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This Machine Called Man (3/7)

Masterpost | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four


Sherlock lets go of John when they reach the stairs, and clatters down them much faster than John can manage. “Come along, John!” he calls. His voice echoes in the stairwell. John nods awkwardly to the confused-looking police officers and slowly thumps down the stairs after him. He finds Sherlock waiting for him on the front step, standing very still but clearly working, processing information, planning his next step.

“What the hell are we doing?” John asks him, keeping his voice low so as not to be heard by Sergeant Donovan and the others standing not far away.

“You’re waiting here,” Sherlock answers. “There’s nothing to observe in what I’m going to do next, and you’d slow me down.” John glances down at his leg, his hand on his cane, and takes a breath, looking back up at Sherlock.

“What are you going to do next?”

“Find the bag, obviously.”

“You know where it is?”

“Yes. It’s probably not important, but I want to find it first, stall Lestrade and his people while we have a chance to get back to Baker Street and get on with the important things. I’ll send you a text when I’ve found it, and you can meet me.” He strides off down the street, ducking gracefully under the police tape, before John has a chance to argue. John hovers awkwardly next to the front door as two policemen pass him on their way inside, and then he steps away and walks out onto the pavement, feeling slower than usual, more conscious of his limp.

Sergeant Donovan is leaning against one of the police cars, talking to a uniformed police constable. She says something and the constable walks away toward the main road. She turns to look in John’s direction. John nods politely and then, for lack of anything else to do, he ambles over to talk to her. It might be interesting to see Sherlock the way most people see him, and she clearly has an opinion on him, has known him far longer than John.

“He took off, did he?” she asks.

“More or less.”

“Yeah, he does that.”

“What else does he do?”

Donovan shrugs. “Hang around crime scenes. He’s not paid to be here or anything. He gets off on it. The weirder the crime--the more complicated--the more he gets off.”

Sherlock doesn’t need to be paid, of course--solving crime is his primary function, his purpose. He was built for it. But here again is the suggestion that he enjoys it. The more John sees, the less he’s sure that isn’t the case. “How long has he been around?” John asks.

“Five years, I think? Since before my time--I was in the technological crimes division until three years ago.”

“Technological crimes? What did you specialise in?”

“Nothing, really. I was a constable, then. I’m not trained in any tech, I just fell into it and picked things up along the way.” She pushes herself off the side of the car and turns to look at John straight on. “Look, what are you still doing here? Waiting for him? You’re not his friend. He doesn’t have friends.”

John half smiles. “I know he doesn’t.”

“So who are you?”

“I’m...” It’s a good question. John is Sherlock’s maintenance technician, but he doesn’t think that’s exactly what Sergeant Donovan means, and he’s not about to tell her. He is nothing to Sherlock, emotionally speaking. Droids don’t have emotions. “I’m nobody.”

“Okay, bit of advice, then? Stay away from that guy.”

She doesn’t know Sherlock is a droid, so she can’t know he’s illegal. Does she think John is going to get hurt physically? Sherlock has already said the First Law is in his programming. As Sherlock’s maintenance tech John can make sure that’s true. “Why?” he asks.

“You know how I said he gets off on it?” she begins, and then something catches her eye and she half turns, looking up. John follows her gaze and sees, caught in pale moonlight, Sherlock, standing on the roof. He looks unreal, strange, inhuman--but more like an animal than like a machine. “One day it won’t be enough,” John hears Donovan say. He doesn’t look away from Sherlock. “One day we’ll be standing ‘round a body, and Sherlock Holmes will be the one that put it there.”

That does get John’s attention. “Why would he do that?”

“Because he’s a psychopath.”

It’s interesting, to know that this is what happens when a robot looks like a human. John knows Sherlock is not a psychopath, but at the same time it’s strange to think he’s agreed to live with a robot who looks to outside eyes like someone who might someday commit a murder.

John’s com pings. He looks away from Donovan, clears his throat awkwardly, and pulls the com out of his pocket.

Tunstall Road. Come at once.

“Is that him?” Donovan asks.

John nods, feeling half guilty for... something.

“Be careful,” she says. “You wouldn’t want to wind up accessory to a murder. Or the victim.” She walks over to lift up the police tape, and he ducks under it and turns back to smile at her.

“Thanks for the warning.”

Donovan gives him a look, like she thinks he’s crazy, and walks away. Maybe he is crazy.

He spots Sherlock leaning against the wall of a brick building on Tunstall Road, half in shadows.

“Find it?” John asks.

Sherlock steps aside and gestures at the large bag at his feet. It is vividly pink, with exactly the same robotic metal bits stuck on the sides as Sherlock described. “Jesus, we’d look conspicuous taking that anywhere in public,” John says.



Sherlock steps out of the shadows to hail a cab, leaving John to pick up the bag and follow. The aerotaxi driver gives him a look when he dumps the bag on the seat, but John only shrugs and smiles sheepishly.

“No one could go anywhere with that bag without attracting attention,” Sherlock says as the taxi lifts into the air. “You’ve just proven that. So the killer could only have forgotten about the bag if it were in the car. It can’t have taken them long to realise the mistake, though. I simply checked every place in a five minute radius of Lauriston Gardens where one could dispose of such a conspicuous object.”

“Right, okay. So you found the bag. Now what? Where are we going?”

“221B Baker Street,” he tells the driver.


The living room of 221B Baker Street is warm and bright. It’s a bit sparse--nothing on the shelves by the fireplace, no pictures on the walls, barely any clutter except on the table. Everything is in its place. That’s not going to last if John moves in. He’s always had trouble keeping his belongings in order, at least when he has any belongings to speak of. He’s rather charmed by the cow skull on the wall that’s had its horns replaced by skinny metal robot arms, and a bit creeped out by the human skull on the mantelpiece. The Union Jack pillow in the armchair must be Mrs. Hudson’s touch. All in all the flat is orderly more in the line of a minimalist than a robot.

It’s not the kind of place John would have expected a droid to live, had he thought about it. Not that John would want to live in the kind of place he would have pictured for a robot. Not that he’s sure he wants to live here, just yet. He has said yes, but he’s not beyond the point of no return.

He sinks down into the armchair and watches Sherlock set the bag on the table. “Sergeant Donovan’s going to think you’re the murderer,” John says calmly.

Sherlock pauses halfway through unzipping the bag and turns. “What? Why?”

“She thinks you’re a psychopath.”

Sherlock snorts derisively. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“Well, no. But didn’t anyone think you might benefit from a politeness subroutine? It’s not like it can’t be done; most service droids are almost painfully polite.”

“Politeness is inefficient.” Sherlock unzips the bag and dumps it upside down on the table. John watches as Rachel Walton’s possessions tumble out--tubes of bright pink perma-lipstick and black perma-eyeliner, a travel-sized electric toothbrush, a concentrated food bar (strawberry flavour), a hairbrush. No clothing, but then everything she was wearing was robo-chic style, so it was probably all self-cleaning. None of it looks important to John; he’s not sure why Sherlock went to the trouble.

Sherlock dumps the bag itself down on top of the contents and turns away, placing his hands on his hips. “Long shot,” he mutters. “Had to eliminate all the possibilities.”

“So the bag isn’t relevant?”


“What about fingerprints?” John asks, getting up to examine the bag himself. He’s careful not to touch it more than necessary.

“Not on that surface.” Sherlock throws himself down on the sofa and presses his palms together under his chin. It’s the same position he was in when Mrs. Hudson first let John into the flat. It looks like some kind of standby mode, slightly blank. John watches Sherlock, distracted.

“So are you going to tell me what you stole the com for?” John asks. He’s not exactly comfortable with the idea, stealing evidence out from under the noses of a dozen police officers. He has what is probably a stupid amount of faith in the idea that Sherlock knows what he’s doing, though, that this is part of a plan or will in some way increase the efficiency of the investigation and lead to a serial killer being stopped.

That doesn’t stop this from feeling like a very, very stupid idea. John chooses not to think about it too hard.

“So you can get the files off it, obviously,” Sherlock says.

Oh, obviously. John stares at him. “You know I’m not actually a com tech. I mean, I can do that, but don’t you think the police have people better trained for it?”

“If I let the police do it I won’t get to see the evidence.” Sherlock unbuttons his left shirt cuff and then reaches out to the coffee table to pick up a thin black metal rectangle. He flicks a catch on his wristwatch (John barely has time to wonder at a robot wearing a wristwatch before he realises Sherlock uses it as a port) and slides the object into a slot beneath the watch face.

“What are you doing?” John asks. Sherlock doesn’t open his eyes, pressing another button on the watch by feel. Well, he probably has sensors.

“Extra processing power.”

“How much?”

“Three zettabytes.”

“Three? Christ, Sherlock, you’ll overload your system.”

“It improves my processing speed.”

“Yeah, and if you’re not careful it’ll improve your processing speed a little too much. You’ll fry your system.”

“You’ll fix me,” Sherlock says, and replaces his hands under his chin.

John watches him, expecting a minor explosion every moment, and then eventually gives up and looks around the room. “So, you want me to get the files off?”

“Yes. It’s in my coat pocket.”

Sherlock’s coat is hanging on the back of the door, where he hung it when they came inside. John reaches into the left pocket and pulls out the broken com. It is only half folded; John unfolds it all the way and sets it on the table by the windows. “All right,” he says to Sherlock. “Let me have your com.”

“What for?”

“I’m pulling files off a private com that was stolen evidence from a murder investigation, Sherlock, I’m not putting the files on my own com.”

“Fine. Jacket pocket.”

Seriously? John’s never known a robot this lazy and unhelpful. It’s... actually a bit of a relief. He crosses the room, cane thumping loudly on the floorboards, and reaches between Sherlock’s elbows to pull his com out of his inner jacket pocket. “You’ll need to unlock it,” John points out, unfolding it.

Then he looks down at the com, and realises he’s seeing the last of the fingerprint unlocking screen fade away. Sherlock unlocked it remotely.

“You can... Half the point of the fingerprint lock is that it means robots can’t use coms.”

“I have fingerprints,” Sherlock points out.

“Yeah, about that--”

“So I can transmit my fingerprint key remotely. It’s hardly impossible, John, you simply have never thought to do it because your brain is not a computer.”

John decides not to argue.

He finds a com-to-com cable lying in a tangle on the table, and sits down with it and Sherlock’s com to figure out the best way to do this. It shouldn’t be hard--he’d been good at retrieving files off broken coms in the army. Com screens are crack-resistant, but they take a serious beating in a combat zone. The issue here is to be as careful as possible not to lose anything, not to miss the one file that might be the key.

John connects the coms, and starts trying to get into the admin account that will let him override the fingerprint lock and copy the files.


It’s interesting, that John Watson is so willing to cooperate with pulling the files off the com Sherlock stole from police evidence. Stealing it was a choice based on the probability that John would help--73% likely, but by no means a certainty. Sherlock has identified several reasons why John might have agreed, though Sherlock is aware that more than one of those possibilities may apply. It’s one of the more irritating features of humanity, their tendency to have several reasons to do any one thing and not to know fully what all those reasons are or to give them their deserved weight.

The first possible reason is that John is so addicted to adrenaline that he’s willing to do illegal things (within certain limits) in order not to be bored. Several things Sherlock has observed about John point to this likelihood: the tremor in his hand which disappears when he’s threatened, his former career in the army, his possession of an illegal tri-wing screwdriver. This is likely part of the cause for John’s cooperation.

John may also believe that Sherlock intends to blackmail him with his driver if he does not help. This is effective in the short term but does not seem conducive to a functional future relationship. Sherlock would prefer that John be his maintenance technician of his own will. Coercion would be undesirable in a number of ways, though Sherlock has yet to identify all of them.

There is a chance that John is hacking Rachel Walton’s com out of a basic desire to help Sherlock. Why he should want to do so is less clear. Sherlock can’t afford to rule it out, however.

The question of John in combination with the problems of the case justify the extra processing power. Sherlock, lying on the sofa, turns off some of his unnecessary systems in order to devote more space to dealing with the two issues. He watches John, who sits at the table working in a small space cleared of discarded machine parts and useless print-outs. He clearly knows what he’s doing. His fingers dance over the screen of Sherlock’s com. His face is calm and focused, except at the point where he seems to hit a problem, when he swears and glares at the com. But the problem is overcome soon enough. It is fascinating to watch John work, solve problems, do something he’s good at.

Forty-two minutes and eight seconds after he begins John sits back in his chair, expelling a “Hah!” which Sherlock identifies as triumph. He waits for John to speak.

“I’m in,” John says, turning to Sherlock. His hand is perfectly steady and there’s a brightness to his eyes, an upturn to his lips that he is trying and failing to control. John is clearly not doing this because he feels he must. He is enjoying it. That’s good.

“What are we looking for, exactly?” John asks, when Sherlock doesn’t immediately respond.

Sherlock dismisses his analysis of John’s motives and focuses on the case, getting up and crossing to look down over John’s shoulder at his com. They’re looking at the default screen of the dead woman’s com, a macro image of smooth metal of the type used in some anthromorph service droids, with a night sky behind it.

“Anything related to her true identity, and anything that might tell us who she was meeting at her flat.” Sherlock shoves at John’s shoulder until he gets up, frowning, to let Sherlock sit in his place and examine the com.

The first thing Sherlock notices about the com is the scarcity of information on it. All the files, all the clutter people normally leave on their coms, inconsistently sorted into inappropriately named folders, none of that is there. No business cards, no games, no photographs, no books, no videos. Nothing in the calendar, very few contacts--Batma, David, Jim, Judith (Landlady), Patricia, Sadhri, Tetsuo. Neighbours? Friends? This is obviously not her primary identity, especially as she’s a professional--she should have lots of business cards, more contacts. She’s married; she should have photographs. So these are the people she contacts while using her secondary identity. Sherlock considers contacting them, but decides against it. Tedious and inefficient, using humans for information. Much better to look further into the data.

There are some files, just not as many as there should be. Mostly small text files. Sherlock opens them one by one, looking for anything of note. Shopping lists, one or two with dates and times. When he opens one titled “jim,” he is interrupted by John making a soft, surprised noise. He diverts some energy back to his visual processors and turns to look at John. John is staring down at Sherlock’s com, which shows the file Sherlock just opened, two words in an otherwise blank document.

caprica six

Cryptic. But John knows what it means.

“Come on, John,” Sherlock says. “You clearly know this is significant.”

“It’s a... sort of code. For people who use sex bots.”

Ah. So that’s where this case is going. How vulgar. “Sex bots are an utter waste of space, parts, programming, and energy,” Sherlock says.

John coughs delicately. “Yes, but are they relevant to the case?”

“Don’t know. Give me your com.”

John sighs, but he unlocks it and hands it over. Sherlock goes back to the contacts directory from Rachel Walton’s com and finds the address for Jim. He copies the address onto John’s com, and presses the call button.

A flat feminine voice emerges from the com’s speakers. “We take great care with the privacy of our customers. Discretion is our paramount goal. For your safety, please remember our passcode so that we can redirect your call. Please state the passcode now.”

John meets Sherlock’s eyes, and then says, clearly, “Caprica six.”

They get three seconds of quiet electronic music, and then the same voice, slightly less flat this time. “Welcome to Company Co. When you find our company, we find you a companion! Licensed companion robots for rental by day or long-term. All robots are anatomically accurate or made to suit a variety of alternative preferences. All robots are road legal. Robots may be rented with or without additional road vehicle. Our office hours are 8 o’clock to 19 o’clock, companion pick-ups outside of office hours must be prearranged. To speak to a representative or leave a message about issues with a companion, say ‘option one.’ For general inquiries, say ‘option two,’ or visit our office at 9 Beak Street. To make a reservation, say ‘option three.’ Have a nice day!”

Sherlock ends the call. “Elaborate dildos. Have you ever engaged the services of a sex bot, John?” Sherlock asks, peering at him, hoping for an interesting reaction.

John looks partly offended and partly tired. “No. Just because I’m a roboticist doesn’t mean I’m into sex bots, all right? Had a friend who rented one for his stag party, but that was a bit of a lark, we all just sort of sat around and looked at her.”

What an utter waste of time. “But you are familiar with their design?”

“Yes, of course. We covered sex bots at uni, though I don’t think we were supposed to. It wasn’t in the curriculum. The professor just thought it was interesting.”

“Interesting? Humans’ waste of resources just for the sake of sex? Sex bots are ridiculous and pedestrian.”

“No, they are interesting, if you think about it a certain way. If humans can build robots for sex and companionship, what do they need other people for? They’re pretty advanced droids, too.” John leans back, and looks Sherlock up and down, making some assessment. “Are you anatomically accurate?” he asks. “Sorry, I mean, just so I have an idea of all your functions.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrow. Of course he is; he has to be able to pass as human in all situations. Surely John can manage that small leap of logic. “Is that relevant?” John just claimed not to be interested in sex with androids, surely he doesn’t--

“Just wondering,” John says. He sounds curious, but the type of curiosity cannot be determined.

“I am fully functional.”

John’s eyes widen. “So you can...”

“If it is necessary to fulfill my assigned function, I am capable of sexual activity, yes.” That, at least, has been conclusively proven. “John, I think you should know that I have no interest in sex--”

John interrupts. “I wasn’t--I said, I’m not interested in robots, like that. So it’s fine. It’s all fine.”

Is John lying, or did he really not mean to imply he wanted Sherlock to--? No way to determine that, at this point. Move on. “Now, may we return to the matter at hand?”

“Yes, of course,” John says.

“Rachel Walton was clearly a frequent user of Company Co.’s services. That would give her a reason to have false identification, and it would explain the flat. She wanted her own flat, rather than a hotel, partly because the regularity of her sex bot meetings made it practical, and partly because she had some interest in a domestic fantasy with the bot. The name in her contacts: Jim, probably what she called the bot, which shows she regularly rented the same bot, and had some idea of a relationship with it. She didn’t spend enough time in the flat to make it look lived-in, however.”

“So you think she was there with the bot.”

“Or she was waiting for the bot to arrive, or it had recently left. We don’t know. We need access to Company Co.’s records.”

“Eight a.m. tomorrow, then?”

“Yes, we need to see the office.”

John glances down at Sherlock’s wrist to read his watch, and appears surprised at what he sees. It is 21:17:43. “Right. I should...” John clears his throat. “I should go home, I guess. Get some sleep.”

“Home?” Sherlock asks, not following John’s train of thought. Why can’t humans be more logical?

“I don’t actually live here, remember? I’ll need to go home.”

Oh. How inconvenient. “You don’t live here yet.”


“Right, yeah. I guess we did agree on that,” John says, uncomfortable. “I still need to go and fetch my stuff. I don’t have much, I suppose I could get it now, bring it back here tonight?” At some point, he realises, he must have decided he’s really going to do this. Funny how it slipped him by. He still feels wrong-footed. It is strange to be negotiating the dynamics of new flatmates with a robot.

“A suitable plan. Very efficient,” Sherlock says, which from him seems to be high praise.

John considers pointing out that it would be even more efficient if Sherlock came along to help him pack. It’s probably just as well, though. John’s tiny flat is depressing, his belongings minimal far beyond the point of minimalist, and frankly it’s a bit embarrassing. It’s ridiculous to be embarrassed in front of an android, but John’s been working with droids for nearly twenty years and he knows, as people who only encounter robots in hospitals and government offices and libraries never know, that it isn’t like being alone. Robots may not experience embarrassment, but if you work with one for long enough its programming quirks begin to look like personality and you begin to expect the robot to react to awkwardness the way a human would. Even after training in how to see robots as machines.

Maybe that’s dangerous.

Maybe it’s dangerous, but when Sherlock offered danger, John said yes.

He says goodbye to Sherlock, though Sherlock has already returned to the couch and whatever processing or system self-maintenance he does, and clatters down the stairs into the dark street. He walks to the end of the road, enjoying the chill in the air, glancing up for an aerotaxi hovering low enough to be looking for passengers. He’s not in a hurry, doesn’t mind walking a bit to exercise his leg.

A taxi glides down behind him before he sees it, and pulls up against the kerb. John grins at his luck, and reaches out to open the door. “Thanks, mate.” He climbs in and gives the driver his address, and they gain altitude quickly.

After five minutes, John realises they are going in the wrong direction.

-> Chapter Four


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

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