The Adventure of the French Albino

The early morning fog had burned off the city streets, or rather perhaps it had taken up residence in our Baker Street digs.  Holmes, as usual, was engaged in an early morning chemistry experiment, the result of which was a pungent foul smoke that wafted through our abode.  Roused early by this state of affairs, I threw open the shutters in my room and looked out on Baker Street.  Finding myself confronted by a fine April morning I dressed quickly and descended to our sitting room, but Holmes was engrossed in his experiment, so rather than interrupt hours of precious work I made my way to the street below, wishing Mrs. Hudson a good morning on my way out the door.

“It’ll be a good morning when he stops his infernal experiment.  Thanks to that foul smoke I haven’t been able to breathe all morning,” she said as I pushed my way through the door.

Stepping out onto Baker Street on an early Satuday morning is always a wonderful experience, to see the throngs of humanity bustling through the city’s throroughfares, past street urchins and newsboys, and the hansom cabs, those street gondolas of legend, plying the cobblestone streets.  In my early morning reverie I hardly noticed the man that collided with me, my obliviousness making me a danger to my fellow man.  When my wits returned I took note of the man, a tall albino.

“Excuse me,” said he and disappeared back into the crowd, and he troubled my thoughts no more, as there were more pressing matters, such as hailing a cab at this early hour.

Several hours later, not lost past three, I returned to Baker Street to find the windows thrown wide open and Sherlock Holmes sprawled across the sofa, enjoying a light slumber.  Moving to close the shutters my arm was grasped and I turned to find Holmes standing there, awake from his nap.

“Really, Watson,” said he, “I should think we would want to air the place out a bit, considering we a due for a visitor shortly.”

“Indeed,” said I, “who might it be?”

“I do not know,” said Holmes.  “He left only a note with Mrs. Hudson several hours ago, most likely while you were at the British Museum.”

“The British Museum?  Holmes, however did you know?”

“Quite simple, Watson.  The exhibition guide protruding from your jacket pocket gives you away instantly.  Your attire is as easily read as an open book.”

Laughing slightly I retired to my room to change.  When I returned Holmes was no longer wearing his velvet frock, instead he was wearing his usual suit.  Noticed the letter Holmes was reading, I said, “The note?”

“The same.”  Handing it to me he said, “What do you make of it?”

I read the note, which said:


Your assistance required.  Will return at four.
   –D.

“Holmes, I can make nothing of this.”

“I must disagree, though what little I have made note of is hardly obvious.  One with a microscope could I be certain.”

Turning the note in the air, I examined the paper for a watermark.  As though he were reading my mind, Holmes said, “You will note, Watson, that there is no watermark present, and yet the paper is of sufficient quality and weight than I am certain it was of great cost.  Thus the lack of a watermark is a telling sign.

“Also, note the handwriting.  Very precise.  Very orderly.  Each letter is precisely formed, perhaps too precisely.  Indeed, each ‘e’ is identical to every other ‘e’, and this fact holds true for all other letters.  Next, the writing is formed on an exact line, a fact I checked against a rule.”

“But, Holmes,” said I, “that in itself is hardly unusual.  On unlined paper a rule is often used as a guide in writing.”

“Ah, that is true, Watson, but using a rule for such a pupose leaves tell-tale marks, in particular a poorly formed lower-edge on each letter.  No, Watson, a rule was not used, though how this level of perfection in writing was achieved I am unsure.”

“Then you have a theory?”

“As yet, no.  A mysterious note, written with mechanical precision, delivered by an albino.  Where each of these clues shall ultimately lead, I have no idea.”

“An albino, you say?  He delivered the note?”

“You know of an albino?”

“Not entirely.  I encountered an albino this morning, just as I was hailing a hansom cab.”

“This is most interesting, Watson, though it hardly lights the way.”  Holmes picked up his persian slipper and his pipe, removing his tobacco from the toe and filling the pipe.  He struck a match, lit the pipe, and we sat silently for several minutes until the sound of footfalls came from the stairwell.  Holmes sprung up expectantly.  “Unless I am much mistaken, that is our mysterious ‘D.'”

Holmes flung the door open, revealing the albino I had encountered that morning in the street below.  He entered and took a seat.  Holmes reclined on the couch and said, “Pray tell me, sir, how might I be of assistance.”

“You received my note,” said the albino.

“You are ‘D,’ I presume.”

“I am searching for a man I believe you might have encountered several months ago,” said the albino.

“I may not be able to assist you.  What is his name?”

“Jean-Luc Picard,” said the albino.

Holmes sat impassively, smoking on his pipe.  “You have not introduced yourself properly, sir.”

“My name is Data.”

“Data,” said Holmes.  “Hardly a proper name.”

“It is French.”

“That is most unlikel y.  From your accent I deduce you are an American, probably from one of the mid-Atlantic states.  Your skin, though unnaturally pale, is not that of an albino.  Your handwriting exhibits an unnatural preciseness, almost a mechanical quality.  Additionally, I have noticed that your blinking is unnatural, appearing to occur on a fixed schedule.  Also, you do not breathe.  Therefore, I deduce that you are a mechanical man, not a human being.”

Data nodded his head gravely.  “I congratulate you, Mister Holmes.  I had thought no one would deduce my true identity.  It is, however, unfortunate that this occurred so soon after my arrival in London, where one could find me out so quickly it stands to reason that others might as well.”

“Unfortunately, Mister Data,” said Holmes, “it is not you that is at fault, it is I.  I doubt there is another, save for my brother Mycroft, that would be able to notice those very things about you that so gave your identity away.

“Now, pray tell me, sir, what is your story, and how might Sherlock Holmes be of some assistance?”

“Recently, in my time, that is, a lost Watsonian manuscript was discovered, relating the tale of the Lord Bulkington affair and Captain Picard’s involvement.  Due to my mechanical nature and my affinity for the Sherlock Holmes stories I was dispatched through time to your present in an attempt to return Captain Picard to the future.”

“But Holmes,” I protested, “I have written nothing of the Lord Bulkington affair!  Nothing!”

“That is true, Doctor,” said Data.  “At the present time you have written two novels and twenty-four short stories, concluding with ‘The Final Problem,’ yet in my time there are four novels and fifty-six short stories, though there is some debate over that final number.”

“Indeed,” said Holmes.  “Have you a copy of Watson’s little writings of my problems?”

“That is hardly necessary,” said the albino.  “Stored within my memory are all the official Watsonian manuscripts, as well as several thousand apocryphal adventures, pastiches, parodies, and burlesques.”

Holmes stood abruptly and said, “While I would most certainly like to assist you in your searches, Picard’s location is unknown to me.  When last I saw him he and Guinan were making their way to Victoria Station.  I wish you luck, good sir, but even my powers of deduction are limited.”

Data stood.  “Very well.  I appreciate the time you spent with me, Mr. Holmes.”  Holmes escorted him to the door, and Data descended the stairs quickly.

“Surely, Holmes,” I said at last, “you cannot believe his tale.  It is the purest fantasy, something out of Wells or Verne!”

“Really, Watson, I neither believe nor disbelieve.  Everything that I observed pointed to one fact, that Data must be from the future.  That he is a mechanical construct is not in doubt, though the technology for his construction does not exist in this time.  He knows of writings that you have not yet written, again pointing to being from some future time.  And his search for Picard, that is the most disturbing thing of all.”

“How so, Holmes?  Surely this Data has only Picard’s well-being in mind?”

“That, Watson, is an assumption, and assumptions are oftentimes dangerous.  We have only his word that he is seeking to restore Picard to his proper time.  Without an independent verification, of course, we cannot be certain.”

“Holmes!  Whatever do you mean?”

“Pray note, Watson.  Data referred to a manuscript that you have not yet written, describing events known only to ourselves, to Picard, to Guinan, and to Mycroft.  I have no doubt that none of these parties have spoken of the events of the Lord Bulkington affair, thus it stands to reason that Data hails from a future time, a time in which a manuscript detailing the events of that occasion exists because you have written it.  Doubtless Picard has enemies in his own time.  Indeed, it appears likely that Picard is stranded in our time due to the machinations of one of those enemies.  What then it to prevent Data from being in league with those same enemies?”

“Holmes!” I exclaimed.  “You speak in circles of conspiracies not yet born!”

“Forgive me, Watson.  There is but one solution to this dilemma.  We must find Picard for ourselves, before this mysterious Mister Data.”

“But why, Holmes?”

“If Data intends Picard harm, then we must alert Picard to that harm, but if Data is harmless, then locating Picard before Data will be beneficial to all.  However, Watson, promise me this.”

“Certainly, Holmes.”

“If Data does intend harm to Picard, you are never to write of the Lord Bulkington affair.  Certainly Picard has found a modicum of peace in this time.  To disturb that peace by promoting assassins from the future, that I can have weighing upon my conscience.”

“Of course, Holmes.  You have my word.”

“I was never in doubt, Watson.  Never.”

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