The Adventure of the Anonymous Agent

My friend Sherlock Holmes was not one known for the giving of gifts; on those rare occasions when he did so it was only for the most important and celebratory of reasons. In those two years following his return from the East Holmes’ manner had changed somewhat; usually Christmas and New Year’s would pass unobserved, but this particular Christmas, for no reason that I could discern, Holmes found the need to give me a present. He said nothing upon doing so, simply tossing the wrapped book in my lap as he mumbled a few unintelligible and possibly meaningless words, and returned to his daily perusal of the agony columns.

Two weeks had passed since then, and my medical practice in Paddington was consuming most of my waking hours, and thus Holmes’ activities during the time were unknown to me. But I found myself sharing many hours of quiet solitude with Holmes on the night of January Sixth, Eighteen Ninety-Six, a wholly unremarkable day save for a drab fog hanging low over London. Indeed, the time was best spent catching up on my leisure reading, and while I had not yet begun to read Holmes’ present, I had glanced through the tome several times, whetting my appetite for larger morsels yet to come.

I held the book in my hands, and set it down on the table for perhaps the dozenth time. “Tell me, Holmes, have you read it?” I asked at last.

Holmes did not look up from the morning’s Times. “You mean The Time Machine, I presume?”

“What else would I mean?”

Holmes flung the Times on the table and took up his pipe. “Watson, I count no fewer than seventeen volumes that you have purchased within the past two months that you have done no more than lovingly hold, shake your head upon discovering that you have insufficient time in which to immerse yourself in the book, and then replace the book, unread, in a treasured spot on the shelves. Knowing your proclivities, I should be safe in concluding that each of those volumes has received at the very least a cursory examination of some sort, whether you have read an isolated chapter or the very next sentence.

“As to why The Time Machine, my reasoning should be simple; having been married you tend to see some kind of sentimental attachment toward any gift, and you think that the giver requires that the gift be read immediately, lest the giver be truly offended. I need only point out to you that you have looked in my direction for some sign of disgust no less than five times within the past twenty minutes, all the while holding the offending volume. Really, Watson, it should have been quite obvious.” Holmes paused as he lit his pipe and drew in sharply. “As to whether or not I have read the book, you should be able to determine from the oil smudges across the exposed paper edges and the creases along the spine of the dust jacket that, yes, I have in fact read H.G. Wells’ novel.”

“And what did you think of it? Travel into the past, the future? Imagine the great unsolved mysteries of the world that could be laid bare before us. And what of the future? What does fate hold in store? One can almost imagine trips through time as one might travel by cab or by train.”

“Ah, Watson, what of the possibilities for crime? Imagine committing the perfect murder by using a time machine to be in two places at once. Your past self creates an unbreakable alibi while your future self commits the deed. Such a technology, while practical for some and educational for others, would no doubt be abused for the sake of personal gain. I am well aware of your humanistic tendencies, and your judgment of humanity is favorable, but a healthy dose of scepticism is quite necessary.

“And as for my opinion of the book, I consider it to be lurid and damning trash, fit for children and simpletons, hardly worth your while.” With that, Holmes resumed his perusal of the evening papers as he smoked his cherrywood pipe, filling our digs with the pungent odor of the burning shag. Chastised as I was I returned to Wells, determined to make some effort toward beginning the novel. No fewer than fifteen minutes passed, however, when Holmes bolted from the couch.

“Watson, we shall have to make plans at once!”

“Whatever for?” I asked.

“Guinan is in London, staying at the Savoy, no less.”

“Holmes, whoever might this Guinan be?”

Holmes shrugged. “I am not entirely sure, though she proved an invaluable companion during my journeys several years ago. She seems to know things that cannot be empirically determined, and her intuition is peerless. Whatever her origins, she is a most delightful individual, shown most readily in her books.”

“Books?”

“A published author. Rumor has it that she travels in the same circles as some of our literary giants–Wilde, Shaw, Twain. In any event, Watson, we shall have to visit her, tomorrow night perhaps. Did you have plans?”

“No.”

“Very well, then. Tomorrow night it is.”

Just then there was a knocking at the door. Holmes went to open it, revealing our housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson upon the landing. “Mister Holmes,” she said, “forgive my interruption, but this just arrived.” She handed Holmes a sealed envelope and retired downstairs.

Holmes returned to the couch and turned the envelope over in his hands. Assuming the note to be a private communication of some sort I stood and went to the window overlooking Baker Street, pulling back the curtains and looking into the dimly lit street below. Under the dim gaslamps rested a hansom cab, its driver standing on the kerb smoking his pipe. A light from within seemed to cast upon him, as though Mrs. Hudson had opened the door to the man. My suspicion was confirmed when the light faded away and I could hear the door shut below.

“Holmes, look,” I said, indicating the street below.

Holmes came to the window and looked down into the street. “This explains much,” he said. “Are you up for a little travel tonight?”

“Where?”

He handed me the note.


Come at once. The driver is at your disposal.

   — Mycroft

The journey through the fogbound streets of London was a brief one.  Though London teams with traffic, at this hour the ancient city was all but deserted, her windows shuttered against the oppressing fog. As the cab passed through the streets we journeyed in silence; whatever thoughts Holmes held he kept to himself. At last the cab pulled up at the imposing entrance to the Diogenes Club, and I quitted the cab. Two storeys above there was a room aglow with lights, save for the occasional movement of men within. Holmes joined me, noticed as well the commotion above.

“The Stranger’s Room, I presume,” I said.

Holmes but nodded.

We mounted the steps and knocked upon the door. As the normal usher was not in residence at this late hour, one of the members answered the knock personally. He escorted us silently to the Stranger’s Room, the only room in the club where talking was permitted. The door swung open and Holmes and I entered the room.

Mycroft Holmes was not alone. He was joined by another, the Foreign Minister, a wholly detestable man whom was not held in high regard by those within the government or without. Mycroft made no effort to stand for our entrance; his immense size likely made standing for prolonged periods of time damaging to his health. Instead, he merely waved his hand in the direction of the two chairs situated opposite his and the Minister’s.

“Sherlock,” began Mycroft, “the government requires your able assistance.”

Holmes leaned back languidly in his chair. “A delicate matter, I presume.”

“Quite. Your discretion in the Cadogan West affair has not gone unnoticed at the highest levels of Her Majesty’s government.”

“A political problem, then? A scandal involving a member of Parliament, perhaps?”

The Foreign Minister cleared his throat. “Were it that simple. No, the problem is this. Early this morning the Earl of Bulkington, noted member of the House of Lords, discovered a trespasser near one of his industrial warehouses in the East End, near the Thames. Scotland Yard was called in to investigate and promptly arrested the man on the charge of espionage.”

“I was unaware of any foreign spies having been arrested today,” said Holmes.

“Nor I,” answered Mycroft. “However, it is the Earl’s opinion that the man was a French spy.”

“This is most curious, to say the least. A French spy, you say?”

Mycroft retrieved a file from his attache case. “I have Inspector Lestrade’s report here. Ah, here it is. ‘The man speaks with a slight French accent, and his English is somewhat familiar, though the words used were on occasion ungrammatical.'”

“The man is French, then,” said Holmes.

“It appears so. However, my unofficial contacts with the French Secret Service have failed to identify the man. Indeed, this appears to be a case of mistaken identity.”

“I fail to see the problem,” I said.

Mycroft cleared his throat. “Doctor, the Earl of Bulkington has spent the past three years developing a new, secret military technology for the Royal Navy, one that may well give Britain a substantial lead in the balance of power on the Continent. When one considers the Earl’s standing in the House of Lords, he may well use this incident as a rallying cry for increased military funding and a more militant stance against the Continental powers, in particular France and Germany. While the French Ambassador’s insistent denials were persuasive to Her Majesty’s government, they did not convince the Earl, who demanded an independent investigation, one who’s impartiality cannot be impeached. Naturally, Sherlock, my thoughts in this matter turned to you.”

Holmes sighed. “Very well, Mycroft. Have you a description of the man?”

Mycroft ruffled through his papers and began reading again, “‘He wears the most outlandish clothes.’ And later Lestrade writes that the man appears middle aged and balding.”

“What was his attire?” I asked.

Mycroft said, “As Lestrade writes, ‘a black suit, almost an overalls, trimmed in red at the shoulders, with a purple turtleneck underneath.'”

“Does Lestrade give the man a name?” asked Holmes.

“Indeed. However, it is a name with which I am unfamiliar, and consider that both you and I are aware of the identities of all foreign spies presently in England, I have no doubt that you would be unfamiliar with the name as well.”

“Mycroft, your insinuation is insulting. The name.”

“Oh, very well, Sherlock. The man’s name is Jean-Luc Picard.”

Had I not known Holmes as well as I did, the tightening of Holmes’ breath would have passed unnoticed. Surely the Foreign Minister did not recognize Holmes’ brief involuntary action as the shock of recognition as I did and most assuredly did Mycroft Holmes. I chose not to remark upon Holmes’ reaction, and trusted that Mycroft Holmes would not remark upon it, either. Mycroft continued, “Sherlock, Her Majesty’s government requests that you find substantial proof verifying that this Picard is not in the employ of the French.”

Holmes response was curt. “I see. Very well, then, Mycroft, I shall look into the matter. Would I be safe in assuming that Picard is still in the custody of Scotland Yard?”

“For the time being, yes, he is.”

Holmes stood. “Come, Watson. We have business to pursue.”

With that Holmes and I took our leave and flagged down a cab. “Holmes,” I said once we had put the Diogenes Club far behind us. “Scotland Yard, I presume.”

“Eventually, yes.”

“Eventually? A slight detour, then?”

“Quite correct.” “Holmes rapped on the back of the cab and shouted, “The Savoy, if you would! And a Guinea if we arrive in fifteen minutes!”

“Guinan?”

“Watson, you surprise me. Perhaps my habits have begun to rub off on you, after all.”

I had never known Holmes to rely on intuition over intellect, but this was as yet a most unusual case for Holmes. “Have you any theories, Holmes? The name, Picard, you recognized it.”

“Watson, to theorize in advance of the facts is madness itself, as any theory invariably biases the result. You know my methods, Watson. Apply them.”

“Holmes, the facts as I see them lend themselves to no particular pattern. A man arrested, then cleared of the crime by a foreign government, and what of the machinations of the Earl of Bulkington? Perhaps we are lacking some important clue.”

“Quite the two-pipe problem, wouldn’t you say? As yet, no one solution suggests itself easily, though I believe that Guinan will provide me the clue required.”

“Guinan? How so?”

“Watson, I was not entirely truthful with Mycroft, and I quite suspect that Mycroft suspected my deception. I have heard of Jean-Luc Picard, as you surmised quite rightly, though if the man I have heard mentioned is not the Picard in the custody of the Yard, then Guinan’s assistance will be all for naught.”

“I am curious, Holmes. How does Guinan know Picard?”

“I am not entirely certain that she does.”

“Then how can she help us? Holmes, I am confused.”

“As are we all, Watson. As are we all.”

The cab rode on in silence for several more moments. Holmes appeared lost in thought. “Holmes,” I said, “what of the Earl? I fail to see the connection between trespassing and espionage. It seems to me that this case could simply be a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“All too true. Tell me, Watson, what do you know of the Earl of Bulkington?”

“His reputation as a philanthropist precedes him. I dare say his philanthropy comes from his war injuries.”

“A fellow veteran of Her Majesty’s Army, I presume.”

“Quite so, Holmes. Though in the Earl’s case, he fought in Crimea against the Czar. I believe he lost a leg, his right, if memory serves. But Holmes, surely you know all this for yourself.”

“Watson, it would not do to enter the dragon’s lair without some foreknowledge of the foe. Indeed, my knowledge in this instance seems to surpass your own. Philip Edward Pollard, the eighth Earl of Bulkington, did in fact lose his leg during the Crimean War, under the most singular of circumstances. Then-Major Pollard was leading an infantry charge against a Russian embankment when his mount was struck by French artillery fire. His leg was, most unfortunately, amputated, and he has since received an annual pension in the amount of 1500 pounds sterling from the French government.”

“Holmes! I daresay your knowledge is most astonishing. Do you keep biographies of all the members of the House of Lords in your memory?”

“Nothing quite that extraordinary, my dear fellow. I have been secretly interested in the Earl for some months; another of Mycroft’s infernal palace intrigues, I regret. There are some who fear that the Earl is seeking a pretext for improving his political standing, perhaps as far as pushing for a breach between Britain and France. It may well be that we shall have to pay the Earl a visit in the near future.”

The Savoy loomed large in our sighs and the cab came to a halt. As Holmes and I entered the lobby, Holmes said, “Watson, be a good man and retire to the lounge for a few moments; the details of my relationship with Guinan being a personal affair and not one for your sordid chronicles.”

“Really, Holmes, this is too much. My chronicles are hardly the lurid, objectionable trash that you called The Time Machine this very evening. Consider, they have brought you a measure of fame and fortune, and very much worth the while of much of London’s populace.”

“Watson, why ever you persist in writing these trifles is beyond my comprehension.” Holmes rang the bell at the desk, summoning the night clerk from some inner sanctum. The man that confronted us was a short, husky man, weighing perhaps 15 stone. “Wha’ d’ye wan’, gents? Room for the night, p’haps?”

“Not this evening, sir. The room of Madame Guinan, if you wound,” said Holmes as he slid a gold sovereign across the counter.

“‘Ell, gov’ner, ‘at’ll be room 213, secon’ floor, top o’ the stair.”

Holmes nodded. “Thank you, sir. Good evening.” Holmes mounted the stairs while I retired to the hotel lounge and helped myself to a pint of stout. The local stout was far superior to the ales that I had been subjected to during my time with the Indian Army, and as I savored the musky aromas of the stout my hand stole toward the old, familiar wound, as I become lost in a reverie for those long-past times.

Perhaps twenty minutes later Holmes returned, apparently having failed at his attempt to gain the mysterious Guinan’s assistance. When questioned, Holmes’ answers were decidedly noncommittal, a tone Holmes had often assumed when he discovered the incorrectness of a solution to some important problem. The cab was still waiting for us, and Holmes indicated that the driver take us straight to Scotland Yard.

Holmes and I rarely had occasion to visit the Yard. Typical of our associations with the Yard, their business was brought to us, never the reverse. Holmes maintained a stony silence on our journey through London, as my attempts to rouse him from his reverie were all rebuffed. We rode on then in silence save for the clopping of the horse’s hooves on the cobblestone pavement.

The Yard was alive upon our arrival; as Holmes often said, crime never rests. Holmes had hoped to apply our relationship with Lestrade to gain access to Picard, but the incomparable Lestrade was unavailable that night. Instead, we were directed to Stanley Hopkins, a Scotland Yard inspector held in higher regard by Holmes than Lestrade.

Hopkins was hunched over his desk, his head buried in paperwork. Holmes rapped on the desk, startling poor Hopkins. “Mr. Holmes! This is certainly a rare surprise. Here on business, I presume?”

“Unfortunately,” said Holmes. “Were it not urgent business, I have little doubt that Watson and I would not have come until the morning.”

“I see. What then can I do for you?”

Holmes withdrew a warrant from his frock coat and presented it to Hopkins who looked it over. “You want to see Picard, then?”

Holmes assented.

“I think I can manage something for you, then. Hell, the Foreign Office has cleared the man, he says he didn’t realize he was trespassing, and we’d rather not be holding him, except that the Earl of Bulkington put pressure on the superiors here. We’d have released him in the morning, in any event, we haven’t the grounds to hold him at all. If you want him, he’ll be yours, and I’ll take care of the paperwork tomorrow.”

Holmes looked at me. “Very well, then. Hopkins, release him into our custody.”

“Holmes!” I exclaimed.

Holmes waved his hand. “Really, Watson, you have my assurances that nothing untoward will happen.”

“Your assurances? Holmes, you confound me at times.”

The holding cells were darkly lit, the oil lamps needed replacement, their wan light casting hideous shadows on the jagged stone walls. Stanley Hopkins took the lead, heading through the narrow pathway amongst the iron bars. The cells reeked of human refuse; these cells were not often cleaned. Holmes took no note of it, however, his thought were clearly elsewhere as they so often were in the hunt of a case.

“This is the cell, Mr. Holmes.” Hopkins cast the pale glow of his handlamp through the bars, revealing an older man, perhaps sixty years of age, bald save for a fringe of profuse white hair around the temples. He was sleeping fitfully, the rags given him for a blanket barely covering his body.

“Open the cell, Hopkins.”

Hopkins fumbled with his keys, rattling metal upon metal, the echoes of the sound reverberating throughout the cells. Picard stirred, woken by our presence. Hopkins found the key, fitted it in the lock, and turned to the sound of grinding tumblers within. With a mighty creak the door swung open, and Holmes shot through the door with a bolt, placing himself in the shadows cast by Hopkins lamp.

Picard’s face was eerily illuminated, the light shone directly in his face, and he raised a hand to block the light. “Who are you?” he asked quietly in cultured English, with an accent that showed no trace of French descent.

Hopkins made a move to answer Picard’s query, but Holmes raised his hand to stop him. “Sir, I am Sherlock Holmes and this is my companion Doctor John Watson. The man holding the lamp is Inspector Stanley Hopkins of Scotland Yard.”

Picard nodded slowly. “Sherlock Holmes? I see.” Picard looked at the floor. “Am I being released.”

Holmes answered. “Not quite. Scotland Yard has agreed to temporarily release you into my care, until a fuller disposition of your circumstances can be ascertained.”

Hopkins moved to Picard’s side to remove the leg irons that bound him. Picard stood and stretched, revealing himself to be an unimposing man, quite ordinary in appearance and character, his body wrapped in the standard blue jumpsuit afforded prisoners. Picard stood there and Holmes motioned for me. “Watson, perform a preliminary examination, if you would.”

“Here, Holmes?” I protested. “Surely you cannot be serious.”

Holmes’ stare was answer enough. Taking Hopkins’ lamp in hand I ran it across Picard’s body, examining face, chest, arms, legs. “Anything?” asked Holmes.

“Nothing,” I replied.

“Very well. Hopkins, lead the way.” Taking his lamp in hand, Hopkins led us back, past the moans of the mass of incarcerated humanity. Holmes was an unaffected as before, a monument to stoicism matched only by the stride of the freed Picard. Holmes’ cases all too often had their peaks and valleys, but for once I felt as though this case had not yet begun.

Hopkins left us to retrieve some paperwork necessary for our release of Picard, despite his assurances that he would deal with the paperwork in the morning. He returned a few moments later with Picard’s original clothing, a purple turtleneck and a two-piece black jumpsuit with an open collar. Picard excused himself for a few moment while he changed, and upon his return his whole appearance and bearing had altered. In his prison blues Picard looked like quite the ordinary fellow, but in his black uniform his whole look took on an almost other-worldly tone.

“Inspector Hopkins,” said Picard, “I seem to be missing a gold insignia.”

“My apologies, sir, but there was no insignia on your person.”

“I see,” said Picard.

The return journey to our digs at 221B Baker Street was uneventful. I was shaking off the effects of my pint of stout while Picard seemed to be resting after a day’s trauma at the hands of Scotland Yard. Holmes, too, was quite his reserved self; he appeared to have drifted off into a restful slumber. Within twenty minutes the cab stopped in front of our familiar door, and we disembarked.

Mrs. Hudson was still awake, though the hour was late. I hustled Picard up the stairs to our rooms while Holmes made arrangement for a late-night meal for our guest. Picard’s demeanor matched that of Holmes’ to a great deal, upon seeing our rooms for the first time, Picard’s expression was one of shock, but it quickly tempered back to a reserved strain. Holmes returned mere moments later, his ministrations with Mrs. Hudson apparently successful.

Holmes retired to his couch, filling his pipe with shag and lighting up. Picard sat still in a chair, and I took my familiar place, notebook in hand as I had done many times before. “Tell me, Picard,” began Holmes, “who are you and what brings you to London.”

Picard sat silent for several moments, then said, “Sir, if you are truly Sherlock Holmes, then make some deduction about me. If I agree with your assessment, then I will tell you what I know.”

“Very well, then, Mr. Picard, I agree. I suspect, Picard, that you are a time traveller, sent from the future, several centuries in our advance, though as to your purpose I have no clue. Furthermore, you are from France, very likely southern France to judge by your accent, though you have spent a number of years from your homeland and this has caused your accent to fade. Also, in your time you are a captain or leader, though your actual position I cannot determine. The rest, I leave to you.”

“Holmes!” I exclaimed. “This is too much! H.G. Wells has infected your mind, I’m certain of it.”

“Hardly, Watson. If Picard is in fact from the future, then so be it. But if he is not, then I am simply ‘playing a prank’ on an innocent bystander, one who stands to create a major diplomatic breach between two of the Great Powers of Europe.”

“Indeed,” said Picard. “England and Germany, perhaps.”

“Hardly Germany, good sir. England and France.”

“France?” said Picard. “I think that unlikely at best. The Alliance between England and France…” Picard paused, considering his next words carefully.

“As yet, Picard, there is no formal alliance between our two nations. In the future, perhaps, but for the present there is none.”

“I see. Well, Mr. Holmes, your reputation precedes you. I would tip my hat, if I had one.”

Holme smiled thinly. “That can be remedied, I assure you.”

Several minutes later there came a knocking at the door downstairs. The neighing of a cab’s horse could be heard, and Mrs. Hudson was heard conversing with someone down the stairs. Within seconds the sound of footfalls could be heard coming from the stairs. I rose to get the door, but Holmes waved me down. “I’ll get it myself, Watson.”

Holmes opened the door, revealing the most stunning woman ever to grace our lodgings. Her skin was ebony, her features classical, and her head was adorned with the largest of hats I have ever seen. “Watson, this is Guinan. Picard, I believe that you know her.”

Picard stood, his jaw agape, and he whispered, “Guinan?”

“Jean-Luc?” she said, as she approached him. “I thought you wouldn’t come back.”

“I don’t know quite how I did, but I am here now. And you, you never left?”

“It’s not time yet. I can feel it.”

Holmes resumed his seat and I pulled over a chair for a new guest. “So, Picard, I have fulfilled my side of the bargain. Now what of your tale.

“Very well, then, Mr. Holmes. My name, as you know, is Jean-Luc Picard. I am, in my time, a starship captain, and somehow, on my latest mission, found myself transported here, to Earth’s distant past.”

“Distant past,” I echoed. “How far into the future, then?”

Picard looked to me and then to Holmes. “What year is this?”

“Eighteen ninety-six,” I replied.

Picard paused for a moment then said, “Approximately four hundred and seventy-five years.”

Holmes said, “Nearly five centuries. Incredible. And what was your mission?”

“I hardly see the relevance. I can think of nothing relating to that mission that could have resulted in my being here.”

“It is quite possible that there is no relevance,” conceded Holmes, “but the more facts I have at my disposal, the quicker the disposition of your case.”

Picard nodded his assent. “You are, of course, correct. My crew and I were in pursuit of a terrorist, a Doctor Soran. We located him on a planet known as Veridian III, where he had constructed an apparatus to destroy a star. Beaming down to stop him ”

“Beaming?” I asked.

“Direct transport from one location to another, such as from here to Paris, all in the matter of a second or two.”

“You do not physically travel from here to there?”

“Not exactly. Essentially, one is broken down into his constituent molecules and reassembled in another location in a matter of seconds.”

“I see,” said Holmes. “Pray continue.”

“Beaming down to stop him I encountered a force shield of some type ”

“Force shield?” I queried.

“Unfortunately, I could hardly begin to answer your question. The physics behind the application of force shield technology have not yet even been discovered by Earth scientists, and I can think of no manner in which to describe it, even by analogy, except perhaps to call it an invisible wall.”

“That should suffice, wouldn’t you say, Watson?”

I nodded my assent.

“To continue, I discovered a way under his force shield, but became trapped. Soran discovered me there, then attacked me with a hand-held disruptor.”

“Disruptor?”

“Similar to a pistol, but instead of firing bullets, it fires pure energy.”

“A radiation of some kind?” asked Holmes.

“Yes.”

“I see. Go on, then.”

“After his attack, I must have passed out, because when I came to I found myself here, on Earth.”

“So you have no inkling of how you came to be here?”

“None.”

“This is most singular. In any case, the most logical course of action would be to find a way to return you to your own time, but your own ignorance concerning your arrival here makes any likelihood of returning you to your own time impossible for the time being.”

Picard nodded. “Unfortunately, I would tend to agree,” he said.

Guinan had remained silent during our questioning of Picard, perhaps because she too was unfamiliar with the events that he described. Why this was so I was unsure. That Guinan and Picard had a relationship of some sort in the past was clear, but the story of how Picard came to know someone in his far distant past was as yet an untold tale.

“Tell me, Picard,” said Holmes after a few moments, “What do you know of the Earl of Bulkington?”

“Philip Edward Pollard, the Eighth Earl of Bulkington?”

“The same.”

“Very little, beyond the historical records of him extant in my time.”

“Summarize if you would.”

“The Earl of Bulkington was a soldier in the British Army during the Crimean War, if memory serves. Then, after his retirement from the military he became a researcher into rocketry technology, predating several American and German scientists by thirty years.”

“Your information is most interesting, though the verity of it I cannot confirm. However, it is clear that there is some connection between the Earl’s industrial experiments in the East End and your appearance here in London.”

“Holmes, it may only be a coincidence,” I said.

“Watson, the most intangible of coincidences often lead to the most firm of certainties. Have no doubt, the Earl of Bulkington is not as innocent as he appears, his machinations may well have dire consequences for the British Empire. I feel a surreptitious visit to his establishment would most certainly be the best course of action to pursue.”

“Holmes!” I exclaimed. “On what grounds?”

“Watson, must I connect the dots for you? Very well. Bulkington was covertly interested in the Bruce-Partington Plans, the very plans that involved the late Cadogan West. Mycroft’s mere mention of the name should have been an indication of the seriousness of this affair, and my mention that I had been compiling a mental dossier on the Earl should have alerted you as well to the dire nature of his affairs.

“It is thought within some corners of the government that Bulkington has secretly been developing a secret weapon of some manner, which would almost certainly be in an advanced state of development by now. Picard’s revelation of his legacy leaves no doubt of his intent, certainly a flying weapon, a missile of some sort, perhaps, able to strike at the distances of continents.

“Watson, the government is impotent to act, thus the weight falls upon our shoulders. Picard, I cannot ask you to join us, but it is the Earl that has besmirched your reputation. The scales must be righted. Will you join us?”

Picard stood decisively. “Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, I would be honored to join you.”

“Excuse me, Holmes,” said Guinan, “might I join you as well?”

“Why, certainly, Guinan, most certainly.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Holmes sprung from the divan. “Come, then. We haven’t a moment to lose!”

Procuring a cab at two in the morning is difficult by any measure, but Holmes had his methods. Within twenty minutes a cab passed by our digs and we were off on the chase. The fate of the Empire was in the balance.

The East End of London is the dregs of the Empire, home to the riffraff and rabble of a cultured society. That the Earl of Bulkington would plan his nefarious experiments in that den on iniquity was but one enigmas confronting Holmes and myself on this most remarkable case. We passed briefly through Whitechapel, site of the most heinous murders of the century a few short years before, and onward to the warehouse by the Thames.

Confronting us was an imposing warehouse, situated on a dock that extended out into the Thames. Even at this late hour there was some activity occurring within, the noises of the fall of hammers an the low murmurs of voices echoes through the vast building. Picard led us to where he found himself after his bizarre journey from the distant future. Holmes fell prone on the ground, examining the trampled dirt in the unyielding darkness for some clue as to Picard’s existence here. After fifteen minutes of searching Holmes found a shining insignia of some sort, gold in color, an arch shaped thing with two curved bars supporting it. “This is yours, I presume.”

Picard took it in his hand, turning it over and over again. “Thank you, Mr. Holmes.” He pinned it to the front of his uniform then tapped the badge, which made a chirping sound. Whatever he expected it to do, he found himself disappointed.

“A communications device of some sort, perhaps,” said Holmes.

“Yes.”

“You were hoping that your crew might have followed you here, into the past.”

“I had hoped, but as the saying goes, ‘If wishes were horses,’ or so it goes.”

“Quite so.”

Holmes came up to my side, while I was gazing fixedly at Guinan as she performed a reconnaissance of the grounds. “Well, Watson, what do you think?”

“You suspect some foul play within.”

“Really, Watson, I should think you know me better than that. I suspect nothing, nothing at all. The only way to resolve this situation is to investigate whatever activity is occurring within.”

“Agreed,” said Picard.

Within minutes Guinan returned, reporting that a side door to the warehouse was unlocked. Guinan led the way, followed by Holmes and myself, with a watchful Picard bringing up the rear. Holmes had his trusted Webley at the ready, and my revolver was close at my side. The door, left slightly ajar, led to an inner office, from which we had a clear view of the warehouse’s interior.

“Well, Picard, what do you think?” asked Holmes.

I stood agape, staring at the massive contraption through the office’s windows. Cylindrical in shape, it rose sixty feet into the air, topped by a spherical bubble studded with windows. The base was even more mystifying than the body. The cylinder was mounted six feet above a giant disk shaped apparatus, a disk that may well have been thirty feet across. Whatever the device was or what its ultimate purpose might be eluded me.

Holmes said, “A rocket, I presume.”

“Quite possibly,” said Picard. “Though if it is a rocket, it is of a type I have never before encountered.”

“How so?”

“During Earth’s early experimentation with rocketry in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, all rockets were chemically powered, usually by a mixing of an explosive nitrate compound with an oxidizer resulting in a focused thrust. But a chemical rocket requires an exhaust nozzle of some sort to focus or channel the thrust. This rocket, however, only has that broad disk, so I cannot fathom the motive force.”

“Picard,” said Guinan. “I think I know.”

Three heads turned when Guinan spoke. “Indeed,” said Holmes.

Guinan pointed at the disk. “Look at the rim. Notice how there are inward-pointing bulges at regular intervals.”

I confess that I had not noticed. The disk itself did not rest upon the ground, but the whole rocket was suspended in the air by three harnesses.

“An Orion?” asked Picard.

“I think so,” said Guinan.

“Forgive me, but I do not understand,” I said.

“The Orion, Doctor, was a theoretical starship designed by several noted Earth scientists during the middle of the twentieth century. The motive force was not a chemical reaction as had been commonly used, but instead the plan was to use a sequence of low-yield atomics exploding against a massive blast plate to provide thrust.”

Guinan said, “While Earth never experimented with the Orion, it was in common use on my homeworld of El-Auria.”

I nodded my head, though I must confess that I had understood nothing of what Picard had said. Holmes, however, seemed to have comprehended a great deal.

“Picard, I doubt that the Earl would have these ‘atomics,’ but I suspect that he may be using explosive artillery shells in their place.”

“Holmes,” I said, “do not tell me that you understood what Picard had just said?”

“Watson, it was a most simple matter to deduce. If you look over to the left, just beyond the far edge of the disk you will notice stacked against the wall are perhaps fifteen or twenty crates of standard British Army artillery cartridges.”

The final workers had left, leaving us alone in the cavernous building, save for one man. Standing high above us on a gantry extending toward the spherical appendage of the rocket was the Earl. I pointed him out to my companions and said, “Holmes, how could he have possibly climbed up there? The only way to the top that I see is that ladder, but it would be most difficult to climb a ladder with a wooden leg.”

“Agreed. However, Watson, I would suppose that he might well have used a crane of some sort to reach the platform.”

Properly chastised I then began to survey the edge of the disk. It was as Guinan had said, feeling under the rim I found several gun barrels, firmly mounted into the disk’s structure. I glanced up at Bulkington, but he had disappeared. “Holmes, where ever did Bulkington go?”

“He opened an aperture in the sphere and disappeared within. Come, let us find where he has gone.”

Holmes began to climb the ladder, followed by Picard and myself. The ladder rose for thirty feet or so, and the climb became ever longer. At last we reached the top, and Holmes began to look about. He took an interest in the construction of the platform and its intricate ironwork.

Bulkington reappeared, looking straight at us. “Sherlock Holmes,” he said. “I should have expected the government to send you. And the Frenchman, whatever his name is. This only proves that our government is in league with the damnable French.”

“Picard. My name is Picard.”

“It is no matter,” said Bulkington. He gestured at his rocket. “Well, gentlemen, what do you think of my present to the Empire?”

“Most impressive,” said Holmes. “I fail, however, to see its ultimate purpose.”

“The purpose? Why, to enforce the peace, of course.” Gesturing at his monstrosity, Bulkington said, “With this rocket, and others like it, Europe will be in our thrall. For too long our politicians have attempted to appease the powers of the Continent by playing their games against one another. But now, with rockets such as these, we can as easily drop tons of nitroglycerin on Moscow as on Paris, or Calais.” He laughed maniacally. “Henry V sought to regain our ancient right in France, and now we can reclaim it for ourselves! Look at Germany, building an Empire out of the chaos of the Continent, and who is to say that we cannot do the same? They say that the sun never sets on Her Majesty’s empire, but is it not obvious that we cannot forever hold our farflung empire without some Sword of Damocles to enforce our just peace?”

“Your rantings, sir,” said Holmes, “are the rantings of a power-mad lunatic, and nothing more.”

“Nothing more?” cried Bulkington as he lunged toward us, and I fired a warning shot off to his left. The shock of the sound confused Bulkington momentarily, causing him to lose his balance. His wooden leg became caught in the grating of the platform, and his body tottered precariously. As Holmes rushed to his side in an effort to rescue him he tumbled over the side of the platform, grabbing its edge as he fell and gaining a precarious hold.

Holmes came to his side and extended Bulkington a hand. “Take my hand.”

“Never.” Philip Edward Pollard, the Eighth Earl of Bulkington, let his fingers slip away, one by one, and then he was gone. His body hit the disk and then rolled onto the ground. Guinan ran up to the body and studied it.

Holmes stood. “Well, Doctor, your opinion?”

“Judging by the fall, and the angle of the head, I would not be surprised if he has died of a broken neck.”

“Quite so.”

Picard, meanwhile, was examining the rocket. Holmes and I joined him in studying the insides, finding within the opening a compartment of some sort. “What do you make of it, Picard?” asked Holmes.

“Mister Holmes, he might well have reached orbit with this rocket. Guidance seems to have been handled mechanically with gyroscopes, and the walls are sufficiently reinforced to retain air pressure, though how he might have reentered the atmosphere I have no idea.”

Holmes nodded.

In time we rejoined Guinan and returned to Baker Street. Our day had been a long one, and as was our custom, Holmes and I sat reflecting upon the events of the case.

“Your opinion, Watson?”

“Holmes, with Bulkington dead, it seems likely that England will certainly be drawn into a closer relationship with the Continent on some basis. And with Picard no longer under the threat of law, he is free to do as he wishes.”

“And what of your plans, Picard? You are certainly welcome to join us here.”

“Perhaps in time, Mr. Holmes. But I must discover if I can how I came to be here, and the history of Earth, particularly of this time, has always been of interest to me. No, Holmes, I think I will take the opportunity to travel the world, perhaps meet some of the great personages of these times. To an amateur historian such as myself, this is truly an epic occasion.”

“I see. You would most likely need a companion on such a journey, however.”

“True, because your Earth is far different from my own.”

“What of Guinan, then? She proved an invaluable assistant during my own travels of a few years back. And her contributions to the resolution of this case were significant.”

“And excellent idea,” Picard said.

“I quite agree,” said Guinan.

Come morning Picard and Guinan took their leave, headed for Victoria Station and their first stop on their world tour. Holmes and I returned at noon to the Diogenes Club, presenting Mycroft with a summary of the case.

“So you would say, Sherlock, that Bulkington was most mistaken concerning the identity of this Jean-Luc Picard?”

“That is the most logical conclusion. It seems to me that Picard was most likely an innocent passerby, caught in Bulkington’s web of deceit and paranoia.”

“You have, I presume, pursued the matter to your complete satisfaction.”

“I believe so, yes. Picard is hardly a matter worthy of further inquiry.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Holmes,” I interjected. “What of the rocket?”

Mycroft Holmes stroked his fleshy chin. “Yes, that is a matter that has not yet been resolved to Her Majesty’s Government’s satisfaction. Suffice to say, there are members of the War Department en route to the warehouse to take custody of it by the end of the day. Bulkington’s death will, naturally, be ruled an accident. His insanity will be known to no one outside these walls.”

“And the rocket’s final disposition?” asked Holmes.

“That has not yet been determined.”

Holmes nodded. The matter was closed. Holmes and I returned to Baker Street, whereupon Holmes promptly retired to his bedchamber for a well-deserved sleep. And as for myself, I returned that afternoon to my normal routine at my Paddington practice, the memories of this most unusual case locked forever away in the recesses of my mind.

And so it happened that several years later Guinan visited me at my Queen Anne Street practice shortly after Holmes’ retirement to the Sussex Downs. I had often wondered what had become of her and Picard. Perhaps Picard had found a way back to his own time, or perhaps he was stranded forever in the early years of the twentieth century, assuming some unknown identity and forever trapped with the knowledge of his former life, a life of which he would be forever denied.

It was late in the day, my last patient had left short minutes before, and the last person in the parlor was nondescript save for a most unusual hat. She stood, and said, “Doctor Watson.”

Her face was familiar, though I could not place it. “Yes?”

She smiled. “We met several years ago. The Bulkington affair.”

“Ah, yes,” I said with recognition. “Guinan. How could I have ever forgotten.”

I took a seat and gestured for her to sit. “What might I do for you?” I asked.

“Picard requires Holmes’ assistance, though he is no longer at his Baker Street address.”

“Holmes is in retirement, my dear.”

“I see,” she said, and she was gone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *