Below the Orange antimacassar, our intrepid band soldiers on in the vastness that is space.
Sherlock Holmes in Space -- The Knower -- Chapter 11
a story by jabney based on (the now public domain) characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
"Your confidence in us meeting is based on what, Mr Ferg?" said Holmes.
"The name," said Ferg, "Going through me is the only practical way of getting it corrected. That's why I fixed Cody's audio spell checker so it would not recognize, "Sherlock Holmes." That functionality has been restored since his return, naturally."
"Naturally," said Holmes in a cool tone of voice.
"I can tell you don't approve, Mr Holmes, and I don't know if I will be able to change your opinion of me and the methods I must employ, but it is important that you hear me out."
Control said, "Whatever 'Don Ho' here may look like, you would be wise to listen to what he has to say."
I said, "But poor young Cody thinks his lack of enunciation caused the problem with the name."
"Young Cody" Ha!" said Otis Ferg, "The man is old enough to be my great-grandfather. In fact, there's a strong possibility that he is. Yes Mr Holmes, don't look so shocked, I'm a bastard, the descendant of a long line of sex-workers. Unlicensed sex-workers at that."
""Unlicensed" meaning working without protection?" said Holmes.
"And without any genetic modulation certificate," said Otis Ferg, as if this should mean something to us. "We don't have time for a lot of questions so I'll save you the bother. Genetic modulation attempts to weed out the extremes of intelligence by matching for a compromise. A middling person can breed with another middling person. But a smart person cannot breed with someone equally smart. The smarter the one partner, the stupider the other partner must be. And visa versa."
"That could explain Cody's unhappy marriages," I said.
"Perhaps," said Holmes, "Though I still object to making him feel bad about causing me this name problem."
Ferg took a small object from the pen-wallet in his shirt and asked Holmes for his tri-fold. He pulled the air pump handle on the tri-fold to its working position but instead of moving the handle, he inserted the object into the handle's slot, closed the handle and a moment later opened it again. "Tell Cody the name problem is fixed."
"I wasn't aware of an interface there," said Holmes sounding suspicious.
"I'd have been very disappointed if you had found one, Mr Holmes. The team took a lot of pride in hiding our back door."
"Our?" I said.
"He's being modest," said Control, "The tri-fold is pretty much Otis's baby."
"But what about having to sneak into Systems in the middle of the night?" said Holmes.
"You have. I'll invite you in, but first, Dr Watson, with your permission I'd like to make a somewhat major change in the operation of your time-line alarm."
"I'm not sure I'd want to defeat it," I said.
"Nor would I. The problem is that by alerting those around you when a taboo word is spoken, and yes the vibrate mode is quite noticeable once you start looking for it, it calls your attention to the very thing it is supposed to make you ignore. Since your tri-fold is recording, and transmitting, by the way, everything said in your vicinity, I propose that the time-line monitor be re-purposed to act during playback. And that you be allowed to return to your London with your tri-fold. It would be for the sole purpose of writing your journals of your experiences aboard the SS Oligarch."
"But what if it fell into the wrong hands?"
"For the period of one year following your return, the tri-fold will only work when it detects your presence and that you are alone with it. Anybody other than you opening it will see what appears to be a lady's compact. After one year that is all you will see of it as well."
"And how do you propose to get this approved?"
"By presenting it as a reality once it exists. A done deal. Just as you, Mr Holmes, may defend your, shall we say, "Expedited" name fix should Director Parrish question it. By the way, I've left you the option to have it display, "Sheer luck homes" should you so desire."
"Why should Watson and I trust the work of a man who helped create a gadget which transmits everything it hears to who knows where!"
"Because A, I am "The who that knows where," and have been able to keep it confined almost exclusively to archival purposes, to the best of my knowledge, which is pretty accurate; and B, because the idea of transmitting everything said by everyone originated shortly after your time. There are people, babies I'll admit, alive in your London who will be around when that whole nasty business begins. Oh, by the way, the stealth patch I did to your tri-fold would also be done to Watson's."
"And that does what?"
"A recording of a twentieth century violin player named, "Jack Benny" playing, "Love in Bloom" is transmitted whenever you hit the, over-ride button. The button is labeled, "Rochester." My work is almost always about giving options to the user."
"Cody didn't have an option," said Holmes.
"To be more accurate Mr Holmes, Cody doesn't have any options. He may look young, but he most decidedly is not. We have made strides in delaying what was called, "Senility" in your time, but to cure it? Sadly no. I love Cody. He's one of the few intellectual peers I have on board with me. He needs to slow down. I hope that your visit will be his last major effort. And to that end, I chose the name mix-up as the least hurtful way of starting to make him aware of his fast-approaching limitations."
"Watson, what do you think. Visualize Cody with an aged face and stooped posture, and then tell me," said Holmes, "Is he starting to show signs of becoming demented?"
It was difficult to think of the youthful looking Cody as old, but then I recalled the Admiral in her nineties. She looked young as well. In her case I could not help but be aware of her real age, once I knew of it. But despite her years, she showed no obvious signs of dementia. Upon giving the matter some thought I had to conclude that Cody presented a different picture. "Holmes, there have been instances where I observed Cody behaving in a manner I suppose I attributed to callow youth. Since he is not young, then to answer your question, yes. Of course I have not done an actual examination. There can be many conditions leading to that sort of behavior and..."
"Thank you Watson, your bedside manner is no doubt helpful in keeping up hope, but I fear that Mr Ferg has already analyzed the prospects with great care."
"Thank you Mr Holmes, I regret to say I have. And please call me Otis. I shall continue to call you Mr Holmes, of course."
"Very well, Otis. Would Watson have an over-ride option as well? If so, I have no objection to your proposed, what did you call it, "Patch?" What do you say Watson?"
"I suppose so. Any way to extend the de-activation deadline past a year once we're back in London?"
"Sorry. But I could make it six months if you think that would help motivate you."
"No, a year will do," and I handed Otis my tri-fold. He did the same sort of hocus-pocus with my tri-fold as he had done with Holmes's, pronounced it done, and then said, "The pump-slot interface is not widely known. I'd prefer it be kept that way. That's why I wanted to do the upgrades in the vestibule. Now, shall we go in."
We entered another vestibule, though this one was decidedly more tastefully decorated than the one we entered directly off the lift. "Are either of you allergic to cats, dogs or peanuts?" said another disembodied head, this one behind a very genuine-looking oak counter on which sat an elaborately engraved sterling silver cup that read, "All-Vessel Darts Champions - Orbit 23." The cup was filled with potting soil and a thin straggly plant with saw-toothed leaves that looked as if it were struggling to remain upright.
"Owlsley, may I introduce Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. They are welcome guests and are to be afforded full Smiley Grill privileges and, should they choose to do so, to participate in the non-programming maintenance of the facility. Mr Holmes, Dr Watson this is Owlsley, our resident head."
"Pleased to meet you, Owlsley," I said.
"And what is the nature of this non-programming maintenance of the facility? I would think that the ability to fabricate a head, I hope I'm not being presumptuous," Holmes said this to Owlsley who nodded in the negative, "That fabricating a body would be, if not trivial, at least possible."
Otis looked at Control and smiled, then said, "Yes and no." Control winced, then quickly looked away. "You'll find all sorts of artificial creatures upstairs in the Lucas. But here we have plenty of interns eager to do the dull chores. It's hard to find ways to keep them busy."
"They're willing to do just about anything," said Owlsley, "Up to, or should I say down to wiping bottoms."
"Shame on you Owlsley, that's an unfounded urban legend." said Control. "The roles were reversed, it was the intern's suggestion, it was in the middle of spaghetti-code-clean-up day or snipe-hunt week, I forget which, and, the last I heard the two young men are now planning their wedding."
"Well it's as you said, Watson, marriage is still an institution."
I wasn't sure what to say to this, and Holmes continued, "I can't say I'm totally surprised. Unlike Watson here, I am willing to accept the notion that Eros can play the role of gladiator in more than one arena. And if the planet were expanding its population exponentially that sort of thing makes sense."
I had to speak, "But isn't the SS Oligarch underpopulated? I would think you would want to be doing all you can to encourage growth. You know, improvement of the species, that sort of thing."
"Two words to contradict that theory, Dr Watson, "Genetic moderation." The only thing there to concern us, in my opinion," said Otis, "Is that same-sex coupling not be used as a form of genocide. As tempting as the thought may be, selective breeding, taken to an extreme, is as disastrous for humankind as was the purebred fad for man's best friend not quite a hundred years or so after your own time. Speaking of which, I think I hear Sparky at the door."
The raised-panel oak finished door popped open and out came a hound that was most decidedly not a pure-bred. "Sparky!" said Otis as he knelt to let the dog lick his face.
"See Holmes, Otis's nose is still attached."
"You must be talking about, "Spot" over at number one house in the Parade of Homes. That was my doing," said a young plain-looking woman holding Sparky's leash. I'm Yvonne."
"That was luck, you mean," said the young man with her. He was holding a dust pan and some plastic bags. "Yvonne over-calibrated when adjusting the greeting and the docent loved it. It's now the hit of the exhibit. I'm Evan."
"You paired them up for dog-walking duty again Owlsley? You know the similarity in the sound of the names confuses Sparky," said Control.
"Now you know where I got my inspiration, Mr Sheer luck homes, a leash-holder, a pooper scooper and a talking head." Turning to the now-straining dog and it's companions, Otis said, "Try to avoid letting Sparky do his business in front of the florist's this time, we're getting complaints again. Oh, by the way this is Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson."
"Cool," said Evan.
"I always pictured you differently," said Yvonne.
Sparky howled and the trio hurried toward the lift.
"Later," Evan hollered back.
"Behold the magnificence of the mutt, gentlemen."
"The dog or..."
"All three actually. Evan and Yvonne grew up as classmates and I think they like each other. They may have a chance, should they decide to hook up, because Evan tests very poorly. I have him listed on the personnel files as a tape-loader."
"A what?" I said.
"Tape-loader. Of course we rarely encounter any tapes, but it's a catch-all term for one who makes sure data are transferred to fresh media from time to time, drives de-fragged, that sort of thing." Otis spoke as if these terms were all second nature to us. He must have been reading my mind because he said, "One last thing before we go in, you both are in serious need of a crash-course in pop culture. Much as your era built on a foundation of classical learning, later times were influenced by popular culture. Not that this was unheard of in your day. Consider the folk tales that the brother's Grimm drew from, or the German composers' use of peasant tunes. Don't be too final in your judgment of what you are about to see, and hear, until you've familiarized yourself with the context. And the context since your day has gone beyond only tales and tunes." With that, he opened the door to the Smiley Grill and ushered us in. He told us to look around and said he'd be right back.
The room was much like a gentleman's club in London, had the club been located in the basement of the notorious St Mary Bethlehem insane asylum, known in our popular culture as, "Bedlam." The music that was playing had an insistent driving rhythm though not as intrusive as that which had leaked from the open door of the Lucas Lounge. The overlying melody had a rather plaintive but also rather playful sound. Something like the sound of a female cat on the cusp of going into heat for the first time. In my mind I went back and forth as to whether that would be as heard by an annoyed neighbor trying to sleep or as heard by an interested tom-cat on a night out.
Holmes said, "Notice Watson that you and I are the only ones that appear to be paying attention to the music." The music changed, though the transition was subtle, and I saw Holmes look up to where the source presumably was. "You know this piece Watson."
"It does sound familiar, but I can't quite place it."
"It's Handel's Water Music. We heard it performed last season. We were seated in Sir Robert Pomeray's box. With his daughter, Millicent."
"Oh yes, I recall that evening very well. That was Handel, eh? Nice."
Holmes rolled his eyes, for some reason, but whatever comment he was preparing to make was thwarted by Otis's return. Otis had a cylindrical object which he proceeded to demonstrate, "You press this button, until the green light starts blinking. You inhale until the light turns a steady red, and if you choose, you may hold the vapor in for a while. It provides the psychoactive effect of smoking cannabis to the brain with almost none of the byproducts to clog up the lungs," he gave a hard look to a swarthy young man who was approaching and added, "Or the insides of delicate antique computer gear."
"Otis," said the young man upon reaching us and intercepting the device, "I don't think they indulge. Mr Holmes is known to prefer cocaine, and we don't have any of that, and Dr Watson has written of his efforts to wean Mr Holmes from it. Do I have my facts correct gentlemen?"
Otis said, "Jerome, you either have your recollection of their time-line confused or you are thinking of a noir-revival era detective. Gentlemen this is Jerome, a die-hard smoker. And one of the guides for the crash course in pop culture that I suggested. Jerome is our DJ tonight so blame him if you don't like the music."
"DJ?" said Holmes.
"Disc Jockey," said Jerome. "It comes from the time when music was on records, some of us feel that they have yet to be surpassed. And don't give me that 'you're breaking the time-line' look Otis, I know that Emile Berliner had flat records that competed with Edison's cylinders by their time."
"Whatever the format, I will say the music is interesting, Jerome," said Holmes, "And as for cylinders, I believe I will accept your kind offer, Otis."
"Good," said Otis, "Jerome likes to follow Handel with Donna Summer..."
"Bad Girls, side four, all three tracks," said Jerome.
Otis said, "It is a good choice, Jerome, but people don't know what you mean when you say side four." Turning back to us he said, "At any rate, the music should sound a bit more detailed under the influence of whet we call, "The cup" though the poor specimen on the vestibule is honored more in title than in the care it actually receives."
I said, "So that's what that was. I prescribe the resin of the plant for severe headaches, but I never thought to try it for amusement."
I eyed the cylinder with interest but Holmes said, "I think it best that only one of us tries it. You may have to guide me home."
"It's not that strong when used in moderation," said Otis, "But Mr Holmes probably has the right idea. I've packed a fresh one in the doggy bag, so Dr Watson you may indulge later in the comfort of your lodgings without worrying about navigation duties. Usually two to four hits is sufficient. It's supposed to give two or three hundred before it needs recharging. I've never counted."
Jerome said, "At a level ten pay-scale you've never had to. Anyhow, the vaporizer is in the doggy bag along with a link to a set of culture-saturation files that I've prepared." He turned to Otis and in an exaggerated minstrel-show voice said, "Dat sho' ‘nuff be 'splainin dat, "Rochester" reference, boss."
"Very funny, Jerome, and besides, "Splainin" is a Ricky Ricardo reference" said Otis.
"Proves my point," said Jerome, "Both were minority group members."
"And both were pioneers of entertainment in an era not that far from legalized discrimination and almost open lynching," said Otis.
"Ricky Ricardo was played by the son of the Mayor of Havana Cuba, And I don't recall reading about any of those folks being lynched."
"Then it doesn't prove your point, Jerome. Make up your mind."
Jerome said, "There's a lot to be found in that doggy bag, as our debate may have indicated. There are two terms you won't come across there, but you should know: "Acceptable target," and, "Mary Sue," as they relate to roles in TV shows. The acceptable target is a member of a group that can be made fun of for having negative attributes ostensibly identified with that group, and the Mary Sue is a member of a group, often the only representative group member in the cast, that will have no flaws, though perhaps an adorable quirk or two, and will demonstrate uncanny skills in all she or he attempts."
Otis said, "In other words the designated loser and winner, the bad guy and the good guy, that sort of thing. It's all there, in the doggy bag."
Despite what Holmes may say, usually in jest I hope, not every new term requires an explanation. I did not think that being given a doggy bag meant we were expected to walk Sparky. Though I would not have objected. Sparky seemed to be one of those ironic names that are given affectionately. His pace and mine would probably be good match on a lazy summer evening. The pace of this crash course in pop culture threatened to be much faster. And more than a little uncomfortable.