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The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival, a SF mystery, finds hyperspatial physicist Dr. Skye Chadwick discovering alternate realities. In one, she finds a Sherlock Holmes destined to die at Reichenbach, and rescues him. Can Holmes thrive in our modern world? Is Chadwick Holmes' new "Watson"?

 

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The Case of the Displaced Detective

The Arrival

SF mystery

Stephanie Osborn

 

 

 

Prologue—Objects, Subjects, and Beginnings

A tall, dark figure, clad in formal Victorian eveningwear, strode briskly down the shadowed street, casually swinging his silver-embellished walking stick. No carriages had passed in the last half-hour, and only one hansom cab had wandered by ten minutes before, its horse’s hollow hoofbeats echoing between the buildings. The gas street-lamps were long since lit, but between them were patches of deep darkness, patches entirely too broad for comfort in these circumstances. Beneath the brim of his silk top hat, eagle-sharp grey eyes darted about, studying the shadows, alert and aware. For well this man knew that danger lurked in the gloom this night, danger peculiar to him alone; and he was alone. So very alone.

But not for long. He was headed to a specific destination. To the one man he knew he could trust, the one man who would stand at his side regardless of danger—for had he not done so, many times before? Was not this the reason for the deep, if largely unspoken, bond of friendship between them?

His friend would help. There was no doubt in his mind on that point. Already today two attempts had been made upon his life, and well did this man need help.

"Not far now," the words breathed past thin, pale lips. "Almost ther—"

The words died on said lips.

A hulking, brutish shadow materialised from the alleyway in front of him.

The elegant man in the top hat ducked just in time to avoid the lead-weighted bludgeon that swung through the space his head had occupied fractions of a second before. Instead, the silk hat took the brunt of the blow, flying across the sidewalk and into a puddle in the gutter, its side crushed. Flinging up his cane and grasping each end in his hands, the gentleman dropped into an Oriental horse stance, and prepared to do battle.

"’Ere, now," the other figure said, in a coarse growl. "Hit’s th’ end o’ you, it is. Me superior won’t be ‘arvin’ it, an’ Oi means t’ see ‘e don’t ‘arve ta."

"You can try," the gentleman replied, calm. "But better men than you have tried, and here I stand."

A guttural, angry sound emerged from the assailant, and the cudgel swung again, this time with enough force to crush bone. Deft, the gentleman caught it with the center of his cane, but to his chagrin the walking-stick, his weapon of choice in many a similar street altercation, chose that moment to give up the ghost. It snapped in two, splintering and cracking. He snarled his own irritation, and flung the pieces aside when he realised there was not enough left to use as a decent weapon.

Then he began to flit and weave as the other man smirked and lunged at him, swinging the club repeatedly, as hard as he could. It was a dance of death, and one wrong move by the gentleman would have serious, possibly fatal, consequences.

But the man in the evening dress was not without weapons; no, his best weapons were permanently attached to his person. The alert grey eyes watched, looking for some opening; and when he saw his chance, he struck like lightning. A fist shot out at the loutish face, catching the hit man squarely in the mouth just as he realised his danger and started to shout for help. All that came out was a grunt, however, and the assassin fell to the pavement as if pole-axed, with both lips split.

The gentleman hissed in pain, grabbing his fist with his other hand for a moment to let the worst of the discomfort pass before examining the damage.

"By Jove, he has sharp teeth for such a troglodyte," he murmured, peeling off the ruined black kid glove to expose the bloody knuckles beneath. "Completely through the leather and into the flesh. I shall have to have this disinfected, for certain. No time for that now. Go, man!" He turned swiftly to resume his journey.

A crack resounded from the brownstone close at hand, and the man felt a spray of stone chips strike the side of his face. He flinched, and a sharp curse left his lips. He took to his heels and rounded the corner of the street, then disappeared into shadow.

* * *

Not ten feet away from the gentleman, though invisible to him, an elegant blonde woman in a white lab coat stood between tall, electronic towers. Behind her, concentric rows of computer consoles were manned by two dozen scientists, engineers, and technicians. Surrounding all of them was a huge, domed room carved from solid pink granite.

The woman stood for long minutes, silent, watching.

Finally one of the technicians broke the electronic silence.

"So, Doc, whaddaya think?"

"What do you think, Jim? How were the readings?" The woman turned toward him.

"I’ve got bang-on, Dr. Chadwick," Jim noted, glancing down at his own console, brown eyes darting about as he surveyed his readouts. "But I can’t say for everybody else."

"Rock steady at Timelines," someone else called.

"Sequencing looks good…" another said.

"Software’s running nominally."

"Hardware’s humming right along…"

On it went, from console to console. Finally the woman nodded.

"Perfect," she purred in deep satisfaction. "We’ve got our subject. Page Dr. Hughes and have her come down."

"On it, Doc," Jim grinned, reaching for the phone.

 

 

Chapter 1—Water Falls Through Wormholes

"Are you sure, Skye?" Dr. Caitlin Hughes, the Project Director, a roly-poly redheaded woman, murmured to the attractive woman at her side.

"I’m sure, Cait." Dr. Skye Chadwick, a tall, athletic, well-proportioned blonde in her late thirties, and Project: Tesseract’s chief scientist, tucked an escaped strand of long spun gold behind one ear; the rest remained in the thick French braid that draped down her neck. "We’ve dinked all the way around it for several months now. We’ve got the alternate continuum thoroughly mapped out, and we know what we’re doing. All systems are fully operational and running like the proverbial top. It’s time to go in and observe firsthand. We’ll watch the actual event, then send in an exploration team." She turned and met her friend’s bright green eyes. "Don’t worry. Washington will be more than satisfied."

"Oh, I’m not worried about that," the project manager waved away the reassurances. "I just don’t want you or any of the team getting hurt if something goes wrong."

"Nothing will go wrong," Dr. Chadwick said, almost in a whisper, but with confidence. Dr. Hughes took one look at the blue eyes, glancing between the clipboard full of notes and the information on the monitors, and realized Skye was concentrating on the preparations. Caitlin waited for a few moments, allowing Skye to follow through on the prep work before speaking again.

"I can’t believe you actually found an alternate timeline like this one. It’s…well, it’s fascinating. The similarities, and the differences…"

"Yeah," Dr. Chadwick chuckled. "You know, the parallel universe concept has been around a long time, and it looks like we’ve finally managed to prove it. I’ll be glad to get this done and the sanitized paper written and published on the matter. It’ll blow the community wide open, not to mention the whole field of research."

"Watch out how you write it. If you’re not careful, your colleagues will think you’ve gone off the deep end and believe that TV show is real." Dr. Hughes laughed.

"Oh, you mean the time gate thing they film up in Canada?" Dr. Chadwick grinned mischievously. "Whose idea was that, anyway? It’s made for one of the best covers for a classified project I’ve ever seen."

"Nobody you’d know," Caitlin smirked. "Friend of mine in the Pentagon came up with it. He’s a real smart-ass. Fun guy, but full of it."

"You don’t mean Mike Waters, do you?" Skye snorted, a decidedly amused, if unladylike, sound.

"The very one. I didn’t know you knew him."

"Hell, yeah. Met him when I was in Washington two years ago for that conference. I don’t think I told you, but he made a play for me. We even dated once or twice, but it didn’t work out. I never could figure out how he wound up in D.C. instead of L.A., though."

"He said it was more of a challenge." Dr. Hughes shrugged, then paused. "This is going to be really interesting, Skye. I mean, aside from the proof of concept, you’re going to get to watch one of your heroes. In action, no less."

Dr. Chadwick nodded, the expression on her face depicting decidedly mixed emotions.

"Yeah. I can’t believe he’s real. But you know, there was this science fiction author…he theorized that our literature is reality elsewhere, and vice versa. Lemme think…who the hell was it…? Somebody famous…Oh! Robert Heinlein! You know, his ‘World as Myth’ concept. And an Argentine writer named Jorge Luis Borges first introduced the concept, sorta, even before quantum mechanics did. So I guess it makes sense after a fashion."

Dr. Hughes listened, understanding the notion; but she knew Chadwick better than to be easily diverted, and she scrutinized her friend, then pursued the issue. "This is hurting you."

"He’s going to die—for real—and I get to watch it. I mean, in this continuum, there isn’t a happy ending after the Falls. Wouldn’t it hurt you, if he was your hero?" Dr. Chadwick shrugged.

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess it would," Caitlin sighed, sobering. "Why are you doing this particular timeline, then?"

"Because the team voted, for one, and for two, it’s the only one we’ve found where the incident isn’t…spied on. The…compatriot, henchman, whatever you want to call him…got rounded up, in this particular scenario. There’s only the two men, and we’ll be the sole witnesses to what really happened. When it’s…over, we’ll send observers in, take a good look, record some data, and pull out. We’ll be the only beings in the multiverse with an actual record of what happened." Skye shrugged, trying to appear indifferent.

"Oh," Caitlin said, subdued.

"Dr. Chadwick, Dr. Hughes, it’s ready," Jim the technician called from across the large underground room.

"That’s our cue," Dr. Chadwick noted, managing to approximate a cheerful smile, addressing the room at large. "Everyone please stand behind the yellow line until the doors open. No food, drink, flash photography, or video cameras are permitted. Once aboard the ride, please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times until we come to a full and complete stop. Otherwise, they’re apt to end up in another universe somewhere without ya, and wouldn’t that fry your noggin?"

Outright laughter ran around the room, and Dr. Chadwick added, "Checklist out!" She raised the clipboard she had held absently in one hand for the last several minutes while she talked, scanning over it.

"Checklist…" the nearest experiment controller parroted.

"Checklist out," the next nearest vouched.

"Checklist here…" and so on, around the room.

"Go/no-go call," Dr. Chadwick announced. "Processing?"

"Go."

"Software?"

"Go."

"Timelines?"

"Go."

"Sequencing?"

"Go…"

* * *

Ten minutes later, all was in readiness. Caitlin and Skye exchanged silent, eloquent looks. Caitlin "became" Project Manager Dr. Hughes, who nodded authoritatively. Dr. Chadwick accepted the unspoken permission to proceed.

"Sequencing, bring us to observation mode," the chief scientist ordered.

"Going to observation mode," the Sequencing position noted.

Dr. Chadwick checked off a block on her clipboard.

The room in which they stood was underground, deep beneath Schriever Air Force Base outside Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Chamber, as it was called, was the most secure facility in the United States, even more secure than Cheyenne Mountain, some miles to the west, newer, and far more advanced technologically. The underground facility was composed of a single large central chamber and eight smaller support rooms clustered around the main room, all carved of solid granite. Skye, Caitlin, and their companions occupied the central chamber, while support teams manned the equipment in each of the secondary rooms. Outside the complex, high-speed elevators and a network of corridors terminating in security airlocks covertly connected them to the rest of the base.

The center of the huge rock-hewn room stood empty. The controller consoles huddled close around the periphery, but eight large columns, monoliths of titanium steel and circuits, surrounded the empty center. Upon Dr. Chadwick’s order, a hum began, moving sequentially around the room from column to column as the system powered up. A carbon dioxide laser beam shot out, interlacing the monoliths in the classic hypercube design, exchanging data, forging them into one coherent unit. In the volume of space contained within the high-tech Stonehenge, vague, three-dimensional, ghostlike images flitted.

"Locus," Dr. Chadwick called to the appropriately-labeled console, "dial in to Switzerland. Meiringen. The Falls."

The images translated in a dizzying kaleidoscope, then settled on an almost holographic image of a tall, multi-tiered waterfall high in the Swiss Alps.

"Timelines, shift to Continuum 114…" Dr. Chadwick checked off a block on her clipboard. No change was seen, save that the hologram flickered momentarily.

"Continuum 114," the Timelines position called. "Date?"

"Year 1891 of the Current Era, month five, day four," Dr. Chadwick answered. Another check.

Multicolored flashes darted through the hologram for several minutes, then settled.

"Time?" came the request.

"13:30 Greenwich Mean Time."

"Copy, 13:30 Greenwich," Timelines answered.

The falling water sped up to a ridiculous rate, then suddenly slowed to a complete stop. After a moment, it resumed a normal flow. Abruptly two men could be seen on a ledge near the top of the falls. One—tall, thin, dark-haired, grey-eyed, handsome in an austere, hawk-like sort of way—sat quietly on a rock only yards from the pinnacle of the path, clad in Victorian-style tweed traveling clothes. A sturdy hiking staff rested against the side of the rock on which he sat, and he calmly scribbled something on a notepad. The other man was older: Balding, stoop-shouldered, almost reptilian in movement and appearance, clad in black, waiting patiently along the downward path, and in a subtle, almost menacing way, blocking it. Before them, the falls leapt down in tiers for over six hundred and fifty feet. To one side, a gleaming, wet rock wall; on the other, a sheer drop.

"Track subjects. Initiate recording. Begin silent protocol," Dr. Chadwick ordered in an absent voice, her eyes fixed on the image in the center of the room. "Sequencing, focus, please."

Suddenly the images in the center of the room became more than images. They solidified.

Skye and Caitlin tiptoed forward until they stood right outside the ring of monoliths, looking between two of the columns at the active tableau. Skye tensed, face drawn. Caitlin divided her attention between the events unfolding within the monoliths, and the pale, strained expression on her friend’s face.

* * *

The tweed-clad man studied his handiwork for a moment, then nodded to himself. He stood and removed the pages from the notepad, then placed them on the stone, weighting them down with a handsome silver cigarette case produced from a pocket. He studied the positioning, then adjusted case and papers. A small shift in the location of the hiking stick seemed to suit him at last, convincing him it would now draw attention to the objects resting on the dark grey stone. Then, with a grim, set jaw, he turned to his companion.

"Well," he murmured, "shall we complete this unsavoury little business?"

"We shall," his older, black-clad companion agreed coldly.

The pair turned and walked to the very end of the path, wet with spray from the falls. Tweed Suit, pale but calm, turned and faced Black Coat. With a fierce, angry growl, Black Coat launched himself at Tweed Suit, a murderous gleam in his eye. Tweed Suit dropped into a martial arts crouch and closed with his opponent, but despite Tweed Suit’s greater strength and skill, Black Coat’s fury gave him a strength that was equal to his opponent. The pair grappled, teetering on the very rim of the precipice.

* * *

Skye’s respiration was rapid, and every muscle in her body was rigid. Caitlin briefly noticed this before the fight in the center of the room drew her complete attention.

"Dear God," the gaping, horrified project manager breathed, barely audible even to herself, as she finally, truly grasped she was about to witness the deaths of two men.

* * *

At that very instant, Tweed Suit’s foot slipped. Desperate leather-clad toes fought for purchase, and the younger of the two men managed to twist around, away from the precipitous drop. Simultaneously he pyramided his fingers and thrust both arms up between the hands grasping him homicidally by the throat, then forced them outward, swift and powerful. The chokehold broke. A tweed knee caught Black Coat hard in the groin, and not accidentally.

Black Coat staggered back with a gasping cry of pain. His foot slipped on the wet stone and he lunged backward, arms flailing. One frantic, flapping hand caught Tweed’s coat lapel. When that makeshift anchor was realized, the other hand followed. Tweed Suit gasped as he was jerked forward. He instantly reached to break Black Coat’s grip while leaning back as hard as he could in a desperate attempt to counterbalance Black Coat’s weight and avoid being pulled over the edge. The deep-sunken, dark eyes of Black Coat blazed in malevolent, Pyrrhic triumph at Tweed as he deliberately threw his weight backward in an attempt to pull them both over the ledge. Tweed Suit saw Black Coat’s intent, and his fingers slipped under his lapel, fighting with all his strength to free himself of the death grip and its human anchor-weight as his feet slid inexorably toward oblivion.

* * *

Skye watched in horror as the scenario unfolded. For a split-instant, the scientist found herself caught up into the drama, an integral part of it. And it was in that split-instant that she reacted on instinct.

"HOLMES!" she shouted, lunging forward before anyone could even think of stopping her, directly between the two nearest monoliths.

* * *

Tweed Suit’s head shot around in surprised recognition at the name, wide grey eyes fixing in shock on the strangely-clad woman in the lab coat and blue jeans who had just materialized from a solid rock cliff face. Mere fractions of a second later, his opponent, too, responded, muttering, "Strings?" as he struggled to reinforce his grip on Tweed Suit.

Without hesitation, still carried forward by the momentum of her lunge, the tall blonde took two swift steps through the bracken and shrubs along the rock face. In the same motion, she brought the edge of her clipboard down across Black Coat’s wrists with a loud crack, deliberately striking the pressure points as she did so. Black Coat’s grasp instantly loosed, and the two men fairly shot apart, one propelled by gravity, the other by the opposing force of his counterbalance.

Mr. Sherlock Holmes, his world’s first consulting-detective, staggered backward into the cliff face…and disappeared.

Dr. Skye Chadwick watched in horror as Professor James Moriarty, his world’s first Western crime lord, plunged over the precipice of the Reichenbach Falls with a dreadful cry, bouncing twice off rock spurs on the way down.

"Oh, dear God," Chadwick whispered, before turning and sprinting for the cliff.

She, too, vanished.

* * *

As soon as she emerged into the Chamber, Chadwick spun, looking back for her own footprints, scrutinizing the ledge. There were none, due to the fact she had, fortunately, trod only on the wet stone of the ledge itself, and not in the black mud of the path. The bracken along the rock wall was bedraggled and torn, it was true; but that could as easily have been from the fight as her passage. She took a quick, deep breath, trying to steady her nerves.

"Priority terminate!" she exclaimed.

"Emergency?" Timelines queried.

"Negative! Priority only," Skye said firmly. "Repeat, priority only."

"Roger, priority only…"

In seconds Project: Tesseract was smoothly powered down.

She simply stood there, silent, gazing vacantly into the empty center of the room, in shock. No sound was heard for long moments, as the scientists, technicians, and government workers stared at her; at the strange, anachronistic man picking himself up from the floor near her; and at each other.

"Dear God, what have I done?" she murmured aloud. Chadwick put her hand over her eyes, badly shaken. Holmes moved forward, laying a light, comforting hand on her shoulder.

"Saved my life," he responded quietly. "And for that, I thank you."

"You’re welcome. But I…I’m a scientist. I…wasn’t supposed to…" Chadwick stammered.

"You were to observe only, and you intervened instead." Holmes’ eyebrow rose, as he comprehended what she couldn’t bring herself to say.

"Yes."

"You couldn’t help it, Skye." Dr. Hughes came up behind her, putting a hand on her other shoulder. "You aren’t ‘just’ a scientist. You’re a—well, you were—a police officer, a detective even, and that side of you is just as strong. ‘To protect and serve,’ and all that. Besides, you…‘know’ him. You couldn’t let him die."

"I killed a man, Cait," Skye protested in a low tone. "He died. I saw his brains splatter all over the rocks. Oh, Lord, help…" she added fervently, as her stomach lurched at the memory. She turned toward the door.

* * *

"Where are you going?" Hughes asked, sharper than she intended, as Holmes and the others watched.

"To my office upstairs," Chadwick replied, her voice uneven. "When you’re ready to send the military police to arrest me, I’ll be there, waiting…or if not, maybe in the ladies’ room, tossing my breakfast."

"Military police? Why should I do that?" Hughes protested.

"I violated the protocol and I killed a man."

Hughes marched herself over to stand before Chadwick. The two women were almost of a height, but Chadwick still had a couple of inches over Hughes, who stared up into the intense blue gaze.

"You know as well as I do the protocol isn’t formally established yet except for Morris’ orders. As for the other, you saved a good man and let a crime lord die." Hughes stabbed a finger toward Holmes.

Skye rounded on Caitlin and snapped.

"Do I look like a jury?! Are you a judge? What right did I have to so much as move? They weren’t even from our continuum!" She put her hands over her face in despair. "What have I done? I can’t believe what I just did. Call Security to get Holmes into a neutral secure area. I’ll be in my office."

Holmes heard the reference to continuum and looked puzzled.

"At the risk of being considered impolite…might I enquire as to precisely what is going on, and where—or, perhaps more to the point, WHEN—I am?" he wondered laconically. "It is patently obvious that this equipment is far more advanced than anything in my brother’s accounting office…"

"Oh, dear God in heaven," Skye groaned from behind her hands. "Cait…"

"No," Dr. Hughes responded firmly. "You’re chief scientist. You can explain it best."

"All right. Give me about five minutes…maybe ten…to get myself under control, then bring him in. I’ll explain, then we can get the General to tell us what to do." Chadwick sighed, defeated.

* * *

Precisely ten minutes later, Caitlin entered Skye’s office with Sherlock Holmes. Skye glanced over her shoulder and nodded briefly, noting Holmes was now wearing the C-badge of an escorted visitor clipped to the lapel of his tweed jacket; Caitlin had evidently been very busy.

* * *

Skye had divested herself of her lab coat, which now hung on a hook behind the office door. Her back was to the door, as she studied a series of equations on the chalkboard behind the desk.

"Skye," Caitlin said in frustration, "WHEN are you going to move into the next century and get a whiteboard? And that clipboard of yours…"

Skye shot her a lopsided, wry grin. It didn’t reach her eyes.

"After what just happened downstairs, allow me my eccentricities, Cait. I use what I prefer. Besides, an electronic pad can’t be used as a weapon," she pointed out ruefully.

"Whatever. Here, Mr. Holmes," Caitlin offered, showing Holmes to a chair in front of Skye’s desk. "I’ll be back with the General soon. Meanwhile, this is Dr. Skye Chadwick, our chief scientist. You’ve met, obviously, but not been introduced."

"Thank you, Dr. Hughes," Holmes nodded courteously, taking the indicated seat. "I am looking forward to fully understanding what is occurring. Other than the fact that we are well over a century in my future—if it is MY future; in America, in an underground government facility of some sort near the Colorado Rocky Mountains, specifically Pikes Peak, so I assume the nearest city of any import to be Colorado Springs…I am afraid I have little grasp of your project."

"Wha…how…?" Caitlin’s jaw dropped.

An expectant Holmes sat and watched Skye but did not answer.

Skye shot Caitlin a rueful, amused, and completely knowing grin before returning her attention to the chalkboard. After a moment, she elaborated.

"The Timelines console display gave him our date; my reference to an alternate continuum the notion that this might not be ‘his’ future. Regional dialects told him he’s in the States; a blend of military uniforms and civilian wear said he’s on a government installation, and the pink granite walls ‘downstairs’ could only be from the Pikes Peak formation."

"Excellent," Holmes muttered, satisfied.

"Um, yes, well," Caitlin murmured, bemused, "I’ll be back shortly. Skye, do you or Mr. Holmes want anything?"

"No, I made a fresh pot of coffee," Skye gestured to the table in the corner of the office, where a full drip coffeemaker sat, then shook her head, turning and taking a seat behind her desk. "On second thought, bring that box of shortbread with you. We can nibble; it’s time for Mr. Holmes’ tea. At least his stomach probably thinks so."

"Thank you, yes, that is most thoughtful," Holmes murmured politely.

"Okay," Caitlin agreed. And she was gone.

* * *

Holmes and Chadwick sat silently for a long moment, she studying the equations while he studied her.

"I see you did not become ill," he observed quietly.

"No," she admitted. "I sure thought about it, though." She leaned back in her desk chair. "But I’ve worked enough traffic accidents to be used to that sort of thing. The…gore…isn’t what bothers me."

"Yes. The first time to deal death is…difficult. But I would say you did not deal death so much as…permit life. The true death-dealer is the one who died, in the end." Holmes nodded understanding. He leaned forward, grey eyes piercing, seeking to reassure. "All you did was break his hold, to prevent his dragging me over the precipice. It is not as if you pushed him over it. He and I rather managed that on our own, I should think. And for me, it was self-defence."

Skye put down her chalk and turned thoughtfully to face him. After a few moments, she nodded.

"Yeah, I guess so." She took a deep breath and leaned back in her chair, calming somewhat. Holmes gave her a few moments to relax before speaking again.

"Now, would you kindly tell me how your apparatus operates, and how it is you came to be observing me? And how I might get back? My friend Watson will be looking for me, I’ve no doubt."

* * *

"Explaining how the tesseract works would take a lot longer than a few minutes, Mr. Holmes—" Skye’s face twisted in another rueful grin, and she more or less successfully hid the pain that flashed through her eyes at his last question.

"Just ‘Holmes’ will do."

Skye blinked at this unexpected, and magnanimous, invitation. "Oh. Okay. Call me Skye, I suppose…"

"Skye. As in Isle of Skye?" Holmes nodded.

"Yes," she confirmed. "I’m of English and Scots descent." She flipped her long blonde braid with a faint attempt at humor. "It shows."

"I suspected. Not only from your features, however. Your family has retained the barest hint of the brogue through the generations. Please, continue. You were speaking of this tesseract. That is the object which I…fell through, for want of a better expression?" He gave a half-smile.

"Yes," Skye chuckled. "I’ve spent the better part of my fifteen-year career figuring out how the tesseract works. I’ve had to develop some of the physics to do it. It’s closer to twenty years I’ve been working on it, all told; I started when I was in school. As to how we come to be observing you in particular…Have you ever heard the theory of parallel universes, Holmes?"

"I cannot say I have."

Skye stood, catching her chalk and drawing a line around her equations to avoid overwriting them. Holmes watched with obvious interest as she dropped into a comfortable teaching mode.

"Our universe—at least the parts we can perceive—consist of at least four dimensions," she began, sketching a four-dimensional grid on the board. "X, Y, Z, and T."

"Length, width, height, and time."

"Precisely." Skye smiled. "Technically, it’s called Minkowski space. Now, some fifteen years after your little skirmish with Moriarty at the Falls, a man named Albert Einstein published a paper about his ‘Special Theory of Relativity.’ It showed, among other things, how there is an equivalence between matter and energy, how each can be converted into the other."

Holmes considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Perhaps akin to freezing and melting?"

"Exactly!" Skye’s smile broadened. "Watson’s assessment of your scientific knowledge was inadequate."

"A wise man does not always admit to everything he knows. And sometimes an overly-credulous friend can be a source of mild amusement," he added, grey eyes twinkling. "Eventually he learned differently, of course. But he never went back and corrected his original statements. Watson fully comprehended the fact that occasionally it is useful for one’s adversaries to underestimate one’s abilities." Holmes chuckled. Skye giggled appreciation, then continued.

"Some ten years later, Einstein developed his ‘General Theory of Relativity.’ In it, he postulated that spacetime," Skye tapped her drawing with her chalk, "is actually like a fabric, analogous to a thin rubber sheet stretched taut, and the force of gravity is produced by the bending of the sheet where a massive object is placed."

"Very well. Continue." Holmes pondered.

"We also have the electric and magnetic forces. Some three decades before…um, before you, uh, came here," she offered him an awkward smile, "James Clerk Maxwell succeeded in showing how those two forces could be ‘unified.’ This concept, and electromagnetism in general, was being studied intensely throughout your timeframe."

"True. I recall reading about some very odd experiments in the last ten years or so. I was beginning to hear some strange things regarding a man named…mmm, Tesla, I believe it was…"

"Nikola Tesla. Right. Gradually the various scientists were realizing that these, and some other newly discovered, atomic forces of nature were related. They began ‘unifying’ these forces, finding mathematical expressions that worked for all of the fundamental forces. They found in order to do this unification, they needed more than four dimensions."

"How many more?" Holmes queried, curious.

"Well, we still don’t have the whole theory worked out yet, even after all this time," Skye admitted. "Gravity has been proving elusive. But the evidence indicates we need at least ten or eleven, and possibly twenty-six or even more. I’ve seen some theories that call for forty or better, but speaking as a professional, I’m not so sure about those. Anyway, the basic structures making up this multi-dimensional puzzle are known as strings and membranes, or just ‘branes.’ The overall n-dimensional space is called the ‘bulk.’"

* * *

"Great Scot," Holmes murmured, anticipating the explanation of parallel universes. "So if we, as humans, only perceive four dimensions, but there could be three, six, ten times that many…or more…" He let his eyes become distant in thought before he met her gaze again. "How many of these parallel universes are there?"

"I honestly don’t know," Skye murmured, and he saw the wonder and awe in her eyes as she spoke. "But I know the one I yanked you from was the one hundred fourteenth we’ve found so far. We’re nearing one hundred fifty, each one having at least some small differentiation, something distinguishing it from every other one. So far, we’ve only observed—a lot. Today was the first day we were actually able to…interact."

Suddenly she blushed. Observing this, his eyebrow rose.

"As to how we came to be observing you, well, I’m something of a fan—a devotee—of yours," she confessed, and he recognized the reason for her blush in her embarrassment over the confession. "You see, here in my spacetime continuum, this ‘parallel universe,’ you didn’t exist as a flesh and blood person, but rather as a fiction, one of the great literary characters of all time. In actuality, I’ve discovered you exist across several continuums—as do I, I might add—with variations here and there, some small, some large. I thought it would be fun to watch you, to see if you really were the way you were described in the books. And my team, by unanimous vote, agreed."

* * *

"Ah," was all Holmes remarked. But a faint twitch quirked the corner of his mouth. Skye read it accurately. He’s wondering if he really is the way Watson described him. Her own eyebrow rose.

"Better," she answered succinctly, and silent laughter shook Holmes’ tall wiry frame for a moment.

"It is good to know that my infinite variety does not wane, even across many universes," he finally managed. "So I take it this tesseract of yours has found a way to span the dimensions."

"Something like that."

"Then it will not, perhaps, be too difficult to send me back home," he nodded complacently, settling back in his chair with satisfaction.

"Technically, no," Skye admitted. "But there’s still a problem."

"What problem?" Holmes’ eagle eyes fixated on her, penetrating. His complacency vanished.

"Holmes…I don’t know how to say this…" Skye sat back down in her chair, distressed.

"Just say it."

"In your spacetime, you were supposed to die at the Falls." Skye met his eyes.

"Oh," he said blankly. Then, with more understanding, and far more subdued, "Oh." Sober grey eyes met troubled blue eyes. "Then please allow me to outline the options," he suggested quietly.

* * *

Skye nodded.

"I go back and live," he ticked off a long finger, "and damage the parallelism, possibly irreversibly."

Skye nodded again, biting her lip.

"This will cause…?" he broke off, waiting for her to answer.

She shrugged, then shook her head and grimaced. He understood. She does not know. But it would not be good.

"Or," Holmes added heavily, ticking off a second finger, "I go back…and die."

"Yes," Skye whispered.

"Or," a deep voice boomed from the door, "he stays here, and lives."

Holmes and Chadwick both turned, staring at the door.

Caitlin Hughes stood in the doorway, a large tin of shortbread in one hand, and two extra coffee mugs in the other. Beside her stood Brigadier General William F. Morris.

* * *

Morris studied Holmes and Chadwick for long moments, using every skill he had ever learned in officer training to hide the turmoil raging inside his head. To say the general’s mind was blown would be putting it mildly.

Damn, it worked. Hell’s bells, the tesseract actually worked! I know Hughes said it did, but shit. To see the man sitting there, in the flesh—it boggles the wits. A real, honest-to-God 19th-century man, stepped straight from that time to this. Look at those clothes he’s wearing. And to hear Hughes tell it, this is no less than Sherlock Holmes himself.

General Morris was a big soldier of a man, and resembled the commercial cat that shared his name not a little: Blond hair with a hint of red on a broad head, a big thick moustache, and hazel eyes. He was fairly easygoing, with a pleasant, joking disposition that made his subordinates like him. He was an experienced former jet-jockey, having flown F-16s during Desert Storm. He had a good head on his shoulders, of a technical bent, and had gotten an aerospace engineering degree when he was in his early 30s, over twenty years ago. But there was no doubt he was every inch a brigadier general. He knew the chain of command, and knew his place in it. And he fully understood the situation facing him now, a situation no other member of the United States Air Force—or indeed any branch of any military on the planet—had ever faced before.

Underneath his starched uniform with all the brass and ribbons, Morris was sweating badly. That technical mind of his was fairly reeling: Morris was being forced to re-examine all his preconceived notions of the universe and his place in it, and in mere moments. And all because of the pair who sat in the office before him now.

What to do? Chadwick violated the protocols. I should have her arrested. But the protocols aren’t formally approved, except for my say-so. I don’t have to hold her to ‘em. And…he racked his brain, trying to remember, wasn’t she the reservation cop? I need to review her record and refresh my memory on the details. But it would sure explain it. I know her record’s clean; Hughes just showed me that much. Not a single black mark—until today. And now this. He mentally shook his head ruefully.

I have to do something, though. Especially before the Defense Security Service people get here. I suppose I could strip her position. But she’s the chief scientist, and nobody else knows the science half so well. Hell, she developed it. Back to considerations of arrest, then. Well, maybe not. That’s worse than stripping her position. A suspension without pay? Damn, I need a drink. A nice single-malt scotch would go down good about now.

But there was a decision to be made before he could have that drink, and he knew it. Two, really: What to do about Chadwick, and what to do about Holmes. He already knew what he intended to do about Holmes; the man was an innocent bystander, as it were, to their experiment. And according to Hughes, it would work. Chadwick, however, was another matter.

Time to think fast on your feet, Bill, he thought. It’s your call. Command decision time. He studied the pair who gazed at him. Holmes was tranquil, if subdued; he wore the expression of a man who faced his death, but who had done so enough times before to accept the outcome calmly. Chadwick, on the other hand, wore the look of a haunted individual; guilt and pain mingled deep within the sapphire eyes.

She knows, he realized. Understands the full implications of what she did—probably better than I do. After all, she’s the expert on this shit. It’s not gonna go away for a long time, that look in her eyes. And that won’t change whether I throw her in the brig or not.

And suddenly Brigadier General Morris made up his mind.

* * *

It wasn’t exactly tea according to Holmes’ usual definition, and Mrs. Hudson might not have approved, but it was sufficient to keep him on his feet and thinking. Coffee, tinned shortbread, and several varieties of fresh fruit, which latter it seemed Skye kept in her little under-table cold closet—something the others called a "refrigerator"—along with cream, definitely provided enough sustenance to tide him until the next meal. Meanwhile General Morris discussed the situation with his project manager and his chief scientist, while the consulting detective listened.

"It amounts to the same thing," Caitlin argued. "I’ve already looked at some of the mathematics, based on what you taught me, Skye. By staying here, Mr. Holmes ceases to exist in that continuum, and as he has no counterpart in this one, everything is preserved intact."

"True," Skye murmured. "I double-checked that myself as soon as I got to my office, just to make sure things weren’t hosed by his coming in the first place. General, I take it that’s acceptable to you?"

"It is," Morris nodded. "And it should be acceptable to DSS as well. Dr. Hughes and I had quite the vehement little conversation about it in her office, before coming here to meet the man. I can’t say as how I’m particularly keen on condemning an innocent man to death after having once avoided it."

It transpired that Morris had already seen the recordings of the entire incident; Caitlin had immediately called him into the Chamber and showed him what had happened on a monitor replay, then repaired to her office and requested his decision. He sighed, shaking his head.

"Honestly, I don’t blame you, Dr. Chadwick. Nor do I intend to take you to task, as the protocols are on my say-so anyway. Damn bureaucrats, insisting we had to have proof of concept before it was worth formalizing the blasted things. I don’t think they believed it’d work, frankly. But listen, doctor: I did a stint in the military police myself, after Desert Storm, and your reaction was just training and instinct kicking in, I’d say. You used to be a police officer, right?"

"Yes, sir," Skye acknowledged. "A few years ago. I was a reserve officer on a local Indian reservation. They needed help, and I was glad to assist."

"Bingo. Attempted murder in progress; officer intervenes with deadly force. That kind of training dies hard, and that wasn’t a nice, polite little tea party between Holmes here and his…" Morris nodded.

"Arch-nemesis," Caitlin grinned, devilish green eyes twinkling, and Holmes chuckled at the deliberate, melodramatic term.

"Right, wasn’t a nice little chat over coffee, at all," Morris finished, ignoring the smart attempt at humor. "As for your ‘killing’ a man, which Dr. Hughes tells me was worrying you: Dr. Chadwick, I’d like for you to take a quick look at the video stream."

"Oh, General, I’d really rather not…" Skye murmured. Holmes watched as she paled.

"You need to see it, Skye," Caitlin insisted, coming around the desk and impertinently nudging Skye away from her secure computer, which happened to be sitting on her desk that day. "And I’d think Mr. Holmes ought to see it, too."

"Video stream…moving pictures?" Holmes wondered, extrapolating from the term’s etymology.

"Yes," Caitlin confirmed, using Skye’s computer to access the video feed. "Did Skye explain to you about computers?"

"No," Skye said in a hollow tone. "I’d barely finished explaining parallel universes and tesseracts. You’ll give the poor man a headache, Cait, if you keep on. At least give him a chance to assimilate stuff."

"All right, all right. I’ll wait until later."

Holmes rose and moved to stand beside Skye, looking over her shoulder curiously as Caitlin worked on the computer from her other side. Sharp grey eyes studied the device and all its peripherals. After a few moments he decided, "An electrical library."

Skye smiled, pleased, as Caitlin and General Morris looked stunned.

"I told you," Skye declared. "Now you know why I wanted to use him as an observing subject. He’s a long way from stupid."

"No shit, Sher—" Caitlin broke off. Not fast enough, however.

Holmes, easily able to complete the statement, raised one eyebrow, looking askance at Hughes.

A very tired Skye dragged one weary hand across her face, which was now too pink, Holmes observed. He moved in, edging closer to Skye.

"Might I take it I should get used to being referenced as a…‘literary character’?" he queried, pausing during the statement to permit another level of meaning, allowing his amusement to tinge his voice. "Not to mention idioms and figures of speech…"

"I’m afraid so," Skye sighed.

"It seems this lends a whole new meaning to the expression, ‘becoming literate,’" Holmes decided dryly.

Skye put her head in her hands.

* * *

A tall, lanky form entered her peripheral vision, subtly invading her innermost personal space, and Skye took the hint, glancing up to find Holmes standing exceptionally close, almost—but not quite—intimately so, gazing down at her.

Holmes’ grey eyes were dancing with suppressed laughter, and while Caitlin and General Morris were bent over the password-prompt, he mouthed, "Everything is all right, Skye. Relax."

As she met his eyes, she realized this man was not only brilliantly intelligent, but also possessed a level of understanding that had not come through in the literary tales of his exploits. It stood to reason; to be as successful as he was, Holmes had to have an above-average comprehension of human nature. He was more than the mere thinking machine to which the stories alluded. Moreover, it seemed he had a well-developed sense of humor into the bargain. At that moment, the oddity of the situation hit her full force, by way of Holmes’ amused gaze, and she clapped her hand over her mouth and nose as she let out a loud snort, then began to giggle.

"Oh, Lord have mercy," she groaned, snickering. "We did the Time Warp. And now I have Sherlock Holmes in my office. I honest to God have Sherlock Holmes in my bloody freakin’ office. And he’s making literary jokes." Skye went off into peals of laughter.

Holmes joined her.

Hughes and Morris stood and stared.

* * *

After awhile Caitlin got the video downloaded to Skye’s computer, and they let Skye and Holmes watch it together. Holmes was fascinated, bright eyes darting around the screen, taking everything in. Skye tensed noticeably, forcing herself to watch the fight once more. Morris and Caitlin watched over their shoulders, and toward the end, Caitlin bent forward.

"Right there!" she exclaimed, tapping the screen. "Did you see, Skye?"

"Yes," Holmes agreed before Skye could answer. "You reached for Moriarty to catch him."

"But he was already gone before you could react," Caitlin pointed out. "You would have saved him for that jury trial if you could’ve, Skye."

* * *

Skye took a deep breath and let it out very slowly, sinking deeper into her desk chair with an expression of release. She felt long, slim fingers brush a single encouraging pat along her shoulder before retreating, and she allowed the faintest smile to cross her lips as she leaned back and closed her eyes.

"I do think this underscores the fact that our current protocols are entirely inadequate, whether they’re in effect or not," General Morris decided. "And maybe it even says something about the wisdom of continuing this project." He shot a hard glance at Skye.

"I’d been thinking about that myself, General," Skye confessed, opening sad eyes. "I didn’t see it before, but I know now, it’s dangerous. What if, for instance, Moriarty had been the one who fell through the tesseract, instead of Holmes? Or what if our version of a Moriarty got his hands on it, or on the technology? A North Korea, or a Libya? We’re talking about something way the hell bigger than a nuke—" she broke off and shot an apologetic look at Holmes, "a nuclear bomb, here. The Special Relativity Theory," Skye added to Holmes by way of reminder, and he nodded thoughtfully. She sighed. "We’re talking about something with the potential to maybe even carom through all of spacetime." Steeling herself, she stared into Morris’ eyes. "We should shut the project down."

"Skye, it’s your whole career," Caitlin protested, stunned and horrified.

* * *

Morris sat back and watched shrewdly as the two women argued the matter for him. Holmes did likewise, leaning his hips against the desk beside Skye and folding his arms casually.

"Doesn’t matter," Skye declared. "I won’t be party to the lot of us walking squarely into an ethical morass as big as I now know this one to be. If I can reflexively react that hard, we’re opening up a whole can of worms for the technicians working it, even if we don’t have the bad guys after the thing. Think about the descendant of an Auschwitz survivor watching events from a Nazi Germany. Or someone watching the JFK assassination. The temptations to ‘fix things’ are going to be too great. I should have thought about this sooner. But I never dreamed it would…that I couldn’t…my objectivity…No," she shook her head. "It won’t do."

"You’d really give it all up? TWENTY YEARS of work?" Caitlin asked in disbelief.

"Yes," Skye responded instantly. "In a heartbeat, now."

Morris pursed his lips in austere approval, but said nothing.

"You could always go back and stop yourself," Holmes interjected, curious to see what her reaction would be.

* * *

Skye turned and stared up at Holmes for a long moment, considering the implications.

Stopping myself would mean…he dies. I wouldn’t be there to break Moriarty’s grip. Dear God.

"No," was all she said.

* * *

Holmes pursed his lips and directed his contemplative gaze across the room. Despite everything, she does not regret saving my life, he thought, gratified.

* * *

In his grey eyes there was a hint of satisfied almost-smugness at the realization. Skye saw his expression, and brushed his arm. Holmes looked down and met her eyes.

"Yes," she murmured to him, confirming his musings. His eyes flashed appreciatively.

* * *

"Well, now, let’s not go too fast, here," Morris rumbled thoughtfully, as Holmes retrieved his chair and settled back, sliding into a half-slouch and steepling his fingers to ponder. "I agree, it’s not a weapon that good guys would even consider, although plenty of bad guys might. But there may still be a way to do the scientific research, if we can put enough safeguard procedures—or even hardware and software—on it to prevent that ‘fixing’ tendency you refer to. I mean, that’s why this is a secret project anyway; to keep knowledge of it under wraps, not to make weapons. In the meantime, let’s do what we have to do to slap an end bracket on this little incident, then put a hold on the project, while we think. I expect that’s going to be DSS’s conclusion too. Skye, I hate to do this," he shot the scientist an eloquent glance, "but you’ll be on unpaid administrative leave while the project is on hiatus. Pay is suspended effective immediately. I HAVE to do SOMEthing, and at least this way you’ll be available for the analysis."

Holmes and Hughes started, shocked; they’d hoped the general would let the matter go, under the circumstances. Skye merely nodded acceptance.

"It beats the brig. Thanks, General."

"You know this will go up through channels, once the DSS investigator arrives."

"Yes sir. I don’t expect the Pentagon to be very happy with me. My career is probably over regardless of what happens to the project." Skye sighed.

"I’ll do everything I can, Doctor, to soften the effects," Morris added gently.

"That makes two of us, Skye," Caitlin affirmed, and Morris nodded approval. He considered for a moment, then glanced at Holmes.

"And Mr. Holmes, have you come to a conclusion as to what you want to do? I know what I’d do in your shoes, and you’re a brighter man than I am; still, it’s your decision."

"As you say, General, the choice is obvious," Holmes agreed, sitting upright. "I did not willingly face death at Moriarty’s hands in order to free London of his shadow, only to myself create an even bigger tempest in a far larger teapot. Nor, I find, do I enjoy the prospect of dying, having once been rescued therefrom. No, I believe I shall stay here, if I might have some assistance in coming to terms with this new world in the which I find myself."

"That’s easy enough. I suspect I know just the person to provide you as a liaison, too. She’ll soon have plenty of time to devote to it, at least for a few weeks." Morris beamed at Skye. "If that suits the two of you." He smiled.

Skye shrugged, nodding affably, before glancing questioningly at Holmes.

"I believe that will do nicely," the detective averred.

 

Chapter 2—Old Dogs and New Tricks

General Morris ordered guest quarters prepared on the base, and dropped Holmes and Skye at the officer’s suite thus assigned. It was bland and nondescript and small: Evidently visiting officers were not expected to spend much time in their billets. A shaving kit awaited Holmes in the bathroom, and Morris had a call in to the officers’ tailor, so he and Skye could get a good idea what size garments Holmes wore. It turned out Holmes had used a tailor in London to obtain his clothing, and would not have had a notion regarding modern American sizing anyway.

Holmes immediately appropriated the shaving kit for his own, as Morris had intended. He opened it and fished out the contents, spreading them across the bathroom vanity and studying them with interested bemusement while Skye watched. The toothbrush he recognized, despite its plasticized manufacture; he inferred the tube of toothpaste from its packaging—Holmes had used a tooth powder from a chemist’s around the corner from his Baker Street lodgings. The function and application of the stick of antiperspirant, too, he inferred from the labels. Aftershave was fairly straightforward. But he held up the disposable plastic razor with undisguised puzzlement.

"Obviously it is intended for cutting," he noted of the razor, "for I see the blade, but…?" He paused, considering, then deducing from the known facts. "By Jove. This is a safety razor?"

"Yes, it is. I’ll bet you used a straight razor, soap, and a brush for shaving, didn’t you?" Skye inquired.

"Yes." Holmes studied the object.

"It’s designed to be disposable," Skye explained, taking the razor from his fingers. "When the blade gets dull, you throw it away and get out a new one. There should be a can of shaving cream in there, too."

Holmes poked around in the leather kit, producing the shaving cream. He handed it to Skye, who smiled.

"Okay, watch this, and pay attention to the angle, or you can cut yourself," she suggested. Holmes watched closely as she removed the clear plastic cover from the razor blade and laid both aside. She picked up the can of shaving cream and shook it vigorously, then sat it on the counter and cupped her fingers in front of the nozzle, depressing the trigger with her thumb. A fluffy blob of cream emerged into her hand with a hiss, and grinning, she spread it over the back of her opposite forearm. Holmes turned on the hot water in the sink, and Skye rinsed her fingers, then picked up the razor and stroked it across her arm. She delicately removed both the shaving cream and a swath of downy, golden hair before rinsing the razor in the stream of water and repeating the process. When she was done, she casually dunked her arm under the water faucet, rinsing away the last traces.

"Interesting," he muttered, running a considering hand over his chin and cheeks, studying his face in the mirror and noting the five o’clock shadow.

"Here," she said, handing him the razor. "Wanna try?"

Holmes took the razor and set it aside. He removed his tweed jacket and waistcoat, slid his braces off his shoulders, then peeled off his shirt and tie, to expose muscular shoulders, long, wiry arms, and a powerful chest partly hidden by his undershirt, which he left on for propriety’s sake. He bent over the sink, scooping up several handfuls of the hot water and splashing them on his face.

But when he attempted to extract shaving cream from the can, Holmes found it took more consideration than he’d thought. His thumb came down too hard on the trigger, and shaving cream exploded from the nozzle, splattering all over his hand and arm, even splashing on his undershirt.

"Ah!" he exclaimed in dismay. Skye bit her lip hard to stifle laughter.

"Here," she said, grabbing a hand towel and helping him clean up the spatters. "Light, steady touch. Try again."

Wary this time, Holmes applied a more sensitive touch, varying the pressure until he got the feel of it. A downy puff of cream soon nestled in the palm of his hand, and a satisfied Holmes spread the cream over his face, then picked up the razor.

That, too, took getting used to, but he managed to avoid cutting himself. When his chin and jaw had received due ablutions, he ran his fingers over them again.

"Better. But still not as good as my old razor."

"If you want, I can pick up some things for you tonight, and bring them in with me tomorrow morning." Skye shrugged.

"You are certain you would not mind?" Holmes turned to look at her, deliberating.

"Of course not. We’ll sit down in a few minutes and make a list of what you need, I’ll go by the store after work, and charge it to the project."

"Very well," he agreed immediately, reaching for his shirt.

"Now, let’s show you the TV and the telephone, and you’ll be set for now," she smiled, moving outside the door to give him privacy while he tucked in his shirttails. "Then we’ll get you measured for clothes, we can grab some lunch at the cafeteria, and…"

"And?" Holmes wondered, emerging from the bathroom, deftly knotting his tie.

"Well, we’re having a debriefing this afternoon at one o’clock. I was hoping you’d come. We might need to ask you some questions."

"If I may be of assistance, I will certainly be there," Holmes agreed.

* * *

Holmes was not overmuch impressed with lunch, but General Morris hastened to explain the cafeteria was hardly considered haute cuisine.

"Maybe tonight you can take him to the Officer’s Club for dinner, sir," Skye suggested, as they ate in the more sedate—and less populated—officer’s section of the cafeteria. "He should enjoy that more."

"Good idea," Morris beamed affably. "It just opened a month ago, Holmes, and it’s quite a nice little place; very proud of it. In fact, it’s so new, it’s not even open every night because they’re not fully staffed yet, but it happens that tonight, it is. Would you like to join us, Doctor?"

"Not tonight, thanks," Skye smiled wearily. "When we’re done with the debriefs, I’ll run by the store and pick up some things for Holmes. By the time I get up the pass and home, after the kind of day it’s been…"

"Skye," Holmes offered, "if it will be too much trouble…"

"No, no, I don’t mind at all. I like to shop. It’ll give me some down time. But the more stuff I put on the schedule, the longer the day. And I still have horses to feed once I get home."

"You have horses?" Holmes queried, perking up. He had already deduced from his escorted excursions around the base that strange conveyances called automobiles were the current mode of travel.

"I do. Four, in fact."

"What kind?

"One is a big quarter horse gelding, one a thoroughbred-quarter cross—she’s a mare—and two Percherons to pull my buggy."

"Do you go driving often?"

"Every chance I get. Would you like to come next time? Or maybe go for a nice, leisurely trail ride?" Skye smiled.

"Indeed I would. I have been known to do both. I handle a…" he broke off, realizing they would likely not know much about hansom cabs, "handle buggies and carriages rather well, if I do say so."

"Done, then," Skye beamed. "If the General can get you rounded up to get off base in a few days, maybe we can have a little jaunt this weekend."

"Excellent!"

"Now hang on just a damned minute," Morris protested. "We can’t have him running off all over the place. He’s classified. You’re lucky I’m letting him out to eat with us. I mean, given how he got here and all…"

Holmes narrowed his eyes in displeasure. Skye’s fairly blazed.

"What do you intend to do, General, keep him here under armed guard?" she dared to snap, annoyed. "He’s not a jet plane, and he’s not one of your soldiers. He’s a civvie, like it or not, and he has rights just like the rest of us."

"I understand that, Doctor," Morris responded coldly. "But given the nature of his…arrival, you can hardly expect me to let him wander around."

Holmes decided it was time to interject.

"May I point out that this," he made the smallest hand gesture, indicating the cafeteria environ without drawing attention, "is hardly the wisest locale for this discussion?"

Skye instantly silenced, and Morris looked at Holmes with new respect.

"Well, it seems you do have some appreciation for such matters," he declared, sotto voce.

"I am known for being discreet," Holmes murmured. "It is the nature of my business. I am also quite familiar with the inner, more…unspoken…workings of government."

"Maybe I should put together some of Watson’s stories about your cases, for the General to read," Skye suggested. "He’ll get a better appreciation for what you have done, and what you can do."

* * *

Morris raised an eyebrow, as it dawned on him that perhaps Skye knew more about Holmes’ abilities than he, the general, did.

"That might be an excellent idea. I would especially commend to your attention the matters popularly known as the Beryl Coronet; the Noble Bachelor; the Greek Interpreter; and the Naval Treaty," Holmes suggested.

Morris raised both eyebrows. Naval treaties? Interpreters? This man must know more about classified government work than I’d thought. That’d make sense; Chadwick’s not one for breaches of security.

"The very ones I was thinking about. Especially the Naval Treaty and the Greek Interpreter." Skye nodded, knowing.

* * *

This response took Holmes mildly aback, and he sat back to ponder. When she had admitted to being interested in the stories of his adventures earlier, he had not realized she had meant to such a degree as her statement evinced. This may prove beneficial, he decided. Someone already familiar with his ways would save him the awkwardness of breaking in a liaison—given her intelligence and position, he was loath to call her a mere assistant. It already seemed she was more than willing to side with him against the general in matters pertaining to his liberty. He pulled out his pocket watch and checked it.

"Shall we go, Skye? It is nearly one in the afternoon, according to your time zone, and you said the debriefing was at one."

"Yeah, let me chug this," she said, gulping the last of her coffee. "Okay, let’s go. General, I’ll make sure I drop him by his temporary quarters when we’re done," she said, pointedly emphasizing the word temporary, to Holmes’ amusement. "That way, you can show him around the O Club later, and I’m sorry I can’t join you. We can talk about…other matters…tomorrow, maybe."

"Done," a mollified Morris agreed.

* * *

After lunch, General Morris went back to his office, where he requested his secretary bring him the file on Dr. Skye Chadwick. He’d known her for years, of course, but there were a few details that needed refreshing in his memory. In short order he’d recalled them from her personnel dossier, and leaned back in his desk chair, staring into space.

This isn’t good, he worried. I’ve got to keep an eye on this situation. We don’t need one of the most brilliant minds on the planet going ballistic.

He sighed sadly. "This is going to be even more complicated than I’d thought."

* * *

When they entered the conference room, a stranger in a dark suit sat in the back of the room, notepad and pen in hand. Skye and Caitlin nodded acknowledgement to him.

"Who is he?" Holmes murmured to Skye. "I do not recall seeing him…‘downstairs.’ He has something of the detective about him, but…"

"Defense Security Service investigator," Caitlin answered for Skye. "He’s here to investigate how you got here. He was waiting in my office when I left you guys, and I took him downstairs and showed him the video and logs already, Skye. He and I just finished ‘em."

"Oh," Skye said, subdued. "Okay. Well, let’s get started."

The debriefing was informal and, to Holmes’ pleased surprise, short. It seemed Skye and Caitlin had long since developed a highly efficient system for conducting the meetings, and they stepped through it now. Skye began with a formal apology for her behavior to her entire team, but indicated she had unexpectedly found herself in an untenable position: She had been unable to stand back and watch without feeling duty-bound to take action. It transpired that essentially the entire team had experienced similar responses, and apparently, none of them had remained unmoved in the face of the life-and-death struggle taking place mere feet from them. In fact, several of the project’s team members expressed tremendous relief Skye had done what she did. In the rear of the room, the DSS agent scribbled notes furiously.

After that, it was merely a matter of walking through the performance of each individual station, each component. Preliminary assessments had been made, although the bulk of the data had not been fully analyzed; but the initial conclusion was that the tesseract had functioned precisely as it was supposed to. It was, as a bleakly rueful Skye put it, "operator error" that had caused the problem, and not any issue with the device itself. When the technical matters had been attended, Caitlin turned to Holmes.

"Mr. Holmes, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some questions."

"Skye—Dr. Chadwick—indicated you would. I am happy to assist." Holmes nodded.

"Did you…feel anything, sense anything unusual, at the instant you transitioned from your continuum to this? Any palpable sensation, any dizziness? Pain? Anything at all?"

Holmes took time to consider, then arrange his words, knowing that Skye, in particular, was paying close attention.

"There was a sense of…of disorientation…for the briefest instant. All my limbs felt abnormally heavy. My reactions seemed slowed. And there was a feeling as if I were pushing through a thin wall of…perhaps gelatine is a good simile."

"He nailed it. Going in, and coming out, that’s a good description of what it felt like for me, too. I especially noted the heavy sensation." Skye beamed, nodding. "Closed-loop strings, functioning temporarily like gravitons. We did it, guys. We moved from string to string."

"Interesting," Caitlin also nodded, as the medical officer for the program took notes on their observations. "Peter? Are you going to want them to undergo physicals?"

"Yes, please," Dr. Wellingford, the project medic, confirmed. "This afternoon, as soon as possible."

"Sure. Holmes and I will swing by right after we adjourn—if that’s okay with you, Holmes?"

"Fine," Holmes agreed.

"Dr. Hughes, Dr. Chadwick?" one of the technicians raised a hand.

"Yes, Bob?" Caitlin gave him the floor.

"There’s a rumor that, after this morning, the project’s gonna be shut down. Is that true?" Bob Harris, of the Processing team, asked. Caitlin and Skye exchanged glances, and Caitlin gave Skye the floor.

"I can’t say for sure, Bob. I do know, given the private conclusions I reached in my office after the event, I am now seriously disturbed by the possibilities of this technology. Not merely in its potential to be deliberately misused, but in its potential to wreak havoc through well-meaning."

She paused and looked at each member of the team seated at the table, even Holmes, even the DSS agent. The Victorian detective noted the seriousness in her eyes, the way their blue seemed to intensify, almost sparking passionately, before she spoke again.

"And I for one would rather see it shut down than risk damage to the continuum—any continuum. It may be that we, as a species, aren’t yet ready to embark on an undertaking of this magnitude. I do know a joint decision was made between Dr. Hughes, General Morris, and myself to suspend experimentation soon, while we analyze the event, the implications, the protocols, and the ethics; but I want to take a few preliminary observation-type runs first. I want to make absolutely certain of two things: One, we didn’t inadvertently alter the other timeline, and two, the tesseract is working properly. After that, we’ll go on operational hiatus and analyze our results. Then we’ll make a final decision."

"If I may." The DSS agent raised his hand.

Skye waved her hand, giving him the floor, and she and Caitlin sat.

"I’m Thomas Welker, DSS examiner. This has been a relatively easy case to investigate," the DSS agent remarked. "Everything has been meticulously recorded and organized; my compliments to the team. I’ve reviewed the videos of the incident with the aid of Dr. Hughes, as well as the pertinent electronic logbooks. And I verified the protocols pending approval were followed to the letter, up until the point where emotional response became too great to restrain. I’ve also verified through those videos that virtually all members of the team were under extreme emotional stress during the incident, not merely Dr. Chadwick. Your facial expressions, one and all, were very clear."

Nods went around the room.

"It is true the protocols were not approved; as a result of this event I intend to recommend the approval procedure be modified. However, the project cannot be held formally accountable to them, since they had not been signed off; and you followed them as best you could anyway. I have also spoken briefly with General Morris, who indicated he believes the protocols to be insufficient in any event, and based on what I saw, I am in full agreement.

"I fully concur with your proposed plan of action, Doctor. It is precisely the one I intended to recommend to my superiors. DSS’s final disposition of the incident awaits your scientific analysis. I should like to requisition copies of the videos and the logbooks, burned to CD, to be appended to my report."

"I’ll get them," Caitlin nodded. "Come to my office after the meeting and we’ll fill out the security paperwork. You’ll have them by late this afternoon."

"Thank you, Dr. Hughes."

A buzz filled the room, mixed currents running hither and thither. Caitlin raised her voice to be heard over the chatter. "Any further questions? No? Meeting adjourned."

Slowly the members of Project: Tesseract rose and filed out.

* * *

Bob Harris wandered out of the building, down the street, and through the nearest gate. Then he pulled out his cell phone and punched a speed dial.

"Computer. Complication. Yeah, big one. Yeah, I think we do. No, that oughta be ok. Copy that."

He closed the cell and headed back to his office.

* * *

Skye took Holmes by the project medical facility, where Peter Wellingford, the Tesseract medic, gave them thorough once-overs, including MRIs and DNA swabs. When it was all over, he gave his verdict.

"Given I don’t have a baseline for Mr. Holmes, I can’t say with absolute certainty, but it looks like the two of you are none the worse for wear. Mr. Holmes has some bruising from the fight, but nothing serious. He’s in excellent shape, too; surprising, given some of his…erm, previous habits. And, uh, no signs of…contraband, if you know what I mean, Skye. So ‘all systems are go.’ His lungs and heart in particular are clear and strong."

Holmes’ eyebrow rose.

"Because you smoke," Skye explained.

"Right," Dr. Wellingford confirmed. "The farming and processing practices musta been different in the late 19th century."

"Probably," Skye agreed. Holmes looked puzzled. Skye noticed. "We now know smoking can cause cancer. But some years back there was a scandal in the tobacco companies about how they treated their product. So the tobacco you used to smoke might not be so bad for you. But a lot of the modern commercial stuff seems to be, medically speaking, nasty."

* * *

"Ah," Holmes remarked, filing the information away mentally for later consideration. I wonder how much has been LOST by one hundred years of "progress"…

"And…the other stuff," Skye added.

"’Other stuff?’" Holmes parroted.

"The cocaine and morphine," Wellingford said bluntly. "No trace in your system."

"I see. And that is as it should be," Holmes nodded. "Watson aided me in the cessation of that habit about three or four years ago."

"Oh good," Skye murmured, seeming pleased. "It’s illegal now, Holmes."

Holmes took that in silently. Given my own experiences, hardly surprising, I suppose, he concluded.

"In general," Wellingford decided, "this is a disappointing result for a historic medical examination—no one’s ever examined a human from a different spacetime before—but you’re a perfect specimen of a typical, healthy, intelligent homo sapiens male, Mr. Holmes. Absolutely no deviation from the average preferred norms I can find, and that goes right down to the genetic level. You’re the same as anyone else here."

Holmes blinked, not sure whether to be complimented or insulted.

"Your vitals match your norms fine, Dr. Chadwick. I’m releasing you both," Wellingford capped his prognosis.

"Good. Thanks much, Peter," Skye nodded at the physician. Holmes shook the doctor’s hand, and he and Skye left the medical facility, en route to his quarters.

* * *

Inside, they found several outfits had been left for Holmes. All were variations on a theme, however: Air Force blue—military wear, complete with name tags, both British and American insignias, and the silver oak leaves denoting the faux rank of RAF wing commander.

"Oh, good grief," Skye grumbled, rolling her eyes. "I won’t even ask where they got their hands on the Royal Air Force stuff. I guess it’ll do for now, and might even be good for you to wear around the base and to the Officer’s Club tonight. But let me get sizes, and I’ll pick you up some civilian clothes while I’m shopping for you tonight." She paused thoughtfully. "Wait. Try something on first, and let’s make sure it fits you right, before I do that."

A bemused Holmes shrugged, lifted off the top garment—a military flight jumpsuit—and left Skye standing in the den of the quarters, disappearing into the bedroom.

* * *

From behind the closed bedroom door, Skye heard the odd, "Hm," and, "Interesting," followed shortly by an annoyed, "What the hell?"

"What is it?" Skye wondered, picking up the notepad beside the billet phone.

A frowning Holmes emerged from the bedroom, his rangy frame clad in the snug jumpsuit, having managed to figure out the unfamiliar zipper on his own. Skye blinked and tried to restrain her eyes’ sudden tendency to roam, for the garment was a perfect fit for Holmes’ build, emphasizing his relatively broad shoulders and the lean body tapering down to a narrow waist. But he fussed with the pockets in irritation, unsure why the buttonless flaps refused to open.

"Oh. Velcro," Skye commented when she grasped what he was trying to do. "It’s designed like a burr. Look."

She grabbed the nearest pocket flap—it happened to be his breast pocket—and gave it a sharp, quick yank. Holmes winced at the sound like cloth ripping, then stared down at the now-open pocket. His eyebrows rose in comprehension.

* * *

"Ah!" Taking the flap from her fingers, he pressed it down again, observing how it adhered. Then he grabbed the flap and pulled upward, a hard, smooth motion, and the ripping sound repeated, giving evidence he had the hang of it.

"Yes, a burr. What an interesting little invention."

Skye moved behind him, and he felt her fingers at the back of his neck. Instinctive Victorian sensibilities engaging, he lunged away.

"Come back here, you," she grabbed his shoulder. "Stand still. I have to read this label if I’m going to get you anything that fits right."

Holmes stood, uncomfortable, while Skye’s fingers brushed his neck. Then she released him and moved to the small stack of clothes, flipping through them and scribbling down notations from the tags, before tearing off several pages of the notepad and stuffing them into her pocket.

* * *

"Okay, I got it," she said, looking up at him. She took one look at his displeased face and stopped dead. "What’s wrong?"

"I…am not used to being handled so," he said stiffly. "Especially by a woman."

"Aw, foo. Holmes, I am so sorry. That sort of thing is normal these days. Nowadays, men go around without shirts, even in shorts—short trousers," she amended herself so he would understand the reference, "and it doesn’t bother anyone. I never once thought." Skye put her hand to her forehead in dismay.

Holmes sighed, and Skye saw the proud shoulders sag a bit. He turned and sat in the nearest chair, his thin aquiline face looking pinched and drawn, and it hit her how tired he was.

After all, this isn’t remotely easy for him, leaving behind everything he’s ever known, his family and friends and home, and dropping down into a completely strange culture, she grieved. Plus, his day should have ended right after our lunchtime. And it’s all my fault. I’ll drop General Morris a hint to keep it short tonight. He needs to get food in Holmes and get him back here so the poor man can collapse in bed.

* * *

"Hey, listen," she murmured, coming to the side of the chair and crouching down beside it. Holmes opened his eyes, looked down into her earnest, concerned face, and felt some of his exhaustion lift. "Holmes, take it easy tonight," she suggested to him, laying her hand as lightly and unobtrusively on his forearm as she could; she evidently wanted him to feel her sympathy and concern without being disturbed by the physical contact. "Get some dinner with the general, but then come back here and rest. Aside from the fact that Colorado Springs is a good mile up and the air’s thinner than you’re used to, it’s been a dreadful day for you."

"I shall manage, Skye."

"I know you will. And I know you’re used to burning the candle at both ends on a case. But this isn’t a case; it’s a traumatic, complete life change. I know it’s hard on you, and you’ll manage better if you don’t wear yourself out. I’ve got a little idea what you’re going through right now, because I’ve been there—not as much as this, but I’ve been there. And I want you to know," Skye added, feeling suddenly, uncharacteristically shy herself, "you’ve got a friend and ally if you want one. I’m not Watson, and I would never violate your trust or his memory by pretending to be. But you’re not alone unless you want to be."

Holmes kept his face expressionless, but the grey eyes warmed despite himself.

"Thank you. I shall hold that in mind. And," he added, seeing the urging in her gaze, "I will betake myself to my bed as soon as I manage to dine at this ‘O Club.’"

"Promise?"

"I give you my word." Holmes raised an eyebrow.

"Okay. I’ll come by on my way to my office in the morning and drop off your stuff."

"Thank you, Skye."

"No problem."

And she was off. Holmes rose and moved to the window of his small, dreary flat, watching her go.

* * *

General Morris swung by the temporary officers’ billets and ensured Holmes had all of the appropriate patches, pins, and other accessories on his flight jumpsuit, to ensure he could pass as an RAF wing commander. Then he escorted the disguised detective straight to the new Officers’ Club, mindful of Skye’s brief text message that Holmes was exhausted and needed an early night.

But Morris found that Holmes, while tired, was hardly ready for sleep yet. Once they were seated in the restaurant of the club and had ordered their meals, Holmes remarked to his companion, "I see you were busy with an important matter—other than my arrival—today."

"How did you find that out?" Morris blinked, then gave Holmes a suspicious glare.

"From you," Holmes replied.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Come now, General. When an officer of your distinguished rank arrives at dinner with his loose tie askew, his reading glasses peering out of his pocket and two of the three buttons on his jacket fastened? When he was perfectly put together at lunchtime? I can only assume something occurred during the course of the afternoon to gain your strictest attention."

"Yes, well, just a little matter that came to my attention." Morris harrumphed, straightening his attire as he did so.

"Little?" Holmes raised a disbelieving eyebrow.

"Well, you are a detective. Maybe you can shed some light on the thing." Morris stared at his dinner companion, considering.

"Please, General, state your case." Eager grey eyes lit up.

"It’s really nothing, in my opinion, but the MPs seem to be concerned about morale, and they’ve notified all us senior officers to keep an eye out for warning signs. We’ve had a pair of suicides on the local bases in the last week or so. The first was unusual, in that—well, you probably haven’t seen it yet."

"Seen what?"

"The base perimeter."

"Not yet, no." Holmes’ dry tone was faintly accusatory.

"Double-fenced," Morris explained, trying to ignore the tone, "with a no-man’s-land in between. At least, this particular part of it is. Up until the…construction of the facility in which your liaison works, all of the…special parts…of the installation were contained well inside the base perimeter, inside a separate double fence. Certain…" Morris pondered how to explain without revealing anything classified in an open environment, "fundamental structures…made it necessary to add an additional special area contiguous with the outer perimeter."

* * *

Holmes considered this for a moment. He must refer to the underground Chamber. Evidently geological structures beneath the base required them to carve it from an area near the base perimeter. He nodded understanding.

"Are there snipers stationed along this ‘special section’?"

"Of course. We’re one of the most secure facilities in the country."

"Yes, I can understand why. Pray continue."

"Well, last week—late Tuesday night, to be specific—Lieutenant Michaels decided to commit suicide by cop, or by sniper guard, as it were."

"Suicide by cop?"

* * *

"Yes," Morris confirmed, wondering if the term had been in existence in Holmes’ time, and doubting it. "It’s when the suicide victim can’t bring himself to the actual act, so he deliberately performs an action guaranteed to force a police or other officer to shoot him."

"Mmm," Holmes murmured, steepling his fingers, grey eyes going distant and becoming heavy-lidded. "Yes. I have heard of such things. Resume, please."

"So Michaels drove his truck through the outer perimeter fence," Morris explained. "A thing like that is automatically considered an attack on the base, and the perimeter guards took him out."

"I see. Was Lieutenant Michaels experiencing any behavioral or other symptoms prior to the event that would lead one to believe he was suicidal?"

"It seems there were a few indications, but not many. A little anxiety. That’s pretty much it."

"Hm. Interesting. Were there signs of pursuit?"

"Not that I’m aware of."

"Might I take a look at the scene of the…incident?"

"I’ll arrange for it first thing in the morning, if you like. There won’t be much to see. The truck has already been towed away, and the fence repaired."

"A look at the truck, and perhaps the soldier’s personal effects, might prove instructive, also." Holmes nodded.

"If you say so," Morris agreed with an amiable shrug. "I’ll arrange that, too. Say, oh-five-hundred hours, tomorrow morning?"

Holmes blinked, unfamiliar with the military time reference, then considered for a moment.

"Five o’clock? I do not anticipate Skye—Dr. Chadwick—before seven, or more probably seven-thirty, so that is acceptable."

"Good," Morris remarked, pulling out his blackberry and entering the appointment, instructing it to trigger the appropriate electronic orders to subordinates. "All right, done."

"Excellent," Holmes purred.

* * *

Their food arrived, and the conversation halted to allow the waiter to deliver the hot plates. When the server was safely out of earshot, Holmes resumed.

"Now, please continue. There was another death?"

"Yeah," Morris agreed, delving into his lasagna with enthusiasm. "This one day before yesterday. Lieutenant Davis, Michaels’ best friend. They enlisted together. At first they thought it was heatstroke, but the medical examiner found ecstasy in his system."

"Ecstasy?" Holmes murmured, tasting his curry while looking askance at the general.

"That’s the drug’s street name. 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA. It’s a prescription drug gone illicit as a…party drug." The general scowled in disapproval. The expression on his face told Holmes what sorts of parties were being referenced.

"Method of administration?"

"The report I got didn’t say. Usually it comes as a tablet you swallow, but it can be administered lots of ways, including rectally and intravenously."

"I see. And so this Davis was an avid participant in bacchanals?" Holmes queried.

"That’s the strange thing. He wasn’t. Seemed to be a quiet sort. None of his buddies even knew he was a user."

"Highly suggestive. May I see the attending physician’s report?" Holmes’ eyebrow rose.

* * *

"I’ll get you a copy of the coroner’s report they sent me," Morris nodded, pleased to see Holmes engaged in what the general privately considered a curious, but inconsequential, matter. It might, he decided, keep the detective happy until Morris could figure out what to do with him. "I’ll send it in the morning when I have Colonel Henry Jones escort you to the crash site. Hank’s head of the base’s security and military police, and a good friend. Oh, and he knows about the project. You can speak freely to him."

"That will do nicely, General, thank you," Holmes smiled, and the conversation drifted off to other, more innocuous, matters. By the time after-dinner drinks arrived, Holmes was patting down his pockets. "Blast it," he muttered wistfully. "I left it on the stone overlooking the falls. I had not thought to need it again."

"Left what?"

"My cigarette case," Holmes explained with a sigh. "I had hoped for a smoke with my brandy."

Morris signaled the waiter.

"Could you get Commander Holmes a package of cigarettes and a lighter, or perhaps some matches, please? He seems to have misplaced his own."

"Right away, sir," the waiter said, turning to Holmes. "Do you have a preference as to brand, sir?"

* * *

That brought Holmes up short. He had no notions regarding modern brands, but obviously he could not admit to the fact; so he waved his hand dismissively and said, "Not particularly."

"Very good." The waiter bowed and departed, returning a few moments later with a package of Marlboros and a disposable lighter. Holmes opened the package and extracted a cigarette while Morris picked up the lighter.

"Holmes," the general muttered, for the restaurant of the club had become busy, "the cigarettes you smoked didn’t have filters, did they?"

"No," Holmes noted in a similar tone, unobtrusively studying the cigarette and noting its differences from those of his own day. "But it appears relatively straightforward."

* * *

"Good," Morris said, watching as Holmes placed the filter end between his lips. He leaned forward and flicked the disposable lighter, "accidentally" letting it extinguish. "Here, watch." He flicked the lighter again, holding it so Holmes could light his cigarette.

"Hm, quite an advancement over the fusee," the detective remarked softly. Upon lighting his cigarette, he took the lighter from Morris and surreptitiously examined it before tucking it into his jumpsuit’s breast pocket along with the package of Marlboros.

"It’s disposable. When it runs out of fuel throw it away and get another."

"Very well," Holmes nodded in understanding, drawing on the cigarette as he reached for his brandy.

"By the way, smoking on the base is limited. Not at all in the office buildings and…other facilities. You can smoke outside in designated areas, in your quarters, and in the reserved part of the club, here. Other than that, it’s off limits."

* * *

"I see," Holmes said, surprised, exhaling the smoke and sipping his liquor. "May I inquire why?"

"Since your time, we’ve discovered smoking tobacco isn’t the healthiest thing in the world, and people that don’t smoke don’t want to breathe the smoke." Morris shrugged.

"Ah, yes. Dr. Chadwick and Dr. Wellingford did mention that today. Very well, I shall keep those limits in mind."

Soon thereafter, Holmes decided cigarettes had not improved since his own time. Compared to those to which he was accustomed, these seemed bland, with a hot, unpleasant bite despite the filter. Nevertheless, he decided with a sigh, they were nicotiana, and would serve for the time. Perhaps I should consider locating a decent pipe instead, he thought, then shrugged to himself. It looked like it would be awhile before he had that opportunity.

In relatively short order, Holmes found himself well fed, with brandy and tobacco in his system, the former more than acceptable, the latter, less so; and back in his nondescript officer’s quarters, alone. Noting its similarity to a computer screen, he turned on the television and watched a few minutes of some inane situation comedy, then turned it off in impatient annoyance. A wave of exhaustion swept over him, and he suddenly realized Skye had been correct: It had been an excruciatingly long, painful day, and the best place for him was, undoubtedly, bed.

Five minutes later, he was between the sheets, sound asleep.

* * *

At precisely five in the morning, a knock sounded on the door of Holmes’ quarters. Holmes had risen some time earlier and was now clad immaculately in an RAF dress uniform. The U.S. Air Force officer who waited on the other side stared suspiciously at the detective.

"Yeah, this is some sorta joke, isn’t it?" Colonel Henry Jones, head of the base’s Security and Military Police force, promptly decided, scrutinizing Holmes from head to toe. "Only Bill Morris would, or could, pull a stunt like this."

"Come in, Colonel Jones," Holmes invited. "I can assure you, there is no joke. Am I to assume General Morris has filled you in on my true identity?"

"He told me some malarkey about Sherlock Holmes really being here," Jones scoffed in annoyance. "And wanting to investigate my two apparent suicides."

Holmes disappeared into the bedroom momentarily, returning with the tweed suit he had been wearing when he confronted Moriarty.

"Are you an investigator, Colonel?" he queried, handing the garments to the police chief.

"Of course," Jones snapped. "I…"

* * *

Jones broke off immediately, studying the suit in his hands. The cut, the style; the signs of wear, the pattern of weave, all spoke to the military investigator’s mind. And the word they spoke was not modern. Yet the suit was plainly in excellent shape, with none of the feel of aged, disintegrating fabric. He blinked, then glanced up at Holmes, asking his question with his eyes.

* * *

"Two words, Colonel," Holmes remarked quietly. "Project: Tesseract."

"Shit," Jones said, deadpan. "Are you saying…"

"Dr. Chadwick is my…personal liaison, as I acclimate myself to this…continuum." Holmes nodded.

"They did it. Hughes and Chadwick really did it." Jones’ eyes went wide in astonished disbelief.

"They did, indeed. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, they are unable to return me to my own universe. So," Holmes added, almost managing to hide the sigh, "I had thought to make myself as useful as possible here. General Morris says you have some doubts about the veracity of your two suicides."

"All the evidence looks like suicide to my boys and girls. I can’t put my finger on it, but…" Jones shook his head. "Call it what you like, but my gut says things don’t add up right."

"It has been my observation, when an experienced investigator’s ‘gut’ is involved, it implies the mind, not the belly, has subconsciously deduced conclusions not immediately apparent. Let us examine the clues together and see what two such experienced detectives may uncover." Holmes nodded in approval.

"First things first," Jones said, pulling something from his pocket. "Bill said to bring these." He took Holmes’ visitor badge and added a CAC to it, then stooped.

"What, pray tell, is that?" Holmes wondered, leaning back to look as Jones shoved Holmes’ sock down, then wrapped a small plastic-covered metallic strap securely around his ankle and fastened it in a zip-tie before covering it with the sock.

"Tracking device," Jones answered.

"A tracking device?! Colonel, I am insulted! What do you consider me to be? I am neither laboratory rat, nor a common—or uncommon—criminal!"

"I know, Holmes," Jones soothed. "And I’m sorry. It’s not really because of YOU that you have to wear it. It’s…security," he offered lamely. "In case you get lost, or someone…swipes you," he added, even more unconvincing.

"You mean kidnaps me?"

"Uh, yeah."

"You realise the probability of someone kidnapping ME?"

"Um, yeah…" Jones looked wry. "It’s…um, kinda the rules, Holmes. Well, it’s not the rules, exactly, because we haven’t ever had this situation before, but…"

"This new world is decidedly going to take getting used to." Holmes rolled his eyes in disgust.

"Well…let’s go, then," Jones sighed, gesturing toward the door.

* * *

As Morris had warned, there wasn’t much to see at the eastern edge of the base, where the truck had invaded the boundary. Jones arranged with the guard contingent to take Holmes into the no-man’s-land between the perimeter fences, and the two men walked for some distance until they came upon the scene.

The outer fence had been repaired, but the marks of the collision weren’t entirely erased. Jones stood and watched as Holmes darted about, hither and thither, intently observing.

"The vehicle dislodged a fence post?" Holmes queried, suddenly standing and pointing at a mound of dirt beside a post.

"Yes," Jones confirmed.

"Does that not strike you as rather odd? If I should desire to crash through a fence of this type…" Holmes placed a light hand on the chain link. "I believe I should prefer to strike between the posts, where the structure is at its weakest, rather than strike at a point guaranteed to be one of the stronger regions of the fence."

"He was committing suicide. What did it matter if the guards, or the impact, took him out?" Jones shrugged.

"As you say," Holmes said, expression bland, eyes twinkling. "There appears to be no sign of an attempt to stop."

"No. No skid marks, no evidence of brakes or even downshifting."

"I also note the impact site is precisely at the point where it would be expected had the driver continued straight, when the road curves away from its approach to the perimeter."

"Yeah. Build up speed on the straightaway, then keep plowing through. That’s another piece of evidence in favor of his suicidal mindset."

"Oh, do you think so?" Holmes replied innocently. "Well, I believe we have seen all that needs seeing here. Might I take a look at the vehicle, please?"

"Of course," Jones nodded, leading the way back toward the gate. "I’ll drive you over to Peterson…"

"Drive?" Holmes queried, perking up. "Horses?"

"No, cars," Jones explained. "Automobiles."

The conversation lasted all the way to Peterson.

* * *

Despite the automobile discussion, Holmes was completely unfamiliar with the modern pickup truck, but he had been unfamiliar with specific technologies in previous cases, and it had never stopped him. So the detective fairly swarmed over the truck, noting the copious marks along the front bumper and the side panels, mute evidence of the fence impact.

"Excellent," he murmured. "Now for the more difficult…"

Commandeering the base’s chief mechanic, First Master Sergeant Hynes, he crawled under the vehicle to study the undercarriage, with the mechanic explaining the unfamiliar components. By the time Holmes wormed his way from beneath the truck, he looked satisfied, and the mechanic looked dumbfounded.

"Now to the coroner," Holmes said gleefully.

* * *

In the morgue at Peterson, Holmes got down to basics, scrutinizing personal effects and finding them of disappointingly little import, then studying Lieutenant Michaels’ body under the close supervision of the medical examiner. In short order, Holmes’ long thin finger was pointing at a discoloration near the base of the right side of the skull.

"Tell me about this bruise," he requested.

The medical examiner glanced at Jones, puzzled.

"Odd you should mention that," he addressed Holmes. "Lieutenant Michaels has a fair amount of bruising from the collision of his truck with the fence, not to mention the gunshots which killed him. But this is a reasonably substantial contusion that doesn’t quite appear to correlate with the others, either in terms of impact patterns, or apparent time of infliction."

"It is older, is it not?" Holmes pressed.

"By some amount, maybe," the examiner admitted, surprised. "I would normally estimate perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, maybe as long as half an hour, although I believe the statistical response must be skewed for this particular cadaver. How did you know?"

"Because I expected it. I was looking for it."

"What?!" Jones exclaimed. "Looking for it?"

"Yes," Holmes declared. "Lieutenant Michaels did not commit suicide. He was murdered."

* * *

Back in Jones’ office at Schriever, Holmes sat with that worthy, as well as the base medical examiner from Peterson, explaining his rationale.

"I did not waste my time on the perimeter, gentlemen. I observed the layout and arrangement, and noted not merely the failure of the vehicle to slow down. Did you observe the tire tread marks appeared to have dug into the ground after the impact with the fence, Colonel? You did not? You do understand the significance, however?"

"The truck was still accelerating at the time it struck the fence, and continued to do so past it." Jones nodded grimly.

"Correct. You noted, Colonel Jones, that I took the most experienced mechanic with me, when I examined Michaels’ vehicle," Holmes reminded the police chief. "That was no mere whim. I am unfamiliar with…such lorries, but it was needful. I spent some time observing the undercarriage, and requesting of him what I was observing. As a result, we discovered something interesting."

"And that would be?"

"The steering system had been tampered-with. Specifically, the kingpins had been manipulated in such a fashion as to permit little to no ability to turn the vehicle. Colonel, I do recommend you debrief Sergeant Hynes, and ensure he does not discuss the matter."

"So Michaels couldn’t have turned to follow the road if he’d wanted to, is that what you’re saying?" Jones said, absently making note of Holmes’ recommendation.

"Indeed. But in point of fact he was unable to, in any case," Holmes informed them. "Dr. Jacobsen, am I right in assuming the contusion upon Michaels’ head was sufficient to have, at the least, stunned him?"

"You are," the medical examiner replied. "But when the snipers unloaded into the lieutenant, his body jerked around considerably in reflex, flailing about the interior of the truck cab. Such things are very common in multiple gunshot fatalities. This could account for the unusual location fairly easily, I would think."

"But the time, Doctor, the time," Holmes pointed out.

"There’s always a little leeway, plus or minus, in the determination of the time of an incident," Jacobsen protested. "It likely means nothing."

"Doctor, you surprise me. We have already demonstrated the vehicle had been meddled-with. By way of further proof, let me tell you: Lieutenant Davis’ drug overdose was administered via intravenous injection, was it not? At roughly the same time as the injection, he ‘fell,’ striking his head on the right side hard enough to render him unconscious. And he was found, first thing in the morning, with the heat in his quarters set quite high, hence the initial diagnosis of heatstroke."

"You’ve seen the forensics report," Jacobsen accused.

"No," a stunned Jones answered for Holmes. "General Morris told me to give him a copy of the full report, but I’d saved it until last…" He picked up the report in question from his desk beside his elbow, waving it at Jacobsen. "It’s been right here the whole time."

Jones and Jacobsen stared at each other, then at Holmes, for long moments.

"So you’re saying…" Jones began.

"I am saying Lieutenant Michaels was stunned—possibly rendered entirely unconscious—then placed in his vehicle some little way up the road. His vehicle was modified to prevent his changing direction should he awaken, then it was set in gear, aimed for the perimeter fence."

"But I understood it was accelerating," Jacobsen commented, confused. "If there wasn’t any modification to the gas pedal, how…?"

"Probably they wedged Michaels’ foot into position," Jones shrugged.

"Correct," Holmes nodded. "His own weight, and the natural rigidity of limbs, would have provided sufficient pressure. I would highly recommend sending an investigatory team along the road, to see if the starting point may be discovered."

"I’ll get on that first thing this morning. What about Davis? I assume he was deliberately injected, knocked out either before or after—probably before? Then the heat cranked up," Jones hypothesized, watching Holmes’s reaction to see if he was on track.

"Very good, Colonel," Holmes smiled, pleased. "You have the advantage so many detectives of my experience did not: imagination. Once the pertinent data is brought to your attention, you are able to postulate how it might have come to pass."

"So we have a double murder on our hands," Jones declared grimly.

"Yes," Holmes said. "If I were you, I would look into what the two men may have been doing in common, of questionable veracity. I would also keep a sharp watch for a man of below average height, say around five-feet-eight or -nine inches; right-handed, with the finesse required to strike such blows as we deduce without killing outright. He may also be a skilled mechanic himself, or he may have an accomplice who is one." He rose. "Now I must return to my quarters. I anticipate the arrival of my liaison shortly, and it might distress her to find me absent, so early in the day."

"Right," Jones nodded, standing and dismissing Dr. Jacobsen, who headed back to the forensics lab at Peterson. "I’ll take you back now. Would you like me to keep you apprised of developments in the investigation?"

"Yes, please," Holmes agreed immediately. "If I am not in my quarters, chances are either General Morris or Dr. Chadwick will know where I am. In all probability, for at least the next few weeks, I will be with Dr. Chadwick during the day."

"Good," Jones said.

* * *

When the knock came on Holmes’ door later that morning, he saw, not the delightful young woman he expected on the other side, but a pair of trousered legs and many, many voluminous shopping bags with handles above them. Skye was laden with shopping bags of every conceivable size and color, and he stepped aside in surprise to allow her to waddle through the door.

"Here," she panted, depositing the bags en masse on the floor of his sitting area as he closed the door. "I didn’t wanna make multiple trips, but dang, I thought I was gonna drop something. Gate security about had a cow."

"What is all this?" Holmes wondered skeptically.

"Clothes and junk," Skye waved her hands vaguely at the pile. "A little of everything, actually. Oh, and I did find the straight razor, and I sort of found the cologne."

"Sort of?"

"Yeah," Skye pulled a face. "The company discontinued the fragrance a few years ago. But it’s still popular with some of the locals, so I found a supply store that mixes their own version of it."

"Ah. Excellent."

* * *

While Holmes rummaged through the bags, Skye slung her laptop case down from its shoulder strap and sat it on the coffee table, opening it.

"Holmes, come here a minute," she said, extracting a folder and skimming through it. "I want you to look at something." A tall body abruptly appeared at her elbow, and she jumped, startled.

"What?" Holmes asked.

"Take a look at these, and see if they’re accurate," Skye said, handing him the folder. "These are copies of the stories you and I discussed showing Morris, yesterday."

* * *

"Ah," Holmes said, flipping open the folder and skimming down the first page. Absently he moved to the nearby armchair and started to sit; then became aware of his breach of etiquette. "Oh, forgive me, Skye," he murmured, glancing at her in apology. "Please take a seat, if you would."

"No problem, Holmes. You don’t have to be formal with me. I would’ve plopped down anyway. Treat me…" she thought for an instant, "treat me like you might treat Watson." Skye grinned.

"Very good." He returned the grin. They seated themselves, and Holmes resumed a rapid scan of the stories. Skye sat quietly, watching him. When he had finished, he shook his head in bemusement, then glanced up at her, allowing wonderment to show in his grey eyes.

"They are, indeed, accurate," he vouched, astonished. "I hardly understand how, but they are correct in essentially every detail. This is precisely what happened. A bit embellished, of course, but then, that is Watson’s style. And his agent and go-between, Doyle, only encourages him in it. And you say these were works of ‘fiction’ by the Arthur Conan Doyle of this continuum?"

"Exactly," Skye nodded assent. "SIR Arthur Conan Doyle, I might add; knighted by King Edward VII in 1902. Are you ready to go?"

"I suppose so," Holmes agreed, handing the folder back to her.

"Good. I’ve got a meeting with General Morris in ten minutes about you."

"In regards to what, precisely?"

"Letting the bird out of its cage," she declared cryptically.

* * *

It took some doing, because General Morris was decidedly uncomfortable about the thought of letting Holmes off the base. But Skye was not Chief Scientist for any lack of logical reasoning ability. She pointed out that if Morris didn’t let the man get out and have a taste of civilian life, not only would the great intellect eventually rebel in boredom, but he would be crippled in his detection abilities.

"He can’t stay here forever, and your best bet at disguising him is in plain sight. So he has to get a taste of all of it," she explained. "Has to be able to see firsthand what our so-called ‘modern’ society is like, in its every aspect, from top to bottom, in order to know what forces drive the individual to commit crime, and in what direction he or she would be likely to turn. There’s nothing abnormal about him just because he’s from another universe; Peter verified that. He’s already got the GPS tracker like you wanted, so you can’t lose him. Besides," she added as a trump card, "you know I’m trained and cleared for this type of duty, and I’ll be with him, the whole time. Well, I take that back—I’m not following him into the men’s room," Skye grinned.

At her joke, Holmes, sitting in the chair nearby while his advocate pled his case, became the Great Stone Face.

"But I hardly think we have anything to worry about," Skye added, surreptitiously winking at Holmes to put him at ease. "Look at these and you’ll see what I mean." Skye handed Morris the folder Holmes had seen earlier.

"What are these?" the general queried, puzzled.

"These are some of Holmes’ cases, in the form of the stories Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. I’ve already run through them with Holmes, and he vouches the stories are reasonably accurate and are essentially those that his Watson actually wrote."

"That true?" Morris glanced sharply at Holmes.

* * *

Holmes nodded.

"Indeed. The accounts are sensationalized for the popular press, of course, rather than that pure abstract and learnéd account which I would have preferred. But they are accurate insofar as they go, which is rather far." He paused and shook his head in bemusement. "The puzzling thing to me is how they came to be written, almost verbatim, by a man in a different spacetime continuum, a continuum in the which I do not—did not," he corrected himself, "even exist."

"That’s a good one," Skye admitted. "And I don’t have an answer for it yet. I’m considering consulting with my old post-doctoral advisor about it, if I can figure out how to do it in the clear." She pointed at the stack of papers in Morris’ hands. "But those stories should give you some idea of how well Holmes can be trusted. His brother Mycroft worked in British Intelligence, and—I can tell you from the tesseract records—is one of the men responsible for the formation of the organization that went on to become Her Majesty’s Secret Service—both MI-5 and -6—in his world. Holmes worked several important assignments from his brother. There are also several cases he worked involving European heads of state."

"There were several cases Mycroft directed my way," Holmes interjected, "of which Watson knew nothing, as well. And a few more of which he did, but that shall never be set to paper."

"I suspected as much. So we wouldn’t have any paper records of those cases at all." Skye nodded emphatically.

"My point exactly."

"Hm. This looks interesting. I should’ve done more reading as a boy." Morris flipped through several pages, perusing them.

"They’re hardly children’s stories, General. I find them fascinating to this day. Take those, and read ‘em. I’ve got the complete collection if you want to know his history better."

Holmes managed to keep his eyebrows in place at the remark. Devotee, indeed.

"Okay, I will." Morris nodded, still reading the page.

"Meantime…can I take him out this Saturday?"

* * *

Morris raised his head from the photocopied stories.

"You want to go horseback riding, right?"

"Yeah. I thought he’d enjoy it if I trailered a couple of my horses down and we spent the day riding through the Garden of the Gods. I can even swing by the front gate and pick him up, then bring him back later. Maybe after some dinner," she added casually, knowing she was pushing it. Morris looked at her askance, then sighed.

"Oh, all right," he huffed. "Go on your damn trail ride, and have something good to eat after. But get him back before he turns into a pumpkin."

"Done," Skye said, delighted.

"He’s already got a CAC, right?" Morris queried.

"The…what was it…Common Access Card?" Holmes recalled. "Yes, Dr. Hughes arranged for that at the same time as this," Holmes fingered the visitor badge clipped to his lapel, then flipped it up to reveal the CAC. "She said I would need it to move around, on, and off, the base. Colonel Jones brought it today."

"Good," Skye nodded.

"On your word, I’ll authorize a T-badge for him: No escort required. Go get it when you’re done here. You better damn well be right, Doctor, because it’s your ass on the line. And I will nail it to the wall if you’re wrong." Morris fixed Skye with a stern glance.

"I’m not worried," Skye grinned. "Sherlock Holmes won’t let me down."

Holmes merely nodded austerely. But when he glanced at Skye, she saw the gratified silver glimmer in his grey eyes.

* * *

The rest of that day was spent familiarizing Holmes with the layout of the base and its security measures, followed by reviewing and analyzing the records from the tesseract jaunt. Hughes got Holmes read into the security access listings for Project: Tesseract as an interim team member, then she and Skye showed him how to access the Chamber, as well as move through the various parts of the base.

"Quite complex," he noted of the security measures.

"Yeah," Caitlin agreed. "Given the potential for abuse—you explained about manipulating the continua, Skye?" Skye nodded, and Caitlin continued, "Given the potential for abuse, we’ve got the tesseract in the most secure facility in the country, arguably in the world. It’s one thing to study it, another altogether to damage spacetime."

"Agreed," Holmes said, considering, then added, "I believe I have this well in hand now."

"I think so," Caitlin grinned, as Holmes readily swiped his badge, entered his PIN for the airlock into the Chamber, then passed through. "C’mon back out and we’ll get on with the other stuff."

"Very well," Holmes remarked, returning through the airlock. "What ‘other stuff’ is there?"

"Skye?" Caitlin queried.

"Well, I’ve called the team in to do a ‘look-see’ run," Skye said. "Like I told ‘em yesterday, I want to make sure we didn’t…want to make sure I didn’t…mess things up." She turned away, casually averting her face.

Caitlin and Holmes exchanged glances, both understanding what Skye could not quite bring herself to admit aloud—she was dreadfully worried she had herself caused irrevocable damage to Holmes’ original continuum. Holmes studied Skye’s back for a moment, then made a subdued, but sincere, offer.

"Skye…if it should be necessary, I will voluntarily return to Meiringen and allow Moriarty to kill me, in order to prevent damage to…spacetime."

Skye spun, and Holmes suddenly found both women staring at him in shocked horror.

"No, no, no," Skye declared emphatically. "That isn’t what I’m worried about. You disappeared from that continuum, so everything will be fine as far as that’s concerned. I’m worried I might have left something behind, something that wasn’t supposed to be there, and changed the timeline."

"Fine, let’s go look," Caitlin said pragmatically. "The sooner we check, the sooner you’ll settle down about it. I assume," she added, as the trio worked back through the security airlocks, conversing via video monitors, "you wanted to wait until today to give any discrepancies time to materialize."

"Yeah," Skye agreed. "I mean, we’re dealing with spacetime itself, so who can say? But I did think it might want…‘time’ to propagate through the strings, or the branes, I’m not quite sure yet which."

* * *

They entered the main room and were promptly greeted by the team. "Hi, Dr. Hughes, Dr. Chadwick! Hi, Mr. Holmes! Good to see you again!" In the corner, DSS Investigator Welker sat silent and alert, notebook and pen in hand, ready to observe firsthand the project’s operations. Caitlin and Skye issued cheerful greetings to all and sundry, and Holmes nodded affably, somewhat surprised by the friendly welcome.

"Okay, ladies and gentlemen," Caitlin announced gravely, walking to the director’s console, "we all know what we’re here for."

"Yeah, we’re here to make sure Dr. Worrywart knows she didn’t screw up!" one of the hardware technicians, Chad Swann by name, called affectionately, and Skye blushed as the room laughed.

* * *

"Holmes, sit here with us," Skye offered, trying to ignore the fond jibe and subsequent snickers as she picked up her clipboard. "You can watch and help us check to see if anything’s different from yesterday."

"There are only two seats," Holmes murmured politely. "I can stand."

"No, it’s okay. Skye never sits down anyway," Caitlin observed. "She’s always so absorbed in the run, I sometimes think she forgets to breathe."

"She’s right. Sometimes I do," Skye grinned. "I’ve caught myself holding my breath more than once in here."

"Very well," he conceded with a chuckle, taking the seat beside Caitlin, and settling in to watch with interest.

"Checklists out," Skye called.

"Checklists out!"

"Got ‘em!"

"Right here!"

"Go/no-go call," Skye declared. "Software?"

"Go…"

* * *

Soon Holmes found himself watching…himself. He had seen the video already, of course, but it was quite another thing to view this. It was three-dimensional, it was real. It was more powerful than looking into a mirror. And it was him.

They let the observation run straight through. Holmes wrote his note, positioned it; he and Moriarty engaged in their life-and-death struggle. Skye magically appeared on the ledge, breaking the grip between the opponents and hurling Moriarty over the edge as Holmes fell back and vanished; and Holmes’ eyebrow rose as his curiosity fully engaged.

"How is that possible without interfering?" he murmured to Caitlin.

"Huh?" Caitlin muttered back, confused.

"Skye is here beside me, but she is there, as well. And I am in both places, also."

"Oh," Skye interjected, having overheard, "we aren’t fully ‘focused in.’ This is an observing run. We’re…sort of looking at echoes, I guess you might say."

"Echoes of spacetime. How…interesting."

"We were never supposed to fully interact with our subject continuum," Skye explained, never taking her eyes off the events playing out inside the columns. "The protocol called for pulling the continuum into full focus and watching, then ‘de-rezzing’ enough to prevent complete connection before going into the tesseract to take direct readings." The chief scientist sighed in chagrin. "And then I jumped into the middle of it. Me, of all people. I am such an idiot."

* * *

After Moriarty fell, and Skye and Holmes vanished, little happened on the ledge along the falls for quite some time. So Skye took the opportunity to ensure she had left no sign of her presence there, even walking through the tesseract core to observe up close. Her team kept a careful watch on the focusing, however, to ensure no more untoward connections occurred, maintaining a skewed focus throughout.

"Counting down to next event," the Timelines console member called. "In ten…nine…eight…"

Skye bolted out of the core.

Watson clambered up the path.

Holmes leaned forward, forehead creased, dark grey eyes narrowed in pain.

"Can he see her?" he asked Caitlin in an undertone. "Is that why Skye left so hurriedly?"

"In this mode, no," Caitlin answered softly. "He should be able to neither see nor hear any of us. She’s getting out of the way so we can see. And I think she’s knee-jerking, too."

"Knee-jerking?"

"Um…gut reaction. Yesterday upset her pretty bad. She’s torn. Doesn’t know what the right thing to do was. So today she’s over-reacting. Erring on the side of caution."

"Ah."

Holmes fell silent and watched as his oldest, dearest friend stepped methodically through the exploration of the crime scene. First came the spotting of the items Holmes had left, the locating and reading of the note; the horrified cry, which wrenched Holmes’ gut. Watson immediately perched himself on the very lip of the ledge, heedless of danger to his own person, peering into the mists below. The physician shook his head in disbelief, then turned and observed the footprints in the manner Holmes had taught him. Holmes found his breast swelling with pride as he noticed the meticulous, accurate technique Watson displayed. But in the course of being flung back through the tesseract, Holmes had flown almost completely off his feet, so there was nothing to be seen save the scrabbling footprints along the narrow edge, and only one conclusion to be reached from the evidence at hand.

Holmes could only watch in unaccustomed helplessness as Watson dropped to his knees on the ledge, calling desperately down into the abyss for his friend, and listening painstakingly and ultimately futilely for any response or plea for help. Finally the doctor rose and staggered back, collapsing on the same rock where Holmes had written his note, tears trickling down his face and disappearing into the flaxen moustache. A despairing, grief-stricken Watson put his face in his hands as several of the local policemen hurried up.

A pale, strained Holmes attended to the events for a few more minutes, as a deeply grieving Watson tried to explain to the police officers what had taken place. Abruptly the detective rose to his feet, turning on his heel and leaving the Chamber without a word.

* * *

Caitlin leaped to her feet, and she and Skye stared anxiously after Holmes. Within seconds he had disappeared through the door and down the corridors.

"Aw," a compassionate Skye murmured.

"You need to go after him," Caitlin declared. "You’re his liaison. He needs somebody there right now."

"I know. But I’ve got a responsibility here, too, and he knows that. He’s got a good, level head; he won’t do anything stupid. And this’ll just take a couple minutes. All consoles, open up view to maximum. Initiate automated recognition procedure. Accelerate," Skye ordered. In the corner, Welker raised an impressed eyebrow and jotted something in his notebook.

The images in the center of the circle of monoliths sped up, moving faster and faster, until all that could be seen was a grey blur.

"Terminus?" the Timelines position called.

"T-plus-five-hundred-years," Skye instructed.

Three minutes later the core froze in an indistinct multicolored mass.

"Recognition procedure complete," Timelines called. "Terminus reached."

"Status?" Skye barked.

"Nominal. No immediate observable deviations from baseline."

"Excellent. Begin standard shutdown and start a detailed comparison to the baseline we spent weeks getting. I want a full analysis performed by tomorrow."

"I’ll take care of all that. You’ve got another responsibility," Caitlin told her. "Go see about him."

"Okay. Thanks, Cait," Skye said, putting down the clipboard she had forgotten she carried, and scurrying out.

* * *

Skye headed out of the Chamber facility and hurried across Schriever toward the officers’ temporary billets. Morris had given her a card key for ease of access as Holmes’ liaison, but she still knocked on the door of the flat first.

"Holmes, it’s Skye. I wanted to check on you."

No answer. Skye knocked again.

"Holmes, it’s all right. I understand. I just don’t want you to be alone right now."

When there was still no answer forthcoming, Skye wielded the electronic key and entered Holmes’ quarters.

There was no one there.

"Oh, shit," Skye muttered in dismay. "Where the hell did he go?"

She paused in the middle of his sitting room, staring at the packages she had left that morning, and thinking hard.

Okay, it was obvious he was upset. And Holmes is known for being a loner, preferring not to show strong emotion in public, so he retreated somewhere out of sight. But he didn’t come here. Where else might he have gone?

Skye mentally reviewed the various places on base with which Holmes was familiar that might also provide sufficient privacy for Holmes to deal with his grief. She shook her head; nothing came to mind. There was simply no other place than his quarters where Holmes could be assured of being alone.

But he’s grieving losing Watson, the thought struck her. His best and most trusted friend. Without him, he must feel…ah. Maybe that’s it. Maybe he doesn’t want to be completely alone right now.

And suddenly she knew.

Skye turned and hurried toward her office.

Opening the door slowly, she found Holmes sitting in her visitor’s chair, leaning forward, arms folded across the desk, forehead resting on his arms. She eased the door closed, trying not to disturb him any more than she could help. Unobtrusively she moved to his side, laying a gentle hand on the back of his shoulder.

"I know it’s hard, Holmes, but you need the closure, hon."

The dark head nodded once.

"Is there anything I can do?"

His shoulders heaved once as he took a deep breath, then let it out in a protracted sigh.

"No," his voice was muffled through his arms. "Is the continuum intact?"

"Yeah, it looks that way," Skye noted in relief.

"Good," he responded, head still on his arms.

"Holmes?" Keeping her hand on his shoulder, Skye knelt beside his chair.

Another deep breath, and he raised his head. Skye scrutinized his face, but there were no signs of uncharacteristic tears, as she had feared. His grey eyes focused on hers, well aware of what she was doing.

"Yes, Skye?" he said pointedly.

"Do you think…? Nothing," Skye changed her mind, staring at the floor, unaware her guilt was written clearly on her face.

"An earlier intervention would have been gratifying," he noted matter-of-factly, answering the question she hadn’t asked. "Something rather less than irrevocable."

The pain from that response, so coolly cognizant of what Skye perceived as her total failure, cut through the scientist like a laser beam.

* * *

The blonde head dropped, and the blue eyes became sightless for long moments. Without a word, she stood and moved behind the desk to the chalkboard. There, she scribbled a complex set of equations on the board, using them to derive a series of large matrices, most of whose entries appeared to be equations in themselves, then working to solve the series.

Holmes sat and watched her for several minutes, but he was unfamiliar with tensor analysis and couldn’t understand what he saw. Finally he queried, "What are you working on?"

Without looking away from her task, Skye replied, "Trying to find a way to put you back, alive, that won’t collapse the whole blasted continuum set."

Holmes’ breath caught in startled confoundment, and he watched as she worked her way through the mathematics. She huffed impatiently, then erased her work and started over. Ten minutes later, she’d arrived at a similar result. Holmes watched for nearly an hour as, increasingly baffled, Skye sought in vain to find the solution to the problem she’d set herself.

Suddenly she let out a growl of frustrated irritation, spun, and flung the piece of chalk across the room. It struck the far wall and shattered. Skye slumped into her desk chair, defeated.

"I’m sorry," she whispered, then buried her face in her hands.

Holmes was stunned. The gesture, the entire posture, was identical to one he had seen earlier that very day…when Watson had collapsed in despair along the Reichenbach ledge. It was, he realized, a mingling of grief, and guilt, and hopelessness. And both Chadwick and Watson felt it in toto.

Holmes sighed, then stood and came around the desk.

"Well, well," he murmured, utilizing that way about him, that talent he had to soothe and offer comfort to even the most distressed client, as he coaxed her hands away from her face and held them in his own. "After all, I would have died had you not been there. It is certainly true our own actions are not all with which we must concern ourselves, and it is also true that often our options are more constrained than we would wish." He paused, then admitted, "I…had not expected Watson, dear old chap, to take it quite so hard. As a result, I fear I lashed out at you when I should have been grateful instead."

"I don’t know about that," Skye murmured, barely audible. She refused to meet his eyes.

"I do," Holmes avowed. "I also know we missed lunch, and it is past tea-time as well, nearing what you call ‘quitting time.’ I believe it was you who noted that large life changes require proper care of the body." Keeping her hands in his, he stepped back and pulled her to her feet. "And after that fierce little display of intellect," he nodded at the blackboard, "I expect you require sustenance every bit as much as the displaced detective struggling to find a place of stability in a universe considerably larger than he had ever before considered."

"Yeah, I’m hungry. I’m sorry I didn’t see to it that you got lunch. Cait’ll tell you I can get pretty single-minded when I’m working on the tesseract." Skye disentangled one of her hands long enough to rub an aching temple.

Holmes raised an amused eyebrow, feeling some semblance of good humor returning at the comprehension that this woman was willing to work so hard to try to help him. She said I was not alone unless I wished to be, he recalled. Perhaps she is right.

"That sounds quite familiar, my dear Skye; I suspect we have more in common than we realise. Would an early dinner at the Officer’s Club suit? I rather suspect Wing Commander Holmes, late of the Royal Air Force, could manage entrée for the both of us."

"Yeah, that sounds good. Are you sure it’s open tonight?" Skye gave him a tired grin.

"It is. I made a point of observing its hours of operation last night."

"Okay. Let me call Cait and let her know. And I want to make sure the data we collected is getting a good, in-depth analysis, too. I don’t want to just think we’re in the clear. I want to know."

Holmes nodded his concurrence, and Skye picked up the phone and dialed the director’s console. A few minutes later she was assured the detailed analysis was under way, and Cait was relieved to discover the pair not only alive and well, but in search of food.

"Very good," Holmes declared. "And now, my dear Doctor, let us go. Last night’s meal was more than acceptable, and I have every assurance tonight’s will be equally as good."

He offered her his arm, and they set off.

* * *

They had a quiet, early dinner. The club was relatively unpopulated at that time of evening, and Holmes requested a table in the corner. They were given a corner booth, which afforded even more privacy. Little was said; neither was in a frame of mind for much talk. But the air between the two was not strained; rather it was companionable. By tacit consent, no more was said about how Holmes came to be there, or what alternatives there may, or may not, have been.

Holmes opted for fish and chips, but Skye ordered a large steak, then tore ravenously into it when it arrived, tucking away most of it before even slowing down. Holmes’ eyebrows rose in surprise, but he said nothing—until Skye commented.

"Mmh, that’s good," she murmured, halfway through. "I guess I really ought to put more in me than a cup of coffee in the course of a day."

"You have had nothing but coffee?" Holmes wondered, disturbed. "All day?"

"’Fraid so. I wanted to get here early and bring your stuff this morning, so I didn’t take time for breakfast. Then, like you pointed out, we missed lunch. I didn’t realize I was so hungry." Skye grinned sheepishly.

"Skye," Holmes remarked, exasperated, "why did you not eat?"

"I told you. I was busy. I do that all the time. Some things are more important than eating. Besides, if anybody ought to understand, it’d be you."

"Guilty as charged," Holmes chuckled, taken off guard by the good-natured jibe. "But, Skye, I deal with life-and-death issues."

"So was this," Skye alleged, meeting his gaze. "Even if there hadn’t been a risk to the continuum, it still pertained to…"

She broke off, and Holmes mentally completed, It still pertained to my life. Trying for levity, he pointed out, "Clothing and razors are matters of life and death?"

Skye laughed, pleasing Holmes.

"No, I suppose not. But like I said, I do this all the time."

Holmes said nothing. But for the first time, he took the opportunity to see his companion as a full, complete human being rather than a subject for deduction or source of information. She was in excellent shape, far less zaftig than the women of Holmes’ day, with a less exaggerated, but still shapely hourglass figure—the difference due, he grasped, to the lack of boning in modern undergarments. Her chinos and polo shirt were fitted enough to hint at musculature underneath, and the overall effect was healthy and attractive; but her face, Holmes decided, was too thin. Said face was tanned, something the high-bred women of his day would have eschewed; yet there was a touch of unhealthy paleness beneath. And there were faint shadows under the sky-blue eyes that spoke of too many hours: in the Chamber, in her office, at the computer, before the blackboard. Holmes decided he would not be the only one to enjoy their weekend jaunt, if he had any say in the matter.

General Morris had arranged to have an on-base monetary account for Holmes, credited to the project, and Holmes had their meal charged to it. Then he escorted Skye back across the base to her office, at her request. He had intended to walk her to her car—or at least to the gate—in order to get her home more quickly. But she insisted she must go back to her office to pick up her laptop.

There, Holmes’ intent was nearly thwarted when Skye fished a fresh piece of chalk from a desk drawer and returned to the blackboard. His eyebrows rose when he saw the same equations appear beneath her hand as had been there almost two hours earlier, and knew she was about to resume her fruitless calculations.

Suddenly he recalled the mathematical notations he had seen her working on when he had entered her office for the first time.

It is exactly the same, he realized, staring at the matrices emerging under her fingers. She has struggled to find a way to send me back, from the very beginning.

"No, Skye," he asserted, moving behind the desk and taking the chalk from her fingers. "We both know this is futile. We have had two very long days, you and I. Allow me to suggest you depart homeward now, and permit yourself the rest you undoubtedly need. In turn, I, too, will retire to my quarters, and we will reconsider matters in light of the new day, after a proper night’s sleep."

"You’re trying to take care of me," she observed in patent chagrin. "But I’m the liaison. It’s supposed to be the other way around." Skye looked up at him from beneath heavy, tired lids.

"Somebody has to," an exasperated voice declared from the door, and they turned to see Caitlin standing there, green eyes blazing; her dander was obviously up. "You sure don’t do it yourself, especially this past year."

Skye’s eyes immediately shot to a small photograph on the corner of her desk, and Holmes noted it was a picture of Skye with an older couple, her parents judging by the resemblance, all of them smiling in front of a large magnolia tree in full bloom.

Ah, he decided. Magnolias are notoriously scarce in the Rocky Mountains. There has been a loss in the last year. And a move. That would explain much.

"I knew you’d come right back here after eating, damn it," Caitlin pressed, aggravated. "So are you going to listen to Mr. Holmes and go home, or are we going to have to gang up on you?"

"All right, all right!" Skye exclaimed in vexation. "I’m going, already." She packed her laptop, and with Holmes on one side and Caitlin on the other, headed toward the ultra-secure gate, chatting amiably all the while. All three paused on the outside of the gate. "Morris gave you my phone number, didn’t he?" Skye asked the detective.

"Yes, he did," Holmes verified.

"And you know how to use the phone?" Caitlin added.

Holmes nodded.

"Okay, call me if you need anything," Skye added.

"I will be fine, Skye. Rest well."

"I’ll see she gets to her truck, Mr. Holmes," Caitlin grinned, pique having gone as fast as it had arrived. "I wouldn’t put it past her sneaking back after you and I leave."

Skye gave Caitlin a mightily-offended glare, and Holmes chuckled.

"Then you were thinking about it. I am glad to see that will not happen. What are the plans for the morrow?"

Before Skye could respond, Caitlin maintained, "Skye and I are going to do some paperwork. We three are going to lunch, and Skye is going home early. After all, tomorrow is Friday."

"And the day after, we are going for a horseback ride," Holmes noted with unconcealed gusto.

"Oh, excellent!" Caitlin exclaimed, pleased. "Meantime, let’s get the two of you ho— back to your quarters," the project manager corrected herself hastily.

"Oh, okay," Skye huffed. The others chuckled.

Skye and Caitlin made their way toward the parking lot, while Holmes turned back to his quarters alone, well aware that the only person in this world he might term a friend was miles away within minutes.

* * *

In a dark room, a shadowed, indistinguishable face watched the flickering light of a computer screen. On it, a map of Schriever Air Force Base was laid out. A small red X, with the number 4218 beside it, tracked slowly along the walkways of the base from the main gate. After some fifteen minutes, it stopped in the officers’ temporary quarters. A pale, fleshy hand reached for a telephone.

"Subject has returned to quarters," a low voice said.

 

 

The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival Copyright © 2011. Stephanie Osborn. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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Author Bio

Stephanie Osborn is a former payload flight controller, a veteran of over twenty years of working in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs. She has worked on numerous Space Shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Of those astronauts she trained, one was Kalpana Chawla, a member of the crew lost in the Columbia disaster.

She holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and she is "fluent" in several more, including Geology and Anatomy. She obtained her various degrees from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Stephanie is currently retired from space work. She now happily "passes it forward," teaching math and science via numerous media including radio, podcasting, and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science fiction think tank, while writing science fiction mysteries based on her knowledge, experience, and travels.

TTB title: Burnout: the mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281
Extraction Point! with Travis 'Doc' Taylor

Cresperian series
The Y Factor with Darrell Bain. Book 2 Cresperian series
The Cresperian Alliance with Darrell Bain. Book 3 Cresperian series.

Displaced Detective series
The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus
The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival
The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed
The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident
The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings

Author web site.

 

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To order this book:

Format: ePub, PDF, Mobi/Kindle compatible
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN.com; eReader; Fictionwise; Kindle; Kobo Books; OmniLit; Sony eBookstore
List Price: $6.50 USD

Format: Trade Paperback
Order this book via check or credit card
List Price: $19.95 USD

 

  Author News

Upcoming Appearances

Keep up with Stephanie on Sector Five Radio, where she is the Science and Technology Consultant "Extraordinaire"! Saturday nights at 7PM CST on KTKK 630AM in Salt Lake City!

 

Science Fiction Conventions

AnachroCon, Atlanta GA. February 22-24, 2013

MidSouthCon, Memphis TN. March 22-24, 2013

Alabama Phoenix Festival, Birmingham, AL. May 24-26, 2013

221b Con, Atlanta GA. April 13-14, 2013

LibertyCon 26, Chattanooga, TN. July 28-30, 2013

Archon, St. Louis MO. October 4-6, 2013

Con*Stellation 31, Huntsville, AL. October 11-13, 2013

 

  Reviews
"...The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival is a fantastic spin on the Holmes mythos and does the character and his creator great honor. This is definitely Doyle's Holmes, a man who, although he assimilates to blue jeans and computers quite well, is clearly still of the sensibilities, skills, and quirks he has always been."
Tommy Hancock for Ideas Like Bullets. Tommy is host of One-Two Punch on TMVCafe.
 



The Sherlock Holmes character is moved to a more "modern" setting through an unusual event and "redesigns" himself to accommodate the new period. His Victorian "self" is radically altered, yet the qualities so treasured, remain. He marries, drives automobiles and wears clothing appropriate for his new environment, however, he is still "the old Holmes" chivalrous and practical.

The genre is definitely not one of my favorites and some of the settings startle, but, overall it is a superb idea and believably constructed. An 1800's man "ripped" from his world and "dropped" into ours. The concept is "most worthy". Written to entertain; it succeeded with me.

I've been a "Sherlockian" for too many years to mention and have been the recipient of numerous "pastiches" articles and manuscripts. Some were "OK" and some were "terrible"! This is in a category "to itself". It is "REALLY good"!
~Bill Markie aka Webley, Nashville Scholars of the Three-Pipe Problem

 

 

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