Ouside of the three dimensional space-time continuum, in an alternate universe, Holmes and I lived in our suite of domestic living areas orbiting the planet of Bayka STII, in the system of Ingspace I. The day was Galactic Time 25943.7859278 or Thursday for short. Holmes was dressed in his familiar purple and mauve, interstellar Xo-ray protection robe and I in my grey and black three piece suit. Holmes reclined idly in our personally moulded relaxo-chair, which was designed according to our personal specifications but could still comfortably seat an elephant that was eighteen months pregnant. Holmes was smoking his usual noxious weed from the planet of Canser XII and filling the room with its evil green smoke.
“The trouble with our ultra modern, highly civilised universe, Son of Vot,” he said, “is that there is no original crime. Every day the Intergalactic, Interdimensional, Interuniverse telepapers carry the same boring reports of the same boring crimes in which the perpetrator is glaringly obvious to even a member of the Gaelic Court Police Constabulary — where is the artist, the innovator of crime?”
“There was that forger the police of a hundred worlds took an entire week to apprehend,” said I.
“Only because they are such inept fools,” said Holmes. “Anyone with the brain of a dense homosapien could have caught the fellow in half the time.”
“Well, maybe our soon to arrive mystery guest will have a challenging problem for us.”
“Oh, you mean the Rigellan midget with sharp claws, a pronounced limp and failing eyesight, who owns a dogon and works on an open planet that’s covered in rocks.”
“How by the fourteenth moon of the fifth planet of Delta 9 do you know all that?!” I cried.
“Simple, Son of Vot,” he replied, “he left his walking stick behind.”
“But how?” I reiterrated.
Holmes just got up from his chair and went to fetch the stick, handing to me.
“If you observe the wood,” he said, “you will note it is a variety peculiar to the planet of Rigel IV. However, the size of the stick suggests a maximum height of six feet, but, as we all know, the average height of a Rigellan is nine feet, therefore the owner is a midget. The fact that his claws are sharp is clearly indicated by the marks below the handle. That he has a pronounced limp is obvious by the fact that he has a stick: they are not fashionable on Rigel IV and Rigellan pride would not permit such ownership except under the greatest necessity. The teeth marks at its base shows he has a pet with sharp teeth, and their width and depth connotes a dogon. You will see the scuff marks near its tip: hence my conclusion about a rocky open world. The fact that the tip is barely worn and yet it’s heavily scuff-marked suggests the owner either works at night (unlikely on an open planet that probably gets very cold at night) or has failing eyesight and scrapes it against rocks with some frequency.”
“Amazing, Holmes!” said I.
“Simplicity itself, my dear Son of Vot.” replied Holmes. “There was nothing in my deductions that in any way transcended the commonplace. No, I reiterate, Son of Vot, there is nothing today to challenge the deductive powers of even the most mediocre Consulting Detective.”
“You don’t think that our visitor will bring an interesting case to our attention then?”
“Maybe, Son of Vot, but I despair of it, I really do.”
Holmes was about to console himself with his electric tenor violin — boosted with 100amp tuner — when good fortune saved me in the form of our robotic housekeeper, M HDSN, or M for short.
“There’s a visitor for you, Mr Holmes,” said M, in its distinctly feminine voice.
“Ah, that’ll be our Rigellan friend,” said Holmes, turning to me, his face like the sun after a cloud had passed.
“Show our visitor in, will you M?” said Holmes.
“Yes, Mr Holmes.”
The appearance of our visitor was just as Holmes had described. He was indeed a midget, about five foot eleven, by my estimation. And he had distinctly sharp claws, which were wrapped around the head of what was presumable his spare walking stick. He ambled into the room with a pronounced limp, as Holmes had deduced, and wore a pair of corrective goggles that had a deep ebony frame made from the same wood as the walking stick. Thus far Holmes’ deductions had proved correct and I could hardly wait to test Holmes’ other observations. However, before I could ask anthing the Rigellan spoke.
“Ah, I see you have my stick,” he said, speaking with the normal Rigellan lisp, the Rigellan tongue being unable to articulate clearly our consonants.
“Yes, sir,” said Holmes, taking the stick from my grasp. “You left it behind on your first visit.”
“I’m always doing that,” said the Rigellan. “That’s why I always keep a spare in my Intergalactic, Interdimensional Swift Transit Vehicle.”
“My apologies for you first wasted journey,” said Holmes. “We were called away to rescue a minor planet from a nurd eating star duck. A paltry matter, but bread and butter to us, alas.”
“Think nothing of it, Mr Holmes,” said the Rigellan.
At this point I could restrain myself no longer and interposed: “Do you have a dogon, sir?” I asked.
“Why yes, sir,” replied the Rigellan, wrinkling his not inconsiderable brow, “I have.”
“And where is it you live?”
“The twin planet of Rigel IV, in the galaxy of Andromeda, Universe I.”
“Is it a rocky world?” I persisted.
“Very. In fact I’ve often thought of leaving it on that very account.”
“Forgive my friend’s curiosity,” intervened Holmes. “But we had a little game of observation with your walking stick before you arrived and my friend was unable to believe my deductions.”
“Perfectly alright, Mr Holmes.”
“Then maybe you’d care to take a seat and introduce yourself and your urgent problem.”
“Thank you, Mr Holmes, but how do you know my problem is an urgent one?”
“Why else would you call twice in one day from so far away.”
“Of course, for a moment I thought you’d done something amazing.”
The Rigellan eased himself into the relaxo chair offered him and transfixed his black beady eyes on Holmes and I before taking up his curious narrative.
“My name, Mr Holmes, is Ardvarkus the thirty ninth, and I live, as I said, on the twin planet of Rigel IV. I retired there from the Antares Mining Corporation main offices, staying as a simple Watchman. This arrangement suited me fine. I’ve never been a man of leisure, Mr Holmes, and the thought of spending my retirement totally idle did not appeal to me. However, the job gave me plenty of free time and I spent much of this by keeping in contact with my old friends – by writing to them and occasionally visiting them.”
“It sounds an agreeable way of spending one’s retirement,” observed Holmes. “What exactly is your problem?”
“I’m coming to that, Mr Holmes. There is nothing wrong with my home or job, although my disability is making both more difficult. No, Mr Holmes, my problem is much more serious than any mere vocational one: it affects not only me Mr Holmes, but potentially the entire Universe!”
At this, I must confess, a shiver ran down my spine and I could see plainly that my friend Holmes was much intrigued: his eyes had taken on the keen glint they always did when he was keenly interested, and he sat forward with his hands on his knees and a wiry smile, that connotes a hungry mind.
“Pray, go on,” prompted Holmes.
“Well, Mr Holmes,” he continued, “My problem is a most complex and singular one, and I barely know where to begin.”
“Be banal: try the beginning.”
“Well, as I said, I spent my free time by keeping in contact with my old and dearest friends. One such was a humanoid whom I met as an employee of the Antares Mining Corporation – he worked as an engineer in the Darian system, we met there in staryear 3943.87950002. At the time I was an Inspector for the Corporation, doing a tour of inspection of the Corporation’s problem areas.
“Well, I always had a soft spot for the fellow, no nonsense sort of chap like me, so I always kept in close and constant touch with the fellow: wrote to him regular as clockwork, at least once a month. Well, I had my annual leave coming up so I decided to go and visit him.
“The journey to visit him was a long one; he lived on the planet of Gamma 342.91, in the system of Sol 846.89, Universe III. Well, imagine my surprise then when, on arriving, I found that my friend was not only not there but had never existed!”
“By the Good Lord of Vega 672!” said I.
Holmes clapped his hands together jubilantly and cried: “Capital! I take back everything I said, Son of Vot: no original crime indeed! Pah!!”
“Sir,” he said, offering his hand to the Rigellan, “You have saved a humble detective from the doldrums of despair – your case is indeed a most singular and interesting one and I thank you for bringing it to my notice.”
“I hardly think the disappearance of my friend is a cause of jubilation, sir.” said the Rigellan.
“Forgive me, my good man, you are of course quite right. Pray proceed with your narrative.”
“Well, I think I’ve told you everything I can: I went to see my friend and he had vanished into the thin air of Gamma 342.91.”
“And you could elicit no information of what might have happened from the place he supposedly lived?” asked Holmes.
“The place he had lived in was no longer there, Mr Holmes. The street was there, sure enough, but the houses were all different: they were the older types of architecture of Gamma 342.91, my friend’s house had been an ultra modern affair.”
“Excellent,” said Holmes. “Could you find no trace of your friend’s parents?”
“I never knew them. As far as I know they had died some years before I we met.”
“Pity,” said Holmes, “They might have been very useful in clearing up your little mystery.”
Holmes then proceeded to shoot a series of rapid-fire questions at our Rigellan guest. Holmes seemed particularly interested in Gamma’s past, asking a whole series of questions about its wars, cultural development, politics, and the geography of his friend’s home city. Finally Holmes consulted our own computer files on the world of Gamma 342.91. Then, after what seemed like a most leisurely perusal of the files, Holmes leapt from his chair tossing the compu-book to one side.
“The time for though has passed, Son of Vot,” he declared. “We must proceed at only to Gamma 342.91. If my theory is correct we have no time to lose or the entire Universe could be in grave danger.”
“What is the climate of Gamma 342.91 like, Mr Ardvarkus?” asked Holmes.
“Thin atmosphere, compared to this one, and fairly cold.”
“Then, Son of Vot, I advise you get your cape and helmet immediately. The game’s afoot, Son of Vot, and there’s not a moment to lose.” With that Holmes breezed towards the airlock and I followed close behind, collecting my cape and helmet on the way.
“We will use you ship, if you don’t object, Mr Ardvarkus. I’m sure it will quicker than our’s.”
“No objection, Mr Holmes,” replied the Rigellan.
The Rigellan’s ship was only built for two but fortunately the Rigellans are a large species and the ship was more than roomy enough for Holmes and myself to site beside the Rigellan who, naturally, assumed the pilot’s seat.
“Holmes,” said I, as the ship parted from our space home. “You have always said that is is a mistake to theorise before you have the necessary facts, how then have you been able to form a hypothesis?”
“Son of Vot,” you know my methods, use them.”
“I have been trying to but I must confess it is all a complete mystery to me. I just can’t make any kind of sense out of the given facts at all.”
“Sometimes, Son of Vot, I despair of you, I really do. Think of our little game with the walking stick.”
After that I could elicit no more response from Holmes. He sank into his own thoughts, no doubt thinking up a plan of action upon our arrival at Gamma 342.91. I just leant back in my half of the seat and turned over the facts in my mind but the darkness seemed merely to get even blacker than before so I took merely to staring out of the ship’s window until we arrived.
It took a jump though hyperspace and two leaps across the time-space interfaces that separated us from Universe III. Gamma 342.91 is a very pale, blue world, with white wispy clouds streaking across its azure sky. I would have expected Holmes to have landed on the planets as soon as we arrived but nothing seemed further from his mind. He instructed the Rigellan to sweep round the planet’s circumference, each time going off at a new tangent until we had surveyed the entire surface of the planet. Only then did he instruct our pilot to land in his missing friend’s city.
The spaceport seemed surprisingly primitive and seemed designed mainly for ordinary aircraft. Indeed our arrival caused a minor sensation but we finally managed to make our way through the curious crowds and out of the spaceport to the open city. The first thing that impressed itself on me was the relative age of all the buildings and the antiquated style of the traffic streaming through its busy streets. This part of the Universe was supposed to be fairly well advanced but there seemed little to indicate that here. I could see my friend had not missed my simple observations either for he was busily occupied in studying every facet of our surroundings. He stopped and stared many times: sometimes to look at the buildings on the other side of the street, other times merely the traffic and occasionally the pedestrians who streamed passed us in their droves. However, despite my friend’s insistence that our mission was of the utmost urgency, Holmes appeared to be in no hurry to proceed to the Rigellan’s friend’s supposed abode. Instead he ambled along the street like the most casual tourist, sometimes even stopping to look in shop windows!
Finally I felt impelled to speak: “Holmes,” said I. “When are we going to the missing man’s home street?”
“And what would that achieve?” said Holmes, surprised.
“Well, surely someone in the area will know something of the missing man’s disappearance?”
“They will know nothing. No, we are better employed seeing what we can learn from the city centre, I think.”
“But I don’t see….” protested I.
“My dear, Son of Vot, you see everything but observe nothing.”
“I do not think you’re being fair, Holmes,” said I, a little hurt by my friend’s offhand reproval..
“Remember the walking stick,” said he, “You too saw the scuff marks, the type of wood, the wear on the tip and all the other things but you were too timid in drawing your inferences so the sum total of your observations was nought whereas I correctly deduced the home, appearance and occupational status of our friend here. So here too, you also see the traffic, the buildings, the shop windows and all the other things I see but whereas I discern the solution to our mystery you see nought be more mystery and darkness.”
“What then is the key to this business?” I asked.
“That I confess escapes me at present,” said Holmes, “But I am most definitely on a scent and, if I am not very much mistaken, our quarry is no far away.”
With that he continued on his way and all myself and the Rigellan could do was follow on silently behind. Holmes continued his constant surveillance of our surroundings and then started off on a new tack. Without warning he darted off into a large department sotre and we had to rush in after him in order not to be separated from him. We go in the store just in time to see him dart in an alcove marked “BOOKS” and when we joined him he was idly perusing a shelf of books marked “BEST SELLERS”.
“Holmes!” I cried, “What is the meaning of all this?”
My protests were ignored and he seemed to be simply reading the jackets of the books, muttering to himself. Then as suddenly as he had darted in he took heel and darted out, turning into the depths of the store. He sailed through the fashion department briefly stopping to examine some of the styles, and then breezing on until he reached the audio department. Once there he simply browsed through their recordings, once more muttering to himself oblivious to our presence. He continued this rigmarole through several other large stores, ignoring our protests to slow down or at least to explain his behaviour. Finally he started perusing the windows of the smaller stores as we passed, seemingly concentrating on book stores. At last he seemed to acknowledge our existence and deemed to talk to us.
“As I said, Son of Vot, it often the small details that are important in providing the solution to many a mystery. Take the walking stick incident: each detail I observed was small and insignificant in itself but each contributed to the total picture of our client here. In this business too, it is the small things I have observed that has led me to the possible solution of our problem.
“The first thing I noted about our problem,” he continued, “was that the disappearance of our client’s friend was itself not an isolated incident. He himself informed us that his friend’s disappearance was accompanied by the disappearance of his house also. On our arrival here, we saw for ourselves the changes extended to the technology, architecture, and culture of this planet. The missing man’s disappearance then was no ordinary one but involved the entire time-stream of this planet.”
Holmes’ conversation stopped as abruptly as it had started and he was staring with a look of jubilation into the window of a small bookstore.
“I think our quest will soon be over, Son of Vot,” he said excitedly, turning eagerly to myself and our client. “I cannot explain now but I need both of you to follow my instructions to the letter; are you game, Son of Vot?”
“You can rely on me,” said I, for I have never turned down the prospect of adventure.
“And me,” said our client eagerly.
“Excellent!” replied Holmes. “Now Ardvarkus, I want you to go down the alleyway we just passed and locate the back entrance to this shop, then enter it quietly. Son of Vot and myself will go in the front way in five minutes time. That should give you plenty of time to do your part, Ardvarkus.”
Neither of us suspected the plan Holmes had in his mind but we readily agreed to his requests knowing that he must have a plan in his mind. Holmes chatted idly to me for the five minutes we had to stand outside the bookshop but I found it difficult to respond; my mind filled with speculation regarding Holmes’ plan, I could only nod occasionally as Holmes rattled on about the latest symphonic masterpiece of the Quadrian, Migell the fifty-eight.
When the five minutes were up, Holmes strolled inside the store as casually as any tourist and wandered over to the first store assistant he saw.
“I see you have a book signing here today,” he remarked casually. “Where is it being held?”
“In the back room,” the assistant responded surlily, gesturing over his shoulder.
“Come on, Son of Vot,” said Holmes, walking in the direction indicated.
In the back room a small queue led to a small table, behind which sat a small man, with a balding head and the typical purple skin of a small Gammarian. When he reached the head of the queue, Holmes stood before the little man, staring down at his piggy face.
“Are you the author of this book?” asked Holmes, holding up a small volume he had bought in one the earlier stores.
“Why, er, yes,” answered the small Gammarian hesitatingly.
“Mr James Moriarty, I arrest you in the name of the Time-stream Police Corps for interfering with the history of this planet.”
“What!” cried the little man, his face growing even more purple.
He didn’t wait for Holmes to reiterate though. Instead he pushed the table at Holmes and headed for a small door behind him. He flung the door wide open and charged straight into the arms of our Rigellan client.
“Going somewhere?” he asked jovially.
“He’ll be going somewhere for a long time when the Temporal Courts get through with him,” replied Holmes.
“I still don’t understand how you figured it all out,” said I, as we lounged in our livingroom back in the region of Bayka STII.
“Well, as I said, the fact that the missing friend’s disappearance was accompanied by so many other changes made it clear to me that what we were dealing with was no mere simple disappearance but a manifestation of temporal interference. The only question that remained then was who had interfered with the time continuum?”
“The only problem, you say, it sounds like the most difficult one to me,” said I, amazed by my friend’s nonchalance.
“It was tedious rather than difficult,” explained my friend. “It was a case of observing the small details and putting them all together to make a whole, as in the case of the walking stick.”
“But I still don’t see…” began I.
“It was, as I said, simply a matter of keeping my eyes open to the small changes that had taken place or, more correctly, had not taken place.”
“What do you mean, Holmes?” asked I.
“The first thing that grabbed my attention when our client was outlining his narrative was the comment that his friend’s house had changed and had become an old fashioned one. This immediately suggested to me that the building our client had seen was the one that had stood before the ultra modern one his friend was supposed to have resided in. Now this was a most suggestive fact.”
“What did it suggest?” asked I.
“It suggested that its demolition had not taken place. Now old houses like that on are rarely demolished deliberately, rather its demolition was likely to be the result of an earthquake or more likely a war.”
“Why not an earthquake?” asked I.
“Because the occurrence of an earthquake is not likely to be affected by a change in the time-stream of such a recent duration,” replied Holmes.
“It is always so obvious once you explain it,” said I.
“Thank you, Son of Vot,” said Holmes.
“My hypothesis was supported,” continued Holmes, “by the facts I elicited from our own files on Gammarian history before the time-change had occurred. According to them there had been a minor war sixty years before. Now wars own result in bombing, obviously, in which buildings have a tendency to fall down. The continued existence of the old building where an ultra modern one was supposed to be suggested then that the war had not taken place. This was supported by many other small things: the less advanced technology – as you know one of the effects of war is an increased expenditure in research which naturally speeds up technological progress slightly – the plenitude of olden architecture, the total absence of war books in the stores we went into.”
“But how did you determine who had done it?”
“As I‘ve said, small things are often important; that applies to actions too. People often thinks wars are stopped and started by politicians, diplomats, generals and others of their ilk, but in fact public opinion is more often the deciding factor. Public opinion in turn is swayed by such things as the media, songs, public personalities and books. It was for this reason that I perused the local stores looking for possible influences. I decided that music was to ephemeral a thing to have such a decisive effect and there was nothing in any of the stores to contradict that opinion. Consequently I concentrated on books and soon found one that seemed promising. It was written at the appropriate time and was by an author whose popularity had continued to the present time and who, fortunately for us, was still alive – I gleaned that from the blurb of one of them. And according to the same blurb his first story had indeed had a major affect on the planet, having started a powerful peace lobby at a time of extreme political tension. I was convinced then that I had got my man and only had to track him down. Thankfully that was done for me by the sign in that store’s window announcing a book signing that very day by the author I was after. It was an unbelievable piece of luck, it was like the time-stream was conspiring to help us track its meddler, fantastic!”
“But how did this affect the existence of the Rigellan’s friend?” asked I.
“Oh, that is a simple matter,” replied Holmes with a wave of his hand. “In all likelihood he was conceived during the war, when it didn’t take place he wasn’t conceived, simple as that.”
“Will the Time Police be able to restore the time stream to what it was before?” I asked.
“That I do not know, Son of Vot, but we have done our job and can retire satisfied with a job well done.”
“Well, it was certainly a challenging case,” said I.
“Simplicity itself, my dear Son of Vot.”
“There’s still one thing I’m curious about: why did he do it?”
“He wanted fame, fortune, usual kind of stuff, but he couldn’t get them in his own time so he chose another in which success was almost guaranteed. When you write this case up in your journal, Son of Vot, I think a suitable title would be ‘The Case of the Irresponsible Writer’.”
“I’ll think about it,” Holmes.
“Good old Son of Vot,” said Holmes.
©John Steele, 1989-ish, 2008
My original title for this story was indeed ‘The Case of the Irresponsible Writer’ but I thought it gave too much away and changed it. I typed the above up from my original typewritten version, complete with all its original over-the-top, early Asimov style phrases, but I’ve edited out a lot of my original overuse of semi-colons. A small press magazine, The Crystal Egg, did express an interest in publishing it (for no money though) until they discontinued publication, and the official Sherlock Holmes Society magazine, to which I’d also submitted it, returned it with a letter saying something like it wasn’t their “cup of tea”. My own powers of deduction have yet to fathom why.