Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

This Machine Called Man (7/7)

Masterpost | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Author's Notes


John spends a long moment staring in the window, not seeing anything--not seeing as the robot bends over Sherlock’s body (invisible below the windowsill), not seeing as the robot turns and walks out of the room. It takes him a moment to act, and he still hasn’t processed, still has no idea what just happened. He doesn’t hear the cabbie asking, loudly, what the hell just happened; he barely hears himself shouting at the cabbie to land the car, and the taxi’s descent to the ground feels eternal. John is barely breathing, barely able to focus on anything. He leaps out of the taxi when it is still a foot and a half from the ground, followed by vague sounds of the cabbie shouting after him, and barrels through the front door, taking the stairs two at a time.

The living room door is open, swinging slightly on its hinges. John half crashes into it, and catches himself on the door frame.

Sherlock isn’t there.

John knows exactly where Sherlock and the bot were standing, where Sherlock must have fallen, but Sherlock isn’t there. Sherlock isn’t anywhere in the living room. John hurries into the kitchen; Sherlock isn’t there either. John finds himself shouting Sherlock’s name, catches himself with his mouth still formed around the syllables, and stops. There is no answer.

Momentarily John stops, frozen, staring blankly at the spot on the floor where Sherlock isn’t. For the first time since he realised that something was wrong, that the pill was not as ineffective as Sherlock had promised, John thinks. He stops, staring, and thinks about his next step. Either the companion bot took Sherlock’s body--which can’t be the case; now that he’s thinking properly John remembers seeing the bot get into its car as he hurried past to reach Sherlock--or Sherlock is not quite as dead as he appeared. John hopes fervently for the latter, and realises that there is only one place he can go, one possibility to try. Either way, going back to Company Co. is the only step John can take. He takes a deep breath, adjusts the gun at his back, and runs back down the stairs.


“He took the pill?” Jefferson Hope says. His voice sounds surprised and suspicious. Underneath he sounds pleased. He doesn’t seem to doubt the companion droid, however. “He knew it was poison, why would he take the pill? You checked, of course?”

“Yes. He was dead.”

“‘Was’ being the operative word,” Sherlock says, stepping out from behind the slightly open back door. Will criminals never learn to lock anything properly?

Mr. Hope’s face corresponds exactly to Sherlock’s catalogued image of shock. The companion bot, of course, is impassive. Sherlock is pleased that the precaution of maintaining interior access to the roof aerobus stop has paid off, even if he normally prefers not to use it. Bus riders are so tedious. But he would never have been able to avoid being seen by the companion droid or by John if he’d had to go down to the street to catch a cab.

They stand in the large back room of Company Co. A row of companion droids is lined up against one wall, all plugged in to charge. Every one of them is unnaturally beautiful, but they are all powered down and look lifeless, pale, and cold. Hope sits at a folding table in the middle of the room; the bot stands to his right. Pale light filters in the windows and the still open door that look out onto the alley behind the shop, marred by the iron bars on the windows.

“You were dead,” it says. “You did not breathe. You were unresponsive. You did not have a pulse.”

“I was warned about you,” Hope says. “They told me you were clever. Didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to take poison and clever enough to avoid dying once you’d taken it.”

“I was neither poisoned nor dead,” Sherlock says. “I am simply a flawless actor. I faked it.”

Hope stares at him for a moment.

“Who warned you about me?” Sherlock asks.

“Just someone out there who’s noticed.”

Noticed? Noticed what? Mycroft took pains to keep Sherlock’s identity and operations secret, and Sherlock has continued to be careful--inefficient to be impounded if discovered to be an illegal robot. Mr. Hope doesn’t seem to be aware that Sherlock is an android, but that is no guarantee that this “someone” does not know that.

“You swallowed poison,” Hope says. “You should be dead.”

“You thought I fell for that trick? I knew it was poison. If I’d thought poison would kill me, I wouldn’t have swallowed that pill. Now. Who would notice me?”

Hope smiles--Sherlock’s catalogues process the expression, and rule out almost all possible meanings for smiles. Not happiness, not anything normal--an evil smile, though evil is a particularly subjective concept. “Have a seat, Mr. Holmes,” Hope says. Sherlock looks at the chair across the table from Hope, considering, then sits down.

“Who?” Sherlock asks again.

“You’ve got yourself a fan, Mr. Holmes.”

Fan, noun: an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer. No one who has spent enough time in Sherlock’s company to know either way qualifies as enthusiastic or admiring. The most accurate way to describe the feelings of people with whom he is required to associate: they put up with him.

Except John, perhaps.

The only facets of Sherlock’s existence worthy of having fans are his programming, his design, his work. Nobody who is far enough away from him not to be put off by his behavior knows enough about those things to be a fan.

“Tell me more,” Sherlock says. More information, more input.

“That’s all you need to know about your fan.”

“Fine. Tell me about Jim. Tell me how you reprogrammed it.”

Hope gets out of his chair and steps around behind the companion bot. Sherlock watches as Hope pushes up Jim’s shirt and opens a panel in his back. The beep of buttons pressed seems loud in the small room. After a long sequence of buttons, Jim’s eyes close and he goes very still. Mr. Hope closes the panel again, and Jim turns automatically and walks over to the one empty space on the wall of bots. Hope plugs him in, and returns to the table to sit down again.

“Wiping his memory,” Hope explains. “Standard policy between customers.”

“And a very effective alibi.”

“That too.” Hope spreads his hands out on the table and smiles at Sherlock. “I could tell you how I reprogrammed Jim, but that’s not what you’re really interested in, is it?”

No, it isn’t. Sherlock, if he had to, could figure out how to strip the Three Laws out of a robot’s programming. He understands robots. He does not understand human desires and motivations.

“I hear you’re very good at telling people about themselves,” Hope says. “So why don’t you tell me why I let a robot murder four people?”

Sherlock’s visual sensors scan Mr. Hope’s body, looking for evidence. “There’s shaving foam on your neck, behind your left ear. Nobody’s told you. Therefore, you live alone. But if you were used to living alone, you would have remembered to check in the mirror after you shaved. So, you recently changed your living situation. Unlikely at your age that you were living with a flatmate, more likely you were living with someone with whom you were in a sexual relationship. You’ve never worn a wedding ring, so not a marriage. You recently ended a romantic and sexual liaison. Was it traumatic? Did it make you angry? Angry enough to kill?”

Mr. Hope’s facial expression: cold, bitter. “I didn’t end it. She did.” He sounds hoarse, but not surprised that Sherlock was able to deduce all that information. “I told her stories about working here. I told her about the people who came in to rent bots. I told her about the bots. They’re not what people think, you know--they’re not all just the same. They have personalities, quirks. I got to like some of them.” He turns and looks over his shoulder at the droids lined up against the wall, and when he turns back his face is twisted into an unreadable expression. “So I came home and I told her about them, and after a while she got curious. She wanted to rent a bot, see what it was like. I’m not a jealous man, I didn’t mind if she wanted to spend a bit of time with a robot. But she liked it. She wanted to do it again.”

“Robot a more talented lover than you, is that it?” Sherlock asks.

“No, that wasn’t it. She didn’t always have sex with the bot. I could tell when she did. No, she just liked its company. Said it was...easy. Easier than being with me. I’m not an easy man to live with, I know. But we were in love, once. And eventually she was spending more time with the bot than she was with me. Eventually, she left me for the bot.”

“She preferred robotic companionship to yours? Knowing that you loved her, and that the robot was simply performing its function?”


“That must cost a great deal of money.”

Mr. Hope laughs. “I hope so. I was letting her take out the bots for free, but after she left I told her to stop coming here. She switched to a different agency, must be paying through the nose.”

“And then what did you do?”

“I used to like the bots. Hate ‘em now, of course. They’re fake. They don’t have personalities, they have minor flaws in the programming. I always knew that, but now I’ve stopped pretending it was something real. And I can’t see how anyone else can believe they have something real with a robot.”

“You killed four people because they believed robotic companionship was ‘something real.’”

“Not very good business practise for someone renting out sex bots, is it? Killing the customers.” He laughs again, though Sherlock’s measurement of the humour in the situation is very low. He sits back in his chair, looking steadily at Sherlock. “That last one, the one that called herself Rachel? Lady in the pink dress. I hated her the most. She was a regular. It wasn’t till the last time that I noticed she usually wore a wedding ring. I’m observant like that, sometimes. Then I knew she was cheating on her spouse with a robot. Worst thing you can do, trading your real, human family for something made of metal and programming.”

“You’re not a trained robotics technician,” Sherlock says.

“What? Oh, no. Just picked up what I needed to know to keep this lot running, pressing buttons and oiling joints, that sort of thing. I get a tech in for serious maintenance.”

“So how did you know how to strip the First Law out of Jim’s programming?”

“I had a bit of help.”

“It was your own personal vendetta. What did they get out of it? Who would help you do that?”

“Who’d be a fan of Sherlock Holmes?”

Sherlock’s analysis subroutines immediately begin collating the data and analyzing it. A fan of Sherlock--someone with reason to have noticed him, so someone in a law enforcement profession, someone in Mycroft’s employ, a former client, or a criminal. If this fan helped Jefferson Hope turn a robot into a killing machine, the last option is the most likely.

“I’ll leave you to think on that one,” Mr. Hope says, standing up. He moves back to Jim and pulls a small gun out of the robot’s trouser pocket. An old fashioned pistol, with metal bullets. Those seem to be popular with criminals these days. Nostalgia?

Not that Sherlock missed the gun’s presence, of course. Only its exact specifications remained unknown. With the prospect of a gun, taking the poison and making its effects look real had been the only possibility. Unlike Sherlock to have miscalculated the probability that Hope would use it. Perhaps John really will need to do some maintenance.

Mr. Hope points the gun at Sherlock’s chest. A poor choice if Sherlock were human (too much chance of missing important organs, fatality uncertain), but dangerous to Sherlock the robot. The ignorance is appalling, the sheer luck strange. It’s enough to make Sherlock evaluate the possibility that Hope does know he’s a robot, after all. Not enough to make him believe that. Sherlock’s power source, his processing units, crucial hardware controls, all are located in his chest. The head would have been comparatively less damaging, though it would have been a bother to repair the delicate cosmetic work of Sherlock’s face. The only thing in his head is his memory, his catalogues. That too would be a bother to replace, but most of it is backed up; it would not be as devastating as a bullet in Sherlock’s main system. Sherlock is not invulnerable. He could be repaired, but such extensive and essential repairs would change him. He might work the same, but he would no longer be himself.

Sherlock is not afraid. Robots do not have emotions.

“I don’t know why you want to do that,” Sherlock says. “I have no desire to have a sexual or emotional relationship with a robot.”

“Could you do it?” Hope asks. “Could you work out how to make a robot kill?”

“Of course I could.”

“We don’t need more than one of you, though, do we? Most people think it’s impossible. Better not let people who can do it keep on running around.”

“You’re going to kill me in the public interest?”

“Tell me there aren’t reasons why I should.”

Sherlock is the most powerful robot in the world. He passes for human. If his system were ever to be corrupted...

Jefferson Hope unlocks the gun’s safety. “I thought so.”

No gunshot ever rings out. The only sound Sherlock’s auditory sensors pick up is a quiet hum. His olfactory sensors pick up a smell of burning flesh, and the visual: Jefferson Hope falls to the ground, clutching his neck.

Sherlock stands, knocking over his chair, and looks first to the row of companion bots. All are still and motionless. He turns to the window. A small round patch of warped, melted-looking glass has appeared in the window, centred between the iron bars. No one is outside, no one is standing in the dark alley. Unnecessary direction of inquiry at present. Sherlock whirls around and leans over Jefferson Hope.

“Who is my fan? I want a name.”



“I’ve got a screw loose,” Sherlock says. “Must have knocked it when I fell.”

John turns, shifting his gaze from the front of the shop, where two paramedics are manoeuvring a stretcher out the front door. The blanket over the body obscures the face, but everyone knows it is Jefferson Hope. John looks at Sherlock, realises what he’s just said, and laughs. “You do at that,” he says, and subsides into giggles. “Shouldn’t giggle, it’s a crime scene.” He watches Sherlock’s blank face, and the subtle way it changes when he finds the euphemism in his dictionary. “When you fell, I thought--” John cuts himself off, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.

“All part of the plan,” Sherlock says.

“Yes, I know that now. But you did scare me.”

Sherlock peers at John, seemingly searching for something. “Good shot,” he says.

John shifts uncomfortably, unsure of himself. “Must have been.”

“Don’t be coy, John, it’s a waste of time. I would like to see the weapon at some point, however. The remote robot disabling device. You modified it, of course.”

“I did.”

In the slight fading of adrenaline, John is beginning to think about what he’s just done, and to realise that it’s... not okay. He should be more bothered by it than he is. “I just killed a man to save a robot,” he murmurs. “That’s...a bit not good.” He’s a robotics technician, but he’s not--he works with robots because he’s good at it, because he likes the process and finds the result interesting. He doesn’t value robots. Not over human life. A human life is not worth exchanging for a remarkable piece of technology.

“He was a jealous and slightly incompetent serial killer,” Sherlock points out.

John laughs, briefly. “No, he wasn’t a very nice man, was he?” That doesn’t make it okay, but it makes it... better. A human life is not worth exchanging for technology, but a serial killer’s life might just be worth Sherlock. In the moment, John had certainly thought so. His instincts had told him to save Sherlock.

Maybe it’s worrying that he keeps finding it so hard to think of Sherlock as a robot. Maybe that’s why it is illegal to build a robot that is not obviously marked as such. A robot that looks like a human is treated like a human, valued as such, expected to keep to human rules. Even when John’s brain knows that Sherlock will never feel like a human feels or act with the consideration of others’ feelings in mind, it is hard to believe that. If he does believe that, he will always be disappointed.

Sherlock is smiling. It isn’t helping. “What do you look so happy about?” John asks.


“What’s Moriarty?”

“Insufficient data,” Sherlock says. He pauses, and his smile quirks wider. “I notice you’re not using your cane.”

John looks down, splays his hand out and looks at it, its emptiness. He is standing on his own two feet, and he can’t remember where he left the cane. In the cab? Probably. His leg doesn’t hurt, and he knows he’s been running--up stairs, down stairs, down the street. “Oh,” he mutters.

“Hypothesis confirmed,” Sherlock says, sounding almost smug.

“You had me running after you just so I’d lose the cane?”

“That wasn’t the only purpose. You did prove useful.”

“I suppose you’re right.” He giggles again. “Shall we go and fix your loose screw?”

“I don’t know why you persist in treating that as a euphemism for insanity. It isn’t actually humourous.”

“Yes it is. You are a bit mad, after all.”

“You can’t apply psychology to me, I haven’t got a psyche.”

They move away from the crime scene, bickering comfortably. John glances down at his leg, and marvels at the turn his life has taken. Bickering with a robot--that is unexpected.

Unexpected, but... good.

-> Author's Notes


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 30th, 2012 07:59 am (UTC)
This ... was ... AWESOME!! Sherlock and Asimov's Laws of Robotics... two of my favourite things :)

I can see how one of the laws wouldn't be to obey a human's orders; can you imagine Sherlock doing what someone tells him to? Does NOT fit in his personality.

Looking forward eagerly to the sequels.
Sep. 30th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Pip! :D

And yes, I looked at the second law and was like, well, NOPE. Haha.
Sep. 30th, 2012 02:57 pm (UTC)


Gosh, Tartan, the worldbuilding you've done in this. The first few paragraphs were, strangely, enough to establish the whole atmosphere of the fic, which on the whole ties in with that of the show very well — there's something metallic and concise to your descriptions that fits Sherlock and Sherlock's ... thought structure, I suppose, very well. It was very intriguingly done, that: the way you developped on Sherlock's reactions and thoughts, his physical, outward expressions, his words from ASiP, and gave them entirely new meanings, the way you spun the well-known plot into something just different enough to be both recognizable and interestingly novel at the same time. It's a very delicate, very thin balance, that not many fic writers manage to reach when they rewrite the series in AU setting, and you've mastered it perfectly in this.

It's a little frightening, though — that Sherlock's actions and thoughts befit a robotic construction better than they do a human being. I suppose that will be challenged — as well as his tendency to feel (or fail to feel) emotions and desires at any given moment, especially in his friendship with John and his animosity towards Moriarty.

WELL DONE, YOU. Your writing is stellar, as well you know. It's not simply well-written, though — it's interesting, on a purely intellectual level as well on an emotional one, and I can't wait to see where you're going with this 'verse.
Sep. 30th, 2012 06:05 pm (UTC)

I will tell you a not-very-secret secret: the very first scene was one of the last I wrote. Oh man I can't believe I spent 29k retelling ASiP. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU YOU DON'T OUTLINE FICS. I AM A CAUTIONARY TALE.

Ever since I started working on this I've been reading other people's fic and noticing that most people write Sherlock POV with a lot of the same phrasing I use to write robot Sherlock POV. There is just not that much difference. Which makes a Sherlock-is-a-robot AU kind of inevitable, really. But it is a bit scary.

Oct. 5th, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)
Wow. This was thoroughly, utterly wonderful. You have done such an amazing job writing Sherlock's perspective, and creating this realistic world, and I love the way you balance John's perspective in such a way that intellectually he is entirely clear on Sherlock's limitations but his empathy keeps pulling him in the potentially painful direction of emotional attachment. Until I got to the end of the fic and read the prompt in the Author's Notes, I really didn't know if you were going to give Sherlock the capacity to grow into emotion. That will be fascinating to watch. I loved the careful way you rearranged the casefic in this to make it fresh and perfectly fitted to the world. And in general your writing style is elegant and your characterizations spot-on. I love that you are taking the time to build the background we need to really invest in this and see gradual change. Thank you so much for all the work you put into this, it is a really amazing story. Bravo!!

[PS -- One small question: I assume that since Sherlock had gotten the name "Moriarty" by the end, he must have coerced it out of the dying Hope at some point after we cut away from that scene. But can robot!Sherlock torture a dying man? I would have thought that would violate one of the Three Laws? Sorry if I'm missing something obvious, I was just slightly confused there at the end.]
Oct. 5th, 2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
:D Thanks for articulating John's perspective for me. That's going to be a major theme in the sequel, but I hadn't really thought to phrase it quite like that. Oh man, building the background. That was, um, kind of an accident? I didn't plan this fic or its structure at all, it just came out and then I had to edit it A LOT. Whoops.

You're not missing anything obvious in the end; that question goes unanswered. Hope could have just told him the name in this 'verse, couldn't he? :D

Thanks for reading and commenting!
Oct. 15th, 2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
That was really intriguing. Not something that I would have thought I could buy into based upon the summary, but your humanization of Sherlock worked really well. You've definitely laid the ground work for something crazy awesome with John and Sherlock that's left me pondering them still a day after reading. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading a continuation of their story some day.
Oct. 16th, 2012 03:47 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading! I am currently wrestling with the plot for the sequel, so hopefully it'll be done in the reasonably near future.
Oct. 27th, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed that! John's wonder at the marvel that is Sherlock Holmes, sentient android.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


Parce que c’etait lui, parce que c'etait moi.

Latest Month

May 2013
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow