A Study in Solar Systems

Part 3: Sunlight Considered as a Motive Force

by Trynia (tryniamerin at yahoo.com)

General Disclaimer

Watson maneuvered the hovercoach into position by the entrance to the shipping company's assembly shop. They both were escorted by the receptionist to the scene of the accident, and glanced around for clues. Their patron was also with them, filling in whatever she could answer of Holmes' questions.
"So this is where the accident happened?" Holmes asked, glancing at a particular microcircuit through his magnifying glass. Watson had plugged his modem into the database, and was perusing the records of all the yachts and craft built in the last few months for any other such accidents.
"Oui, Monsieur Holmes," the lady nodded.
"It is the third such accident in six months," the vice president shook his head. "I must apologize again, Madame...."
"Is there anything left that you can salvage?" she asked.
"The entire craft will have to be reworked. And the solar sailcloth is suddenly hard to come by. I had decided to stop using Nusolar, and go back to my other suppliers, but unfortunately Nusolar is the only material that isn't sold out..."
"Interesting," Holmes muttered. "Is this the microcircuitry of the power converter?"
"Yes," nodded the VP. "You can see the omega circuit, which controls power transfer from the sails to the solar dynamo has been fused by the explosion...."
"Holmes, this is the same sort of accident that has happened to the last three craft," Watson said as he looked up from the terminal on the engineering console.
"If this keeps up, my business will be ruined...." The VP wrung his hands.
"When did these... accidents start happening?" Holmes asked. "And were there any other bits of hardware affected?"
"The omega circuit and the artificial gravity generator," said the VP. "The more expensive models have an electrostatic generator that makes a 0.5 gee field. The inexpensive craft have a rotating drum in their midsection."
"And each craft had the same accident?" Holmes asked. "Have there been any changes of personnel in the last six months?"
"Only two. One of them had formerly worked for Solarex."
"What made you decide to use Nusolar?" asked Holmes.
"They offered us a contract, and they provided the fastest service. The older models and amateur craft sails have never had a problem. It's only been the Chinook series --"
"The most expensive models?" Watson murmured. "I am intrigued about the names of all the craft. They all seem to be from Celtic history."
"Good observation, Watson," said Holmes. "Your choice of the Bonnie Prince Charlie... Madame. It would possibly indicate a personal interest, considering your cousin's yacht was the William Wallace."
"Perhaps a Scottish ancestor from the Jacobite rebellion who had left for France?" Watson asked.
"Oui, Dr. Watson. Most do not pick up on such a detail. My ancestors were sympathetic toward the Jacobites; in fact, there was intermarriage between the Stuarts and the French side of my family for several generations after Culloden Moor... it is not a coincidence that their name is tied to the Armanda."
"When was the William Wallace constructed?"
"That was the first in the Chinook class," Mr. Crossfield said. "Three years ago... we built that...."
"And the William Wallace is till operational?" asked Holmes.
"Indeed," nodded the VP and Madame Armanda-Stuart.
"What sort of sail did it use?" Holmes asked the VP.
"Solarex," said Mr. Crossfield, typing up the file on the small console to his left. Watson moved next to him and glanced along with Holmes. "But I fail to see why that's important."
"On the contrary, it is of significance, since you stopped using Solarex two years ago," Holmes said. "And the Bonnie Prince Charlie was constructed nine months ago, and only just recently tested for full flight capability."
"Well, I still fail to see...." said the VP.
"Interesting. I've seen all I need here," said Holmes. "Thank you very much."
"Would you like to see the dock itself?"
"No, thank you," Holmes said.
"But surely where the explosion happened would be of interest?" Watson asked.
"Undoubtedly, which is why I'm asking you, Watson, to attend to that little detail. I have another lead I would like to pursue."
"I'm admiring your trust in my abilities," Watson said, flattered as Holmes handed him the notepad he'd been writing on.
"A test of your deductive skills, my dear Watson," Holmes smiled. "Madame, I would be honored to escort you back to your apartment. I still have a few more questions, and a request...."
"Of course, Monsieur Holmes," said Madame Armanda-Stuart. The VP looked at Watson, and back at Holmes in question.
"Dr. Watson, my assistant, will be continuing the investigation here, Mr. Crossfield," Holmes said. "I trust you can cooperate with any of his requests?"
"Of course," nodded Mr. Crossfield. "Deanne, show Mr. Holmes and Madame out, please?"
"Sir, you have another call from Nusolar," Deanna said.
"I'll take it in my office," he said as Deanne, the receptionist, showed them out. Watson watched Holmes leave, and followed the VP out to the workshop. A young engineer with streaked yellow and green hair and the namebadge 'Rossini' accidentally brushed past, and Holmes noticed his uniform was stained on the inner parts of his sleeve. Quickly he ducked into the lab, and Holmes rubbed his chin.
As they exited to the street, the hovercabs and other traffic whizzed by, and Madame Armanda-Stuart turned to Holmes, asking, "What was that request you were to ask of me?"
"First, a question. Where is the Wallace berthed?" Holmes asked, as the chill of the afternoon set into evening, and the wind whipped his Inverness around his legs and puffed out the synthetic mink coat that Madame Armanda-Stuart was wearing. She shivered and glanced back and forth before looking at Holmes again.
"It is at the Clarke SpaceResort -- the one with the Hilton that my family owns a share in. I sit on the board of directors -- and my cousin is a charter member of the yachting club which meets there regularly between journeys," she said.
"Would it be possible for me to charter the Wallace for a cruise?" Holmes asked. "I am just learning about astronomy, and possibly I would like to see how such a craft operates --"
"Of course, Monsieur Holmes," she nodded.
"How can I contact your cousin?" he asked.
"I would be honored to contact him myself, and have him ready you for a cruise tomorrow morning. My Learshuttle can be readied at the New London-Gatwick spaceport tomorrow to take you to the resort," said Madame Armanda-Stuart. "I am certain my cousin would be honored to have you aboard. He's quite a fan of yours --"
"Is he?" Holmes asked with an amused smile. There came the honk of a horn, and another cold slice of wind whipped through them, making Holmes stand gallantly between Madame Armanda-Stuart and the street to shield her from the gust. Her hat blew off, and he snagged it quickly with his cane to return it to her.
"Merci," she gasped, putting it back on. "It is windy! Those hovercars are getting worse --"
"I am sure I know the reason why," Holmes muttered as he saw the craft hairpin-turn, and whiz back to screech to a stop only six inches from where they stood. He hung onto his deerstalker tightly with both hands as the craft's door opened.
"There you are!" Lestrade said, sliding out. "I thought you'd be here --"
"Ah, Inspector -- just in time," said Holmes. "Watson is continuing the investigation here -- and I was wondering if you wouldn't mind terribly taking me back to Baker Street. And I must secure a cab for the Countess --"
"Inspector," she nodded.
"Ma'am," nodded Lestrade. Holmes took a step into the street, and waved at a yellow craft that was sitting nearby. It backed up and opened its door.
"Where to, guvnor?" asked the driver cheerfully.
"It is not for me, sir, but for the lady," he indicated Madame Armanda-Stuart.
"Cor, you're Sherlock Holmes, right enough. I've seen your picture in the E-Mirror!"
"Holmes, get a move on," Lestrade mumbled.
"Thank you very much, Monsieur Holmes," smiled Madame charmingly as he opened the door for her and helped her in. He pressed a kiss to her hand, and Lestrade tapped her foot impatiently before the cab door closed, and whizzed off down with a gentle hum of its antigravity engines.
"What was that all about?" Lestrade asked. "Wasting your time here when you should be at Nusolar --"
"These two cases are related, Inspector," Holmes corrected her as he straightened his deerstalker. "And I am investigating a most promising lead."
"Well, tomorrow we're going to interview a couple of the other yacht owners," Lestrade said. "So when do I pick you up?"
"On the contrary, I shall be occupied --"
"Say what?" Lestrade asked.
"I have chartered the William Wallace for a cruise -- to learn more about astronomy firsthand --" Holmes said with a twinkle in his eye.
"We've got Nusolar bugging Greyson who's on my back, and you want to go sailing?" Lestrade folded her arms across her chest. "Holmes, have you lost your gray matter?"
"My brain is as sharp as ever, Lestrade," he said. "I simply wish to see such a craft in action --"
"Well, if you're going sailing, I'm coming along," Lestrade sighed. "Ask me, it's a waste of time, but you're probably going to prove me wrong anyway, like you always do --"
"We shall see, Lestrade," he smiled as he opened the door for her, and she looked at him doubtfully.
"No, you are not driving," she said.
"Lestrade, you wound me -- I have been practicing," Holmes said, in a mock pout.
"Move over. This is a new hovercar, and the Chief Inspector has already ripped me a new -- I mean, he's already hassled me enough today," Lestrade sighed. Holmes relented and let her get behind the wheel, closing the door before crossing around the front to enter on the passenger side. He gripped the ornamental handle on the side of the coach as she gunned the ignition and peeled out into the main traffic flow with a surge of ions trailing behind her, whizzing around the cab which was taking Madame Armanda-Stuart back in the same direction.

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