Sherlock Holmes,
Consulting Diplomat

by Graeme Ackland
Master Aenigmatist

The Case of the Suwati Refugee

Holmes has never really appreciated the benefits of my chronicling of his adventures. For him each case is different and he believes what he calls my sensationalist approach can only bring added confusion to the logician. He has his own carefully indexed notes with which I dare not interfere for fear of his temper.

I on the other hand, believe that my own recording and studying of his past of his glories will help me to understand and perhaps in some small way imitate his genius.

And so it proved when a visitor from the immigration department arrived at Baker Street. Holmes was away at the time, but the request was straightforward enough that I was confident that I could deal with it. Apparently a stowaway had been found on one of His Majesty's ships returning from Port Suwat. The stowaway had applied to remain in England for fear of torture in his homeland -- apparently the Sultan had taken a certain dislike to the man's impertinent play in a standard game of Diplomacy.

The immigration department, never having heard of any political refugees from the Sultanate of Suwat, called the man's story into question, and decided to refer to my friend Holmes for his opinion as to the validity of the stowaway's tale.

It seems, according to the refugee, that the other, wiser players who had taken part in the Diplomacy game had made sure that they posed no threat to the Sultan -- two of them, in fact, had no units remaining after 1901....

At this point in the story, I recalled my having written of The Double Elimination Conundrum, and I reached triumphantly for my file. A quick browse and I was able to send the immigration inspector on his way, armed with Holmes' proof that a double elimination was impossible, save in a variant such as "flexible setup." This was a fine test of the veracity of the refugee's story, for by his claim that the game was standard he had exposed himself as a lying rogue, apparently itent to make trouble for one of England's precious allies.

The man's statement, which was left with me by my visitor, contained a few more details, but they were terribly sparse, and I paid them little attention, since the double elimination appeared to be a clincher.

On Holmes' return, I recounted the story. His brow furrowed and his expression darkened as I spoke. It is unusual for Holmes to become so angry, and I shall delay revealing the full ferocity of his attack. I shall summarise his argument later. Suffice it to say that I had made a simple oversight which rendered the Double Elimination analysis irrelevant.

What was Watson's error?

When his fury had passed, Holmes picked up the stowaway's statement:

"We -- the Sultan, myself, and five of the Sultan's lackeys -- played a standard but unusual game. His lackeys ensured that they posed no threat to the Sultan, two having no units remaining after 1901, and all five eliminated by 1902. Even I had taken centres from them all by then. Raising armies wherever we could, the Sultan and I had the same number of units. Even though I led by one centre, I had most of my units landlocked. It seemed to be an interesting tactical challenge. Sadly, the Sultan does not approve of being so challenged; he flew into a rage. Angrily, he ordered me jailed and flogged for my impudence. Remembering a secret passage from the palace courtyard -- where I was being held by the guards for my flogging -- I wriggled through and ran off. My ears rang with the sound of gunshots behind me, but I managed to make good on my escape. Yesterday I had been a free and privileged man in Suwat; today I was a wanted criminal! Bringing with me the papers I had grabbed from the game table as evidence, I fled to the Port of Suwat. Running into the docks, I looked for a passage to safety. Escape seemed unlikely unless a boat was leaving soon, for the Sultan's men would surely find me before long. Searching each dock for any ship with an imminent departure, I learned that an English cruiser was leaving that very next morning. Then, when night fell, I crept into the vessel through an open porthole, and escaped."

Beside the statement lay a crumpled piece of paper, containing build orders for 1901. The Sultan was in the habit of having servants move the pieces, so all powers' builds were summarised upon it. Unfortunately, they showed a singular lack of detail:
Fall 1901 builds: Four armies, three armies,
two builds waived; no orders necessary;
no orders necessary; no orders necessary;
no orders necessary.
Holmes sat unmoved for about ten minutes, then said. "Given the builds, one power left without units at the conclusion of 1901 must be..."

"...and it is obvious which power our stowaway friend was playing..."

"...and so the other power without units for use in 1902 is...."

Can you deduce the powers without units and the identity of the Sultan and refugee's powers? If you're stuck already, Dr. Watson has made available the solutions and Holmes' reasoning for each case.

All this time Holmes had been staring intently at the empty board; only now did he reach into his old cloth bag and set out the pieces. He shuffled them around, smoke pouring from his pipe, then he grimaced, and shuffled some more. Finally, he took up his glass and sat back to admire his handiwork.

As he appeared more relaxed, I spoke once more: "So, Holmes, is it indeed possible that two powers can have no units in 1902? Should I retract my evidence against the man?"

"Indeed you should, Watson. We must dispatch a messenger immediately. However, although the man's game history rings true, I yet have reason to suspect that he is not quite what he seems."

To illustrate my error, Holmes restored the pieces to their original position, and took me through a year of moves, culminating in the builds of 1901. His game matched the information on the scrap of paper perfectly, and the available builds were consistent.

How much of the position at the end of 1901 can you reconstruct?

I was terribly afraid that some ill might befall the refugee because of my overhasty diagnosis, and I hurried to the immigration office. They heard my tale with some distress, and I was taken to meet an official from the Foreign Office, as the matter had by then been referred as a matter of politics. I was adamant in my intention to convince the government to allow Holmes himself to present his own findings before any action was taken regarding the stowaway.

I reported the mistake I had made in judging the stowaway's tale, but learned in response that it made no matter. The Foreign Office had decided the refugee must be returned rather than risk any disruption of the relationship between the Sultan and the British crown. "You should understand, Dr. Watson," said the undersecretary who met with me, "that the lease on the oil facilities at Port Suwat is again coming up for renewal. The Foreign Office is anxious to avoid any further embarassing incidents. Our intelligence service has confirmed that the Sultan has been behaving oddly of late -- the French have recently returned a refugee who had made claims similar to those made by our friend here. This is clearly a test of our alliance with the Sultanate. At this sensitive time, the needs of the nation must be placed ahead of those of the individual. Whether or not the man's story is true, we simply must return him to Suwat or risk the Sultan's displeasure. Thank you for your time and effort, Dr. Watson, but this matter is clear-cut."

As I took up my hat to leave, I saw the refugee being led to a carriage. At that moment a cab drew up and Holmes leapt out. Ignoring me and the constables, he raced over to the carriage yelling, "Wait! Wait!" The carriage drew to a halt, and Holmes whispered something to the refugee. A smile spread across his face and he spoke in a quiet voice, "Yes, Mr. Holmes, that is correct. I shall relay your answer to the Sultan!"

Shortly after this singular incident, it was announced that the lease on the Suwati oil facilities had been extended yet again, and in a Times photograph of the signing of the lease extension, I was clearly able to discern the familiar features of our "refugee" friend.

I quizzed Holmes about what it was he had said to the man. "A code-word, Watson," he replied. "The Sultan was testing us yet again, in his unique way." Holmes is often more forthcoming about his deductive processes, and I pressed him further.

"I must admit that the problem almost defeated me, Watson. There was more to the problem than I first recognised -- the difficulty was not so much in finding the solution, though that was hard enough, as in finding the question."

Now that you have read the story, can you deduce what question the Sultan was asking? Mail your answers to The Pouch. (If you need a little help, the good doctor has made the code-word available.)

-- Dr. John H. Watson

via Graeme Ackland
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