The Crossroads of the Aether
An on-going Sherlock Holmes story ? I'll start it off .
Feel free to join in .
Astute ' Sherlockians ' will note that this story is set in the ' great hiatus ' following Sherlock Holmes supposed death .
Just remember that this is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and try and stay in sympathy with the spirit that inspired it .
Sherlock Holmes leaned forward .
" And you say this John ... "
" Johnny Ringo " , interrupted our guest .
" Very well , Mr.Earp . Johnny Ringo was found sitting in a tree with a pistol in one hand and and a fatal wound to the head . Where was this ? "
" Turkey Creek , July the thirteenth 1882 . "
" So you waited a decade to consult me ? "
" There were more pressing matters . I couldn't just cross the Atlantic for a fireside chat about my suspicions . "
" Quite so . Dr. Watson would you consult my records for 1882 . I seem to remember something about startling events in Arizona ."
I had been taking notes but at Holmes request opened the volume and scanned the United States section .
" Nothing about a Johnny Ringo . Arizona did you say . I have something . "
" Don't keep us in suspense Watson . "
" It seems our guest is too modest . "
Wyatt Earp rose to his feet .
" If we could stick to the matter at hand . "
" By all means " , said Sherlock Holmes , " Everything you have told me so far suggests that the unfortunate Mr. Ringo was the victim of self harm . "
" So it would seem , Mr. Holmes , and so the coroner at the time thought . "
" But you think otherwise ? "
" Yes I Do . I have come to believe that sinister forces were involved and that you are the one man who can bring them to justice . "
Wyatt Earp sat down heavily .
" Sinister forces you say ? "
" Yes " , said Earp , " and I believe they are known to you . "
" Interesting " , said Sherlock Holmes , " And who might they be ? "
What Wyatt Earp said next astounded Holmes and myself and set us on one of the most dangerous quests of our careers .
" Quite right , Mr.Holmes . " , came a voice from above . '
" It seems we are not alone . " , observed Sherlock Holmes .
" Well taken . " said Thaddeaus Sholto , " It seems that a spot of explanation is in order . "
" By my calculations ... " began Sherlock Holmes .
" Should have known better than to try to fool you . " said Sholto , with a chuckle .
I couldn't see anything to be amused about and my expression must have said as much .
" We have about half an hour , gentlemen . I will attempt to explain something that is known to very few people . "
" By all means . " , said Sherlock Holmes , " A spot of candor would not go amiss . "
" Very well , Mr. Holmes . You may not believe what I am about to reveal . "
I could not restrain myself , " Out with it man . "
" This secret is known to very few . "
" I think we have already covered that . "
" Yes , Dr. Watson . Prepare yourself for a shock . "
" You are aware of Benjamin Franklin's experiments regarding electricity ? "
We nodded .
" Among other things he proved that lightning is a form of electricity . Invented the lightning conductor and found himself elected to your Royal Society . "
Sherlock Holmes and I exchanged glances .
Clearly we were in the hands of a loquacious madman .
What he said next took our breath away .
" What has been a state secret since the early days of the Republic is that he also discovered the secret of time travel . "
" Time travel ? " exploded Sherlock Holmes , " What nonsense ! "
" Not nonsense , Mr. Holmes , but reality . We are steering towards the time tunnel now . "
"Oh for God's sake, Sholto!" I exclaimed, turning away as if to gaze pensively over the landscape. Under cover of the motion, I slipped the semiautomatic pistol from under my gaudy jacket, jacked the slide back to chamber a round, and turned back with the weapon leveled at Sholto's chest.
"This has gone on for quite long enough."
"Watson," Holmes exclaimed, "what on earth?"
"Is it not obvious?" I asked my friend. "We have somehow fallen into the clutches of Moriarty's henchmen, and are being taken to our final resting place even as we speak. Now, kindly disarm this fellow, then we can seize the control room."
"You must remember Mycroft's instructions, Watson. He was quite clear that we would see things we could hardly countenance, and this certainly seems to fall under that description."
"I can't disagree with you there, Holmes, but ask yourself, are we being treated as if we are a vital part of this operation? Do we even know what the operation is, or if there even is one? You withhold information from prisoners, not colleagues, and certainly not those who are considered vital contributors to an endeavor."
"Doctor, I assure you that we are on the same side, and that everything is unfolding as planned," Sholto said. "We only withheld key bits of information because the enemy was known to be actively seeking you, and if you were captured, you cannot divulge what you do not know."
"Fine, Mr. Sholto, that isn't unreasonable. But looking about us now, I perceive that we are on a moving vessel a thousand feet in the air. Unless Moriarty has had the foresight to produce some sort of individual flying apparati for his minions, we are in no danger of being captured, so unless being tied up or shot in the next few moments is on your agenda, you are now going to bring us fully up to date on what we are doing, and what role we are expected to play in this whole great charade."
"Watson," Holmes marveled, "I had no idea you could be so assertive."
He said it with a tone of disapproval, but I could see the harbinger of a grin playing around the periphery of his ears.
"I may have a kind and nurturing nature, as you have more than once remarked, Holmes, but I also have military training, and a finely cultivated sense of self-preservation, and I have been led as far as I intend to go down this primrose path of, 'We'll tell you later.' You'll tell us now, Mr. Sholto, or you're going to have a most distressing afternoon, and these ridiculous clothes notwithstanding, you have my word as a gentleman on that."
"Mr. Holmes," Sholto said to my companion, "surely you can see the wisdom of our methods."
"I can," my friend said, "and I can also see the good doctor's point. Are we anything but a sacrifice, tethered goats to draw the attention of Colonel Moran while you carry out your true plan? I think I'm with Doctor Watson on this question, Mr. Sholto. I would like some answers as well."
"Very well, gentlemen, but I must warn you, you're likely to wish you had remained in blissful ignorance when you hear what is really afoot. Shall we go to my stateroom? We may as well be comfortable."
"Our stateroom, I think," Holmes said. "Lead the way, Mr. Sholto. We'll be right behind you."
" Well done . " , said Sherlock Holmes after a shaken Thaddeaus Sholto had left us , " It wouldn't have occurred to me to point a firearm at the head of the United States Secret Service . However , demanding answers with menaces does seem to have produced results . "
" Steady on Holmes . " , I replied with becoming modesty , " It seems to be the local custom . I doubt the result justified the effort "
" When all other possibilities have been eliminated whatever remains , however unlikely constitutes the truth . "
" Easy for you to say Holmes . What has been put to us beggars belief . "
" I think we can agree that Mr. Sholto believed every word he said .Being faced with a semi-automatic pistol tends to concentrate the mind "
" So you accept , on the word of a frightened lunatic , that in a few moments we will be entering a time tunnel that will deposit us in 1882 Arizona ? "
Sherlock Holmes nodded .
" Just in time to thwart a plan by your old enemy Moriarty to involve Mexico and the United States in a shooting war that might be decades in the future ? "
Holmes nodded again .
" And just what do you make of the idea that our old friend Wyatt Earp and his whole family of Earps have been placed in Tombstone to await our coming ? "
Sherlock Holmes looked thoughtful .
" From what we know of Mr. Earp I cannot imagine why our presence is required . "
" At least , " Sherlock Holmes said with a grimace " We will soon be able to settle something to your satisfaction . "
" What would that be ? " , I said in surprise .
" If there is a time tunnel we are about to enter it . One way or another it seems we are headed for turbulence . Sholto warned us to brace ourselves . "
As if on cue the cabin began to shake .
Thirty minutes later we emerged on deck to find our world transformed .
" Welcome to the flight deck . " said Thaddeaus Sholto .
Quick introductions to the crew followed .
I could see that Sholto was still wary of me but he seemed to have recovered his usual good spirits .
" What do you make of that , Mr. Holmes . " he said , gesturing with the air of a proprietor .
The display around us was fantastic in the extreme . The air-ship ' Washington ' seemed to float in a sea of ever changing light .
" The Northern Lights ? " , observed Sherlock Holmes , dryly .
" Wrong time of year and too far South . " , said Sholto , with satisfaction , ' What you are observing is something unique to the time tunnel . "
" Time tunnel . " , I muttered .
" I see you are still among the doubters , Dr. Watson ."said our host .
" Mr. Sholto " , said Sherlock Holmes with a smile , " If you would like to explain things again I think we can assure you of a less hostile audience . "
Thaddeaus Sholto looked at me , took a deep breath and began :
" Gentlemen , you see before you someone who was among the most confirmed of doubters . When I became the nations chief rat catcher ... "
At this point he must have noticed that he had lost us .
" Or to put it another way I became the head of the United States Secret Service . "
We resumed understanding at that point and he continued :
" When I was confirmed the President took me aside and explained a secret that had been handed down from President to President since the early days of the Republic .
The secret , which I could hardly credit , was that of time travel . You could be no more astonished than I was . A portal had been discovered by Benjamin Franklin and had been partially explored . The portal or time tunnel had yielded few of its secrets but it had become evident that jumps of about ten years into the past were possible . "
Sherlock Holmes looked thoughtful . " Only into the past ? "
" Yes . Except that a jump forward to the year of entry enables a return . Otherwise we would be locked in the past and forced to live through the decade to catch up with ourselves . "
Sherlock Holmes and I looked at one another .
It was evident that time travel involved a number of paradoxes and a complete suspension of disbelief .
" Seems somewhat illogical . " said Sherlock Holmes , echoing my thoughts
" I won't deny it " , replied our host , " But it has a certain pragmatic quality . "
" Pragmatic quality ? " , I interjected .
" Yes , Dr. Watson . Once we are in the time stream we travel back a year for every half hour we spend there . "
" Seems a rather rough way to calculate time . "
" All I can say is that it works . As for proof that , as you is English might say , that is in the eating . "
Holmes and I looked at one another .
Thaddeaus Sholto might be the head of the United States Secret Service but his grasp of English idiom seemed somewhat shaky .
" One thing puzzles me . "
" Just one thing , Mr.Holmes ? "
" Well , one thing at a time . "
" Go ahead . "
" If this air-ship can take us back ten years to try to prevent a war that might not occur for several decades ... "
Sherlock Holmes paused .
" Why , for example , didn't someone do the same thing and prevent your Civil War ? "
" Good question " said Sholto . " Nothing came of it . Nor did anyone return to tell us what had gone wrong . "
" Comforting ? "
" Yes , Mr. Holmes . In a way . At that time a machine of the power of the ' Washington ' had not been conceived . "
"Hold on, Sholto," I interjected.
"You suggest that a team was sent back to prevent your Civil War, and that they were never heard of again."
"I don't suggest it, Doctor. That is what happened."
"So, how do you know they failed?"
"I don't follow."
"Then you should endeavor to move with more alacrity. What if they succeeded? You might have been living in a time when the Confederacy had won, or the war was still raging a generation on. Then your team goes back and changes something that causes the northern section to be victorious, and everything that follows on from that point travels a different path through time. If the team succeeded and returned, you would never know it, because their very success would mean you never would have met them. They wouldn't have been needed, and never would have been assembled."
Sholto stood looking at me as if I had begun to grow a second head from the side of my neck.
"Watson," Holmes said, "you have developed a positive talent for obfuscation, and practically on the spur of the moment, no less."
"Truly, Holmes, you need only think about it, and once you do, you begin to see the danger in trifling with what has gone before. Let us allow, Mr. Sholto, that everything you have told us is true, and that we are even now flying through a worm hole in time. If one exists, more could exist. What if another nation has access to one of these? They could be sending agents back to tinker just as you are. Several nations could be doing the same thing. Tribes. Primatives. African bushmen, Australian Aborigines, South Sea cannibals, all tinkering with the past. Why, history could be changing right now, thirty times a minute, and none of us would ever know it, because our memories would be changing with each new reality. How long before something is changed that causes a catastrophe that you can't pull us out of? Why, this is-- Holmes, this is unimaginable. It must be stopped!"
"And how do you propose to stop it, Watson? And why? Your own logic refutes your argument. If other nations have access to these tunnels, and are using them to influence events in their favor, then it is imperative that we do the same."
"Does England have such a tunnel, Holmes?"
"Logic would suggest not. If we had, then Mycroft would know of it, and why would he send us here to ride the aether as guests of the Americans? We can only bless Dame Providence that such an anomoly is in the hands of a nation with which we have such a warm relationship."
“They’re friendly enough at the moment. Maybe they weren’t a moment ago. Maybe they won’t be a moment from now. Have you given any thought to this, Sholto? It’s giving me quite a headache, and I don’t like it one bit!”
“Where is your spirit of adventure, Watson?” Holmes asked. “I would have thought this was just the sort of adventure to get the blood pumping in an old war horse like yourself.”
“Actually, gentlemen," Sholto said, "our most brilliant scientists have expended reams of paper and gallons of ink on that very question. They have concluded that it is almost certainly going on just the way you describe it, and that there is no way that we can detect it. We can only try to defend ourselves from the effects.”
“Oh, Holmes,” I groaned, “do you realize what this means? That nothing is real, and nothing ever has been. The entire grand sweep of history is written in chalk on a cosmic slate, and can be erased and rewritten at the whim of an individual. Mr. Sholto, I realize that I have treated you abominably today, but could I ask you to direct me to the nearest liquor cabinet?”
" Enough theory . " , exclaimed Sherlock Holmes .
" My feelings , exactly . " , muttered our host .
" I'm prepared to drink to that . " , I replied , in what was intended as an attempt at reconciliation .
To our shock Thaddeaus Sholto informed us that the air-ship ' Washington ' was officially ' dry ' .
" However ... " , he said , with a twinkle returning to his eye , " If you follow me ... "
An hour or two later we were exchanging the mellow banter of old friends when a crewman entered .
The news sobered us all .
An airship of similar size and capacity was off the port bow and closing with what appeared to be hostile intent .
" Break out the maxim-gun " , ordered Thaddeaus Sholto . " Mr. Holmes , Dr. Watson , please follow me to the bridge . "
Holmes and I exchanged glances . We seemed to share a single thought .
" Moriarty . " , I breathed .
Sherlock Holmes nodded .
We reached the bridge . Sholto was examining the hostile vessel through a telescope .
" What do you make of that ? " , he said , handing me the perspective glass .
I could make out three figures on the bridge of the approaching air-ship .
There was something oddly familiar about them .
I handed the telescope to Sherlock Holmes .
" I'll be ... " , he exclaimed , " I don't believe it . "
The hostile vessel was closing rapidly .
I could make out that one of the figures was wearing a bright yellow shirt .
" By Jove . " , I shouted , " It's us . "
Thaddeaus Sholto grasped a megaphone .
" Sheer off , you fools . "
The short figure on the bridge opposite raised his loudhailer .
" Who are you calling a fool ? "
Our Thaddeaus Sholto seemed ready to explode .
" I'm talking to you . Sheer off or we'll ... "
Holmes seized the megaphone while I subdued Sholto .
We could see that something similar was happening on the other air-ship .
' We cannot meet . " , called Sherlock Holmes .
" Agreed , Sherlock . " , came the reply .
Sherlock Holmes bowed to Sherlock Holmes and the other air-ship began to turn away .
As it turned I could read the vessels name .
It read ' Washington '
" Gentlemen , " , said Sherlock Holmes as our opposite number began to recede into the distance , " I believe we have just encountered a time travel paradox . "