|Excerpts from Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes|
|Summary: Titan Books have kindly allowed us to let you see an excerpt from the book which you'll find reviewed here.|
|Date: 12 February 2014|
|External links: Author's website|
The Sleep of Reason
Of all the tales I have related to you which concern the adventures of my good friend, S. Quentin Carmichael, the one that follows is the most singularly strange. I have held off publishing it until now, and even today I am not sure what to make of it. Although I have never known New York’s most famous consulting detective to utter an intentional falsehood, the temptation to dismiss this tale as the fevered product of his more insalubrious vice is strong. But truth or falsehood, it is nonetheless an adventure as exciting as any of those that I have ever published in the pages of Argosy magazine, and so, on this, the anniversary of his final disappearance, I choose to tell the world of S. Quentin Carmichael’s unusual adventure. If you, dear reader, chose to receive this account as fiction, neither I, nor I believe my absent friend, could fault you.
This remarkable story began some eleven years ago, on 23rd January 1900. I had an unusually trying day at my practice, and so was late in returning to the apartments that we shared atop two flights of stairs at 177B Bleecker Street. Entering our sitting-room, I saw the great detective stretched out upon the floor. As he was lying face up, arms crossed upon his chest, I did not at first suspect any health-related accident or other misfortune. Rather, I am sorry to admit, I assumed that he was merely in the grip of the opiates that were his preferred pastime in those rare occasions when New York’s criminal underworld denied him more challenging diversions. Thus I set about to divest myself of cloak and hat, and pour myself a spot of brandy, before reluctantly returning to our sitting-room to see if I could assist in any way towards his comfort. As you, my readers, know, I disapprove of these episodes and their absence of late had rather lulled me into a wishful fancy that perhaps he had finally overcome the habit. So it was some ten minutes later that I returned and knelt down beside him. Only then did the extreme stillness with which he lay press itself upon me. My own heart quickening, I checked his pulse, and found to my horror that he had none. I do not wish to describe in detail the gamut of emotions my soul ran as I unlaced his tie, unbuttoned his shirt, and placed my ear to his bare chest to listen for a heartbeat. His absence today is painful to me, but has become easier to bear with the passing of years, whereas in that instance, the possibility of his sudden and unexpected death was a cut to my heart that I could scarcely bear.
For of a trace of a heartbeat, there was none.
I lay for some time, my head resting on his naked chest, and fought back tears that were unseemly for a man of my age and position, and then I slowly rose and settled with my back against our worn sofa, a shadow over my world like the blackest cloud imaginable. Many were the recriminations that I levelled against myself for not having fought harder to wean him off his addiction before this obvious and inevitable overdose.
How many minutes or even hours passed, I had no idea, but it was sufficient time that I had been able to work past my own considerable sense of loss to the beginnings of an understanding of how the city – nay, the world at large – would soon suffer from his absence. Who but the great S. Quentin Carmichael could have possible solved “The Mystery of the Melodious Mummy,” or saved the reputation of Mayor Van Wyck in a case the details of which I was ordered to keep confidential? But slowly I became aware of a knocking, a persistent gentle rapping in the room. I looked first to the door, but the sound did not come from there. Then, turning my eyes to the corpse of S. Quentin, I saw a sight that brought chills to my spine even as it rekindled hope in my heart. Devoid of pulse or heartbeat, the detective was nonetheless chattering his teeth. The sound was so faint, the movement so slight, that had I been other than completely still, I daresay I would not have registered it. As it was, I leapt again to his side, felt again for pulse and heartbeat, and drew back in some horror when I found neither. It was then that I noticed that he was still pleasantly warm, something one does not expect from a dead man.
I tried to revive him then, and I swear I saw his eyebrows twitch in characteristic irritation when the application of my mouth to his lips caused a momentary cessation of his chattering. But when my efforts produced no effects, I sat back, and was surprised when again his teeth began to rattle against each other. At first I thought this to be some bizarre nerve action, like the twitching of a dismembered limb, a residual impulse in an otherwise inanimate shell. But then something further about the sound caught my attention. It was evidencing a pattern.
It was, of course, a form of Morse code, that bastardisation knows as American Morse or “railway code.” Carmichael, or whatever now moved through him, was varying the interval of his bites to simulate the long and short elements of telegraph transmissions. The entirety being too faint for my ears to consistently distinguish, I gingerly pried his lips apart and slid one of my digits into his mouth, an action which I believe brought the slightest twitch of a grin to his sharp and otherwise lifeless features, even as it brought a wince of pain as his incisors bit down. But, thus situated, I could now distinguish the subtle differences in strength of bite. With my free hand, I grabbed the leg of our writing desk and pulled it closer, scrabbling to grab pen and paper so that I could transcribe the code.
Imagine my emotion when the first words that came out were:
Avery, is that you?
This followed by:
I can’t hear you, man. My mind is quite literally elsewhere. But press firmly down upon my tongue when I release my grip if it is indeed you, dear friend.
And when I did this:
Good. Make yourself comfortable and then return to this exact position. I’m going to relate to you a most sensational tale, one that I imagine will puzzle your readers no end.
As you will have deduced, the story that follows is recounted just as it was told to me that evening, as we lay awkwardly together upon the floor of our Bleeker Street apartments. I have added only those literary flourishes and colourations of detail necessary for the purposes of drama, as Carmichael’s original account was in the flat and unemotional manner that was his normal, business-like, professional self when he was in the service of a case. Which indeed this was: the queerest of his career to date. And so, without further introduction, for you to make of it what you will, I give you:
The Adventure of the Perilous Planet
As Told by S. Quentin Carmichael to Dr Avery F. Wilson
It was a crisp January evening when S. Quentin Carmichael, Manhattan’s famous Dandy Detective, returned to his rooms at 177B Bleecker Street to retire for the night. His longtime companion and chronicler of his adventures, Dr Avery Wilson, was not at home, doubtless engaged in the practice of his profession – the tireless ministrations to New York’s ill, as vigilante an adversary to illness as his friend was to crime. Upon entering his flat, however, the keen mind of S. Quentin sensed that he was not alone.
“If you would be so good as to put the light on, my good fellow, it would make it much easier for me to address the matters of your case. As discretion is obviously your desire, if you like I can close the curtains as you light the lamp on the table next to you.”
There was a moment of silence in which S. Quentin sensed an almost palpable bafflement.
“How did you…” a man’s voice began.
“A Chicagoan by birth then, with a touch of Arizona doubtless acquired later. But to your first question before you ask another, I did not see the silhouette of my apartment mate’s most treasured trophy, though it always rests upon the windowsill. A Readers Choice award from Argosy magazine – I certainly wouldn’t want to see it damaged. That you took the trouble to move it, rather than knock it over as you entered through the window, indicates you came here seeking my advice not my bodily harm, and since you arrived in so unusual a fashion, and remain in the dark, that discretion is a serious concern.”
This was met by a sigh, and a chuckle. “I’m glad to see first hand that you are as good as they say, Mr Carmichael. And I do apologise for my entrance. I hope when you hear my story you’ll agree that my clandestine ingress was indeed necessary.”
S. Quentin pulled the blinds closed, and after a moment, the lamp on his reading table swelled in illumination. A man sat beside the table, in his early thirties, with a bearing that suggested a period of military service, and a paunch that suggested a more sedentary occupation now. He rose, a grateful look on his face, and extended his hand, which S. Quentin took. But before the man could introduce himself, the great detective cut him off.
“Tell me, Mr Alderbert, how do you find your Oliver typewriter? I much prefer the new Underwood myself, but then, as I am not a novelist, I do not require the security of being able to instantaneously produce duplicate copies of precious work.”
Despite having already witnessed this performance once, the man identified as Mr Alderbert was astonished.
“A simple enough deduction, my good fellow,” the Dandy Detective continued. “Your hand, when I shook it, was callused only on the tips of your fingers – due to years of punching typewriter keys, no doubt, yet there was also a permanent groove in your middle finger of your right hand where a pen has pressed against it – indicating that you first compose your thoughts by hand, then type up the manuscript, a trait common to many authors. Meanwhile, the carbon black stains on those hands can only have come from carbonic paper, and currently, the ‘strike down’ typebars of the Oliver hit the platen with relatively greater force than the side striking and upward striking keys of other typewriters, making it the preferred machine of choice for those who need a solid strike to impress upon a carbonic sheet. And again, the calluses on your fingertips further indicate you are typing with some force in aid of a clean duplicate copy. This coupled with your combination of accents, as well as your recognition of and respect for an award from a pulp magazine, means that you could only be William Alderbert, whose stories have graced the pages of the same pulp magazines in which Wilson publishes my own exploits, the famous pulp fiction writer and author of the noted biography of the adventures of Joanna Carson, the War Mistress of Mars.”
“Fictional biography,” Alderbert said, stressing the first word. The detective, however, shook his head and gave a wry grin.
“I do not think so, William. Your other stories, while admirable, are written in altogether a different style, coming as they do from your own imagination and not the dictations of another mind. As you are obviously a man of intellect, and not a madman, it is simpler to believe that what you publish as fiction is actually fact. Before you protest, you must understand that I myself am engaged in a similar relationship with narrative, and more than once have I wished that Wilson would mask our identities with fictional names. Not having the good fortune to be on another planet, I am something of a reluctant celebrity.”
Alderbert nodded, and slowly his face gave way to a grin. “Good, good. I thought that I would have to ease you in; it’s not an easy thing to tell people, that our universe is teeming with life.”
“Given the age and scale of it, I would have found the opposite a harder truth to swallow. But as to your own situation… your fiction first took off nine years ago in 1891, with the publication of The Principia of Mars.”
“Yes, I was honourably discharged from Fort Grant the year before. That’s when Joanna first contacted me via telepathic communication. A Yavapai chief invited me to share a sweat lodge, opening me to mental transmigration. She found me while I was in a visionary state. I didn’t believe her voice was real for the longest time, but writing it down made it bearable.”
“And then profitable,” S. Quentin ventured, good-naturedly.
“Certainly. And I’m grateful for it.”
“Indeed, so much so that you come seeking my aid now the Mistress of Mars needs my help.”
“How did you…?”
“Because any purely terrestrial problem would have seen you enter by the front door. Not wishing to explain your visit to my consulting rooms, I imagine that the problem must lie outside our sphere.”
William Alderbert then explained that yes, the Queen of Moosrab, as the Martians called their world, was indeed in trouble, though she refused to impart the details of the case. Her communication with Alderbert was mostly one-way, though she could sense when he was listening and when he was attentive enough to take dictation. On occasion, she could manage to get messages back from him, though how this was accomplished Alderbert would not say, hinting that it involved certain technological patents pending that had not yet been granted.
“And how am I to lend Queen Joanna the aid she requests?” the detective asked when he had heard enough. “I am fairly certain that the unique circumstances that lead to her Majesty’s own crossing could not be duplicated in time and for a reasonable expense.”
Alderbert shook his head. He had, of course, relayed in his pulp adventure stories the tale of how Joanna Carson, former captain of the only all-woman confederate battalion, the Roses of Alabama, had been unwittingly catapulted to the Red Planet by diverting an experimental rocket meant for the destruction of Atlanta by the means of her own person. “But the Moosrabians have another method of communication between worlds, a linking of minds more powerful than the telepathy that Joanna and I manage between us. A sort of shadow body is projected across the vacuum, which they manage to enhance until it is able to undertake independent action. Humans as a rule aren’t capable of making the transfer – or I would have gone myself – but your superior intellect might put you in range of the possibility. I could teach you the meditative techniques…”
“That won’t be necessary,” the Dandy Detective replied, dismissively. “I studied under the eminent Chol Joon-Ho when he came here three years ago.” At this point, dear readers, you will forgive me if I interject to point out that those of you who recall “The Case of the Vanishing Vapour” will of course know that far from simply studying under Chol, Carmichael received the secret Shadowsoul teaching in return for services rendered during the Tong-hak rising. “I require only the mantra that Queen Joanna doubtless furnished you with to allow the Moosrabians to lock on to my psyche and pull it across the void.”
When the mantra requested was promptly provided, the Dandy Detective bid Alderbert goodnight, assuring him that he had the matter well in hand. Then, pausing only to refresh the flower that was his boutonnière, he set about to meditate, shutting down his higher functions, his soul cast adrift, a fishing line flung out into the ocean of night. For a time he floated in the dark waters of the soul, and then, surprisingly if not unexpectedly, he felt a tug. He experienced an instant of blazing cold and near-eternal darkness.
And when next S. Quentin Carmichael opened his eyes, he looked out upon the Red Planet.
Though he had been reclined upon his sitting-room rug moments before, S. Quentin found himself standing. He was in a recessed alcove off a rounded chamber. The walls were made of glass, crystal clear and multifaceted. Through their transparent panes, he saw that they were atop a vast plateau, the stone of which dropped away in near vertical descent until it reached a plain of rock and dust the red of iron oxide. He knew that he looked upon a different world from that of his birth. But as magnificent as the view outside the chamber was, there was more to see inside. The alcove he occupied was one of several set at intervals around the circumference of the chamber. Many were empty, but others contained inert figures, like crude wax mannequins standing at attention, awaiting an unclear purpose.
Furthermore, the chamber was inhabited by more than mannequins. Before him stood a man of the most strikingly bronze-toned skin he had ever seen. He was human, or human-seeming, with discerning eyes and firm lips. Tall, muscled, his physical perfection most obvious due to the circumstances that, as it transpired, the man was also completely nude but for a gleaming sword and a scarlet cape. The detective was running his eyes over the sword and other such protuberances when the silence was broken by an irritated cough. S. Quentin turned his attention to the figure beside the bronze man.
Her oval face he supposed many would declare beautiful in the extreme. Her finely chiselled features were doubtless no less exquisite than a masterpiece of art. Her eyes large and some would say lustrous, surely equal parts alluring and commanding beneath her wavy coiffure of blond hair. What must have been her once-pale skin now burned a light copper colour, perhaps glorious to behold, though not so dark as to overshadow the crimson of her lips. She wore only the same red cloak and weapon as her companion and in her nakedness could be deemed his equal in physical perfection. Before such stark indefectibility, few men on either Earth or Mars could manage to stand in a state of anything less than total and abject awe. Such a vision, however, was wasted on S. Quentin.
“Joanna Carson,” he said, blushing at the display of unclothed femininity, “the Rose of Alabama and Battle Maid of Moosrab. I see you have succeeding in plucking my intellect from the stars. Now, how might I be of service?”
The Warrior Queen’s mouth crimped in a momentary pout of irritation, doubtless not used to having so little effect on males in her audience. But she soon recovered.
“Sir, why it is indeed a pleasure to meet the renowned S. Quentin Carmichael,” she said in a genteel Southern accent. “I don’t always know how much dear William understands of my telepathic transmissions, so I am glad ya’ll two were able to work it out.”
She came forward and offered the detective her hand. Though flustered at the nearness of her unclothed form, he distracted himself by observing that her digits, though delicate in shape, were calloused precisely as one would expect from a lifetime spent wielding sabre and pistol.
“An honour to meet someone equally renowned,” he said, careful where to direct his eyes. Seeing his discomfort, Joanna frowned, then dismissed her irritation with a good humoured smile.
“This is Salbatanu,” Joanna said, indicating the bronze-tinged man beside her. “My trade minister, and an expert in mental transmigration technique. He can explain the method we employed to bring you here before we move on to weightier matters.”
“You will doubtless find this fascinating,” said the Martian known as Salbatanu. “Now, if you will permit me…”
“No need,” replied the dandy, releasing the woman’s hand with perhaps too much relief and gesturing around the chamber. “Our location, atop a plateau, combined with the absence of any other structures, is doubtless intended to raise us up above the level of Martian life, so that this room is open to telepathic transmissions from other spheres unhampered by the mental energies of the population below. That such a chamber exists at all bespeaks a certain frequency of its use. That I am apparently here in body, as well as spirit, is of further interest. This is no hallucination, and yet I am convinced that I still lie upon the floor of my apartment…” At this S. Quentin closed his eyes for a moment, looking into his inner self.
“Yes,” he continued, “I can even feel a connection to that body far away across the aether.” He opened his eyes again. “And so I conclude that the body I currently posses is not actually mine, but a simulacrum, an artificial vessel constructed for the purpose of housing transmigratory intellects.”
“Oh my,” Joanna breathed behind him.
He walked into another alcove and approached one of the inert, wax-like statues within. It was devoid of features, humanoid in shape but without detail. He prodded it with a finger and did not seem surprised when he found that its surface was pliant.
“The receptacle, then?” he pronounced. “When a mind is gathered to the chamber, it is impressed upon one of these simulacra, which then conforms in appearance to the mental image of the mind it hosts. Several such simulacra are missing from their alcoves, hence I conclude that this is a receiving chamber for migratory souls, an undertaking in at least fairly common practice. Thus this receiving chamber is a sort of Grand Central Depot for travellers between the worlds.”
“Bravo, detective,” smiled Joanna, clapping her hands. “You really are every bit the intellect your exploits make you out to be.” The Battle Maid smiled, though S. Quentin noted that Salbatanu looked troubled. Perhaps the man resented being interrupted, or enjoyed hearing himself speak. A shame that such perfect forms were not always gifted with temperaments to match. He was dragged from such speculations when the Queen said, “Come, we will adjourn to more comfortable surroundings.”
As S. Quentin stepped forward, he glanced down at his own attire, conscious of his clothing beside these two nude forms. His simulacrum was clothed just as he was always attired, with impeccably cut garments. The detail was accurate right to the customary green carnation of his boutonnière.
“It is how you see yourself,” Joanna explained, noticing the direction of his gaze. “Your intellect is particularly strong to have rendered it so well. Though here on Moosrab, social decorum is quite different from how it was back home in Dixieland. You may dispense with your attire if you wish.”
“Unthinkable,” S. Quentin spat, and then realised his error. “For me, that is. A dandy is nothing if not properly dressed. I meant not to judge others or to cause offense.”
“Nor did you, sir. I know nudity makes you uncomfortable, and your aversion to the female form, in art as well as in life, is well-documented.”
“I assure you, madam, that did my inclinations run in such directions, I assume I would find you irresistible. As it is…”
“As it is you know not what you miss,” said Salbatanu, with a look at Joanna that bespoke a silent longing. A shame that. “But perhaps to the matter at hand?”
“Yes,” said the Battle Maid. “While it would be lovely to while away the time with an intellect such as yours, sir, we need to resolve this matter hastily and return you to your proper planet before placing too much stress on your real body. If you’ll just come with me.”
Joanna led them to another alcove off the chamber. When they all stood within, she passed her hand across a small, glowing gemstone set into its wall. An opaque crystal door slid up from the floor closing them in, and then S. Quentin felt the barest vibration as the entire alcove began to descend. Pulsing lights indicated, he presumed, the speed of their descent. And then the crystal door receded and he found himself in Joanna’s palace proper.
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