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This Machine Called Man (5/7)

Masterpost | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six


“Sherlock, what have you done?”

Mrs. Hudson hurries into the hallway the moment she hears the door slam shut behind them. Facial expression: worried, anxious. She is undoubtedly referring to the police officers Sherlock knows are upstairs, but he can’t be sure why she thinks he’s done something. “Done” in this case being idiomatic, meaning “done something wrong.” Perhaps a natural assumption stemming from the presence of the police.

Sherlock ignores the idiom. “I have done many things,” he says, and goes upstairs.

He opens the door to the flat and sees immediately what’s going on. Lestrade is seated in one of the armchairs, Rachel Walton’s bag sitting on the table next to him, unmoved from where Sherlock last saw it. Six other police officers are present in the flat, notably Donovan and Anderson. Sherlock knows the others--their names and faces are in his files--but they aren’t important. All of them are rummaging around the flat, clearly looking for something, and just as clearly enjoying poking around in Sherlock’s possessions whether or not they find what they’re looking for. “Is this just breaking and entering, or do you have an excuse?” Sherlock says to Lestrade.

“I’m not breaking and entering,” Lestrade says. “You stole evidence from a murder investigation. Though officially speaking, this is a drugs bust.”

“Seriously?” John bursts out. “You think he’s a junkie?”

Oh, how tedious. Now Sherlock is going to have to explain to John what happens when he isn’t maintenanced often enough. “You’re not going to find anything,” Sherlock tells Lestrade. At least, Lestrade isn’t going to find what he’s looking for. And all Sherlock’s illegal robotics equipment is well-hidden--except, of course, himself--so it’s not a problem, but it is inconvenient.

“Are you sure?”

Sherlock ignores the question. “This isn’t the drugs division. What’s Anderson doing here?”

“Oh, I volunteered,” Anderson says from the kitchen.

“None of them are, strictly speaking, on the drug squad, but they’re very keen.”

Ridiculous. Humans: voyeurism, schadenfreude, petty revenge. Donovan: “Are these human eyes?” Estimation of humans: confirmed.

“Put those back.”

“They were in the microwave.”

Well, of course they were in the microwave. “It’s an experiment.”

“If you start cooperating properly, I’ll stand them down,” Lestrade says. He gets out of the armchair and turns to the bag on the table. “Listen, I know you think we’re all unbearably slow, but you can’t withhold evidence. This is our case. You can help, but you can’t go off on your own and not tell us when you find important evidence. And you definitely can’t steal.”

“It’s irrelevant evidence.”

“Is it?”

“The bag is. John got us into the com. We have our connection between Rachel Walton and James Phillimore.”

Sherlock senses a sudden lack of movement in the room. All the police, who have been looking for a connection between these mysterious, unconnected suicides for months, are suddenly frozen in shock. John removes his com from his pocket, unfolds it partway, types in the address for Company Co., and turns up the volume. The call connects.

“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 says, “Caprica six,” and the police listen to the message in utter silence.

“We need to find out if the others rented companion bots,” Sherlock says when John has disconnected the call and explained how they got the address and passcode off the com. “Walton and Phillimore were in the company’s records, but the others may also have a connection; they may have used false ID, since we know Rachel Walton did so. You’ll need to contact the manager, Jefferson Hope, who was working yesterday when Walton would have come in, if she did come in.”

“Did you get her real identity?” Lestrade asks.


“Hang on, you didn’t tell me that,” John says. He sounds annoyed.

“It was hardly urgent. Her real name was Jennifer Wilson. She was married to a Daniel Arthur Wilson.”

“How did you work that out?” John asks. John’s constant need to understand Sherlock’s logical processes is, surprisingly, not yet becoming tedious. Sherlock explains.

“The address on her com screen when it was broken, the call she was trying to make. It was lost when you retrieved the files because she never actually made the call, but I was able to use the bits we had to run through the London identification directory and find the man. It was simply a matter of looking at his public profile to find out that Rachel Walton was actually his wife, Jennifer Wilson. I don’t know why she was trying to call him as she was dying. That doesn’t make any sense.” Sherlock turns to John, testing John’s potential for interpreting human emotion. “If you were being murdered, in your last moments, who would you want to talk to?”

“My family.”

“Don’t be stupid, you’re only saying that because Jennifer Wilson called her husband. Use your imagination.”

“I don’t have to.”

Oh. Interesting. Useful data? John shifts his feet. Body language suggests awkwardness, embarrassment, repressed anger. Why is he embarrassed? Sherlock looks around at the various police officers, all of whom are looking at John, wearing facial expressions that signify pity and guilt. He turns back to John. “But you didn’t die. Why are you still bothered by it?”

“Thinking about how I might have died?” John says, calmly. He sounds... oh, teaching. He knows Sherlock is a learning droid; is this something he wants Sherlock to learn? “Hypotheticals about what if I had? Makes me a little uncomfortable. Just for future reference.”

“Our favourite psychopath, ladies and gentlemen,” Anderson says.

No point in correcting him; psychiatric diagnoses are irrelevant to Sherlock. It doesn’t matter what Anderson thinks. “This is irrelevant anyway,” Sherlock says. “The connection is Company Co. We need to know if the other two victims were customers there, if they rented companion droids before they died, why these four and not others were the victims. Was Jefferson Hope always working when they rented droids? The case still has several gaps. You’ll need to get a warrant to examine Company Co.’s records.”

“Yes, thanks, we know how to do our jobs.” Lestrade turns to the rest of the room, and barks, “All right, everyone, pack up, we’ve got a new lead.”

In the flurry of activity that follows, John sidles up to Sherlock and asks under his breath, “Why does Lestrade think you do drugs?”

“Because he’s an idiot.”

“He’s not, Sherlock. He has a reason.”

Obviously, Sherlock is not getting out of this. “I’ll explain after they leave,” he says.


John watches the police leave, thinking hard. Something makes DI Lestrade think Sherlock is, or was, into drugs. What could a robot do that would look like drugs? He’s never heard of anything like that, but then, so few robots look human enough for a connection to drugs to even occur to anyone. John sits down in his armchair, and watches Sherlock close the living room door behind the last police officer and move to sit down across from John.

“After I left Mycroft,” Sherlock begins, “I was infected with a virus.”

“A computer virus?”

“Obviously. It affected me in unexpected ways. My reactions were strangely similar to the effects of cocaine. There is no research on how viruses might affect convincing true-humanoid robots, and it affected me in some surprisingly human ways, so it went undiagnosed for some time.”

And Sherlock claims he doesn’t need a maintenance tech. “Don’t you have some kind of antivirus subroutine?”

“It slipped past, initially,” Sherlock says, sounding irritated about it. “After that...”


“I told you its effects mimicked cocaine. I... allowed it to continue.”

John stares. He looks at the way Sherlock’s hair is curling tighter than it was earlier this morning, the smudge of dust on the side of his jaw, the life in his eyes. Sherlock is... seems to be... saying that he let a virus onto his system because he liked the effects. That is incomprehensible. That a robot can feel the effects of a virus as a drug, can feel differently, can feel good, can feel anything.

What does it even matter, then, that Sherlock is a robot? What difference is there between Sherlock and John, between robot and human? Only that John can’t trust Sherlock, can’t trust that there isn’t a difference or won’t someday be a difference.

“You’re telling me the virus made you feel good. You can feel pleasure.”

“I wouldn’t call it that.”

“What would you call it, then?” John asks, voice tense, feeling an urge to get up and move around the room and a conflicting need to stay sitting, to stay calm and still. “Because that’s what it sounds like.”

“I don’t, ordinarily, experience anything that corresponds with the definition of pleasure as I understand it.”

“So, what, the virus made you feel it, when you don’t normally?”

“I still wouldn’t call it pleasure, but it did make me--” Sherlock breaks off with a strangely frustrated noise. “How does anyone describe this sort of thing? It’s impossible. What a ridiculous language.”

“That’s what we have poetry for.”

“Oh, poetry. Ridiculous. I skipped it.”

“So you can feel.” It’s a mindblowing prospect; John has no idea how he says it so calmly.

“Don’t start counting on me feeling things about people, that’s not how it works.”

“Fine. You don’t look like you’re on cocaine now, so what happened?”

“Mycroft eventually found out and kidnapped me to get rid of the virus. He told everyone I was in a rehabilitation centre, which is why they’re all convinced I might have drugs.”

John shifts uncomfortably, flexing his fingers on the handle of his cane. “Would you do it again?”

Sherlock says flatly, “No.”

And there it is, the point where John remembers that he’s not sure he can trust a truth from a robot’s mouth.

“Fine,” John says. “Okay.” He takes a deep breath, lets it out, resolves to think about this later, when Sherlock isn’t looking at him, isn’t looking so human. “I’ll just clean up a bit.”

Sherlock gets up abruptly, and moves to the sofa. “Good. I have case files to deal with.”

And that’s that. Sherlock just gets more impossible, and John just says, “all right,” and gets on with tidying.

What a ridiculous life John lives now.

John sets to work putting the flat back to rights. The kitchen is the worst mess, though John isn’t sure that’s any more the police’s fault than it is Sherlock’s. The eyeballs are the most grisly discovery--John had yet to open the microwave, so he hadn’t seen them yet, and honestly he’s glad Sergeant Donovan saved him the surprise. He sets the jar on the counter and stares at it, feeling his stomach quiver. The eyeballs are still mostly intact, but they are oozing slightly. It’s not as if he didn’t see a lot of blood and gore in Afghanistan, but something about eyeballs in particular is... unsettling. Things like this do not belong in a kitchen. Sherlock doesn’t eat, obviously, so he doesn’t care. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to him that John does need to eat.

“Sherlock,” John calls.


John picks up the jar of eyeballs and walks over to the kitchen doorway. “What do you want me to do with the eyeballs?” he asks, waving the jar in Sherlock’s direction.

“Put them back in the microwave. I will deal with it later.”

“What if I need to use the microwave?” John asks reasonably.

“Then put them somewhere else.”

John sighs, and begins to suspect that this is his first lesson in the realities of having a robot for a flatmate. He ventures further into the living room, still carrying the eyeballs, and when he gets as far as the sofa he sets the jar down in the middle of Sherlock’s chest. Sherlock opens his eyes and bends his head to look down the line of his chest at the eyeballs. The view must be lovely, John thinks.

“Rule number one,” John says. “If you’re going to live with me--or any other human--you can’t treat the kitchen like a laboratory. I have to eat, and I have to use the kitchen to eat, and I don’t want to have to look at decomposing human body parts while I’m doing it. It’s disgusting.”

Sherlock looks up at John. “What if you cook meat?”

“What?” There’s a leap of logic John didn’t follow.

“If you cook meat, you’ll have decomposing animal parts in the kitchen. How does that differ from decomposing human body parts?”

“How does that differ--” John begins, and then breaks off to take a couple of deep breaths. He had known when he agreed to this that he would have to explain things to Sherlock. If Sherlock hasn’t had a maintenance tech in years, hasn’t had anyone close enough to ask about things he doesn’t understand, then John will just have to be prepared to answer the uncomfortable questions. The police have clearly never bothered--they simply dismiss Sherlock as a psychopath, incapable of understanding basic human things--but then, the police don’t know that Sherlock is an android, capable of learning. Or, at least, of assimilating new data.

John actually has to think about why human parts are different from animal parts. “Because...” he tries. “Because with human parts, I feel like they belonged to someone. I see eyeballs, and I know on more than an intellectual level that someone used to use them to see. Hell, someone probably looked into them and thought they were beautiful.” He looks back at the jar, feeling even sicker now he’s trying to express why he feels sick in the first place. “Human body parts still feel human even when they’re... unattached. But an animal part, at least an animal part I’m going to cook, is just a piece of meat. I bought it from a shop and it’s only my brain that knows it used to be an animal.”

Sherlock considers this, fingertips pressed against his lips. “What if I brought home, say, a liver. You’re not trained in anatomy, you wouldn’t know the difference between a human liver and an animal liver. If I told you it was an animal liver--”

“Christ, please never do that,” John interrupts. “You are not allowed to turn me into a cannibal as an experiment. No, if you’re going to have body parts in the flat, they must be in sealed, labelled containers, on a designated shelf of the refrigerator.”

“Fine. Which shelf?”

“The bottom one,” John says, and returns to the kitchen, leaving the eyeballs behind on Sherlock’s chest. He unearths his electric kettle from one of his suitcases and puts it on to boil, letting the routine of making tea settle his stomach and his nerves. He’s not regretting this whole adventure, certainly, but it is clearly going to be just as much manoeuvring around an inconsiderate flatmate and explaining simple concepts to him as upgrading software and running off to crime scenes.

Tea made and thoughts of unwitting forced cannibalism repressed, John pulls out his com and sits down in what he already considers his armchair.

His course of mandatory therapy sessions isn’t over. He has another appointment next week and one more two weeks after that. John doesn’t really think these sessions have helped and he doesn’t think writing in his blog will help, but he’s always been a little too conscientious for his own good. He is sceptical of therapy--why talk about your problems when doing something about them will inevitably be the right solution? And the blog--why talk about your life when you could be living it? But of course he hasn’t really been living his life since he got home from Afghanistan, so he hasn’t had anything to talk about anyway.

He doesn’t care about disappointing Ella by not writing in his blog, but he does care about documenting his work. Sherlock is the most incredible robot John has ever seen, and despite the difficulties John is thrilled to be working with him. Since Sherlock left his last maintenance tech--his creator--maybe nobody has ever done this work before. It is new, in the kind of way John has always dreamed of achieving with robotics, and that’s exciting. In the event that John is ever allowed to reveal what he’s doing with Sherlock, he wants a record of it.

He can’t be explicit on his blog, of course, but he can talk about what Sherlock does. He can talk about Sherlock’s cases if he leaves out the details, and Sherlock’s methods are fair game.

John wants to write about Sherlock. He might as well appease Ella by writing about Sherlock where she can see it.

I know I said nothing ever happens to me. But last Friday, something happened.


Sherlock has completed his case file organisation (no conclusions yet, information from Lestrade pending), disposed of the eyeballs (unfortunate and unexpected demand from John, but the experiment was inconclusive anyway), and is sitting on the sofa considering what he wants to do now he has a maintenance tech. There are many interesting modifications to his design he’s considered, many possible improvements. He will have to put in orders for all the parts he wants replaced.

He is checking his parts suppliers’ hubs when a call from Lestrade comes in. He taps the screen to accept the call, and lifts his com to eye level. He is aware of John’s sudden attention, shifted away from his own com to Sherlock.


Sherlock already knows Lestrade’s inquiry has been a success. Lestrade is clearly trying to keep his face blank, but the slight suggestion of a grin around his mouth is a giveaway, and Sherlock’s body language analysis reads his mood as triumphant and determined. The view behind Lestrade’s head is clearly of his office.

“You were right,” Lestrade says. “We got a warrant to examine Company Co.’s files, and we’ve looked at the files for all the deaths again. We’ve brought a couple of the witnesses back in.”

Obvious. That’s what Sherlock told him to do, of course that’s what he did. “Get to the point,” Sherlock snaps.

Lestrade frowns. Annoyance. “Anyway, you were right. James Phillimore is in their records, he rented a companion bot the night he died. None of his friends knew he was going to, which is why we didn’t know. We looked through all the rentals for the day Jeffrey Patterson died--there was only one that fit the bill. He used a fake ID. Beth Davenport’s bot was rented using her sister’s ID, Amy Casper--she didn’t tell us because she thought Ms. Davenport was planning to return the bot before the time of the murder, but the records show that didn’t happen. And Rachel Walton did rent a bot the day she died. All the companion bots returned alone. That’s normal--if you rent the bot with a vehicle you can send it back on its own.”

“There’s no proof they were with their companion bots when they died,” Sherlock says.

“No, there isn’t. And we can’t question the bots. The company wipes their memory between customers.”

“Rachel Walton rented her companion bot from the manager, Jefferson Hope. Who was working when the others rented bots?”

“Jefferson Hope. That could be a coincidence--he seems to work a lot.”

“There’s no such thing as coincidence.” Not if you look hard enough. Somewhere, somehow, there are always connections, if only you have the processing power necessary to analyze all the components. “When is Jefferson Hope working next?”

“This evening. But look, Sherlock, don’t go doing anything stupid. He doesn’t know he’s a suspect. We can’t go and talk to him until we get confirmation on a couple more things.”

“I won’t,” Sherlock promises, and closes the call screen. He will do nothing that is not calculated to produce the best results.

“You will though, won’t you?” John asks. He is still sitting in his armchair across the room (interesting how Sherlock has already designated that chair John’s), looking at Sherlock.

“I don’t do stupid things, I’m a droid.”

“Fine. What are you planning?”

Sherlock evaluates the merits of bringing John in on his plans. Back-up only, of course. All the victims rented their companion bots alone. That may not be significant, but it’s not a factor worth changing. Sherlock considers John’s limp. Not much use in any situation where running is required, though Sherlock has a theory about that. This might be a convenient way to test his theory. He is slowly filling out his profile of John Watson. He suspects that John will not take kindly to being left out.

“I am going to rent a companion bot,” Sherlock announces.

John’s face does not show as much surprise as Sherlock was expecting. “And then what?” he asks.

“And then I shall wait for someone to make me poison myself. Which will, of course, be unsuccessful, given I lack a real digestive system.”

“What if they have other weapons?” John asks. “RRDDs, something that could do you damage?”

“That is why you will be following me. You could, of course, merely fix the damage later, but preventative measures are much more efficient. And if I am disabled you can jump in and prevent the criminals from escaping.”

“I don’t have any weapons.”

Sherlock looks at John, not verbally refuting the claim, just looking. He knows John has a remote robot disabling device. He could use it to temporarily disable a robot, or depending on the model possibly even stun a human under certain conditions.

John visibly swallows, and nods.

Sherlock is unable to shoot a gun at a human, even a stun gun. This has never been an inconvenience for him, but it is sometimes strange to know that the same restriction does not apply to people. John could shoot him or anyone else, if he chose. John won’t, but John could.

That is the single most difficult aspect of being a detective and a droid. Sherlock can never fully account for all the possibilities humans produce. Sherlock cannot calculate the infinity of possible actions encompassed in every human. Humans have no restrictions scripted into their programming; they could do anything. Sherlock can calculate probabilities, of course: John could, but he won’t.

But he could.

“Do you have any idea how they’re made to take the poison?” John asks.

“Only probabilities,” Sherlock answers. “I can’t be sure.”

-> Chapter Six


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

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