Chapter 1: A Blue Box, an Invitation, and an Explosion
Banners slung along the outside of the British Museum announce a unique exhibit. The sun shone down, uncharacteristically bright for the time of year, on a throng of unprecedented foot traffic, never mind the weekday cars and lories that kept the streets at a near log jam. Getting to the museum was tricky task for the hundreds coming for opening day, no matter their method.
Except for some.
A man stood beside a lamp post along the road. Next to both was an old-fashioned, large blue police box. No one really paid it too much attention outside the Museum. Why shouldn't it be there, a historic piece of Britannica?
The man beside it tapped a rolled up program against his leg, impatient. "Come on," he said. "We'll miss it!"
"How can we miss it?" The answer came from inside the police box. The door was open just a crack. "We can just pop back in and come back yesterday."
"Timelines, Donna. Timelines. I can't —"
Donna stepped out from the blue box, looking absolutely stunning in a 1890s traveling suit done up in sleek gunmetal gray and cobalt blue. She had her red hair piled up on top of her head, held in place by an array of silver pins and one teeny black hat. She made a prim turn round in her costume, before she dropped her artful pose to give him a steely look.
"Doctor, I thought you said we were going to meet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Before he was made a 'Sir', anyways." She gestured at the modern London all about them. "We are very much post-Sir."
The Doctor looked her up and down appraisingly, and with approval, then offered her his arm. She took it, rolling her eyes.
"Yes, well, we were," he said. "Old girl's being twitchy. Brought us here instead. Next best thing, I suppose."
"Not really. I dressed up for the occasion. Unlike you, in your brown suit that you wear everywhere but no one ever seems to notice, I'm in a bustle!" They ascended the steps, then whined. "A museum? All of time and space and you bring me on a school outing."
"Behave, or you'll go straight to study hall."
The pair joined the eager public and entered the Museum. The Doctor flashed his psychic paper, and they were admitted without purchasing tickets. The Doctor's face lit up like a schoolboy's when he took in the Arthur Conan Doyle exhibit, which had taken over a good quarter of the museum's main floor. Even Donna's ruffled air softened. The pair flit from display case to display case of costumes (both real and from various adaptations), manuscript originals, to even mock-up of the apartment on Baker Street side-by-side Doyle's own study. They ended up crisscrossing the exhibit several times, as the Doctor didn't seem capable of focusing on one thing for very long. But each time they got closer to one particular piece of the exhibit: an ornate clock done up in two metals, silver and gold, but the hands frozen in place.
When the Doctor passed it a fourth time, he scrunched up his face. "Hold on." He changed direction abruptly, even for him, and knelt down beside the low table.
Donna, meanwhile, not expecting that much of a change in direction, nearly toppled. She righted herself with affronted aplomb and a hissed warning: "Bustle!"
He ignored her, taken with the display piece. He pulled his pair of glasses out of his suit pocket, still squinting. "Doesn't look right."
Donna followed suit, squinting at the clock. "It's a clock. How does it look wrong for a clock? All right, it does look a bit odd." Then she glanced down at the display table. "Hmm. There's no plaque."
"It doesn't fit. In all the stories, never once was a clock important in any way. What's it doing here?" He scanned the exhibit and its visitors. Everyone seemed to be avoiding the clock, giving the display a wide berth all without looking in its direction.
"Does it even work?" she asked. "Look, the hands aren't moving."
Donna went to touch the clock, but the Doctor swatted her hands away. She rolled her eyes, mouthing, Fine. Satisfied, he furrowed his brows even deeper in concentration, and reached out and touched the clock himself.
The hands of the clock ticked forward with a strike of sound so loud that they both winced. The other visitors to the exhibit first began to slow down and then they stopped altogether, frozen in motion like a photograph behind bent glass. The Doctor and Donna huddled by the table, then noticed as the hands of the clock start to spin like a child's top.
The Doctor quickly pulled his hands away, his face twisted in horror. The arms of the clock slow to a normal pace, one second at a time, but the bubble around them, twisting the world like a funhouse mirror, stayed in place.
Donna said, mildly, "Oh, that's not good, is it?"
"Not. Good. At. All."
Dr. Watson turned over the oxygenator in his hands in the hallway. The brass had been shined, but there were deep scores in the metal — it had taken a great deal of abuse. But had survived. He headed back to the study. Perhaps there was something on the box that might give him a clue as to the box's origins.
As if he didn't already suspect.
Gladstone huff-huffed into the hallway on his stubby legs, looking terribly pleased about something.
Watson was halfway into the study when the door behind him closed. And not by his hand. Watson's first impulse was to tense up, ready to defend against an attacker. He even had his hand curled around the oxygenator to use it as an impromptu brass knuckle, but the sight of Holmes wearing another pair of his ridiculous disguise-pajamas stopped him with a wry grin.
Watson set the oxygenator down on his desk. "Were you disguised as my chair the entire time? That was you?"
Holmes swept his arms theatrically wide, grinning like the madman he was. "In the upholstery."
Watson didn't let him finish his bragging. He clasped his old friend hard, and Holmes reciprocated.
"You damned fool. We all thought you were dead!"
"And so I shall remain for a time."
Watson pushed him away. "What?"
From the two rooms away, Mary's voice called up, "Well, did you find anything more, dear? No idea where the package came from?"
Holmes seized Watson tight by the arm. "Mary mustn't know of me!"
"That's preposterous. She's my wife, Holmes."
"No one is to know. Mycroft's orders!"
"What, you saw Mycroft before me?"
"No. But —"
High-heeled footsteps, first clacking on hardwood floors, then carpet-muffled, came closer. "Husband?"
Holmes gave Watson the eye. "National Security."
Watson knew he wasn't going to win this argument, and wasn't too keen about explaining disguise-pajamas. Or if he could. "Oh, for God's sakes. Where are we going to put you?"
Sherlock scanned the room and started to talk so fast that the words all ran together. "We're on the third floor and you have no balcony, a choice I would normally applaud as a sound security measure but inconvenient now. There is no other exit from this room, and no closets. Unless you've had a secret passage installed since you bought the place —"
Watson pushed Holmes back into the chair. "Don't. Move."
Holmes took position just as soon as he landed. Now a disembodied Sherlock Holmes head hovered above the 'empty' chair. No time for the madman's mask, Watson thought. He yanked his coat off the rack and threw it messily over Holmes's head.
Just as Mary opened the door and entered.
"Well?" she said. "Did you find anything?"
Watson held his tongue, waiting to see if his wife would find anything amiss. Holmes sat statue-still in the chair.
"No," Watson finally said. "Someone's idea of a joke, I'm afraid." He walked back over to his desk, picking up both the package and the oxygenator.
"A poor joke. But I suppose, considering Holmes, it is to be expected."
And while Watson could hear the strange affection for his old friend in her voice, the chair behind her seized violently. Mary was just about to turn her head, when Watson coughed loudly and said, "I think I'll bring them to his flat."
Mary gave him that look. "You must decide what you're going to do with Baker Street estate. Mycroft should be looking after it, not you."
"But Holmes left it to me," he said with a sigh. "I'll never be free of him. I should just sell the lot." This he directed at the chair.
The chair remained still. Almost.
"Well, then take Gladstone with you, so Mrs. Hudson doesn't have to bother stepping out." Mary turned suddenly and reached for the jacket. Watson froze where he stood, waiting for Mary to start screaming, but she grabbed the jacket and turned round just as fast, offering it up for him to pull on. Holmes, exposed behind her, made a horrified face.
"Do ask her again to come stay with us." She slid the jacket onto his shoulders, patting it down. "She shouldn't be in that awful place all alone."
Awful, the disembodied Holmes mouthed in protest.
"Quite right, dear wife." Watson turned and swept her into his arms and landed a kiss on her cheek. "Back soon."
She kissed him back, and winked, as though she didn't believe him for a second. "Don't forget to be back for the train to Brighton."
After she left the room, Watson let out a grand sigh, and took in the sight of his partner. "We need to get you into something else."
Watson rolled his eyes. He pulled on his bowler. "Come on, Holmes."
"I need a machete to get through." Watson pushed his way through the hellishly verdant canopy of tropical ferns and flowers. "How does it all even manage to grow? There's not enough light in here for an African Violet."
"Ah," Holmes said. "But the vegetation of the tropical regions is so dense, their canopies so full, that only those most sensitive to the smallest amounts of light can —"
"Do shut up, Holmes."
They had made it to the heart of the cultivated jungle, Holmes's study. It was as they had left it: overgrown and in disarray, all save for a tortoiseshell table in the center of the room, cleared off of papers, cigarette ash and dust. On it sat a single envelope pressed with a red wax seal.
"Would you really sell it all?" Holmes almost sounded hurt. And, Watson thought, looked faintly ridiculous, wearing an oversized coat and top hat that Mary's brother had left behind after a night of cigars, brandy and poor wagering (on his part, not Watson's). But it was all they could manage with what they had.
"Don't play daft," was Watson's reply. "You're not good at it." Watson eyed the letter, tapping first it, then the table, with the end of his cane.
Holmes looked measurably relieved. He dropped the great coat on the floor and knelt down beside the disturbance — the letter.
Watson walked to the window, pulled back the curtain, and peered out into the street.
"So, Mycroft knows you're here but you haven't seen him yet."
The street below appeared normal, quiet. He watched Mrs. Hudson, Gladstone trailing behind, hail a cab. She'd been quite amenable to taking Gladstone and visiting her sister for the following week, perhaps relieved to not worry about the flat and its unmanageable contents. Especially now. Watson was already trying to think of something he could tell Mary. Brighten would once more be put off. Perhaps he could blame a patient in dire condition, needing immediate care?
"No," Holmes said. He licked the table's edge, then picked up the envelope and did the same. "I sent him a telegram, encoded three times, before crossing the border. This is from him." He offered up the letter and indicated the seal.
Watson sighed. Patient in dire condition, indeed. How many honeymoons would the man ruin?
"Why are we doing this?" he asked sharply. "Hiding you? Don't you think the world could use its only Consulting Detective for actual detecting?" Watson, satisfied they had not been followed and that Mrs. Hudson was safely away, let the curtain fall.
"I will be better able to do so, at least for the time being, anonymously. And Mycroft agrees." He stood up abruptly from the floor, letter in hand, and took a letter opener from the bureau. "An invitation."
"An invitation to what?"
"To a mystery!"
And so, the Hound of the Baskervilles, or, John thought to himself, the H.O.U.N.D. Project, was safely behind them. The moment they'd finished lunch at the vegetarian pub, Sherlock had tossed John the keys to the Jeep and slunk into the passenger side with his collar turned up and his eye to the window. Switching off at Paddington, they traveled on by train in silence, but not, John noticed with some alarm, the usual kind. John kept stealing looks at his friend. And every so often, John caught Sherlock stealing a look back. As the sun slid down first behind the Moor and then behind the growing urban landscape toward London, the silence between them stretched out longer than it ever had.
John had gotten used to those silences — treasured them impishly when Sherlock had been a total shit, worried over them when Sherlock had gotten into one of his moods of the sort that Mycroft would warn John about.
But this silence was different.
John kept as quiet as Sherlock, afraid to break the spell. By the time they'd gotten home, John wished he knew how.
It was late when they pulled to the station, later still when they were dropped off by cab outside 221B. The rain they had avoided on the Moors had manifested fully on London, turning the streets shiny black and drowning out the sounds of vehicles and scarce foot traffic. John's heart sank when he realized Speedy's was already closed. No warm meal tonight.
"Anything in the fridge besides toes? I'm half-starved. Do you want to see if the Italian place is still open?"
But Sherlock was already inside, the door to 221B open into darkness.
"Never mind, then." John sighed and shuffled in behind, wet as a cat and about as impressed. John juggled now unnecessary keys and bulky suitcase and got inside.
Sherlock had left the light off in the entrance, and upstairs. Not a light on at all, John thought crossly. He banged his knee taking the corner, dropped the suitcase, then dropped his keys. "Fuck. Sherlock…" he said, scrambling to pick up both.
A single bright light came on in the study, a spotlight on the desk with Sherlock's silhouette standing just off to the side. Under the harsh light lay an envelope.
His annoyance temporarily forgotten, John asked, "Do we have mail?"
"No," Sherlock said.
"What is it, then? Who's it from?"
Sherlock said nothing for a long time. More silence, then he ran his finger along the edge of the envelope.
"It can wait until morning." Sherlock yanked the chain of the desk lamp, and the study plunged into darkness.
John woke to the smell of coffee.
Which was impossible. John squinted, pulling the sheets up higher over his head. But, no, coffee. Clearly, he thought with some degree of alarm, that was the smell of coffee. He bolted upright, body ready to fly out of the bed and deal with the obvious intruder in the flat and fearing for Sherlock.
Who was standing above the bed, cup of coffee outstretched over John.
John nearly fell off on the other side of the bed.
"Jesus Christ!" He twisted the sheets around him protectively. "What are you doing in my room?"
Sherlock furrowed his brow irritatedly. "Coffee," he said. He wiggled the mug.
John sighed and took the cup. He sat up properly in bed, resigned to the intrusion. That was when John noticed his closet was open.
"Looking for a jumper?"
Sherlock snorted as he crossed the room over to the closet. "I have to make sure you have something appropriate to wear."
"For the gala." Sherlock picked through closet.
Sherlock made an exaggerated sigh. "The letter, the invitation," he said, as if it was all old news now, boring. Sherlock tugged out one V-necked cardigan and made a face. He motioned behind him to the edge of the bed, where the envelope from last night had been casually tossed.
"I think I've missed some steps," John said. "And there's nothing wrong with that cardigan." He reached for the letter, making sure not to lose what little of the covers he had. Sure enough, two invitations as well as a hand-written letter from Mycroft that read: A request from a friend that I cannot deny. He expects trouble and he needs you to guard the timepiece.
John flipped the tickets over, and back again. "Was this what was on the table downstairs?"
"Good, John." Sherlock had paused over a dark suit hidden in the back of the closet, so John couldn't tell if he meant the suit or John's deduction.
John returned to the tickets. Tickets for two, to a special exhibit at the Museum of London. "What is this now?"
"We're going out tonight." Sherlock returned to the side of the bed, John's suit in hand. He laid it atop the other half of the bed.
"Two tickets. Stag again, eh?" John winced at how awkward that sounded. And he was feeling even more uncomfortable, naked save for his bedsheets, by the minute.
Sherlock said off-handedly, "We leave in an hour."
"We're body guards for, what, a clock now?" John chuckled, but Sherlock remained impassive. "Wait, in an hour?"
"It's nearly four. And I want to get a good look 'round before it starts." He was already dressed in his finest, the black suit with the burgundy shirt.
"Why the hell did you let me sleep so long?"
The smallest of smiles quirked Sherlock's lips before he walked out of John's bedroom. "Hurry up, then," he called over his shoulder.
"I have never seen you in anything more ridiculous. And I've seen you in a dress, now, God help me."
"Which is why it's perfect. Don't you trust me, Watson?"
"You look like Father Christmas." Which was terribly charitable, if Watson was truthful. Holmes had cobbled together a disguise from the bits and bobs of his disguise closet, and now looked like someone else besides the recently deceased Sherlock Holmes. Dressed in a Highland frock coat stuffed with a down-filled fake belly and topped off a frilly white beard that came halfway down his chest, Holmes doddered about on a silver-handled cane like one of the old gentry trotted out to make social appearances. He was completely in character; in fact, he had abandoned Watson and made his way over to a clutch of society ladies.
At least, Watson thought with some relief, what he wore couldn't be called pajamas any longer. Or the 'urban camouflage' he insisted on calling it. Watson had long ago started being thankful for the small miracles of his life. If he hadn't, Holmes would have driven him mad years ago.
Watson grabbed a glass of wine from a man with a passing tray, and watched his old friend as he did his work. Holmes, as the genial and moneyed old Mr. Freeman, a persona Holmes had cooked up years go that he'd taken to great lengths to age purposely, salaciously flirted in character. The three society women trilled in hysterical fits of nervous, but appreciative laughter. And from laughter would come gossip, the kind that Holmes was on the hunt for.
Watson's role, as usual, was to get close to the object of their investigation.
The British Museum sparkled with gaslights just as brightly as it sparkled with wine and conversation. Men dressed in their finest suits, women in elegant formal wear, all of them delighting in the opportunity to see and be seen. These sorts of events always set Watson's teeth grinding — at least until he'd had a few glasses himself. But he'd have to hold back tonight thank's to Mycroft. However, Watson wasn't entirely sure Holmes should so quickly be on the heels of another case, especially after Moriarty. Not that he'd be able to shake his old friend off the hunt now.
Watson cut a slow, winding path through the reception, stopping to chat amiably but briefly with those he knew, introducing himself to those he didn't. All the while he kept his eyes on the crowd. There were five men dressed in identical suits, all of them in full beards. They did not mingle with the other guests and their near identical manner kept Watson's attention prickling.
But at last Watson made it to the center of the reception — a solitary dais holding up an ornate gold clock. It was an airy creation, looking as though half of it had been pulled out by a mad designer. Yet the hands ticked softly, despite what might be missing.
"It appears so uninspiring, doesn't it?"
Watson looked up. 'Mr. Freeman' stood opposite. Watson pitched his voice low. "It does look like just a clock, however well-crafted. What's so special about it?"
"Someone wants it." Holmes pulled down the tiny spectacles that were part of the disguise and leaned in for a closer look. "That's all it takes, really."
"Surely if they wanted, someone could buy it or have one made for them."
"Of that I'm not so sure." Holmes took off the fake spectacles. "It is ingeniously designed."
"Yes, it looks like it shouldn't work at all. Quite artful." Watson, not one for design, kept his eye on their fellow attendees to make sure their collective attention was not on the pair of them. Indeed, it looked like the party would go on for hours, clock or no clock. However, the five men in their jackets and beards, started to move against the jovial and disinterested tide of the guests.
"No, not art," Holmes said, clearly pleased. "There is no reason why it should work at all. It quite literally missing half its constituent parts."
Watson frowned. "That's impossible."
Holmes looked up at Watson with a wide grin. "Wonderful, isn't it?" Holmes bent down to the clock, and removed his white gloves.
Watson, dropping the pretense of indifference, watched the five men boldly. There was no mistaking the pattern now. They were heading for the dais, and the clock. Would-be thieves, or hired guards? Either way, they would intervene. "Holmes."
"And the mechanisms are unlike anything I've ever seen. Even the most advanced theoretical models can't explain how —"
"Holmes!" Watson moved around the side of the display, jostling Holmes. The men closed in, reaching into their breast pockets and pulling out — "Guns. Holmes, they're armed."
But Holmes paid him no attention. Instead, he lifted his hands and reached out to touch the clock.
"A moment, Watson. I just have to see how this works …"
John followed behind Sherlock, pulling the too-tight suit jacket down again. Sherlock swept through the security lines in that confident manner that John hadn't gotten used to and probably never would. Not that anyone could own the British Museum, but it certainly wasn't for the public today, and their tickets gave them no-questions-asked access.
"Mycroft is taking this threat seriously," he said to Sherlock. He then flashed an apologetic smile at the guard as they made their way past.
"He wouldn't have asked us to come otherwise."
Now that they were behind enemy lines, Sherlock switched 'on' in that mechanical way of his, eyes narrowing as he scanned the room. Who knew what Sherlock saw, but John was able to pick out the hidden security working the event for the Museum as well as the regular blokes in uniform. The undercover ones were all burly fellows to a man, and armed by the looks of the bulge in their right breast pockets.
It was a circular room, with a dais in the center. Other displays had been cleared away to make room for the guests. John and Sherlock stayed unobtrusively to the sidelines as the glitterati mingled and drank, laughing too loudly at their own jokes and congealing into even larger social circles. John wondered how many of them had set foot in the Museum, or any museum for that matter, before today.
The more John thought about it, the more it bothered him. "Odd place for a non-historic display, isn't it?"
Sherlock barely nodded, instead taking up position in one darker section of the room. John followed, picking up a drink as it went past on a silver tray. He tried to make eye contact with the waitress, a stunner with long legs and hair pulled back into a severe black queue, but she walked on past, face like a statue.
Sherlock glanced at John sidelong, snorted. "Married. And gay. Try again, John."
John looked down into the contents of the glass, then drained it. "All right then, what else do you see, besides my utter lack of prospects?"
"No prospects at all, for either of us I'm afraid. There's no mystery here, no puzzle." Sherlock leaned against the wall, and folded his arms. "And there is more than enough security here." He motioned to the men John had noticed earlier.
"What about the gizmo?"
"A clock," Sherlock said. "Who cares?"
"Well, Mycroft certainly cares. Not that you normally care when Mycroft cares. Why are you doing him this favor, anyways?"
"It was either this or be brought up on charges for that breach of security up in Baskerville."
That amused John immensely. "Blackmail. Very good." John found a place for his empty glass. "Let's see what this clock is all about."
John headed down into the throng, mingling ably enough until he was at the dais itself. Sure enough, not a damn one of the guests had paid it any attention. Not that they would have profited from that attention, had they been so inclined. There wasn't a card or plaque or anything by the device, but the clock was striking enough not the need any description. Silver, or possibly platinum, it was ornately made, metal twisted into whimsical shapes. Yet it looked like half of it had been sheered off, like one of those science experiments when you cut away half the object to show how it really works inside. Except this didn't illuminate anything. With half its gears missing, it still worked; the hands ticked sedately along as if nothing was the matter.
Sherlock had pulled up alongside him, eyes on the clock.
"Oh, you're interested now?"
Sherlock knelt down. "It's the only interesting thing left in the room."
John ignored the slight, and grabbed another drink as it whizzed by, this time in the hands of a blonde.
"Jailbait," Sherlock said tiredly.
"I wasn't looking."
"Wasn't." John downed the second drink, remembering only afterwards that he was drinking on an empty stomach. As he pondered this, one of the big burly fellows started to make his way towards the dais, and the pair of them.
"Um, Sherlock. Mycroft told them we were coming, right? We're expected. Right?"
"Not so boring after all," Sherlock said, still focused on the clock and the words coming out almost like a purr.
Uh-oh. John knew that sound. Something had gotten Sherlock's attention, and it wasn't the one guard - no, two guards now, heading over to them. And reaching into their jackets.
"Um, Sherlock?" A third left his post and was heading their way.
"This clock is running on no perceivable power source." Sherlock's voice started to rise. He flexed his fingers. "It's defying at least two laws of physics at this precise moment. Exquisite. John, take a closer look."
"I think those men are coming to have a closer look at us. Seriously. I don't think these guys are on the same side as we are —"
The first man was now only two strides away. His lips curled back into a grimace but only steel flashed beneath. John dropped his glass. The second one loomed up on the other side. Underneath his dark sunglasses came the strangest light.
"Sherlock!" John jabbed him in the shoulder. "Company. Incoming!"
"One second, John. One ... second …"
Sherlock flexed his fingers, and laid them on either side of the clock.
Two sets of hands touch the same clock.
Light flares from a single point where both clocks, both men, impossibly exist in the same point in time and space. In unison, they wince, hands reflexively letting go of the device.
Concussion. Ears ring, vision doubles, stumbles backwards.
Behind them, a man shouts a name.
A distraction. They refocus their sights on the device, unable to look elsewhere. The arms of the clock continue to tick on with a sound that drowns out all the shouting and everything else. They reach out for the clock.
But there is another man where there was not one before. He stands behind the dais wearing a stranger's face, but in the span of the tick of another passed second, he wears a face each man knows: Moriarty.
He flashes a triumphantly cold smile that Sherlock Holmes will know until his very last breath.
And while the room fractures into light, as glass shatters and men and women recoil from the force of the blast, Moriarty stands untouched in the center of the chaos. He leers, just before his faces changes back to that other unknown face, and back again, like two photograph negatives superimposed.
"Tut, tut," he says, the only sound that Sherlock Holmes can hear above the sound of that damnable clock. "Can't have you helping the good Doctor now, can we?"
Light drives in to all the cracks of the world.
Sherlock Holmes shields his eyes . . .
Chapter 2: Substitutions and Text Messages
Explosion? Likely. No discernible incendiary, but effects of blast incontrovertible. Concussion? Possible. Dizziness. Confusion. Ringing ears. Will need John to confirm. Smoke inhalation. Exit building.
Sherlock coughed violently and leaned against the marble facade of Museum's exterior. At least, that's what he presumed. At the moment he just thankful that he hadn't blacked out. Everything was in shadow, and ghosting images after his eyes had been assaulted by the bright light. He blinked hard, but spots still filled his vision, threatening vertigo. Was this what John had gone through?
Sherlock leaned against the marble, fished his mobile from his pocket. Blindly, he tapped out the following:
Lost you in the crowd.
Regroup at the flat, earliest convenience.
I may be injured.
He sent the text, pocketed the mobile, and started to make his way down the street. Though he couldn't see well, he could taste the smoke that still billowed out of the Museum, and hear the sounds of sirens, fainter as he stumbled on. Thankful again for the hours he'd spent combing the streets of London, he pulled his collar up and kept his head low, letting instinct guide him. Back to the flat, regroup, and think.
Moriarty back. What's he after? Clock. No, not the clock — the technology. Advanced. Too advanced.
He coughed again, spat on to the asphalt. He had covered a great deal of ground, why could he still taste smoke? And was that why it was so dark? Had there been damage to his eyes? That sent a spark of panic down his spine. Sherlock blinked, squinted hard. And again.
No, it was evening. But he hadn't fallen unconconscious. Had he?
"John," he mumbled, checking the phone. Had he missed a vibration? No. No messages.
Nothing else to do but press on.
He almost didn't make it back. He got turned around twice, an embarrassment he would be sure to omit when telling John. Was it the concussion? He clamped on to a lamp post, did another self-assessment.
Dizziness. Confusion. Ringing ears. Classic symptoms of concussion.
And then, the realization.
Symptoms presented before blast.
He'd have to think about that. Later.
The streets narrowed, familiar, but less so with every step. And yet the street signs, those he could make out anyways, indicated he was going the right way. He found himself in a back alley and that felt right. The closed-in spaces, the old building facades that faced away from the street and left mostly intact — these lead him home, to Baker Street.
Or was it?
Baker Street. Lights wrong color, wrong shape. No neon. No motor vehicles.
Wait. Vintage cars, one, far lane. And — horses?
And the stench. Overpowering filth, a mixture of dung and urine and smoke. Sherlock gagged and threw himself against the door to 221B, sure he was going to be violently ill. His key wouldn't take at first, then finally it clicked, and he staggered inside.
"John?" he called out hoarsely. When no response came, he tried again. "Mrs. Hudson?"
No answer. Just like his phone.
He panted in the darkness of the foyer, as if he could heave out all the smells and tastes in his mouth.
This at last restored his calm, and his sight. And now he knew something was wrong. He took an umbrella from the stand — too heavy, Mrs. Hudson's? — and ascended the stairs, wishing he'd kept that scimitar someplace handy. An after-image flashed across his field of vision with an intensity that send a shot of pain across his temples. He leaned against the stairwell wall, waited for the pain to pass.
And when it did, it lifted the veil of confusion that had shrouded him since his escape.
But escape from what, and to where?
He reached the top of the stairs, and used the umbrella to push aside massive palm fronds that shielded the entrance of the main floor. He let the umbrella fall low, like a sword in the hand of a dejected knight. Empty flat. Even if his visual senses had fled him utterly, there was no sound betraying any other person besides himself.
But his vision, now utterly cleared, was not failing him. Just showing him impossible things.
Flat layout identical, down to square footage. Cosmetic differences in molding, trim. Wallpaper is archaic Victorian, gaudy, felt. Furniture is also period, eclectic, international. Pieces from India, Arabia, China. Tobacco scent heavy, and unfiltered. A pipe, recently smoked. Clean, but idle. Only recently. An antique Remington on one table, a British saber on the wall. One wall completely given over to a spider's web of red silk ribbons and newspaper clippings pinned. A lifetime of mementos, half on display, the other half still used. Archaic, but used.
It wasn't a recreation; it was a still life, missing its model.
The violin stood in its stand by the window, where Sherlock knew, of course, that it would be. He lifted the instrument, a perfect copy even if it should be a hundred years old but instead bore the markings of only twenty years.
Once you've eliminated the impossible, whatever remains …
He lifted the bow, and drew it across the strings. The instrument sang as he knew it would. And as he turned to look outside on to Baker Street — perhaps his own Baker street one day long ago, or perhaps never — he started to play.
When he heard footsteps coming up the steps, the bow almost skittered a note. Sherlock focused his senses, listening keenly.
Relaxed gait, tired. Tall man, familiar with location. Friend? Possibly.
Sherlock continued to play the only song etched into recent muscle memory, infused with loss, until he came to the same part he'd been stuck at for weeks. He drew the bow away, the unfinished melody hanging in the air like a question.
The man waited a moment at the threshold to the room. At last he said, voice utterly strange to Sherlock yet spoken with the ease of long friendship, "I always did like that piece. Why did you stop playing it, Holmes?"
A spark went off in Sherlock's mind. He waited a long while before answering, violin bow hovering in the air, then said, "Because I haven't finished writing it yet."
Holmes pushed his way blindly through the streets, fearing the explosion had taken his sight as well as his other senses. Another thought that slammed against his ringing head is that the explosion had taken Watson as well. But escape was paramount, and regroup at Baker Street, long standing arrangements when this sorts of thing happened. As they were happening now.
If he didn't have to vomit so badly, Holmes would be enjoying this.
Instead, he ricocheted off walls, lampposts and people alike, careening out of the Museum and into the darkness of — what, stabbing daylight? Holmes covered his face and groaned.
Sunlight. Eight hours past? Unconscious? Unlikely. No black out, and crowd still panicking. Damage from the explosion?
He blinked hard again, lurched. Streets were too wide and filled with pointing, shouting crowds. The gaslights burned in his vision like raw electricity. The stench of gasoline burned just as sharply in his nose, and well as a hundred other scents hitherto unknown to him in the London he knew by taste and shape and sound. Tears streaming down his face as he rubbed away the smoke, the grit, he forced himself to stare down this place, see the images of the London he knew shatter and reshape around the London he saw in front of him now. Colors too bold, noises bright, yet the streets the same yet different.
No, not different. Changed. Of the buildings around him, there were some Holmes recognized while others were gone, replaced with new structures. But even these strange cuckoo buildings had showed wear from weather and vermin and people for decades, maybe more. And oh, the people. Hundreds of them. Dressed in every color, faces of every color, all huddled together to watch the Museum choke on the smoke from the explosion.
London, but, not London?
Holmes cast about for any guidance, and beamed when he identified a street sign bearing a name he'd not soon forget: London Wall. Which lead down Oxford, then … Baker Street.
Concussion? Probable. Break with sanity? Possible.
Decide later. When not concussed.
Holmes found the flat near two hours later, cursing himself as it had never taken that long before. But the streets! Filled with so many strange conveyances, the descendants of motorcars surely, and electricity simply everywhere. A million things to take in, and no time to understand it all. But when at last he spied the door to 221B Baker Street, looking as it always had, with the same brass numbers and black paint, whatever strength he'd recovered melted away. Would the key fit? Why should it? Why shouldn't it, he thought with a laugh. Concussion, he reminded himself, and tried the door. His hands fumbled but the key went in smooth and the door opened likewise.
Holmes took a deep, steadying breath, and entered.
Dimensions, identical. Furniture, wrong. Wallpaper, wrong. More metal. Electric lights, no gas. He ran his finger along the bottom of an ashtray. Clean, tobacco use infrequent. He proceeded, cataloguing the room and its contents. Stainless steel icebox, filled with an assortment of cans, bottles and toes. Human. Beakers and test-tubes fill the kitchen area. Scientist.
As he walked around, he stripped off the remains of the disguise, first the beard, then the stuffed belly. He rubbed away the sticky gum that had held the beard in place, and wished he had thought to bring his pipe. The living room was spartanly filled compared to Holmes's own flat, yet objects here and there sparked in his mind; the portrait in the corner, the skull on the mantle, a saber on the wall — and then, the violin.
Ah, this. This made sense.
…No matter how improbable, must be the truth.
His fingers were a hair's breath from touching the bow, when a thump sounded down below in the foyer. A decidedly non-Watson thump, he determined, heart bleak. Had he been followed? Holmes pressed himself against the wall and waited.
The man, unaware of Holmes, entered the main floor cautiously.
Male. 5'7". Familiar with environment, but expecting trouble. Ex-military. Smells faintly of smoke. One of the men from the Museum?
Holmes took the initiative and launched himself at the man's back. The man shouted as he fell forward onto his stomach. Holmes shifted to get more of his weight on the man's chest, but his opponent was indeed ex-military, twisting and rolling expertly to unpin himself. A series of grabs and counter-grabs, punches and cuffs followed. They upended the table, broke a tea set, sent papers flying. It was great fun, and Holmes had just calculated how he was going to break the man's jaw, right tibia and collar bone, when the man shouted, as clear as he could while taking a punch to the kidney, "Sherlock, if you're in here, run!"
Holmes's world rocked under him.
Familiar with environs. Ex-military.
Only one way to be sure. Holmes's scrapped the next series of planned moves and targeted a jab at the man's shoulder.
As suspected, the man shouted in pain and alarm before crumpling due to the direct hit to the old injury. He tried to crawl away, heading straight for the nearest weapon — a poker from the fireplace. But Holmes leaped over a table, yanked the saber off the wall, and brandished it before the man could recover.
Disheveled, with short sandy hair and blood trickling down his nose, the man looked up at Holmes, tensed for a blow.
Holmes looked down the length of his blade. "Dr. Watson, I presume?"
The man — Watson — wasn't expecting a question, but he nodded warily. "Yeah, obviously. My flat, or what's left of it." He eyed the saber, then eyed Holmes with murder on his mind. "What have you done with Sherlock?"
"I assure you," Holmes said, his mouth twisting into a smile at the use of his Christian name. "I am perfectly well. You, however, are a trifle short."
Watson dropped his cane and tucked in to the safety of the door jam. He pulled out his revolver. "All right. What have you done with Holmes?"
The stranger lowered the bow in an annoyed manner, a movement so characteristic of Holmes that Watson did a double-take. But the stranger was a good four inches taller than Holmes. A poor imitation, if he was meant to be an impostor.
"I haven't done anything to your Holmes," the stranger said. "Though perhaps he has done something to me."
"What on earth are you talking about? Who are you?"
"Sherlock Holmes," he said. "I am … Sherlock Holmes." The man's words faltered on his lips, and he wobbled. As he fell, the violin slipped out of his hands. He made a desperate grab for it, catching it by the neck a moment before it hit the floor. The man who called himself Holmes landed awkwardly in the chair, and went still as though in shock.
Watson kept the revolver trained on the man, but he didn't rise. And no one, Watson knew, hands growing evermore slick on the revolver's handle, had ever been given a copy of that sheet music once that woman had vanished after the Blackwood case.
Because I haven't finished writing it yet, the man had said.
Watson exhaled sharply through his nose. "Damn it all."
Watson moved over to the closest gas lamp and turned it on, the revolver still trained on the stranger. A ruddy glow suffused the room, at least what parts it could reach with all the overgrown flora. But it was more than enough light to illuminate the man.
The man who would be Holmes.
Younger, by a decade. Taller, by quite a lot, and pale and dark haired. He had the same fine, long fingers as his friend. Clothes were strange, sleekly tailored and plain, without embellishments. He wore no waistcoat, no overcoat, no gloves — nothing that would mark his station. But when his eyes opened, startling blue where Holmes's were rich brown, Watson saw the same, knife-cruel sharpness paired with that touch of madness Watson knew only too well.
"You don't believe me," the man said.
Watson at last lowered the gun. "I don't you think you believe yourself."
"I believe," he said, then straightened up, replacing the violin in its stand, "I know, that this is Baker Street. That you are Dr. John Watson. That this is somewhere near the turn of the Twentieth Century."
"Odd choice of words. 'Turn of the Twentieth'."
"I'm more familiar with that century than this one."
"You're saying mad things."
"How do you know my name?"
"You're just testing me now," he said.
"I think that's perfectly understandable."
The man slitted his eyes. "Fine. The cane you dropped was a gift to distinguished soldiers in the Afghan war, where you received your injuries. Medical science being what it was, or is I suppose, you didn't fully recover from your wound, which is why you still limp. You've returned from the scene of some event, an explosion by the marks on your coat, and you didn't expect anyone here but your Sherlock Holmes. And yet he is not, and I am. And this world, all of these things and people…" His eyes took on a glassy look, his head swayed. "There's too much. Too many details, too real, for it all to be madness."
Watson gave the smallest of nods. "Would you like a drink?"
"Cigarette would be better."
"Holmes's pipe is around here somewhere. Maybe you can navigate his nest?"
He snorted, looked around the room. Watson kept an eye on him as he sought out the stash of good brandy and two glasses. He watched the man's gaze alight on one object and then the next, puzzling through it all one piece at a time.
"Sherlock. Please," he said, not even looking Watson's way.
"All right. Sherlock." The familiar name sounded so odd on his tongue. "So, who are you then, his son?"
Sherlock, lost in his own world, suddenly offered, "Cousin. Of sorts. Through a slanted mirror. What year is it?"
Sherlock smiled at this confirmation. "Have you read H. G. Well's novel, The Time Machine?"
Watson nodded cautiously, then poured them both a full glass, and handed one to him.
"So you're familiar with the concept of time travel."
"Of sorts. Are you saying you're from another time?"
"Possibly. But I don't think so. Not entirely. Why should there be two Sherlock Holmes in the world?" He noticed the brandy in his hands, and downed it in one guzzle. "Do you write? I mean, do you record the cases that your Holmes takes on?"
"And are they published?"
"Yes. My first will be in the next paper. I should make a small sum from it."
"Then we cannot possibly be from the same timeline. There was no Sherlock Holmes before me, just as I suspect there will be no Sherlock Holmes after yours. We may have just proven the theory of parallel universes to be true."
Watson peered down into his drink. "You're making less sense now."
"Only to you."
"So, you're really Sherlock Holmes?"
"As much as I can be, outside of my world." Sherlock held out the glass for a refill. "Then again, why not? The sun rises every morning. There are constants in the universe. Why should Sherlock Holmes be any different, no matter where, or when, he is?"
"Did you just compare yourself to a celestial body?"
Watson snorted. "Constants, indeed."
"Do you believe me?"
When Watson didn't answer, Sherlock started to rummage through his pockets, pulled out a small square of folded leather with strange tiny cards that meant nothing to Watson. A collection of blocky looking keys. He pulled out a leather case of small tools — this, terribly like Holmes's own, but with instruments of finer make — and then a square of metal, not much larger than a cigarette case. He ran his thumb along one edge of it and then it glowed with electric light and illuminated letters. Utterly foreign, if not outright impossible. Like so many other things this evening.
"I think I do." Watson poured himself another drink. "Where then," he said, the brandy still burning down his throat, "is my Holmes?"
"I hope to God he's with John. And that he doesn't mistake your Holmes for a lunatic."
John, from his vantage on the floor, had an excellent view of the tip of a British saber. It looked rather dull, but with enough effort, especially in the hands of a lunatic, it could be dangerous. "You're Sherlock?" he said with a careful laugh.
"In the flesh." The man looked down at the state of himself. "Though that flesh may not be featured to full advantage at the moment."
Burn marks and streaks of dust marred an old-fashioned waist coat and suit. The smell of burnt hair wafted off of him. He certainly looked like he'd been part of the blast at the Museum. John had spent the better part of an hour searching the scene but had found no trace of Sherlock anywhere, and getting a cab back had been a nightmare thanks to all the traffic.
But what held John's gaze the longest was the fevered shine in the stranger's dark eyes which did not stay focused on any one thing for more than a second. He was inventorying the entire room — while keeping John pinned to the floor — just the way Sherlock did whenever he was somewhere new, or newly turned over. Too familiar.
And yet …
John motioned to the sword with his chin. "Could you point that somewhere else?"
"As soon as you decide to be reasonable."
"Says the man wielding a saber."
"Oh, I wield much keener things than this saber."
John paused for a heartbeat. Was the man really mad, or something else? He decided to risk it. "Not at the moment." He raised his hand to push aside the sword's tip.
The man permitted this, but did not drop the sword. John got up onto his feet, massaged his shoulder.
"Which war?" the man asked.
The familiarity of the question, and the tone in which it was asked, prickled at the back of John's neck. "Er, Afghanistan." John straightened up. He put out his hand for the sword.
"Impossible," the man answered, face knotted as he worked on the puzzle. When John motioned with his hand, the man sighed and offered up the sword. "You're a bit young to have sustained that sort of injury in the Anglo-Afghan war."
"Well, actually I'm a lot young. Missed that one by a hundred years. More, really."
The man wobbled, and the saber slid point-downwards to the floor. John just managed to catch it by the hilt before it pierced the hardwood. He took the man by the shoulder and pushed him down into Sherlock's chair. The man sat there with no strength, eyes rolling.
"Okay," John said, looking at the saber. "Let's get this put away someplace safe. Safer." John spared a small moment of thanks that the man hadn't found his service revolver.
"A hundred years? Truly?"
John did some quick math as he slid the saber into the umbrella rack. "Hundred-thirty. Are we traveling down history lane?"
"Traveling down history, or traveling up it?" he said in hushed tones, almost to himself from his seat in the chair. "I've traveled a long way. What year is this?"
"What … year? Really?"
"Yes, really!" he snapped.
John stumbled on the words. "Uh, 2012."
This elicited the smallest of giggles. "Traveled quite a ways." He drummed his fingers against the arm rests, that same nervous, pent-up energy. "But how, how, how?"
John thought again about his revolver, but sat down in his chair instead. God, where the hell was Sherlock? He would have sized this man up in thirty seconds. He was no Sherlock, but John wasn't entirely ignorant. He could hear Sherlock's voice in his mind, remonstrating, Observe, John. Don't merely see, observe.
Okay, John, so observe. He looked the man up and down. Again, the burns, the smudges. Quite the makeup job if he didn't come from the Museum. And the clothing itself. At first he'd mistaken it for a costume shop suit but the closer John looked at it, the more he realized that it couldn't be out of a shop. The buttons were intricate, the pattern of the vest rich even under all that soot, and the hem lines were uneven. Hand-crafted.
That's a long way to go for crazy.
"Are you familiar with the work of a Mr. H. G. Wells?"
John barked out a laugh, and leaned into his chair. "Time travel. Really? This is where we're going?" But as much as he laughed, he couldn't take his eyes off the suit.
"I am Sherlock Holmes. I could go on at length to prove it, but I don't think I have to. I know what and who I am, but I am not so sure about when. Or the how."
"Well, I didn't see a plush lawn chair with a lever and a spinning disc."
"So you have read it?"
"I've read it, but that doesn't explain what I think you're explaining. Are you, I mean, are you trying to say…" John took a deep breath, and asked the silliest question he'd ever asked. "What year do you think it is?"
The man — Holmes? Could it be, if not Sherlock, some other Holmes? — studied John for long moments before saying, "1891."
John digested this as one might a pebble. That is, not at all. "Right."
Holmes laughed. "I need a drink. You?"
"God, yes." John rose and headed to the kitchen, passing over the brandy for the good scotch.
The two men drank their scotch in front of the fireplace. John had started to believe this man, this Holmes. And it wasn't just the drink swaying him.
"So, you're telling me that you're the Sherlock Holmes from 1891."
"But there was no Sherlock Holmes back then. And if there was, we would have heard about it. You said the John Watson from your … time wrote articles, got them published. If that had happened, we'd know."
"Let's not use the past tense, shall we? Parallel words, then, but where the universe is shifted across time, the single thing that remains the same is that there is a Sherlock Holmes and a John Watson."
"Except you don't have a mobile phone attached to your hand."
"Oh, uh. This." He fished his mobile out of his pocket, and then saw the message indicator light for a missed text.
Lost you in the crowd.
Regroup at the flat, earliest convenience.
I may be injured.
"Shit, it's Sherlock!" The timestamp was an hour ago.
Holmes leaned over, peering at the mobile like it might explode. "It's what? What is that curious device?"
Several rushed minutes followed, where John tried to explain what the hell a mobile was, as he madly typed message after message.
Where are you?
There's a man here. He says he's you. From a 100 years ago.
Sherlock, answer me!
"Damn it, he's not replying."
"Perhaps he can't."
"Let's not leap to conclusions," John said, too sharply. "That's your line, isn't it? Not enough data?"
"Indeed." Holmes set down the empty glass and moved his way towards the window. He pulled apart the curtain and stared down at the street. "I am missing a great deal of data. We have changed places, somehow, your Sherlock has taken my place, and I, his. I expect it has something to do with that explosion at the Museum."
He was just about to open his mouth to ask how Holmes knew, but Holmes waved him off. "I need data," he said again through clenched teeth, a ferocious expression on his face.
John looked over the text messages, willing some sort of reply to appear, but none came. And if this man, crazy or not, was some version of Holmes, then he was also the only person that could make it right.
"All right," John said. "I'll get you your data."
They had long ago finished their brandy and now sat in silence, which suited Sherlock perfectly well. There was still so much to take in. Dr. Watson, brows knotted and mouth turned down under his ridiculous mustache, had asked as many questions as he could, and Sherlock fenced around them, worried about giving away more than he should. That the man, this John Watson believed him, or at least trusted him, was a gift he hadn't expected. They had pieced together when The Event had happened, as Sherlock had taken to calling it, but no clue as to why, or how. After, they had lapsed into silence, of a kind not unfamiliar to Sherlock.
And for that, he was thankful.
Watson cleared his throat. "I have to leave you here."
"What?" Sherlock, from his perch by the window, rose up.
"Just for a time. I have to get back to Mary, let her know … something."
Sherlock frowned. Watson replied with a frown of his own. "The more I watch you, the more of him I see." But any rancor in his voice soon faded. "I will be back. But I must tell her something. You'll be safe here for now."
"Yes. Your Holmes is currently dead, isn't he?"
"How did — never mind. It's probably clear as day for you just looking round his flat."
Sherlock nodded. "A useful trick. I will wait for you here."
"Back soon as I can."
Sherlock watched him go. Could do ought else. He had taken a picture of Watson when he wasn't looking, or at least, once he'd tired of the novelty of the camera phone. Light-haired like John, but taller. He carried himself with the same assurance, military, but with an upper class bearing totally at odds with John's easy-going countenance.
He smirked, thinking he'd need more than just a good coat now. But that wasn't all he needed. Electricity, for one, access to information. Sherlock hadn't felt this isolated since … ever, really. Was it the brandy that made him shake, or something else? He slid down onto a pile of oriental rugs and plush velvet cushions by the cold fireplace.
He pulled out the phone, checked the text messages he'd received. Nothing new. He should turn it off, save the battery. Once it was gone, it would be gone. He prayed, thumb hovering over the off switch, he would not still be trapped in this other world when that happened.
Sherlock leaned his head against the mantle, closed his eyes.
The cellular beeped, and flashed on. Sherlock sat up and checked the phone.
Where are you?
There's a man here. He says he's you. From a 100 years ago!
Sherlock, answer me!
Sherlock quickly typed a reply.
Did you receive this text?
Sherlock? Where are you? I sent those texts hours ago.
Are you alright?
You're correcting me at a time like this? Christ. WHERE ARE YOU?
Sherlock couldn't help but smirk as he typed his reply, even though John wasn't there to be needled by it.
In the flat. Where are you?
I can't believe you're playing games.
Are you hurt? You said you'd been injured.
I feared a concussion. I suspect that it is the least of my worries.
Is the other Holmes there?
How can this be happening?
It ties back to the explosion. We must start there.
Is he well?
Well enough for being pulled through time and space.
I can't believe I just typed that.
What about you? Are you okay?
Sherlock's hand trembled again, and not from the brandy or the bitter cold that seeped in to the unheated flat. He remembered that night in the Cross Keys pub, when he'd drank, when he'd shouted at John, when he'd been afraid.
But all he felt now was the flooding warmth of relief. He rested his head against the mantle, and brought the phone against his breast bone, keeping it there for several moments, until the anticipated third text buzzed.
Are you still there? God, please answer.
Sherlock took his time typing the reply.
Conserving battery. Will check for messages in eight hours.
He waited in the darkness, hands cradling the phone. And at last came the reply.
If you can get there, you can get back.
And I will get you back. I swear it.
Sherlock rubbed his thumb against the screen, then shut off the phone for the night.
Chapter 3: Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You
When Watson returned, some hours later after coming up with a whopping lie to Mary that even he couldn't believe she'd accepted, he found Sherlock where he'd left him. But instead of the strange clothes he'd turned up in, Sherlock had shed his clothing in favor of something new. Sherlock stood in front of a mirror, dressed in a cobbled-together suit and overcoat, admiring his handiwork.
"Your Holmes is rather short."
"I see you still managed," Watson said. "And I see Holmes managed to steal more of my clothing than I thought possible."
"Will this do? Will I fit in?" He said this somewhat crossly, eyeing himself in the mirror and tugging at his cuffs.
"Yes. Where were you planing to go?"
"Everywhere," he said as he slowly turned to face Watson. "I must see everything I can of this world before we return to the scene of the explosion. I need data, Watson, context. Without it, I am nothing. I'd be just like everyone else."
Watson could only offer up a testy sigh. "That's the Sherlock Holmes I know. Come on, then."
Watson took him first to the theatre, and then to a gentleman's club. He'd taken to introducing Sherlock as a nephew of Holmes, though imagining Mycroft with any sort of wife took some doing. Sherlock said nothing the entire time, took no drink and no cigar, merely watched with those feline eyes of his, cold and precise and appraising.
As they stepped back into the cobblestone streets, Watson looked at Sherlock side-long and asked, "Satisfied?"
"Our work's only half done. Take me somewhere low, Watson."
Watson considered, then whistled for a cab.
Watson couldn't shake the grin off of his face as he watched Sherlock enter the warehouse, a place familiar to both Watson and Holmes, though for different reasons. The crowds that had gathered for the midnight matches were feisty, quick with a taunt or the flash of a pound note. The place was thick with smoke and sawdust coated every surface. Watson took the lead, heading them to a bookie that was bruskly tending to his trade.
"You come here often," Sherlock said, the first words he'd uttered since the gentleman's club.
"So do you. Or at least your double does."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow.
Watson looked over the next pair of contestants — a big brute of a man that only appeared able to grunt and a wiry fellow with scars all up and down his arms — then pulled out a pound note and handed it to the bookie. "The little one." The bookie pocketed the money with a nod, and turned to his next customer.
Watson brought them round to a bank seating up and away from the crowds that surrounded the ring. Watson sat down and watched as Sherlock hovered, then finally sat too. He turned up his collar, and looked to all the world like a great big sulking cat.
Below, the match began with a unified shout from the crowd. The opponents circled each other, with the wiry one hurling curse after curse in French.
"And why would I, or he, come here?" he finally asked.
"You really have no idea?"
"Well, information, obviously. All classes mingle here, as well as the criminal element." Sherlock glanced over at him. "But that's not what you mean, is it?"
Watson laughed. "I do so enjoy having the better of a Holmes. Even if it's the wrong one."
Watson ignored the puzzled frown on Sherlock's face and leaned forward to get a better view of the match. The crowd was well into it, now, having picked their favorites and made their bets. The brute had started a few tentative jabs while the other continued to side-step and curse. The crowd both groaned and roared as the latter threw a wild punch that connected with the other man, and staggered him. Watson grinned, pleased at his prospects.
Sherlock, however, wasn't watching the match. His eyes were everywhere else. Watson watched as Sherlock's focus flicked from person to person, from chair to bench to outer walls, to ceiling, and back again. Watson was reminded, suddenly, of Holmes in his younger days, more quiet then talkative, trying to make sense of the whole world as if he could do it all at once. Which made Watson feel all the more older.
A bushy-haired man came into view, blocking the fight momentarily. Sherlock barely held back a sneer at the stranger's approach, but Watson offered a tight grin by way of greeting.
"The lads were too upset to say so at the service in person, but it's a shame about your friend," the man said, pulling off his cap. "He's been missed round these parts. Bruno really wanted another crack at him, though the wagers would have been different the second time 'round, I suppose."
Watson hadn't been expecting that, and really he should have. Holmes had only been buried for a week, buried and brought back by only a miracle he could devise. "No doubt," Watson said. "Thanks, old boy."
The man nodded to both, put his cap back on, and wandered away.
Down in the ring, the brute, having landed three solid punches to the wiry fellow, bellowed his impending win. Blood soaked into the sawdust, and the half of the crowd that had bet on the other man shouted and booed.
"He fights?" Sherlock said, sounding impressed.
Watson nodded. "And he's good."
"Does he often win?"
"When he wants to. He plays at it. Like he plays at everything."
The wiry fellow let out a howl and came out of nowhere with a haymaker that sent the brute crashing into the side board, then stumbling down onto one knee. The crowd hushed at once, waiting, as the man struggled to rise.
"And how's that?"
"Until he's bored."
Sherlock's mouth hitched up into a split-second smirk.
The brute wobbled, but the wiry man boxed his ears and pounded his temple. The brute fell, and the crowd erupted into flat-out, raucous noise. Pound notes flashed, minor squabbles broke out nearest the ring, and the ringmaster started to call out the next fighters.
"You won," Sherlock said.
"I did." Watson was just about to say how nice it was to not be nagged for placing a wager, but the look in the other's eyes suggested he might not be so lucky. Best to distract him, then. "So, have you see what you needed to see? What do you think?"
Sherlock smiled, though his eyes remained narrowed. "I think that the world hasn't changed much in a hundred years." His smile broke into a quiet laugh.
"Easy for you to say." Watson rose, and Sherlock followed. "So, where to now?"
"Collect your winnings, Watson. We'll need the pound notes."
"For the cab. It's back to the Museum for us."
John was asleep at his desk. This was a not-unfamiliar feeling; he often fell asleep at the desk while Sherlock stewed on one problem or another and demanded John's presence for passive listening or an active talking-at.
But John hadn't woken up to the violin before whilst in the desk. That normally happened at three in morning, when comfortably abed.
"Sherlock?" But as soon as he said it, he knew that wasn't right. Sherlock was missing, and somewhere, sometime else. He could believe it now that he'd received the texts back from Sherlock, wherever he was. It had been the only thing that had granted him any sleep. But for this man to be Sherlock Holmes from a different time or universe, that he hadn't — couldn't — fully believe.
And yet, that song.
John shielded his eyes from the light streaming in from the eastern windows and turned around in his chair.
There he was, this Holmes fellow, playing Sherlock's violin and playing Sherlock's song. The one he'd written for her, that woman.
The one he hadn't finished yet.
The song, note-perfect and without the benefit of any sheet music, poured out of the violin, out of this Holmes. John sat transfixed, listening as the notes began to build up to that unfinished point. Sherlock had worked on it for weeks, and eventually put it away — something John thought Sherlock far too stubborn to ever do. John waited for the cliffhanger to come, the way you do when you see two bodies about to crash into one another but are powerless to do anything but watch and cringe.
But Holmes kept right on playing past it, as if the song had been written ages ago and had been etched it into the ligaments of his fingers. He played it out to its natural ending that John had never heard before but knew, instantly, was right, and then Holmes savagely pulled the bow away from the strings.
"Holy shit. You really are Sherlock Holmes."
"Of course I am." Holmes said hurriedly, as if he'd been caught out doing something he shouldn't. He turned and set the violin back into its resting place with delicate reverence.
"Are … are you crying?"
"No. Don't be foolish."
John noticed the telly had gone off and the laptop was closed. Holmes had wanted data, and John had done what he could to find it. John had tuned the television to a documentary station, one that ran programs about history and technology twenty-four-seven, then showed him how to use the Internet. He hadn't wanted to, but after John had gotten so frustrated by being asked to type fifteen things at once while Holmes rattled off question after question, he'd seen no other solution. Between the telly and Wikipedia, Holmes should have had all the data that he needed.
And the look on his face a moment ago told John that he'd had too much.
Holmes moved to the window that overlooked Baker Street. "A hundred and twenty years, and we're still the same. Greedy, cruel, capricious." He appeared to focus on something far away, and then yanked the drapes closed. "Moriarty was right. About everything."
"It's not all that bad. The good guys win," John said. And then, when Holmes rounded on him, expression bleak, John added, "Okay, mostly. But we've done a lot of good, too. We've come farther than you think."
"Perhaps." Holmes didn't look like he believed John, but he put on a brave smile, one that looked ready for the world, such as it was.
And John couldn't fault him. Catching up on a hundred plus years of history, including two World Wars, the Holocaust, all of it. How would it change a man, to know the future? And would it even be Holmes's future? John tried to imagine himself in Holmes shoes and could only think, Bollocks, glad it's not me. But that made him think of Sherlock, wherever he might be, and the pang his chest demanded action.
"Okay, so … do you have what you need?"
"I've spent the last eight hours in this flat learning about the world that's to come. But if I am to hunt our quarry in this London, I must walk amongst her streets. Where can we go where I can see as much of this city, and how it has changed, as I can?"
John thought hard. "Uh, the Eye. It's not far. We can take a cab, be there in twenty. You can see most of London and …" He checked his watch. "It opens in three hours."
"Excellent. Enough time to prepare ourselves." He rubbed his hands together, and then, cocking his head at some noise John hadn't caught, marched over to the hallway and shouted down the stairs. "Mrs. Hudson! Some breakfast, if you please. As soon as convenient!"
John blinked twice. He heard now what Holmes must have heard just before: the sound of Mrs. Hudson moving around outside in the shared entrance. So much for keeping Holmes incognito. "Uh, Mrs. Hudson isn't our —"
But too late. Holmes headed straight for the bathroom and shut the door.
John scowled, and got up stiffly from the chair. "I really should learn to find my way to the couch." He shuffled over to the kitchen and began to pick at the assembly of dirty dishes and coffee mugs. He wondered if it wouldn't be easier to just go downstairs to Speedy's. And then he imagined Holmes in the corner shop. Talking to people.
No. Scrounging it was.
Mrs. Hudson peeked in around the corner of the door, looking rather put-upon. "Who was that shouting?"
"And where's Sherlock?" She looked around the flat, and whispered low, "Did you boys have a row?"
"Ah, no." He was just about to launch into Yet Another Tired Defense of His Sexuality, when Holmes walked into the kitchen wearing nothing but Sherlock's blue robe.
"You must show me how these taps work, John. Ah, and you must be this Mrs. Hudson. Enchanté, madame." He swept up Mrs. Hudson's left hand and brought it to his lips before Mrs. Hudson could pipe out a protest. And after he kissed her, he said slyly to John, "A much more pleasant version than the one I'm familiar with."
"Oh, he's a right charmer." Mrs. Hudson blushed.
"Among other things." John tried to figure out how he should do this. "Mrs. Hudson, this is … Mr. Holmes."
"Another Holmes? Oh, dear."
"He's Sherlock's Uncle."
"Good," Holmes muttered to John.
"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you," she said.
At this, Holmes flashed her another flirtatious smile. "Could we have a full breakfast? Famished. We've been up all night on a case." He kissed her hand again and then left the kitchen.
Mrs. Hudson stood there, still red from ear to ear. "Oh, that one's trouble."
"You have no idea."
"Well, just this once, I'll make you boys a nice breakfast. Just this once." She patted John on the shoulder. As she passed by, she said under her breath, "Though I would be his housekeeper."
Getting Holmes into civilian clothes had been more difficult than John had expected. He was a lot shorter than Sherlock, more John's height than anything, but putting him in khakis and a jumper had not worked on any level. In the end, they'd made do with a shirt of John's, a pair of Sherlock's trousers they rolled up and belted, and a pair of John's old shoes. He insisted on keeping the ascot. Ridiculous, but serviceable.
The cab ride was quick and Holmes was smart enough to keep quiet in front of the driver. But he gawked at everything, turning around this way and that, like a child hyper on too many sweets. When they got to the London Eye, the monstrous ferris wheel perched on the Thames offering up London like a technicolor map, Holmes remained quiet by sheer force of will based on the vein bulging in Holmes's forehead.
The Eye hadn't yet managed much of a tourist queue. They ended up with a capsule to themselves, and once the door was locked, Holmes ended his silence. The torrent of questions filled the full half-hour of the rotation as they were lifted up into the London sky.
Except at the top. When their capsule was at the highest point, and London stretched out in all directions, Holmes pulled out a pocket spyglass and extended it. He circled the capsule in utter silence, and John watched him survey the land methodically.
"Should I be playing tour guide more?"
"It's magnificent. In any age."
"London. I can imagine no better city." He smiled crookedly, as if ashamed of his pride. "That she survived all that this century has thrown at her speaks to her character, and the character of her people."
John grinned. "We did all right."
"So we shall."
"So, what's next?"
"To the Museum." He snapped the spyglass closed.
Members of Scotland Yard stood watch outside the British Museum late into the night, while he last of the workers busied themselves with clearing away the remaining bits of rubble from the front of the building. Watson thanked the officer he'd been speaking with and walked back over to Sherlock, who waited in the street aways so as not to attract attention.
"They'll let us in," Watson said. "They're nearly done for today."
Holmes turned up his collar. "I imagine there's not be much left for us to look over."
"Probably not. But you weren't in any shape yesterday."
Sherlock started to make a don't-be-ridiculous face, but Watson cut him off. "Lestrade's given us thirty minutes. Let's make the most of it."
"You have a Lestrade, too?" Sherlock grinned. "Is he as difficult?"
"Sometimes. I imagine the parallels between your world and ours are many." And, Watson thought, it might not be best to explore what they were. Earlier, Sherlock had looked like he had been waiting for Watson to ask about future events, and had appeared relieved when Watson hadn't pressed him. But just as much as Watson didn't want to know the future of his world, even if it could count on being the same, Watson was as just as guarded about what might be safe to tell Sherlock. He spoke with the uncanny wisdom of Holmes, but he was younger, far younger. What might come of indiscretions, things told in passing, that might alter the course of his future, or that of the other Watson?
As if reading his thoughts, Sherlock said, "Best if we focus on the now. Shall we?"
Inside, the last of the workers deferred to Watson and Sherlock when they entered the Reading Room where they event had been held. The blast had taken out the temporary chairs and tables, and smoke had done irreparable damage to what was left. Dust littered the floor, along with fine shards of broken glass.
"No serious injuries, thank God," Watson said.
"Hmm." Sherlock pulled out a slender metal rod coat and when he touched it, light erupted out one end, bright like a full moon.
"What is that?"
"Torch," he answered distractedly. "Electric. Invented in … well, actually, just a few years ago in your time, although commercial applications are a long way off." The beam swept across the floor, the ceilings, up and down. Sherlock walked in a slowly narrowing spiral, bringing him to the center of the room.
"Any other surprises in your coat?"
Sherlock paused long enough in his sweep of the room to smile briefly, and say, "That sounds like something John might say."
"Likewise." Watson couldn't help but hear Holmes's voice inflected in the words. And yet, this Sherlock was less addled than his own Holmes. There was a calm focus, with none of mania Holmes might manifest. Then again, he had a purpose — a case, his own. Holmes was always at his best when working. Watson wondered if this younger version might be prone to the same frenetic seizures when inactive.
"What about the men?" Sherlock asked.
"Which … oh, yes. There were strange fellows about."
"Not part of the entertainment, or the protection." Not a question; Sherlock was seeking confirmation. He stood in the center of the room now, where the dais had been.
"No. I take it you had similar?"
"Yes. Five men, nearly identical. Not part of any perceivable security presence. All armed." He switched off the torch. "Why were you both here? Had you received an invitation?"
"From Mycroft, yes."
"So did we," he murmured.
A crackle of electricity echoed through the room. Both men froze where they stood, and looked around, trying to pinpoint the source. The sound intensified, becoming a dull roar from all directions. Sound became light. Watson covered his eyes. As he opened them again, Sherlock's silhouette stood before him and beyond, a woman.
A transparent woman.
Watson could see the other side of the Reading Room behind her, well, through her. Dressed in a traveling suit of grey and blue, red hair loose, fallen down her shoulders, the woman looked as though she was trying to make out something that should be there but confoundedly wasn't. And she spoke, but no words from her mouth. As for her image, she looked like a photograph that had been developed, cut into strips, and poorly reassembled.
Watson tried to make sense of what he saw, and could not, taking much of the strength from his legs. He came up alongside Sherlock. "Is that a — a ghost? Sherlock?"
"No," he said. "It's a —"
The woman's voice boomed suddenly into being. "Is this thing on? Oh, yes. There they are." The expression on the woman's face went from annoyance to relief. Her arms went akimbo, and she said, "Time to play Princess Leia."
"Hey! That's not your usual freak."
John twitched, and stopped in mid-stride. Sergeant Donovan stood between John and the British Museum, manning the check point in front of the line of police tape and a battlement's worth of officers, and folded her arms. The look in her eyes was clear; she was going to make this difficult and she was going to enjoy it.
Holmes, craning his neck at everything in line-of-site on the street, didn't notice in time that John had stopped short and bumped into him. John stumbled forward.
"Traded up? Oh, he looks a bit old for you." She looked Holmes up and down. "Is he less mad?"
"He's not —" John started.
Holmes pushed John aside and flashed a brilliant smile. "A female police officer? How progressive." He went to reach for Donovan's hand, but she curled a lip and did not let him take it. Looking dejected for only a moment, Holmes bounced back and grinned.
"And, no," John said, answering her second question under his breath. John had known this was coming. Social mores had changed, well, a lot since Holmes's time.
"Progressive?" she said with a snarl. "What century are you living in?" To John, Donovan said, "Did you find him in the same Freaks Anonymous website that you found Sherlock? You could do better, you know."
"What is she implying, John?"
"Okay," John said. "We're here for Sherlock. He can't be here, so he's sent us."
"You were both here last night. Where's he now?"
"In hospital," Holmes supplied. "Nasty concussion."
"Not nasty enough."
"Look, Lestrade sent us. Okay?"
Donovan made a face, like she didn't quite believe John, but she lifted the blue and white tape and waited for both men to go under it and onto Museum property. John was still a little shaken at the bluff; no one had let just him onto a crime scene before without Sherlock. Best to make it a quick visit just in case his luck ran out.
"John, what was she implying?" Holmes asked again.
"Nothing. Come on."
They passed other officers and clean-up crews. Most of the local police officers were familiar enough with John that they said nothing, and they earned only a few looks from strangers who accepted their presence on site because others in uniform did. The Museum had been closed due to the attack, which police were saying had been some sort of terrorist cell.
Holmes tutted as he followed. "I see that gross under-appreciation for the sanctity of a crime scene has remained unaltered in a hundred years."
"Keep talking like that and they'll throw us out."
When they got to the Reading Room, John was able to convince the posted men to leave them to it.
"I am astounded at the number of policemen that your Lestrade directs," Holmes said after they had gone. He immediately bent over and started inspecting footprints in the dust. The Reading Room itself loomed strangely empty, its shelves bereft of contents, and the remains of the furniture swept away. Broken glass still crunched underfoot and John could taste the smoke in the air.
"Well, crime's a little bit different these days. Lots of it, for one thing." John tried to get a sense of where they had been standing, confusing as now they had no points of reference without the furniture, or guests.
"Crime is crime, a constant. From what I gathered from my education last night, you have decriminalized some matters and criminalized others." Holmes sniffed deeply, and then started to count out his paces in the room. He added, "Cocaine, for example."
"Oh, don't even start. Sherlock is clean, now, okay? Don't even. Just." John pointed his finger at Holmes. "Don't even."
Holmes put up both hands, and returned to his inspection. John did likewise, faintly annoyed, as he had no idea what they should even be looking for. How were they supposed to figure this out? How would they get Sherlock back?
A few silent minutes passed as they searched, then the sound of static crackled in the air, making John jump. "What the hell?"
Holmes rushed forward. "Where is that coming from?"
"I don't know. It sounds like … from here. Everywhere?"
Light coalesced in front of them, like a giant telly without borders had been switched on. In the center of the room there now stood a projection of a woman, dressed in period costume, and talking to someone over her shoulder. Her voice had started up mid-sentence. "— to play Princess Leia. Oh, we have the other set. I think we're ready, Doctor."
Donna stood besides the clock, hands on either side, gold and silver. "You think this is going to work?"
"Has to," the Doctor said. He scrunched up his face as he tinkered with his sonic screwdriver. "Can't get back to the T.A.R.D.I.S. if this doesn't work. Well, let's not dwell on that now."
"I think we should be dwelling. Especially since you haven't told me what's going on yet."
The Doctor kept well away from both Donna and the clock, keeping to the edge of the sphere that enclosed them. It glistened like a soap bubble. Beyond it, people moved jaggedly, frozen one moment, blurring forward in the next, then rewinding back again. Time inside the sphere ticked away normally, now that the Doctor was no longer touching the clock. Using only one hand at a time, she pulled the pins out of her hair, then took off the hat. Her red hair fell down to her shoulders, much more comfortable.
"In good time," he said. He twisted the sonic, then pointed at Donna, and the clock. The familiar whine of the screwdriver started up. "There, try now. It should be projecting your image into both dimensions. Both hands please."
"Is this thing on? Oh, yes. There they are." Two men appeared inside the bubble like a hologram to the left, both tall, one mustached. The mustached one looked frankly horrified, while the other narrowed his eyes and reached out — presumably at her. Donna laughed, a sound half relief and half delight. She put her other hand on the clock.
"Time to play Princess Leia. Oh, we have the other set," she said. "I think we're ready, Doctor."
The second pair, to her right, looked equally stunned. Both were shorter than their counterparts, and the dark-haired one rushed right up, becoming a head bobble until the other, the blond, pulled him back with a quick yank.
"What do I say, Doctor?" she whispered over her shoulder. "Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi?"
The Doctor, still pointing the sonic at the clock, suggested, "Introductions?"
"How am I supposed to explain you?" she grumbled.
The Doctor just glared at her over the top of his spectacles. "Don't. Just. Start."
"You're no help. As usual." She turned back to the four gentlemen and put on a bright, we-can-do-this smile. "Okay. Hi. I'm Donna. I suppose we should clarify who everyone is, since we have some duplicates."
"Originals," the tall, dark-haired one on the left said snidely, putting his hands in his coat pockets.
His companion with the mustache asked, "What is that, Sherlock?"
"A projection of some sort. More advanced technology," he said, then to Donna, "Are you the ones that have done this?"
"No, not us!" Donna said. "Not strictly speaking."
The blond one to the right looked puzzled, "Not us … what? Is there someone else there?"
His rather excitable companion asked the blond, "What miracle is this? Is this technology something known to you?"
"Not outside of a telly," the blond answered, still focused on Donna.
"No, it's not the telly," Donna answered. "It's real. And it's complicated."
The mustached man on the left asked, "What's a telly?"
"Donna, focus," the Doctor snapped. "Get them on the same page. Quickly. We've only got 48 hours left."
"I'm trying!" she said. "All right. Gentlemen, names please? And if I'm looking at you I'm speaking to you, if not, then I'm speaking to the others."
"What? Others?" the blond on the left said. "Sherlock? Are you there? Can you hear me?"
Donna turned to him. "No, he can't. But I can. Hear you. And him. Okay, names please?"
Everyone started talking at once.
Donna sighed. "I've gone from a school outing to a school teacher." She held up both hands and shouted. "Boys! Starting with you, Mr. Mustache. Who are you?"
He straightened up. "Doctor Watson."
"Doctor Watson. Right. Next?"
The man with his hands in pockets waited before answering, eyes narrow as they flicked back and forth, assessing her in a cold, off-putting manner. She stared back, wishing she could cuff him one.
Finally, he said: "Sherlock."
"Sherlock, okay." She looked to her right. "On to you blokes, then. Blondie. Who are you?"
"John," he answered, with a bit of a blush.
"John. Cute, too." This elicited a rolled eye from Sherlock on the other side, but Donna pressed on. "And lastly?"
"Holmes, at your service, Madam."
"And another Holmes. Okay. I think that's everyone. Right, Doctor?"
"Who's 'the Doctor' exactly?" John asked.
"The Doctor? Oh, he's with me," she said.
"No, you're not," the Doctor corrected. "You're with me."
"I'm sorry," Sherlock said testily, "but we possibly get on to what's happened. And how, and why?"
"Please, lets," the Doctor said.
"They're not going to believe me," Donna said over her shoulder. "I don't believe me."
"Considering their circumstances, they may be more flexible than you think," he replied.
"Okay. Okay." She took a deep breath. "As you've probably deduced — oh, I like that, deduced, ahem, anyways — you've changed places. Worlds. Sherlock Holmes. Holmeses."
"How?" This came from both of the Sherlock Holmes simultaneously.
"Yeah, how exactly?" Donna said, looking over at the Doctor.
"Well, near as I can tell," he said from behind her, "that's no ordinary clock. It's a Kranstaran Peace Treaty."
"A peace treaty?" she said. "You must be joking."
"No joke. And certainly not to the Kranstarans." The Doctor took off his glasses. "Kranstara VI was a world torn by two factions that had been at each other's throats for three centuries. A group of terrorists, lovely fellows really, built the Peace Treaty. Two halves of a doomsday device, each tied to the other. Apart, they are primed to explode; together, the bomb is diffused. They gave the heads of each faction the piece to the other's half and locked them in a room. They had seventy-two hours. If they couldn't agree, if they didn't 'piece the treaty' together, the bomb would go off. Destroy everyone, everything. Boom. No more Kranstara VI. Peace, one way or the other at last."
"Why wouldn't they just push it together, the second they were in the same room?"
"It was tied to their emotional states, like a lie-detector. If there had been any double-dealings, it would have triggered the device. They had to be absolutely sure."
"So who's our terrorist then? And why all did this happen?"
The Doctor jutted out his chin. "Well. Whoever it was keyed the device to me, and then set each half to phase out of this universe and into two others. All we have left is the shell. The shell is connected to the other pieces. I could use it to follow through into the parallel worlds but I can't touch the clock to go after them — speeds up the timer."
"A regular time bomb, eh?"
The Doctor shot a disapproving look at Donna.
"Please remember, Ms. Donna," Sherlock said, "that we are not privy to the discussion you are having with your partner. I need data! What terrorist? What bomb?"
"Partners? Oh, no, we're not together like that," she said.
"Boy, that sounds familiar," John muttered.
"Is yours a third universe, Madam?" Holmes asked. "Is your Doctor another Watson? Is there a yet another Sherlock Holmes?" Holmes looked positively delighted at the prospect.
"Oh? Ah, no. Not at all. Different kind of Doctor entirely."
"Focus!" Sherlock snapped.
"Yes, please," the Doctor said. "This is confusing enough already and time is running out."
"Bet you don't get to say that often," she said a little hotly. She did her best to convey the basics of what the Doctor had told her, and went on at enough of a clip that no one could interrupt her. "Both of you were stopped from touching the clock for long, right?"
"There was a man," Sherlock said. "Moriarty. Two Moriarties. Mine and this world's."
Watson frowned. "How do you know what our Moriarty looks — ah, the flat?"
Sherlock nodded. "His picture is everywhere."
"But he's dead," Watson said.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "Dead like your Holmes is supposed to be?"
Donna translated this to John and Holmes, who said, "Yes, I saw the two men as well. Moriarty, then another man, then Moriarty. Did you see him, John?"
John shook his head. "No. Only the explosion. And those guys, the security men." John appeared to struggle with something, and then he said, "They … wait, they were't … people, were they?"
"No," the Doctor said behind her. "They weren't. Damn."
Donna related this, up until the 'damn' part. "Damn? What do you mean, damn?"
"I'd hoped he was the only one in there."
"He who? In where?"
"Oh, this is taking too long. Have to risk it." The Doctor walked up and put his hand on Donna's shoulder. This must have registered in the two parallel words, as both pairs of men reacted with a start and turned their attention to where the Doctor stood.
"I thought you said your touch would speed up the clock?" Donna said.
"It will. A bit. Using you as a dampener."
"Remember how well dampeners worked for us last time?"
The Doctor huffed, and turned his attention to the four men. "Deepest apologies for getting you all involved, but someone who is after me has gone into your respective worlds to make sure you don't get the pieces back together. Each Sherlock Holmes has to bring their version of the clock back to the this spot, exactly. In forty-eight hours or less. If you don't, those bombs will go off, and they will take both your worlds with them. And this one. All three. Gone."
"What sort of man wields that kind of power over time and space?" Holmes asked.
"Well, you'd be surprised," the Doctor said.
Donna elbowed him.
The Doctor coughed. "His name is The Master. He's the only one who'd know what the Kranstaran Peace Treaty is, let alone how to get one and use it. Sounds like he's made some friends to help him in there. He'll do whatever it takes to stop you."
"If he's here, then he runs the risk of his own demise if we fail," Sherlock said.
"I don't think he's really there. I think it's a projection."
"Like this?" Sherlock said. "Like you?"
"Better than this, obviously. Leave to him to pick someone thematic to disguise himself as."
"But how will we find these clocks?" Sherlock asked. "He could have gone anywhere."
"He can't go that far. As a projection, he's still tied to this world and to his escape plan. But his men will be real enough."
John is looking as though he's still managing to keep up before he asked, "But they aren't real. The one I saw had … light coming from his eyes."
"Robots," the Doctor to said to John and Holmes. "Clockwork men," he said to Sherlock and Watson. "Dangerous, really, you can call them. As for finding the Peace Treaty….don't let go of the clock, Donna."
"Your mobiles, please. Hold them up."
Both Watson and Holmes looked at their respective accidental partners. John patted himself down to find his, while Sherlock, in one slinky move, withdrew his mobile and held it aloft. The Doctor took his sonic screwdriver, gave it another twist, and set it humming. Both men looked at their mobiles, alarm on John's face, cold interest on Sherlock's, until the sonic went silent.
"That should do it. Your phones can now piggyback on the electrical signature that the Master, or your Moriarty, is giving off, as well as his henchmen."
"Will the phone part still work?" John asked. "It's the only way we can communicate."
"I only have a half charge," Sherlock said.
"The cellular network will still connect you. Handy that. Still a tether between your two worlds I take it. As for you Sherlock, be sparing with the battery then. It's all I can do for you." The Doctor looked grave a moment, then cracked open a big, beaming smile. "But we're talking Sherlock Holmes here, THE Sherlock Holmes. The Holmeses! If anyone can do this, it's you boys."
"Your confidence in us is stirring," Holmes said, preening a little.
"Oh, don't flatter them," John said, looking to the ceiling. "They'll never shut up."
"How do you know about us, exactly?" Sherlock asked. "Are you from my timeline, or this one? Donna's clothes are period, but she is not. And you." Sherlock studied the Doctor from the other side of the projection. "Where do you come from? Doctor who?"
"Everyone knows about you," the Doctor said with a grin. "Okay, you boys have forty-eight hours. You have to get the pieces of the treaty and you must bring them back here. Once we have everything in place, we can set this right. You'll be returned to your respective times and there will be no explosions. All right?"
Donna pushed the Doctor aside and added, "If you find them before that, don't make us wait, either."
Static started to crackle along the edges of the two images.
"What's going on? Are we losing them?" Donna asked.
"We're getting interference," the Doctor said. He started to adjust the sonic screwdriver, the device making a high-pitched whine, just as the images of the miss-matched Sherlock Holmes and John Watson pairs began to flicker, and then fade out like a dying telly image.
The Doctor and Donna looked out in the empty space.
Donna exhaled. "Do you think they'll do it?"
"They have to. If they don't …" The Doctor pocketed the sonic screwdriver, and then wiggled his fingers and mouthed the word boom.
Chapter 4: Hunters Become The Prey
Watson watched the ghostly visage of the woman, Donna, look up at the Doctor. "What's going on? Are—re we losing them?" Her voice caught, not from emotion, but mechanically, like a phonograph stuck in a groove.
The Doctor, all traces of confidence gone from his face, furrowed his transparent brows, and said, "We're get — in — fer —"
The image, so recently summoned, vanished like a illusionist's trick. Watson found he had cried out, and his hand groped the air where the two strangers had been. Watson lowered his arm. "Have I lost my mind?"
"You're asking the man who didn't exist in this universe twenty-four hours ago?" Sherlock asked blandly. "Might not be the best plan."
When Watson turned around, he saw Sherlock cradling the device, his mobile as they called it. "Did he … can he do what he says he can do?"
"I don't know." Sherlock turned the mobile over a few times, as if trying to see how it had been altered, and then tapped lightly on the smooth glass for several seconds. Then he pushed a button at the top, and the device went dim.
"Don't we need that to find what we're searching for?"
"We do. But I only have enough battery power for another three hours. Can't waste it."
"Then how —"
"Our minds, Watson. We must observe, deduce, and when we are close, then we'll use the Doctor's gift."
"That's a terrible likeness of my late brother," came a voice from the doorway, "but you do have his methodology well grasped."
Watson and Sherlock turned in tandem. Mycroft stood in the doorway, hulking in his great coat, with his top hat in one hand and his walking cane in the other. He barely looked at Watson, but instead focused the whole of his attention on Sherlock as if he might lay him bare on an operating table and dissect him like a frog.
Sherlock, to his credit, stepped forward and never wavered in his gaze.
"He's is late, so I've heard," Sherlock said. "And I'm too early. Mycroft, is it?"
"A simple deduction, considering what I've already said." Mycroft appeared to notice Watson for the first time, and said to him, "I say, you've tired of Holmes already? This one looks a bit young for a replacement."
"I'm not a replacement," Sherlock snarled.
"Who is this man?" Mycroft said, all trace of his easy-going smarminess gone, replaced with stern admonishment. "He's was in yesterday's explosions and he's been to Baker Street, and with you and all, merrily arm-in-arm. What is going on, Dr. Watson?"
A pleased smile spread across Sherlock's features. "Oh, he's just as good."
Mycroft came alongside Watson and drew him away. "Where is my brother, dear Dr. Watson? He only been so recently remanded into your care."
"He's safe," Watson said. "But elsewhere." He shot a look at Sherlock, safely behind, who shook his head emphatically and mouthed, be careful. "This is … a friend of Holmes."
"I know all of Shirley's friends. And I'm standing beside them at the moment."
Behind, Sherlock's brows rose so high, his curly hair hid them entirely. Again, he mouthed to Watson, Shirley?
But Watson didn't have time to be outraged over Holmes's old childhood name on Sherlock's behalf since he had a better reason. "You saw his service," he said. "There wasn't an empty seat in the chapel. They had to turn people away."
"Full of colleagues and well-wishers for you, Dr. Watson. For you." Mycroft patted him on the lapel of his jacket.
"That's not true." Watson said, remembering the boxers, the members of the Homeless network, all of it. Holmes might not be the most graceful of social creatures, but those he impressed through wits and determination did not forget him or what he had done for them.
"I won't argue the point now," Mycroft said, then pitched his voice low. "Where is my brother?"
"Holmes is indisposed." Watson said with more emphasis, then gestured to Sherlock. "And he's the closest thing we have."
Mycroft returned his gaze to Sherlock the younger, who stood aloofly off to one side, utterly disinterested. "We do have a pressing case, Watson," he said. "We should be getting on."
"Do you trust him?" Mycroft asked quietly.
"As much as I trust Holmes," Watson said.
Mycroft left Watson and headed straight for Sherlock, gait like a bull as he held his walking stick like a club. "Then we shall have words, you and I, young man."
Sherlock raised his head a fraction, faintly annoyed at the height of Mycroft but clearly up for the challenge of an interrogation.
Watson wasn't sure which of them he should feel sorry for but was glad to leave them to it.
"So what did you boys talk about?" Watson asked as they stepped outside a secondary exit of Museum, one that opened onto a side street. The police force from the Yard had mostly cleared out. Only a few still clustered at the front of the building. The rest of the street was bare of foot traffic and slick from rain, which had stopped some time ago and been replaced by a thin fog.
Sherlock didn't answer, merely crooked a smile. "Shall we get a cab back?"
"All right, Shirley, don't tell me." Watson scanned the street, and was secretly pleased when Sherlock scowled at the remark. When he spied a cab and horses coming up down the south lane, he signaled to it. "How much did you tell him?"
"Enough so that he won't impede us."
"How about help us?"
Sherlock shrugged without looking at him.
"Will have to do," Watson said.
The black cab pulled up, horse tackle jangling and a cloud of cigarette smoke wreathing the driver. Sherlock sniffed appreciatively. Watson negotiated a fare, and opened the door. He waited for Sherlock to step up into the cab, but instead Sherlock stood stock-still on the street, his gaze fixed on something far away.
"How fast do these cabs travel?" Sherlock asked.
"As fast as horse and traffic allows."
"Let's hope it's fast enough." He gestured with his chin, and now Watson could see it, one of the men from the scene of Museum explosion, leaving the darkness of the building's shadow and stepping into the muddy gaslight of the street. The creature raised a pistol, and fired. The bullet skidded along the cobblestones five feet from the pair of them.
Sherlock hopped inside, and Watson followed suit, barking at the driver. "Baker's street, the long way, and fast!"
John was staring at his mobile, when the woman, Donna, her image pixelating like a bad download, turned around in the display and said, "What's g-going on? Are we lo—sing them?"
"No," John said, panic squeaking at the edge of his voice.
The Doctor spoke next, but without sound, until: "—re —ting interfer—"
The whole image collapsed in on itself, like an old telly dying out in one last digitized gasp.
"No!" John rushed into the now empty space, hands passing through air.
And that was it. Gone. Any connection to Sherlock, wherever the hell he was, gone. They stood in the utterly unremarkable, cleaned up wreck of the Reading Room, alone. "Shit." He stared at his phone, willing it to do something, and then he gave over to muttering and stalking around the floor. "Shit, shit, shit, shit."
Holmes blushed. "Language. Oh, it's a less civil world these days."
John rounded on him. "You shut it!"
"What? What did I say?"
"You have the same look that Sherlock gets, that 'who me?' look. Innocent as a lamb just before he says something completely obnoxious. So shut it!"
"Why would you ever say something so cruel? I am wounded, John. Wounded."
John blew out through his nose deliberately, trying to calm himself down. "Look, we don't have time for this. We have to get my Sherlock back!"
Holmes cocked his head, and muttered, "Interesting use of the possessive."
"What's that supposed to —" John's phone buzzed in his palm, then chirped a ringtone. He checked the message and exhaled. "It's Sherlock. Thank god."
Conserving battery power. Will check in every two hours.
Keep me appraised of all your movements.
Holmes leaned in close. "And?"
"He's … he's fine." John laughed a little. "As fine as he ever is."
"What does that mean?"
"Never mind. We have to — Oh." The phone started ringing. He answered before he even caught sight of the caller ID, and said, "Sherlock?"
He tried to hide the disappointment in his voice, and his slight irritation. "I didn't think you had this number."
Holmes mouthed Sherlock? beside him. John mouthed back Molly.
Holmes shrugged and returned to pacing the room with unspent energy.
"Gary gave it to me," Molly said. "I've been trying to ring Sherlock for hours. He's not picking up."
"He's, uh, his phone's died. What's up?"
"We found something. Well, Anderson did. They brought it here, but it's going to go back to evidence soon."
"What is it? Why would they bring it to the morgue?"
"They … they thought maybe I could help identify the owner. But I don't think. Um. Could you come by? Maybe bring Sherlock?"
"Bring … Sherlock?"
Holmes had bent over, and was busily running his fingers through various trails of dust and debris, tasting each one like a connoisseur and then spitting it out like a dock worker. Someone weirder than Sherlock? John had never thought he'd see the day.
"I'll bring the next best thing." John ended the call, and pocketed the phone. "Let's go then."
"Bart's. They have something in the morgue for us to look at. You done here?"
Holmes beamed. "Do you know how heartening it is to hear how much of your own world survives the ravages of time?" He wiped his hands on his trousers, and the pair headed for the exit.
"I wouldn't know." And, to be truthful, John hoped he never would. Or at least not to Holme's extent.
But something else was on Holmes's mind. He looked positively impish as he smiled. "So, Molly, Molly, Molly." And then: "Does Mary know?"
John froze in his tracks. "My what?"
"I know," Holmes said with sincere mystery as he brushed past John. "I don't understand it, either."
If Holmes had been bad in the cab, John thought he was going to have to leash him the moment they set foot in St. Bartholomew's Hospital. They had barely managed a straight path since they'd entered. It was like trying to hold back a beagle right before the sounding call of the horn.
"Try not to look conspicuous, Holmes," John begged for the tenth time. "Seriously. They will take you for a nutter and lock you —"
Holmes pressed his face against the thick plate glass of a screening room. "This is marvelous. Oh, if only Watson could see this!"
Two orderlies that John recognized and who knew him happened to be passing by with coffees from the canteen. They slowed their conversation and their stride, eyeing the pair of them with unconcealed curiosity.
The sign above the door read WARNING: RADIATION.
"I'm right here," John said, pitching it towards the orderlies along with a half-laugh. As soon as they had passed, John clamped onto Holmes shoulders and pried him away from the room. "Come on, now!"
Like a scolded pup, Holmes acquiesced and let John force march him down the corridor.
Molly was alone in the morgue. She looked visibly relieved when she saw John enter, then confused as Holmes swept in after him.
"Indisposed. This is … his Uncle. Mr. Holmes."
"Enchanté, madame." Holmes waggled his brows suggestively, and reached out for Molly's hand. Molly blinked twice, stuttered, and let him do so.
"Please," John said. "Enough flirting."
"He's not much like Sherlock, is he?" Molly said, pulling back her hand as delicately as she could.
"His stupendous loss, madame," Holmes said. "Clearly, you are far above your sex, to be so employed. How marvelous that Ms. Adler was not an anomaly."
Molly made that face, the one whenever Irene was mentioned, and John knew it was time to interrupt. "You said you have something for Sherlock? Can you show it to us?"
"Is he really not coming, then?"
Holmes shot John a guilty look, and John just answered, "Not right now, I'm afraid."
Molly looked a little crest-fallen, but then shrugged her shoulders. She lead them over to one of the tables where a cotton sheet, about four-foot square, was draped overtop an indistinct object. She looked at each of them a moment, and then pulled the sheet away. Beneath the cloth lay a completely articulated hand, palm facing upwards, fingers relaxed. It ended about an inch after the wrist in impossibly smooth skin.
"What is this? A sculpture?" Holmes got down to eye level with the table, eyes large.
"A prosthetic," Molly said. "Though better than I've ever seen made before."
"And …" John leaned over. "With no way to attach it to an arm."
"They found it in the debris from the Museum, along with a gun. Gary thought I might be able to ID the owner. A lot of prosthetics are registered. But I've never seen one like this." Her voice had taken on a weird tone, and John had a sneaking suspicion he knew why.
Holmes picked up a steel probe and began tapping the fingertips. When the probe alighted on the thumb, the entire thing flexed like a living hand, then relaxed again.
Molly squeaked. "Sorry. I should be used to that," she said, voice too high. "Except, they're normally still attached to an arm. And a body."
"I think I know what body this came from," John said. "Hey, could we x-ray it?"
"That's the other thing…" she said. She stepped around Holmes and reached for the forceps. Using them, she picked up the hand, its fingers twitching like spider legs, and dumped into the x-ray machine. It clattered into place, and she shut the door. John and Holmes crowded around the display, and when she flipped the switch, John couldn't believe his eyes.
"Is that an Oyster card?"
The cab jounced along the rain-wet cobblestones and the sound of the horses hooves pounding away were like repeating buckshot that drowned out the driver's curses. Sherlock knew he was upsetting the balance of the cab as he twisted out the window, but he had no choice. The man that followed them on foot was easily up to the task of keeping pace.
Perfect bodily symmetry. Beard, gone. Face, expressionless. Movements, mechanical. Robot? Confirmed.
In fact, the machine was gaining.
Sherlock shouted back to Watson in the cab. "He's still following!"
Watson, still inside, shouted back. "Is it clear on the street? Any bystanders?"
A small blessing that the streets were empty, but Sherlock suspected that anyone else would not be of interest to the machine that pursued them. Sherlock also knew that Watson's question meant he was preparing his gun. "No," Sherlock answered. He turned and said to the driver of the cab, having to shout over all the noise, "Don't be alarmed if you hear any gun fire."
When Sherlock settled back into the cab, he saw Watson, now armed, about to lean out his respective carriage window. Sherlock covered his ears.
Watson held his aim for several moments, cursed a blue streak that surprised Sherlock, and fired his gun. The noise was terrifically loud, even with his ears covered. The horses screamed after the shot was fired and the cab sheared across the streets as they made a hard turn. Watson bounced slightly, threatening to topple over. Sherlock reached out to grab him by the the back of his jacket, yanking him safely inside.
"Did you get him?"
Watson slammed into his seat. "No." He started to get ready for a second shot.
But Sherlock didn't give him time to finish. He popped his head out the carriage window to see the man, unharmed from Watson's shot, still running, but slowing down.
Slowing down? A robot showing signs of fatigue? Interesting.
Sherlock slid back into the seat of the cab. "I think we might be—"
The cab rocked, hard, and not from the horses or the road. A great weight had been thrown on to the carriage — no, leapt on — and now struggled with the driver. The gun fell out of Watson's hand as the cab righted itself, clattering to the floor of the carriage and firing off a shot in the floor.
"Retrieve the gun, please," Sherlock said, and climbed out on to the side of the cab as Watson protested from inside.
Outside, and hanging from the carriage, Sherlock confirmed two things. One, the first man had indeed stopped following. Sherlock saw the last of him, raising a gun as they rounded the corner, slowing down like a man in a video locked in a freeze-frame. And two, a second man had indeed leapt onto the carriage. Oversized hands clamped onto the shoulders of the driver, who screamed as he was lifted out from his seat, and dashed to the ground. The horses, now unguided and filled with primal terror, took off as fast as they might.
"Will need more than the gun," Sherlock shouted back to the cab as he hauled himself up to the carriage roof.
The — Sherlock didn't know what to call it, as none of the words that odd Doctor had used, clockwork man, robot, were in any way satisfactory — machine had latched himself with one hand onto the railing of the carriage. It turned.
Skin? Smooth, featureless, fake. Clothes? Functional, unadorned. Eyes? Glassy, irises fixed at unchanging size. Not human.
It lifted its free hand and reached out for Sherlock.
Sherlock jerked backwards, narrowly avoiding the hand. The carriage, about to take another sharp turn as they barreled towards a corner, started to lean again. The robot lurched forward, unperturbed as its gun fell out of its coat pocket and onto the ground. Sherlock tightened his grip on the carriage's trim, trying not to fall away. This time, though, the robot caught him. Fingers strong like steel vice-gripped his one shoulder.
Sherlock cried out in pain. "Assistance, Watson!"
The carriage righted itself with a bone-rattling crack. The robot pulled back, bringing Sherlock flush against the carriage, taking his breath with him. His fingers faltered, slipping off the carriage trim. He had just enough sense to be thankful, despite the pain, of the robot's untiring grip. His head lolled as he tried to get his lungs to pull in a new breath. Below, the wet cobblestones flashed by. Finally his lungs filled, the air heavy with smoke and the damp taste of the river Thames.
The robot let go of the carriage, his now free hand reaching out for Sherlock's face.
For a heartbeat, the waxy face disappeared, overlaid by that of Moriarty — his, not this world's. It flickered a moment, then faded back to wax.
Sherlock refocused his eyes just in time to see Watson pull up on the other side of the robot, revolver in hand.
The third shot exploded from the gun, catching the robot behind the left ear. Fatal for a man, but for a machine? No. Rubbery skin sheered away, showing the metal underneath the facade of a man. Watson, horrified, watched as the robot rounded on him. It let go of Sherlock, and turned around.
Sherlock grinned, hands gripping the carriage trim just in time. He hauled himself up onto the roof with a grunt. The robot had turned right around, and now reached for Watson, who just about to fire the gun again, until he caught sight of Sherlock.
Atop the roof, Sherlock could see the Thames snaking black up ahead alongside the road. He had no confidence that the horses wouldn't dash right over the side. "Watson, get the horses."
"When?" Watson shouted, dodging the robot's outreached arms.
Sherlock threw himself into side of the robot — heavy, wholly metal underneath it all — and pushed. The carriage flounced again, and Sherlock used the momentum and pushed with every ounce of strength he had.
The robot flailed, then fell forward. It tumbled over the front where the driver sat and crashed down to the cobblestone streets. The carriage ran right over him with a crunch.
"Now," Sherlock said. "If you please."
Grimacing, Watson pulled himself up the rest of the way onto the carriage and dropped into the driver's seat.
They were saying unspeakably strange things. Holmes did his best to try and keep up, but John and that woman, Molly, were talking excitedly now about oysters of all things.
"Not real oysters," John said. "Look, this is an x-ray machine. It let's us see inside the hand. And inside that hand is what we call an Oyster card. It's a pass that lets you on the Tube." John tapped the screen. Inside the hand there was an outline of a rectangle with a dark stripe along one side.
Holmes squinted at the image. "Tube?" he asked.
Molly shot John a look, as confused as Holmes must himself appear to her for not knowing what they were going on about.
"I'm not local to London," Holmes said apologetically.
"But," Molly said, "you have a London accent."
"Uh," John interrupted. "What would have it been called … oh, the Metropolitan?"
John smiled. "Yes. But, why would they need transport on the Tube?"
"They who?" Molly asked. "Do you know who this belongs to? Or belonged to?"
Those questions did not interest Holmes. He left John to it, and started to wander the laboratory. What a trove they stood inside of! All steel, and lights so bright they hurt Holmes's eyes. There was a Shelly-esque sense to the place, that any kind of creature might be built here with the advancements of the age. And the pair of them, John and Molly, walked past it all in utter disinterest.
Of course, such disinterest had its uses.
Holmes had about five different things pocketed by the time he made a full circuit of the room. He had no idea what any of them were for, but didn't doubt that he would figure it out later. He made his way to the door, looked out the pane of glass into the hallway. Empty. Holmes was halfway turned around, when someone knocked on the other side.
As a matter of course, Holmes opened the door, and said, "How can we be of assistance?"
"I'm looking for something that belongs to me," came the voice, smooth to start and then finished ragged at the edges. It sent a trill of threat from Holmes's ear all the way down his back.
Holmes looked upwards. Overlaying the expressionless, inhuman mask of the clockwork man was a flickering image of his Moriarty, with the well-trimmed ginger beard and cold blue eyes Holmes still saw in his most wretched nightmares.
"You are not he," Holmes whispered. "He is dead, dragged down into the Reichenbach by my own hands. You are a facsimile. An illusion. And a poor one."
"But I have your attention, don't I?" He raised a hand. Or, at least, a smooth stump where a hand should protrude from under his shirt cuff. "And now, what I came for: the hand, then you."
The image of Moriarty flickered and fled, just as the woman's had, leaving only a waxy visage in its place. The monster lunged at Holmes like a spring-loaded trap.
"John!" Holmes side-stepped the swipe. He scurried backwards, trying to get a table between him and the clockwork man.
John, at this point, was shouting. "Molly, take cover. Now!"
The clockwork man picked up a squat microscope and hurled it. Holmes ducked just in time as it sailed overhead and connected with the row of shelves against the one wall. Glass shattered, cascading down. Molly shrieked and fled to the back of the room.
"Sound plan," Holmes said. "And after that?" He started picking up random things off the table — beakers of liquid, trays of instruments − and started slinging them at the clockwork man, but it shrugged off any projectile Holmes threw at him.
"How about this?" John pulled out his gun.
The clockwork man was now on the other side of the laboratory tables, same as Holmes. Glass crunched to powder underneath every heavy step. There was nothing between them anymore. Holmes backed up carefully. "That will do."
"Hope so." John readied the gun.
Molly, paling considerably, stopped screaming and smartly headed for a closet in the back of the room.
Holmes yanked down a display case. It crashed on the floor between him and the clockwork man. "You may start shooting at any time."
"Or not shooting at all," Molly said as she closed the closet door behind her.
"She's right. Start shooting and we'll bring the whole hospital down on our heads. And then police." John relaxed his aim as he moved around to the other side of the table. "And then we have to explain you."
"Suggestions?" Holmes caught sight of the disembodied hand writhing inside the little machine. The clockwork man had paused, distracted by the movement. "Wait. I have one."
Holmes reached over, opened the door to the x-ray machine, and yanked out the hand. He narrowly missed getting grabbed by the clockwork man, who overreached and stumbled over the fallen display case. The disembodied hand clamped onto Holmes's own tightly. He yelped in response but considered it a blessing — he wouldn't have to think about holding on it, just surviving the pain.
"We should run," Holmes said through clenched teeth.
Concerned noises from the closet followed.
John hesitated. "What about Molly?"
"You know the answer already. It's me he wants, not her. And his hand." Holmes held the mechanical hand up in the air, getting the undivided attention of the clockwork man.
John nodded. "Right then."
John made it to the door first, and Holmes thereafter, finishing his loop around the bank of tables. The clockwork man appeared to be weighing his options, but as soon as John flung up the doors, it seemed settled; it lurched after them, faster than before now that the path was clear.
Holmes pushed John out of the room and into a thankfully empty hallway.
"Now what?" John said, tugging Holmes down the left corridor.
Behind them, the doors went flying, smashed off their hinges.
"Your turn, I believe."
"Great." John exhaled sharply, a sound so deeply rooted in impatience and sounding so like Watson that it cheered Holmes immensely, even given their current predicament.
"Think, John!" Holmes shouted as he kept watch on their pursuer. He tipped over a great blue bin, sending yards of debris, paper, empty cups, spilling onto the floor. "You still know this world better than I do! What can we use to stop a metal man intent on murder?"
John suddenly diverted their direction, heading left at an intersection of hallways. "Got an idea."
Chapter 5: With The Tools You Have
"God, he's heavy." Watson groaned as he and Sherlock tipped the limp and mangled form of the mechanical man into the Thames.
"Made of steel, innards of who-knows-what. Not surprising."
The body, if it could be called that, sank quickly with a gurgle. An arc of electricity crackled out of its chest as it went under. Sherlock leaned over the edge of the road, watching it disappear.
"You look disappointed." Watson said. It was well past midnight now, and Watson felt the familiar ache seeping into his bad leg. He stole a glance at Sherlock, who, just like Holmes, appeared like he could go on like forever. Damn him.
"Would have been interesting to cut it open. See how it works."
"Except for the 'it was still blinking' part." Watson suppressed a shiver. "Damned closed to vivisection, if you ask me."
"And we don't have time." Sherlock turned his coat collar up. "To the flat. I have to think. And smoke."
After they'd made sure that the cab driver was all right (and he was, mostly, save for a broken arm and two cracked ribs sustained in the fall), they stuck to the side streets and made their way back to 221B. Sherlock had remained stony-silent all the way, letting Watson take the lead. Watson tried his best to choose only the streets with the least traffic and his reward was that they made back to the flat without incident and without being followed.
Once inside, Sherlock went straight to the mantle of the fireplace and procured a cigar box hidden from a secret cache as if he had put said item there himself. Watson watched him carefully, letting out a small breath when Sherlock passed over a collection of coca leaves and instead went for the pipe and tobacco.
"I know the general methodology," Sherlock said in long drawl, "but I have no practical experience. Would you mind?"
Watson nodded, and assisted with the pipe. "Forgotten art, is it?"
"Just different." Sherlock drew in a puff, coughed slightly, but then nodded. Blue-grey smoke circled Sherlock. Watson went off in search of strong drink.
When he returned, whisky in hand, Sherlock was right where he'd left him, puffing away, looking more agitated with every inhalation. Watson lit a small lamp, and asked, "Thoughts?"
"Many." Sherlock started to pace.
Watson, knowing what would come next, found a comfortable chair. Silence stretched out between puffs of smoke and sips of whiskey. Watson watched this Sherlock turn over everything had happened to the pair of them since they'd met in the crucible of that genius mind of his.
Sherlock was the first to break the silence. "Why come after us?"
"Why come after us at all?" Sherlock gestured to the window. "They can only have two possible plans of action: keep the clock away from us, or kill us."
"Well, looks like they're giving both a good try."
"Are they? Would it not make sense to just run with the clock, fast as you can? So long as we don't have it and have no way of finding it, all they have to do is keep running. Eventually the time runs out. They're machines, literally tireless men, they could easily outlast —" He trailed off, stared into space.
When nothing else came out of him, Watson felt compelled to speak. "Well, that woman and that doctor said he was a projection. Perhaps his source is that … other world? Perhaps they can only go so far?"
"That," Sherlock said, "is quite right, I think. But, beyond that, they do tire."
"The robots. They're built from the materials of this world, and so have this world's limitations." He looked at Watson eagerly, waiting for him to make the leap, and when he didn't, went straight on like the evening train. "Energy, Watson. They need power. The first one we saw at the Museum. It started after us, but then slowed. Not because the chase was futile. Oh, no. But because it was nearly out of energy."
"So, you're saying that they'll eventually run down? Like a wind-up?"
"No. Yes." He waved the pipe around, not even smoking it any longer. "Why make something that will run down? If he couldn't built a battery that would last for three days, and considering the technology he has at his disposal in this time that would seem unlikely, he would need some way of charging it. These machines were built here, that means they must be powered here."
"Well, they aren't running on gas, surely?"
"No. Electricity. But how? Where are they going to get that kind of power to recharge?"
Silence again. Sherlock moodily returned to his pipe, Watson to his whisky.
"Wait," Watson said. "Ferranti."
"Ferranti. And his power station. It's on the Thames. Just went live earlier this year."
"A power station? Voltage?"
Watson scratched his mustache. "Not sure. Hold on." He rose stiffly from his chair and headed over to Holmes's nest of documents, moving from pile to pile. He followed a single red line all the way to the wall in his old office, which had been papered over with hundreds of clippings. Sherlock fell in behind him. It took some searching, but he found what he was looking for, pinned between a photograph of Moriarty and an article on a double murder.
"There," Watson said, tapping the newsprint.
Sherlock politely but firmly pushed Watson aside. "Deptford Power Station," Sherlock said as he skimmed the contents and read bits aloud. "10,000 AC current, generating 800 kilowatts, with distribution cables to supply central London. Smokeless electricity. Oh, perfect." He said the last part with a snigger, then tore the article off the wall.
"We have a lead, then?"
Sherlock grinned. He was halfway out the flat before Watson could even grab his coat and cane.
What do you do with a man made of metal? Keep it away from people, don't use your gun. But what else? Come on, John. Think!
The question ran through John's head as haphazardly and desperately as John and Holmes themselves ran down the corridors of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. And when the idea hit him, mad and stupid as it was, he had no other choice but to go with it.
"Got an idea." He had to think quickly. How would they get to that room from here? "Hurry up, Holmes!" John turned sharply, grabbed Holmes by the lapel of his coat and careened them both down the left corridor.
"You have a plan?"
"I have the start of a plan," John said, running hard.
The robot made the turn by crashing into the T-intersection and crumbling the plaster of the wall. It shook off the dust, and corrected course.
"You don't sound confident." Holmes staggered and looked down at the hand which had a death-grip on his own.
"I'm not," John said, "but it's the only plan we have, unless you've got any."
Another frantic few minutes of running flat out, and John saw what he was looking for.
"What's an M. R. I.?" Holmes asked, reading the sign as they passed it.
John couldn't be more grateful to see the place empty. He shouldered in through the double doors, and propelled Holmes forward. He kicked down the door stops to keep the doors open, then entered the laboratory proper.
Holmes stood stunned at the size of the thing, gawking at the round cylinder and the sliding bed that lay perpendicular to the chamber.
"It's an imaging device," John said.
"Like the …X. Ray?"
"Yes, but magnetic."
Holmes spun on his heels, eyes wide with sudden comprehension and utter delight. "You don't say."
The robot almost passed the door, then stopped in mid-stride and stared into the room.
"Holmes," John said, pointing to the back of the room. "Get to the back of the scanner, and get that hand ready." He stepped out of line of sight of the robot, towards the control panel.
"Like this?" Holmes was positioned at the head-end of the scanner, and had risen his hand, and the robot's, in the air.
"Yup. Stick your hand in the hole. And pull it when I tell you. That's really important, Holmes: pull it out when I tell you."
Holmes was just about to do so, when he hesitated. "Or what?"
"You'll see," John said, dropping his voice to a whisper.
The robot staggered into the room, arms sweeping the air wildly. Just as John thought, it only had eyes for Holmes. The moment it recognized Holmes, and where he was, it ignored John completely. Holmes reached out through the opening, and the robot lunged after the bait. John ran forward, crunching his good shoulder into the robot and sending it belly-first onto the MRI's scanning bed.
John groaned with the pain, but bounced back to the controls and flipped the switch. "Pull out!"
The machine started to hum before John could turn around. Holmes, to his credit, had yanked out his hand so fast that he had thrown himself into the back wall. The robot, really to lift itself up and go around, suddenly found itself incapable. As the MRI came online fully, the robot, pinned against the inside of the scanner, lifted the one good hand up to push itself out and found that pinned, too. John could only watch as its face collapsed in on itself, contorted as though screaming, even though no more sound came from it.
Holmes, meanwhile, was shouting.
John shook himself out of it and rushed to the back of the scanner. Holmes had pulled his hand out in time but the hand had clanked on to the back of the scanner. For a heartbeat, John thought Holmes's hand ruined, but he was merely cradling it; the robot's hand had let go and, pinned where it was, flexed weakly then stopped moving.
"That … is a powerful machine," Holmes said shakily.
"The robot, or the MRI?"
John did a quick assessment of Holmes's hand and, when sure he was fine, dragged Holmes out of the room.
"Where are we going?" Holmes had been willingly lead for the first little while, but as soon as they were out of St. Bart's, John could not get him to shut up. Was all he could do to keep him following as John forged ahead down King Edward street, then up to the St. Paul's underground entrance.
"Down. The Tube." John pressed passed the afternoon crowds, frantically trying to find the Tube entrance. "This way, come on."
Outside the entrance, John opened up his mobile, and started texting.
Mycroft. I've left you a present in St. Bart's MRI room and I would suggest unwrapping it sooner rather than later.
John was faintly worried that he hadn't yet received any text from Sherlock, but assumed he still had his mobile turned off to conserve battery. At least John's update would be waiting for him.
I think we've got a lead on the location. We're heading to the Tube. What about you?
John wanted to say more, say a lot things. Stupid things. Stupid, because they would get Sherlock back, and it wouldn't need saying. And besides, Holmes was hanging over his shoulder watching him type every word. He closed the text window and searched for the signal the Doctor had wired into the mobile.
"Why the Tube?"
"The Oyster card," John said, feeling a little bit pleased with himself. "You use it to get onto the Tube. And the Tube connects all of London. If you need to get around quickly, and to not be spotted, you take the Tube. With that card set into their hands, they can come and go as they like."
He waved the phone around, and sure enough, the started to beep helpfully as he pointed it towards the Tube. "All right, we're going in."
The grey light of the false dawn made the silhouettes of London's buildings strange company as Watson stepped out of the cab. They were a good distance away from the Deptford Power Station yet, as Sherlock was keen to scout the area before they arrived. Sherlock was already afoot, scanning the street whose path mirrored that of the Thames. The black river quarreled with the shoreline, rolling and frothing, while the odd ship drifted past in the weakening darkness. The power station loomed ahead, a robust, multi-story building on the edge of the Thames, belching black smoke from both its two chimneys.
Watson sent the cab driver on, then hustled to catch up. Sherlock had stopped short in his path and turned around. Watson could tell that Sherlock was about to grumble out something caustic, but then his gaze dropped down to Watson's cane, and Sherlock pressed his lips tightly together.
"It bothers you, having to slow down," Watson said as he came alongside him. "Your John's a little more nimble I take it."
Now side by side, Sherlock returned to the path. "His injury was psychosomatic. Yours is not."
"Well, don't worry. It's never held Holmes back, and we've been doing this for years."
A strange emotion passed across Sherlock's face. Then he said, "Will you miss it?"
"Haven't had a chance to yet," Watson said despairingly. "I don't think I'll ever be done with Holmes. I don't think he'll let me."
Sherlock smirked darkly, but as soon as Watson said the words, he regretted uttering them, feeling unfaithful. "That's not fair, I suppose. If he was really so miserable, I wouldn't have put up with him all these years. I will miss it, the work." He paused, then added, "And him."
"Don't worry. You'll get him back."
As they neared the power station, they passed ever larger outbuildings and could pick out the odd figure moving about. Guards, most likely, on the night shift, their lanterns bobbing along in front of them. Sherlock indicated a side-path, and Watson followed.
Once in the safety of an outbuilding's shadow, Sherlock turned on his mobile. Crisp light appeared in the palm of his hand, a marvel that Watson had yet to tire from, followed by several soft chirps.
"John's got a lead," Sherlock said.
"And so do we." Sherlock held up the mobile. Watson couldn't make heads or tails of whatever it was he was trying to show him, and his expression must have said as much. "I had to save the battery," Sherlock said, "but now that we are close enough we mustn't hoard it any longer. The device the Doctor spoke of is here, as are the rob—clockwork men."
"Let's get on with it, then. How much time do we have left?"
"Enough. If we're lucky."
They slipped behind the stables, empty at this hour, and threaded their way between equipment sheds, storage houses, and piles of reclaimed wood and metal scrap. They neared the fence that surrounded the plant proper along the side without the main entrance gate. Sherlock cupped his hands together and Watson obligingly put his foot in and took the boost over the top. From there, he hauled Sherlock up and they both dropped down inside.
The land surrounding the factory was compact earth, muddy in places, but free of debris. Great piles of coal were alongside the building, and on the side of a river there was a launch large enough to receive two ships. They ran to the wall, seeking the safety of the deeper shadows, and then made their way to the nearest closed door. Locked, of course, but the younger Holmes make short work of it, and soon they were inside.
The door they had found opened into a plain set of corridors, but soon they were in a great inner chamber, several stories high and filled with monstrous machinery. Great beasts of black steel, the size of train engines, filled the warehouse floors. Overhead, cables and iron walkways criss-crossed one another, and the smell of grease and coal coated Watson's tongue. The whole vision of it prickled his skin — the future, or at least for Watson, and, God willing, his Holmes, too. Yet it was the past for Sherlock, the distant past, as unremarkable and as crude, Watson thought, as a stone ax must look like to the man that wields a pistol.
But, no. "A cathedral of industry," Sherlock whispered, with an appreciative nod.
Something hard rang off metal in the darkness, just as Sherlock's phone chirruped, this note sounding more like a warning than before. They both stopped mid-stride, Sherlock palming the phone against his breast to snuff out the light. He put his finger to his lips, and darted under a suspended gear. Watson followed.
Metal slammed metal again, this time followed by the sound of a nut falling away to the floor. More banging. Metal groaned under the strain of new pressure, the sound like nails on a chalkboard. Sherlock motioned ahead, and Watson had no choice but to follow, ducking under gears and pipes that radiated heat. It sounded for a moment that they were moving away from the noise, but a second racket began just to the right of them. Sherlock tried to change course, the double bells of metal clanging in their ears, when the pipe above them gave way with a crack.
Watson yanked himself back from an eruption of scalding-hot steam with a shout. All he could see what Sherlock's foot disappearing into the steam. Watson called out after him, but no answer came. He could only hear the banging of metal, all around him now, and the whistle of steam escaping from broken pipes.
John rifled through his pockets, trying to find enough change for both of them for the Tube. They were holding up the queue. Holmes leaned over his shoulder, watching John hunt through lint-filled pockets and then the inside of his jacket.
"Wouldn't an Oyster card built into your hand be useful now?" he said.
"Not that far into the future. Yet," John said. At last, enough pence. He dropped in the fare for them both, and pushed through the turnstile. Holmes balked until John responded by grabbing him by the collar and hauling him through. The queue behind groaned in relief.
They headed down the escalators, which ended in curved tiled walls, waypoint signs and would-be passengers milling about a typical Tube platform.
"Will we be riding on the train?" Holmes asked, a mix of trepidation and hope in his voice.
"Not sure yet." John used the phone just like a compass, following the signal through those waiting on the platform. They paid little attention to John, but Holmes kept getting distracted, and more than one person was giving him the eye and moving away cautiously.
"If you keep turning round like that, your head will pop clean off your neck."
"I daresay if our positions were reversed, you would be doing the exact same. So many things to see, people, objects, technology. To you this is nothing. To me, ah, what clues your future offers!"
"Yeah, it's brilliant." John looked up from his phone. "Damn." They were standing at the far end of the Tube platform. The rest stretched out to the right, another fifty feet of waiting passengers facing the tracks. To John's immediate left, the white tile ended, leaving only the gaping hole for the train itself, disappearing into darkness save for a few emergency lights.
"What's wrong? Has it stopped functioning?"
"No. It's just telling us to go somewhere we can't."
"No, really. It goes off into the tunnel. And not just on a train, either. It turns off up ahead well before the next station."
Wind hissed out from the tunnel, and a low whistle followed. John tugged at Holmes, pulling him away from the edge even though Holmes was not that close. The crowd surged forward automatically as the train burst forth and braked on cue. The doors slid open and the commuters entered, emptying the Tube platform of all but the two of them. The train doors shushed closed, then pulled ahead, the manufactured wind tugging at their hair and clothes as the train departed.
Holmes watched the train leave, then looked down to the tracks below. "How frequently do they travel?"
"Dunno. Every ten, twenty minutes?" John scanned the area. "There has to be an access hatch, or hallway, or something."
"Best be quick about it!"
John turned around just in time to see Holmes jump over the side.
"Jesus Christ! Holmes! What are you doing?"
He was halfway gone in the darkness of the Tube tunnel, and shouted back, "Being quick about it!"
"You're going to get me killed!" John said, then sighed. "And that's Sherlock's job." John watched helplessly from the edge of the platform. He couldn't even see Holmes anymore.
"Time's ticking!" came the echoing reply.
"Too right." John couldn't believe it, but here he was, sliding onto his arse, and tipping off the platform's edge down onto the tracks. "Wait for me—no, scratch that, hurry up! Look for a side passage, a door. Something!"
John couldn't see his own arms pumping the air. All black, except for one far off emergency light way down the track. No help at all. And he couldn't see Holmes, only hear him up ahead, pounding on the gravel as he ran.
From Holmes, a breathless shout. "I think I've found some—"
Whatever else he might have said got cut off by what sounded like a metal door being yanked open. How far had they gone? The emergency light had gotten larger, but was still a ways off. John reluctantly came to a stop, not wanting to linger in the empty tunnel, but needing to check his phone. No cellular service, but the Doctor's detector was doing mad things.
The emergency light disappeared from John's peripherals. He looked up. A silhouette eclipsed the emergency light.
Two smaller points of light opened at eye level not four feet from John's face.
"Shit!" John lunged sideways, reaching out with his left hand to find the wall, and started running flat out. He ran his hand along the wall, feeling nothing but smooth, cold tunnels, trying to keep steady on the gravel as he ran. Behind him, something bulky but fast changed directions and followed after him.
"Holmes! Where are you?" God, he wanted to pull out his gun. But a bullet in here? Who knows where a shot would end up.
He had his answer three seconds later. Four bursts of light from behind him, bullets firing wide.
"Hurry, John!" Holmes's voice came out echoing and far off.
"What do you think I'm doing?" John, breathing hard, barely got that out, and wanted to scream more than anything, but his hand suddenly fell away and he toppled into a side passage. Muttering incomprehensible prayers of thanks, he let his body tumble into the new space, falling into a crouch a few feet inside the passage. Maybe, John thought, if I am quiet, and still, he'll go right past. Could I be that lucky?
The sound of something shuffling past the entrance made John hold his breath until he felt like he'd turn purple. But past it went, lumbering up ahead further down the tunnel.
He was just about to laugh, when he heard the footfalls of someone down a ways in the side passage. He squinted into the darkness, and saw two more pinpricks of light zigzagging back and forth with every step.
"No," he said under his breath. "I couldn't."
Or could he? It was lumbering along at a steady pace, and hadn't drawn a gun. Maybe it hadn't seen him yet?
John was only going to get one chance. He pushed himself up off the wall and got to his unsteady feet. Behind, the wind started to pick up in the main tunnel, surging forward, and a shaft of light became brighter and brighter.
"I hope to God you're not in that tunnel, Holmes," he said, taking one step back towards the tunnel before he flashed the light from the mobile at the oncoming creature.
It surged forward, mindless, intent on its goal. John waited to the last second to bend over. The creature, racing forward, hit John, but his momentum and center of gravity propelled him over John and into the tunnel. John felt like he'd been hit by a footballer, and fell onto his belly on the cement floor of the passage. He looked up just in time to hear one horrible smash and then see the creature be swept away by the train. The squeal of breaks followed, earsplitting, and John huddled in the passage, waiting for it to pass.
This was very not good, and Sherlock could only count on it getting worse.
He had shouted to Watson, but no answer. Steam fenced him in to the left and behind. Ahead, black iron pipes too hot to touch. He couldn't hear a damn thing anymore besides the high pitched whistling of steam and sweat trickled off the back of his hair. He pulled off his scarf and wrapped it around his left hand, making the pipes safe enough for now. He headed right, the only path left for him.
More clanging, the wrenching sound of pipes coming away from their moorings. Soon enough, the entire warehouse floor had been turned into a maze of pipes and blistering steam. Sherlock kept low, avoiding what he could. He didn't dare shout out for Watson now, instead watching for the movement of the mechanical men, impervious to heat as they took crowbar to pipe after pipe.
Shots rang out, far the back and the left. Watson, surely. Could he get back there? How? He had only a moment to think before he could hear laughter. That laughter, high and musical and full of menace.
Sherlock ducked under a suspended gear, getting so close to one geyser of steam that he could feel the heat even through his shielded hand. On the other side he found wrought iron staircase that opened downwards into a cement sub-structure. Light, bright and fluid, came from somewhere down below.
Sherlock leaped down the stairs, using the railing to guide his way down and landing hard on both feet. He could see the source of the light now, two mighty tesla coils connected to the network grid with hundreds of wrist-thick cables. Between them and off-set towards the back of the chamber, a smaller metal enclosure — a Faraday cage. Inside, the silver half of the Kranstaran Peace Treaty.
"Tesla coils?" Sherlock said into the gloom. "You're a few years early for these to be period."
The lightning snapped in the air hungrily, arcing between the coils and the cage.
"Faraday's fair game," came the disembodied answer. "Besides, I've not let anyone close to see what's really down here to worry about breaking continuity."
Two figures stepped forward into the dubious shelter of the coils, more mechanical men. Lighting leapt towards them both, and each reached out to place a hand against the coil. Once the connection was made, both went rigid. It was too much to hope that they were being incinerated; as Sherlock watched he could only come to the horrible realization that they were recharging themselves.
"I'm here now," Sherlock said.
And then the flat answer in that Irish lilt: "So what?"
The eyes of both machine men opened like high beams. As one, they turned to the center of the room and light poured out of them, giving shape to a hologram. It looked like Moriarty — his Moriarty, complete with a Westwood suit and reptilian smile — but his voice still came from everywhere and no where at the same.
"You think you're going to walk over there and take it?" he asked.
"Why do you wear his face?" Sherlock still kept to the edge of the room. While most of the lightning circled the two henchmen and the rest still arced lazily towards the cage, Sherlock didn't want to risk it.
"Why shouldn't I?" Moriarty sniggered. "You want to see my real one?"
"I want to see the real you," Sherlock said.
"Can't do that. I'm not even here. I'm in my own ship above the Earth, waiting for the planet to explode. I've got popcorn. See?" The hologram Moriarty shrugged and was replaced by a smarmy looking blond man tossing a piece of holographic popcorn in the air. He caught it in his mouth as it came down, crunched it noisily. "But who I really am and what I really want is irrelevant, isn't it? Wouldn't you like to be fighting your nemesis, anyways? Perhaps you'd like the local variety?"
Sherlock, half-way through memorizing every detail of the newly realized image, hissed as the image switched away. The Moriarty of this world, the leering professor with his ginger beard and university gown, appeared in his place.
"Besides, I'd rather stay in character," the projection said. "Helps me remember my lines."
"Is this just a play for you?"
The image reverted back to the Moriarty Sherlock knew, and squealed with laughter. He clapped his now empty hands together. "Oh, that's so rich! And you don't even know why!"
Sherlock twisted his head slightly, a new noise suddenly on the edge of his perception. He strained to hear it over the crackle of wild electricity. He wasn't sure at first, but then … yes. Running water.
Condensing steam. Resulting water will flow down to lowest point.
Keep him talking.
"You're not Moriarty. The Doctor called you 'The Master'."
"Well, he would. I suppose that he is my Sherlock Holmes, and I am his Moriarty. So, you understand. The face, the plot." He looked almost nostalgic. "We've been doing this a long time, he and I."
"Centuries," he said, voice like ice.
"I don't believe you."
"Don't have to. If this can't convince you," he said, shrugging his shoulders and looking around at the Faraday cage, the coils, and the robots to either side of him, "nothing will. Again, though, you're not supposed to understand. You're only human. You're just here to die."
"Someday," Sherlock said, mad grin wrenching his mouth as the water began pouring down the concrete steps. "But not today." Sherlock turned on his heels and started up the stairs.
"What? You're going to run? What kind of hero are you?" His words, twisted by shouting, followed Sherlock up the stairs, but all strength in them vanished, and funny sort of laugh came up. "Oh, dear."
Sherlock had just made it up and out of the stairs and onto safe ground when he heard the tesla coils explode.
This time, he really did black out.
Holmes couldn't lie about it any longer — he was having an amazing time of it all.
Yes, he had lost John, and having a John Watson around was part of the fun, but he was sure John would turn up just in the nick of time in that reliable Watson way. If Holmes could navigate this half-mad future, surely a man of his time and as competent at John would be perfectly fine.
At least, this was what Holmes kept telling himself.
He had found a doorway, closed, locked. No time and not enough light to work at the lock now, he pressed on. He found the passage beyond it, and was shouting as much to John, when he heard the sound of a metal door being yanked open, somewhere behind him. Likely the one he could not open earlier.
And whatever came out of it was heading back the way Holmes had just come. John's direction.
John's last order was to find a passage and Holmes had. Seemed sensible to see where it went. Sensible, if not pressing.
He'd have to trust John could manage on his own. For now.
Holmes blindly may his way along the passage, this one much narrower than the tunnel he had left. His hands stretched out to either side and was that — yes, a faint red light ahead, and the world EMERGENCY written on it.
"Well, I do believe this qualifies."
As lightly as he could, Holmes sprinted towards the light and found himself at intersection. He hesitated only a moment; there was a clear buzzing sound coming from the westward passage, a faint rippling of light and shadow. He was just about to turn down it, when he heard the sounds of heavy footfalls, sort of like steel-toed boots, coming from another passage. But he knew from the sound — heavy steps, no speed variance — that it was not a man wearing boots, or a man at all. Holmes fumbled through his pockets, needing something small, stone-sized in order to throw down a different hallway, and found a small metal tube, one of the many things he'd pinched from the laboratory. He hurled it down the way he'd just come. It bounced and clattered along, and then a dot of red light appeared, bouncing alongside.
He marveled for a second, then turned and padded up the hallway, heartened to hear the metal man continue down the path Holmes had laid for him. Holmes continued as quick and quiet as he could in the other direction.
The clicking sound of ungrounded electricity grew louder, and so did brightness of the light. He crept up a half flight of stairs, and found himself staring into the strangest sight of his life, even granted all the strange things he had seen in just these last two days.
Two great metal poles grew out of the ground, topped with mushroom-like coils. They crackled and snapped with raw electric power, the charge in the air apparent all along the hairs of his body. Two metal men stood alongside either of them, utterly still. Beyond, there was a cage, which he recognized as one based on Faraday's models. Inside, the golden clock, the second half of the Kranstaran Peace Treaty. Holmes swallowed hard as lightning zapped back and forth between the cage and two coils. Master power switches, including ones labeled back-up, were set into the wall behind. The rest of the room was given over to gages and televisions, each showing a series of repeating shots, train after tunnel after train. In front of the televisions were were several swivel chairs and in the center one, projected from the light pouring out of the two clockwork men was Moriarty.
His Moriarty, robed as the professor he was, sat with his fingers steepled and inclined head just so, as if he was receiving a recalcitrant pupil. "My dear Holmes. That took you a great of time. I'm disappointed." His mouth twitched at the last word, then replayed the last sentence as though he hadn't spoken it at all.
Holmes stopped hiding in the doorway, popped into the room. A recording? No. Interference. Like before. But from what? The Doctor?
"Repeating yourself in your old age?" Holmes said. He loosened his ascot and dabbed at his forehead, affecting playful disinterest. "How terrible. Of course, for being dead you look quite well."
There was a pause, and Moriarty inclined his head the other way, as if listening to something Holmes could not hear. "It seems Mr. Ferranti's power station was not the safe hold I thought it was." Directing his attention fully on Holmes, he rose from his seat, as much as a projection could rise. "You know quite well that I am not your Moriarty. It's seems the Doctor has been talking."
"My good friend, Dr. John Watson?" Holmes wondered how long he could play this out. He sidled towards the walls. "Why, he's right behind me. With his revolver."
"Do you really think a simple pistol can harm me? Or my men?"
"I don't have to harm you. I just have to stop you."
"And how will you do that?"
There was the sound a horrible crash from far away, and a second. The screech of a banshee followed, so loud that Holmes put his hands to his head and fell to his knees. The metal men did not react, but Moriarty did, wheeling around to look at the screens behind him.
"I don't have to do anything," Holmes said, throat dry. "Dr. John Watson will."
The lights flickered, and then every watt of power arcing between the coils and the cage died. Everything went dark, Moriarty included.
Holmes prayed as he ran across the room that he remembered where all the right switches were.
Chapter 6: Home Again, Home Again
When Watson found Sherlock, soaking wet and face down on the concrete slab above the stairs, he thought for sure Sherlock was dead. He kneeled down, felt around for a pulse and when he found it he breathed a prayer of thanks.
"Come on, old boy. We've better places to be. Least you do."
He hauled Sherlock onto his back and fished out a small vial of smelling salts from his pocket kit. He waived it under Sherlock's nose, and after a moment he inhaled and recoiled.
"Where — what —"
"You tell me." He hauled Sherlock up onto his feet, but the second he let go, Sherlock started to fall again. "Are you injured?"
"Leg. Left. Twisted it." He sagged, then pulled himself upright with Watson's help. "Damn."
"Guess you'll be slowing me down, eh?" Watson peered down into gloom where Sherlock had come from. "Did you find it?"
Sherlock nodded. "Downstairs."
By the time they had made it back to the Museum, dawn had crept into the edges of the world and Sherlock was managing fairly well with Watson's cane.
"How did you handle the last one?" Sherlock asked.
"Still had my gun. It was a near thing, though. You?"
"Talked him to death."
Watson burst out into a laugh, which got him a genuine smile from Sherlock.
Didn't last though. Sherlock had gone back to his mobile for the tenth time. Each time he checked and found nothing, his frown burrowed deeper into his face.
"Still no word?"
"Perhaps his … battery died?"
Sherlock did not answer.
"I'm sure he's fine," Watson said. "I'm sure they're both fine."
Sherlock nodded without conviction, but did not look Watson in the eye. "Fine."
They stood alone in the room, in the same spot where Donna had appeared last time. They had been standing there for thirty minutes.
"Sherlock, one thing." Watson had not intended to say any of what came out of him now, but here it was. This would be his last chance. "Just, if I have any advice to give, knowing what I know of Holmes and what I think I might know about you and John, it's this. Understand what it costs him, to be with you."
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't play daft." Watson sighed. "You're not good at it, either."
"Costs him?" Sherlock bristled. "Costs him what? Flat in the heart of London, no more limp, no thanks to his therapist, the end of his nightmares from the war, and more adventure than any man could —"
"I'm not talking about that!" Watson said, finding himself shouting. Why was he shouting? "I'm talking about the sacrifices I — he will have to make."
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, becoming almost serpentine with contempt. "Like what?"
Sherlock scoffed. "He has those."
"On your schedule. What about family?"
"He doesn't really have one."
Watson handed Sherlock the silver clock, took back his cane. "Nor will he be likely to get one."
Sherlock cradled the clock in his hands carefully, as if it were the most precious thing in the world. Then he said, so softly that Watson almost didn't catch it, "He has me."
Watson blinked. He looked at this Holmes, really studied him. Brash and confident, full of himself and with good reason and yet he looked so wounded. And so young. Watson had an inkling of the kind of life that awaited him, this Sherlock and his John Watson. He envied them, their adventures yet to come. He'd not trade his time with Holmes. Not for the world. He hadn't meant to argue with Sherlock.
Just what had he meant to do?
"I didn't say you weren't worth it," Watson said at last, finding his throat tight. "Just. Tell him. He needs to hear it."
Sherlock, brows knotted as though on the cusp of solving some great puzzle, moved his lips but no words came out of them.
And then the portal opened.
When the world stopped shaking, John was pleasantly surprised to find himself still part of it. Quick assessment: body, feet, hands, face. Yup. Still alive. His laughter echoed back to him in the small stone passageway. 'Being Alive' laughter was becoming his favorite kind.
Dark. Dark everywhere. And no sound of the train. Must have shut down the station after the accident.
His phone was gone. This took up several minutes of searching before he gave up. It must have been knocked into the tube tunnel. Gone. But what he did find, groping along on all fours as his legs still wouldn't support him, was a small red light. He followed this to its source, cupped it with his hands. It was a small metal rod, only just lit up by its own red light.
"A laser pointer? Property of St. Bartholomew's?" John turned it over in his hand. "Holmes? Holmes!"
John dashed down to where the hallway met an intersection. Noises from the right told him the rest. He found Holmes bent over the second of two robots, a crowbar deep into its guts. Holmes was so invested in dismantling the creature, it was a full five minutes before he looked up and saw John standing there.
"You all right?" John asked. "You done?"
Holmes looked down at the crowbar in his hand, then at the damage he had wreaked. He dropped the crowbar, wiped his brow with his ascot and then tucked it into a pocket. "I suppose I am."
"Time to go, then."
"Indeed. God willing."
Holmes crossed the room and retrieved the golden clock from its Faraday cage.
It was no problem getting back into the Museum. Sure, John had to knock a guard unconscious to get in without answering any questions. Just like army days, except with less killing. What Holmes did to the guard he had to take out, that sequence of moves? John'd never seen anything like it. Holmes barely kept his eyes open, as if he'd rehearsed it all in his head a million times. Yet he executed a series of lethal-looking strikes that would have left the best martial arts instructor begging for mercy.
"Remind me not to piss you off," John said.
Holmes smiled. "C'est rien."
"Hardly nothing." John couldn't help but smile, and wonder if Sherlock was capable of similar.
Holmes said nothing more, but blushed awkwardly. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but he held his tongue.
Their way clear, they headed back to the Reading Room, snapping the blue and white tape that crossed the entry. They stood approximately where they were last time. And waited.
Holmes kept looking at the clock in his hands, as thought it would do something spectacular, but all it did was kept on ticking.
"Think it will work?" he asked.
"Has to," John said.
"Think they found their half?"
"Yes." The confidence in John's own voice surprised even him. "We'll wait here as long as takes."
"Until it explodes?"
"If it comes to that."
The strangest of smiles passed across Holmes's face. And then he said, gently, "He doesn't deserve you."
That caught John flat-footed. "What?"
Holmes did not look up from the clock, which he turned over and over in his hands with a delicate touch. "No more than I deserve Watson. He's a gift, you see. The one and only thing in my entire world I will miss, should I never return. He has made my life a bearable thing. He is the world to me, and I've never told him."
He stared at John, as if he would impart something more, something that weighed on him heavily, too heavy to speak it aloud.
"You will tell him," John said, swallowing hard. "And besides … he knows. Watson, I mean, he knows. He must know."
"Our time is nearly at an end," Holmes said, then waved John off. "I am positively maudlin. Ignore me."
"I think it's positively impossible to ignore a Sherlock Holmes. Of any kind."
At that, Holmes beamed, eyes bright and grateful.
And the light of the portal tore open the space before them.
The Doctor continued to pace around the perimeter of the bubble. He'd been fussing with his screwdriver for hours — long, boring hours — while Donna, sitting on the floor next to the dais, watched him, then the clock, then him. He ignored any and all impatient sighs.
"Are you going to tell me how this all happened? Since we're waiting. Next time I'm bringing a book." Donna loosened her collar. Again. "On second thought…"
The Doctor looked up over the edge of his glasses. "We've covered this. Two parallel universes." He paused. "Clever, really."
"But Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes."
"It's a wild and wooly universe out there. It's infinite, and I know it's not the only one." He said the last part rather grimly. "Whose to say that imaginary worlds don't exist alongside ours? That writers aren't given a glimpse to a world that's real someplace else. Didn't they look real to you?"
Donna considered this. Especially the tall one with the mustache. Him she considered for rather a while, until the Doctor coughed politely.
"All right, yeah," she said. "But it's still weird."
The Doctor gave her that look. "You'll manage."
"What about the Master? Who's he?"
"Old enemy," he said. "Who is supposed to be dead. He must have waylaid the T.A.R.D.I.S. Have to check her circuits after we're out of here."
"Sounds like you have a fan."
"What, did you break the bubble?"
"Er, no." He pulled off his glasses. "But I was able to get a signal to the T.A.R.D.I.S. As soon as the barrier weakens, she'll pop right in and we can pop off."
"Once it weakens."
Donna huffed. "So, back to waiting then?"
"Yeah." He at least had the decency to look apologetic.
Donna was just about to let out another long, strangled sigh when streaks of light started to spiral along the inside of the bubble. She shot up to her feet, bustle or no bustle.
Two darts of light sparked off the bubble. They zipped through the air like disembodied lasers cutting out the silhouettes of two tall men on the left side of the bubble. As soon as the outlines were complete, the images filled in with color, expression, and went from a still shot to jittering movement.
"Ah, that's our pair from 1891," Donna said.
"And 2012 incoming," the Doctor said, pointing to the right. Two shorter silhouettes formed, filled in, just as the others had. Their stuttering images came online, and for the first time in over two days, the Doctor's face relaxed into a proper smile.
Both sets of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watsons were talking animatedly and all once. At least, that's what it looked like — no sound was coming out of any of the projections.
"Um, Doctor. We've lost the audio."
The Doctor came along side Donna. "Hands on the clock."
Donna did so, and then he placed a hand on her shoulder. The audio kicked in, and everyone was still talking all at once, a cacophony of shouting.
The Doctor held up his hands, and everyone went silent.
Except the taller Holmes, who was fairly shouting now, and looked as though he had murder on his mind. "Have John and the other Holmes returned with their half of clock? Are they here?"
"Calm down," the Doctor said. "Yes. Everyone's here. Let's get this finished. You, Holmes the younger. Step forward."
The dark, curly haired Sherlock Holmes, cradling the silver half of the Kranstaran Peace Treaty in his hand, approached the dais. If he had been angry before, all that was left behind was a cold, pale focus.
"Now, Holmes the elder."
The shorter Holmes, holding the golden half of the treaty, pouted theatrically. "Hardly elder. I'm in my prime!"
The Doctor frowned. "Come on, come on. We're on a deadline here. Literally." He waved Holmes forward, and Holmes obliged. The two Sherlock Holmes, now in place on either side of dais, started slightly at each other as their doppelgängers became visible. They measured each other up in seconds, then wordlessly returned their focus on their respective tasks. The two halves of the treaty came together as though drawn magnetically, clicking into place. The second hand stopped with softest of ticks, and then light arced out in all directions.
Donna let go of the clock and everyone stepped backwards. The sparks flew up and away, zipping about randomly before shooting outwards towards the bubble. With each spark it absorbed, the bubble shimmered. And no more projections — all six of them now filled the bubble.
The familiar whoop-whoop-whoop of the T.A.R.D.I.S. sounded behind them. Donna turned to see the blue box materialize in place, just as the Doctor shouted, "Ah, yes!"
"They did it?" she asked. "It's disarmed?"
The Doctor, grinning madly, nodded and swept up the Kranstaran Peace Treaty into his hands. He tossed it back and forth, like he might an apple. "Perfectly harmless now. Well done, boys."
But the 'boys' had little interest in anything else but each other. The two Sherlock Holmes stood squared off like a pair of hunting dogs. Holmes broke the stare first, dissolving into an impish grin as his eyes flicked from Sherlock, then to Watson, who had a wry grin under his mustache, and back again.
"You've taken good care of my Watson, I see."
Sherlock's eyes slid away from Holmes to John, who smiled lopsidedly, and back to Holmes. "Likewise."
And that was that. Both men walked past each other to their respective partners.
Holmes strode up to Watson, looking cheeky and rakish. "I hope you haven't been having too much fun without me."
"Not too much."
The men pulled each other into a tight hug, letting go only after a few solid thumps on each other's backs.
"Were you hard on him?" Watson asked, gesturing to John.
"Of course not. And I've brought presents." He pulled open his jacket a fraction, bulging with all sorts of small metal devices, and grinned madly.
"Oh," the Doctor said. "That's not good."
Sherlock, meanwhile, had, despite his limp, managed to fluidly make it to John's side. "What happened to your mobile?"
"I lost it. In the tube tunnel."
"I thought —"
"But I'm not. You are, though. You're hurt. Your leg?"
"Shut up. It is."
John had started to bend down to take a look at Sherlock's leg, but Sherlock planted two hands on either of John's shoulders and kept him upright. They held that pose for several seconds, John looking quite concerned as Sherlock appeared to be working up to something.
Donna tugged at the Doctor's sleeve. "Are they going to…?"
John only managed to get out a funny little, "Sherlock, what are you —" before Sherlock pulled him close and kissed him full on the lips. Hard.
Donna realized she was goggling, tried to stop herself and failed. "They really have modernized the story, haven't they?"
Watson, horrified, hissed out, "That's not what I meant, Sherlock!"
"I knew they were implying something!" Holmes clenched his fist triumphant. "Does it shock you, Watson? Oh, the things I have seen. This would be the least of it."
Watson had gone quite red, especially as neither Sherlock or John seemed about to stop. He turned around and took off his hat. "Shocking isn't the word."
"Is the word 'intriguing'?" Holmes said, eyebrow raised.
"Holmes!" Watson snarled.
Holmes dropped his voice to a funny whisper. "Do you remember that night in Brighton —"
"I've never been to Brighton."
"Now who's repressing?"
Watson, fiery-cheeked, snapped back, "I was drunk!"
"Not that drunk."
"We swore never to speak of it."
Donna, waiting for the Doctor to say something, anything, gave up waiting. Since she certainly didn't have any compunction about interrupting a scene, she shouted, "You boys can come up for air any time!"
John, red-cheeked and eyes wide, broke the kiss. "We'll … we'll talk in the flat," he said.
Sherlock nodded, and reluctantly let John go.
"Ahem." The Doctor tucked the Treaty under one arm. "Gentlemen, it's time to be off to your respective worlds. Quickly. If the bubble falls and you're still here. Well … I should think you would prefer your own world to this one."
"It has been most entertaining, dear Doctor," Holmes said. He bowed low. "A unique educational experience."
"But one," Sherlock said gruffly, "we are not interested in repeating."
"Fair enough," the Doctor said. "Pleasure all the same."
The bubble shimmered, just like it was made of soap and about to pop. Two stable openings appeared, each leading off into an indistinct, shadowy place that was not the museum. Holmes and Watson hurried along to theirs, while John struggled to help a limping Sherlock towards the threshold of the second exit.
"Time to go." The Doctor headed for the T.A.R.D.I.S. doors.
"Good. This bustle is killing me." Donna followed, but slowly. At the threshold of the doors, Donna watched the two matching sets of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson make their own goodbyes. "But they're just characters from a book. They can't be real."
The Doctor popped his head back out from the T.A.R.D.I.S. "Aw, but look how happy they are. Do you have the heart to tell them they're fictional?"
"No," she admitted. She watched each pair pass through the openings, disappearing back to where they belonged. The bubble around them popped in response, and the museum came back to life around them, all noise and movement and rush.
"Where to next, Doctor?"
"Dunno. But I think we'll skip favorite authors for a little while, don't you?"
Donna rolled her eyes. "No shit, Sherlock."
"Oh, you didn't. You didn't just do that." The Doctor groaned. "I'm never taking you anywhere again."
"You didn't take me anywhere this time!" Donna stomped inside, and the T.A.R.D.I.S. doors closed behind her.