Author's note: Well you did ask...
Sherlock Holmes returned, brandishing an overstuffed satchel in one hand, in the other a crutch. He deposited both of these beside me before retrieving his box of stolen items, slinging it under one arm. He then proffered a hand for me to shake.
“I wish you luck, Captain John Watson. Lord knows, all of us shall need it.” He made to leave the laboratory, the lamp swinging from his free hand, when he quite suddenly turned on his heel and asked “Where do you mean to go?”
I did not know how to answer; I could not see myself moving much further than that chair, such was my exhaustion. I shook my head, then shrugged my shoulders. He looked me over once again with that sharp expression. “What are your feelings on the violin?”
I squinted at him, trying to speculate if I were being played a fool. He looked amused, though not malevolently. He continued, “If I were to play the violin, would that annoy you?”
It would depend entirely on how well he played it, I thought to myself, though I asked: “Now?”
“No, not now.”A smile briefly crossed his face. “I am quite unprepared at this moment. What I mean to say is that I am setting up lodgings in Baker Street. However I will hardly ever be there, and it has just occurred to me that it would be useful to have somebody watch over the place while I am absent.”
“W-where, where w-would you be going?”
The man is mad, I thought. Quite mad.
“In more normal circumstances,” he elaborated, “my trade is a consulting detective, if you can understand what that is. I am hired usually by other detectives, to observe and then deduce their more difficult cases. Currently, however, I am employed to observe these Martians.” He stooped to pick up the satchel of medical supplies, having evidently decided that I was to accompany him. “It is fascinating study.”
I had never before heard of a consulting detective, and had my suspicions that the title may have been created by Sherlock Holmes himself. He did, however, appear to be able to read me very easily, so there were some grounds to his claim. Who on earth would have hired him to make an observation of the Martians, though?
“The British government,” said Holmes, though I was almost sure I had not said anything out loud. “I wire all my findings to…a representative, in Paris. There is a telegraph station in St Mary Le Grand which is still in order.”
“It must be dangerous w-work.”
“Indeed.” Sherlock Holmes replied. He looked down at me and in the yellow lamp-light I could see he looked positively enthusiastic. I was not convinced upon the sanity of this man who was to become my new companion, though under the current circumstances I was hardly placed to be the harshest of critics. I considered my alternative plans, of which I had none. Thus I relented, nodded, and pushed myself up onto the crutch.
I found movement a good deal easier with support under my uninjured arm, but I was exhausted and weak, and progress was not swift. Holmes kept my pace, though he fidgeted and looked about him, obviously accustomed to moving a deal faster.
I was lead to the Farringdon Street underground railway station, wherein Sherlock Holmes lowered himself onto the railway tracks and beckoned me to follow. I looked in despair at the drop to the tracks; I was beyond fatigued at this point, and briefly considered the option of simply laying myself down and refusing to move. While it was a plan that certainly had its charms in the short-term, a rather gruelling regime at the military academy had long ago, unfortunately, trained into me the ability to ignore that particular temptation. I followed.
We walked for an interminable amount of time in perfect darkness, following the tunnel through the centre of the city. All I could see of Holmes for a time was the bobbing light of the lamp in the distance, almost out of sight before it stopped and he waited for me in peevish silence.
I do not know how I made it to Baker Street station. Holmes had constructed a staircase from wooden crates to climb from the tracks onto the platform. Instead of exiting the station, as I had presumed we would, I was instead guided through a door beside the ticketing booth.
Here were the ticketing office, a storage room, a station-master’s office and a small water closet. There was a fine coating of black dust on the walls and floor, but I saw that most of the surfaces had been wiped clean.
“It is safer underground, I find.” Said Holmes, watching me appraise his new lodgings. “Now that the black smoke has passed.”
The station master’s office was not generous in size. In its previous life I could see that it had been host to just a fireplace, a desk and a bookcase, but someone, presumably Holmes, had dragged in a long bench and laid it out opposite the fireplace. It was laid with a thin mattress and pillow.
This room was obviously where the fellow had been sleeping, and working as well by the look of it, as the desk was now host to an elaborate chemistry set and piles of sheaves of notepaper and notebooks. Some of these papers were tacked haphazardly to the wall. This went some way to prop up his claim that he had been employed these last few days, and indeed he had not been a slouch about it.
Holmes gestured for me to sit on the makeshift bed. I lowered myself with a groan and could have wept with relief and exhaustion. My trials were not to be over this night, however, as Holmes stood in front of me with a bottle of antiseptic and a look of expectation.
I conceded, shrugged the shirt off my injured shoulder and gave him a short and perfunctory instruction as to how to treat it. He was not a medical man and his technique not expert, but he was confident and methodical under my direction, and I found him a good study. While he set about peeling away the old bandages I asked him about the papers pinned to the wall and scattered across the desk.
“My observations, so far. I have been following the Martians that have stayed in the city and recording their behaviour. I collate my notes here in an attempt to spot patterns.”
“Habits, routines, weaknesses perhaps. We are in utter ignorance of these creatures. If we do not learn rapidly then we shall not survive, and nor should we deserve to.”
With this, Holmes placed a gauze soaked in antiseptic on my shoulder and I exclaimed with a stream of words that cannot be transcribed herewith.
“Interestingly,” said Holmes, composedly, “you curse without that stammer.”
He re-dressed my arm, regarded his work with some satisfaction, then without another word turned his back on me and diverted his attentions to his chemistry set.
I lay myself back on the bed and, sick with tiredness and unable to help myself, closed my eyes.
I did not wake for four days, or at least I was not fully lucid until the fourth day after I lay down on that bed. I am informed that I talked to myself through the height of my fever. I believe I may have raved. I have vague recollections of Holmes talking to me incessantly, apparently seeing no need for me, his conversation partner, to be conscious in order to use me as a sounding board for his theories.
Indeed the first thing I became cognisant of after those four days, before I had even opened my eyes, was Holmes’ voice. He was talking to me, or rather using my presence as an excuse to talk aloud. He sat at the end of the bed, perched lightly at the edge.
“…Do you know, I saw a man today, scavenging for food in a greengrocer’s. Two weeks ago I would have said he was a prosperous man, working in an established bank, in Liverpool Street by the particular cut of his jacket. There is a tailor…or rather, I should say, there was...
“He was married, though I don’t think he saw much of his wife, and he owned at least two dogs. Now of course he’s squatting in a townhouse north of Primrose Hill with at least ten other people and they’ve eaten the dogs, I should imagine.
"Two weeks ago I would have been able to tell you this man’s life history but now, everybody is covered with the same damned grime. It’s rather a leveller. And in any case what is the usefulness of being able to tell if someone is a banker when banks could be a thing of the past? I stare down the barrel of the possibility that all my years of work…”
I chose this moment to cut him off. “How,” I mumbled, eyes still closed, “could you po-possibly have known all that?”
I felt the weight at the edge of the bed shift, and then a cool, gritty hand lay itself against my forehead.
“Good man,” said Sherlock Holmes, quietly, “good man.”
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