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This Machine Called Man (2/7)

Masterpost | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three


The fingerprints, the colour of the eyes, the dampness of saliva on his lower lip when he speaks--as a robotics tech, John has a healthy appreciation for artifice, but this goes beyond that. The human form, so often the subject of art, has been artificially recreated so perfectly that all artifice has disappeared and left only art. Sherlock is almost too perfect, but not in the usual android way; he has the slightly alien look of an impossibly beautiful model, on the other side of the Uncanny Valley of repulsion that a not-quite-human android causes in humans.

It’s hard to believe. John stands there in the living room of 221B Baker Street, staring up at Sherlock, at the android, and he doesn’t believe it. Not in a real, physical, certain way. Oh, intellectually he believes it, recognises the slightly too unblemished, too pale skin, the very slightly unnatural way Sherlock moves, knows that individually these things are common features of robots, but somehow the whole, the sum of the parts, says human. So it’s almost impossible for John to make himself really feel like he’s speaking to--standing mere inches from--a robot.

In the army, John had worked on two kinds of robots. One kind were the dog-sized, bug-like bots, in two or three variations. These were used for bomb detection and disposal and for reconnaissance. They were relatively simple, easily built and maintained robots, and working with them had always been like having a slightly dim-witted dog.

The second kind of robot used by the army was the team of field medic androids. They were anthromorph, rather than true-humanoid, though they were painted to look like real soldiers in uniform so that from a distance the enemy wouldn’t know to target them. Up close they looked rather like large metal dolls with crude faces. They were extremely efficient as medics and harder to permanently incapacitate than a human, which was why the army used them, but soldiers, lying injured and delirious in the field, had been known to scream and push the droid away, refuse treatment. Something about a robot was not reassuring to people in pain. That was part of why robot techs had field training, so that they could accompany a medic droid on important missions, soothe injured soldiers, and sedate them so that the robots could do the real work.

It was always a strange partnership, the bot techs and medic droids. Not like working with a human--they didn’t make conversation, they couldn’t do much outside of their medical functions--but they were still a presence. In the workroom with a couple of medic droids you weren’t alone.

The difference between a droid and a bot is that one is shaped like a human and the other isn’t. The difference between an army medic droid and Sherlock? Incomparable.

With twenty years of taking robots apart and putting them back together, and a whole childhood before that in the early days of commonplace robotics of dismantling toasters, John wants to open Sherlock up and see how he works. It’s an instinct, an unavoidable feeling that makes John’s fingers itch, but in this case it also feels wrong. It feels like wanting to break apart another human being, to spread his ribs and watch his heart beat and his lungs inflate. But of course Sherlock doesn’t have lungs, doesn’t have a heart. John could open him up.

He could. That chance, the possibility of seeing, and mending, and touching a piece of technology that has transcended technology and become art, that’s what made John say yes to this.

He hopes not to regret it.

Sherlock spins away from John suddenly, out of his personal space and back towards the sofa, and pulls his com out from between the cushions. “It’s synced with my system,” he tells John. “Unnecessary to have to listen for a noise.” Turning back to the com, he folds it open and asks, “Where?” clearly answering a vidcall.

And that’s another way Sherlock is not a normal robot. Not only does he have a com, a device restricted to humans, but he is evidently missing the programming that dictates how robots answer calls. Usually robots that need to make audio calls do so internally, without a com, stating their numerical designation to tell the person on the other end of the call that they are speaking with a robot and to signal nearby people that the robot is making a call. Sherlock’s style of telecommunications is wholly human.

“Brixton, Lauriston Gardens,” says the face on the screen that John can’t see.

“And? Something is different.”

“There’s something... wrong, with her flat. Will you come?”


Sherlock thumbs the X that must be hovering over the face’s left eyebrow, and picks up the com. “Excellent. Four serial suicides and now new data. Oh, I love new data.”

“Serial suicides?” John asks.

“You read the news, you know what I’m talking about. Four apparent suicides, no connection--yet.”

John remembers that now, though it hadn’t made a particularly deep impression at the time. Three people--a Scottish businessman on holiday, a posh 18-year-old kid, and an MP the night of her birthday party--all committed suicide using the same poison. John had thought, after the third death, that there must be more to the story.

Sherlock has his overly dramatic coat on and is out the door before John quite knows what’s happened, leaving him with a hurried, “Have a seat, John, have another cup of tea, make yourself at home. Don’t wait up!”

John looks around the flat, wondering again whether this is all a truly terrible idea. He leans against his cane and wanders over to pick up a broken ID card that’s lying on the floor by the armchair. Despite being broken, it’s the new model that’s supposed to fix some problems connecting with coms, new enough that John’s never seen one. The side that usually contains personal information is blank. He turns it over and admires the swoop of silver lines decorating the back.

“You’ll need to know what normal function looks like.”

John whirls around, to see Sherlock standing in the doorway, looking thoughtful. John has never seen a droid look thoughtful before. “What?”

“For proper maintenance, a technician needs to know how a droid is supposed to function. Basic robotics school knowledge, John. You need to see how I operate correctly in order to fix it if something goes wrong.”

“That’s true,” John says warily.

“Come along, then.”

“Where are we going?”

“Crime scene. You’re a soldier; it’s nothing you’ve never seen before. Injuries, violent deaths, the human equivalent of operation failure. This is what, I do, John, this is my primary function. You’ll be useless to me if you never see it.”

John follows him out the door, thinking, how can a robot be so damn convincing?

Sherlock has an aerotaxi waiting, six inches off the pavement. He pushes John into it and follows, giving the address to the driver. John always feels a bit sorry for taxi drivers. The union managed to hold off the initial push for roboticising public transport, but the idea keeps being batted around and it can’t be comfortable to worry all the time that you might one day be replaced by a robot.

“So you’re a detective,” John says once they’re seated and the taxi is lifting into the air to hover for a moment ten feet above the roof of their flat. He looks out the window and notices with surprise that there’s an aerobus stop on the roof. Why didn’t they go up there to get a taxi? As the taxi rises further the lift at the back of the building becomes visible, a glass and steel compartment leading up to where two somewhat windblown people are waiting for the bus. The taxi turns a little shakily and then glides off over the building, towards Marylebone Road.

“That is my function.”

“And who was that on the com?”

“Detective Inspector Lestrade,” Sherlock answers.

“You help the police?”

“When necessary.”

“Christ, I didn’t know they had that kind of funding,” John mutters. The military doesn’t have the kind of funding needed to build Sherlock, and military robots have been in development the longest.

“They don’t.”

“You’re a private detective, then? Some eccentric philanthropist thought the Met needed a bit of help?”

Sherlock snorts. “Eccentric philanthropist is an entertaining, if not accurate, description. No, my intended function is detective work but I was not intended to aid the Metropolitan Police.”


“Not relevant, John.”

“Fine. Give me a preview, then.”

“A preview?”

“You wanted me to see how you operate. Tell me how you knew I was in Afghanistan.”

Sherlock looks down at the private vehicles stuck in traffic on the roadway, and then back at John. “Your haircut, your bearing--confirmed evidence of military background. However, your comments to Billy proved LSR training. Therefore, army robotics technician. Afghanistan or Iraq? Exposure to ultraviolet radiation evident on your face, but not above your wrists. You’ve been in a sunny climate, but you weren’t there for the sun. The tremor in your left hand and your limp are psychosomatic, therefore the circumstances of the real injury were traumatic. Traumatic injury, ultraviolet burn--Afghanistan or Iraq.”

John is mesmerised. Sherlock makes it sound so simple, and of course for him it is. It’s what he does, what he was built to do. “What else can you tell me about myself?” John asks.

Sherlock looks surprised, which is an odd look on a robot, even one who doesn’t really look like a robot. “You recently upgraded your com--it’s a newer model, release date July 8th, Japanese, manufactured by OriCom, which is largely recognised as the leader in com technologies. Not the brand commonly used by the military, though, and not generally favoured by roboticists, who tend to prefer the independent companies--more customisation options, less proprietary software. Expensive, too, and we know you’re living on an army pension, so likely this model was not your choice. Therefore, a gift.”

All true. John would have chosen a com from Omnitools or WellCom, and his was a gift. He barely even sees the city passing beneath them; the force of Sherlock’s attention is simply too consuming.

“You’ve been in Afghanistan and living alone since you returned, so not a gift from a spouse or partner. A com is personal, especially one that previously belonged to another person--it’s impossible to completely erase all the data when changing ownership. A gift from a family member, then. Could be a parent or sibling, but the background photo is obviously not of friends of yours--though it is of people your age--which suggests it was put there by the previous owner and you never bothered to change it, and that the previous owner was in fact your sibling. Your sister, to be precise--she’s the one in the red shirt, obviously. She’s holding a drink, clearly alcoholic, and there are scuff marks around the power input on your com. She regularly plugged it in while her hands were shaking--classic sign of an alcoholic, a valuable piece of data. You and your sister don’t get on, probably because of the alcoholism, but she gave you her old com as an attempt at reconciliation.”

John, feeling blindsided, takes his com out of its pocket and looks it over. There are scratches. He hadn’t really noticed. He looks up at Sherlock and blurts, “That was amazing.”

That is what I’m built for.”

“No, really. That’s extraordinary. You did that so fast--much faster than you could do if you were just pulling information out of a database. You’re a learning android, aren’t you? You’ve collected all that information, you’ve learned how to do that. That’s quite extraordinary.” John’s never encountered an android with the ability to learn the way Sherlock does. Advanced adaptive learning is one of the nine human traits robot limitations testing checks for, but it’s not a commonly passed one.

“That’s not the usual reaction.”

“What’s the usual reaction?”

“The verbal reaction recorded with highest frequency? ‘Piss off.’”

John grins.


“I need input, John,” Sherlock says as they step the six inches down to the ground from the aerotaxi. Sherlock swipes his fingertip across the screen of his com to unlock it so that he can authorise payment. “Tell me whether I got anything wrong.”

“Harry and me don’t get on, never have, and Harry is a drinker.”

Sherlock puts his com back into his pocket, walking off down the road. “Excellent, my processes are showing improvement. I’m not always right about everything.”

John smiles, pleased to pop Sherlock’s bubble--though why he should be pleased, given Sherlock is a robot and can’t possibly be disappointed, he doesn’t know. “Harry’s not my sister.”

Sherlock stops short, and turns stiffly to look back at John. “Cousin?” he suggests. “No, not your cousin. Ah. There is always some uncertainty in my gender assessment processes; it’s one of the most difficult of human characteristics to be 100% accurate about. It’s been a source of inconvenience before.”

“You’re not the only one to assume Harry’s a woman, anyway.”

“I don’t assume,” Sherlock protests. “I made an informed choice about how to read the photograph based on statistical probability.”

“Yeah, well, it amounts to an assumption all the same, doesn’t it? It’s a bit nice to know you get things wrong sometimes, actually.”

“Yes, fine, now give me the data.”

John laughs. It’s already far more fun to tease Sherlock than it ever was to tease the library droids--Sherlock doesn’t get confused. He actually seems to get rather impatient. “Harry’s recognised nonbinary. The papers had just gone through when I got home on my last leave; I had to drag Harry home from the celebration after they were too drunk to remember what it was about. But we haven’t called Harry ‘she’ since they were eleven.”

John still remembers sitting on his bedroom floor with his back against the bed, just after he turned thirteen and was given his own com for the first time. Twelve-year-old Harry sat next to him, passing John’s com back and forth to play a game, while it rained outside and downstairs in the kitchen their parents had an argument about something. John can’t remember what, may have chosen not to remember. It isn’t something you do, sharing a com, except with people you’re close to, people you trust. John and Harry aren’t really close anymore but sometimes, like the day John went to visit Harry with a hole in his shoulder and a crack in the screen of his com, they pretend that they are close, that they still trust each other.

It’s the drinking and the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the fact that Harry resents robots for being the most common example of a person without a recognisable gender.

John is about to ask Sherlock why he is so blatantly gendered, when he is interrupted by a woman calling from behind the police tape, “Hello, freak.” Freak? John hangs back as Sherlock greets her, and considers for a moment what Sherlock would look like if John didn’t know he was a robot. Insane, probably. A mad genius with an obsession with crime.

John, distracted by this contemplation, doesn’t listen to the conversation until he hears his own name and realises that Sherlock is introducing him. “John Watson, Sergeant Sally Donovan. Old friend.” Friend? Is that a joke? Do robots make jokes?

“A colleague? How do you get a colleague?” Is that what Sherlock introduced him as? He supposes it’s sort of accurate, insofar as a robotics technician works with robots.

John, military-trained to respect the lines of jurisdiction, is a bit nervous about this. Surely it’s against all kinds of rules to have random civilians at a crime scene. They don’t even have a good excuse, aside from the vague suggestion of “colleague”. John doesn’t know anything about detective work or dead bodies. “Would it be better if I waited out here?”

“No,” Sherlock says. John wonders if that’s an objective analysis of the situation, if Sherlock has tallied things up and determined that it’s worth more to have John see him in action than to placate Sergeant Donovan.

Donovan announces Sherlock’s presence over her com’s radio mode, and lets them through the police tape.

“Hello, Anderson,” Sherlock says to a man in a blue anti-contaminant suit, who frowns.

“It’s a crime scene. You’d better not contaminate, or move, or steal any evidence.”

“Yes, thank you, I recognise a crime scene when I see one. The blue and white tape was a clear signal.” He pauses, and John can practically see him processing. “I could, however, ask you to do the same.”

Anderson looks less surprised than irritated. “What are you talking about?”

“Sergeant Donovan’s lipstick.”


“It’s on your mouth. Kissing at a crime scene, Anderson? You’d better not try anything more likely to leave stray evidence.”

“No, it isn’t,” Donovan says, looking at Anderson’s face. “I only wear permanent lipstick. It shouldn’t come off for hours.”

“I didn’t say I could see it on Anderson.” He sniffs delicately, and John takes a moment to marvel at the detail of his design, that somebody bothered to connect the action of sniffing to his olfactory sensors. Did they heighten his sense of smell, too? John certainly can’t smell lipstick. “I can smell it. Excuse me.”

“Whatever you’re trying to imply--”

“I never make implications. I don’t care what you do at work, since your work is hardly valuable to me. I’m simply suggesting that you keep the crime scene clean.”

John winces as Sherlock brushes past Anderson and Donovan, and follows, fascinated. That particular incident was certainly outside the definitions of Sherlock’s primary function--whatever intra-office affairs police officers might choose to have with each other, it isn’t a crime--yet Sherlock did it anyway. Almost as if he enjoyed using his systems of observation and extrapolation. But robots don’t enjoy things.

“What was that for?” John mutters to him as they step inside a large Victorian house that at some point must have been gutted and turned into several small flats. “You didn’t need to embarrass them. You even looked like you were having fun.”

“You exercise your body. I exercise my systems. Anderson is useless to me, so there’s no harm in getting my exercise by antagonising him.”

“He’s still a person. So is Sally,” John points out, knowing even as he says it that it’s useless to expect respect for someone’s emotions from a robot. He would probably say it’s inefficient. Anderson’s humanity: irrelevant data. Sherlock is clearly not listening anyway.

“Wear this,” Sherlock says, handing John a folded blue forensic suit. His fingers catch on the slightly gummy anti-contaminant coating over the material. He unfolds it, and then looks up at Sherlock.

“Aren’t you going to put one on?”

Sherlock stares at him for a moment. “I’m hardly going to contaminate the scene with my own DNA samples, am I?,” he says, as though John should have known that. He probably should have.

“Who’s this?” John hears, and turns to see a grey-haired slightly haggard-looking man glancing between him and Sherlock. John recognises him, vaguely, from the news.

“John Watson,” Sherlock answers promptly.

“But who is he?”

“He’s with me. Now tell me what I’m doing here.”

“Upstairs. I can give you two minutes.”

“Two minutes may be insufficient.”

The man John assumes is Detective Inspector Lestrade leads the way upstairs. The bright white gel lights hover eight feet above the floor, casting the stairwell into vivid and unflattering clarity. The cream-coloured walls would probably look nice under the soft yellow light from the wall fixtures, but in bright light they look just look pale and grubby. John stumps up the stairs behind the other two, still feeling thoroughly out of place.

“Her name is Rachel Walton, according to the ID card in her com,” Lestrade says. “We haven’t been able to get hold of the landlady yet, so we don’t know if it’s really her flat.”

The door to the flat, painted green, is standing open. In the entryway two more people in blue forensics suits are talking in low voices, next to a short square table on which an empty glass vase sits. Lestrade leads Sherlock and John in past the two policemen. It’s a tight squeeze; the entry isn’t very big, and the vase wobbles as they bump against it.

“You said there was something wrong with the flat,” Sherlock says to the back of Lestrade’s head.

“You’ll see,” Lestrade mutters, walks through into the kitchen, and steps aside. Sherlock stops in the doorway, and John is left to peer, on tiptoe, over his shoulder.

At first, John doesn’t see what they’re talking about. It’s an ordinary kitchen, definitely cleaner than Sherlock’s, but not really interesting. Then, as Sherlock shifts sideways and John gets a better look, he realises it doesn’t look like an ordinary kitchen at all.

It looks like a photo of a kitchen, an estate agent’s carefully styled advertisement--too clean, too carefully arranged, not lived in.

“Let me see the body,” Sherlock demands. “I won’t theorise ahead of the facts.”

Wordlessly, Lestrade leads the way through the kitchen and into a bedroom. This too, looks like a photo, but a photo that’s been made to look slightly more authentic. There’s a box of tissues on the bedside table, a pair of pink high-heeled shoes kicked off against the wall.

John’s first sight of the dead woman is... cold. Familiar. It’s not his first dead body, of course, and it gives him the same feeling of helplessness he got from the last ones. He’s used to being able to fix things--it’s what he does. A robot is never truly dead. Robots can be repaired, even with dead system boards, even with blown out power sources, it’s always possible to order new parts. If a robot is too destroyed to bother fixing it can be dismantled for parts, melted down, recycled. Robots are replaceable. People aren’t.

It’s confuses his understanding of robots a little to realise he isn’t sure whether Sherlock is replaceable.


Sherlock stalks around the body. So much data, it’s glorious. He wants to focus on it, but his scanners are highly sensitive. Lestrade’s brain activity is loud. “Shut up,” he snaps.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You were thinking. It’s distracting and unnecessary.”

Sherlock kneels, examining the body. Biologically female, blonde hair, age: approximately 36. Pink dress, translucent nylon stockings. The shade of pink of the dress and shoes is too bright; Sherlock’s visual receptors process that colour within a certain range of wavelengths that they assign to advertising, city buses, and distress signals. The association with advertising suggests possible professions (obviously professional, not blue collar--dresses of this style associated with professionals): television, publishing, marketing. Category: media.

Her com lies on the floor near her left hand (sinistromanuality), the screen cracked and the display frozen. The display shows a com address text box--Rachel Walton was in the process of making a call when she died. The only letters of the com address visible are DAW.----26.38---. A combination of the crack in the screen and several dead pixels makes the rest of the address unreadable.

Condition of body. Hair: disordered. Dress made of wrinkle-resistant synthetic material in a style popular among those who find the false flawlessness of robotics design aesthetically pleasing, a style most common among humans ten years younger than Rachel Walton. Interesting. Minor surgical adjustments in the face, also to reduce irregularities. Wearing earrings and a necklace, but no ring, despite the line of pale skin around her left digitus annuláris. Probable significance of such a ring in that location: marriage. Divorced, just moved into this flat? But no boxes, barely any personal possessions at all. So this isn’t her flat. Or she took the ring off and it’s hidden somewhere.

“She was poisoned?” Sherlock asks. Obvious, of course, but confirmation is necessary.

“Anderson thinks so.”

“That does not give me confidence in my knowledge about the cause of death. Make sure Molly Hooper does the autopsy; she’ll catch anything he missed.” Sherlock sniffs at her mouth. “Of course, she was in fact poisoned, but I’d like confirmation from someone who is both not an idiot and in possession of a medical degree.”

Sherlock picks up her com, examining the crack, turning it over to look at the other side. He slides off the cover over the card slot and examines the cash and ID cards. Rachel Walton. Date of birth: 23.2.2045, London. Sex: F. Pronoun: she. The cash card is anonymous, the kind sold in corner stores and newsagents’; there is no bank card. Sherlock slides the ID out of its slot and is surprised by how easily it moves. Most ID cards are rarely removed from their owners’ coms; removing them is an inevitable struggle. The police may have already removed it earlier, but no. It slides too easily for that. The card has been regularly removed.

The only reason to regularly remove an ID from a com is to switch it out for another. Rachel Walton is not this woman’s only identity.

“Got anything?” Lestrade asks.

“Not much.” Sherlock doesn’t see the necessity of relating his deductions to Lestrade--he’ll solve the case himself, after all, and Lestrade doesn’t need to see the process to benefit from the results. It might be worthwhile to explain himself to John, though.

“What do you think, John?” Sherlock asks.

“Sorry, what about?”

“You have an advanced degree in robotics. You’re familiar with technology of all kinds. Is her com repairable?”

“I’m breaking every rule letting you touch the evidence,” Lestrade says, glancing nervously at John. Oh, honestly. Lestrade is a policeman, he should be over any qualms about dealing with roboticists.

“Yes, because you are incapable of reproducing my methods, and you need my methods.”

“I do need you. God help me.”

Sherlock waits him out, aware that the statistical likelihood of Lestrade caving to any of his requests is very high.

“Oh, do as he says,” Lestrade tells John, and turns to step out of the room and talk to Anderson.

John watches him leave and then turns back to Sherlock. “He really doesn’t know,” John murmurs.

“Who doesn’t know what?”

“Lestrade doesn’t know you’re a droid. But he likes you.”

Sherlock stares for a moment, processing that information. Like, verb: find agreeable, enjoyable, or satisfactory. Well, people find it satisfactory when Sherlock’s work is to their benefit, but that doesn’t seem to be quite John’s meaning. He files the data for later assessment.

“What am I doing here?” John asks, when Sherlock makes no answer to his thoughts on Lestrade.

“Observing my function.”

“Why do you want to know if the com is repairable?”

“I don’t. I want to know how it broke.”

John makes a small noise (Sherlock’s audio processors suggest a meaning: understanding), and Sherlock slides the ID card back into its slot, replaces the cover. He turns the com over, and hands it to John, who nearly drops it. John runs his thumbs along the crack in the screen. “It wasn’t dropped,” he announces.


John shakes his head. “I did a bit of tech support for my mates in the army--faster just to have me fix their coms than send them off to the company. I saw a few dropped ones, but dropping them doesn’t have this effect. It just shakes them up a bit. It wouldn’t crack like this.”

Sherlock takes this information and prods at it. Not broken. Unlikely to be broken by Ms. Walton, given she was in the middle of attempting to make a call. Not dropped or intentionally broken by the user, therefore: broken by an as-yet-unidentified third party. “Stepped on?” Sherlock suggests.

“Could be,” John answers. “You think it was--?”

“As a point of interest,” Sherlock says, “could you repair that?”

John looks back down at the com. “I reckon so, yeah. It’s probably just the screen that’s broken. If you hooked it up to another com you might be able to get the files off.”

“Excellent. Lestrade!” He swings around and looks out into the hallway. Lestrade steps back into the room. His face reads as inquiring. “Any word on whose flat this is?”

“Yeah, just in. It was her flat.”

“Rachel Walton’s?”


Sherlock’s eyes scan the room, evaluating the appearance of the body, the minimal furnishings and general lack of personal belongings. “It can’t be her flat. She coordinated her lipstick and her shoes, she would never have left her flat looking like this.”

“Maybe she doesn’t really live here?” John suggests. “Just kept a second flat for some reason--business or something.” John puts more emphasis on the word “business” than seems warranted, but Sherlock doesn’t have the time to process it.

“Her name’s not Rachel Walton,” Sherlock announces. “Under her real name she is in a professional occupation; the shade of pink suggests something in the media. She was married, but not happily; she had a lover.”

“Lover? Oh, for God’s sake, if you’re just making this up... Explain, please.”

Sherlock is about to refuse--unnecessary, inefficient--but he looks at John and remembers he’s supposed to be demonstrating his methods. “Her ID card has been regularly removed--there’s no common reason to do that, which suggests that she removed it in order to swap it for another ID. How do I know Rachel Walton is the fake name and not the real one? Because she wears a wedding ring; the tan line is clearly visible. She isn’t wearing it now, and if you’d found it somewhere in the flat you would have told me, unless you’re more stupid than I think you are, and my evaluation of stupidity is never wrong. Far more likely that she would be using a fake ID when meeting her lover than when meeting her spouse. Also, I know a fake ID when I see one, even a very good fake ID such as this.”

“That’s brilliant,” John murmurs. Brilliant? It’s his function; he doesn’t understand how it is “brilliant” to do what he’s been programmed to do. Unless John is complimenting his programmer?

“So she was renting this flat to meet her lover in, and that’s why there’s nothing in it?” Lestrade asks. “We’ll need to know her real name.”

“The real name may not be relevant. The important question is why she felt the need to buy an expensive false identification card just for a lover. People have lovers all the time; it doesn’t warrant a whole new name.”

“Sherlock,” John says. His voice sounds strained, why does it sound strained? “Of course we need to know her real name. She was married. Somebody has to notify her spouse.”

“What for?”

“She’s dead, Sherlock. If it were me I’d want to know my wife was dead.”

Oh, John’s identifying with the victim and her spouse now, how tedious. “She was cheating on her spouse; they’re probably glad to be rid of the problem.”

“No, Sherlock, her spouse will want to know.” John speaks slowly, the way people seem to do when they think the person they’re addressing is stupid. John knows Sherlock isn’t stupid, why is he doing that? “That’s... a bit not good, Sherlock. Her real name is not irrelevant.”

Why should Sherlock put effort into finding out her real name just to notify the spouse she was cheating on, when he could be solving this case and stopping a serial murderer? It isn’t logical. Apparently there’s no avoiding it, though. Is John going to become an inconvenience? Or perhaps it will be useful, having a human around to interpret ridiculous human things. “Fine, I’ll work out what her other identity is.”

Sherlock evaluates what he knows of John and John’s technical abilities. The man is obviously competent, obviously not averse to breaking the law if he can be convinced it is necessary. Gaining access to evidence is always a problem, with the tight hold the police have on it and their reluctance to share. So, the best course of action: gain control of the evidence.

“What have you done with her overnight bag?” Sherlock asks, moving away from the body, away from Lestrade, and towards John, who is still holding the broken com.

“Bag? What does she need a bag for, if it’s her flat?”

“Have you even looked in the closet?” Sherlock demands. “She doesn’t live here; she brought a bag. Where is it?”

“There isn’t a bag,” Lestrade says. “How do you know she had one? I want a proper explanation before I send everyone off looking for a bag that doesn’t exist.”

Well, that bit of explanation Sherlock really doesn’t understand. It’s obvious, surely. “What is it like in your funny little brains?” he asks. It’s a constant sort of curiosity for him--there’s no way to replicate the experience of being inside a human mind. Sherlock supposes it is something like having his most useful processors shut down, which sounds utterly boring. But there may be something he’s missed, some quality to the human mind that is unquantifiable in a way a droid can’t quite understand. He answers the question.

“There’s a specific type of bag favoured by women who dress in this style,” Sherlock says, gesturing to the dead woman’s clothes. “Large--big enough to be used for an overnight bag, small enough to pass for a purse. Designed to resemble the internal structure of an android--romanticised, of course, none of it works, and little of it is made of the actual materials--regulations wouldn’t allow for that. A ridiculous fashion, but useful nonetheless.” As he speaks, Sherlock speeds his way through a database of Droidwear merchandise, looking for a style that matches the evidence. Oh, of course. “Only one such bag is manufactured in pink, and the colour is strikingly similar to that of Rachel Walton’s shoes and dress. The bag in question has a raised metal rectangle on one side, and on the opposite side a row of screws. She was left-handed, would have worn a bag over her right shoulder, which is obviously the case judging from the crease in her dress corresponding to the metal panel on the bag and the row of minor bruises on the inside of her arm where it would have pressed against the screws on the bag.”

“That’s fantastic,” John says again. Strange. A nervous tic?

“Do you know you do that out loud?” Sherlock asks.

“Sorry, I’ll shut up.”

“No, it’s fine.” Interesting, even. New data. Possible subject for experimentation?

“What if she drove, left her bag in the car?” Lestrade suggests.

“No, she obviously doesn’t drive. If the bag is not in the flat the murderer has it.”

“Hang on, murderer? You think she was murdered?”

“Of course she was murdered--they were all murdered. I don’t know how--it was clearly suicide; the signs are unmistakable. They all chewed and swallowed the poison of their own accord. But there was someone else here, and they took her bag. It can’t have been a theft, these people aren’t connected; this is obviously the work of a serial killer, not a thief. So it was an accident. The killer made a mistake. They forgot the bag in the car--they drove her here.” Sherlock’s processing speed is faster than ever, and the data is beautiful, a perfect progression.

“You said she came from work--she could have left her bag there,” John says.

Sherlock analyzes it instantly. “An overnight bag would be dangerous to leave at work. Too much chance it would be found and reveal that she was meeting a lover. No, the murderer has, or had it. Come on Lestrade, find the bag!”

Lestrade is unresponsive for a moment, looking between Sherlock and the corpse, obviously coming to a decision Sherlock already knows is a foregone conclusion. Lestrade can’t pass up a lead.

“All right!” Lestrade shouts, turning and leaving the room, moving through the kitchen and out to where the rest of the police are milling around. “We’re looking for a bag, meant to look like a robot.”

The moment Lestrade is out of the room, Sherlock turns to John and takes the com out of his hands, folding it halfway and shoving it into his coat pocket.

“Sherlock!” John hisses. “What are you doing?”

“Come on,” Sherlock says, grabbing John by the wrist and leading him out of the room, out of the flat, through a cluster of police officers in the hallway. “Find the bag!” he shouts at them. “The bag has to be important.”

It’s probably irrelevant, actually, but Sherlock has the evidence he needs.

-> Chapter Three


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

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