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Sherlock Holmes in Space -- The Knower -- Chapter 26

a story by jabney based on (the now public domain) characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Butterworth, Bessel, Linkwitz, Riley. Please hold." That phrase, repeated I did not know how many times, was the first thing I was conscious of hearing following the... But I digress. Before that, I sensed the through-the-cheese-curd-cuber feeling for the second time. (The first time, of course, was when Holmes and I traveled from old London to sometime in the future aboard the SS Oligarch.) But the first time had been expected. Not a particular feeling, but something. This time, though... Perhaps I should back up a bit further.

When last I wrote, our new friends Cody and Edgar, who, in fact were our first friends on the SS Oligarch, had relayed some shocking news. They were opting out of life aboard the SS Oligarch. Opting out of life altogether I would have said. But Holmes, hardly a man of superstition, or so I would have thought, had given them an assignment to fulfill after their, "Passing."

There was some sort of to-do involving the evacuation of something called, "Vacuum tubes" as a parting gift to Doxy - I do remember Doxy. But Doxy didn't go down the basement steps at Firefox House. I think that was a wise decision. Except it wasn't Doxy's decision. "You will be most useful by monitoring the analog signals that Cody and Edgar will send back from Hell," said Holmes. "Dr Watson and I will see them off." I recall thinking there were others that volunteered to join us. But I thought I may have gotten that from a book I once read.

I knew this much, my senses told me that I was here with Sherlock Holmes, though I couldn't say what, "Here" was, and I had not yet seen or heard my old friend. I did not want to open my eyes, afraid of what I might see, and hearing anything aside from, "Butterworth, Bessel, Linkwitz, Riley. Please hold," would have been difficult. I'm not certain precisely which iteration of the phrase brought forth the realization, but bring it forth it did: I was in Hell. Then, with eyes still shut, I saw it. A vast city with empty streets and grim-walled buildings. And behind every opaque wall (though I saw through them fairly easily) sat people holding telephones. And in ear after ear echoed the phrase, "Butterworth, Bessel, Linkwitz, Riley. Please hold," as caller after caller re-connected after being abruptly and arbitrarily cut off. And there was another, more constant, sound of which I slowly became conscious. It was music. Music that attempted to sound cheery, but instead sounded garbled and distorted. As if to mock those 'lucky' enough to still be on hold.

These sounds had a certain ugly regularity to them so I listened, hoping for some sort of variation I suppose. I kept my eyes shut. And I did not speak.

When the music stopped, I could sense a faint rising of hope throughout the city. Then a voice, different from that of the, "Please hold" demon announced to all the listeners, "Due to a high volume of calls our operation is extremely busy. Your call is important to us. So please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order received. The estimated hold time is..." Then, on each telephone, I was aware that the second demon's voice was giving a different estimated hold time. The one thing the times had in common was an almost unimaginable length. But the estimates seemed custom-tailored to taunt the caller. For some callers the time span mentioned was in years. In other cases, involving callers with full bladders, the figure supplied was in seconds. And an especially anguished cohort consisted of callers anxiously watching the battery-life indicator on their respective instruments.

As the reality of each caller's situation struck home, a few kept determined silence. Others whimpered while some cursed softly. But for still others, and much louder than ever I heard it up on the SS Oligarch, the only recourse seemed to be The Scream. "Quickly Watson," I heard a familiar voice whisper hoarsely, "Now is our chance." It was Sherlock Holmes, and a young man, or was it two? someone I think I should have remembered, but couldn't quite, was/were with him. They helped me to my feet, and somehow, we were transported to a place that seemed reminiscent of a book I had read. Or maybe I wrote it, and it was sitting unpublished in a drawer back in London. I do know there was a London. And I knew this was not it.

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