get my drift."
He gestured up at the
twinkling wall. "Look, I'm anxious to get Sherlock on side, so I'll
indulge you guys a little. See up there? That's an enlarged sample of a recent
High on the wall behind him I
observed an enormous screen covered with print, which even at this distance
could be read. Slowly the lines of type slid upward, and I realized that I was
being shown a book, or what passed for a book in this strange world. I strained
my eyes to focus on the actual words, and gasped.
"It's one of mine!"
"Sort of." Babbage
lounged back in his chair and watched us with an insulting air of boredom.
"A Study in Scarlet. It was Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes story.
We've also done -- "
I interrupted furiously.
"Who is this Conan Doyle? How dare he put his name to my work?"
commented Holmes. "Watson, have you taken a pen-name?"
Babbage chuckled nastily.
"Never heard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the immortal Holmes,
eh? Well, that series has made millions for Star Pulp. And with Sherlock's new
input, it'll make us billions more."
Now I found myself confused
as well as outraged. I could not make head nor tail of this Doyle person.
Creator of Holmes? What could he mean?
"All you fictional
detective types make me laugh!" Babbage indulged in a prolonged fit of
merriment. "You're so full of yourselves -- worse than real people! I've
had almost exactly this same conversation with dozens of the others. It's
always the same. Ellery Queen never heard of Manfred B. Lee and Frederick
Dannay, Spenser never heard of Robert Parker, and on and on. Well, it makes no
difference to me whether you're real or not. All I want is your story."
I directed a flabbergasted
look at Holmes. "I see," he said in a thoughtful tone, tapping his
fingers to his lips. I was still stunned, but I had gotten a glimmer of the
fellow's meaning, and the mere suggestion was appalling.
I turned to the one among us
who might know. "Doctor, that disturbance we passed through on the way
here, what you called a dimensional shift... We really did enter another
universe, didn't we?"
"That's right." The
Doctor wasn't looking at me, though. His eyes were running over the complex
machinery which surrounded us, and meanwhile he was playing with something in
Holmes filled in the gap with
cool clarity. "And in this universe, my dear Watson, you and I are
We were fiction. Existing in
no real sense, except as a mental image summoned up in a reader's mind by words
printed on paper. And those words not my own, the deeds not those of Holmes,
but all of it the product of some writer's imagination!
This notion was almost impossible
for my shocked mind to encompass. Even half grasped, it filled me with such
horror that I felt my knees weaken and my stomach turn. I kept my composure
only with the exercise of the sternest self-discipline.
Looking up then, I found Miss
Calonne's eyes upon me. Their sympathetic glow held no trace of irony. She
grasped my hand warmly. "Of course you are real. Never doubt it!"
As I gratefully returned the
pressure of her hand, I resolved to accept the evidence of my senses. A renewed
self-assurance flowed through me.
"But," said the
Doctor, "I should say that what is even more to the point... " His
manner was distracted, as if he were thinking of several things at once (as I
now believe he was).
As he spoke, he removed a
small device from his pocket and idly tinkered with it. It appeared to be some
sort of clockwork toy, and Babbage did not even spare it a glance. "What's
even more to the point, Watson," the Doctor went on, "is that in your
own native universe, you are undoubtedly real, and Conan Doyle doesn't exist.
The two universes complement each other like opposite faces of a spoon: they
were never meant to meet. And you -- " He jabbed an accusing finger at
Babbage -- "you have bollixed up the two with a truly criminal carelessness.
All for your own profit!" He continued to tinker with the little toy.
Babbage sat back, shrugging.
"You're all making a big fuss over nothing. Face reality! Publishing is an
industry, and my aim is to make money. Now, Sherlock, if you've got all that
out of your system, how about cooperating, huh? Look, it's quite simple."
He swung around in his swivel chair and pointed at the wall behind him. As soon
as his back was turned, the Doctor extended his toy and moved it back and forth
in a sweeping motion. Then he darted a smile at the rest of us and put the
object back in his pocket.
"All you have to
do," Babbage said, "is tell your story. It goes in here." He
pointed to a grid in front of him. "As soon as it's all in, it's
instantaneously edited and distributed. Then it appears on screens all over the
cosmos." He swivelled back to face us. "As soon as the subscribers
have paid, of course."
"Am I to
understand," Holmes said slowly, "that as soon as I have dictated my
memoirs to this machine, the entire publication process will be complete?"
"Now you get it. No
booksellers, no printing press, no quill pens. Go ahead, talk. It's all set to
"Very well." Holmes
bowed his head. He looked -- as I had never before seen him look -- defeated.
"I will do it."
"Holmes, no!" I
cried. Then I caught the Doctor's eye and saw him shape the words, Get ready. I
understood that the crisis was approaching, though what I might be called upon
to do, I could not imagine. My heart swelled with excitement, and by the flush
in Miss Calonne's cheek, I knew she shared my feeling.
As Holmes raised his head to
speak, it was obvious to me that he was very far from being defeated. A demure
expression masked his face, but in his eye lurked a gleam which I knew well. It
was a sign that some game was afoot, and Holmes was on the trail. Babbage, who
knew him much less well, fastened eager eyes upon him.
As Babbage's attention was so
engaged, the Doctor gave me another significant look and unobtrusively lifted
his hand, the forefinger extended. I observed that his hand was able to cross
the line of the invisible barrier, which previously had stretched some three
feet in front of the desk.
It seemed the Doctor had not
been toying idly while he tinkered with that oddment in his pocket!
"I shall begin, "
said Holmes, "with a tale which I fancy Watson would entitle The Case of
the Captive Sleuths."
"Recent, I hope?"
"Oh, quite recent. In
fact, it began not five days ago. I was in the Strand, in conversation with an
acquaintance, when I was suddenly abducted by a miserable little toad of a
publisher, whisked away through time and space -- "
jumped from his chair, scowling.
" -- then locked up and
subjected to an extortion of the most vicious kind!"
"This isn't what I
want!" Babbage turned and ran toward the wall of machinery, a hand
"Now, Watson!" the
Doctor shouted. I flung myself joyfully at the little man, who was too
flummoxed by the sudden absence of his force field to do anything but gape. In
a moment I had him in a wrestler's choke hold, with the muzzle of my service
revolver nestling under his chin. He struggled wildly at first, but grew very
quiet as he felt the touch of cold steel.
Meanwhile, Holmes continued
to tell the story of Babbage's plot to extort the memoirs of the imprisoned
sleuths. When he had brought the story up to the present moment, he paused.
"It's not finished,
though, is it?" prompted the Doctor.
His daughter had been looking
on with a puzzled expression. "But, I do not understand. We know all this.
Why is Mr. Holmes telling it?"
I was equally puzzled, but
meanwhile I kept a tight grip on the publisher. "It's really quite
simple," the Doctor explained. "Holmes has spotted the correspondence
between the two universes. Here, Watson's reality is Conan Doyle's fiction. It
follows that what is fiction here becomes reality in the other place."
"Then this story Holmes
is feeding the machine... " I saw the light.
"Is a developing reality
in your own world, just as it becomes published fiction in this."
Holmes added, "But I
must be sure to supply an appropriate ending." Lips pursed, he cogitated a
few moments, then nodded briskly. "Ah! I have it. It seems that due to a
breakdown in the machinery which we see before us, all the cell doors of the
prisoners sprang open at once. They quickly discovered that they were free, and
in their thousands they made their way to the main door of the prison, where
they congregated in the great entrance lobby."
"Only to find the gates
locked!" shrieked Babbage defiantly. I wiggled the revolver in a menacing
manner and he fell silent again. The Doctor whispered in Holmes's ear.
Holmes continued smoothly:
"The fugitives were, however, not deterred for long by this obstruction.
The Doctor simply piloted his vessel to the lobby and hospitably offered safe
passage to every one of the freed captives. Soon they were all safely returned
to their proper homes and times..."
As that last word fell from
his lips, everything went black about me. I then experienced a sensation which
I hope will never be repeated. It was like the squashed-aspic feeling which
accompanied our passage of the dimensional shift, only worse, and with some
excruciating points of difference. I might have been turned inside out like a
suit of clothes, wrung this way and that, then snapped back into my proper
shape and alignment.
After a measureless time the
feeling passed.... "Where am I?"
"Open your eyes,
Watson," Holmes said. "We're home!"
I opened my eyes upon my own
parlour, which I confess I had at times given up hope of ever seeing again. The
four of us were standing around the carpet in front of a cheerful fire. Miss
Calonne subsided with a contented sigh onto the sofa, while Holmes gazed around
at the familiar setting with evident appreciation.
The door swung open and Mrs.
Hudson bustled in, burdened with a huge tray laden with heaps of pastries,
cakes, lavishly buttered toast and a pot of steaming tea. She seemed not at all
surprised to see us, though we had certainly been away some hours by our own
accounting. When I glanced at my watch, however, I saw that to Mrs. Hudson
barely fifteen minutes had passed.
I pulled myself together and
helped her carry the heavy tray to the table. We drew up chairs; the young lady
consented to pour out, and we all helped themselves hungrily. Never had Mrs.
Hudson's excellent cooking tasted so delicious!
The Doctor bit into a scone
which dripped with butter and quince preserves. "This," he announced,
wiping butter from his chin, "is what I really came to London for. A real
tea! You don't know how I miss it sometimes."
"Yet I think, after our
ordeal, we all need a touch of something stronger." Holmes tipped a dram
of whisky into each cup of tea. Then, lifting his steaming cup, he proposed:
"Confusion to Babbage and all his ilk!" After we had joined in the
toast he added, "My only regret is that I was prevented from writing an
epilogue dealing out a fitting punishment to that miserable creature."
"Ah, oui." Miss
Calonne frowned. "How is Babbage to be stopped from doing the same thing
again, perhaps to a new set of people? To romantic heroines, say, or western
"Yes, I suppose we must
deal with him." The Doctor gave his daughter a wry look. "Another
unpleasant job for you and me, Fayette."
I thought of the TARDIS, and
the Doctor's cosmic breadth of knowledge, and his acquaintance with the
lizard-man Mhryrragth, and my mind teemed with questions. I attempted to voice
some of them, but the Doctor grew vague and seemed loathe to answer. I decided
not to press him.
He and his adopted daughter
-- surely two of the strangest clients who ever appeared on the hearthrug in
Baker Street -- took their departure soon after tea. I never learned the
Doctor's true name or nature, and I do not expect to see them again.
My greatest regret is that I
never had the opportunity to squire Miss Calonne about some of the better parts
of London. Her parting glance at me was both cordial and affectionate.
"Well, John," she
said. "You may truly call yourself a traveller now!"
"If only every journey
were blessed with such charming company," I returned. And reading
permission in her sparkling glance I added, "Farewell... Fayette."
This concludes my record of
the case. I doubt, however, that I will ever dare submit it to the scrutiny of
a critical reading public. Who would believe such a fantastic rigmarole?
The Case of the Captive
Sleuths will never see print, then, in this universe. Perhaps in the other, Sir
Arthur's readers will prove more receptive. I hope I am magnanimous enough to
wish him all success.