Let us venture on below the orange antimacassar to chapter 5.
First though, for the completest, the previous chapters are as follows:
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Sherlock Holmes in Space -- The Knower -- Chapter 5
a story by jabney based on (the now public domain) characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The outfits that Holmes had managed to procure for our clandestine wanderings were comfortable enough, I suppose. "I shouldn't think this garb would provide much protection from the London weather," I said.
"Watson, you amaze me at times. What a dunce I've been! That's it. Or part of it, at least. The weather."
"What weather, Holmes?" I said, "It's been nothing but sunny days and cool evenings since we've been here."
"Doesn't that strike you as odd, Watson?"
"I dunno, I rather like it."
"And who would not, Watson? Why would you ever want to change a perfect climate?"
"So Holmes, are you suggesting that the glorious weather has something to do with that hideous sound we keep hearing now and then?"
"Not suggesting, Watson. Stating as much."
"But how..." I started to say.
Holmes spoke before I could finish, "The consistent weather is not the complete answer by any means, but it is indicative of a broader, far more serious problem. We must see the Captain at once! Pluck a few bottles from the bar our hosts have so graciously provided for us, and grab one of those ubiquitous serving carts, should we pass one on our way. Make sure you include some rum and some limes."
"That's a curious combination, Holmes. These modern habits baffle me at times."
"I wasn't intending to mix them, Watson, but there is a good chance that our Captain is one of the traditionalists; keeping seafaring ways in the ocean that is space. One of the two should should strike his, or her, fancy."
"Holmes, I believe Cody said the Captain is a female."
"Perhaps, Watson, perhaps."
Sherlock Holmes and I might have blended in better on our journey to see the Captain had we worn our London clothing. A man dressed as a Bobby blew his whistle, pointed to us and said, "Move along out of here you two, or I'll write you up for being improperly dressed!"
Holmes said, "Sorry, uh constable, I'm getting used to a new typeface on my tri-fold and must have misread the directions."
"Let me guess," said the constable, "Dashiel Hammet Courier Bold, right?" At that mention, my tri-fold sounded its time-line alarm. The, "Bobby" jumped back in surprise, and said, "What in the blue blazes was that!"
"Sorry," said Holmes, "My friend and I dared each other to see who could customize their tri-fold the most, and I'm not sure who is winning. The tri-folds, I think."
"Good luck, fellas," said the "Bobby," "But please move on, and see what you can do about that racket! Some of these role-players take their craft very seriously, and I don't need some normally hard-nosed woman that’s decided on playing a genteel lady for the day using my street as a fainting couch. Victoria days is all well and good, mind you but some of these role-players strive for too much authenticity, if you ask me."
"Best of luck, then, 'constable' and, uh, give our regards to Scotland Yard." I thought I'd played my part rather well with that last bit of repartee. Though, as we passed out of sight of the celebrants, Holmes rolled his eyes at me. "Too enthusiastic?" I said.
"Perhaps a little, Watson."
Prompted by our tri-folds we walked on towards the Captain's quarters. "Here you go, Holmes, one of the tri-fold options is a virtual tour. And..." I hadn't noticed a small, but definite change in the surface, and almost lost my footing.
"I'll stick to my own senses for now. You may wish to do the same, Watson." Holmes looked toward my feet with a sharp gaze. "Fortunately the tri-folds offer a less hazardous alternative."
"You may choose to have your tri-fold offer a commentary after the fact."
"That's clever, Holmes." I was even more impressed with the fact that Sherlock Holmes had spent some time with a device that he had already declared to be a mixed blessing, at best. "What do we do now to let the tri-folds know we want commentary later."
"Nothing, Watson. It appears our ubiquitous mechanical companions are continuously aware of where we have been. It then becomes merely a matter of telling the machine where to begin its narrative."
"But Holmes, doesn't that strike you as..."
"Later Watson. We should have a nice chat about tri-folds with the Knower. And Cody too. I'm postulating that if one is frantically signaling that he wants to see us, the other won't be far behind. For now, though, look around you and tell me what you see."
"My word! That's Windsor Castle over there. We can't have been walking that long. But except for the location, it's a perfect replica!"
"Look closer Watson. Go to the edge of the road and extend your arm toward the castle."
I did as Holmes suggested and, "Ow! It's a wall, Holmes."
"Of a sort, Watson. I daresay that were you to run your fingers over the molded brick facades that framed the earlier part of our stroll, you would find the surfaces to be glassine in smoothness. With, I'm surmising, some protuberances introduced here and there."
"What's that French phrase, Holmes, the one about fooling the eye?"
""Trompe-l'oeil" I believe is what you have in mind, old friend. But, as you have no doubt observed, that illusion eventually is seen as more a suggestion than an actuality. One question I should soon have answered is whether the modern eye is more inclined to belief or disbelief than was, or is, the eye of our day."
We were soon overtaken by a group of school-children dressed in the garb of Queen Victoria's day. One was using a stick for rolling a hoop which veered to the side. Its young operator went chasing after it and his body met the same fate as my arm had earlier. "There's your answer, Holmes. An eye definitely inclined toward belief."
"But the young eye is easily deceived, Watson. And the eye of age tends to be clouded by the ravages of time. Even here, I would think, despite the advances in medicinal arts. We must look for the reactions of a meaningful number of those in the true prime of life. Difficult though that may be to ascertain. You should continue to observe, though. This time travel business seems to have sharpened your senses."
A compliment from Holmes? Rare indeed. "About time," a more insecure person might say. But I already count myself fortunate indeed to be in the unique position to chronicle one of the most amazing minds of his day, perhaps of all time. As a doctor, I have learned that when a physical manifestation presents, I must needs acknowledge it. Even if the prospect is not a pleasant one. Likewise with Sherlock Holmes. Though I may not always rejoice in where being with Holmes takes me, nevertheless, the results invariably rise above the hum-drum. And thoughts of being almost useless at a train-wreck in a war zone fade into the forgetful background.
We walked on and soon enough rounded a corner where we were greeted by the sight of what appeared to be the American west in frontier days. The view overhead changed from that of a fog such as might have been seen over London, to a nearly clear blue sky dotted by a few wispy clouds. The cobblestones under our feet changed to what looked, and felt, like a wagon rutted path. Neither Holmes nor I said a word. Such surprises had started to become commonplace. The illusion of being in the wild west was reinforced by a crudely painted wooden sign with an arrow pointing to, "Dodge City" and a bleached bovine skull perched on top.
Gradually, a rumbling noise built to our right and a great cloud of dust appeared to rise in the sky over the ostensible source of the sound. My tri-fold began to vibrate, as if trying to get my attention. Just as well, even the time-line alarm would have proven inaudible over the racket to our right, I'm certain of that. I patted the device reassuringly, although it kept vibrating. Presumably Holmes's tri-fold behaved similarly to mine. Although his reaction proved to be the wiser. He had unfolded his tri-fold, and almost immediately, he grabbed my arm and led me to a stone out-cropping, and then gestured that I should climb atop it.
No sooner had we both reached the top than what looked, sounded, felt, and smelled like a great herd of cattle separated around the out-cropping and stampeded past us.
"Watson, we are fortunate indeed that our tri-folds were operating in, "Novice" mode. I suggest that, in the future, when it vibrates, you may want to look at the screen. At least I have the answer to one question now."
"What question is that, Holmes?"
"After observing the consistently pleasant weather, I had wondered whether the SS Oligarch had eliminated all random chance and danger. Clearly those elements can still be found here. Good."
"Why do you say that's good?"
"I'll answer your question with the question and demonstration that Lord Bishop Cholmondeley used in his debate with the President of the Skeptic's Club. Unless you are already familiar with that exchange, of course."
"Sorry Holmes, I am not, so I suppose I shall need for you to enlighten me." Holmes ignored whatever irony my voice may have conveyed and gestured toward the receding cloud of dust, if dust it happened to be.
"Mr Skinnet, I believe his name was, was sure that he had honed his craft of atheistic evangelicalism when debating clerics about the existence of a higher power. The "Guardian" reporter wrote, "He brings up the tragic story of little Sophie, aged three. Little Sophie, blue of eye, and blond of curl, sadly succumbs to whatever gloomy demise that is most typically reminiscent of the headline ailment or tragedy of the day. Skinnet will then ask, how a loving God could allow such a terrible thing to happen to one so young and innocent.""
"Seems like a good argument to me, Holmes."
"Puzzled many a cleric as well, Watson. But Skinnet 'met his Waterloo' when he debated Lord Bishop Cholmondeley at Cambridge. Skinnet wore a look of triumph after a particularly heart-wrenching depiction of little Sophie's agonizing death. I was there Watson. I saw it. Cholmondeley stepped to the podium and first complimented Skinnet on his presentation. Then, turning to the audience, he asked for a show of hands. "How many of you," he said, "Are reconsidering your theological opinions after Mr Skinnet's poignant story?" Several raised their hands. "And who, amongst you that are reconsidering, would indulge me the privilege of asking you two simple questions and the subsequent challenge of a game of skill which includes a third question."
"Hardly sounds like an occasion for games Holmes."
"Nevertheless, that was the Bishop's strategy. He chose an alert looking youth..."
"No, I was quite content to observe on that day. The youth ascended the stairs to the speakers' platform and stood facing the cleric. Lord Bishop Cholmondeley thanked the youth for his willingness to participate, than asked him, "Young man, if you were the creator, would you allow an innocent such as three year old Sophie to suffer an excruciatingly painful death, such as the one described by the esteemed Mr. Skinnet?" "Of course not!" said the youth."
"Good for him, Holmes," I said, "Shows that the young man had some degree of mercy."
"Indeed, Watson, when the Lord Bishop asked those in the audience, "Who is reconsidering your position now?" even more hands were raised than when he first asked. For the briefest of moments, I thought perhaps that even Lord Bishop Cholmondeley had met his match when confronted by sincerity in the form of callow youth."
"Was the question to the audience the second question, Holmes?"
"No Watson, it was not. The second question was directed at the youth, "Given a choice," said the Bishop, "Would you prefer a game that you win or a game that you lose?" "Win, of course," said the youth."
"So the two questions leading up to the game of skill had been asked, Holmes?"
"Yes Watson. What happened next I shall not soon forget. Lord Bishop Cholmondeley walked to the podium, took a sip of water from the glass that had been provided there, then he turned again to face the youth. "Young man, I am thinking of a number between One and Three. It is an integer. Think carefully before you answer." The youth looked at the Bishop with some degree of curiosity, hesitated as his face went through several contortions, and finally said, "Is it Two?" "Why yes it is! You are correct. You win the game! Audience let's give this young man a hearty round of applause for his great success in solving this conundrum."
"So what happened then, Holmes?"
"The Lord Bishop challenged the young man to another game. The youth said yes, but asked for a bit more of a challenge. "Of course," said Cholmondeley. I am thinking of a number between Eleven and Thirteen. It is an integer. Think carefully before you answer."
"So did the young man answer more quickly, the second time, Holmes?"
"More quickly, and the Lord Bishop cheered more loudly, before asking if the youth wanted to play another round. The youth declined saying that sort of game was no challenge at all. And when the Lord Bishop asked if anyone else in the audience wanted to play, guess how many agreed? It is a single figure, Watson, between a One and a Minus One."
"Point noted, Holmes. But there must be differences. I mean the SS Oligarch, massive though it may be, compared with an entire Universe?"
"Yet both are systems, are they not? I learned an important lesson that evening."
"Holmes I never took you for a particularly spiritual man. Are you saying..."
"Watson, I am a man that needs evidence and logic to be convinced of anything. And while the Lord Bishop provided little in the way of evidence on that particular evening, the logic of his argument persuaded me of one thing."
"And that was?"
"That was the invalidity of asserting that the existence of a loving God must therefore be disproved by the existence of evil and pain. I may be open to other arguments from the militant atheists, but never again to that particular one."
"A death of innocence, eh Holmes?"
"Of a sort, Watson, of a sort." As we climbed down from the stony pinnacle that had proven so fortuitous during the, "Stampede," Holmes looked down at the ground and said, "Hullo, what have we here," as he pointed to several large, moist looking objects.
"Those look like what the settlers in the US west would call cow patties. And yet the entire herd was moving at a very fast pace. Bodily functions would be impractical at that speed. At least to result in such symmetry. So how...?"
"How indeed," said Sherlock Holmes. "Nevertheless, unlikely or not, I should still tread carefully." I got the impression that Holmes had meant to convey something of a broader message to me than a simple regard for the cleanliness of my boots.