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Contains the Short Story, "Moontide"

Contains the Short Story, "Harvest"

Contains the short Story "Crack up"

Contains the Short Story, "The Late Constable Avery"

(An Early Sherlock Holmes Story)

On the morning of the twenty-fifth of June, while we were having our mid-morning tea in the parlour of our flat on 221b Baker Street, Holmes received a missive from a youngish messenger in the employment of the British Government.

"It's from my dear older brother Mycroft," Holmes said as he focused on the note. "He requires our presence at the Diogenes Club forthright."

The Diogenes Club, the most anti-social gentlemen's club in London, founded by Mycroft a few years ago, was a rather controversial institution. No talking or excess noise of any kind was permitted, the committee that governed the club was very strict in adherence to this policy…three offences and your membership was rescinded. I thought it a strange request, then, that Mycroft ask that we meet him there.

Obediently, we followed the messenger down the stairs and into a waiting government hansom, which took us directly to the seven story hotel on Millbank Street, across from the British Parliament building, where the top floor was entirely reserved for the club itself. The messenger silently led us into the heart of the club, a large quiet space with forest green carpeting and dark cherry-wood veneered walls. On the north wall was a line of bookshelves stuffed to the limit with leather-faced volumes, giving the room the definite air of a library for the elite. Three windows framed by green velvet curtains broke up the monotony of the outside wall, giving an impressive view of the parliament building across the street. Two dozen deeply cushioned, high-backed chairs were scattered all over the room, just far enough apart from each other that it prohibited any temptation of even whispered conversation. Each chair had its own side table and lamp, all but five of them were filled with stodgy gentlemen in dark suits reading the dailies and smoking cigars. It was so quiet as we walked in that I could hear the tendon in by bad left knee stretching and recoiling in protest.

We weaved through the maze of chairs, the men in them ignoring us completely, until we came to a chair directly in front of a window that was turned away from us. I saw the top of a man's head sitting motionless beyond the seat's high backing, the hair was brown and thin. The messenger went around, made himself seen, nodded at the man, then at us, then he left us alone.
As Holmes and I positioned ourselves in front of the man, the man carefully, quietly, folded up his newspaper and crossed his legs. He was a young man but older than Holmes, a little heavier in build, with a high forehead in the early stages of revealing itself completely. But I could clearly see the family resemblance. Holmes and Mycroft stared at each other for many moments and I began to suspect that perhaps they were having a kind of psychic conversation. I wondered what they were saying and felt distinctly out of the loop. Suddenly, Mycroft's eyes flashed upon me, his gaze eyed me up and down then fell upon Holmes again. All this theatre seemed ridiculous to me until Holmes, in a bout of impatience, began tapping on the table, not with his fingernail but with the fleshy tip of his finger. I recognized it immediately as Morse Code, knowing it well from my training while serving in the British colonial force in India.

What's this all about? Holmes tapped.

Mycroft smiled, reached over and replied in the same: Your government needs you.

I don't work for the government.

Mycroft nodded then tapped: Consider yourself drafted then.

Out of the question! Holmes replied but with such passion the sound of it nearly rose to eviction level. Holmes was never one to be forced into doing something.

Mycroft put his hands up, as if to calm his brother down, then waved for us to follow him. Once we were out in the reception area, the doors to the club securely closed behind us, Mycroft turned and faced Holmes.

"Let me explain," he said. "Have you ever heard of Jules Verne?"

Holmes stood there for a moment, trying to recall the name, then he turned to me and I shrugged in complete ignorance. "I'm afraid not, Mycroft," he finally answered.

"That's incredible," Mycroft said, shaking his head. "He's the most famous French writer living. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island and a whole line of other novels of adventure and science, the worldwide public is absolutely crazy for them."

"Why would that be important to me?" Holmes asked.

"Well, many of his books predict what life in the future may be like. In some circles he's considered a prophet of sorts and this concerns the British Government?"

"Why? He's but a writer of fiction, that's what they do. One can't take what he imagines seriously."

"Yes," Mycroft agreed. "But lately he's made certain predictions about the future of the British Empire and they don't sound fantastic. In fact, they're downright frightening."

"Even so, what does that have to do with me?" Holmes asked.

"As a member of a covert government brain trust, I've talked with the man, heard the details of his thesis and now share the government's concern. I fear what he says may come to fruition. I would like you to interview him, see what your impression is. He's expecting you."

"He's here?"

"Down on the third floor," Mycroft answered through a nod as he led us to the elevator. "He's here in London looking for a publisher to translate his books into English. He's sailing back to France in a few days, so we don't have much time. Can I count on you?"

Holmes stared down at the floor, rubbed his chin while in deep thought and as the elevator doors parted, he nodded. "Yes. I think I would like to have a try at debunking his theories, and perhaps restore peace to our government's troubled mind in the process," he said and we entered the elevator.


The man who met us in his hotel room was anything but a green-skinned, one-eyed, hunchbacked, pimple-nosed, witch wearing black robes holding a crystal ball over a boiling cauldron full of children. He was a tall, distinguished looking man in a black suit with silvering hair, mustache and beard. His handshake was strong and confident and when he led us into the room, there was a round table with an opened bottle of red wine and four glasses on top.

"Would you care for a nip?" Verne asked in French.

Fluent in French, Holmes and I declined the author's offer and everyone took their seats around the table.

"I'm very pleased to finally meet you, Mr Holmes," Verne opened cordially. "Thanks to Doctor Watson's articles in the papers I'm quite familiar with your adventures."

"Thank you, Mr Verne," Holmes said. "I do apologize if I can't say the same about you. My profession doesn't leave much time for light reading."

"I understand fully, Mr Holmes. No offense taken."

"My brother, Mycroft, explains that in your fiction, you've made a series of predictions and some of them disturb him. On what basis do you make these prophecies?"

"Like you, Mr Holmes, I use clues and deduction to arrive at a conclusion, except that the clues I use are found in the overall evolution of human history. I take the past and extrapolate forward accordingly. It's quite an obvious process when you think about it," Verne said. "For example, using this method I can predict that, in the future, horse drawn carriages will move on their own, without horses or steam engines. And from that I can predict that the horseless carriage will someday take to the skies, transporting people from town to town and perhaps even across the ocean - and some of these flying cars will be able to house hundreds of people…there will be great clouds of them moving in the skies day and night. In fact, flying will someday be such a common, everyday occurrence that people on the ground won't even acknowledge their existence as they pass by overhead."

"Incredible!" I ejaculated. "Horseless carriages that move by themselves? Flying across the seas? By what magical power source will this be possible?"

"There will be a new form of liquid energy discovered that will allow the horseless vehicle to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles on a single tank, perhaps that energy source will be liquid hydrogen or concentrated petroleum. I can extrapolate this theme even further and say that one day men will travel to and live on the Moon."

"By means of horseless carriage?" Holmes asked.

"No," replied Verne. "An elevator will one day be constructed that will be connected from the Earth to the Moon. It will take only three days to travel the distance between the two objects."

"Men living on the Moon? Bah!" I exclaimed.

"Nevertheless, Doctor, I predict that it will happen."

"Let's change the subject," I suggested. "In a personal interest, what advances do you see occurring in medicine?"

"Good question, Doctor," Verne said. "It's a subject I've spent much time and energy thinking about as I currently suffer with diabetes. I expect that medicine will eventually allow surgeons to replace every part of the human body, like a landowner replaces bad posts in a fence. This will permit men to live to many hundreds of years old. Which, of course, leads to the possibility of human overpopulation of the earth and the depletion of our natural resources, such as water and forests."

"That's sound like both a positive yet grim future we're heading for," Holmes said.

"There's always good with the bad, sir. The ancient story of life on this planet."

"Which includes war, Mr Verne," Holmes said. "What are your thoughts on that?"

"I can imagine that war will eventually be fought completely by machines," Verne answered.

"Giant cylindrical missiles, controlled by men hundreds of miles from the front by means of electronic signals, will be capable of destroying objectives miles in diameter with their unbelievable energy. This will mean that the current laws of war will no longer be honored, civilians will be considered viable targets, and only in this way will victory be secured."

"Terrifying," I said. "And despicable."

"Which leads us to the reason why this meeting has been arranged," Mycroft interrupted. "The future of the British Empire."

At this moment, Jules Verne felt it proper that he should pour himself a glass of wine. After a long, careful hoist, he placed the empty glass down and began. "I'm afraid, gentlemen, that the British Empire will be extinct within three or four decades."

This comment, delivered with such a severe calmness and coolness, by a Frenchman whom I knew no better than Adam, brought my temper to a boil. "Poppycock!" I shouted and slammed a fist down on to the table, surprising everyone. "I have been wounded in service of my country so that she shall exist forever…I find it hard to believe that she shall disappear within my lifetime. The next thing you'll say is that there will be invisible men stalking the Earth, or beings from another planet invading our cities or that someone will invent a time machine!"

Verne sat there, unmoved and emotionless at my outburst. "I predict none of those things, Doctor," the author said. "They are simply too fantastic and not based on the historical method I adhere to."

"Tell me, Mr Verne," Holmes said. "What leads you to make such a startling prediction?"

"The fact that every empire that has ruled the Earth has eventually collapsed," Verne answered. "The Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Spanish. What makes the British Empire any different? Already there is rebellion among certain British Colonial sects in India and West Africa. Within a few decades, this rebellion will so tax the Empire's treasury that she will have to consider constricting, to protect her very existence. In essence, the British Empire has spread itself too thin and doesn't possess the monetary nor the human resources to maintain itself."

"You've gone too far, man!" I erupted again.

"Calm yourself, Watson," Holmes demanded. He was taking this insult a little too well for my tastes. "Mr Verne," he began. "Who shall succeed the British Empire if you are correct and she should fall?"

Without skipping a breath, Verne said: "The United States."

"What?" I asked. "That young, rebellious bastard son of our empire?"

"You underestimate them, Doctor," Verne said. "They have the natural resources and will have the military strength to lead the world through the twentieth century."

"Unbelievable!" was all I could utter, my temper had paralyzed my tongue. Nothing the man had said tonight was credible in any reality I lived in.

"Well, I think we've taken up too much of your time, Mr Verne," Mycroft said. "I apologize if the passions in this room became too heated."

"I understand completely, sir," Verne said. "I would feel the same if someone had talked about my beloved France the way I talked about Britain."

We got up from our chairs and shook the author's hand. I sincerely apologized for my outburst then we left. In the elevator going down to the first floor, Mycroft turned to Holmes. "So, what's your opinion?" he asked.

"Complete drivel, dear brother," Holmes answered. "You'd be wasting your time if you took anything this Mr Verne said seriously."

"Others in the government agree with you," Mycroft said. "But I'm not so sure. Something in my gut tells me to believe him and to prepare certain contingencies to circumvent the alleged coming catastrophe."

"Mycroft," Holmes argued. "Flying vehicles, elevators to the Moon, two hundred year-old men, the United States ruling the world…and you want to believe in the fall of the British Empire after all that?"

Mycroft thought about it a moment then nodded. "I suppose you're right. When one thinks about it, I guess it does sound unbelievable."

"Good man," Holmes said. "Come, we'll get some tea and forget all the nonsense we've just heard. I'm sure the British Empire is safe and sound for centuries to come."