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Hope: Complete First Set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOPE

Complete First Set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L. W. BROOK

Copyright © 2017 AMSER STUDIOS

All rights reserved.

Original Sherlock Holmes Stories By:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This work is a part of AMSER STUDIOS and falls within the “Experimental Collection”.

HOPE

A Study In Scarlet

 

A Novelette

 

 

It’s the year 2414.

Bricks of gray stone line the roads. They shine a wet white from the column style streetlights overhead.

The skies are dark, cloudy.

They threaten to rain down upon the London city of the After World. New or After London, most people call it.

When the wars had passed, both new and old cities took on reconstruction. Most, like this one, were beyond repair. It gave creative minds an opportunity to put an After World spin on what little architecture and design still remained.

Buildings are almost all stone and glass. Some breach the skies, but most stand at a far more modest height.

Sleek, modern vehicles hover above the stone paths for roads. The air forcing the vehicles up disturb the puddles beneath them and send water splashing out onto the pedestrian walkways railed off by curved, unique assortments of metal.

London is one of the more populated After World cities. However, even New London shies in comparison to the American city Oliver, the heart of the After World.

In midst this new age of beauty and technology, there is a poorly cared for street at the edge of London.

It’s the ghetto, one could dare say. The misfits end up here, in these special housing units paid for by the city. This street was originally meant to help rehabilitated ex-convicts turn the page to their new lives. Hence the name, Next Chapter Blvd.

All the occupants have to do to live here is take care of the property, but… a mere two years after it’s creation, Next Chapter Blvd. quickly became the one place you didn’t want to end up.

Police sirens sound from down the street. They grow louder as four police vehicles escort the largest hovercraft in town, an After World ambulance.

The moment the hovercrafts break into view, the authorities can see the residents of Next Chapter flee the scene. Men and women tuck and roll out of their houses before sprinting off down the street or back alleys.

With one hand on the safety bar of their midnight blue police vehicle, Lestrade watches their suspects run off. “Hey,” his hand stretches out over his driver and partner, Gregson. “I saw that!” He barks out the window toward a woman who had just crawled into a neighbor’s trash bin.

Gregson scowls and pushes his junior partner’s arm out of his face. “Then radio it in. Don’t go blinding the driver, you idiot.”

Lestrade winces through a press at his ear. “Runaway just ducked into the blue trash bin we’re passing now. Apartments 112 and 114. I repeat, suspect has found a fondness for fermented-” His face scrunches up in thought. He releases the police radio in his ear and narrows a look at Gregson. “I need another F word.”

Gregson does a double take at his new partner. The boy is just a kid. There’s no way he’ll last.

They make an abrupt stop before apartments 316 and 318. A man trying to outrun the authorities rolls over the hood of the car, across the street, and jumps into the Thames. One police vehicle pulls over beside the water while the other two chase after the runaways.

Behind Gregson and Lestrade pulls up a wide, red, rectangular ambulance of After World, London.

“This is intense.” Lestrade can’t help but breathe. He swallows the lump in his throat as he looks from the towering vehicle at their backs, to the runaway ex-cons, and finally up to the poorly cared for apartment they’d received an anonymous tip from.

Gregson scoffs and unlatches his safety restraints. “I don’t know how you got this far, kid. But I don’t see any way you last the whole week.”

Lestrade bites his lip and looks back out his window. There are people running everywhere. Officers, ex-convicts, innocent bystanders who got caught in the mix…

The hovercraft doors pop open and Gregson steps out onto untamed weeds. Scowl ever present, he pushes into his earpiece and says, “We’re going in.”

Lestrade climbs out of the vehicle and presses his chest against the only thing now blocking him from the hellhole of Next Chapter housing.

He watches tensely as Gragson steps over shattered glass and onto graphite decorated steps.

Lestrade jumps away from their hovercraft when Gregson looks back at him. “Coming!” He shouts after his partner.

—-

Gregson holds his gun up around his eye level, should he need to take a quick shot at someone.

He and his partner have gone through nearly the entire housing unit without finding so much as a drop of blood.

At the end of a narrow hall, a light flicks on.

Lestrade flinches and ducks behind Gregson.

Slowly, the two skip passed the other rooms and walk toward the cracked open door. The metal beam of a hallway floor gives off a dull tap at every step. It’s unavoidable.

Brows creased, Gregson reaches out with his left, non-dominant hand, and pushes the swinging hunk of metal into the room.

This single motion reveals a dead body resting face down in the center of an unused studio apartment.

“O-oh sh-” Lestrade whisper-shouts with a fall back onto the hallway floor. He points repeatedly to the dead body, alarm ever present in his eyes.

Gregson spares his partner an angry glance and hushing gesture that goes way over the boy’s head.

“That was a person!”

From inside the room, an unimpressed voice calls, “Yes. What a brilliant observation.”

Gregson deflates at the familiar voice. His eyes roll in a slow, agonizing motion. “Get up.” He barks at his partner.

Lestrade scrambles to a stand and together they walk into the crime scene.

Dark eyes fall immediately upon the person smoking a pipe beside the door. She’s sitting there with one leg crossed over the other, an envelope slid between two of her fingers. The small woman pulls a pipe out of her mouth to blow smoke up into Gregson’s face. His posture has slouched, she notes.

Light blue eyes trail up and down Lestrade, making him most uncomfortable. Monotone, the woman declares, “Glad to see they’ve finally partnered you up with someone on your level, detective.”

Gregson forces a smile. “You do realize this makes you a suspect?” He asks. His smile almost turns genuine. “We’re gonna need to bring you in for questioning, Sherlock Holmes.”

Short, dark, messy strands of hair fall over the woman’s eyes as she hits her head up against the wall and takes another drag from the pipe. Intimidating clear blue falls upon Gregson. She releases the smoke from her lungs. It pours from her mouth like a dragon. “It’s Hope.” She corrects.

Hope lifts the envelope up for the detectives to see. “I received this two hours ago. I believe the pipe to be from the same person.”

Gregson steps forward. He snatches the envelope and flips it in his hand. “No address.” He darts a look to Hope. “You’re using a gift sent to you from an anonymous homicidal maniac?”

Hope bites on the mouth of the pipe. “Wax seal.” She says simply.

Lestrade leans in to peer over Gregson’s shoulder. When the senior detective eyes him, he holds the eye contact as well as his position at the taller, balder man’s back.

“The single initial ‘M’, correct?” She huffs with impatience.

Gregson stares down at the envelope. “Yeah, so? How does any of this help my case?”

“Apparently, it doesn’t.” Hope muses through an eye roll. “However-” She stands. “It does help me.”

At her full height, Hope comes up to just over the height of the detectives’ shoulders. Stepping passed the two men, she taps at the envelope, then dares a step closer to the corpse. “What else do you see?” She asks with a peer down at the young woman.

There’s no sign of a struggle, but she doubts the woman chose to wear the silk, scarlet robe draped over her shoulders. It’s tacky. Particularly for a woman who puts so much effort into styling her hair and makeup.

Large diamond earrings weight down the lobes of the corpse. The unsub clearly has no intrest in money, and yet the wallet is missing.

Forensic countermeasure.

The unsub is intelligent.

Gregson opens the unsealed envelope. There’s a dumbfounded expression across his face as he reads the word:

RACHE

“Rache?” He reads aloud. Both he and Lestrade turn to face Hope. “What the hell is this?”

Hope smiles and tilts her head at the corpse.

The expression does not go unnoticed by the other two occupants of the room. They look to one another, then warily at the crime scene’s intruder.

“My invitation.” She explains with a drop to a kneel before the corpse.

Gregson steps forward. He shoots out his envelope holding hand. “Now hold on, this is a crime scene.”

“Yes, the soon to be fourth unsolved murder in the last two weeks, correct? ‘Robe Killer’-” She looks to Gregson. “Frankly, I think the title could use a little work.”

Gregson gives an exasperated gesture around them. “It’s not like I come up with the names.” He looks Lestrade up and down. “What are you doing? Secure the crime scene!”

Lestrade looks owlishly at his superior, then stutters out a nod and runs down the hall.

“The invitation.” Hope prompts.

Gregson huffs and looks down at it. He flips it over, then sends Hope a put upon stare. “What about it?”

Hope looks back over the murder victim. Scarlet nails, scarlet robe, no marks on the body… Always the same.

“If you’d bothered to raise it to the light, you’d have noticed it isn’t transparent. Thick card stock has been sized perfectly with an unusually scaled envelope. No stamp or address, so-” She grunts and moves to the other side of the corpse. “Hand delivered. Handwritten, too. Look at that penmanship.” Hope points to the envelops in the detective’s hand without bothering to break eye contact with the deceased.

Gregson winces at Hope’s proximity with their murder victim, glances to the door, then looks back down at the envelope. Red, neatly written letters rest at the very center of the card stock.

“I don’t understand. How is this supposed to be helping me?”

Hope closes her eyes in frustration, takes a breath, then looks up to meet the detective’s eye. “It’s a party invitation.” She explains. “Someone went to every expense to make that single card meticulous, perfect. Just like this crime scene. To our murderer, this is a stage.” A smile ghosts pale, unhealthy lips. “That ‘M’… That’s our unsub. He’s reaching out. He’s given himself an identity.”

Gregson purses his lips and slides the card back into it’s envelope. Perfect fit.

His eyes narrow at Hope.

“Funny how this all started when you were let go.”

Hope shakes her head through an amused smile. She points her pipe at the detective. “There it is. The poorly constructed theories of Detective Gregson.”

The smile fades to a look of void emotion. “Must you always cloud your judgment with unmerited emotions of resentment?”

“Unmerited, my fat ass. Holmes-”

“Hope.”

“Whether you’ve tried to ruin my career for the last ten years or not is irrelevant. I just found you at the scene of a crime talking nonsense! I have no choice but to consider you a suspect.”

Hope pops the pipe into her mouth. “So now I’m a lunatic, am I?” The question bears no malice. It’s dry, monotone.

Gregson lifts the envelope for Hope to see. “You said this was an invitation, directions.” His expression turns pitiful. “The only thing in here is the word ‘Rache’, Holmes. How could you have found this place?”

Hope raises a brow. Over the pipe she mutters, “The letters in Rache were the directions, you fool.”

The detective knits his brows.

From the hall, clanging footsteps alert the two living beings in the studio of Lestrade’s arrival. He’s huffing and puffing as he declares, “We’re set.”

Behind him, up come the men and women with the equipment to properly secure and document the crime scene.

They fill the room, and in doing so, remind Gregson of who shouldn’t be there.

With heavy steps, the senior detective stalks up to Hope and grabs at her arm. She goes willingly.

—-

Hope sits at the Scotland Yard interrogation room’s table. Across from her are two unoccupied seats and a wide mirror. Her hands are cuffed to the table. She’s staring blankly ahead of herself. There’s a small window above her to showcase the night sky.

The room is lit with florescent lights.

The door to her right opens, but she doesn’t bother to watch as Gregson and Lestrade walk in.

Lestrade takes the seat furthest from the door and straightens out his fitted suit jacket. He looks expectantly to Gregson as he does this, but the detective doesn’t take a seat.

He’s staring at Hope.

She stares back.

In Gregson’s hand are two evidence baggies. He throws them on the table.

Gregson gestures to the baggies. “Are those yours?” He asks.

His hands slide into his pockets, then he leans back on the heels of his feet. It’s meant to be an intimidating stance.

Lestrade stares widely at the two bags. One has an opened envelope and the other a pipe. His eyes narrow, then dart to Gregson.

“Have you forgotten, already?” Hope asks. Her head tilts. “I suppose the mind was the first thing to go… Followed shortly by your hair.”

Gregson takes a self conscious look at the mirror to his back. His balding scalp practically glows in the florescent lighting.

There’s a snort from the table.

Gregson looks quickly to it’s occupants.

Hope is staring at him with her usual dead gaze while Lestrade, on the other hand, has taken to curling in toward the table and covering his mouth.

The detective has no choice but to let it slide.

The senior detective sighs and walks casually up to the table. With a screech, he pulls the heavy metal chair out and takes a seat upon it. He scoots forward and sighs again. To Hope, he levels, “You’ve been in and out of this room for years. You know how this works, Miss Holmes-”

“I go by Hope.”

There’s a beat of silence.

“I’ve always gone by Hope.”

With a bite of his lip, Lestrade reaches across the table and pulls the evidence bag with the letter closer to himself. He opens the bag, then the letter.

Gregson tries a smile. “Your brother has great power in the After World. He’s gotten you out of many things in the past, but murder? Miss Holmes-”

“Hope.”

The smile turns into a grin. “You’ve just become the prime suspect in a murder investigation. And with your record? Well,” he leans back in his chair and adjusts his jacket. “I can’t say I’m surprised, Miss Holmes.”

“Might I suggest an examination for Acoustic Neuroma? You seem to have lost your hearing.”

Lestrade enters the conversation first by clearing his throat, then by saying, “When this was in your possession, it had already been opened.”

Hope raises a brow. “If that’s the extent of your deductive prowess, perhaps I should phone a lawyer.”

Lestrade sighs. He’s only just met the woman, and already he’s found her personality exhausting. “Miss Hope. Do you have any idea who would want to send you a letter like this?”

Gregson leans forward whilst interrupting, “Now hold on.” His arm extends and points to the letter. “What makes you so sure she didn’t write this herself? It’s obvious she’s trying to pin this on some fictitious character she’s made up in her head. I mean look at her!” He gestures to the woman across the table. Her hair, button up shirt, and fitted black trousers clearly haven’t been washed in days. The under part of her eyes are smudged a deep purple, and her skin is both pasty and thin. “She’s hit rock bottom!”

Lestrade shrinks in his seat. “Well, I don’t think that’s a fair assumption, I mean-” He looks to Hope and gives a slight shrug. “She could always look like that.”

Hope takes a long, heavy breath. “I’m being stalked.” She confesses.

Gregson grabs the letter out of Lestrade’s hand and throws it down on the table. “Stop making things up!”

“I’m not.” Hope nods toward the pipe. “It started with a small package, the pipe. It appeared on my doorstep two days ago without any indication of having been processed or shipped. Naturally, I tested it for DNA, prints, any sort of clue to decipher who this Moriarty wanna be truly is-”

“Moriarty wanna be?” Lestrade cuts in.

“Sherlock Holmes.” She impatiently explains. “The detective stories.”

“Oh, get out!” Gregson scoffs with a wave toward the door.

Hope darts her line of sight to Gregson. “I’d love to. But as you can see-” She lifts her bound hands. The chain on the cuffs clang against the metal of the desk. “I’m handcuffed to this table.”

Lestrade sets his elbows up on the table and leans forward. “No, go on. I think you may be on to something here.

The junior detective looks to his senior. It’s clear the man is beyond irritated.

“The scarlet? The poison?” Lestrade looks to Hope. “You’re suggesting it’s a copycat killer, correct?”

“I'm suggesting a bit more than that.” Hope leans forward in her seat. There's an unusual light in her eyes Gregson wishes he'd never seen before. It's the look she gives a good riddle, or rather... A good murder. “William Sherlock Holmes Scott- my full name. And, of course, you're both well aware of my brother Mycroft and his family.”

Gregson gives a disgruntled scoff.

“Lestrade, even.”

Lestrade jumps at the sound of his name.

“You're new- recently transferred. And yet here you are... working the biggest case in years.”

Both detectives share a look. It’s unusual, sure, but…

“Coincidence?” Hope asks aloud. “To a moron, possibly.”

Lestrade’s lips quirk and brows furrow. “So… you’re suggesting…. that someone is putting together some sick fantasy? Living it out?”

With a heavy glare at Hope, Gregson muses, “I wonder who would be disturbed enough to try something like that…”

Hope gives an amused smile to the table. “Serial killer, the color scarlet, poison, and Rache.” Her head tilts. “Sounds to me like you should be keeping a look out for cabbies.”

Lestrade stares heavily at the table as though he were seriously considering this a possibility. When he looks up, he finds Hope and Gregson are silently staring at one another.

“A Study In Scarlet.” He interrupts. “Was that it?”

Hope slides on a sly smile.

Two knocks sound on the metal interrogation room door. Gregson stands with a groan and walks over to the exit. He presses his print and a four digit combination into the lock pad. The door unlatches. He pulls it open.

“What?” He asks the officer standing in the doorway. She hands him a clear, cellular device.

With an odd look, Gregson raises the device to his ear. “Hello?”

There’s a pause as a person speaks on the other end. It’s obvious that whatever they’re saying, Gregson doesn’t like it.

“Now hold on- no! Don't you dare- not again.” Gregson barks at the cellular device.

From the doorway, the female officer bites her lip in discomfort. She wants her phone back.

“I refuse to release our prime suspect on some- some technicality!” Gregson shouts with a wide gesture of his arms. “This is Holmes doing- Mycroft Holmes! He always does this, every time!”

The detective grits his teeth and looks back at Hope. She’s staring passively ahead of herself.

—-

Engraved in a stone plaque above a dimly lit building are the words Classic Criterion Bar. The CCB.

On this cold wet night, the bar remains poorly populated, but it’s not without class.

A string quartet plays at the back corner. It’s an original piece with an interesting twist on jazz.

The bar carries the smokey scent of expensive cigars with the most subtle backing of fresh mint.

The booths are leather, and the counter is empty aside from the bartender who mixes drinks behind it. The customers sit scattered around the small bar in an attempt at privacy. Dull, poorly illuminating yellow lights have been strung up on the ceiling, giving the place a vintage glow.

The tall, fogged double doors at the front of the bar glide open at the presence of another customer.

A middle aged man with sandy blonde hair and grayish blue eyes limps his way into the bar. He doesn’t use a cane to ease the movements. Instead, he works slowly, steadily through the pain until he reaches the bar’s counter. He makes a grab for it, then uses the surface to help him climb the bar stool.

He sighs.

“What can I get you?” The bartender asks.

The man glances at the bartender, then struggles to reach for his wallet. He opens it and looks painfully at it’s contents. “Uhh… Just whatever’s on tap will do, thanks.”

A man at the back of the bar looks peculiarly in the new arrival’s direction. After a moment, he lights up with a grin and excuses himself from the coworkers he had previously been chatting with.

“Here you are.” The bartender tells the man at the bar after setting a glass of ale on a napkin. He pushes it toward the new arrival, and the man nods his thanks.

Raising the glass to his lips, the man takes a drink.

At a sudden pat on his back, the liquid is accidentally inhaled instead of swallowed. It sends the man into a coughing fit.

“My god! It’s really you, isn’t it, Dr. Watson?” The stranger from the back of the bar greets.

Dr. Watson struggles to find enough air to choke out, “Stamf- Stamford?”

Stamford lifts himself up onto a stool beside the doctor. He grins and hits his old friend on the arm again. Dr. Watson, in response, almost manages not to flinch. Almost.

“So glad you could make it, old chap!” Stamford declares with rather too much volume for the classy bar. He leans forward. “Look at you. War hero. Back at last.”

Dr. Watson gives a shy, awkward smile and waves Stamford off. He then takes another swig of his beverage and sets it gently onto the napkin that’s been set out before him.

“If I’d been to war and back, I’d be boasting my bravery to the world right about now.” Stamford confesses with a cheeky smile. “So why aren’t you?”

Dr. Watson pinches a smile. “Not much to boast.”

—-

Dr. Watson and Stamford sit up at the pub’s counter. It’s been nearly two hours since their reunion.

They’ve taken off their jackets and loosened up their shirts. Both men are nursing a pint as they make loud conversation within the nearly empty business.

“So there I am-” Dr. Watson slurs. “Searing pain in my thigh. I'm looking around- trying to find who thought it would be a good idea to shoot their own doctor, and I see him.” The doctor lowers his voice. “It wasn't one of my men, at all.” He pauses and takes a slow, absent blink as though he needed it to collect his thoughts. “There was a sniper in our midst.”

“At your own base?” Stamford asks in a loud whisper.

Dr. Watson reaches for his drink and takes a sip. He leans back and nods.

“Exactly. Our own bloody base and somehow I was the only one who saw the bloke.” He laughs, sets down his drink, and then wipes at his brow. “They told me I was delirious and sent me on my way with a good for nothing pension!” He says with unnecessary volume. “It’s bad enough they’ve slapped me with PTSD and a bum leg, but to not even look into the man who shot me?” Dr. Watson shakes his head. “It makes them look bad, I tell you. Real bad. Like they’re trying to cover it up.”

Dr. Watson takes another drink. Stamford watches this, then looks heavily down at the table. Dr. Watson downs the rest of his pint and then hits it down upon the counter.

“Mmmph.” Dr. Watson humms. “Real bad.”

Stamford gives a smile and pats Dr. Watson a few times on the back. Stamford shares a look with the bartender and raises his hand up to his ear in a way that resembles a phone.

“Cab?” He mouths.

The bartender nods in comprehension and walks off.

Stamford reaches for his and Dr. Watson’s jackets. He pulls his on, then sets Dr. Watson’s up on the counter. “Not sure what I can do about your mysterious sniper, Dr. Watson…” He straightens out his jacket, then smiles at the doctor. “But I could definitely help you make that pension stretch, if you’d like.”

Dr. Watson looks strangely at Stamford. Stamford smiles and raises up the man’s jacket. Dr. Watson grabs at it, but doesn’t bother putting it on. Instead, he holds it in his lap.

“And how would you do that?”

“I’d like to think I know quite a few people in the area. Chances are at least one of them is in need of a good flatmate. If not, there’s always the news log. I could keep an eye on listings for you.”

Dr. Watson pulls on his jacket. “Thank you, I-” He hiccups. “I’d really appreciate that, thank you.”

Stamford smiles and pushes off his stool. With some difficulty, Dr. Watson does the same.

“Just, uhh…” Dr. Watson gets out with a look back at Stamford. The other man has reached out to steady the injured man, as though he feared the doctor would lose his balance upon standing. “No psychopaths, please.” He begs.

—-

Hope walks down the streetlight illuminated city pathways of London. Bold, new buildings stand tall along the closed off sidewalks of the After World.

A couple is approaching on her side of the walkway. They’re holding hands and chatting fondly about earlier that evening. Hope pays them no mind and continues forward, her sights set on her feet.

Under her breath, she’s counting.

When the opposing forces collide, the couple is forced to step out of the way and into the path’s lining flowerbeds. They stare after the obnoxious woman walking directly in the center of the narrow path, but don’t actually bother to call her out on it.

Disgruntled, the couple reconnect hands and continue with their date night.

Several hovering vehicles pass by. Their white lights shine over Hope for the briefest of moments until they, too, have passed her by.

It’s as though the rest of the world has disappeared. As though Hope has lost sight of all but the laces on her custom leather shoes.

At the end of a street corner, Hope stops.

Finally, she looks up to see an abandoned construction site. She recognizes it as the new bank London is excited to be putting in. It’s been all over the news.

The official After World bank.

London edition.

Hope’s eyes dart to the locked gate that’s been built around the site.

Cautiously, Hope crosses the barren road.

She walks directly up to the gate’s lock pad and stops. It’s untouched.

Hope steps back and looks up and down the building. The autumn night is cold. Hope’s breath has turned white and skin rough with goosebumps.

She reaches for her back pocket and pulls out an envelope. Her fingers are shaking when they reach in to pull out a piece of card stock with the word Revenge written upon it.

A vehicle passes by with a quiet humm and splash of water up onto the flowerbed that lines the pedestrian walking path.

Hope stuffs the envelope none too carefully into her back pocket for safe keeping. Then she begins to walk slowly down the length of this construction site. “Eighteen, five, twenty-two, five, fourteen, seven, five.” She mumbles to herself all the while observing the extent to which this new bank has been keeping out trespassers. They’ve put in a steel enforced fence lined with electrical wiring and no doubt the latest in video security.

Hope moves on passed the construction site to peek curiously down the alley between it and it’s neighboring apartment complex.

A body lies deep within the dead end alley.

“Revenge leads us to our next victim.”

A police vehicle turns down the street Hope is on. She tries very poorly to wave it down. “Officers. Murder victim.” She points down the alley. “Moriarty strikes again.”

The officers glance at the woman, then continue on down the road.

Under her breath, Hope mutters, “Very helpful, thank you.”

She turns and walks into the alley. In the darkness, it’s difficult to make out the shape, but it doesn’t take long for Hope to realize the M.O. is completely off on this one.

A brow crinkles. Hope drops to one knee and tilts her head at the victim. The male victim.

The man is laying face down on the ground. Hope looks intently over his body. Her eyes catch once on a pistol he’s got tucked away, then on the man’s disheveled clothing, ear, and reddening neck.

“Hold on.” She instructs the lifeless body.

Her fingers slide to the pressure point in the man’s neck. “You’re new. I mean really-”

Hope struggles in rolling the man onto his back. She grabs at his left hand and turns it over, then lifts his eyelid.

She’s muttering to herself again as she deduces, “Doctor. Thirty-eight. No-” Tilts head to side. “Thirty-seven. Stress is the enemy.”

Hope climbs up on the doctor. She pulls out her mobile and dials: 101

She places the mobile against her ear and begins chest compressions. The jolting movements make the circular, microchip embedded tims tag around doctor’s neck pool into view. Hope hesitates.

From the flat, glass mobile device speaks an emergency telecommunicator. It fades in and out through static. All that can be made out are the words, “What's- emergency?”

Hope reaches for the man’s military disk and lifts it. It reads:

0 POS

25986777

WATSON

JW

Hope’s brow quirks. “Doctor John Hamish Watson, perhaps?”

—-

Light funnels through thin curtains. There’s a quiet, distant chatter from the hall. The hospital room door is closed. Medical equipment sits tight against the walls. The screens are all up and running. They fill the room with a steady humm.

In the bed rests Dr. Watson. He’s breathing through a tube. He’s absolutely still. Hope sits beside him. She’s got her arms crossed over the sheets and her head propped up on top of them.

She’s wearing medical scrubs and an ID that doesn’t match her face. The picture on the ID is somewhat similar, however the woman has long, dark hair that’s been brought up into a messy bun. The name on the ID reads:

Samantha Turner

Directly above the name is the word:

Volunteer

The door opens. A nurse, Joyce Vogeman, peeks her head in through the door.

“Everything alright, Samantha?”

Hope sits up and smiles at the nurse. “Yes, I was just taking a break.” She reaches down under her chair and pulls up a heavy book. The cover reads:

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

“I’ve been reading him some of the Old World classics.”

“Oh?” Joyce coos. “That’s wonderful, Samantha. Your services are always appreciated around here.”

Hope gives a sweet smile and raises her hand for a casual wave. Joyce mimics the motion, then ducks out through the sliding mechanical door.

At their parting, Hope’s smile drops. She tosses the book carelessly onto the bed and looks to Dr. Watson with an air of disappointment.

“Dr. Watson caught in a coma… What am I supposed to make of that?”

Dr. Watson’s brow twitches.

Hope raises one of her own.

After a beat, he twitches again. His eyes flutter open. He can’t breathe. The doctor makes a clawing motion at the tube lodged in his throat. He makes a choking noise and Hope jumps out of her seat to help.

“Got it- I got it.” She assures.

Hope unlatches the tube and pulls it out of Dr. Watson’s throat. He immediately gasps for air and tries to sit up.

Hope glances to the holographic screen for a monitor, then pushes the patient back down against the pillows.

The police have been notified, as have the medical staff. It’ll only be a minute before the nurses scramble inside and officers come to take a statement.

“Still.” Hope sets the detached tube off to the side. “Now, listen. We don’t have long.”

—-

Dr. Watson sits up weakly against the hospital pillows. Hope sits beside him. She’s staring intently at the man’s befuddled expression.

“I’ve tried. I can’t remember anything.” He apologizes.

There’s a scoot of the chair as Hope tries to get closer. Her lips pinch. “Try again. It’s very important.”

“I don’t understand. Are you with the police, Miss-” Dr. Watson looks to Hope’s volunteer ID.

“Hope.” She removes the ID from her scrubs and sets it beside the used tube. “The ID was just to get in here. You’ve been out for nearly two days now. The doctors thought you’d fallen into a coma.”

Hope smiles at the doctor. It doesn’t reach her eyes.

Dr. Watson looks skeptically from the ID to Hope. “Why-”

“Comes in handy now and again. It’s not mine.” She confesses with an idle twist of her hand and lean back in her chair. “It’s actually-” Her smile pulls unnaturally. “From a, uhh-” Clears throat. “Corpse, so-”

Dr. Watson’s expression turns wary. He looks Hope up and down, then glances to the exit behind her.

Hope moves to the edge of her seat. “It’s not important. Now think back.”

Dr. Watson looks at Hope.

“When you left the pub-”

The doctor’s brows furrow. “I… never said anything about a pub-”

“Didn’t need to. I could smell it on you, as with the last victim.”

A pause fills the air.

Hope slaps her hands down onto her knees. “Now. What was the number of the cab sent to fetch you?”

Dr. Watson’s eyes blink rapidly with a raise of his hand as though he were trying to catch up with the conversation. “Now, hold on. What makes you so sure I took a cab?”

“You went out drinking. Given your injury, recent return to London, and obvious PTSD, one might presume you went alone. However, the fact that you smell of top shelf alcohol, cigars, cologne- and not just any cologne-” Hope leans in and sniffs at the air around the doctor.

Dr. Watson tries to lean away, but the medical equipment has trapped him in.

“Still there.” She leans back. “This brand is painfully expensive- you can't afford it. This data suggests you met with someone you know, someone who cares about you and your well being. An old friend who called for a cab. The driver, of course, poisoned and, well-” Shrugs. “Killed you. Then dropped you off where he knew I would later find you...” She trails off and raises a bent finger to her lips. “Risky, though... If I'd been much later or you couldn't be revived...? What would he have done, then...?”

Dr. Watson’s lips purse. He leans away from Hope. “How-” He blinks rapidly and shifts upon the bed. “How could you possibly know more about the other night than I do?” He shifts. “Are you pulling my leg? Is this some kind of new psych test for coma patients? If so, I think it’s awful and confusing.”

Hope holds eye contact with Dr. Watson as the door to the room steadily glides open.

Dr. Watson’s eyes trail up to watch as Gregson walks into the room. He makes certain the door closes gently behind himself and then gives the back of Hope’s head a tired look.

“You’re not authorized to be in here, Holmes. You’ve been detached from Scotland Yard, remember?”

“Hope.”

Gregson walks wearily toward the patient’s bed. “Hope, Holmes, it doesn’t matter. Your authorization was revoked weeks ago. Get out.”

“Revoked?” Dr. Watson looks from Gregson to Hope. “Why?”

Hope clenches her jaw. She’s staring ahead of herself when Gregson pulls up a chair and takes a seat. He’s grinning as he muses, “What did it come down to in the end, Miss Holmes? Harassment?” He laughs. “You break all the rules for years, and then one day-” Laughs. “One day something finally sticks.”

Gregson scoots up in his chair and looks to the patient. “You’re more than welcome to file your own complaint, Dr. Watson. Perhaps this time she’ll get stuck with more than a washed out career. Perhaps even some real jail time.”

Hope holds her glare on Gregson, but the man is too lost in his giddy fantasy to notice.

“She isn’t bothering me.” Dr. Watson promises. His brow bends inward as he looks this detective over. It’s not a good first impression.

Gregson clears his throat. The space has grown awkward, uncomfortable. “Dr. Watson, please go over the events of your attack.”

“You put the wrong man in jail.” Hope dives in. Her glare is heavy. “And instead of facing the results of your mistake, you pretend I’m wrong.”

Dr. Watson scratches at his neck in discomfort. There’s tension in the room, and yet he seems to be the only one who’s noticed.

Gregson says nothing as he stares at Hope with dull, disinterested eyes.

“He’s a mugger, not a murderer.” Hope hisses. “You got the wrong man.”

Gregson crosses his arms over his chest and sighs. “You’re impossible. You need professional help, Holmes. You’re obsessed.”

The statement sits in the air.

Then Hope recites, “The angle. Sixty-five degrees. The bullets? Unidentifiable. Not something you’d match up with a common handgun.”

Dr. Watson’s eyes go wide.

He’s staring at Hope as though she were a ghost.

A memory hits.

It’s haunting.

The base is bright and secure. Trucks hover, and soldiers walk, by. Within a dirtied medical tent is Dr. Watson. He’s with several unstable patients and one other medical professional. People and vehicles can be heard from all around the small base.

All in all, they’ve hit the quiet aftershock of a battle well won. The bullets have stopped flying, so now it’s left to the soldiers to gather the wounded and identify the deceased.

Dr. Watson wipes sweat from his forehead, then reaches for medical thread. The patient he’s working on is awake. The woman cringes and holds her right shoulder tight. The wound has been sealed by a transparent film, but it still needs something permanent to keep the splitting flesh together.

He cuts off a long section of the thread and assures, “You’re going to be alright. Just stay with me, Laura.”

The tent entrance blows open with the wind.

Dr. Watson glances back at it, but no one’s there.

Everything has slowed.

Gregson’s voice cuts through the memory. He says, “The bullet was too far gone. It shattered against the man’s skull and blew into the wind, that’s why it couldn’t be identified.”

Soldiers walk within the doctor’s line of sight. Their movements are slow, heavy.

“Strange? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it was from some sniper you put, what? Two buildings away?” He scoffs. “Your theory was ridiculous and your harassment unwavering.”

The sound of orders and chatter fade out. Dr. Watson’s eyes go alert. He drops the thread and falls to the ground. His right thigh is bleeding. He grabs at the wound and looks out at the tent entrance. From atop the main building is a man dressed in sand colored camo to match the surroundings. His weapon, too, is decked out in camouflage.

The tent folds close and cover the view. The other medical practitioner drops down beside Dr. Watson. He ignores her and keeps his sight set on the wind tousled tent entrance.

He thinks he’s going to die.

Their security has been breached. This is the end.

Another breeze drifts through and the tent entrance falls open once more.

The man on the building is gone.

“As always, you jump to poorly thought out conclusions.”

Hope’s voice draws Dr. Watson back to reality.

He’s sitting on a hospital bed in a room that reeks of disinfectant.

“You're right.” Dr. Watson cuts in. His brow is sweating. “You're absolutely right- about everything.”

Hope clears her throat and straightens out her posture. “Yes, well- of course I am.”

Gregson scoffs.

“Are you going to take his statement, or waste more time, Detective Gregson?”

Gregson leans forward across the hospital bed. “I do not believe you have any right to be here, Miss Holmes.”

“I’m volunteering my time to the needy.”

“Well, you’re no longer needed.”

“Actually…” Dr. Watson cuts in. “I’d like her to stay.” He looks to Hope. “If you would, please.”

Gregson bites back his temper. He hates this development.

Hope, on the other hand, slides on what could almost be a pleased smile.

—-

The flat is artificially aged and neat. It looks as though it could be centuries old, but it’s all cosmetic. The structure was built not twenty years ago.

Nothing lies out of place. Everything has a proper location that it’s been put in.

The living space is dark. Heavy curtains hang over the windows to block any of the night’s natural or street light.

A door slides open. Yellow light filters in from the hall. When Hope steps inside, she shadows the light.

Her scrubs have been replaced by a button up, vest, and trousers. The lights automatically flicker to life. The door closes itself behind her.

“It’s considered rude…” Hope says with a turn toward the furthest corner of the room where a man has taken to waiting for her.

The man wears an expensive suit that’s as colorless as his combed back hair. His eyes, too, are just as dark as he steps away from the wall. His hands rest casually upon the head of a walking stick.

“Letting yourself into a locked flat, I mean.” Hope continues.

She crosses her arms over her chest and waits for the man to approach.

He gets as far as the kitchen counter before stopping to look over the neat stack of papers there. His eyes are wandering over documents that aren’t his to touch as he says, “I heard about your debts… You’ve been missing payments.”

Hope bites her lip and looks to the ceiling in feigned thought. “Breaking and entering, I believe it’s called.”

The man gives Hope a look of warning and releases her papers. “You’ve lost your job, you’re going to lose your home…”

“I’ll figure something out.”

The man nods slowly. He takes a step away from the counter and toward the center of the room. His back is to Hope.

He turns and looks back at the woman by the door. “You’re being stalked by a mad man pretending to be a-” He pauses. “Fictional-” Another pause. “Crime lord, was it?” His expression turns dark. “And yet still, you won’t phone.”

Hope gives an exasperated sigh and steps away from the door to walk up to the counter. She straightens out the already put together stack of papers. “You sound like your parents, Mycroft.”

Mycroft’s face twists with upset.

Hope turns her back on the counter and looks to her brother. “Could you leave? This isn’t a good time.”

Mycroft quirks a brow. “It’s never a good time.”

He drops the look and takes a single step closer to Hope. He’s looking down upon her when he says, “I take my big brother duties very seriously.”

Chin up, Hope retorts, “You dropped that program years ago.”

Mycroft slides on a sincere smile. “I’m no longer doing it for the grade. I do wish you’d communicate, Hope.”

Hope stares blankly at Mycroft. He then tilts his head and raises an expectant eyebrow.

“Fine.” She mumbles.

“Dinner with the family, then?” Mycroft begins to make his way to the door. “Saturday-” He looks back at Hope. “I know you’re not busy.”

Hope shadows her brother’s steps in an attempt to hurry him out of her apartment. “Yes, I will be there.”

Mycroft gives a tight, pinched smile. “Good. Mum and Pa will be pleased.”

Hope forces a smile and watches very carefully as Mycroft unlocks the scanner and walks out the newly opened entrance.

When the door closes behind him, Hope pulls out her cellular device from her back pocket and taps repeatedly at the screen.

It takes a moment, but soon she’s faced with a n account balance that should not be.

2000 units.

She could more than catch up to her payments with that.

“Damn it, Mycroft.”

—-

Hope sits punctually on her couch. Her mobile rests on the coffee table in front of her along with several stacks of paper. On top of the stack closest to her mobile is the piece of card stock that allowed her to find Dr. Watson. The wax stamped envelope rests face down beside the stack of papers.

Hope stares down at the table, lost in thought.

—-

Hope and Gregson sit on either side of Dr. Watson’s bed. An orange sunset has begun to illuminate the room.

“Sounds awfully familiar.” Hope muses after Dr. Watson has finished telling his sniper story.

“No, you’ve just put words in his mouth. You’re compromising my case, Holmes.”

“Hope.”

“I know what I saw.” Dr. Watson barks. He’s had enough of people telling him he’s wrong, that he’s delusional. “There was a man on that rooftop. He shot me, I swear it.”

Hope shoots her hand out in front of Dr. Watson. It’s a sudden, starling movement.

“You need to relax, doctor.”

Dr. Watson looks to his heart monitor. It’s increased drastically. Shyly, he nods and leans back. Hope retracts her arm.

“It’s what I saw…”

Gregson lifts his hands in defense. “Look- either way, that's not why I'm here.” They lower. “Tell me more about the other night. You must remember something else, something useful.”

Hope gives a breathy laugh.

“Something funny, Holmes?” Gregson drones.

“Just your blatant disregard for the facts.”

There’s a pause of silence. Then Gregson asks, “Dr. Watson, do you recall-”

“You can file a harassment charge, if you’d like.” Hope tells the patient.

“Miss Holmes.” Gregson exasperates. “I am trying to do my job-”

“On the contrary, you are doing everything but your job.”

Dr. Watson clears his throat in an attempt to stop the bickering.

“I, uhh… I don’t suppose we could pick this up tomorrow? Or, just… Separately?”

“You shouldn’t have to pick this up at all. You’ve given this man plenty of useful information, Dr. Watson. He’s just harassing you because he doesn’t know how to use any of it.”

Hope stares at Gregson. He glares back.

“He’s given me nothing.”

“He’s given you everything.”

Gregson scoffs and falls back in his chair. The momentum of his body sends the front two legs of the chair briefly into the air. They fall back down with a thud. “He passed out drunk. All he remembers is the back of a cab and some mindless chit chat with an old friend. Every victim possessed large traces of alcohol in their system.” He looks to Dr. Watson. “I’m sorry, truly, if this offends you, but it’s outdated information.”

Dr. Watson scratches awkwardly at the back of his neck. There’s an uncomfortable twist in his chest.

“You know it was the cab driver.” Hope offers.

Gregson pulls on a smile. “No one can be sure of that, now, can they?” He subtly accuses.

There’s a beat of a pause, then Hope continues, “You know it was the cab driver, you know he used an odorless, tasteless, manufactured airborne toxin that likely paralyzes the victim and causes respiratory failure, you know-”

Gregson raises a hand to stop her rantings. “Hold on, hold on. He didn’t say any of that. Have you been talking with Lestrade? Reading private medical journals?” His hand drops down into his lap. “How could you possibly know the toxin used was X-Ren? That’s not public information.”

“I didn’t.” She answers honestly. “It could have been any number of toxins. All I knew was what Dr. Watson, here, told us.” She looks to the doctor.

He finds the weight of her gaze crushing. There’s an unusual glow to them, now, a light that wasn’t there before. It’s enthusiasm. This kind of thing brings her joy.

“You mentioned fog, remember? Shortly before the shortness of breath and passing out drunk part.”

“Oh, umm- yes.”

Gregson shrugs. “It was a cold night, what’s your point?”

There’s impatience in Hope’s tone as she explains, “I, myself, was out that night. It was a clear sky, which means the fog was inside the cab, detective.”

“Yes…” The word has been elongated. “Like I said, it was cold. Don’t you remember breathing smoke as a child?”

Hope snaps her fingers in Dr. Watson’s face to get his attention. He does a displeased double take at the woman. “You said you noticed it several minutes into your ride. Was the heat on?”

He hesitates, thinks back, then says, “I believe so… The cab was warm.” He turns to Gregson’s side of his bed. “At first I thought the driver might have been smoking, but it didn’t have a scent… I only caught a glimpse of it, though, I-”

“That’s more than enough, wouldn’t you agree, detective?” Hope asks. There’s something smug about her. It’s not her expression or tone of voice, but more… her persona as a whole.

Gregson shifts in his seat. It’s an unnatural motion, like he couldn’t bare to sit still, but moving also, just… didn’t feel right. “X-Ren is a weaponized knock off of Clostridium Botulinum. It can be made with an amateur’s lab set. Anyone could have done an internet search on how to develop the toxin’s necessary bacteria. And even if it were the driver, it’s not as though cabs are hard to find. This is all useless information.”

Hope stares blankly back at the detective. He shifts again. There’s a pause.

Gregson rolls his eyes and throws his arms up in defeat. “Fine! What else, you-” His voice lowers. “Arrogant sod.”

“You’re looking for a driver with a revamped cab, if you will. One with a toxin releasing apparatus built into the back seat. The man will likely wear some sort of protective mask, and possibly, although not probably, be associated with one-” She looks to Dr. Watson. He stares owlishly back. “Moriarty?”

Dr. Watson tries a look at Gregson, then does a double take back to Hope. “Why are you staring at me like that? How the bloody hell should I know who my attempted murderer plays rugby with?”

Satisfied with the doctor’s response, Hope turns to Gregson. “I am certain that if you brought such prospects in, Dr. Watson, here, could identify him for you.”

“Wow. Hold on, now.” Dr. Watson pipes in. “I never got a look at the man’s face. I told you that.”

“Didn’t need to.” Hope slides the pointer finger of her left hand over the shell of her ear. “A glance at the ear would have been plenty.” She leans forward. “You’ve already confirmed the man had a head of white, correct? It only makes sense that you would have seen his ear.”

Dr. Watson looks to Gregson, but he’s already started to dial a number. Gregson stands from his seat and places his mobile to his ear. Dr. Watson looks back to Hope.

“I’ll walk you through it, doctor.” Again, she scoots forward. By now she’s more on the bed than in her seat. “Now, one last question. Can you recall anything about the driver, himself? I mean, did he appear ill? On the verge of death?”

“Umm…” Dr. Watson looks to his sheets. “No… I can’t, sorry?” There’s a beat, then, “Well, actually…” Blueish gray meets clear blue. “You were right about the mask. Now that I think about it, I’m fairly certain I caught a glimpse of the straps around his-” He trails off.

Hope’s lips take on a knowing grin.

“Ears…”

—-

Hope stares unblinkingly at her coffee table. Her mobile rings. She blinks repeatedly, as though she were breaking out of a trance. The caller ID reads:

Lestrade

Hope grabs at the mobile, taps at the screen, and raises it to her ear.

“Where?” She asks curtly.

There’s a pause on the other end. Then, “Your flat, actually… There’s been another-”

“Obviously.”

Hope darts a look around her empty flat. “My flat, you said, correct?”

“That’s right.” Lestrade confirms. “Landlady says you bought the place just this morning.” There’s a shift from the other end. It creates static that booms over the background chatter of police officers. When he speaks again, Lestrade’s voice is a whisper. “It’s not looking good for you, Miss Hope. Gregson’s about ten seconds away from taking you to trial with what little evidence we have. Seems like he thinks you’re trying to throw us off with this whole-”

“Let me stop you.” Hope successfully intervenes. “This flat…” She smiles. “It doesn’t happen to be on Baker Street, does it?”

—-

A cab pulls up in front of a brick, Baker Street building. It’s lit from the inside, with just a lamp post and a few police vehicles lighting the streets. Hope steps out and stuffs her hands into her pant pockets. Blue and red lights both illuminate and shadow her features. Her sleeves are rolled up to the forearms. The exposed skin has lost much of it’s color from the chilly bite in the air.

Hope analyzes at the metal “221B” above the flat’s open door.

It’s not generic. The design elements are unique and hand made. What’s more, they’re brand new. Not three years in age, going off of the wear and tear of the metal.

She takes a quick look down either side of the police hovercraft lined street, then steps up to the yellow crime scene tape. Several officers stand guard outside, but no one stops her. Instead, she walks under the tape and right through the open door.

She counts each step of the narrow stair well under her breath until finally huffing, “Seventeen. Perfect.”

Hope grins and looks inside the cluttered flat.

A body lies face down near the doorway. It’s an old woman. She’s reaching for Hope.

Men and women in forensic jackets flood the cramped apartment space. Some take photos, others bag evidence, and a select few walk around to jot notes of the scene.

Hope twists an invisible smile down at the old woman in a scarlet robe. The corpse is pale and unscathed.

She looks up and finds both Lestrade and Gregson are doing little to hide their befuddlement. Hope steps around the corpse and walks up to them.

“Poisoned. Exactly like the others, and yet-” She looks around the flat. “So much more interesting.”

“This is usually where I’d arrest you for being both suspicious and, you know, our prime suspect in a homicide investigation, but my partner here-” Gregson gives Lestrade’s scrawny shoulder a pat. “Would rather see another innocent person die before taking you in, so…” He shrugs.

Lestrade crosses his arms and leans back against a table cluttered with lab equipment. “Miss Hope, how could you possibly afford a new apartment? You’re unemployed.”

Both senior and junior detectives reciprocate a glower.

“Very good work, detective. I think we both know I couldn’t. Someone purchased this place in my name.”

Lestrade bites the tip of his thumb. “Seems your Sherlock obsessed murderer theory is panning out.”

“Not-” Gregson steps closer to Hope. He looks down his nose at her.

Intimidation… It’s not working.

“Exactly.” Gregson continues. “No cab drivers in the area are suffering from terminal illness, Miss Holmes.”

“Of course not.”

“What?”

“I said of course not.” Hope steps back and looks around the science equipment covered laboratory of a flat. Most of the equipment looks old, used. There are two bookshelves behind pulled back curtains. The books that are meant to go inside them have been scattered absolutely everywhere.

On the table Lestrade leans against, midst the test-tubes and flasks, sits a half drank tea cup tagged as evidence. Hope can’t help but find every newspaper article and skeletal system lining the walls absolutely breathtaking.

Just what was all of this? What was it’s purpose?

Hope looks back to the detectives. “You hear you’re going to die. Isn’t that supposed to strike a moment of revelation, or whatever the psychiatrists are calling it?” She looks around, again. “Your time is limited. You want to do something with it.” She takes several steps toward the left side of the room. “The man you’re looking for has somewhat recently left the business.” She shrugs. “Technically.”

“Now you’re just-” Hope has walked too far to hear Gregson over the chatter of the crime scene. Instead, he looks to Lestrade. “Now she’s just making things up.”

Hope walks passed the dead body and up to an old woman draped in a navy blue shock blanket. She sits with her knees drawn up in the corner of the room. Most are giving this poor woman space.

Hope, however, walks right up to her and calls, “Mrs. Hudson.”

Mrs. Hudson looks up at Hope. Her features contort. “You're- from the picture? Sherlock?”

“I go by Hope.” She kneels. “You used to be a housekeeper. Now you own several properties with your… with your husband.”

“Are you an officer? How did you-”

“Your hands give you away. The callouses, scars, and cut of the fingernails can tell much about a person. More than they generally would like you to know.” Hope gives a slight, curious tilt of her head. There’s a rip in the wallpaper at Mrs. Hudson’s back. “But also… It fits.”

Mrs. Hudson looks down at her hands to try and see what Hope must be seeing. She’s perplexed by the time Hope repositions herself to sit beside the older woman.

Mrs. Hudson waits patiently for Hope to say something. The young woman has taken to staring blankly out ahead of herself.

There’s a hitch in her breath. Then Hope asks, “What can you tell me about the man who purchased this property?”

“W-well, he was an older gentleman. I-… I assumed he knew my husband, so I didn’t ask very many questions.”

Hope darts a glance at Mrs. Hudson through the corner of her right eye. She catches sight of a bruise on the woman’s wrist when she readjusts the blanket upon her shoulders. In a huff, Hope rolls her eyes up to the ceiling. Under her breath, she mutters, “Where does he find you people?”

“I’m sorry?” Mrs. Hudson asks.

Hope waves her off and hits the back of her head against the wallpaper peeling wall. It was new. All of this damage, this clutter… It had been put in just for her.

But why?

Hope perks up at a sudden thought. She then turns to Mrs. Hudson.

“Did the man mention a flatmate?”

—-

Dr. Watson stands outside of 221B Baker Street. From the street view, the place is gorgeous. It’s built with aged brick that almost gives off a pastel color in the cloudy London light. The windows are tall, skinny, and beautiful. They’ve been lined with almond brown shutters and hold flower beds at their bases. The place looks like it’s been pulled right out of a fairy tale.

Dr. Watson frowns down at the latest news log lighting his cellular device. He zooms in using his thumb and pointer finger.

There’s no picture of the listing, but the price is just perfect. The listing has been highlighted. This indicates that it was sent to him from another device. Stamford’s, to be exact.

Under the listing is a little note that reads:

[_ These look to be the good ones. Best of luck to you. -Stamford _]

Frown still in place, Dr. Watson looks back up to 221B. “This can’t be right… It’s practically a steal!”

Dr. Watson pockets his cellular device and looks both ways down the street.

He waits for a hovercraft to pass.

Without further ado, Dr. Watson jumps the barrier and jogs across the street. There’s a limp in his right step. It weighs him down, decelerating his pace.

When he reaches the steps, he’s forced to take them one at a time. His teeth grit in pain from the exertion he’s putting on his healing bullet wound.

Finally, Dr. Watson reaches the door. He knocks using the most endearing vintage door knocker.

There’s the sound of rushed footsteps stumbling down a staircase. A moment later the door opens to reveal Hope The woman’s hair and clothing are askew. She steps off to the side and gestures into the building. “Come in.”

“You’re-” Dr. Watson chokes. “Aren’t you that woman from the hospital?”

“Yes.” Hope’s arm makes a come forth motion. “Inside. Now.”

Dr. Watson shifts his weight. His hand moves with his words as he asks, “So, you’re not looking for a flatmate, then?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Dr. Watson.” Hope reaches over and pulls Dr. Watson into the building. He’s reluctant, but she wins the struggle. “There’s an ad in the log.” The door readies to close due to it’s automatic reset programming. “Of course I’m looking for a flatmate.”

The door shuts itself with a resonating click that echoes through what appears to be an empty building.

Hope forces a pinched smile.

Dr. Watson looks warily over the small, secluded stairwell he’s been pulled into. There are stairs to his back, and a single door to his left. Otherwise, he’s trapped in.

Hope waves Dr. Watson up the stairs. “Please, do make yourself at home.”

Dr. Watson turns toward the staircase. “Oh, yes, of course.” He peers over his shoulder at Hope. He can’t stop the sense of relief that washes over him when he finds she hasn’t moved. “Thank you.”

Dr. Watson starts on the stairs, but his right leg slows him down considerably. It’s too much exertion for the man’s injury.

Hope drops the fake smile and pulls out a folded piece of paper from her pocket. She unfolds it and reaches back into her pocket for a piece of gum.

She sticks the gum in her mouth, tosses the wrapper over her shoulder, and then presses into the lock pad. The door pops open. She pulls it toward her so that she can reach it’s face.

Hope slams the paper face up against the door and pulls the gum out of her mouth. She gives the gum a few shakes in the air, then uses it as an adhesive to keep the paper sticking against the door. The paper reads, in proper penmanship:

WATSON AQUIRED

She pops her head outside and takes a look down the street, then closes the door and turns around. Dr. Watson is staring at her from not seven steps away.

“What, uhh…” He points idly to the door. “What was that?”

Hope waves the idea away. “Can’t remember.” She then takes on the stairs and starts pushing on Dr. Watson’s back. “Come on, doctor. I’ll make us some tea.”

—-

The living room is lit by natural light that floods into the room through open windows. There’s a faint smell of decay, but it’s covered by fresh air and lavender.

Dr. Watson sits awkwardly in the seat at the dinner table closest to the window. He’s tapping his fingers together and glancing around the cluttered room.

Although, with a good cleaning, he knew it could make someone a cozy home, Dr. Watson just wasn’t sure… all things considered… it would be an appropriate fit.

He looks back through the open doorway that leads to both downstairs and to, apparently, the kitchen. “Is everything alright in there?”

“Perfectly!” Hope shouts back.

A beat later, Hope walks into the room. She’s holding a pot of tea in her hands. Two tea cups are wrapped around her fingers. Steadily, she kicks the door closed and walks up to the dinner table. She sets both the kettle and cups down, then takes a moment to straighten herself out.

“Miss Hope, was it?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. This is all- very kind of you, but-”

Hope picks up the kettle. “Tea?”

Dr. Watson’s words fall with a sigh and glance down at the table. He pulls a cup closer to himself.

“Please.”

Hope pours Dr. Watson a cup of tea, then sets down the kettle and walks around the table. She slides into the other seat, there, and straightens out her shirt’s crooked collar.

Parts of the table have been cleared off. In fact, compared to the night prior, many sections of the flat have been picked up. Not that someone who hadn’t seen it’s previous state would notice, of course. It’s still an absolute mess.

Dr. Watson looks to the kettle sitting directly upon dark stained wood. He blows on his tea. “You’ll ruin your table by doing that.” He takes a drink.

Hope looks to the kettle. “It’s not mine.”

Dr. Watson hesitates mid sip. Hope places her right elbow up on the table and touches her forefinger and thumb to her face. She leans forward and stares at Dr. Watson. He leans, then looks, away.

“Wonderful place you have here. I can’t believe the price you’re asking.” He shoots for casual, but hits awkward small talk, instead.

“Far more wonderful once it’s straightened out. I’m afraid you’ve caught me immediately post search.”

Dr. Watson sets down his cup. “Search?”

Hope lifts a brow. “Indeed. Cameras and wires, everywhere.”

The doctor’s eyes fly open wide. He leans forward and whispers, “I’m sorry, what?”

“I believe they’ve all been obtained.” She nods toward the open window behind Dr. Watson. “Tossed them out the window just before you arrived. Should be just us, now.”

Dr. Watson looks to the window, then at Hope.

“Is this a gag?”

Hope reaches across the table without breaking eye contact with Dr. Watson. Swiftly, she knocks over his cup. Tea spills across the table and into the man’s lap. “Ah-!” Dr. Watson jumps up with a bark and brushes off his trousers.

Hope leans back in her seat.

“You're unusually alert. You haven't been taking your medication- any of your medications.”

Dr. Watson raises a hand between them. “Look, no offense, but I’m starting to understand why that detective filed a law suit against you. Please stop stalking me.”

He walks to the open exit. Hope watches idly from her seat without bothering to stand or stop him.

Simply, she says, “Moriarty.”

Dr. Watson stills in the doorway. There’s a momentary skip to the rhythm of his heart. He peers over his shoulder at Hope. She’s staring back.

“How did you-”

“The name has meaning to you now. I’m guessing that means he’s sent you something? Something concerning?”

Dr. Watson turns to fully face Hope. His eyes dart anxiously around the room. His senses have become hyperactive. “Yes. I mean-” He shrugs. “It wasn’t threatening, or anything. Just-…”

“Just strange enough to worry you? Keep you on your toes?” Hope props her head up with her hand. “Good call not taking the medication, by the way. It would make you drowsy, or… if it had been tampered with…”

Hope shrugs and rises to a stand. She picks up Dr. Watson’s cup and refills it.

Dr. Watson looks nervously around the room, then walks back over to the table. He doesn’t take a seat or reach for the tea. Instead he stands, back straight, at the other side of the table.

Hope leans across the table. “What did he send you? A letter?”

Dr. Watson gives a wary nod.

“What was the word? Written out- what did it say?”

“It just said-” Shrugs. “Reverse… written out in cursive letters. I threw it out immediately, it was… strange. A special delivery from Moriarty, the woman had said.”

“Reverse.” Hope repeats. Her eyes narrow. “Reverse?”

“That’s all it said.”

Hope walks up to the window and looks out at the view. Her eyes narrow. “It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t-” Her right hand raises to push at her temple. She taps at it. “Reverse, reverse, reverse-” She takes a step backwards. “Reverse?”

Dr. Watson watches curiously as Hope moves around the flat in a chaotic manner. There's an excitement bubbling in the air that he hadn't been prepared for. “See? It doesn't make any sense. I just thought it might have had something to do with... whatever that was- with the cab, I mean.”

Hope stops tapping her temple and looks to Dr. Watson. Her eyes are wide. It puts the man far from ease. “What?” He asks. He looks around himself.

“They’re a set.” Her eyes trail around the room. “Yes… Obviously, they’re a set!”

Hope sprints passed Dr. Watson to the back corner of the flat covered by a heavy curtain. She pulls it back to reveal several messy bookshelves and a red velvet couch. Quickly, she scatters the books and papers around until she finds what she’s looking for.

An envelope stamped with the initial “M”

She holds her prize high in the air and stalks up to Dr. Watson. There’s a grin across her face as she tells him, “Reverse isn’t directions. It’s completing a set.”

Her hand slams down upon the table. When it retracts, the envelope is left in it’s place.

“Rache. Revenge. Reverse.” She explains.

Dr. Watson leans over the dinner table to look at the opened envelope. The seal is exactly the same as the one he’d received.

“Reverse isn’t the location. E-G-N-E-V-E-R-E-H-C-A-R, is.” Her expression is beaming. She’s never looked so happy, so proud of herself. “Where did you say you received your letter, again?”

“I didn’t-”

“The hospital, obviously.” She waves Dr. Watson away, dismissing him. “So, we start right…”

He gives her an odd look, then picks up the envelope.

Hope begins to mutter numbers under her breath, “Seven left, fourteen…” She closes her eyes, sways her body, and taps at her temple.

Meanwhile, Dr. Watson tries to work out the letters. “Egnever?” His face scrunches inward. “Egneverehcar? Eg neverehcar?” His hand goes to his chin. He’s staring at the ceiling, deep in thought. “Eg never eh car?”

Hope paces in the front of the doctor muttering something like, “Twenty-two blocks right…”

“The letters are numbering the blocks?” He asks. “To get to where?”

Hope stops her movements and looks to Dr. Watson. “To here… it would seem.”

The doctor sets down the envelope. He’s favoring his left leg considerably, Hope notes. She gives the man a once over.

“I take it that means we shouldn’t be here?” His tone is calm, collected.

Hope dares a step forward, closer to the doctor. It’s slow, cautionary. It strikes the doctor’s suspicion. His eyes narrow.

“On the contrary… I think this is exactly where we need to be.”

Dr. Watson shifts his weight. Hope’s line of sight drops back down to his bad leg. “Your injury-” She points to his right leg. “From the sniper, correct?”

“Oh, yes.” He looks down to his leg, then straightens out. “Got me in my right thigh.”

Hope glances out the window over Dr. Watson’s shoulder. A sniper lies in wait upon the rooftop next door. He’s dressed in gray from top to bottom so that he may blend into the skies of London.

“It’s very important…” Hope whispers. She takes a small step to her right so that she’s directly in line with Dr. Watson and the sniper. “That you don’t move…”

Pale blue eyes dart to the window.

Dr. Watson follows the look. “Why are you whisperi- get down!” He jumps forward and pulls Hope to the ground just as a bullet glides through the open window and embeds itself in the drywall across the room.

Hope rolls under the dinner table while Dr. Watson takes to scooting against a chemistry bench.

“Hold on-” He hisses. “You knew about this?” He points to the window. “You were going to let him shoot me!?”

“The angle is the same! The sniper is the same! All of it matches up!” Hope defends. “He was the man who shot you in Afghan, but there must have been a problem.” She does the army crawl to the space beside Dr. Watson. With a huff, she turns onto her back. “You fell out of range, maybe? Or perhaps he was concerned he'd be seen if he didn't make an immediate escape- whatever the case, he didn't get his second shot in-”

Dr. Watson, an ex-army doctor, leans onto his right arm and pulls at Hope’s shirt lapel. “Are you working with him?”

Hope grabs lightly at Dr. Watson’s wrist. She shakes her head in denial, and he releases her. His chest is heaving as he rolls back onto his elbows.

Without another word on the matter, Hope goes back to her army crawl position and advances toward the window. When she reaches it, she rises up to take a peek over the window. The sniper is still there, lying in wait. She ducks back down and looks to the doctor.

“Dr. John Hamish Watson sustained two injuries and a fever when he was discharged. I should know.” She nods breathlessly. “I read it online.”

Dr. Watson scoots himself along the wall of a chemistry bench, then crawls over to Hope whist correcting, “No. I sustained one injury- in my right leg.” He pauses and gives Hope a peculiar look. “What website could you have possibly hacked into to find out about my fever?”

“I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about why you're here- why you're a part of all this.” She leans in. “Someone's been banding people together- people with similar names and backgrounds as the fictional characters of the Old World Sherlock Holmes detective stories.”

“What are you talking about? No one's that delusional- and even if they were, they sure as bloody hell would not have the power to find and bring people like that together.”

“And yet here we are.”

Dr. Watson’s expression blanks.

“Watson, Gregson, Lestrade, and…” Hope looks away. “Holmes.”

“You mean… you’re-”

“William Sherlock Holmes Scott, I-” Heavy breath. “I know. It wasn't my idea, alright?” Her eyes shift in thought. “You survived the cabby. You're now an important piece of the puzzle. He's invested in you. I bet anything he's here to shoot you in the shoulder- not kill you.”

There’s a pause of silence in the messy room, then, “You’d bet my life on this?” Dr. Watson asks. His words are slow, serious.

“Absolutely. I put a sign on the door telling them you're here, so- I take full responsibility.” Hope raises a hand out to Dr. Watson. “I offer you my hand.”

Dr. Watson slaps the hand away. Hope winces, then cradles it.

“Why would you do that?” He whisper-shouts.

“Why would you whisper? I already removed the wires, that’s why I needed the sign.” She explains. “I’m showing compliance.”

“No- you're putting my life in danger!” Dr. Watson seethes with a prod at Hope's collar bone.

Her expression is blank, emotionless. “Don’t be ridiculous. Your life is already in danger, as is my own. And all I know, is that this Moriarty bloke wouldn’t finally bring us all together just to shoot us down by sniper, so-” Her hand makes a gesture in Dr. Watson’s face. It disorients him. “Just let it happen. It’ll be like ripping off a band-aid.”

Dr. Watson gives an unimpressed glare. “Did you seriously just compare a gun shot to ripping off a band-”

Hope covers Dr. Watson’s mouth with her hand to silence him. She raises a finger to her own lips and looks off at nothing in particular. “Shh.”

A click rings out. It’s from the front door. It’s bolting shut.

Dr. Watson peers over the window sill. The sniper’s gone.

He looks to Hope, but she’s staring intently at the closed doorway. Footsteps sound going up the stairs. They don’t creak, but rather tap, with each step.

“It’s him.” Dr. Watson tells her. “Is there another exit?”

“No need.”

“For the last time-” He hisses. “I am not going to take a bullet to the shoulder just so you can test some theory! Forgive me, but I don’t think he finds my character very important!”

Hope snaps a look at the doctor. “You won’t have to. At least not right now, anyway. Listen.”

There’s another tap of a foot hitting the sixth step, then the advancement stops. A man coughs. It’s loud and dry.

The footsteps start up again.

“The sniper’s gone. I bet your life that’s our disease ridden cabby.”

“So my second attempted murderer. Very reassuring, thank you.” Dr. Watson takes a shaky breath. “Hope, I feel I should tell you… I’m unarmed and there’s a high probability the man coming up those stairs has my gun. We need to get out of here before we both end up shot in the back.”

Hope stands and sprints swiftly to the couch that’s usually hidden behind a heavy curtain. She reaches under a velvet cushion and pulls out a pistol.

Dr. Watson points at her. “Wait. That’s-”

“Yes. Although, in my defense, you were dead when I took it.”

Hope moves to stand beside the closed door with her gun at the ready. She gestures for Dr. Watson to take cover in the room directly to his right. After a moment’s hesitation, he nods and moves to the back of the room where the door is.

Dr. Watson slowly turns the knob to the room and pushes the door open. With a glance back at Hope, he steps into the room and closes the door behind himself.

There’s the noise of coughing directly outside the door Hope is standing beside. It makes her heart rate skyrocket from the adrenaline.

She watches as the knob twists. Then, the door opens. The motion is slow. Hope remains silent and takes the cover the opening door gives her.

Several more footsteps sound. They stop, and the cabby coughs again. Swiftly, Hope closes the door and leans against it. She points her pistol at the cabby.

The driver is an older man. He’s short and on the heavier side. He turns to face Hope. His eyes are red and puffy. His skin is sweaty. He lifts his hands in surrender.

“Please-” He chokes in a raspy voice.

Hope’s eyes stare dead into those of a serial killer. “Slight problem with this game we play.” She cocks the old fashioned gun. “I have a cheat sheet. I know exactly how this story ends. And I know exactly why you do what you do.”

The cabby coughs again. It’s choked, and although his body bends into itself, he doesn’t remove his hands from the surrendering position. When he straightens out, his eyes are watering.

“Please. Holmes-”

“It’s Hope.” She corrects. The gun has repositioned from the cabby’s heart to his head. “Turn around.”

The cab driver strangles a cough, then does as asked.

“Walk forward.”

The cabby takes several steps forward.

Hope’s eyes dart out the window. The sun is starting to set from behind heavy rain clouds. This turns the sky a washed out purple. Thankfully, the sniper is still MIA.

“Alright, enough. Stop and face me.”

There’s a quirk to her brow.

The cabby waddles a spin to face her.

“You’re unarmed.” She can now confirm.

The cabby begs, “Please, I need your help.”

Hope tilts her head. The gun doesn’t waver. It’s still ready to fire into the man’s skull at the pull of a trigger. “You’re a murderer.”

“No.” His head shakes. “Please, believe me.”

From the door at the cabby’s back, Dr. Watson pushes at the unlatched door. He looks out to find Hope holding an old man at gunpoint.

Hope looks over the man’s shoulder at the doctor, who, in turn, points at his ear, then to the cabby, then his ear again. It’s a message that doesn’t go ignored. Hope nods her understanding.

“I didn’t harm anyone.” The old man cries. “I would never-”

“Eyewitness says otherwise.”

The cabby gives a breathless cry. His hands fall from the surrendering position to land upon his face. His head shakes in denial.

His words are muffled as he says, “He made me. He made me do it, I swear.” His hands drop. “I didn't want to hurt anyone, but he- he has my children, Hope. My family.”

Her persona lacks any and all emotion as she inquires, “Then why are you here? Then why does the last message lead us here?” There’s a pause. Her questions go unanswered. “What are you supposed to do? Deliver a message? Shoot Dr. Watson in the back?”

She doesn’t see it, but Dr. Watson is flipping her the bird.

“Well?” She prompts.

Tears fall from the old man’s eyes. One hand rubs at them, and the other his chest. It aches. His body aches.

“I don’t know.” He fights back a breathless cough. “I-I don’t know, he-” The cabby grabs the material of his old shirt. “He told me to beg, to-” His head shakes. “He told me to beg you.”

Hope’s attention catches on the man’s fist that’s gripping his shirt, then to his cheap watch. It reads: 5:59

Hope’s eyes go wide. She takes a panicked look to Dr. Watson and shouts, “Down!” just as a bomb goes off.

The noise is deafening. It leaves ringing in the ears and, in turn, mutes the noise of a body, glass, and dinner table blowing to smithereens.

Hope is thrown backwards at the impact. She hits a wall and the gun goes flying out of her hand. Shards of glass, splinters of wood, and stringy guts crash into her. Her body curls the second it hits the floor.

The room is covered in wet blood and all other fluids/pieces of a human body.

With struggle, Hope forces herself up onto her forearms. There’s a large, torn apart mass of what used to be a person lying in the center of the living space.

Glass and pieces of wood cut into her hands, legs, and arms. She tries not to move.

Her eyes dart to the door Dr. Watson is hiding behind. It’s closed and smothered in droplets of blood.

—-

The windows let in a cold draft. Outside, it’s a dark purple. The lights inside the flat are off, aside from one door that’s outside of the main living space.

The light shuts off, and footsteps sound.

Hope walks into the blood covered living space. There’s a towel over her shoulder. It’s covered in what used to be on her face and hands.

She sets the towel on the chemistry bench against the wall and walks directly up to the foot of a corpse. It’s a man, but his body has been torn apart from the inside out. Blood leaks from his external insides. Hope kneels down before the man. The under part of her eyes are dark, her skin pasty, and her short, cropped hair is both askew and black as night.

Under her breath, she mutters, “Quite the mess you’ve made…”

A single finger extends to slide across the blood stained flooring. She raises it for inspection.

“No need to hide.” Her fingers rub together. She sniffs at them, then rubs the blood off on her already soiled shirt. “Please, do come out, Dr. Watson.”

She stands and looks to the bedroom door furthest to the right. “You can’t hide in there forever.”

Dr. Watson’s room is dark. There’s a small fireplace in the corner, a cupboard at the back wall, and a bed in the center of the room. Aside from that, the room is empty. Dr. Watson sits beside the door with his back to the wall. He doesn’t respond at her calling, nor move at the noise of her approaching footsteps.

Hope pushes the door open and walks inside. She looks down at Dr. Watson. After a beat, she closes the door and takes a seat beside him. They stare blankly ahead of themselves.

“Why…?” He asks.

“I can’t say for certain.”

“Well, then, guess.” His patience is running thin. He wants answers. He doesn’t care if the person he’s asking doesn’t have them.

Hope takes a heavy breath. “Perhaps…” She scans the little room. “He wasn’t satisfied with the original ending? Wants a rewrite?”

“Perhaps he’s a psychologically disturbed lunatic who needs to be locked away before he-” His words are choked by dry tears. “He ends up killing everybody involved with this stupid game he’s forced us into.” He takes a steadying breath. “I’m not some fictional character from a storybook. I’m a living, breathing, person.”

Dr. Watson pinches his lips. They tremble, and so he raises a hand to cover them. His head shakes.

Hope looks down at her hands. There’s still the slightest smudge of red upon her thumb and index finger. “Do you think he was telling the truth about his children? Are the criminals involuntary players, as well?”

“What do I know?” Dr. Watson looks to Hope. “Aren’t you supposed to be the genius here?”

Hope holds the look. “I’m not some fictional character from a storybook.”

An abrupt, amused laugh takes Dr. Watson off guard. Hope smiles genuinely in response.

“Yeah.” Dr. Watson nods. “Yeah, I think he was telling the truth.”

—-

The flat is again flooded with policemen and forensic scientists. Dr. Watson and Hope stand at the back of the room, as far away from the body as possible.

Gregson and Lestrade walk up to them, their notes in hand.

There’s a pleased smile on his face as Gregson says to Hope, “You were wrong.”

She and Dr. Watson share a glance.

“The deceased? Jefferson Hope?” His head shakes. “Didn’t have so much as the flu before he called up saying he quit the business. His bill of health was spotless.”

Dr. Watson tries to blink his disbelief away. It doesn’t work. “There’s a dead man seeping into out floors right now.” He looks between the detectives and Hope. “Is this really what’s important?”

“Dr. Watson, wasn’t it?” Gregson glances down to the glass tablet lit with John Watson and Sherlock Holmes’ profiles. “Sherlock Holmes’ new flatmate?”

Lestrade jots down a quick note on his own screen. “So you’ll be sticking around, then?” He asks the doctor. “We may need you to, for umm…” He points his thumb over his shoulder and looks back at the corpse. His stomach churns, and so he clears his throat and turns toward the living. “For the case.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There is no case.”

All eyes fall upon detective Gregson.

“It’s suicide. He swallowed a micro-bomb.” Gregson pockets his police issue note tablet, then straightens out his lapel. Lips twist at the dead body. “I’d say he couldn’t live with himself.” With a click of his tongue, Gregson looks back to Hope and Dr. Watson. “His cab is parked just outside. The back seats have a built in apparatus that releases the paralytic X-Ren by the driver’s manual control. He’s our serial killer, and he got what he deserved. Case closed.”

Gregson turns to leave.

He stops when Hope calls, “And why would he choose to kill himself here, detective? With us as witnesses?”

The detective peers over his shoulder. “I have no doubt that when that question is answered, it will open up a whole new case entirely.”

Gregson walks to the front door. He spares the corpse one last glance before walking out and down the steps. Lestrade watches him go, then looks to Hope and Dr. Watson.

“If it was suicide, that’s one hell of a way to go… Don’t worry. Either he chose the location of his last victim, or… there’s more to this than my partner thinks. I promise I’ll be thorough with the investigation.” He nods at his own reassurance.

Dr. Watson returns a polite nod. “Thank you, detective.”

Lestrade forces a quick smile and turns to reluctantly take another look at the body. He’s quickly sidetracked, however, by the forensic analysts working with the corpse. They pull him into a conversation, and he responds with enthusiasm.

Eyes stationed on Lestrade, Dr. Watson asks, “I can’t leave, can I?”

Hope’s response is honest, simple. “I wouldn’t try it, no.”

—-

221B is brightly lit by natural light that seeps in through the uncovered windows. For once, the London skies are sunny, cheerful.

The flat has been picked up nicely. Papers, equipment, and furniture lie organized in designated locations. Blood stains, however, still line the floor. Hope kneels over one particularly large stain in the center of the room.

Her hands are stuffed into rubber gloves while her mouth hides behind a cloth cover. She’s cleaning out the stains with a sponge and a bucket filled with ammonia mixed water. There’s another, untouched bucket filled with a sponge and cold water. She hasn’t gotten far enough to use it, yet.

Footsteps sound up the stairs with a slight pause every other step. Hope doesn’t look up as Dr. Watson comes walking through the door. He’s carrying two grocery bags.

With slight difficulty, he closes the door behind himself. It bolts shut at the frame’s contact.

Hope stops cleaning and sits up straight. She pulls the cloth away from her mouth and takes a breath.

Her hand makes a spinning motion. “Turn around.”

Dr. Watson’s darts an immediate look out the window. Fortunately, there is no sniper perched atop of the neighboring building. So, reluctantly, he makes a 360 degree turn.

“As I suspected-” Hope stands and pulls the rubber gloves off of her hands. “You completed your journey unscathed.” She drops the gloves carelessly onto the floor.

Dr. Watson walks up to their new, cleaned off dinner table. He sets the bags atop of it. “Brilliant deduction, Holmes.” He teases.

Hope walks up beside him. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

The doctor pinches back a smile and begins to set the groceries out on the table.

Hope takes a step around Dr. Watson. “Of course….” She reaches for one of the paper stacks on the chemistry bench. “This may have something to do with it.” She lifts one sheet in the air.

Dr. Watson walks curiously up to her. “And what might this be?” He grabs the paper from her hands.

“A copy of Lestrade’s poorly written incident report from last night.” She shrugs. “Turns out I have bad aim. Shot you in the left shoulder blade during a struggle with Jefferson Hope.”

“You're kidding.” Dr. Watson's gone wild-eyed. He taps repeatedly at the sheet of paper. “This is an official record, this- How did you get Lestrade to do this?”

“I didn’t.” Hope rolls her eyes. “My brother has easy access to these things. When I phoned to ask the favor, he did it without question.”

“And Moriarty? He bought this?”

“No idea.”

Dr. Watson nods. There’s an odd expression on his face. “Hmmph. Good enough for me.” He looks back over the document, then to the work in progress on the floor. He points to it. “Think it’ll come out?”

Hope perks up at the question and walks over to the stain. “Oh, most definitely. Ammonia and a sponge? Never fails.” She drops to her knees and reaches for the rubber gloves.

“Please tell me you consulted the internet for that information.”

“Didn’t need to.”

There’s a stillness in the air.

Dr. Watson’s expression has turned wary, if not a little curious. He’s trying to figure Hope out. Has been since they first met.

Hope catches the look he’s sending her and quickly stumbles out an explanation of, “I used to be a forensic analyst for Scotland Yard.”

Dr. Watson’s head kicks back with an, “Ah.”

He sets the paper back down on the chemistry bench and walks back to their groceries. He’s separating them into different categories when he asks, “So what happens now?”

Hope huffs. Her body shifts with every heavy, scrubbing motion. “I, am going to find the man who shot you, I’m going to find Jefferson Hope’s missing children, I’m going to find this supposed Moriarty, and I am going to make absolutely certain… you live out the rest of your days by your own free will.”

There’s silence from Dr. Watson as he watches Hope absently scrub away at their floors. Then he sets the fresh loaf of bread he’d been holding beside the butter. “Well-” He breathes. “I promise you won’t have to do all of that on your own.” Hope stops cleaning. They look to one another. “You didn’t sign up for this, either, Hope.”

Hope’s line of sight drops downward. She goes back to cleaning.

Dr. Watson sighs and looks out over the table of groceries. “It didn’t make sense to get all of these perishables, did it?” He bites his lip and drops his hands to the edge of the table. “We’ll be eating out for at least a week…”

Hope’s brows knit. She’s aggressively working out a blood stain when she grits, “Why’s that?”

Hope

The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb

 

A Novelette

 

 

Dr. John Hamish Watson forces back a drunken giggle as he steps through the doorway of 221B Baker Street, his new home. A woman, Cynthia, he thinks her name is, follows just a step behind him into the building.

When the door closes, the pair stands awkwardly in the entryway, two broad smiles across their faces. She’s a beautiful woman. Tall, lean. Her dark brunette hair has been done in loose, artificial curls.

She bites a red lip and darts a curious look from the closed door beside her, up to the stairs in question.

Dr. Watson stutters another bubbly giggle and holds his arm unevenly out at the stairs. “Up here, please-”

Cynthia tightens her grasp on the little purse in her hands and gives the doctor’s cheek a kiss before taking on the stairs.

Grinning, Dr. Watson follows after her.

“To the left.” He calls, and Cynthia opens the door without question.

She’s smiling when she steps into the room, with the door. It drops at the sight of a blood drenched living room and a dark, red splattered, lab coat wearing, masked individual kneeling over a soiled sheet of plastic that is most definitely covering the origin of the mess.

The woman screams and steps back into Dr. Watson, who immediately grabs at the woman’s arms to steady her. “What’s wrong-?”

Cynthia hits repeatedly at the doctor with her bag until he drops his hold on her. “Alright, alright!” He barks with a defensive raise of his arms.

After another cry, the woman stumbles down the stairwell and out into the streets of After World, London.

Puzzled, Dr. Watson walks in through the open doorway. His hand immediately raises to his mouth at the sudden response his gag reflex makes. Heavily, he hits at the door frame. “Hope.” He identifies the small individual at the room’s center.

Beneath the blood splatter, but above the plastic lining, one can see point markers made from tape. They’ve been spread out in multiple directions like a clock face.

“Should I bother asking what this is about?” Dr. Watson asks. His eyebrows draw in. “Why the tarp?”

Hope gasps for air when she removes the protective mask she had put on in preparation for the explosion. Frazzled strands of black fall into clear blue eyes that wince at the contact. With a displeased humm, Hope blows the sweaty strands out of the way. “Modesty.”

“Ah.” Dr. Watson acknowledges with a roll of his eyes and look back down the stairs. “Well, I’d run after her, but I fear I’d give the poor girl a heart attack.” He walks into the room. There’s a sway in his uneven step.

Hope rises to a stand and turns her back to the doctor currently clinging to the walls. She’s staring at the plastic wrapped pig she’d blown up when she takes a step back. The blood squelches beneath her boots.

When he finally opens the door to his room, Dr. Watson releases a sigh.

Furniture from the living room has been packed professionally inside. Just within the doorway sits the armchair Hope tells him is his. He takes a seat on it and immediately loosens up.

His head lolls to watch Hope take another step back toward their flat’s exit. She’s tapping lightly at the side of her head with her right hand. It’s a movement she does when she’s thinking.

“I’m never going to get laid again, am I…?” Dr. Watson mumbles under his breath.

Without looking up, Hope responds, “Please don’t tell me you seriously thought you were getting laid tonight.”

For a moment, he’s caught off guard by the fact that Hope had heard him at all, especially considering how intrigued she appears to be by the dead pig on their living room floor.

Blueish gray stares blankly at his flatmate.

“If you didn’t exist, yes.”

Hope stops her calculations to look directly at the doctor. The lighting is dim. It drifts in through the windows where outside the sun has taken to falling just over the horizon.

Dr. Watson meets her challenging gaze. There’s a drunken film over his otherwise perfect vision.

“A woman that beautiful would never be interested in you.”

Dr. Watson’s brows knit.

“She followed you, a drunk halfwit, home to rob you.” She lifts a brow. “Not to sleep with you.”

There’s a pause as Hope stares blankly into offended blue/gray.

Hope looks back to the postmortem pig she'd blown up with a micro-bomb the same size as the one Jefferson Hope had swallowed. “She's either married or recently divorced. There was a white band around her ring finger. It could have been possible you were a rebound, however-” Hope's head tilts with a synchronizing step back toward the wall. “When she walked in, the first thing she looked for was a second exit- the windows, before- well.”

Dr. Watson doesn’t say a word. He just stares tightly at his flatmate with the most subtle drop of his jaw.

“Combine those things with her unusually tight grip on the purse that undoubtedly held a handgun-” Hope points to Dr. Watson. “You should have felt it when she repeatedly hit you across the face-” Her hand drops. “And we’ve got ourselves at least one, if not two, clever criminals.” Hope pops a squat. “Think twice the next time you drunkenly rant about being a doctor. People might think we have money.”

Dr. Watson’s line of sight darts to the ceiling. It drops to the window with an idle, “Hmmph.”

His lips purse. “You’re obsessing again, aren’t you?” His words come out slurred. He’s exhausted, and more than a little tipsy.

Hope pinches her lips and gives the slightest shake of her head at her findings. “He couldn't have known where we'd be standing- how close we'd be to the man when the explosion hit... Is it carelessness...” Her head tilts. “Or genius...?”

“Careless, I’d say.” Dr. Watson gives a winded snort. “Nearly killed me twice.”

“Did kill you once, actually.” Hope corrects. She straightens her back and looks down her nose at the measurement markers barely visible now through the guts.

Two steps closer and she’d have been severely mangled. One step closer and the table would have hit her head on.

Everything with this supposed Moriarty, it just seemed too… random, chaotic. Dangerous.

Hope shakes the idea away and taps again at her temple. She begins to pace. The stringy guts and thick, wet blood make the most disturbing noise at every step.

“Well, how’d he know in the original?” Dr. Watson unhelpfully inquires.

Hope darts an unimpressed look to the intoxicated doctor. “He didn’t explode in the original. That’s my point.” She huffs. Her gloved hands land on her hips. “He’s not playing them out… He’s re-wrting them. I can’t predict any of his moves.” Her hands shoot out. “We could explode in the next ten seconds, for all I know! Done. The end!” She peels off her slimy gloves and tosses them angrily onto the ground.

Dr. Watson slides on a wide, crooked smile. His bent leg begins to sway. “It’s getting to you~” He coos.

A brick smashes through the upper part of their living room window. Dr. Watson releases a startled scream and shuffles up into his arm chair. “He's back- he's back!”

Hope looks out the tall, towering window to the distant buildings around them. There’s no sniper to be found.

“No.” She walks to the brick and lifts it in her hand. Another brick smashes through the adjacent window. It hits the same, upper corner of the glass.

Hope doesn’t so much as glance behind her at the other brick and shattered glass. She sniffs the hardened clay. “We’re talking about an upward-” She raises a hand to point at the broken section of window above them. “Fifty-five degree angle or so, at a height of about, oh…” She tosses the brick in her hand and, with struggle, catches the heavy object. “High ceilings, so twenty-two feet from ground level. Assuming he didn’t press himself against the other building, I’d say our ten foot alley has been narrowed to approximately seven or eight feet.” She takes a practice swing with the heavy brick. It ends in a grunt and crumbling motion. “Giving the man roughly an average of six feet or so in height, that’s still a considerable, oh…” Shrugs. “Eighteen foot throw?”

Dr. Watson sits baffled in his armchair.

“This brick is high quality. It didn’t so much as chip from the impact and it’s at least six pounds. Here-” Hope uses both hands to heave the brick in Dr. Watson’s direction. “Catch.” It doesn’t get close.

The doctor looks from the brick, to Hope, to the window. He stands, and carefully steps over the broken glass so that he may approach the window.

“Right, well.” She huffs. “We’re talking about a man of considerable strength. I’d guess our culprit is a body builder type.” She brushes a few strands of dirtied black hair out of her eyes. “Approximately six foot. Six foot two, he probably says on his license-”

“He’s still there.”

“What?” Hope’s brows crinkle.

Dr. Watson pulls the curtain back and gestures out the broken window. “Hope, he’s been standing there the whole time.”

“Oh.” Hope advances toward the window and looks out. She sees a man standing at no more than six feet stare up at them from below. There’s clay dust on his disheveled clothing. At the confirmation of their presence, the man books it out of the alley and into the After World walkways.

“As I suspected, manual labor. Easiest way to keep in shape.” Hope stares idly after their culprit. “It’s not just a random brick he picked up, he was covered in the brick dust. He just came from work. Probably got paid a pretty penny to hit up our building. But just where did he come from? The clay is rich in color, but it fades in the sunlight, much like the bricks used on this building. It’s gives the newer architecture a beautiful aged effect. But this clay has been reinforced considerably. A well thought out precaution for, say…” Hope looks to Dr. Watson. “The new After World bank here in London?”

Dr. Watson stares blankly at his flatmate. He gives a few uncoordinated bobs of his head. “Someone smashes a brick through your windows, you don’t deduce the angle of the throw and origin of the clay.”

Hope thinks for a breath, then agrees, “Right.” and runs across the blood and glass toward the exit. A trail of guts follows her out the still open doorway.

“No, that’s not-!” Dr. Watson tries to explain with a step forward, but he’s dizzy. He takes a breath and leans against the window. He can see Hope running in the same direction their culprit had ran.

The doctor looks lazily out at their mess of a living room, then to his furniture stuffed bedroom.

With a grunt, he reaches down to pick up one particularly large shard of blood stained glass. Under his breath, he mutters, “Why couldn’t I have been named Gary? Or Tom?”

—-

Hope turns a sharp corner. It’s getting dark out.

The lampposts have turned on to help illuminate the streets. She takes another pivot, this time into a dark alley. It’s a dead end, but she already knows this.

She climbs the fire escape up to the third level of an apartment building and enters through a partially opened window. The flat is dark, empty. She races for the opposing window and pushes it open with a grunt.

Main street. The man who broke her window is fast approaching.

Hope makes another grunt and climbs down the greenery growing up the side of the building. It’s a tangling, thorn pricking journey, but she reaches the ground level with a pleased huff.

The man shuffles his fast paced sprint to a stop and freezes.

Hovercrafts pass them by, but the walkways are clear. Hope pulls out a pistol. Dr. Watson’s pistol. “What does he look like?”

The masculine pawn in Moriarty’s game looks as though he’s seen a ghost. “Who? I-I don’t know.”

Hope cocks the old fashioned gun.

“What do you know?”

“Look, I just needed the money-”

A siren sounds. It’s loud and obnoxious.

The man raises his hands high in the air, but Hope doesn’t turn to look at the approaching police vehicle. It pulls up behind her and slows to a stop.

Gregson steps out, followed shortly by Lestrade. Without word, Gregson walks up to Hope and grabs the gun from her hand. She lets him, then sends the man an annoyed glare.

“Do you have a license for this?” Gregson asks with an onward flip of the safety.

Hope looks to Lestrade, who in turn raises his hands as if to say, “You’re on your own.”

She looks back to Gregson. “Must we do this again?”

Gregson looks to the terrified muscle man and gives him a displeasing gesture. “Get out of here.”

The man quickly makes his escape.

Hope rolls her eyes. “Apparently, we must.”

The detective pulls out a pair of cuffs, and Hope submissively raises her wrists to be bound.

—-

Dr. Watson’s mouth hangs open. He inhales. It’s loud, strained. The exhale is much quieter.

Hope resets their lock settings so that when she walks through the living room, the door closes automatically behind her.

The slam startles Dr. Watson awake. He jumps and climbs clumsily to a seated upright position in his chair. “Hope!” He barks at the sight of his scratched and bruised flatmate. He yawns. “Where have you been, then?”

Hope walks wordlessly passed her swine test subject and behind the space closed off by a blood splattered curtain.

There’s the sound of her falling onto a couch, and then… nothing.

Dr. Watson humms at the back of his throat. It’s low and lazy. His eyes flutter closed and he drifts into blissful oblivion.

—-

Putrid. That is the word to describe the smell Dr. Watson wakes up to.

His face is already twisted by the time he actually opens his eyes.

Putrid and warm. Unusually warm for the London weather.

Dr. Watson sits up in his chair. His head is pounding as he squints a look around the room. Flies have begun to swarm around the decaying pig corpse thanks to their easy passage through broken windows.

Sunlight streams into the flat and shines directly upon the plastic covered swine and all of what used to be inside it.

The doctor reaches for his nose, but ends up grabbing his head, instead. It’s aching. He bites back a pained cry. “Hope-?” He calls, but there is no response.

He leans forward in his chair. It’s too heavy of a motion. He accidentally leans too far and ends up kneeling on the floor. One hand lands on a shard of broken glass. He grits his teeth and retracts it. His palm is bleeding. “Hope, where’s the first aid kit?”

There’s no response.

“Hope, are you even here!?” He calls through a wheezy shout.

It’s difficult, but he manages to stand. With heavy footed steps, he walks up to Hope’s door and pushes it open. Like his own room, it’s crowded with their flat’s furniture.

“Not in there, I take it.” He mutters under his breath with a close of the door. Blood residue remains on the door knob after he’s retracted his hand.

Dr. Watson catches glimpse of the blood and startles. “Oh, no-” He looks to his hand. “That was me.” He mumbles with the slightest disregarding shake of his head.

The curtain covered section of their living space has been drawn open. He frowns at the abandoned couch.

There are quiet heels clicking up the steps.

“Who’s there?” Dr. Watson asks the closed doorway.

“Dr. Watson? Sherlock Holmes’ partner?” A woman calls from behind the closed door.

“Yes.” Dr. Watson takes several steps forward, then stumbles a step back after hearing the ungodly squelch it had accompanied.

Most of the blood has dried out. However, many of the torn up organs, and invertebrates living inside of them, are as juicy as ever. “Who are you?” He asks from beside Hope’s bedroom door.

“Mrs. Hudson. My husband and I own the building.” She says politely through the door.

Dr. Watson takes a moment to try and recall anything about a Mrs. Hudson. “Ah, yes, of course! Mrs. Hudson! Please, come in.” He thinks better of it. “Actually, no- please don't-!”

But it’s too late.

The door opens and Mrs. Hudson walks in. Upon her first glance at the tarp covered remains, broken glass, and splattered guts, she screams and jumps back against the wall. Her hands wave in front of her face.

“It’s not human.” Dr. Watson feels the need to assure.

The poor old woman grabs at her chest with one hand and covers her mouth with the other. Her eyes close in an attempt to give her the illusion of peace, order.

Holding her breath, Mrs. Hudson explains, “I need your help, doctor.” Her eyes open and dart straight to Dr. Watson. “It’s your partner.”

—-

Hope struggles to breathe through the grasp Mr. Hudson has around her neck. Her face is turning purple from the lack of oxygen reaching her brain.

They’re in the downstairs tavern, The Hudson Tavern, as he had so cleverly named it.

It’s empty aside from two regulars who sulk over their beer and/or idly watch this fight play out. One, who sits beside the window, takes another drink of ale and looks out at the street. There are quite a few out enjoying this nice weather.

The space is brightly lit with natural light despite the lowered wooden panels draped over large portions of the windows.

A chair and table dig into Hope’s back. Her feet hang uselessly over the edge, but don’t quite reach the ground. At present, her body has failed her. It’s become unserviceable.

She’d tried reaching up to jam her thumb into the man’s eye socket, but he only needs one hand to strangle her, and her other arm has long since been pinned by his elbow.

So, she waits patiently for either Mrs. Hudson to awaken the doctor, or to suffocate till death.

Mr. Hudson’s own face has turned red, but not from lack of air. No, he’s fuming with rage.

Dr. Watson bursts into the tavern through the side door that connects with their flat’s stairwell. There’s a limp to his step as he crosses the room to where Mr. Hudson is killing his flatmate. “Enough!” He barks with a grab at the man’s shoulder. He ignores him, and continues to press his thumb into Hope’s oxygen channel.

After a huff, Dr. Watson kicks in the back of Mr. Hudson’s knee and, at his backward bend, elbows him in the nose. He falls to the ground, unconscious.

Hope gasps for air and sits up, only to fall back down against the angled chair and table. She blinks the discolored dots in her vision away.

Dr. Watson looks around at the two customers who appear to be both homeless and infinitely wealthy at the same time. “Really?” He bites out with a grab at Hope’s thorn scraped arms.

Hope comes up with a grunt onto shaky legs. She leans heavily on Dr. Watson and strangles out, to Mr. Hudson, “You’re a witless,” she chokes on her words. “narcissistic weasel-” She coughs, and falls back with Dr. Watson’s forward step.

The chair that had been digging into her back falls onto it’s legs. With a humm, Hope reaches over and kicks the old chair down onto Mr. Hudson. “Take that!” She heaves through a breath.

Dr. Watson rolls his eyes and drags Hope closer to the door. She follows, but her legs are numb, and so most of the work is left to the doctor. Mrs. Hudson stands at the side exit. Her hand is covering her mouth in awe, but she does not go to her husband’s aid.

To Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson asks, “Phone the police, would you?”

She stutters out a nod and rushes behind the bar to do just that.

In a heavy motion, Dr. Watson sets Hope down upon one of the tavern’s chairs. There’s a dull, lifeless thud. Dr. Watson kneels down before Hope and looks up into unfocused clear blue. He raises two fingers to her pulse point, and her head lolls partially to the side.

“Just breathe. You’ll be fine.”

His hand raises to hover under Hope’s nose. She’s breathing, but barely. He sighs and leans back onto the balls of his feet. “What. Were you thinking?”

Hope shrugs. “I…” Her head shakes. “Simply stated the obvious.”

“And what would that be, exactly?”

Hope shrugs again. There’s a pause, then she gets out, “Coward. He’s a coward.”

Dr. Watson gives several slow nods. “Moron, too,” he looks to Mr. Hudson’s limp form. “by the looks of it.”

Hope cracks a rare, contagious smile.

From out the blockaded windows, one can see two police vehicles pull up. Three men and one woman in uniform stride up to the tavern’s front entrance.

Dr. Watson snorts at the sight of the men and woman walking through the front entrance. They look around lazily, as though bored out of their minds by yet another call from this tavern. Nothing ever sticks to Mr. Hudson.

“Well, this should be-”

“Insufferable.” Hope finishes Dr. Watson’s train of thought, then glances curiously toward the side exit. The doctor catches this look and frowns his disapproval.

“No. You’re going to the hospital.”

Mr. Hudson wakes with an obnoxious gasp. The doctor startles a look to what sounds to be a dying man, then falls onto his side at Hope’s sudden, balancing shove at his shoulder. “Hope!” He calls to the woman making her escape.

It’s a difficult, clumsy motion, but Dr. Watson manages to stand up on both feet. He doesn’t hesitate to limp his way out of the tavern and into the Baker Street walkways.

He looks left, first, then right. Hope has propped herself against the side of the building, unable to go on.

With a quick release of air, Dr. Watson makes his way over to her.

She closes her eyes and forces a breath.

The doctor tilts his head and crosses his arms. For now, the police officers seem to be content slapping handcuffs onto one Mr. Hudson, the witless weasel.

“All these cuts…” Dr. Watson gestures up and down Hope. “The bruising…” His arms fold. “You need to see a doctor, Hope.”

Hope pushes herself from the building and walks away.

Her pace is slow. It’s easy for Dr. Watson to walk with her.

“I was under the impression that’s what you were for.”

Dr. Watson shrugs. He moves behind Hope so that a family can pass them by. The kids are cute, he muses. They’ve got balloons tied around their wrists by thin red strings. These, of course, stop the balloons from floating away and blocking air traffic.

Smiling, Dr. Watson moves again beside a disoriented Hope. She’s got her gaze set heavily out before herself, a destination already in mind.

She turns down a narrow alley, and Dr. Watson follows her with just one glance spared over his shoulder. “And where is it we’re going?” He asks when Hope pulls herself to a stand upon a short metal barrier between the alley and a river. Dr. Watson points to Hope’s unsteady legs. “I don’t think that’s safe.” He shrugs. “Not that you’ll listen to me, but,” he pulls himself up onto the barrier just so that he can look down at the river flowing beneath it. He squints a look up to Hope. It really is quite the sunny day. “at least I can say I tried. When you inevitably fall to your death, I mean.”

Hope ignores the doctor and instead takes a seat on the barrier.

Dr. Watson looks to his right where the head of a wide hovercraft is leaving the city’s lower level water channels. It’s too wide and too long for common city streets, so instead it’s forced to travel along the water paths.

As more of the craft comes into view, Dr. Watson realizes it’s commercial, for large shipments needing to travel from one location to another. Currently, it’s empty. It looks to have been recently unloaded.

Without warning, Hope launches herself from the barrier, down onto the slowly moving hovercraft.

“Hope!” Dr. Watson whisper-shouts, but she’s already rolled behind one of the empty crates aboard the vessel.

Dr. Watson looks back down the alley where normal people on the walkways are enjoying this fine day. Normal people… who do normal things like take a stroll and eat breakfast.

He grunts and, as carefully as he can manage, drops down onto the unoccupied hovercraft. After taking a heavy breath, he army crawls over to Hope.

“This is illegal, you know.” He informs the woman.

Hope peers toward the head of the hovercraft where two authority figures in uniform are standing. They’re talking to one another, and therefore are blissfully unaware of the two who have infiltrated the vessel on their watch.

One can only hope they pay more attention when their shipments are aboard.

“Why are we doing this, anyway?”

Hope clears her throat and leans back against the crate. She shifts to make herself more comfortable. “This vessel is heading to the factory our invites were made.”

Dr. Watson’s features twist inward. “What?”

Hope glances to the doctor, then clears her throat again. “The bricks. Our new invites.”

“That’s what those were?” He asks. He, too, shifts against the wood and metal at his back and below his bum. This craft is not meant for people. “Hmmph. I prefer the letter and flower method, myself.”

The hovercraft passes under another bridge, and then out into an open clearing. The ocean.

The water blooms into discoloration when they pass over a river barrier. Chemicals, even after nearly a hundred years of filtering, still reside within the ocean waters. It’s excess from the single Greatest War Of Mankind

The G.W.O.M.

Dr. Watson looks curiously over the vehicle’s edge. He’s careful not to be caught as he peers out at the muddied waters.

A breeze tosses his short strands of graying blonde hair. Strands nip at his eyes and cheeks. The latter of which grow to a rosy color at the cold bite of air.

“This is almost nice.” He comments. He smiles at Hope, only to find his companion is missing. “Hope?” He whispers with a worried look around.

The guards are clearly unprecedented, as they’ve stood in the same spot for their entire journey. Dr. Watson eyes the bickering pair at the head of the hovercraft.

He doubts they’ll be making rounds this trip, and he bets Hope has long since come to the same conclusion.

Dr. Watson forces his injured leg to partake in a pained, uncoordinated crawl behind the next row of empty crates. He’s heading back toward the engines, where he can only assume Hope has gone.

He stumbles over his injury and falls to his side. The doctor grunts. It’s pitiful. Perhaps he should just let Hope get into whatever trouble it is she’s heading for. This is all just a little too insane for him.

Dr. Watson stares curiously ahead of himself at the side of the hovercraft. It’s metal, of course. Matte. It gives off a blessed faint glow at the sun’s contact, rather than the ungodly glare of a glossy metallic finish.

His brows knit at the sound of a creak.

It’s a simple noise of distressed wood.

It sounds again, but this time doesn’t break off a beat later.

Dr. Watson shoots up to a seated position and looks to the front of the boat where guards are apparently unaware of this blood curling noise.

The sound fades in and out like it’s breathing.

Dr. Watson gives a heavy look behind himself at the last row of crates. Tiredly, he army crawls his way to the back of the craft.

As expected, he finds Hope disturbing the peace.

“What are you doing?” He asks with a dull look to the woman trying to break open a sealed crate with a rather large switch blade he was fairly certain didn’t belong to her.

Her voice is strained as she responds, “Does it not entice your curiosity to know why this is the only sealed crate on the craft?”

“You think Moriarty knew you’d be taking this exact hovercraft to get to the factory, or, wherever the hell it is we’re going?” He rolls his eyes with a grand gesture to the sky.

Hope pries another nail from the crate and takes a step to her left to continue the process.

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Another nail is pried from the sealed wooden crate’s face. “Only way to get to the factory is by transport hovercraft. Well-” She huffs, and steps left. It’s taking more energy than she currently has to open the damn thing. “Assuming you want to get inside, anyway.”

Dr. Watson stands and walks up behind Hope. He snatches the knife from her hand and inspects the blade. It’s got the name, “Hudson” inscribed on the handle. He sends the ex-forensic analyst a displeased frown.

Hope forces in several breaths and steps back to allow Dr. Watson to take over. He pries up another nail.

“I feel the fact that you know that should concern me.” Dr. Watson tells the crate face.

Hope wipes oily hair out of her eyes. Both hands land upon her hips. “Yes, well… In my line of work, you had to think like the criminal to catch the criminal.”

Dr. Watson gets out the last nail, then pockets Mr. Hudson’s blade and grabs at the top ledge. Hope moves to the other side and together they pull open the crate.

It’s loud, this strained movement.

It finally alerts the good for nothing guards of their presence.

Dr. Watson looks to the front of the hovercraft where two guards are fast approaching. “We’ve got company.” He warns, but Hope has already walked into the large, dark crate.

She pulls out her glass, phone-like device and touches several keys on the screen. An orb of light emits around her, illuminating the space.

Dr. Watson steps into the crate after her. His left hand goes to the ceiling to remind him of it’s presence. His neck is crooked. If he were to straighten it out, he’d hit his head on the top of the crate. “Well? Anything worth getting arrested for?”

Hope kneels down to get a better look at something. The orb of white light almost appears to shrink with her lowered movement.

“Hope?” Dr. Watson bows his head lower as he walks forward. Curiously, he leans over Hope to get a look at what she’s so intrigued by.

Two guards block the filtering light from the crate’s entrance. “You’re trespassing on private property of the After London City.” One of the men informs them, as though they weren’t already aware.

At the lack of response, the other guard steps up into the crate and levels his gun at Dr. Watson’s back. “We’re going to have to ask you come with us.”

There’s a humm that sounds within the crate. It emits from Hope.

Before her, standing upright, is a single thumb that’s been leveled with precision. Small amounts of blood soak into the wood beneath it.

“The cut is fresh and surgical. Clearly, someone had to have knocked out or drugged the victim before the slice. See?” Hope’s finger kicks out toward the thumb. “You can even see the angle of the laser used to make the cut. It ascends from the palm and splits the proximal phalanx.”

Dr. Watson narrows his eyes and leans closer. “He cut into the poor sod while he was still alive…”

“Hey…” The young guard calls. “You have to listen to us.”

“Callouses.” Hope states with a tap to her lower lip.

Dr. Watson straightens out. His hand raises to touch the ceiling. “Another construction worker, like our friend in vandalism?”

“No.” Hope lowers herself to eye level with the severed thumb. She shines the light directly upon it. The skin is practically translucent. “There’s prior skin damage, but the victim isn’t accustomed to seeing sunlight on a day to day basis. His flesh is pale. Too pale. It’s more than an indoor job, it’s…” Her eyes glide from the top of the chewed off nail, down to the spongy red base. “It’s got to be somewhere he’s been locked away… Somewhere the light can’t reach…”

“Underground?” Dr. Watson inquires.

“Come with us now, or we’ll shoot!” The guard standing within the crate finally threatens.

Hope sits upright and looks to the guards. She gestures toward them.

“I need less of you.”

—-

Hope and Dr. Watson sit next to one another at the back of the stationary hovercraft. After discovering a served thumb and two trespassers aboard, the guards ordered a stand still.

Police crafts approach with loud sirens and even more obnoxious flashing blue and red lights. There are three of them. Two connect on the left, and one the right.

The police vehicles aren’t designed for water. Instead of calmly gliding over the ocean waves, they unsteadily bounce and splash up water at their air boosting presence. It makes for the most uncomfortable ride many would rather not take.

Water from the police crafts splash up in a mist that sprays over the doctor and Hope. “As rude as always.” Dr. Watson mutters under his breath as he lifts a hand to cover his eyes from the mist soaking his skin.

Hope stares blankly at Gregson and Lestrade as the two lead detectives stumble out of their police vehicle. Wet hair and clothes cling to her skin, but she doesn’t so much as flinch.

When their sights clash, Gregson releases a long breath and starts toward her. “Long time no see.”

He slows his steps to a stop before the duo.

“This isn’t a homicide investigation.” Hope tells the detective.

“Severed limb locked in a crate doesn’t shout murder to you?” Gregson asks with a raised brow and slide of hands into his pockets.

Lestrade jogs up beside his partner. “Did you ask?” He’s breathless.

Gregson gently closes his eyes in frustration and shakes his head. When he opens them, he finds Hope has got on one of her almost smiles.

Dr. Watson peers at the detectives through one squinted eye. His hand of a shield is doing little to protect his eyes, nose, and mouth. “Ask what?”

“If we know anything about their murder victim.” Hope answers.

Gregson raises his hand in warning. “Now, we didn’t say that.”

“Didn’t have to. You wouldn’t waste your time collecting some man’s missing thumb if you didn’t already have his body.” Hope’s smile has turned full. It’s unnerving.

“It was a messy one, but-” Lestrade chokes on his own tongue. He looks back at the crate now crawling with his co-workers. “We’re fairly certain at lease one of his thumbs is missing.”

“Wait, wait-” Dr. Watson gives a little hand jitter that sends water droplets onto his already drenched shirt. “There were definitely signs of inflammation. That cut was made Antemortem.” He interrupts.

Hope ignores Dr. Watson to ask, “Just how messy was the crime scene, detective?”

Lestrade shakes his head at the memory, throws his hands up, and walks away from the conversation. Gregson clears his throat and shifts uncomfortably. “Messy.” He doesn’t elaborate.

“Must be difficult to separate a thumb from all that…” Hope’s head tilts. “Mess.”

Dr. Watson breaks up Hope and Gregson’s stare by clearing his throat and standing. Upright, his eyes are out of the mist’s harms way. With her blockade gone, Hope has no choice but to close her eyes and tuck her chin at the overwhelming disturbance of water.

“Crime scene must still be fresh. Where are we headed?” Dr. Watson asks through a yawn.

Gregson prods the doctor in the chest. “You.” He points to Hope. “And you. Are not going anywhere near that crime scene. If your DNA is found there, I’m taking you to court.” He steps back and Hope can’t help but notice a tear at the hem of his pant leg. It’s barely visible, but her eyes dart to it like a magnet. “For this,” he gestures at the crate. “you’re lucky I’m not throwing you in a cell.” He turns his back to Hope and walks toward what may very well be their murder victim’s missing thumb.

“I don’t understand.” Dr. Watson says in Gregson’s direction. “Why does he hate you so-” He turns to Hope. His words catch in his throat.

She’s just crawled over the hovercraft’s ledge. “Don’t-!” He reaches for her, tries to grab at her arm, but she takes the leap and falls nearly fifteen feet to the toxin infested waters below.

Dr. Watson presses himself against the railing. The surface of the water has turned white where Hope jumped in. Within moments, Gregson, Lestrade, and one of the guards of the hovercraft run up beside him.

“Did Miss Hope just-?” Lestrade asks.

Dr. Watson doesn’t so much as blink until Hope resurfaces. She gasps for air, and likewise, he breathes a sigh of relief. Without looking back, she swims North, away from the hovercraft.

“Where are you going?” Dr. Watson mutters to she who can’t hear him. His eyes narrow a look into the distance. Shore. The uninhabited Northern regions just outside of After World, London.

From beside the doctor, Lestrade explains, “To take a look at the body.”

—-

Large spinning blades reside on either side of the narrow, underground walkway Hope has found herself on. They rotate half above and half below the water that’s been sucked up into these After World filters, breaking down anything big enough to jam the pipelines.

The walkway, itself, stands not three inches above the water line, leaving Hope just out of reach. Even so, she’s soaked from head to toe after having swam to the large water filter.

Her breath is haggard as she walks up to the only set of blades that have ceased functioning.

They’re covered in drying blood, the blades are. As is the water surrounding them.

However, Hope has no doubt much of the scene’s evidence has been broken down and sucked up into the filters for public distribution.

It’s both disgusting and obliterating to the progression of this case.

A judgment call must have been made.

Without this filter station up and running, London would run out of drinkable water in a matter of days.

Hope kneels down and presses her forehead up against the walkways’ safety bar. Pieces of flesh still cling to the unused blades.

“We don’t have long!” Dr. Watson barks whilst limping down the walkway. She looks to him. “I jammed the scanners, but it’s only a matter of minutes before they fix it.”

“Pleasant surprise… I didn’t think you’d be joining me.” Hope confesses with a turn back to the sliced apart body. Sticking up between several adjoining blades is a hand reaching for the walkway. The thumb has been sliced off.

Dr. Watson slows after a quick look to their victim. “Oh.” He can’t help but choke out. “Right, well… After they cleared things up on the hovercraft, Lestrade decided to let me ride in the back. Jumpy driver, detective Gregson, is. Nearly lost whatever’s left of me after two days with you.”

He leans over the safety bar. “So, what have we got? Better have a name and location, or we’ll both end up behind bars.”

Hope narrows her eyes. “I don’t recognize this story.”

Dr. Watson raises a brow. “You’re pulling my leg. I know you are.”

Hope tilts her head. There’s a hunk of human meat wedged between two spiraling blades. It’s dripping blood down into the waters below. “This is the After World. Old World stories are rare and hard to come by. If this is a real Sherlock Holmes plot, I haven’t been able to find it. And as we’ve learned… Moriarty is too creative to stick to the original story. Assuming he wasn’t is what made us lose the first game.”

The doctor scoffs. “If that were true, how could you have known where the crime scene was?”

“Underground.” Hope stands. She catches skeptical blue/gray. “We already deduced that from the pigment of the thumb.”

“I’m aware, yes.”

“That and the tear at the bottom of Gregson’s pant leg gave me a considerably lucrative theory.”

“You can’t be serious.” Dr. Watson frowns at the lack of emotion in Hope’s gaze. “What tear?”

Hope kicks up her leg and slides her finger over the hem of her right pant leg. “Here. There were no loose strings, it was a clean slice. Tiny, as though whatever sliced him had barely managed to reach. It was the same suit he wore yesterday, and I am certain the tear had not been there when he confiscated your gun. So, it’s new. He must have leaned-” she drops her leg and points across the narrow walkway where the other blades are still breaking up gunk. “against the railing. His pant leg fell just within reach and the blade sliced through it.” Her hand drops. “There aren’t very many open, underground blades in London sharp enough to do that.”

“What was that about my gun?”

Hope waves the idea away and looks back to what’s left of the body. She shakes her head repeatedly. “I won’t be able to get anything from this, not without proper examination of the remains.”

Dr. Watson purses his lips. “So… This is it, then? We’ve already lost?”

Hope’s head takes a heavy turn toward Dr. Watson. Her mouth opens to say something, but she’s cut off by the bustling approach of police officers. They storm up Dr. Watson’s side of the walkway, their military grade tasers in hand. Immediately, the doctor shoots his hands up.

“And just who is this show for?” Dr. Watson asks with an air of arrogance.

“We need a better look around.” Hope follows up.

Gregson scoffs and pulls out two of his trusty pairs of cuffs. He jingles them in the air. “You can explore your prison cell all you want, Holmes.”

Gregson hands one pair of cuffs to Lestrade and takes the other to Hope. None too carefully, he spins her around and binds her wrists behind her back. Her eyes roll at the theatrics. She then catches sight of Lestrade and Dr. Watson, the former of which is applying a similar pair of cuffs in an awkward, almost apologetic manner.

Dr. Watson catches her look and nods. It was godawful knowing her, but he accepts responsibility for what he’s done in her company.

She doesn’t nod back. Just stares as he’s pulled down the walkway and eventually out of her sight.

—-

Hope sits in cell block D of the London prison for the accused and dangerous. It’s been two days and somehow there hasn’t been any evidence discovered to clear her name or find a more promising suspect.

The cells hold but one inmate each.

Hope is on the second row of these endless, metal walled confinements. It’s like a zoo, where guards can walk by and check in on the accused whenever they please. There are barred off windows on the other side of the railed off walkway outside of her cell.

When the natural light fades out, she’s since learned that the illuminating lights at either side of her cell will allow the guards to get a good look at her whilst simultaneously making it impossible for her to sleep.

She sits on the floor, a metal wall at her back and barred off cloudy skies set out before her. Her hair is ratty, unkempt. Mush some people call food sits at the head of her cell, but, as always, it goes uneaten.

Light blue eyes pop against pale skin and purple smudges of exhaustion. They stare at the gray light outside. It’s been progressively growing darker.

A twitch jolts through her body. Her head lolls after the uncontrollable movement.

She’s forced to wear a florescent orange jumpsuit. It’s comfortable, but unflattering.

She hates it.

A guard walks into the view of her cell. He hits his taser against the bars. It creates a poor, off beat repetition. He stops, licks his lips, and smiles. “Come on, now. Cheer up.”

Hope doesn’t so much as blink.

The guard laughs and pulls his ID toward the lock pad for a quick scan. “Your bail has been posted, Miss Holmes.” He then punches a code into the lock pad and scans his thumb print. The cell door falls open and the other women in the cell block grow loud at their poorly concealed curiosity. The guard steps inside the cell. “Do I get a smile, now?”

He doesn’t.

—-

Hope walks out of the processing station dressed in the same clothes she had worn two days ago at the London Water Filter. They’ve been cleaned, but still they hang loosely from her body.

Her shirt is untucked and vest undone.

A black hovercraft pulls into the pick up/drop off slot before the station she’d been transported to for processing.

People walk along the pathways, completely oblivious to the fact that this pastel brick building processes convicts.

A back seat window slides open. “You look awful, Hope.”

He doesn’t show his face, but his voice and government issued vehicle sign his name for him. “Thought you’d given up on me.” Hope responds with ease. She looks down the other way. Unfamiliar faces. All of them.

Mycroft leans into view. He pinches a smile. “Not quite.” He leans back and the door pops open. He gestures to the opposing seat. “You did promise to have dinner with the family, remember?”

Hope rolls her eyes and climbs into the vehicle. The door closes itself behind her and shortly after, the hovercraft speeds down the main city streets.

Hope stares at her brother. “Why is Dr. Watson still in prison?”

He sighs. “The police are in chaos over this engineer thumb business. It took me fifty-six hours just to get you out of there.”

“He’s innocent.”

“Obviously.” Mycroft bites back. There’s a hint of impatience in his voice. He looks to his right, out the window. “His case is quite the process. He did tamper with your arrest, after all.”

Under her breath, Hope mutters, “Figures the only one with any sense would be locked behind bars…”

Mycroft snorts, as though amused by something. Blue darts to the older gentleman, but the question dares not escape her lips. She’s learned the hard way her brother doesn’t hand out answers.

She eyes him. His stance is tall, poised, but there’s a displeased droop of his eyelids and the most blatant raise of his brows.

“You disapprove of him.”

As always, she answers her own question, satisfies her own curiosity.

Mycroft licks the left corner of his lips. It makes for a subtle pop of his jaw. His eyes fall to Hope. “I believe his sense is rather dim.” A brow quirks. “He’ll be what gets you killed in the end.” Eyes roll. “Should you insist on sticking around.”

Hope makes no visible reaction as she looks to the window.

The skyline is growing dark, she notices. It’s a heavy formation that will no doubt bring forth something foul.

—-

Hope looks over the golden grandeur of the Holmes’ family estate.

It’s magnificent. Each and every detail within the beams and molding are meticulous, perfect.

Yellow light bounces off of the golden chandeliers, walls, and fixtures. A grand piano sits just to the left of a wide open entertainment space just off of the entry hall. It’s broken. Has been for years now.

Her eyes hold on the instrument.

After her third attempt to play the damn thing, it gave out on her. Supposedly Mycroft’s parents meant to fix it, but, as a Holmes, Hope knew deceit when she was fed it.

It was never to be fixed.

Not when there was a possibility Hope may try to play it again.

“God awful at the piano, weren’t you?” Mycroft asks upon his return from the kitchen. His steps are quick in pace as he walks across the estate’s ballroom.

“You have to practice to make perfect.” Hope snaps back. She still looks like a drowned rat, but that can’t be helped. Mycroft’s parents are on a tight schedule these days.

Mycroft tilts his head. “Three lessons should have been plenty.”

Hope scans the room. “And just when were you going to tell me you inherited the family estate?”

Mycroft’s jaw drops with a barely audible, “Ah.” He shifts, as though he were guilty of something. “Mum and pa, they… Asked me… If I would take it from them. They feel…” His lips pinch and brows curl. “They need something smaller. More intimate.”

“Are they sick?” She doesn’t make eye contact. Instead, she continues to look around the unused space.

“No.”

“Good.” Hope bobs her head through a slight nod. She meets the dark eyes of her adoptive brother. “It’s good that you took it from them…” Her nose twitches. It’s uncontrollable. When she rubs at it, she looks away. “Kept it within the family…”

“Yes,” Mycroft ducks his head. “well-”

“Hope! My lovely little angel!”

Mycroft smiles at his sister’s sudden gaping expression from having been snuck up on from behind and pulled into a bone crushing embrace by his mother.

She’s an older woman, with fine gray hair and jewels to match her wealth. Ring hugging fingers dig into the sides of Hope’s skinny arms. She will no doubt later find bruises like the ones she had repeatedly acquired at a much younger age.

She used to inspect them, the bruises. She’d analyze the formation and size, then match them with the ungodly gems and fingernails that caused their existence.

Hope bites a frown and looks to the ground. The woman’s feet are bare, of course. Her clamorous heels have been long since forgotten at the doorway.

Mr. Holmes taps twice on his wife’s bejeweled gown of gold she’d chosen to wear that evening. She turns to him, and with a velvety frown, releases the daughter she’s always wanted.

Hope immediately steps forward, toward her brother, and turns to face his parents.

Mrs. Holmes gasps and grabs at her husband’s suit lapel. Mascara lined light green looks up into the dark brown eyes of her lover. “Jacques, the poor thing’s starving!” She hits the large man in the gut. “I told you we should have sent her money!”

“We did.” Her husband defends with a grab at his wife’s hands.

“As have I.” Mycroft cuts in. His parents look to him, and so he looks to Hope. She, in turn, looks up, toward the ceiling. “She just sends it back.”

Hope clasps her hands behind her back and walks toward the kitchen’s side entrance. With the door closed, the place sounds barren. Only two, no-

Her head cocks to the side. She can hear someone pulling a car around. The valet. Of course Mycroft would keep the valet around despite his lack of company.

Three civil servants, and the kitchen workers.

This is by far the quietest the Holmes estate has ever been.

The door to the kitchen slides open. An old, fragile man in a tailcoat steps out. There’s a fold to his left arm. He bows. “Dinner is ready.” There’s a smooth roll of his tongue throughout his words. He’s not originally from After World, London.

Marque’s accent has a southern roll of his “R”s. It gave him, and his personal friend, Jacques, away the day Hope met Mycroft’s family.

“Perfect, Marque.” Jacques Holmes responds in a similar accent.

Marque bows to the men and women of the house and disappears back into the kitchen. The door slides closed behind him, and Hope bends backwards to follow it.

Mycroft’s eyes narrow, then dart back to the closed kitchen door Hope is now walking toward.

“Hope, darling!” Mrs. Holmes calls with a raise of her hand and ring of her voice. Her other arm loops with her husband’s.

Hope stops her advancement.

Mrs. Holmes gestures toward the dining hall at her left. “Come, now. You promised us a meal, remember?”

Hope looks to her brother, who releases a weary breath. He turns to his parents, then presses his hand gently upon his mother’s back. “Hope will be needing a rain check, I’m afraid.”

Hope grins and stalks through the automatic kitchen doors.

Mrs. Holmes tries to call out to her, but Mycroft’s voice has once again caught her attention.

“Let us not spoil this lovely evening.”

The doors close behind Hope. She’s surrounded by sweaty staff members, whom of which look her over with concern.

Each and every one of them has been around since her admittance into the Holmes family. Because of this, they know it’s best to keep their guard up when she comes sniffing around.

Hope smiles at the woman cleaning the dishes. The dishwasher holds this look with unease, but does not stop doing what she’s paid for.

Without word or explanation, Hope glides across the bustling kitchen and drops down until the counter is at her eye level.

She watches the water pour from the faucet.

Her presence is distracting, and therefore the movements in the kitchen have slowed.

Clear blue eyes dart to the faucet’s setting. It’s on full throttle, and yet, the stream is steady.

“Problem with the plumbing?” She asks the woman standing at her right.

The woman stares down at her as though expecting Hope’s head to explode at any second. “No.”

“Problem, Miss Holmes?” Marque asks the young lady of the house.

Hope bites her lip and stands. She looks to Marque. “Wait ten minutes, then tell my brother I’ve borrowed a hovercraft.”

Marque deflates. “Oh, Miss Holmes…”

Hope launches herself from the counter and sprints toward the back door. Over her shoulder, she shouts, “It is likely he will never see it again!”

The tension in the air falls at Hope’s retreat through the back door. The pace picks up.

Water leaving the faucet stutters, then slows down a notch. The woman washing dishes gives it an odd look, then fusses with the waterproof “setting” screen. She hits it twice in frustration.

“Oh. What did she do now?” The woman mutters at the lack of water filling the bubble drowned sink.

—-

Dr. Watson sits punctually atop of his made cell bed. The blankets are a ragged, itchy material and so they’ve gone unused.

When he’s tired, he lies posture perfect on his back and wills himself to sleep in this hell hole he’s been thrown into.

It’s an isolated cell he’s been given, but the men around him love to bang on their bars, whistle at passing security guards, and shout profanities every chance they get. It makes the wait for his inevitable trial unbearable.

Whistling sounds throughout the brightly lit cell block. It’s a good indicator one of the guards is making rounds.

Dr. Watson doesn’t look up. Instead, he stares down at the ugly white slip on shoes he’s been given.

Graying blonde has been recently cleaned after his request to shower.

An inmate has to request to take a shower. It’s ridiculous.

He’ll no doubt write a book about it when he gets out.

Assuming he gets out…

Dr. Watson’s lips quirk at the voiceless thought.

Perhaps he’d have to write his book about prison in prison?

There’s a pop of his cell door. He startles and jumps back against the bedding.

A guard has unlocked his cell door and pulled it open.

The inmates are howling like mad men.

“Coming, Dr. Watson?” Hope asks with a quirk of her brow. She’s wearing an authentic guard uniform and cap to match.

Hope extends a familiar pistol and cellular device she not so legally checked out of the evidence locker.

Dr. Watson stares back at his criminal flatmate.

“I think I’d rather be charged with murder.”

Hope pinches her lips. It’s an impatient, unimpressed look she’s giving the falsely accused con. “I’m afraid this is a time sensitive matter. I would appreciate it if we could-” Her gun holding hand gestures out of the cell and toward unconventionally achieved freedom.

Dr. Watson sighs and climbs off of his bed. As he passes Hope and grabs his belongings, he humms, “Don’t mind if I do.”

—-

Hope takes an abrupt left down an emergency exit hall.

Dr. Watson stutters in his advancement toward the actual exit, then sputters when a cap is tossed into his face.

The halls are brightly lit, just like the rest of the prison. There’s nowhere to hide if they’re caught fiddling around an emergency exit.

“Is this the way you came in?” Dr. Watson asks. He tosses the cap to the floor and steps over the rest of Hope’s disguise. Templen, the name of the young man Hope has stolen the identity of, is.

Or, well, had.

It was like watching a butterfly break out of it’s cocoon. With the slide of a jacket, she became her true, unkempt, self.

The exit sign above the door is bold and blinding. The red letters scream, “Do not use me unless there is a fire.”

“Yes. However, I had much more time infiltrating than we do departing, so-” Her hand moves in front of herself. “Cover your ears.”

Without another second to spare, she lowers herself to inspect the security lock pad and, with apparent practiced ease, elbows the glass at the top right corner. It breaks at the contact and an alarm sounds.

It’s deafening.

Dr. Watson raises his palms to his ears and let’s out a silent scream. His head is pounding.

As though unaffected by the noise, Hope reaches in through the broken glass and pulls out one of the many identical microchips within.

Not that anyone could hear it, but there’s a click.

Hope pushes open the emergency exit and runs out. Dr. Watson limps a sprint after her. He’s relieved to find she does, in fact, have a hovercraft waiting for them outside the emergency exit.

With a curious turn, Dr. Watson winces at the bright lights and sirens that have made the prison go up in chaos. His eyes dart down to the exit they’d just gone through. Guards have apparently not yet reached the source of their present jail break.

Blue/gray land on the security lock outside. It’s been carefully dissected. He’d have to remember to ask how Hope could possibly know how to pull apart a military grade security system without triggering any alarms. It was sure to be an interesting story.

“Doctor!” Hope calls impatiently from within her brother’s sleek black hovercraft. “You are who they’re after.” She reminds him.

Dr. Watson looks down at his bright orange uniform, then back at the exit. Two guards come barreling down the narrow hall, their tasers at the ready. “Oh-” Dr. Watson does a tuck and roll into the hovercraft. “Go, go, go-!” He chants into Hope’s ear.

His right leg is still hanging out of the hovercraft when the guards shoot their weapons and Hope takes off.

They miss their target by little more than an inch.

Dr. Watson struggles to pull himself properly into the vehicle. When he does, the door automatically shuts itself.

The doctor pants against the window, fogging the glass. He’s trying to look behind them to see if they’re being pursued, but his breath has blocked the view.

With a grunt, Dr. Watson leans back in his seat and fastens his safety restraints. “Right, so.” He huffs and runs a hand through drying hair. “What’s next?”

Hope keeps her eyes on the road. She passes up three more vehicles.

Dangerous process, passing up hovercrafts. But Dr. Watson does not voice his concern. Instead, he simply looks out ahead of them and holds the safety bar.

“They’ve shut down the filters.” Hope responds.

“Why-” Dr. Watson blinks rapidly. He sits upright. “Why would they do that? The people must be going mad, now, aren’t they?”

“No.”

“No?”

“It hasn’t been made public. They don’t want to cause a stir.”

Dr. Watson smiles through a shake of his head. “I don’t understand how you could just know that.”

The hovercraft jumps to cross over the railways blocking the street from the Thames. Water splashes up around the vehicle as it glides across the waves.

For the most part, it’s a smooth ride. This craft has been designed to take on all sorts of paths. On road and off.

“I don’t just know that. I selected several buildings at random and tested their water pressure. None are behaving properly. The city has adjusted it’s water proportions, yet no announcement of maintenance has been made. They’re keeping it quiet. This undoubtedly means there’s a problem that could cause panic.”

“The filters?” Dr. Watson cuts in. There’s a curious look upon his face.

“Exactly.” Hope confirms.

—-

Dr. Watson crosses the crime scene tape with a bend and a step. Sitting before the next victim to fall prey to “M” is a thumb. It stands upright.

There’s blood everywhere, including upon the walkway and within the water.

The space is dark, dimly lit. There are shadows at every corner.

Dr. Watson can hear himself breathing as he steps up to the railing.

Every single spiraling blade sits still.

Not a mechanism in the room is working properly.

Hope steps up beside the doctor and smiles at their latest victim.

“Thumb cut clean off.” Dr. Watson points out.

Hope nods. “Yes. But look at the body, itself.”

Dr. Watson cringes at the sight.

He’s seen some nasty deaths in war, but this? This was revolting.

The body has been ground up, much like the other victim. However, this body is far more intact than the last and the cuts not quite as smooth.

Dr. Watson tries a settling breath.

Hope climbs over the railing and steadies herself on the stationary blades. She bites her lip and looks back to a concerned doctor. “The officers didn’t stop the filters.” Her voice echoes through the silent space.

“It malfunctioned?”

“Either purposefully by a third party, or on it’s own, yes.” Hope pushes herself from the blades and jumps back onto the walkway. She does a spin and laughs.

At first the noise is low, more like a chuckle. Then it grows to a full, manic laugh.“That’s what this is… He’s bored, Dr. Watson, oh-!” She laughs again.

The doctor looks to the victim, then to Hope. He’s starting to fear she’s lost her mind.

“He’s so bored!”

“What are you going on about?” He asks. His look is skeptic. “Hope, are you alright?”

“Meticulous. Professional. Dr. Watson, this is the work of a genius long at work.” Hope smiles at the doctor’s obvious confusion. “The city only has one filter. It is our greatest Achilles heel.”

“This-” Dr. Watson points to the victim. “You’re saying this is an act of war?” His brows furrow. “Bored?” He shifts a step closer. “He ruined our lives and brought us together to make the process more, what? Interesting?”

Hope chuckles. It’s low and unsettling. She gestures to the stationary blades around them. “His goal is to take down London’s purifier. But when there’s a problem, the engineers on duty are called to action, ready to fix any and all issues with the system. The first victim, well-” She looks off to the right, where in the distance there had been another crime scene. “That was for us. A challenge. A game… The brick would lead us to the transportation craft, which would lead us to the thumb, which would lead us to the filters.” She shakes her head again and begins to tap at her temple. Another laugh ghosts her lips. “This one, this-” She points to the thumb. “This one’s a laugh out loud, slap your knee,” she slaps herself on the knee, hard. The sound resonates throughout the darkened space. “it’s adorable you thought you could beat me. This-” She lets out a frustrated little noise and turns away from the body.

She huffs and turns back.

“He's laughing at us for not preventing this. For not figuring it out sooner.” Hope walks up to the body and leans her forearms against the railing. “Again, the system malfunctioned. Another engineer came to fix it, but like before, they were expecting him. Two assailants- given the visible bruising around the carotid artery was made by a right handed man while the pollex removal was made by a left dominant surgeon. They knocked him out, sliced off his thumb... Whatever they did, it worked. The filter was already starting to shut itself down when the body was thrown into the blades.” She points to the cut marks. “The slices aren't as clean as they should be for a machine as fast as this. The blades, you can see, were stuttering against the skin, breaking down.” She sighs and runs a hand through her hair.

“Whatever they did the second time, it’s permanent. This building is useless. If it weren’t… There would be engineers crawling all over this place, piecing it back together before the city runs out of clean water.”

“And how, exactly, are we supposed to win a game like this?”

Hope steps back from the railing. “By taking advantage of his weakness.”

Dr. Watson frowns. “Which is?”

Hope turns toward the engineer’s office that hangs over the grinders. She ushers the doctor along, and he does so.

“If that victory boast is anything to go by… He’s wrongly assumed that the game is over.”

—-

Evan Sterling walks down the side streets of London with a casual stroll. His tight jawline pops before spitting tobacco into the alley.

The sky is dark and clouded. It threatens to storm down on the city.

He’s exhausted from a long day at work and therefore can’t think of much more than getting home and catching up on sleep. He’s been unsettled ever since he was given a large sum of money to smash in the windows of 221B Baker Street.

It was odd.

He knew it was odd.

He was purposefully kept out of the loop, and that put him on edge. It made it hard for him to sleep at night.

Some bitch did try to shoot him, after all. He’s got reason to be paranoid.

Evan bites into the nicotine laced chew and takes a quick look over his shoulder.

No one’s there.

As always.

He looks forward again and lets out another mouthful of saliva.

He turns a corner and jumps back at the sight of a man in convict orange. He’s got a gun on him. “Oh, shi-” He slurs.

The man is smaller than him. He could easily take him on at hand to hand combat.

But that pistol…

Evan makes a move to turn and sprint in the opposite direction, but he freezes at a metal object pressed into the back of his skull.

“Now, now. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.” Dr. Watson grunts in his best gangster impression.

Hope stands at the man’s back. She’s holding the handle of a metal screwdriver she stole from the engineer’s office against the back of the man’s head. Her angle is uncomfortable given that her wrist needs to make a ninety degree angle in order to convince this guy she’s of an intimidating size.

Dr. Watson lifts his brows with a darting look to the sleek black hovercraft at his right.

An illusion of money, power.

“In ye get, Evan.” Dr. Watson bites out.

It’s borderline convincing, this show they’ve designed in an attempt to avoid a few broken bones.

But it works.

—-

The large construction worker screams against his gag and fights his properly knotted restraints with all he’s got.

Evan has been tied to a chair beside the most rancid decay of swine ever to lay out in the open. There’s a tie turned blindfold on the ground beside him, but even with his sight back, Evan fears he’s helpless.

From beside the open doorway, Dr. Watson plugs his nose. He stares painfully at the man Hope insisted sit in the center of the room beside their lump of worm infested pig guts.

He’s recently changed, the doctor has. Instead of a target, he wears his usual dress of a light jacket and slacks.

Hope sits in an arm chair facing one of the broken windows. Thin curtains block her view of the clouded night sky before her.

It doesn’t look as though she’s moved at all in Dr. Watson’s absence.

“I’ve been poisoned, shot at, accused of murder, my gun is now listed in the police system as a stolen object, my room has been turned into a storage unit, and now I’ve officially kidnapped a grown man by pretending to be thug life?” Dr. Watson’s voice is both nasally and muffled. “What is it with you and repelling normalcy?”

Dr. Watson drops his hand from his nose. He glares at the back of Hope's head. “Why can't you- Mmph.” His gag reflex kicks in and cuts off his speech. He bends and recovers his nose.

“What was that?” Hope asks with a step around Dr. Watson. Her hair is wet and clothing clean.

Baffled, Dr. Watson twists his brows and darts a look between the two Hopes in the room.

With a casual stride, Hope walks up to the manikin and pushes it out of the seat so that she can easily sit upon the chair’s arm. Her arms and legs cross with balanced ease.

Both Dr. Watson and Evan fall silent.

Hope stares blankly at Evan.

“I am going to explain, very clearly, what it is you’re going to give me. Understood?” She asks.

Evan nods his head.

“The man who approached you-”

The captive of 221B Baker Street muffles something around his makeshift gag.

“What?” Dr. Watson asks with a forward lean.

Evan muffles a few more inaudible words around the gag in his mouth.

Both Hope and Dr. Watson stare at their captive.

The apartment grows silent.

After a moment, Evan tries a few more muffled noises.

There’s another pause.

Dr. Watson points to Evan.

“Should we…?”

Hope stalks up to Evan, unties the gag, and pulls out the cloth she’d previously shoved down his throat. He gasps for air.

She leans heavily into Evan’s personal space. “Tell me.”

The man stares darkly into light blue, then looks over to the man in the doorway.

Dr. Watson tilts his head in curiosity.

“She wasn’t a man.” Evan pants. He looks to Hope. “She was tall, beautiful. Her hair was long. Really long. It curled to her waist.”

“What was her name?” Dr. Watson asks.

Evan shakes out a no. “There wasn’t one.”

Hope stands to her full height. “Wealthy?”

“Just off of her dress? I’d assume so, yeah.”

“Accent?”

“I don’t know.” Evan whines with a lean forward in his chair. His sight darts to the dead thing beside him. He cringes. “She talked like she was from the big city, I guess.”

“Big city?” Dr. Watson repeats.

When Hope turns toward him, he looks to her. “As in the city of Oliver? That big city?”

Hope glides by the doctor and swiftly descends the stairs without a word.

“Hope?” He calls after his flatmate.

She doesn’t stop for him. Nor does she explain herself.

With a growl, Dr. Watson turns a heavy look to Evan. He points to the gags Hope had so carelessly thrown on the ground. “I don’t need to gag you again, do I?”

Evan runs his tongue across the roof of his mouth. His features twist with a look toward the decaying swine beside him. “Please do. I can taste it, otherwise.”

—-

“First you tell me it’s all about you. That you’re some victim to a mad man’s storybook obsession. And now you’re saying this is all a part of some resistance conspiracy to take down the After World alliance? Get your story straight, Holmes.” Gregson grumbles.

He’s walking around the bustling police station with his glass tablet in hand. His expression grows darker with every log the press releases.

Naturally, they’re blaming the police for the water shortage. Particularly Detective Gregson and Lestrade, it would appear.

Gregson growls when he reaches his office and slams the device down on his desk. He takes a seat with a huff and startles when he finds Hope followed him in.

The door glides closed behind her.

She steps forward and Gregson rubs at his face in preparation for Hope’s next vocal assault.

“The serial killings were a cover up. He was after the second victim. Samantha Stephans.”

Gregson stretches his eyes with a wide look around the room.

“She was a profound doctor for the After World- a major asset. She came to London to promote the After Word's latest development and now that she's dead, her research has been collected as evidence. Years of her work is being swept under the rug.”

Gregson makes a low humm at the back of his throat and closes his eyes. He’s disappointed to find Hope still standing there when he reopens them.

Hope takes another step closer. “I have no doubt her work would have benefited the After World greatly.”

Gregson props his head up with a fist. “Weren’t you the one who said those were serial killings committed by a mad man out to get you and your good old pal, The Doctor?”

He’s patronizing her and her poorly proposed theory.

She frowns. “It was.” There’s a pause. “But it was also a cover up.”

Gregson tosses his head back and groans. This day seems to be going on forever.

“How do you win against those who so clearly outmatch you?” Hope snaps. Her tone has deepened and expression soured at the detective’s belittling ignorance. “You cripple them.” She answers.

The detective’s eyes narrow and lips pinch. He leans back in his chair.

His look has turned thoughtful.

There’s a knock on the office door before it automatically pulls open.

“Oh. Well- umm.” Dr. Watson says awkwardly from the doorway. He clears his throat, then goes silent.

Hope looks back to Gregson.

“Look up the private file for Greers.” Hope looks back at Dr. Watson. “He was the first After World General to ever be assassinated.” She faces Gregson. “That was two years ago. There’s a connection, I’m sure of it.”

Gregson’s eyes narrow. “Wasn’t that the case you started going loony toons over because they sealed the record?”

Hope clenches her jaw. She’s turned stiff, impatient. “You have access.”

Gregson lets out a tired laugh. He then rubs at his eyes and groans, again, in frustration.

He releases a deep breath and reluctantly pulls his tablet into his lap.

The noises of the station fill the silence.

Papers rustle, policemen shout, and phones continuously ring despite it being impossibly evident that the officers have no intention of speaking with the press at this time.

“Ah. Sebastian Moran.”

Hope moves swiftly beside Gregson to take a look at the screen.

A mug shot takes up a majority of the page.

The man looks angry, and more than a little overweight. His jawline is unshaven and hair askew. Below his image are the words, “MORAN OPERATION” with a synopsis of the incident below.

He’s been sentenced to life in the After World high security cell block after the murder of one General Lucas Greers.

“Wait a second.” Gregson points to Dr. Watson and therefore barely notices the fact that Hope has snatched his tablet. “Aren’t you supposed to be in prison?”

“Hmm?” Dr. Watson points to himself, then looks over his shoulder. His eyebrows raise, as if to ask, “Who? Me?”

Gregson’s eyes grow dark with rage. “Holmes-” He starts, but before he can finish Hope has risen to a stand and tossed the man’s tablet back at him.

The detective catches the expensive apparatus, and in doing so, misses his opportunity to catch Hope and Dr. Watson before they’ve disappeared into the crowds of Scotland Yard.

—-

“Well?” Dr. Watson asks. There’s a stutter in the man’s step as he attempts to match Hope’s fast paced stride down the London walkways.

They pass illuminated homes and several small businesses.

Lampposts stand tall along the walkways and light the paths more intensely than the stars ever could from such a distance.

“What did you find out? Moran? Is he the cause of this whole mess?” Dr. Watson asks breathlessly.

“No. The only time that man ever left the comfort of his own home was when the police forcibly dragged him out and charged him with murdering a General he’d never so much as laid eyes on.”

Hope turns a corner and jumps over the security fence lining the parking lot. Dr. Watson, with difficulty, follows. “Alright.” He grunts halfway over the fence. “Then who killed Greers?”

Dr. Watson jogs up to the hovercraft Hope is borrowing from her brother and climbs into the passenger’s seat. His door closes behind him, and with it, the engine begins to humm.

“The same man responsible for sending two innocent men to jail, shooting you in the leg, and taking down London’s only water filter.” Hope explains.

The hovercraft kicks up into the air, and with assistance from the driver, flies over the parking barrier and out onto the barren London streets.

Dr. Watson grabs at his stomach. He feels queasy. “And who, exactly, did all that?”

—-

The arms of the chair Evan had been tied to have been completely torn off. Now all that rests beside the pig corpse of 221B is a broken hunk of what used to be Dr. Watson’s favorite chair.

“What-” Dr. Watson breathes. He takes a step toward the mess, then sends a wide eyed look back to Hope. “How-” His voice cracks. He releases a high pitched breath and bends down to pick up a broken arm.

Hope stalks over to Dr. Watson and holds out her hand. “Phone.”

He stares back.

She sighs, then digs into Dr. Watson’s jacket pocket. He squirms, and very nearly falls onto the bloodied floor.

Hope turns the device on, then dials a number. She’s oblivious to the put out look Dr. Watson is sending her.

“Lestrade.” She acknowledges. “Stop talking.”

Hope begins to pace while Dr. Watson, tired as he is, takes to sitting upon the broken chair.

“I need you to alert the After World headquarters. Tell them to impose a look out for all water filters. We have reason to believe someone may be planning to shut more down. Also.” Hope and Dr. Watson make eye contact. They hold it. “Track my phone. No, I did not lose it.” There’s a twitch of aggravation in her voice.

Adrenaline.

It’s pumping through her veins, right now. Anyone could see it in her ecstatic eyes.

Dr. Watson can hear a muffled voice on the end of the line, but he can’t quite make out the words.

“Good.” Is all Hope says before hanging up and tossing the phone in Dr. Watson’s lap.

He pockets the device.

“Follow me.” She says.

Dr. Watson stands with a grumble, then follows Hope out of the room and down seventeen solid steps.

“So-” He hesitates. “Moran isn’t the killer? He was paid off by Sterling to take the blame?”

The two walk through the front door and take a sharp left down the pathway.

By now, the sky is down pouring.

White puffs of air escape Hope and Dr. Watson at every breath.

Hope doesn’t say another word until they pivot right and climb into the hovercraft waiting for them, there. It takes a moment, but Dr. Watson does manage to drag his wet and weary body into the vehicle for the umpteenth time.

It starts, and she barrels down the alley and into the London streets. The bottom of the hovercraft hits the walkway railing. At the impact, the two fly forward in their seats, then look back to find their front bumper on the side of the road and railing bent beyond repair.

Hope clears her throat and ignores the look her flatmate is sending her.

At the speed she’s going, it’s difficult to see what’s ahead. The rain blurs the windshield, regardless of the air being shot upward to keep it away.

“Evan Sterling is Sebastian Moran. My suspicions were aroused when I first hacked into Sterling’s personal file back at the office. He went from spending most of his time in the comfort of his own home to suddenly taking up construction just three years back. As it happens, Moran and Sterling both grew up in London. Seventeen years ago, Moran left the city to join the resistance. He didn’t show up in the archives again until two years ago, when he supposedly killed Greers.”

“But he did kill Greers.” Dr. Watson corrects. “He just-” He pauses. “Swapped identities with his pal Sterling so that they’d go knocking on his door, instead.”

“Exactly.” Hope nods. “And just going off of the man’s academic scores, weight, and lifestyle, I’d say Sterling is one damn good hacker.”

“Sterling was the one to hack into the records and change their files.” Dr. Watson beams. His posture straightens with new found energy. “Which means he’s probably responsible for the filter shutting down, as well. He’s having Moran do all of his leg work while he just sits in a prison cell, bored out of his mind!”

“You’re jumping ahead of yourself.”

“What? No.” Dr. Watson feels a sense of defense build up in his chest. “I’m right. It all makes sense now. Sterling is Moriarty.”

Hope’s features twist. “That is a poorly supported theory.”

By now, Dr. Watson has begun to fidget in his seat. “You practically just said so, yourself!” His hand jumps to the safety bar at a sudden, poorly controlled turn. “Slow down.” He says gently in an attempt to not offend the driver. “This road’s a little narrow up here.”

Hope accelerates the vehicle far beyond the levels of comfort. She veers into the other lane as they come up to another four way intersection.

“Hope!” Dr. Watson barks just before they take on an uneven turn that ends in them crashing through the gates of the corner lot construction zone.

The hovercraft flips, shuts itself off, and rolls until it hits one of the piles of rubble.

After the impact, it takes a second for Dr. Watson to tether himself back to reality.

The first thing he notices is the rain. It’s beating down in a steady rhythm. Then there’s the flash of lightning behind his eyelids, and the cackle of thunder.

Brick dust blinds and suffocates Dr. Watson the second he dares risk a breath and opens his eyes. The hovercraft has landed upside down. The only thing keeping him in his seat are the blessed safety restraints strapping him in.

He coughs, and waves the red dust out of his face. “Hope?” He tries, but there’s no response.

He’s vaguely aware of the sirens and red and blue flashing lights approaching the scene, but he’s more concerned about the unresponsive driver.

There are tears stinging his eyes when he forces them open to take a look at his right.

The driver’s restraints are unbuckled and the windshield cracked clean through.

“Hope!?” He screams through a raw throat. The blend of his own voice and the sirens create a high pitched ringing in Dr. Watson’s ears.

That ringing is cut through by the sound of Lestrade’s voice calling, “John!”

Dr. Watson startles a look to his broken window where Lestrade has taken a kneel. “Calm down, we’ve got you.” The detective grunts with a pull at the busted door. When it doesn’t open, he reaches in through the cracked window, over the doctor, and then manually unlatches the emergency key. All four doors to the hovercraft fall off of the vehicle’s body and onto the ground.

Two medics and a standard police officer are now in sight behind Lestrade. One of the medics bends down to support Dr. Watson’s weight with his shoulder while Lestrade unlatches his safety restraints. Together, they pull the doctor out of the hovercraft.

“Where’s-” Dr. Watson coughs into his hand. “Where’s Hope?” He asks Lestrade.

Rain now beats down on him directly. It soaks his hair and clothing.

Lestrade falls into a seated position and pats Dr. Watson on the shoulder. “Worry about yourself for a minute, would you?” He leans against one of the fallen hovercraft doors. “Gregson thinks he saw her run into the bank.”

“The bank?”

Dr. Watson brushes off the medic’s hand so that he can push himself to look over the hovercraft. Throughout the disturbed layer of red chalk and rain, he finds the bank in question. It’s built with red, reinforced brick and iron support beams, by the looks of it.

However, what’s meant to be a beautiful landmark is at present nothing more than an in-progress shell of a bank.

Dr. Watson groans and falls back. His body is aching. It protests every move. At an unusual thought, he looks to Lestrade. “How did you get here so fast?”

“We tracked Miss Hope’s phone here.” He shrugs. “When we saw it was in a restricted area, Gregson demanded we bring the arsenal. I warned her on the phone, but…” Lestrade looks around them. “I’m guessing Miss Hope wasn’t the one we were tracking, was it?”

Dr. Watson quirks an odd look, then reaches into his jacket pocket. His expression softens in sudden understanding.

—-

Hope holds Dr. Watson’s pistol up toward the visible clouded sky. There’s a roar of thunder that deafens the otherwise steady patter of rain.

The construction zone is poorly kempt. It’s laced with a layer of now muddied brick dust that makes it wonderfully easy to track the man she’s looking for.

She walks on the balls of her feet through the open space sectioned off only by metal support beams. When she reaches a dead end, her head tilts with curiosity.

Hope winces up at the clouds and beams above, but there’s no one there. There’s a brief pause as she thinks this through. Then she stuffs the pistol down the back of her pants and gets to climbing the beam at her direct left.

Her teeth grit from the metal cutting into her palms, but she keeps up an admirable pace until she reaches the top of the wall where the column intersects with a ceiling support beam.

Hope swings herself on top of the wall and looks down. There’s barely three feet of space between the exterior wall and the fence of a perimeter.

Without hesitation, she jumps down and rolls against the fence in an attempt to spread out the impact across her whole body rather than what would otherwise have been a twisted ankle. This movement laces her clothing in mud.

Upon the ground, she stares at the side of the building. There’s a gap where the surrounding mud meets the lower support beams. There’s a sprain in most of her body, but she knows it’s the lesser of two evils and merely a temporary side effect of her fall. So, she rolls to the side of the building and slides under it through the unfilled gap she’s discovered.

—-

Gregson stalks across the construction site, his GPS in hand.

When his cellular device tries to tell him he’s reached his destination, Gregson aggressively wipes the rain water off of it. “Oh, come on.” He mutters.

Police officers stand around, waiting for their detective’s order.

Noticing this, Gregson clears his throat and taps twice at the screen. It shows the same results.

First, he looks up. Then down.

He shuffles back a little.

“How do we get down there?” He asks those around him.

One officer responds, “We can’t. We’d need a special clearance code for that.”

Gregson leans forward. When he speaks, his words are purposely enunciated to sound patronizing. “Then get it.”

—-

Sebastian Moran is digging up the ground beside one of the wide set support beams when Hope comes up behind him, her gun in hand.

He doesn’t hear her until she cocks the gun.

He freezes, then lets out an amused huff.

“Caught me.” Sebastian humms with a raise of his hands upon his head.

Hope’s gaze is dead, inhumane. She’ll pull the trigger if he so much as sneezes. “Who is Moriarty? I know he’s not a real professor, I’ve checked. Extensively.”

“Moriarty?” Sebastian asks. There’s an unusual, amused dip in his voice. “Can’t say I’ve heard of the bloke.”

“Then who do you work for?”

Sebastian turns his head to the side so that he can look at Hope through the corner of his eye. “As I said, she was a woman. Tall, beautiful. Irene, was the name she gave me.”

Hope takes a step closer. She presses the gun directly against the back of the man’s head and takes a look at what he was digging up. It’s a duffle bag that’s been buried in the dirt. There are patches on the bag. They’re reserved for the underground resistance, not that many would notice by looking at it. But the eagle, to symbolize a healing soul, has come up many times throughout Hope’s years as a forensic analyst. Particularly as tattoos upon the military type.

They believe that with the After World alliance gone, they will be curing all that came with the once devastating nuclear war.

“By the size and shape of your bag’s contents, I’d say the theory of you being a gun for hire is quite accurate.” Hope states in her usual monotone.

“I may be compensated, but I believe in what I do.” There’s a hint of anger in his tone, as though she’d offended him.

Hope wastes no breath in asking, “Where are Jefferson Hope’s missing children?”

“Holmes!?”

Gregson and a handful of other officers stumble down the unfinished steps to the underground level of the bank.

Hope turns at the sound of her name and is caught off guard by Sebastian’s overpowering grasp around her wrist. Through this motion, he stands to his full height.

Sebastian towers over Hope.

Forcefully, he pries the gun from her hand and turns it on her. He’s grinning, as though he’d just won, when Hope stabs him in the eyes with her fingers.

Sebastian shouts and blindingly pulls the trigger on her.

The bullet digs through the flesh of Hope’s left arm. She falls to the ground and rolls out of harm’s way just as a dart pierces through the air and tases Sebastian Moran.

There’s an electric current running through Sebastian’s body when he drops the gun and falls on top of his half buried duffle bag.

Hope stares up at the ceiling, a void expression upon her face and arms folded atop of her stomach. She ignores Gregson when he walks up.

“Were you shot?” He asks.

Hope does not humor him with a response.

Gregson smiles at the man practically seizing on the ground. “Good god, what did that feel like?”

Dark eyes wander until they catch upon a familiar metal antique. “Is that-?” Gregson leans down to pick up the pistol. He turns it in his hand. “Is this the gun I locked up in evidence?”

From the ground, Hope grunts, “Now that you’ve tampered with it, it no longer holds up in the court of law.” She rolls onto her stomach, then forces herself up into a kneel. Pale fingers wrap around the open wound in her arm. It’s ruining her already stained shirt.

Gregson tests the weight of the object in his hand, then huffs out a curious laugh when Sebastian finally stops seizing and rolls onto his side. “Well. What have we here?” He asks with a bend. The senior detective then unzips the old bag to find rolled up After World currency, printed points, and a sniper rifle with a stand to match.

“Detective Gregson, meet Sebastian Moran. The real one.” Hope introduces. Her voice is airy and skin an unusual color. After a beat, her knees give out on her and she falls back onto shaky arms. “The man in prison for Greers murder is Evan Sterling. Tell the After World prison that if they play their cards right, perhaps even threaten him with a good old fashioned execution, he may just tell you how to fix our filter and prevent any more from shutting down.”

At the absence of an electric current, one of the policemen reach over to cuff their latest convict. They then haul Sebastian onto his feet and turn him to face Gregson.

“One question, though, before you take him away…” Hope requests.

Sebastian’s head lolls, as though trying to focus.

“Jefferson Hope’s boy, the oldest. The surgeon.”

A small smile tugs at the revolutionary’s lips.

Hope analyzes the look, then continues with her question. “Is he a part of all this, or did you force him to slice off the thumbs of those men?”

Sebastian grins in the general direction of Hope. His eyes are having a hard time focusing. “I don’t know anything about that.” He slurs with an awkward stumble forward.

He’s caught by the police officer pulling at his bound wrists and shirt collar. Then he’s pushed toward the direction of the stairs.

Gregson watches him leave, then inspects Dr. Watson’s gun. His lips purse at the shiny object. “If this pans out… you’re either a lucky lunatic, a genius, or a criminal.”

“I'm fairly certain- ah.” Dr. Watson pants. He's got his arm wrapped around Lestrade for support as they come up behind Gregson in the dark. He's wrapped in bandages and a soothing navy blue shock blanket. And yet somehow he found it in him to stumble for the basement upon hearing the fire of a gunshot. It was admirable, but also moronic. “She's all three.”

Gregson sends Dr. Watson’s enabler, Lestrade, a disapproving look. Lestrade’s jaw drops and eyes grow wide with defense as he mouths, “What was I-?”

Dr. Watson peels his arm off of Lestrade’s shoulder and drops to a seat beside Hope. He grunts from the heavy impact, then shifts on his bottom in an attempt to ease up on the sting.

Lestrade and Gregson turn into each other’s space to share both sides of the incident.

“So.” Dr. Watson starts with a dead stare in front of himself. At an inhale, he turns to look at Hope. “That man I passed on the way down here. Was he-?”

“The man who shot you, yes.”

“Huh.”

“Wish you’d punched him?”

“Absolutely.”

Hope and Dr. Watson fight amused smiles. They drop when a gun is carelessly thrown between them. At a second glance, Dr. Watson realizes it’s his pistol. He looks up at Gregson, who in turn frowns at the duo.

“I’d take you in, but I know Mycroft Holmes would have you out within the hour. And that’s-” Gregson shrugs toward the pistol. “Tampered evidence, anyway.”

Gregson turns with Lestrade toward the stairs for some much needed air and hopefully a cup of coffee. This was sure to make for a messy report.

A set of three paramedics pass them up and advance toward Dr. Watson and Hope.

Hope barely fights a scowl as they carelessly rip off the sleeve of her shirt.

Dr. Watson falls back on his elbows with a grin. “So this is pretty much over, then? We’ve won?” He chuckles out. He’s high on both trauma and his crashing adrenaline.

“Possibly, for you.” Hope mumbles. She’s watching the paramedics work with idle disapproval. It doesn’t go unnoticed. “This development should be quite the mess for our Moriarty. I, however, still have to find the man and any other goons still under his payroll. Of course, if Moran is in any way helpful, that process will prove to be far easier than I fear I must expect.”

Dr. Watson frowns. His previous high has crashed. “But Sterling is Moriarty.”

“Mmm.” Hope humms through a tight look.

“Don’t make that look. He is Moriarty. It fits!”

“Does it? Or do you just want it to?”

“Sterling is Moriarty. I’m right. You’re wrong. You’ll see when he confesses.”

“Even if he did confess, would that really mean-”

“You’re pissing me off, now.”

Hope

The Adventure Of Shoscambe Old Place

 

A Novelette

 

 

A sleek, black, government official hovercraft pulls over to the side of the road. It slows to a stop and hovers just above street level. There’s a quiet humm emitting from this new technology, but otherwise it blends right in with the night. The building it sits before is a closed tavern.

The drinking hole has been shut down as a crime scene. The lights are off and doors sealed by police official circuit boards placed over the lock screens.

“The Hudson Tavern” Is what the street post illuminated sign names this place.

The streets are dark aside from a handful of assorted columns with solar powered lanterns at their heads. They illuminate large circles at their bases and leave the rest to shadows.

It’s After World London, but these streets are bare aside from the single hovercraft now parked outside the complex of Baker Street.

In the distance there are horns, frustrated beeping.

Traffic.

This isn’t the only road that’s been sectioned off.

The hovercraft’s back door pops open. Mycroft Holmes steps out, a sneer of distaste pulling at his upper lip. He drags out a black walking stick from the vehicle and taps it against the ground. When the door closes itself back up, Mycroft adjusts his red silk tie and finest custom jacket.

His hand hovers over one of the buttons resting at his belly and he exhales. It’s a dull, strenuous activity, coming to his sister, is.

But it has to be done.

—-

“Could you not point that thing at me?” Dr. Watson asks. His tone is of frustration, for Hope’s playing with another strange apparatus she’s pulled out of thin air. He doesn’t know where they’re coming from, but he does know they’re dangerous.

Her latest toy of interest appears to be an old fashioned dart blower. End pressed to her lips, she stares at Dr. Watson.

She’s draped across a couch at the back corner of the room where a curtain usually hides her from the rest of the flat. Beside her, within the neatly organized bookshelves, are historical artifacts that have been carefully reproduced to showcase the After World’s ever-growing knowledge of Old World history.

From the dining room table, Dr. Watson stares back at Hope from over a clear glass tablet. There’s little more than a handful of lines on the screen.

They read:

Dr. John Hamish Watson, A Blog

PERSONAL LOG: 10-12-2414

I don’t know how to start this. Lalala I’m going to die young.

Hope is an ass.

Clear blue eyes hold bold, bluish gray from across the room.

With a drop of her chest, Hope sends the dart flying through the air and into the wall at Dr. Watson’s left. They don’t break eye contact.

“Are you finished?” He asks with a lift of his brow and idle twist of his right hand.

In a dramatic, fluid motion, Hope drops the dart blower and lolls her head limply against the cushions. “I’m bored.”

“Yeah?” Dr. Watson huffs. “Well if I don’t write a sufficient ‘blog’ I might die, so-” He shrugs. “We all have our problems.”

Dr. Watson highlights what he’s written so far and, with another sigh, deletes it. Again, he’s faced with a blank page.

Hope’s head snaps upright, and Dr. Watson stills.

“Moriarty?” He asks, his voice low, tense.

Eyes glued to the door beside Dr. Watson, Hope whispers, “Worse.”

What must have been a second bang sounds and for a second, Dr. Watson considers making a dart for his bedroom, for his gun. He licks his lips and glaces at his open doorway, but the assailant has already climbed the stairs. So instead he looks the other way, toward the dart in the wall.

He jumps to pull it from the wall and wield it in defense. His heart is throbbing within his chest, beating so loud he fears their infiltrator may very well hear it.

Two taps sound on the door and, swiftly, Hope glides over to unlock it.

In the doorway, staring down at Hope’s eye level, stands a man in a posh suit, pocket square, and tie. A hat tips upon his head and fashion savvy cane holds firm within his right fist, the opposite side of which he favors.

Cold, ice blue holds dark, unlit eyes.

“Leave.” Is the single word Hope offers this man.

Dr. Watson’s body slacks with both relief and, dare he confess, disappointment. “Who are you?” He asks with a sluggish point of his dart holding hand.

Mycroft’s face twists with disapproval. “How dim must one be to not deduce our relation at first glance?” His voice is shallow. It holds a sense of void, open ended airiness to it.

Hope blinks.

“Leave.” She repeats in the exact same tone as before.

Dr. Watson humphs at the insult, then tosses the dart onto the table and crosses his arms. “How should I have known Hope has a brother?” He snuffs. “It’s not like she’s ever mentioned you.”

Mycroft tugs on a wry smile. “Give the boy a gold star.”

Dr. Watson opens his mouth to defend himself, but Hope beats him to the punch.

“I’m not going.”

Dr. Watson purses his lips upon the realization of family tension and takes a seat at the table. Idly, he scrolls down the blank page of his blog.

“Where?” Mycroft challenges.

“Your apparel screams upper class banquet. The cane suggests inevitable movement. I presume you’re expecting a light walk. Much more than that and you’d fake your own death, but the fact that you are going means it’s important. You have an obligation to attend. So, the nearby venue change and co-worker attendants make a wedding the most favorable of prospects.” Hope deduces with a straight face.

Dr. Watson, on the other hand, holds a perplexed draw of his brows at the blank screen he’s pretending to be preoccupied with.

Mycroft smirks, then adjusts the antique resting upon his head. “Consider this a social visit.” His hand drops to his side. “As it happens, your residence is on the way to the venue.” Dark eyes peer into the flat and take a quick look around the neatly organized space. “I see you’ve gotten bored.”

“Blame Watson.” Hope suggests. “He’s still stuck on ‘Doctor Watson’s Blog’, so cases have been thin now that we’re banned from Scotland Yard.”

“It’s harder than it looks.” Dr. Watson mumbles with a shift in his dining chair. He’s trying to scroll back up to the top of the document, but it’s become a time consuming activity.

“First person.”

Dr. Watson looks up at the sound of Hope’s brother’s voice being directed toward him. They meet eyes, and for a moment Dr. Watson is almost inclined to believe the man has no soul. Then he remembers seeing a similar look in Hope’s own gaze upon their first meeting and thinks better of it.

Not all is how it first appears to be.

“Doctor John Hamish Watson wrote his ‘blog’ in first person point of view. Perhaps it would spark inspiration to actually read some of the classics.” Mycroft scrutinizes.

Hope, too, looks over her shoulder at the doctor as he growls back down at the screen. “I’m writing mine in third person… It’s easier.”

The brother snorts through another smile of disapproval and suggests, “Why not write it in second? That’ll ensure no one reads it.”

Ignoring Dr. Watson’s death glare, Mycroft brushes passed Hope and takes an analyzing spin until he’s faced with the light eyes of his sister. She stares up at him from under perfectly kempt brows.

“Why else are you here, Mycroft?” Hope asks coolly.

Her flatmate smirks down at his blank screen.

Mycroft quirks a brow.

“You tell me.”

For a moment, no one talks, leaving the open space unusually tight with discomfort until Dr. Watson clears his throat and points at his screen.

Both members of the Holmes family look to the middle aged man as he fiddles with his tablet’s screen.

“I’ll, uhh…” Again, his throat clears and he pulls a tight shrug. “I’ll call the first log, ‘A Study In Scarlet’. Keep it simple.” He shrugs again.

Mycroft sucks in a deep intake of air and rolls his eyes through a slow motion that lands on his pocket sized University assignment. “How original.” Is what sounds through his exhale.

Promptly, Dr. Watson grabs the dart off the table and makes a stabbing motion at the air between himself and the pristine bastard’s back.

He manages to repeat the motion a total of three times before Mycroft turns to see what Hope is staring at. What he finds is Dr. Watson brushing at his nose.

“Hope, dearest,” Mycroft begins, his voice as deep and forced as always, “leave this imbecile behind, won’t you? I’m sure you could trade him in for something more…” He stops to roll his hand through the air. “Profitable? Intelligent? Less likely to be your cause of death?”

Hope smirks. “And if that doesn’t work?”

She ignores Dr. Watson’s annoyed glance to instead hold eyes with her brother.

He snorts an impressed little noise and reaches into his inside pocket. He pulls out an unmarked envelope that Hope snatches and immediately tears in two before tossing on the table at her brother’s back.

Mycroft smiles and nods to the ground.

“As I expected. Too stubborn to run.”

Dr. Watson lifts a brow at the torn pieces of envelope and untraceable, government-only air tickets his roommate has so carelessly disposed of.

Mycroft straightens his spine to stare down his rather pointed nose at his adopted sibling and tips his hat to hide part of his face. “Enjoy the drought.” He steps passed his sister and her line of sight drops to the floor. At her back, he turns just outside the doorway to point at the old doctor at the table. “That’s, of course, a metaphor, Doctor.” He explains, his tone nothing short of patronizing. “I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the filters have stopped wor-”

“Yes, yes. One case at a time, you-” Dr. Watson’s face twists at his now titled log post. “Arrogant sod.” He finishes under his breath.

With a wry huff of laughter and another glance at Hope’s back, Mycroft trots down the steps of 221B and out the broken pad locked entrance.

After hearing the front door close off the apartment from the outside world, Dr. Watson shakes his head through an exaggerated exhale and tuts, “Strange man.” He huffs a laugh and pulls an amused smile at Hope. “He makes you look personable.”

Hope manually closes the door and stills at the locking click.

“Hmmph.” Dr. Watson puffs against a closed, downward drawn mouth. He’s staring at the screen of his tablet, which has lit up with an elegant gold, white, and navy blue colored invite that could be described as nothing short of professional.

Without turning, Hope asks, “Moriarty?”

Dr. Watson clears his throat. “No, umm…” His brows twist at the names displayed across his screen. “Do you know a Sir Robert or Lady Beatrice?”

The ex-forensic analyst turns, a dark look in her eye. “Funeral?”

“Wedding, actually.” The doctor corrects. “Shoscambe Old Place? Looks like- outdoor wedding with a ballroom reception? Very high end.”

“Moriarty.” Hope mutters with a stalk up to her personal library. She pulls out an old book and for the briefest of moments basks in the aroma of aged pages.

“No.” Dr. Watson again corrects. “A bloke named Mycroft sent the invite.” His brows furrow. “That’s your brother, isn’t it?”

Hope stalks up to the table whilst flipping through the pages of an old book. “He does love to be dramatic…” She mumbles with a heavy slam of the book down before the doctor.

The chapter it’s been set to reads:

The Adventure Of Shoscambe Old Place

“Read up. If there’s even the slightest chance we can stop whatever is about to happen, we’ll both need to study the inspiration of the criminal at large.”

Dr. Watson sets his tablet aside to instead pull the old book closer to himself. He lifts a delicate page and intakes the scent that can only emit from an old book.

A smile pulls at the corners of the man’s lips.

“I haven’t read one of these since I was a boy.” He confesses.

Hope picks up the man’s tablet and begins to fuss with what appear to be “restricted” settings.

Uncomfortably, Dr. Watson looks away from the crime at hand to instead skim the first page of the classic.

“It’s old text…” He mutters. “Hmmph.” His body jolts on a smile. “I feel like I’ve traveled back in time…”

He flips a worn page just as Hope sets his personal device back down on the table.

Dr. Watson breaks away from the old book long enough to mutter, “Problem?”

Hope lifts her right hand to draw steadily across her bottom lip. Her eyes tell him she’s far gone.

Caught up in a case he hasn’t even read up on, yet.

He bites his own lip and continues reading. His lips murmur the words, but they’re quiet and hard to hear.

“The invite says it came from Mycroft’s office… But I couldn’t access his confirmation page…” She says out loud.

Dr. Watson does a slow, wide eyed dart of a look up at the young woman. “Sorry, why does that matter?”

Hope’s hands drop to her sides. “Could be nothing.” She faces Dr. Watson. “Could be everything. Only way to be sure my brother sent that invite is to ask him.”

The doctor makes a shooing gesture up at Hope. “So- phone him, won't you?”

“No need.” With a tap of her finger against Dr. Watson’s tablet she confirms their attendance. “I have no doubt we’ll be seeing him, shortly.”

Dr. Watson’s eyes drift to the “Thank You” on screen, then to the book he’s holding. “Something tells me you brother isn’t the only one in your family who likes to be dramatic.”

Hope frowns at the accusation, then darts a look to the door mere seconds before there’s a knock.

Dr. Watson shoots his head up, then darts an owlish look to Hope. She holds his gaze without emotion.

“Holmes? Watson?” A tired old voice squeaks from behind the locked door.

“Mrs. Hudson.” Dr. Watson whispers in recognition. “She’s here to collect for damages!” He mouths with a point at the new windows he and Hope had promised to pay for.

In sign language, Hope responds, “I don’t have money.”

Almost angrily, Dr. Watson signs, “Well, neither do I!”

Another gentle set of knocks at the door has both liabilities shooting looks at the exit.

“Hello?”

Mrs. Hudson’s quiet little greeting is met with still silence.

“I-I just wanted to thank you for the other day! That young detective of Scotland Yard said you called in the tip about loose floorboards? Where they found the weapons? I-… I hear one of them matched a bullet at a recent crime scene! My husband should be pinned with murder, if all goes well!”

Dr. Watson and Hope share a look.

“Smugglers.” She signs and Dr. Watson nods at the clarification.

“Oh, you must think me so cruel, but… I am in your debt!”

Without missing a beat, Dr. Watson signs, “As we are you.”

Keeping their mouths shut tight, the flat drowns in silence.

“…I’ll come back later…”

Footsteps tap against solid steps as Mrs. Hudson descends the stairs. What should be a quiet noise, however, rings out in the cozy flat.

When a door opens and the landlady takes her leave, the flat continues it’s silence in fear of her return.

—-

Dr. Watson moves his pointer finger over the smooth surface of the ink printed page until he finishes the last line and it stills.

The story has ended.

“Hmmph.”

Blue, cloud filtered light funnels in to illuminate the pages and below the doctor’s shoulder. He blinks, twice, then turns to catch a look at his right. Beside him Hope maps out the path the cab driver has taken them. So far, all seems to be in order despite the slow moving traffic.

“So…” Dr. Watson pauses to think over his words before he speaks them. “Sir Robert and Lady Beatrice are siblings?” He asks through a tight, confused expression. “Aren’t they the happy couple?”

“No blood relation.” Hope mutters against the window. “No relation at all, really.” She adds with a clear blue glance at the doctor. “In real life, this is a political engagement. Lady Beatrice represents France in the After World conferences. She has no power, but… her tying the knot with Sir Robert of the English house is as for show as her occupation.”

Dr. Watson closes the old book in his lap, then pulls uncomfortably at his crisp white collar. He bites his lip and tries another look to Hope. “Does this have to do with our current water situation?”

“Undoubtedly.”

The old, vintage hotel screams upper class from the pull in, vine covered canopy driveway to the castle-like structure of the hotel, itself.

Windows stretch tall with clear pieces of glass welded together to create orderly geometric designs that replicate along red carpet covered halls and walls of light stone.

Chandeliers hang from the ceilings to illuminate the already naturally lit space.

Box gardens of lavender, lilac, lilies, bluebells, and sunflowers that range from bright yellow to dark burgundy hang from the exteriors of these intricately pieced together windows.

The same flowers, as well as many more, line the brick path gardens of this private piece of land. At it’s center there sits a small memorial one must first cross a miniature bridge and creek to reach.

People gather around the back gardens or lounge in the lobby in wait for the wedding to start.

The garden has been set up to be the perfect venue for class and politics. Men and women who clearly receive a lower paycheck than most guests at the hotel set up cameras beside the rows of white chairs that have been decorated with yellow fabric that wraps around their backs and ties to a small assortment of sunflowers and bluebells.

The chairs stop several feet from the small creek where the bridge has been decorated in a similar manner for the bride and groom to stand and be admired as they share their vows.

A fat old man pulls a potent cigar out of his mouth. He licks dry, chapped pink lips and gestures to the venue he’s been eyeing from beside the canopied memorial of those lost during the battle of Shoscambe.

“Seems a sad excuse for marriage, don’t you think?” The old man remarks to the much thinner and younger companion at his side.

The younger man pulls absently at the petals of a fresh sunflower he’s so clearly plucked from the gardens. He shrugs, then looks over at the venue with light green eyes that are near replicas of the older man’s. “Oh, I don’t know…” Tanned skin folds into a sun forced squint. “I’ve always thought marriage was a game overplayed.”

The old man grins and pops the cool end of his cigar back into his mouth for a breath. He coughs on his inhale and pulls the object of leisure out of his mouth for a breathy wheeze. He coughs into his large, pudgy hand. It sends microscopic droplets of spit out onto his bejeweled cuffs.

“Father.” The son twirls the stem of the mutilated flower between his thumb and forefinger. “I hear Sherlock Holmes has sent in an RSVP.”

The old man stops his wheezing long enough to pull the decorative handkerchief out of his chest pocket and wipe at his mouth. “Sherlock Holmes?” He folds the material and wipes at the left corner of his mouth. “Is that the little boy Mycroft and his family took in for that- that 'big brother' program, or whatever they call it?”

“Girl, actually.” The young man corrects with a flick of his flower at the ground. His custom crafted boot kicks out to smear the plant across the bricks. “It’s been some time since I’ve seen her.”

The old man huffs out a laugh and his son drops any previous trace of a smile. “Henry, is that the little girl who made a fool of you at my sister’s funeral?” He laughs in recollection.

Henry darts a venomous look at his father as the old man shakily guides his cigar back to his mouth. His nose twitches at the memory. “She was brilliant. I must confess I underestimated her ability.”

The white headed man’s gut shakes through the laughter. “‘I’ll give you whatever you want if you can tell me the cause of death by the ceremony’s end.’” He grasps his chest to try and contain himself, but it does little to ease his new found hysteria. “She didn’t even have to look at the corpse!” He wheezes.

“She died at home, in the comfort of her own bed, locked away from the public. Incurable disease. Contagious, no doubt. It was a long time coming.”

Henry and his father still at the sound of another voice. Behind them, within the shaded memorial, sits up Mycroft from one of the benches.

“I remember your aunt’s funeral well. It was on the same day as our uncle’s.” Mycroft stands and, cane in hand, straightens out his jacket and top hat. He looks over his shoulder at the two gentleman beside the steps. “You challenged my sister after she pointed out your tell tale signs of drug abuse. She was in school to become a forensic analyst, so you thought you could crush her aspirations by giving her an impossible puzzle.”

Mycroft smiles at the befuddled men and walks out to the memorial’s aisle. “Little did you know the numerous nurses in attendance as well as your own confidence let tell her house bound illness.” A thin, sleek cane taps against the wood panels beneath Mycroft’s feet as he takes a forward step. “Your endless wealth implies it was incurable while the-” Mycroft lifts an exaggerated brow as he awkwardly grabs for the railing. “lighter skin around the hands, noses, and mouths of these nurses could only mean her illness lasted for some time and required extra measures only taken by those fearing they may catch whatever ails their client.”

Mycroft steps down to the ground level and takes several steps from the two other men before turning to face them. “Nearly half of the attendants at your aunt’s funeral were medical professionals while your family so clearly works in politics… That alone could have told a child she died at home due to a considerably slowed illness that eventually broke down the public figure’s mind and body. Seeing as how you were satisfied by such an elementary answer, my sister had no reason to investigate the woman’s remains.” His brows twist with another thought. “Although, it was Stephan’s Disease, wasn’t it? Say two years of digression before the pills stopped working and the disease took full effect?”

Henry gives Mycroft a peculiar look over. “You looked it up?”

“No.” Mycroft smirks. “Given the timing and progression of research your family anonymously funded… It could only be.”

Henry and his father watch in awe as Mycroft turns his back and walks on. He’s tapping at the ground with each step, but it’s for show. Anyone can see there’s not a movement out of his control.

—-

A cab pulls from traffic to instead reach the roundabout driveway of it’s destination.

Vines cling to the wooden canopy that boards up the ceiling above and instead illuminates the front entrance by yellow lights.

Much like the chandeliers and lanterns inside.

A slender young man jogs up to the cabby to get the door for, “Miss Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, I presume?” he reads from the tablet he’s tucked closely against his chest.

He hovers beside an automatic door as he watches Hope climb out of the back seat, followed by Dr. Watson on the other side.

All three are dressed as though they were attending an Old World ball instead of a modern wedding.

“Hope.” The young woman corrects with a pull at her heavy white gloves. She wears practically the same exact outfit as her companion, who limps up beside her and props out an elbow.

“You ready?” Dr. Watson asks with a tuck of his old book under his other arm.

Lightly, Hope grabs at the fabric just above the doctor’s elbow and eyes the opened entrance of this castle-like hotel.

“Have to be.” She confirms with a forward step.

“Umm- excuse me, Miss Holmes-” The flustered young man calls while jogging up behind the two new guests. “My name is Marvin.” He moves up ahead and turns so that he can extend his hand out to the lady. She glances at the bare skin. It's rough, calloused, and lined with thin cuts. She looks away, out passed the beautiful stone fountain of angels at the lobby's crowded center, and to the open doors at it's back.

Marvin tries a forced smile and continues, “I'm, uhh- I'm the wedding planner? For the wedding?”

Hope guides Dr. Watson out the crowded exit to the back gardens and the older man practically drops his jaw. “Well done, old boy!” He cheers at the gorgeous venue that’s been half filled. “This place looks marvelous!”

“Yes, I know.” Marvin bites through a smile.

Hope and Dr. Watson stop their advancement at the foot of the aisle and Marvin steps up to finally stand before them. With a tight smile, he hands both attendants small, rectangular business cards that match the garden-esk theme of this wedding.

Dr. Watson purses his lips and flips the plastic. It reads:

2

Hope, on the other hand, sniffs twice at the bendable plastic before stuffing it in her pocket and walking off.

Dr. Watson tries a sniff at the material, too, before he gives it and the wedding planner a peculiar look.

Marvin mimics the look. “You’ll be seated in the second row… take any seat…” His eyes scan up and down the doctor, whom of which does the same. “This number is also for your table… place cards will tell you where to sit once we reach the East tower’s ballroom for the reception…”

“If there is a reception.” Dr. Watson says with a point of his place card before stuffing it into his book as though it were a bookmark.

Marvin watches the careless disregard of his time for the millionth time that afternoon. “Yes, well…” His strange hazel eyes hold tightly on Dr. Watson. “There better be.”

The wedding planner turns to walk away, but Dr. Watson catches him by the arm. “Marvin-”

Marvin sighs. “Yes, sir?”

Dr. Watson leans in as though about to share a secret. He licks his lips. It’s a nervous motion, same with the dart of eyes that follows.

Quietly, he whispers, “I’ll be needing the bride’s spaniel.”

—-

“That boy is completely unreasonable.” Dr. Watson mutters. He’s seated beside Hope at the far end of the row furthest from the ceremony.

At the bridge stands a picture perfect bride with her groom to be. They hold hands as a priest talks about the powerful bond of love. Ladies in blue ballgowns stand beside the beautiful Lady Beatrice. They hold yellow and blue bouquets in their hands.

The grooms men stand in a similar fashion with warm smiles across their faces and blue pocket squares brightening the dark coal color of their tailed coats and knee high boots that cut off to showcase white pantaloons.

Yellow, loosely hanging bow ties wrap around their necks, much like the groom’s. Patiently, they stand with their gloved hands folded before themselves as they listen to the old man speak.

What catches the eye most of all, however, is most certainly the bride. She wears a white, luminous ball gown with a diamond dazzled bodes that only makes the yellow strands of her wedding veil tucked hair pop in comparison. Her red lips pull back for a giddy laugh that resonates through the crowd.

“Can’t hear a bloody thing from back here.” Dr. Watson mutters. His arms have crossed for a look of defiance he sends the wedding planner’s way. The man is holding a prize winning show dog, a gown wearing spaniel, in his arms at the front of the ceremony.

“Now how are we supposed to prove Lady Beatrice is actually a man?” Dr. Watson says with a gesture toward the dog.

The middle aged war vet frowns at the odd looks he gets from several of the neighboring attendants. He ignores them, as well as the ceremony, to instead fiddle with his book, again.

None of this was making any sense.

It wasn’t in the story.

Beside him, Hope stares intently up at the second row, where they were originally assigned. Mycroft and Henry sit beside one another, poised yet distant as they wait for the ceremony to end.

It was obvious the second row was only meant for the profound guests, the ones who needed to be impressed.

So, who had wanted to impress her?

—-

The swirling reds and oranges of the sun setting outside the ballroom shy in comparison to the ceiling of yellow lights over head.

The large, open dance hall has been divided by tables of guests around the edges and the bridal party dancing at the center to some choreographed piece Dr. Watson has never heard before.

Perhaps it’s original, perhaps it’s traditional, he doesn’t know, nor does he care.

Hope ditched him early on, leaving him to fend for himself at this table of misfits in the back corner.

No one’s spoken a word to him since the ceremony. Too posh, too perfect for the likes of him, he supposes.

The wall of windows at his side are closed and incapable of opening, but he swears he can feel a draft.

Dr. Watson huffs over the rim of his champagne glass and takes a sip. He’s nearly out, again.

With a hiss, he sets the tall glass down upon the cover of his useless Sherlock Holmes book and leans back in his chair.

So much for a night of murder mystery.

This is all just silly dress up and giddy dancing. He isn’t needed here.

The exit at the doctor’s back glides open with a simple swoosh. At the subtle noise, Dr. Watson drops his head back to watch as Gregson and Lestrade walk into the ballroom.

They look like time travelers stepping into the 14th Century, Watson muses.

Dr. Watson points out a finger at the two gentlemen. “You look ridiculous coming in here dressed like that.” He giggles through his drunken stupor.

Gregson promptly ducks down to the empty seat Hope was meant to be seated at and Lestrade follows with a kneel that soaks his pants. “Eh-” Is the gross little noise Lestrade makes. The floor is wet with champagne and air rank with it’s overwhelming scent.

“Where’s Holmes?” Gregson asks. “Isn’t she supposed to be with you?”

Dr. Watson snorts out an unattractive noise just as the room bursts into applause for the bridal party. Swiftly, he pulls his champagne glass into his hand and gives it a little raise. “Well, that’s really a glass half full half empty sort of question, isn’t it?”

Gregson stares widely at the tipsy idiot smirking back at him. His eyes dart to Lestrade, then to the glass. “It’s empty.”

Dr. Watson snorts another laugh, then tries a drink from his empty glass. Frowning, he looks down at it. “Oh. Suppose it is.” He slurs.

The doctor bites at his lip and sluggishly reaches across Gregson to replace Hope’s glass with his.

“She won’t mind.” He mutters before taking a sip.

“John.” Lestrade reaches up to shake Dr. Watson’s shoulder. Unintentionally, the jolt causes the doctor to drop his stolen champagne down onto his lap.

“Ah.” He pulls at the wet material. “This is a rental.”

Gregson snaps repeatedly in Dr. Watson’s face, disorienting the man. “Get a hold of yourself.” He hisses over the sound of the small orchestra.

The conductor focuses solely on the flutes. It creates a loud harmonic humm that fills the room, inviting people to stand and dance.

Women pull at their heels and their men, forcing them up onto the dance floor for the next number while the single try their luck at inviting partners to join them.

There’s excitement that drifts through the air now that the floor is open.

“Watson.” Gregson snaps again in the doctor’s face. “Where’s Holmes?” He repeats.

Dr. Watson lets out a calming breath, then leans forward, over the table, to pinch at the bridge of his nose in a fight to compose himself. He can feel a headache fighting back. “I… I don’t know.” He shrugs.

Gregson stands and pulls at Lestrade’s arm to do the same. “Well you better find out. Split up.” Gregson barks at the two men.

The other occupants of the table, the ones who didn’t stand to dance, try very poorly to pretend they’re not interested in the new arrivals.

Lestrade reaches for a rub and pat at Dr. Watson’s shoulder. Leaning in, he whispers, “We got a call from Miss Hope at least twenty minutes ago. She said it was an emergency but without proper evidence of a crime we couldn’t get the pass to drive along the roads they’re using for water transport. We’ve been stuck weaving around traffic and if you haven’t seen her…” Lestrade bites his lip and looks around the crowded ballroom. “It’s possible she’s in trouble.”

Dr. Watson stands abruptly from his seat and very nearly keels over. His head is pounding despite only having a drink or three.

Gray/blue eyes land on the two empty glasses of champagne and still. At an exhale, they close and he tries another steadying breath.

“You okay?” Lestrade asks.

“Fine.”

Dr. Watson blinks the blur out of his eyes and nods. “I think that old fool Gregson may be right… We have to find Hope.” His hand comes out to push Lestrade’s helping hands away from him. “Discreetly.”

—-

The waltz.

Dr. Watson does recognize this one.

It’s too bad he has two left feet and a missing flatmate or he might have asked one of these lovely ladies to dance.

Ball gowns twirl and sparkle in the antique glow of the ballroom as Dr. Watson tries to work his way around the tables in search for Hope.

He hadn’t seen her since halfway through the ceremony when she abruptly took her leave.

He freezes mid-limp and reaches for his head. There’s a consistent pounding that breaks his concentration every chance it gets.

A little boy dressed as one of the waitstaff offers a fizzing glass of water the doctor knows better than to drink. “Oh, not for me, thanks.” He says with a polite wave of his hand at the kid.

“It’ll help.” The boy insists.

Dr. Watson frowns down at the little boy. No. Young man. No. His eyes squint to compensate for the blurry vision. “Hope?” He has to ask.

“Obviously.” Hope confirms. Her gloved hand forces the glass of water into his.

Befuddled, Dr. Watson ignores the beverage to instead point out, “You’ve changed your clothes!”

Hope makes no verbal comment and instead adjusts the black tie around her neck. She was in a hurry and left it crooked.

A vest clings to the young woman’s body and white vintage button up. That and the tie allow her to easily bled with the waitstaff.

Dr. Watson cringes at another wave of pain and takes a drink of the water Hope has given him. After mere seconds he feels the pounding in his skull subside.

“Where have you been?” Dr. Watson asks before taking another sip of the fizzy water. After swallowing, he clears his throat and mentions, “Lestrade and Gregson are here. They say you phoned them? Something about an emergency?”

“Yes, I know. I saw them come in.”

“Hmmph. Of course you did.” Dr. Watson sets his glass down in front of an empty seat. “I think someone might have tried to poison you. Got me, instead.” Dr. Watson huffs through a sadistic smile and rub at his face.

“Not me, you.” Hope grabs the glass from the table and throws it down at her feet. The cup shatters at impact and sends little pieces of glass and an illegal makeshift antidote across the carpet.

The party, aside from Dr. Watson, continues on as if they hadn’t a clue what just happened.

“The ‘poison’ was in the bottle used to give you your second refill.” Hope explains.

“My-?” Dr. Watson stares owlishly at his much shorter companion. “The waitstaff is trying to poison me?”

“No.” Hope breathes. She’s staring out through the crowd. At whom, Dr. Watson can’t tell. “It would seem the wedding planner has it out for you. He mixed prescription medication in with your last bottle of champagne.”

Dr. Watson’s brows twist at the thought. “That cock!”

“It’s not lethal.” Hope assures.

The song ends, and this time it’s the violins that set the tune for the next song. Some couples sit while others stand to join in with the dancing.

Hope turns to face Dr. Watson and forces on a tight smile. “Do you mind?”

The doctor gives a pained little look and squeezes out, “Ohh…”

Without waiting for the excuse that was sure to follow, Hope leads the man out to the center of the ballroom and takes his waist.

The music picks up and with ease Hope guides the doctor toward the back of the floor where the bride and groom have taken to dancing. “Hope, what’s going on?” Dr. Watson whispers so as to not let anyone else overhear his inquiry.

Focused, is the look Hope is sending the bride and groom’s way.

There’s a dip in the music and Dr. Watson falls back on cue. His body almost shrugs into the movement, as though giving in to the part of the more submissive role.

Hand in hand, Hope pulls Dr. Watson back up to a vertical stance. “I noticed it when we first arrived.” Hope begins to explain.

—-

Hope pulls Dr. Watson through the hotel’s entrance by the bend of his arm.

Marvin, the wedding planner, follows quickly behind them until finally managing to hand each of them their placement cards.

“It was the hands.” Hope explains. “He wasn’t wearing gloves. Someone so meticulous about the details of the wedding not wearing gloves? In the age he’s been so dead set on recreating, gloves were a standard for any formal event. He had them. He just wasn’t wearing them.”

Dr. Watson twirls, then falls back into Hope’s leading arms. “Okay.” He says to express she has yet to lose him.

“I learned why when he handed us our placement cards. They smelt of petrol, which rubbed off on his hands, which soaked through the fabric of his gloves when he was handling the fuel.”

“Fuel?”

“Curious, isn’t it? So naturally, I had to investigate further.”

—-

Marvin stands at the end of a row of bridesmaids. His body bounces as if to keep the show dog in his arms from making a fuss.

Bright sunlight from up above causes Hope to narrow her eyes at the man while Dr. Watson rambles on beside her.

Something about the bride being a man?

She wasn’t really listening, so it was hard to say.

A device vibrates in the wedding planner’s jacket pocket. It causes a jump to his stance and nervous glance at his jacket. Without a word, he hands the dog off to a less than pleased bridesmaid and stalks off.

Hope slides between her and her neighbor’s seats. The old man is napping through the ceremony, so he doesn’t notice when Hope grabs his top hat and slides it upon her head.

“It wasn’t just what was missing from the man’s hands that struck my interest. It was the thorn pricks and callouses, as well. I’ve never known a career wedding planner, as his business card suggests, to have such rough hands.”

Hope ducks into the open lobby and presses herself against the wall. Through an adjacent door, Marvin walks in and looks around the nearly vacant space.

Cautiously, he pulls out his glass mobile and examines the screen.

Hope makes haste to peel off her jacket and discard it behind the indoor shrubbery. Then she undoes her top button and pulls roughly at her tucked in shirt.

The two waitstaff members standing at the doorway with trays of white wine give the woman an odd look, but dare not mention their curiosities.

Hope snatches two glasses of white wine from the gentlemen at the door and tries a forced smile before turning abruptly toward Marvin.

The wedding planner pockets his phone, then rubs his sweaty palms on his pants.

“Unusual behavior for a professional of any sort.”

Marvin brushes the sleeve of his jacket over his sweaty forehead to try and disperse the nerves.

“Oh, it's a beautiful day for a~ wedding~” Hope slurs in a heavy French accent as she takes an abrupt turn that causes her to run straight into Marvin. “'ey!” She barks with a spill and a drop of one of the wine glasses.

Marvin’s arms shoot up and he stumbles back into a wall.

His teeth grit, but Hope beats him to the punch. Head down, she snarls, “Look what you do! Mon chere wait for no man! I come back to get wine, I lose glass, you think she cares?” She growls.

Marvin collects himself before trying, “My apologie-”

“Mmph!” Is the sharp noise that cuts the wedding planner off.

Marvin watches what could either be a small man or woman extend a pointer finger to silence him while they down the second glass of wine.

“Ah.” Hope hisses just before smashing the second glass down on the floor.

Marvin jumps at the shards of glass and then again when Hope snaps her fingers. After a beat, the two members of waitstaff carrying beverages extend their trays out to her. She grabs two more.

“Merci.” Is all she humms before walking out the door, toward the ceremony.

At the doorway, Marvin straightens himself out and mutters, “The French.” with a roll of his eyes. The waitstaff share a smile before walking back to their designated locations.

Meanwhile, Hope walks up to Dr. Watson and hands him the two glasses of white wine. “On ze house.” She says from a kneel beside his seat.

“Oh!” Dr. Watson gives a pleased chuckle as he accepts the beverages. “Don’t mind if I do.” He snorts and turns to hand one to Hope only to find she’s missing. “Oh, umm-” He turns back to the waiter to try and give one of the drinks back, but it seems he’s vanished, as well.

Not seeing any better options, Dr. Watson sets one glass on Hope’s chair and takes a leisure sip from the other.

—-

“That was you?” Dr. Watson asks from their present situation.

“Oui.” Hope confirms with another glance at the bride and groom she’s done her best to stay beside.

—-

Top hat still in place, Hope ducks back into the main lobby and then into a staff closet. From there she tosses her hat up onto one of the uniform stacked shelves and pulls out the phone she swiped from Marvin.

It’s a burner.

The only messages he’s received are from a private number, untraceable.

They read:

Unknown

10-7-2414

Marvin Buckley

Shoscambe Old Place

10am

Ask for Rylie

10-7-2414

Ok

Today

Unknown

4:00

Out by 6

4:01

Ok

“Straight forward text. Without an encryption I could then confirm my theory. Marvin isn’t the master mind, nor is he a professional gun for hire. He’s a pawn and he’s new to the game.”

The door to the closet Hope ducked in opens without forewarning. She has barely enough time to tuck the phone back into her pocket before she’s face to face with a grumpy old man in a red stained vest.

“What are you doing in here?”

“Changing.” Hope is quick to save. She reaches for a plastic wrapped vest, followed by an old fashioned tie the man opposite her is wearing. “Bloody alcoholics get you, too?” Her accent has turned rather urban.

The man scoffs and reaches for an extra vest. “Seem to be getting everyone. Not sure we have enough uniforms to spare, deary. Might end up wearing your stains through the night.”

—-

“Wait, wait, wait.” Dr. Watson interrupts. “Out by six. What does that mean?”

The tempo of the music slows, making it much easier to dance beside the newly weds.

“In order to explain, I have to tell the story.”

Dr. Watson sways like a blade of grass. It’s obnoxious compared to the other subtle dancers. “Sorry, sorry,” he twirls. “continue.”

—-

Hope pops out of the staff closet dressed head to toe like the waiters. Unfortunately, Mycroft, one of the last people to leave the ceremony, sees straight through it.

Hope sends her brother an unimpressed look when he smirks down at her.

A crowd of guests work their way to the elevators for the reception while some hang back for a smoke or a chat. It leaves the back of the hall spacious, but the elbow room does little to ease Hope’s sudden claustrophobia.

“Pleased to see you’re enjoying yourself.” Mycroft says with a tap of his walking stick at every step.

“Pleased to see your excuses are running dry.” Hope retorts with a scan of the crowd.

Marvin must have gotten too far of a head start. She can’t see him or the bridal party through these cheerful alcoholics.

“Last thing I need is my face on every screen in London for leaving a union of the countries before the cutting of the cake.” Mycroft says with an air of loathing for tradition. He wants nothing more than to up and leave.

“Shoscambe Old Place…” He breathes. “Perhaps I should start hosting our family dinners at places like ‘The Greek Interpreter’ or perhaps the ‘Diogenes Club’. You might accidentally accept an invitation or two.”

There’s a shimmering layer of perspiration at the brother’s brow and temple. It creates a light glisten against his paling skin.

“Overwhelmed?” Hope inquires as though she hadn’t heard her brother’s previous rantings of contained frustration.

Without skipping a beat, Mycroft assures, “Not nearly.”

Despite his words, Mycroft favors his left leg considerably once he’s stopped moving.

Refusing to wait for the elevators, Hope pivots around her brother and leaves him behind to instead take the stairs.

“Tell that dog of yours to stop sniffing up the bride’s skirt, won’t you?” He asks at her retreat. She doesn’t slow or acknowledge him. “It’s my name on the line!” He calls just as the door to the stair well closes.

Mycroft sighs at his sister’s disregard for his official status and rubs at his temple. When he lowers his hand he finds his glove damp with sweat.

Hiding his concern, Mycroft closes his fist and straightens his posture. He can hold out a little longer.

It’s two floors to the third level where Hope then has to pass another corridor to make it to the correct tower.

Then it’s just fourteen more flights of stairs and she’s reached the readied reception.

A ballroom, of course.

Gold polished chandeliers reflect the natural light outside the left wall of windows where sunlight dives in.

Uncoordinated melodies drift from the small orchestra practicing their instruments in the ballroom’s front corner. One by one the professionals dive into the chaotic tune until the main entrance to the ballroom pushes itself open.

Marvin, along with a handful of waiters, walks in through the door and to the center of the ballroom. He’s talking the whole way and taking long, fast strides that make it hard for the others to keep up.

“Start everyone off with water, then champagne when the bridal party takes their seats. They want to get the toasts over with.” Marvin recites with a quick glance down at his tablet.

His finger taps at the screen, then drags the page down. There’s minimal movement in his peripheral vision, so he looks up and feels more than a little frustrated to find the waitstaff still gathered around him like a group of incompetent toddlers.

“Spread out!” He barks in frustration when the waitstaff doesn’t read his mind.

Marvin again slides his finger down the screen of his cheat sheet. Abruptly, he turns to face the two men guarding the doors. He points at them, then looks back down at the tablet. “No photographers. Don’t let them in. You understand?”

The two heavier set men nod and Marvin runs a hand through his hair. Steadily, he takes in a breath, then releases it.

Hope peers at the man from behind a pillar. She’s waiting for him to compose himself, to make his next move.

Then in steps the first group of guests and Hope has no choice but to walk in with them. She’s careful to hide behind several of the larger men until she gets close enough to nudge Marvin and slide his phone back into his pocket.

“Seats, ladies and gentleman! Keep the path clear for the bridal party! Names and numbers are at each table!” Marvin announces with a clap of his hands and then several wide, open armed gestures.

In passing, Hope notices the ungodly scent of petrol has been replaced by the scent of disinfectant hand soap. Cherry blossom. It’s the same scent used in the woman’s restroom and likely the men’s, as well.

—-

“Rid himself of the evidence, did he?” Dr. Watson cuts in from the presently occupied ballroom.

The music has shifted again to a louder, more upbeat piece. It focuses harshly on the trumpets and their ability to produce loud bursts of music.

Happy, loud, upbeat, impossible to keep stationed beside the newly weds.

“Or, more likely, he had to take a piss.” Hope notes. Her head tips further and further back in an attempt to look between the chaos of dancers, but it’s to no avail.

The couple is lost within the crowd.

“Not to worry, though. There are still traces of it on his business cards, phone, and really any surface the man came into contact with.” Hope mutters with a forceful pull at Dr. Watson’s waist in an attempt to reach the center of the ballroom and find the bride and groom. “Including Lady Beatrice’s spaniel, of course.”

Dr. Watson lifts a brow and pulls a frown. “My, that’s all circumstantial, isn’t it?”

Hope spins to get a 360 angle of the room. At what had been her back, she finds Sir Robert and Lady Beatrice in a similar position.

“Without a crime, it’s not even that.” Detective Gregson interrupts. One hand extends while the musicians end the piece to begin another, more classical tune.

He’s standing there, a smile across his mustached face.

“Do you mind?” Gregson asks with a tight smile sent Dr. Watson’s way.

“I might.”

“Dr. Watson.” Hope calls and the doctor looks down to the young lady dressed as a boy servant.

Stiffly, Dr. Watson bows and moves to the side of the room Lady Beatrice and Sir Robert are dancing on.

Gregson pulls at the lapel of his cheap suit and steps up to grab Hope’s hand and waist. As far apart as they can manage, the two begin their stumbling fight for control.

“You sounded quite worried on the phone.” Gregson says loud enough to be heard over the music.

—-

Marvin walks into the bustling kitchen quarters, passed the dish washing station, and into the secluded, doorless wine cellar at the back.

For a brief moment he checks his phone, but there are no missed messages so he pockets it.

5:15

It’s coming.

With each passing minute his calling draws nearer.

Hope stops at the entrance of the wine cellar and pulls out her own mobile device to pretend she, too, is checking messages.

There’s a rattle that catches Hope’s ear.

With caution, she tilts her head forward and to the side so that she can catch glimpse of what it is Marvin is toying with.

What she finds are prescription drugs in a florescent pink container.

Blood condition.

Marvin pops out two pills and tosses them in his mouth. He humms in distaste after swallowing and makes a grab for a bottle of champagne.

The fizzy liquid bursts at the open and sends bubbly out across the cellar’s otherwise clean matted floors.

Hope looks back at her phone in disinterest just as another member of the waitstaff walks her way.

The young man has a persistent stride, but the way his eyes wander tell Hope all she needs to know.

Casually, she slings her thumb up to point in the cellar and she whispers, “Boss is drinkin’ free booze.”

The young man smiles a charming little thanks and walks passed her, into the cellar. “Sir.” He calls and Marvin stirs at the intrusion.

“God, what is it?” Marvin hisses.

Hope can hear the rattle of him picking up his medication from off the shelf.

“A man at table thirteen is causing a scene. He wants more champagne.”

“Older? Walks with a limp?”

“Yes, sir.”

Marvin snorts and again there’s a rattle.

Hope looks into the cellar as best she can without being spotted and catches sight of the wedding planner popping prescription pills into the bottle of champagne he’s holding. At contact, they break apart and dissolve into the liquid.

“All his.” Marvin snarls with a pass of the bottle to the wary young waiter. “Don’t look so alarmed, it’s for migraines.”

It’s brief, but before popping on the lid and pocketing the bottle, Hope manages to read the partial name Thomas K printed across the label.

Hope launches herself from the wall she’s been standing against and makes like a mouse through the busy traffic of the sweat lodge dare called a kitchen. Once she hits the hall, she dials Lestrade’s number and raises the device to her ear.

There’s static on the other line, as though from a bad signal, followed by hushed bickering.

“It’s Miss Hope. No, I got it, I got it. Hello-?”

“Lestrade. Old Shoscambe Place, now. It’s an emerge-”

“Why on Earth are you dressed as the waitstaff, Sherlock?” Henry Schneider, of the Schneider family estate and fortune, wonders aloud as he walks out of the men’s washroom and into the level’s main hall.

Hope analyzes the young man for a brief second, then gets her attention drawn to the male waiter exiting the kitchen. She turns her back on the low life politician to catch up to the waiter, but stills at the sensation of a warm, recently wet hand on the sleeve of her upper arm.

“Hold on, now. Don’t be so rude.” He huffs in offense.

Hope watches the waiter disappear through the ballroom doors, then gives another fast look over Henry.

“I’m not for hire.” She turns to walk away, but Henry follows, his hand still connected with her arm.

His grip tightens until she’s forced to grit a look at him.

He’s smiling, but the look in his muted green eyes lack a certain… characteristic in making his emotions genuine.

“Excuse me?”

Hope uses her other hand to pry his off of her and she takes a step back.

But not before grabbing the illegal stress relief in the man’s inside pocket.

“I hack my private record at least three times a week. Did you really think I wouldn’t notice the numerous occasions in which you’ve tried to file complaints against myself and my methods?”

Henry glides a wet tongue across his bottom lip until it hits the left corner of his mouth. Then he bites down on the muscle in silent thought.

“Well.” He shrugs. “Homeland security is my family’s business… And your methods, effective as they may be, were and still are illegal, Miss Holmes.”

There’s a beat of contemplative silence before Hope decides to ask, “So you’re not interested in finding the man or woman who’s recently taken to stealing from your family?”

Henry barks out a laugh that sends his whole body leaning forward. Airily, he gets out, “That. That right there. How do you do that?” He lets out a low chuckle and shakes it out at the ground. “Amazing. I don’t suppose you hacked my bank log to figure that out, did you?”

Hope takes a subtle, almost unnoticeable step back, toward the open ballroom doors where people are coming to life through music. “Stress. Your problems are written across your face in times of trouble. Well… your face and waist line, that is. Your suit is too big. You’ve lost your appetite and luxury of visiting a tailor. Given this is an important public event my own brother dares not leave before the press have gone home, you must not have the funds to spend on proper attire.”

Henry steps slowly after Hope’s retreat.

“Your political standpoint took a minor hit when it came to the water filter issue, but you’ve mended that. This wedding is proof. So, it’s either a debt, a gambling issue which, if the money were in your name specifically I may have given more thought, or… You’ve got yourself a new age thief on your hands. Enough to notice, but not enough to set off a public stir. You’re keeping it quiet for a reason.”

Henry nods his approval of Hope’s deductions and offers, “It’s a member of the Schneider household. No one else could have access to the temporary account we’ve been using until the new bank has properly risen. They’ve been discreet about it, little portions at a time, but… My father and I fear if the siblings catch wind that we’re on to them, they may wipe the accounts and disappear.”

The hall, except for the two of them, is empty. Their voices drown in the instruments of the musicians, but still-

“Is this really the time and place?” Hope says with another backward step.

Henry bites his lip and reaches into his back pocket. Between two fingers, he extends a small sheet of bendable plastic with his contact information printed across it. “If you’re half as smart as I fear you are, you’ll help me.”

“You’re not my priority, Henry.”

Hope doesn’t reach for the new age “business card”. Instead, she pivots a turn and walks swiftly into the ballroom, leaving the politician to bend the plastic in his fist.

Most remain seated at their tables as they watch the married couple take their first dance, but some do stand to document the moment with videos and photography now that the press have been excluded from the remainder of the event.

Hope brushes passed these people and, as inconspicuously as she can manage, works her way to the back. Toward Dr. Watson.

The champagne sipping Dr. Watson.

“I feel like a king!” Dr. Watson giggles to the waiter standing beside him. The poor young man looks nothing if not apologetic as he stands there, a large, half empty bottle of champagne in his hands.

Hope snatches a half eaten plate of steak from a man who appears far more interested in the single woman at his right and pushes forward.

Dr. Watson leans back in his chair. It’s a tipsy movement and for a brief second the waiter fears the wealthy bastard is going to fall onto his back. A wide, childish grin stretches across the doctor’s lips as he lifts his glass for another round.

The waiter obliges.

“The hospitality here really is exquisite.” The doctor slurs.

Hope slams into the waiter with as much force as she can manage. The momentum of her body weight sends the bottle of champagne flying out of the waiter’s weak grasp and down across the ballroom’s floor.

The members of the table, including Dr. Watson, bark out in surprise and ogle the mess splashed across the floor. It was mere luck the bottle, itself, hadn’t shattered on impact.

“Coming through.” Hope mumbles in belated warning as she swiftly exits through the back door.

—-

“So… Identity fraud.” Gregson summarizes, unimpressed. “You brought me down here to pick a man up on identity fraud? Holmes,” Gregson’s teeth grit. He releases his hold on Hope. “that’s not my jurisdiction.”

“Well, tonight it is. I’m short on evidence, but I assure you, if you don’t take action now, there will be death on your hands.” Hope insists. There’s a light, a fire at the base of her monotone voice and unblinking gaze. “I’ve given you enough to at least take the wedding planner in for questioning, haven’t I? Identity fraud is a jump, but if that’s not the case he’s in possession of illegal drugs.”

Gregson tilts his head up so that he can literally look down his nose at the ex-forensic analyst. “Speaking of identity fraud…” His hands shoot out to grab Hope’s hand and waist as though he were catching a snake by the base of it’s head.

He’s in complete control as he pulls her back into the rhythm. “I’ve been looking into your records.” His grin is akin to that of a Cheshire cat’s. It’s a toothy smirk broad enough to fill nightmares.

He’s got her. He’s certain he’s caught his prey.

Hope allows herself to be taken into the man’s arms. She’s not guiding any of their movements, but the look in her eye speaks the truth.

She’s in full control.

“As I, yours.”

“Good with computers.”

“Well practiced.”

“Funny how your digital footprint dates back twenty-four years while-” His breath hitches, as if surprised. “Your paper trail only goes back eight.” Gregson’s brows twist and lips curl. “Found that out just before you called, actually. London has no record of a William Sherlock Holmes Scott ever having been born.”

Hope’s expression remains passive as she takes a spin.

His suspect once again captured in his arms, Gregson continues, “That’s the same year you met the Holmes family, isn’t it?” He asks with an air of innocence. “The same year you signed up for the big brother program? The same year Mycroft signed up? Well,” he laughs. “that’s quite the coincidence, isn’t it?”

Hope’s gaze is passive, filtered.

She’s not all there.

—-

“William Sherlock Holmes Scott.” Mycroft, at the prime of his college years, muses with a look over his sheet of approval. It’s got all of Sherlock’s personal information on it.

Homeless.

No educational background.

The young man looks up from the paper and lifts a brow. “Just who gave you that name?” His breath fogs in the chilly Christmas air.

Snow blankets the private street, lampposts, roof, and windowsills of the Holmes Family estate.

He’s standing outside in the cold, his nose, cheeks, and ears flushed a bright red. A cane props him up with the hand that’s not holding the paper Sherlock has just given him.

Dark eyes stare curiously down at the young girl. She’s dressed in a black over sized sweater, hat, and paper thin jeans rubbed a pale blue.

She stares blankly up at the older boy, the boy who’s supposed to invite her inside for a warm Christmas meal in exchange for extra credit.

Pale blue eyes lack any and all emotion as she mutters out, in a weak voice, “I assure you, it wasn’t my idea.”

The girl is scrawny. Just skin and bones stuffed loosely into someone’s old hand outs.

Her hands remain stuffed in her jean pockets for a casual teenage stance as snow flakes flutter down around them.

The inside of the mansion is lit a warm yellow. The color bounces off of the nearby snow, giving the night a subtle, comfortable glow.

Mycroft shifts his balance on the cleared steps up to his front door. He sniffs through a runny nose and sighs. “Says here you’re uneducated.”

He’s looking at the young girl, summing her up. All he’s got on is a button up shirt, slacks, and dress shoes, but he refuses to simply invite a stranger into his home before he’s got a proper handle on who she is.

It doesn’t help that she seems to have all the time in the world.

Blankly, she’s stares at the young man.

She doesn’t feel the need to address such an obvious fact.

A breeze blows through combed dark brown and Mycroft shudders. Although it does the same thing to Sherlock’s awkwardly cropped, tangled mess of dark hair, she pretends she can’t feel it.

If he didn’t know any better, Mycroft might think she were inhuman. But no, the girl has long since passed the first stage of hypothermia.

“My name is Mycroft.” He says with a rather charming smile. “But you already know that. In fact, you know everything about me.”

Sherlock’s breathing stutters. She blinks rapidly for a thought, then shuffles a step back.

The young man snorts. “You’re not very good at first impressions, are you, Sherlock?”

The girl looks back, out at the long stretch of open road, then back up at Mycroft. “Sherlock.” She mutters. “Pleased to meet your acquaintance.”

Mycroft nods his approval and folds the paper in his left hand. “What do you know…” He breathes. “There may just be hope for you, after all.”

—-

Hope stares at the grainy material of Gregson’s suit lapel, lost in a memory.

The music has come to a finale, but still her grip remains loose around the detective’s hand and waist.

“Holmes?” Gregson whispers.

“Miss Hope!” Lestrade calls while making a dash for the center of the ballroom where Hope and Gregson are awkwardly at a stand still.

“Miss Hope!” He pants again, this time at her side.

She blinks back to the moment and detaches herself from Gregson with one simple drop of limbs. “Marvin?” She asks with a darted look to the wedding planner in question. He’s carrying two glasses of wine toward the happy couple Dr. Watson is guarding.

“Who?” Lestrade’s features twist, then he shakes the thought away. “It’s your brother.” He clarifies. “He took a nasty fall near the restrooms. Says he’s leaving.”

“Oh.” Her gaze drops. “Mycroft has minor paralysis in his right leg due to a spinal injury he pertained as a child, I’ve deduced. He can hide it well, but only for so long.”

Lestrade opens his mouth to comment, but the audible gasps at his back take precedence.

Marvin struggles to push himself from the groom, who seems to have taken a tumble with his wedding planner. Deep red wine stains both men’s suits, but particularly the groom’s.

“Ah, damn!” Marvin hisses after slicing his hand on a broken shard of glass. He points a blood dripped finger at Dr. Watson, who looks about as surprised as the rest of the room’s occupants. “You tripped me!”

Dr. Watson straitens at the accusation. “I did no such thing!”

The wedding planner snarls a look of pure malice at the ex-army doctor, then attends to his client, the groom. “I’m sorry, sir.” He looks to the shocked bride and raises a bloodied hand to try and calm her. Instead, she gasps and covers her cherry red lips with a manicured hand. “I’ll clean him up and bring him right back, I promise.”

Marvin pulls at Sir Robert’s arm and the groom follows willingly.

“Lestrade.” Hope calls.

Lestrade’s lips purse with a forward, curious bend of his waist.

“Arrest the wedding planner. He’s in the possession of prescriptions drugs made out to another name.” She drones with a blank look at the approaching doctor.

“On it!” Lestrade chirps. He sprints for the door and drops his cuffs in the process. It’s an embarrassing display to watch him double back for them, but he does make it out the door in one piece.

Dr. Watson walks through the whispers and up to Hope and the detective.

“Feel better?” Hope inquires.

“I didn’t push him.” Dr. Watson mutters, his sights to the ground.

With a resounding thud, the open doors to the ballroom swing shut and click with a lock.

Those nearest the doors scream before running to try and pull them open or bypass the “error” screen frozen across the lock pads.

Hope doesn’t need to look at a clock to know the evening’s reached it’s high point of six.

A few men try banging on the doors, but they’re locked tight and no doubt reinforced with steal. With only one wall of windows at Hope’s back and no means of escape, the room of politicians begins to feel very… tight.

“Calm down, ladies and gentlemen!” Gregson shouts over the growing commotion. He pulls out his badge and lifts it high in the air. “Scotland Yard, here. Please remain calm!” He turns in a slow circle so that everyone can see his badge. “I’m sure this is just a glitch and the hotel is working to fix it as we speak. There is no need to panic!”

A crash of shattering glass brings about another wave of worry.

Gregson turns just in time to see Hope frisbee another plate through the top of a floor to ceiling, no doubt very expensive, window. Dr. Watson rushes over to a table, picks up a plate, and follows suit.

“What. Are you doing!?” Gregson screams at the two idiots breaking windows.

“No idea!” Dr. Watson confesses before sending another plate through a closed window.

“Higher.” Is the only word of instruction Hope offers.

It’s not until the sprinklers overhead go off that people fall out of their state of shock and start screaming.

People duck under tables and/or collapse, clutching their eyes.

Gregson, too, feels a sense of panic as he lifts his jacket over his head and looks around. The ground is slick from what most definitely is not water.

In fact, whatever it is smells unnervingly like petrol.

—-

Lestrade jogs out of the ballroom and pivots left, following the blood trail that’s been left behind the wedding planner. He slows to a fast walk and spins his trusty pair of cuffs around his pointer finger. They manage to spiral full circle twice before flying off of his index and down onto the floor.

He bends to pick them up, then collapses onto the floor with a scream. His hands shoot to his right ear, where he hears an obnoxious ringing.

Lestrade’s jaw drops and vision blurs.

A trail of blood drips from his burst eardrum and out across his hands, but the ringing doesn’t settle. Instead, it engulfs him, blocking out any other noise.

He falls back, tears in his eyes and vocal chords spasming.

Then, it’s silent.

He can’t hear a single thing.

His head lolls back and forth, as though he were swimming through the disorientation.

Lestrade bats his eyes, slow and steady.

It feels as though everything’s slowed.

As though everything’s gone quiet, like one of those historic black and white movies.

Blood drips down the young man’s ear, jaw, and neck to create small, growing pools beside his head.

—-

Dr. Watson heaves another plate at the top of the window. It breaks the glass on contact and sends shards scattering down to the levels below.

Petrol threatens to blind him, so he raises his hand to cover as much of his eyes as it can and grabs the next thing he can reach on the corner table.

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Without a second thought on the matter, he chucks the book at the broken window.

Beside him, Hope stills.

Her hair clings to the sides of her face and forehead, but he can tell she’s staring at him.

People have taken to hiding under white, petrol tainted table clothes, but still they scream. Several remain by the doors, their efforts to open the locked devices as fruitless as ever.

Dr. Watson gestures out at the window and shouts, “I think we can both agree it’s been bloody useless!”

There’s a glare from the ceiling.

The chandelier.

The lights connected to it burn to unthinkable measures, threatening to either blind or burst.

Possibly both.

Their time is up.

“Down!” Hope shouts.

Without question, Dr. Watson drops.

—-

Mycroft limps his way to the East tower’s back exit. The sky has darkened to a vibrant purple that sits atop of the city’s skyline.

He relies heavily on the cane up until a member of the hotel’s staff approaches from the outside after having approved his private vehicle. The gentleman smiles and Mycroft stiffens.

His sweaty palms and brow bring a sickly glow to his visible features while his stiff, forced movements give tell his handicap.

The staff member opens the door and with an idle wave of his cane bearing hand, Mycoft Holmes shuffles through.

The driver of his government official craft walks around the vehicle to pop open his door and stand beside it. Patiently, the man waits for Mycroft to descend the stairs, but it is taking a good deal of time.

Mycroft gets down all of three stairs before he notices the broken plates crashing down into the shrubbery beside the back exit. He stills and watches as shattered glass and flying plates crash down in front of him.

His driver ducks as a plate frisbies through the air and cracks against the hovercraft’s bullet proof window. It’s a close call, but the driver is unscathed.

When more plates continue their descent, the driver sprints around the vehicle and drops.

Mycroft stares blankly at the display of yet another one of his hovercrafts turned to ruin, then pulls out his mobile to dial a number.

“What in the-” The hotel staff shouts after having caught glimpse of shattered pieces of window and dirty dishes.

“Emergency fire and rescue. What’s your emergency?” A voice on the end of the line chirps.

An old book, The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, the cover reads, falls just at the bottom of the stairs. It’s quite the distance, but Mycroft makes out the title with ease.

“Hurry.” He drones.

—-

The lights in the chandelier exceed maximum voltage and all at once burst into an overpowered electrical fire that promptly eats the ceiling and upper walls.

What would have been a flash fire hot enough to consume the entire room breaks for the path of least resistance, the broken windows.

The fire and charcoal colored smoke remains largely upon the ceiling and walls. Small sections of burning metal, glass, and plaster fall to the ballroom below, but they’re weak and grow weaker through the fall.

Small, open flames bite at the ground, but the real danger is the deficient supply of oxygen and mutating chemicals that float through the air.

An explosion ignites as the heat reaches the makeshift supply of petrol in the ceiling. People scream and panic at the sight of burning metal pipes crashing down from the ceiling and igniting more flames.

But still, the heat rises and ventilates through the broken windows.

Hope army crawls over to the table Dr. Watson has ducked beneath. Like most, she’s drenched in petrol.

“Comfortable?” Dr. Watson huffs through a smile.

Hope lowers her head to peer out at the rapidly spreading flames. “We stopped the flash fire, but we’re still going to either burn or suffocate.” She explains.

Dr. Watson runs a hand through his hair, then examines his fingers. “Petrol?” He inquires.

“Diluted.” Hope adds. “By the assorted levels of potency I’d suggest Marvin only replaced one of the three water tanks. His manners, actions…” Hope darts a look around the wedding guests and particularly the bridal party. Panic. Legitimate panic. Not a single one of them meant to take part in this. “He lacks experience, composure.” She catches sight of Gregson trying to help pry open the door, then looks back to the strangely relaxed doctor at her side. “This is his first attempt at mass genocide.”

Dr. Watson grins. “Hopefully it’ll give the poor sod the night terrors.”

Dr. Watson.

A soldier. Relaxed. Trained.

He expects and accepts death.

Has for some time now, apparently.

Hope nods in idle agreement with Dr. Watson’s foul wishes, then examines the exits from afar.

The lock pads remain frozen in error. They spark, threatening to catch fire, but the victims are refusing to give up on them.

With this heat and water mixed petrol soaking into the devices, it would be impossible to disarm the emergency lock down they’ve been thrown into.

Not improbable.

Impossible.

Their side of the door is too far gone.

A shriek of bending metal rings out above the screams, but Hope doesn’t turn her head.

She knows the ceiling is collapsing.

—-

A high pitched ringing is what Lestrade hears when he awakens.

Awakens.

Lestrade shoots upright and snags the cuffs beside him. He hears a faint drag of metal, but it fades in and out in volume.

The material is cool against the sweaty palms of his hands. It bites at his skin. This helps to kick start his transition into reality.

Droplets of wet blood trail down the hall in the direction he had been running when-

Lestrade looks abruptly to his right at the presence of movement. Three men are standing in front of the ballroom doors. Two are attempting to pull them apart from their centers while one, a technician, fusses with the wires inside the lock pad.

The junior detective stiffly pushes himself to stand and pockets his handcuffs to instead help with the door issue.

As he draws nearer, he can start to smell the gut wrenching aroma of smoke and petrol.

His head is spinning when he takes a sprint for the other men, but he refuses to slow.

“What’s the problem?” He slurs.

He can barely hear himself.

Lestrade winces and pulls out his badge after receiving little more than skeptic looks from the men. “Scotland Yard. What’s happened?”

The technician’s mouth is moving a mile a minute, but all Lestrade can make out are the words: Error, lock, and fire.

Lestrade drops to a kneel at the confirmation of his deepest fear and shoves the technician out of the way. The men startle and/or yelp at the detective’s aggressive charge, but silence when he pulls a gun from his jacket’s inside holster.

The lock pad’s face has been detached to instead reveal the wires and circuit boards within.

Lestrade sticks his left hand into the deep compartment until he’s felt a thick, cubic notch toward the back.

His face is flushed and ears burning.

The ringing sounds as though it’s getting louder.

Lestrade sticks his other hand into the rather small compartment, gun included.

“No, no, no!” The technician protests. “That’s not going to fix it!” He tries, but the words fall on deaf ears.

Lestrade pops two caps into the emergency mainframe located at the back of the lock pad, then holsters his gun and makes a grab for the doors.

After a beat, the two members of wait staff jump to help out.

From the inside, men and women are clawing and pulling at the doors. When they finally start to pry apart, the wedding guests gasp for air and stumble over one another in an attempt to escape the burning ballroom.

“How did you know to do that!?” The technician shouts, but Lestrade can’t hear him.

He can’t hear anything, in fact.

Lestrade grabs at his ears and stumbles back into the wall. The loosely hanging face of the lock pad digs into his back, but he can’t control his legs anymore.

They give out on him and he collapses to a seated position against the wall.

—-

Red and blue sirens create one of the most painful headaches Lestrade has every experienced. He rubs at his temple with the tips of his fingers in an attempt to soothe the ache, but everything hurts.

He, like many others, has a soothing navy blue blanket draped around his shoulders.

Most are crying, but he can’t seem to bring forth the tears.

The back exit to the East Tower is crawling with trashed gowns, survivors, police, medical examiners, and, behind the police tape, press.

He refuses to look at them, but he knows at least a few have got their bulky cameras pointed in his direction.

Gregson walks up behind his partner and casually takes a seat on the side Lestrade can still hear out of. His jacket is off, but one can still smell the foul stench of petrol on his shirt and slacks.

It’s nauseating.

“Miss Holmes seems to think you got too close to Sir Robert and Thomas when they set off some…” Gregson shrugs and flaps his hand at the air. “Magnetic manipulator, or… I don’t know, but it’s what screwed with the computer system and, well… You were right in the cross fire, so it screwed with your radio implant, as well.”

He looks to his partner, but Lestrade doesn’t look back. Instead, he focuses on his blood dried hands.

“Thomas has been caught and taken in for questioning, but we can’t seem to find Sir Robert.” Gregson says with a casual look around the site.

White smoke drifts from the dark, upper floor of the tower. The fire’s been put out, but the heat is still intense.

“Holmes’ theory is that Thomas K. Lupas is an undiscovered actor hired to start a war with France, thus forcing our allies to choose between us and them, since, well…” He takes a deep breath. “We’re currently incapable of taking care of ourselves what with this water dilemma and what not.”

“Seems plausible.” Lestrade mumbles to his hands.

“But why hire an actor?” Gregson asks the sky. His hands shoot out to grab angrily at the air. “Why not hire a professional?”

Lestrade gives a child-like shrug. “Maybe none of the professionals willing to start a war with France were capable of passing as a wedding planner.”

Gregson groans and rubs at his face. “Thomas Lupas claims he was being threatened, but there’s something off about him, about this crime. It was too well managed, don’t you think? It shouldn’t have fallen so flat.”

“Are you saying you’re still convinced Miss Hope is the homicidal psychopath you’re looking for?” Lestrade asks through a dull laugh.

Gregson takes a second to look out at the chaos around them before responding, “I don’t know… But she’s definitely hiding something, I can feel it.”

The junior detective glances at his senior partner, then nods in agreement. “Yeah.” He mumbles. “But aren’t we all?”

—-

“As you may recall, merely a week prior one Sebastian Moran was taken into the custody of the authorities on account of false identity, illegal weaponry, and, my personal favorite,” Hope pivots on her heel to give Dr. Watson a dramatic lift of her brow. “suspected murder.”

Dr. Watson moves his folded fingers away from his mouth long enough to muse, “You’re really making a show of this, aren’t you?”

The young woman paces before the dining table Dr. Watson and cooling take out are sitting at. Both residents of 221B have changed and showered, Hope into a gray long sleeved shirt and plaid print bottoms and Dr. Watson into a just as colorless tee and sweats.

“The crime scene was cleared the night prior. All that remained were the bountiful piles of evidence left sitting before our noses.” She continues, as if uninterrupted.

—-

Police tape webs the open doorway of a second level city apartment.

The extra measures hadn’t been necessary, but the men and women under Scotland Yard were anything but forgiving when it came to the death of General Greers.

The studio apartment is plain, empty. It bares only the essentials. A bed, a half empty closet of clothes, a display case of antique weapons, and a meagerly stocked kitchenette are just that.

An automatic window furthest to the right opens with a swift and soundless glide.

From the dusk covered fire escape, Hope climbs into the building and pockets her miniature super magnet used to unlock low level measures of security like standard doors and windows.

It works rather well, so long as the home’s security isn’t equipped to set off an alarm at it’s use.

Hope stands to her full height and scans the apartment at eye level. Her movements are slow, controlled.

She’s covered in black from head to tow, hat and boots included.

The light funneling in from the apartment’s hall works well enough, but it’s dim and difficult to make out the details in the room.

Hope pulls out her mobile and with the touch of her finger, a white orb of light shines around the hand held object.

There are footprints everywhere, of all sizes and shapes.

Safe to assume nothing is in it’s proper place…

The intruder walks quietly up to a display case of old artifacts.

An arrow, a double barreled rifle, a blow dart-

Hope picks up the wooden blow dart with a latex covered hand and gives it a once over. It’s a strange little contraption with a bright feather sticking out of it’s tubular body.

Void of a conscience, Hope pockets the device along with the set of five darts Sebastian won’t be needing, anymore.

She looks away, as if to move on, but another device catches her eye.

A contractible pistol.

—-

“I get it.” Dr. Watson cuts in. “You’re a thief and a break in artist. Very impressive. Now to the point, please. Our supper is about past due.”

Hope stares back at Dr. Watson, an unreadable expression across her face.

Looking away, she continues…

“I then moved on to check his closet.”

—-

Hope moves on the balls of her feet toward the uncovered closet. She bypasses the clothes on display to instead stop at a hamper of dirty laundry.

Reaching in, she shines her flash light down into the bin and starts analyzing the clothes.

Most are soiled with brick dust of a vibrant red color or mud of a similar shade. Construction excess. Irrelevant.

Hope stills for a brief moment, then pulls out an old, dust covered jacket.

—-

“Dust. White in color and not at all near the shade of red brick dust he would have acquired at the construction site.” Hope explains.

“An old jacket? A keepsake he decided it was high time to wash!” Dr. Watson pipes in. He’s moved to the edge of his chair in wait for Hope’s follow up.

The forensic analyst pulls out a dining chair and takes a seat. Leaning forward, she explains, “The jacket’s been well worn. I tested the elements of the dust on Moran’s jacket when I got back-”

“And?” Dr. Watson prompts despite cutting her story short.

Hope pauses, blinks, and continues. “And it’s brick dust.” She shifts. “But not the kind used at his construction site, this is old. Really old. Authentic Old World brick.”

Dr. Watson leans back in his chair, the excitement from before seemingly faded by this new development. “Well that’s not much to go on, is it?”

Hope smiles, legitimately. “There were no contaminants.” Her brow quirks. “No evidence of the brick having been touched in any way by the effects of the great nuclear war.”

Dr. Watson sits upright. “It’s from a survivor’s hideaway.”

“Although the New World was in play across the ocean, the rest of us had to survive in other ways. Many boarded up sections of underground subways, as you may recall from history class.” Hope educates.

“Well, that’s brilliant!”

Hope pinches a smile. “So… while we were scurrying about Old Shoscambe Place, Jefferson Hope’s missing children were found by a group of less than privileged old friends of mine. Down in the incomplete construction subway below Next Chapter Boulevard, to be exact.”

Dr. Watson leans back in his dining chair, a grin spread wide across his face. “You have old friends?”

What had been a ghost of a smile pulling at Hope’s lips sours down to a frown. “Really?” Her arms fold above her chest. “That’s your focal point of the story?”

“Sorry, I mean-” Dr. Watson gives a breathy laugh. “You really found them?”

Hope nods and makes a grab for the containers of noodles Dr. Watson has been eyeing for the last half hour. “Including the surgeon.” She adds.

Dr. Watson slides the lid off of his take out container and flips it on it’s back. Steam drifts through the air, warming the underbelly of the doctor’s chin. “The one who cut off the engineer’s thumb?” He asks.

Hope does a similar preparation with her own tub of noodles.

“Yes. Although we don’t have enough to charge him for it. Not unless Gregson can convince either him or Moran to testify against the other.”

“Hmmph.” Dr. Watson muffles through a pleased bob of his head after taking his first bite of supper. After he swallows, he hits at his chest and readies his plastic fork for another bite. Idly, he huffs, “With any luck, one of them will turn on the big man, himself. Then this will all be behind us.”

Hope stops twirling her fork and glances up at the doctor at her side. The older man’s scarfing down noodles like he hasn’t just eaten a five course meal.

Quietly, she looks back to her noodles and agrees, “That would be something.”

HOPE

The Woman, Part One

 

A Novelette

 

Hope blinks through the darkness. Her pupils are dilated, but they’re not retrieving any light. It’s too dark. She can’t see.

Her breathing is airy, raspy. It’s hard to breathe with her knees tucked so tightly against her chest.

She licks her bottom lip and fumbles for her phone.

At her touch, the screen dimly lights the tight space she’s tucked herself within.

It’s a metal box not nearly big enough for a woman her size.

In fact, it’s a miracle she’s managed to fit in it at all.

Pipes cling to the metal wall at Hope’s back. Aside from the plumbing, she’s alone.

Hope’s breath ghosts the cellular device as she looks it over.

At the sound of approaching footsteps, she stops breathing and clenches her jaw.

When they stop, she speed dials Gregson.

His voice is mostly static as he answers, “To what do I owe the pleasure? Have you magically stumbled upon another murder victim, or what?”

“Gregson, I’m-” Hope winces at her own voice crack.

Something moves outside of the box Hope is balled within. She can’t see it, but she can hear it.

Male.

Heavy, uneven gaunt.

“I think he’s coming back.” She whispers into the phone.

“Holmes? Where are you? I can’t seem to catch a proper signal.” Gregson’s voice calls through the static.

“H-he’s here-”

“We’re tracking your call. Just remain-”

The metal door slides back in one fluid motion. Like a jack in the box, Hope’s legs pop out to sprawl around Dr. Watson’s feet.

Her expression is absolutely void of emotion as the doctor stares just as dully back.

“What are you doing under the sink?”

Hope carefully covers the mouthpiece of her phone before explaining, “I'm conducting a social experiment. I'm timing Gregson's response times to my own call as well as four others he'll be receiving throughout the day. One a child, another an elderly woman- I even got his best friend involved-”

“Oh, no-” Dr. Watson snatches the phone out of Hope’s weak and crippled grasp. “Hope, you’re a child. You’re going to give the poor man a heart attack.”

Hope crawls out of the tight kitchen sink, which forces Dr. Watson to step off to the side so that she doesn’t trample over him.

Dr. Watson swiftly shuts the lower kitchen cabinet and then raises Hope’s phone to his ear. “Hello? Detective Gregson, is that you?”

Hope stands to her full height and brushes any loose dust off of her back and thighs.

Neck straight, Hope sways like a cat looking back at it’s prey.

“Fat blocked arteries and high levels of glucose are to be the cause of his heart failure.” Hope drones is her usual monotone. “I’ll have nothing to do with it.”

Dr. Watson plugs one ear to drown out Hope as he listens to Gregson with the other.

“Yes, she’s at the flat. Yes,” he nods in agreement. “I know she’s a child.”

Hope sways a turn back to the door and walks abruptly out of the room.

“I’m not her keeper.” Dr. Watson drones to the ceiling. “Oh, and Gregson-” He darts a glance to the door, then turns his shoulder on the entrance and lowers his voice to suggest, “Perhaps you should still drop by. No, no, no… I mean for a quick physical. Your health is concerning.”

From the doorway, Hope emerges, violin in hand. Eyes on Dr. Watson, she botches the first chord and then continues to miss every note thereafter.

It’s loud, off key, and deliberate.

Dr. Watson presses into his right ear with the palm of his hand in an attempt to drown out the noise.

“What was that? Gregson?” Dr. Watson turns his back on Hope, but he’s trapped within a tiny kitchen complete with one window and a single, blocked exit.

Dr. Watson's brows twist and mouth quirks. “My word- No need to get rude. We all make bad decisions from time to time. I-... What was that?” Quickly, he removes the phone from his ear and hangs up. “Hmmph.”

Hope freezes mid note.

Dr. Watson looks down at the glass device and mutters, “Couldn’t hear a blasted thing.”

—-

Eight Hours Earlier…

Hope and Dr. Watson stare down at a metal box that sits in the center of their dining table. It’s roughly five in the morning, yet a package arrived at their doorstep not ten minutes prior.

“Well?” Dr. Watson mumbles. His lips twist to a downward set and brows furrow in sleepy aggravation.

“Hmm?” Hope does a double take at the doctor beside her, then fastens her emotionless gaze back to the metal case of something unidentifiable. “I didn’t hear you come down.”

Blueish gray eyes dart to the dark roots of Hope’s short, combed hair. “I’ve been standing beside you for five minutes.”

“I’ve been preoccupied.”

“Noisy, too.”

Hope takes an abrupt step back from the table.

“Noisy, yes. I awoke at the sound of a pop. A loud one. The hovercraft used to transport this package is of an older make.” Hope kneels on the ground. “No sign of being processed-”

“For god’s sake,” Dr. Watson mutters with a step up to the table and grab at the metal case, “it’s a bin.” Carelessly, he slides the lid off of the metal container and, instinctively, Hope grabs at his arm just a moment too late.

There’s an odd pause as they wait there, Hope’s hand bruising the bare flesh of Dr. Watson’s right arm.

The lid has already been partially removed, but still the ex-forensic analyst refuses to let go.

“Hope…” Dr. Watson prompts. “It’s safe.”

It’s a stiff motion, but Hope does manage to retract her hand back to her side.

Satisfied, Dr. Watson releases a tired breath and pulls the container closer to his side of the table. He removes the lid with one fast motion and flips it on it’s back to show his flatmate there’s nothing fused to it’s belly. It’s then he looks down at the container’s contents and grins.

Hope glances repeatedly from the box, to Dr. Watson, to the box again.

Giggling, Dr. Watson pulls out a plaid deer stalker hat and tosses it at Hope’s chest. She catches it mid-air and then gives it an apprehensive look over.

“You know what this means, right?” The doctor asks after unloading a violin, bow, and cape with a print similar to that of the double fronted hat.

Hope turns the hat around in her hands, then mumbles, “Moriarty has finished setting the field… It’s time for another round.”

Dr. Watson lifts the bow of the violin into his hand and points it at the cape, followed by the hat in Hope’s hand. “You can officially cosplay.”

“The pipe was confiscated as evidence.”

Dr. Watson gives an idle shrug, then yawns through a cat-like stretch. “I hope you play.” He muses with a tired set of the bow upon the violin.

Without waiting for a response, he pulls out a chair and plops down on it’s base. Hand to his cheek, he stares expectantly at his morning entertainment. “I love a good tune to brighten the spirits.” He mumbles.

Hope stares blankly at the doctor, then the violin.

Carefully, she sets down the hat to instead pick up the instrument set out before her.

Her fingers are nimble on the delicate strings as she sets the violin into position.

Ever so gently she glides the bow over the strings of the instrument, which is why it’s so surprising to all in the building when it releases a choked cry of despair.

Hope’s brows knit at the just as loud and obnoxious pull back of the bow.

Confusion.

She doesn’t understand what she’s doing wrong.

And neither does Dr. Watson.

Abruptly, she lifts the bow from the strings and darts a look to her audience.

Dr. Watson sits at the table, his chin in his hand and frown set across his scrunched in features.

“That was awful.” He says to break the silence.

Hope gives a half hearted shrug at the scrutiny. “Nobody’s perfect.” She says with a set of her bow and violin down upon her new cape.

“You think this is what exempts you from perfection?”

“I believe perfection can only be made by man, not possessed.” Hope retorts. Her bare fingertips ghost the material of the violin’s strings.

No serial number.

The violin has been well cared for, but it’s old.

The lightest wear on the hollow of the chin piece, the smallest of scratches in the wood of the instrument’s body… New strings, regularly polished…

But the violin itself is a hand me down.

What could the significance of that be, Hope wonders.

Perhaps it belongs to their perpetrator?

Hope lifts a dark brow at the thought, then flashes a look to Dr. Watson.

The older man is staring back at her from his seat at the table. His chin rests in the palm of his hand as if he were caught up in the moment, and yet… his eyes are focused on the ex-forensic analyst rather than a setting sun or proper musician.

“You’ve deduced something, haven’t you?” He mumbles.

The street lights outside the windows barely manage to illuminate the inside of the flat, but when a government issue hovercraft passes by, it’s brights engulf the room before quickly fading out. In that brief moment, Hope’s obsessively neat features brighten before falling back into the shadows.

Dr. Watson wonders for just a beat how long it’ll be before she pushes her cleanliness obsession out of the way to obsess over something else… something perhaps a little more life threatening.

Hope looks back to the violin and retracts her hand.

“The violin is important.” She explains.

Dr. Watson looks down at the seemingly new instrument and then the apparel. “What about the hat and cape?”

Hope swipes the phone from her front pocket and glides her fingers across the screen. It takes only a second for a ray of light to beam down from the glass device. “Irrelevant.” Her hands hold the device above the instrument, then scan up and down it’s length. “I’m sure it’s nothing more than a gag.”

“I disagree.”

Hope looks down at the three dimensional image of the violin she’s just scanned and murmurs, “That so?”

Dr. Watson leans back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest. “He packaged it up, sent it here… I think he wants you to wear it.”

Hope snaps her head abruptly away from her illegal search of the violin’s origin to meet serious gray/blue. “He doesn’t.”

“I think he does.”

Hope glides her sight over to the apparel laid out upon the table and again tries to analyze it. There’s nothing particularly odd about the clothing.

Hand made, of course, but it’s without a tag and even if they were successful in tracking the origin of the cloth and finding the manufacturer of the garments it would no doubt end with just that fact.

It’s not a clue, not a slip up…

But it is intentional, is it not?

“Why?” Is what she accidentally lets slip.

“He’s recreating a fantasy, Hope.” Dr. Watson’s lip quivers, but the make-shift detective is too preoccupied to notice. “You need to dress the part.”

Hope’s algorithm hits a snag.

The entire cellular device short circuits, flashes with light, and then shuts off.

Dr. Watson’s eyes burn from the sudden flash of light that has engulfed the room. His eyes, mouth, and nose stretch through a pained motion as he tries to blink sight back to his eyes. “What.” He rubs at his eyes, then leans forward to squint at a just as stunned Sherlock Holmes. “Was that?”

Hope reaches for a chair, misses, then reaches again. Once her hand comes into contact with the back of her seat, she pulls it out and falls upon it.

Roughly, she slams the device down upon the table and taps a few times at the side of her head. “Umm.” She humms with a scoot closer to the table. “Either my algorithm short circuited my device, or it breached an unusually high level of After World security and we will shortly be finding ourselves once again in the hands of the law.”

Hope’s fingers burn from touching the over heated device, but she does not hesitate it taking it apart piece by piece.

One by one the outer layers and core are unraveled to reveal the holographic circuits within the modern After World phone.

“Are those meant to come apart like that?” Dr. Watson asks with a point to what he could have sworn was just a clear slab of glass.

Hope drops the last piece onto the table and blows at her reddened fingertips.

Dr. Watson peers through the dim lighting. “You’re burnt.”

“I’m aware.”

The doctor frowns when Hope, again, makes grabs for the heated pieces of fiber infused glass. She’s touching all of the pieces, inspecting them, with a complete disregard for her burning flesh.

Obsession.

Dr. Watson may not be a psychiatrist, but the signs are evident.

Hope can’t control herself.

If she finds a puzzle, she has to solve it.

No matter the consequence.

“Well.” Dr. Watson stands from the table. He’s fairly certain Hope can no longer see nor hear him, but he feels the need to speak, regardless. “I’m going to catch a wink before the police slap on the cuffs.”

He waits a moment more beside the young woman, then mumbles, “I’ll check up on you in the morning.” and walks away.

Obsession…

It unnerves Dr. Watson to think that perhaps Hope has more to gain from this ordeal than lose.

—-

Hope mopes on the couch in her secluded area of the flat. The curtain has been pulled back to reveal the young woman and the violin within her hand.

She plucks at the strings, but the bow used to make the music has been confiscated. It now sits beside Dr. Watson’s tablet.

Dr. Watson lifts his white tea glass up from it’s saucer and takes a sip. At the swallow his lips part and a satisfied hiss escapes them.

Gently, he sets the cup back down onto it’s saucer.

He’s very aware of the dead look Hope is sending his way, but he ignores it. Instead, he focuses on his tablet and the half written log post he’s written upon it.

Another pluck at a chord fills the dead air.

And another.

“It’s not going to work.” Dr. Watson mumbles.

Hope plucks another string.

“My concentration is impenetrable.” He mutters under his breath.

The phone in Dr. Watson’s pant pocket vibrates against the material between it and his leg. “Oh.” His brows twist as he drops his tablet’s back against the table and fishes for his phone.

His confusion doesn’t settle upon seeing the caller I.D.

In fact, the look in his eye only darkens.

Unknown

Hope jumps up from the couch and leaves her violin behind without a second thought on the matter. Swiftly, she slides into the seat beside Dr. Watson’s and he looks to her.

There’s a curious spark buried in light blue as she looks back to him.

Dr. Watson taps his finger against the screen and, very steadily, raises the device to his ear. His body is tense and brow drawn in as says, “Dr. Watson, here.”

Not a second later the doctor’s body drains with relief. Through a smile, he explains, “It’s a fan of my log.”

“Highly improbable.”

Dr. Watson shoots Hope a look of pure annoyance, then covers his right ear to better hear with his left. “Yes, yes. Why, thank you.” He grins at whatever compliments this stranger is feeding him.

Hope slumps against the chair she’s seated within. Bored. Boring. Dull.

Her foot starts to tap repetitiously against the ground. She needs to get her hands on something, but the flat is already spotless and the cases seem to have run dry.

At least Dr. Watson has a log to write.

“Well, I-” Dr. Watson glances at his flatmate. The young woman’s practically become one with the furniture. “I should think so, yes.” He grins and reaches for the corner of his glass tablet. Idly, he slides his fingers over it’s smooth edge. “Of course. Leave it to us!” He boasts.

Hope’s mood quirks.

Us.

Dr. Watson pulls his phone from his ear and slams it’s face down upon the table. He’s absolutely beaming as he announces, “We have a case!”

“I find your fervor contagious.”

“You should! This one pays. Handsomely.”

Hope sinks back into her chair at the words. “I decline.” She mutters to the table.

“You’re joking.”

“Quite serious, actually.”

“You hadn't moved in hours!” Dr. Watson barks with a gesture to the velvet couch Hope has taken a liking to. “What's so bad about a paid gig?” He touches his chest, then, as he confesses, “My pension can't buy a loaf of bread- and god knows your debts aren't going anywhere.”

“It doesn’t matter, I refuse.” Hope seethes. “Henry and his family deserve bankruptcy.”

Dr. Watson goes quiet. There’s hidden emotion, there. Resentment.

“You already knew?” He asks.

Hope shrugs. It’s childish and unclear, but she does it nonetheless. “He confronted me at the wedding.” She admits. “A paid ‘gig’, as you say, so soon after? People like him don’t understand the meaning of the word no. They believe themselves to be above all… A day or two on the streets could serve his ego well.”

Dr. Watson bites his lip and looks away.

His eyes drift down to his unlit tablet and still. He’s thinking over his words as though there were a correct response.

Finally, he settles for, “It must have been hard for you in the orphanage.”

“On the contrary, an orphanage would have been the second best option had Mycroft’s family not taken me in.”

Dr. Watson feels a pang kick deep within his chest.

“You lived on the streets.” He clarifies.

After a minute of no response, Dr. Watson risks a look at his flatmate.

Another pang strikes through him upon making contact with her cold, ice blue gaze. It’s like she doesn’t feel anything.

There’s absolutely no emotion within them.

No excitement, no worry, no fear, no anger…

The gaze is dead.

“I grew up alone in one of many underground shelters. It was not difficult, nor painful. It was reality… something people like Henry are not fortunate enough to experience.”

Dr. Watson gives a slow, steady nod that ends with his gaze hitting the table. “We can hold out a little longer.” He decides with a reach for his tablet.

Silently, he turns it back on and reads over the last passage of his log post.

—-

“And where is Sherlock?” Henry asks with a walk around his spacious office. He holds Dr. Watson’s guilty eye contact as he adjusts his tie and pulls up a seat.

The man’s office lacks sentiment.

There are few objects along his table, walls, and shelves, but all objects that are present cannot be worth less than a small fortune.

Windows extend along the wall at Dr. Watson’s left while but a single tinted door sits at his right.

The space is both open and entrapping at the same time.

“Right, well.” Dr. Watson breaks the eye contact and clears his throat.

When Henry gestures to the seats before his desk, the doctor humbly obliges.

“Hope would like me to asses whether or not this case is, umm...” He gestures vaguely with his hand. “A case worthy- uhh- of the great, umm...”

“Sherlock Homes.” Henry finishes.

“We’re trying to stay away from that, but, uhh… Essentially yes, yes.” The poor bloke nods and shifts in discomfort.

It’s no wonder Hope turned this case down.

This man is completely one sided.

He knows you, but you will never know him.

Heaven forbid you allow him to know you better than you know yourself.

“Ah, right, yes.” Henry chuckles out. “Moriarty, isn’t it? Almost hard to believe the events in your log are real.”

“Very real.” Dr. Watson assures. “To me, Moriarty is just another name for death.”

“He’s going to get you?” Henry asks from across the table.

Dr. Watson doesn’t hesitate in responding, “I fear he’s going to get all of us.”

—-

Dr. Watson limps up the steps of 221B. His motions are heavy, tired, and more than a little tipsy.

Dr. Watson stops at the top of the stairs to lean heavily against the railing. “Oh…” He moans with a grab at his temple.

His mind is swimming.

He can’t even remember what the wealthy bastard had wanted at this point.

The doctor makes a right pivot to skip over the door to their main living space and instead invade the sectioned off kitchen beside it.

The space for cooking is small, but more than enough room for two kitchen novices.

Drowsily, Dr. Watson limps inside the naturally lit space and reaches for the cupboard. It takes him two tries to find the one with glasses in it, but then it’s smooth sailing as he fills it with carefully proportioned sink water.

His bottom lip quivers when he presses the glass against it. The man’s hand then does a similar spasm when he goes to set the drink down.

Deep breaths.

Dr. Watson leans against the counter and takes a heavy breath. After a beat, he lets it out and tries another grab at his water.

It’s far more controlled than his first attempt.

“Mmph.” Dr. Watson huffs just before slamming his glass back down upon the counter. He could use a good nap right about now.

Dr. Watson rinses out his glass, then sets it down upon the auto-drying rack for all of ten seconds before the system’s humming stops and he puts the glass back into the single missing gap of Hope’s perfectly organized collection.

He swears that girl has two people living inside that tiny body of hers.

One day she’s cleaning the dust out of corners with cotton swabs, the next she’s exploding pigs in their living room.

Dr. Watson humms through the motions of turning and walking out of the kitchen. He’s careful to avoid the broken lock pad in fear of being cut by one of the many pointed shards sticking out of the wall. Instead, he pushes the door inward and steps through without a second thought on the matter.

That is…

Unit he finds Hope pinned to his favorite arm chair by a woman of considerable height and beauty.

The woman’s dark hair curls to the waist of her little black dress. She’s wearing strappy heels that draw the eye to dramatic curves and finally pale green eyes.

Painted red lips quirk upon catching sight of the new arrival.

The woman then grins when the much smaller woman beneath her mutters, “I can explain.”

—-

Dr. Watson eyes his phone, then pockets it. His meeting with Henry is drawing near.

“Problem?”

Dr. Watson starts from within his armchair. His eyes dart immediately to the ex-forensic analyst plucking at strings from across the room.

She’s been staring at him, observing his nervous ticks and jitters.

“Well, I-” He stops mid-sentence to take a breath and stand. At his full height, he looks down upon Hope. “I feel like grabbing a pint. Care to join me?”

Hope drops her line of sight at the inquiry. “No.” She mutters in disinterest.

Dr. Watson nods at his own clever deceit. “Shouldn’t be long.” He assures, not that Hope is in any way showing him her attention.

Instead she plucks idly at the violin’s strings.

The ground is her latest object of interest.

Nodding again, Dr. Watson turns with a smile and makes his way toward the door.

He stops but once at the closed doorway to look back at Hope.

It’s in that moment he feels a pang of guilt for not telling her he’s proceeding with the case on his own.

…In her name.

Then he remembers the time she tried to get him shot in the shoulder and, like magic, the guilt fades away.

Dr. Watson huffs an amused little noise as he unlocks the flat’s door with a tap at a screen and walks out.

The hunk of wood and metal swings shut after he steps through, but it does little to dull the man’s uneven tapping.

Hope stills any and all movements to listen as the last of the steps are taken until the front door, too, closes in the good doctor’s wake.

One, two, three…

Hope stands abruptly from her seat and scurries to the door. It’s when she passes the dining table that she expels the violin from her person and carries on alone.

A touch of a screen, slam of a door, repetitious step after step…

Hope scurries down the steps and through the front door without wasting a breath.

She glides through the front door and out into the walkway Dr. Watson is standing in front of. Back to her, he watches as the hovercrafts and people glide by.

There’s still time to waste.

And it’s a nice day, so why not?

The man winces with a look up at the cloudless sky. A chuckle of good fortune bubbles up from his throat and he smiles. The day truly is beautiful.

Hope stares at the doctor’s back in almost pained curiosity as she tip toes passed him and a family of five. Six if one includes the dog, which they most certainly do.

It takes all of Hope’s willpower to not catch Dr. Watson in his lie, but she manages.

After all, the man’s lingering on the front step, his head raised to the sun beams and a smile stretching his face.

He’s far from the nerve ridden, frustrated man Dr. Watson turns into before taking a drink.

Which implies the anxiety had been caused by something other than alcoholism.

Brow bent inward, Hope leaves Dr. Watson behind to instead duck into the nearest alley. She moves swiftly through the narrow side street and down the railing lined path behind her building.

It takes no time at all for the young woman’s muscle memory to kick in. If one didn’t know any better they might assume she’s in a hot pursuit, what with the way her legs are kicking her forward and all.

She jumps a barrier with ease and then ascends an alley’s fire escape. For anyone lacking experience, this could take a great deal of time and effort, but Hope reaches the third floor without breaking a sweat.

It’s with similar swiftness that Hope then rolls into an empty flat through it’s open window.

The curtains hanging over the open space blow inward at the disturbance of air, then settle.

All is quiet in the small, empty flat.

This isn’t her first time invading such a space.

Nor would she promise it to be her last.

Steadily, Hope rises to a stand and scans the wide living space.

The telly is off, but beside the crooked remote and upon the coffee table sits a half eaten bowl of cereal and nearly full mug of coffee.

The dark liquid steams from it’s right handed setting.

He left in a hurry.

Hope walks further into the apartment and around a corner until she hits the kitchen space.

Again, the space is rather bland.

Water drips lazily from the sink. It makes a heavy thud at every droplet of water.

Thud, thud, thud…

Hope continues onward until she reaches the main bedroom. Her hands slide into her pockets as she walks over to the closet and stops before the closed door.

When she retracts her hands, they’re each holding a synthetic glove. One by one she pulls them on.

The material slaps at her skin after having released the elastic.

Blue eyes hold on the lock pad beside the door. It’s an older model.

A deep red light illuminates the lock’s thick edges in an attempt to scare off anyone like Hope.

However, she finds it little more than patronizing.

2332

Four numbers.

That’s all it takes to infiltrate the system.

A chime rings out around the room and a moment later the unusually heavy door falls open until meeting the wall at it’s side.

It holds there in wait.

Hope steps into the closet. She’s careful not to touch any more than she has to as she pushes a handful of old suits out of the way before meeting what she knew she would find.

A built in safe.

Hope’s fingers dance over the metal screen where a key would need to be presented to unlock such a device.

One key.

One way in.

Her pointer finger stops at the safe’s nearly invisible edge and holds there.

She’s unmovable, and yet… her mind is racing a mile a minute.

It’s not a bad model. In fact, it’s one of the best volts in the After World.

Small, reinforced… Even the carbonized glass can withstand up to ten tons of pressure.

It would take a bomb to break through the surface and even then one would set off a priority alarm and no doubt damage whatever lies within it’s confines.

So it’s probably a good thing she remembered to bring the key.

Hope pulls out a rough, uneven piece of copper and holds the negative charge down against the glass screen. After a second of ultrasonic vibrating and a twist of Hope’s wrist, the door to the safe slides open and Hope reaches inside.

She pulls out a small object and stuffs it into her pocket as though she fears a potential audience.

Carefully, she closes the safe’s door and prepares to place everything back to how she’d originally found it.

It’s an easy enough task considering the barren state she found it in, but the photograph upon the adjacent dresser lets tell a personal touch.

Within the image is a man of odd familiarity. Beside him is another man with an identical, if not slightly aged, face. They’re embracing one another with grins across their faces and crows feet folding the corners of their eyes.

Happy.

Hope has a few theories as to why Gregson no longer smiles like that.

—-

Gregson glares at the convict smiling back at him. Around the man’s belt is a key chain with a virtually indistinguishable key to the one Hope has just used to break into the owner’s safe.

The Detective Inspector snuffs at the air and shifts in his chair. His arms have been crossed for little over half an hour now. His lips have been shut for twice that length.

Smiling back at him is the real Sebastian Moran, assailant of the admirable General Lucas and number one suspect in a series of murders.

Dark eyes stare innocently from under untamed eyebrows.

“Why am I here, detective?”

Surprise, surprise, he’s met with silence.

Sebastian sighs.

“If your goal is to make me uncomfortable, get me to talk, you’re dead on the money. Now, don’t over play it.”

Gregson’s lips part, but no sound comes out. Eyes still on Sebastian, he sits up in his chair and sets his elbows down upon the table. He doesn’t so much as blink as he says, “Your partner was found dead in the showers just over an hour ago.”

Sebastian gives away nothing.

Gregson can feel his lips chapping. When he licks at his lips his tongue is met with flaky flesh. “He was supposed to stand trial today.”

The criminal’s eyes widen and lips quirk in feigned surprise. “Shame.”

“He was just a kid.”

“Forgive me if I don’t shed a tear, but I’ve never met the boy.”

Gregson swipes the left side of his mouth and leans back. He’s smiling in aggravation as he glances to the mirror at his back.

When he looks back at Sebastian, the man is as calm as it gets. “I think you’re lying. I think you know all about Moriarty’s plan to start a war with France and I think you killed Thomas because he was going to rat on you and Sir Robert.”

“Thomas?” Sebastian echos. “I could have sworn his name was Marvin.”

Gregson’s face reddens in fury, but he keeps his fists balled upon the table. Slowly, ever so slowly, he stands and leans forward until he can smell the sweat on Sebastian’s brow. Quietly, he hisses, “You killed a boy…” His eyes dart up and down the sniper’s detached expression. “And you can’t even remember his name.”

Straightening out, Gregson steps back from the table and turns his back on Sebastian. Without so much as looking at the man, he snarls, “Enjoy living life with death as your shadow, Moran. You deserve it.”

The door falls shut at Gregson’s back, blocking him from Sebastian.

The guard by the door says nothing and instead allows Gregson to move to the viewing room without pause.

It takes a raise of his badge, but the door slides open for him with ease.

He steps inside and up to the two sided mirror.

Beside him, Lestrade bites at his right thumb and sways at the heels of his feet. “I’m not convinced he did it.” Lestrade mumbles around his thumb.

Gregson glances behind his shoulder at the woman standing at the back of the room, then to Lestrade.

The junior detective meets the look, then stutters out an awkward introduction of, “O-oh, umm. Gregson, this is Miss Adler. She’s from the city of Oliver. According to the department’s notice, she’s on the case.” Lestrade humms with an idle look back out the see through mirror.

Sebastian seems unusually calm given the circumstances.

Miss Adler’s heels click against the floor boards as she stretches out a hand and broad smile. “Irene, please.”

Gregson takes one glance at the woman’s long, black, perfectly manicured finger tips and snarls. To Lestrade, he barks, “You don’t find that odd?”

Lestrade shrugs a look between Miss Adler and Gregson. “She checks out.”

Irene drops her hand to her waist line and pops a hip. “You’re being awfully rude, gentlemen. You particularly, Detective Inspector Gregson.” She makes a point of saying.

Gregson gives the dark haired woman a wary look that spans from the toes of her strappy red heels to her vibrant green eyes.

Long wavy curls hide beneath a white Captain’s hat, but several strands have no trouble finding means of escape.

She’s wearing a decorated navy uniform, not that one would have guessed it given the way she’s pulling it off.

The bright white of her uniform is dulled significantly by the poor lighting of the viewing room, but the color and medals of honor are still easy to recognize.

“Captain Adler, eh?” Gregson finally grunts.

Irene nods.

“Well, shit.”

—-

Hope scans the spare badge Gregson has gone through every means of protecting into the lock pad between cell blocks A and B.

She’s in her old tech gear, which makes it easy for her to gain access to restricted areas of the prison without arousing suspicion. In fact, most try to avoid as much contact as possible with the lab geek.

The superiority, isolation…

She’s missed it.

The cell door slides open just long enough for her to step through before it slams closed behind her.

Inmates howl at her presence, but only a few can actually see her given the fact that they are all quarantined to their individual cells until the crime scene is cleared.

There’s a familiar feel that comes with the loud shouting and simultaneously silent threats that ring through a cell block.

Danger.

Hope keeps her head held high as she paces down the empty space between cells and out through another wide open hallway.

The walls are an obscene custard color. The smooth tones of the barren walls bounce off of the floor’s white and gray speckled tiles that do little to distract from the joint aching cement beneath them.

Hope takes on a sharp corner only to backtrack the second she sees some of her old coworkers hovering around the taped off crime scene.

They look the same as her.

White lab coats, latex gloves, navy blue Scotland Yard Forensic analysis jackets… And yet they all look so different.

They’re hovering around the bathroom doors, bickering, arguing.

They can’t agree on something.

Hope tilts her head to better observe her ex-colleagues as they hesitate in spreading out.

One step forward, two steps back.

Every time one of them turns to take their leave, someone says something to reel them back into the argument.

They’re shouting in whispers, making it impossible to decipher what it is, exactly, they’re fighting about.

Posture.

Slouching. Angled. Bent at the knees.

Hand movements.

Rapid. Wide. Aggressive.

Features.

Red skin. Wide eyes. Bent brows.

Voice.

Quiet. Strained. Enunciated.

Conclusion.

Clearly they’re talking about something which must not be discussed. A secret. They’re hiding something. They have to.

Danger.

It’s dangerous.

“We can’t.”

Hope reads these two words on several of the analysts’ lips, but even they are hard to read from this distance.

Regardless, their repetition suggests it to be the strongest argument on the opposing side.

Clap.

Clap.

Hope shoots her head forward at the interruption of conflict-shy Lestrade.

“What’s going on?” Lestrade asks with wondrous, outstretched hands.

Six forensic analysts in total stand before the detective, but none dare meet the young man’s eyes.

“It’s nothing, sir. It won’t happen again.” A red head apologizes with a look to the ground.

“What are you-?” Lestrade tries to ask, but he’s cut off by his far bolder partner coming up behind him.

Gregson strides passed Lestrade and, after a moment of hesitation on the red head’s part, snatches the initial forensic findings from the group.

Gregson scrolls the tablet. “All these years and I still can’t read a bloody thing on these reports.”

“It-it umm…” The red head, Matthew, stutters. “There’s no sign of foul play, sir.”

Irene and two of her vessel’s officers turn the corner just as Gregson slams the tablet down upon the cement flooring, causing the tile to crack.

Matthew jumps at the noise and reaches to cover the back of his neck. He then bends it to look anywhere but the detective’s eyes when the man shouts, “Don’t you dare try to tell me that boy cut himself up like that!”

Irene’s eyes drift away from the painfully dramatic scene playing out in front of her to instead hold upon a connecting hallway where she could have sworn she’d seen something move.

“Not like that!” Gregson shouts. “Not today!”

—-

Dr. Watson taps his thumbs repeatedly together. His leg, be it conscious or subconsciously, taps with them.

His hearing is dulled, and yet somehow still hyperactive as he watches the pen swirl in front of him. It makes a loud, smooth draw around another cursive letter.

The writing is upside down, but with so many zeros Dr. Watson knows he won’t dare complain.

“You’re sure you want paper?”

Dr. Watson startles a look up at Henry.

“I beg your pardon?”

Henry grins. “Paper.” He restates. Idly, he lifts the paper, holograph stamped check into the air. “It’s so easy to misplace.”

Dr. Watson’s eyes move with the flimsy sheet of paper.

“Yes, well… In my experience, computers are just as vulnerable.”

Henry humms, low and quick. “I feel I’m inclined to agree with you, Dr. Watson.”

The check slides against the coated grains of wood that constitute Henry’s desk. A moment later it’s snatched into the air and Dr. Watson stands. His eyes glance to the numbers on the check mid-fold only to double back a second later.

His mouth parts in shameless awe.

“That’s the deposit.” Henry promises with a lean back in his chair. “You’ll receive the second half when you’ve dispatched of the threat to my family’s inheritance.”

Dr. Watson’s ogle falters just long enough to look the other man in his dark, soulless eyes.

“Dispatch?”

Henry looks off to the side, then back at the doctor. “Yes. Obviously. You’re the gun, Holmes is the brain, yes? That is how your team works, isn’t it? Justice outside the law?”

Dr. Watson feels his stomach drop more and more at each passing question.

“Wrong.” His voice cracks, then clears. He tosses the check onto the desk. “I don’t-…” He lets out a long, steadying breath. “We don’t work that way. You’ve been vastly misinformed, good sir.”

“That right?”

Henry leans over his desk. When his elbows hit the wood his hands fold to cover his agile quirk of lips.

“That’s right.” Dr. Watson confirms.

Dark eyes on blue/gray, Henry asks, “So it wasn’t you who killed the man responsible for sending the wedding up in flames?”

For a moment there’s a pause.

Then Dr. Watson shuffles a bewildered step forward. “Who?”

Henry drops his smile and leans back. “Curious.” He mumbles while making a grab for his check. Without a moment’s pause the man rips the paper in two. “I suppose I’ll have to deal with Holmes directly, won’t I?”

Dr. Watson’s brow knits. “She isn’t like that. Neither of us are.”

Henry snorts, and all of a sudden Dr. Watson remembers just how much he hates the wealthy.

“You clearly know nothing of your partner in crime, Dr. Watson.”

He wants to say something, to defend Hope, but the look this man is giving him has caused his tongue to catch.

It would seem he knows very little of Hope.

—-

Hope stares down at the corpse of Thomas K. Lupas.

The inmate bathing area is barren.

A handful of tinted, unbreakable glass showers line one of the walls while stalls, sinks, and urinals line the other.

It’s a small bathroom, not easy to get in and out of without being seen.

No system malfunction, no glitch work, two guards waiting by the entrance, and yet a body lies dead in the shower.

The supposed murder weapon, a small shank made up of broken mirror and a torn segment of sock, rests in the boy’s bloodied palm.

Perimortem cuts to the hand line with the blade of the weapon in a way that suggests his hand slipped a number of times through the process of cutting at something, be it himself or something/someone else.

Suicide?

A plausible theory, but…

Hope scans the sliced heap of a body. It’s excessive considering the cause of death came from the dash across the wrists, but there are no bruises, no marks of restraint or really anything to imply he fought with an assailant.

Access to a chemical screening could come of use…

Hope reaches into her lab coat and pulls out a small rectangular box. It’s made of black glass that lights a dull gray where her fingers connect with it.

After adjusting her stance, Hope signs the face of the screen and the box unlocks.

She opens it’s face to reveal a standard forensic set. Tubes, swabs, lenses, tweezers, ect.

It’s after taking a blood sample that Hope gets the chance to stand upright and lean over the body. The blood drains, as one might expect, toward the open drain none bothered to close.

Fortunately, however, most of the evidence has been saved due to a coincidental clogging of the drain.

But, should coincidences not exist…

Hope pulls the magnifying lens out of her set and bends down into an awkward, evidence saving curve of limbs and magnificent balance.

Hair, of course, is the cause of faulty plumbing.

Long, dark, and shapely.

Very much unlike the victim’s.

Hope reaches down with her tweezers to pull out a few samples from the drain. At closer inspection she can see the root is of a lighter color and the bulb is still intact.

It will no doubt be an excellent sample for DNA testing.

Could it be from another inmate? Yes.

Should it prove to be otherwise, there will be no doubt this case involves more than the silly conclusions many might jump to at first glance.

—-

Hope stands at the laboratory side table set up against the back wall of 221B’s living space.

Blood.

She dabs the sample against the slide, then sets it within the datascope’s stabilized chamber. Without waiting for the results, Hope bends over the machine’s lens to take a look at the blood cells.

No signs of blood thinner, no clotting, no obvious signs of abuse or contamination…

The sky clouds to cover the setting sun.

Reddish gray beams of light filter in through the open window. It would be wise to close them given the darkness rolling in, but Hope is too preoccupied to deal with such trivial matters.

A chime echoes out.

Hope moves away from the sample to remove the clean, dye-less stand of brunette from the machine. Now that it’s completely free of contaminants she can crush the sample against it’s confining tube and a glass rod until it creates a fine, almost powder-like substance.

Another chime.

Hope removes what’s left of the blood sample and replaces it with a slide of finely crushed hair.

Setting the blood down, Hope removes her latex gloves and steps over to the glass screen mounted upon her wall. It sits alight with the toxicology report and a perfect DNA match to inmate 08891232- DECEASED.

No drugs.

No chemicals.

And as she previously observed, no self-defense wounds.

Hope stares intently at the screen before her in an attempt to find anything out of the usual. But aside from the expected malnutrition of a man in prison, his sample is clean.

All signs are pointing to suicide.

All except-

Hope’s head tilts just before she hears the living room window slam closed. Immediately following, a chime rings out for the hair’s DNA results.

There’s a match.

“Oh, dear.” A woman sighs from beside the window.

Hope glances at the screen.

Heels tap against the flooring. “Although, I can’t honestly say I’m surprised.” The woman shrugs through her approach.

Hope looks into venomous green eyes hidden beneath a Captain’s white cap.

Irene Adler- Captain of the After World's USS ALICE, are the words above the woman's head.

Hope pries her eyes away from the screen to instead turn and face the real thing.

Irene Adler stops her approach nothing but a breath away, then leans forward. The much smaller woman stands her ground, allowing her space to be infiltrated for the sake of appearing the stronger of the two.

Long, curly strands of dark brunette fall forward to hit Hope in the cheek, then steady in the space between them.

“I shed like a dog, after all.” Irene muses in a whisper.

The woman towers over Hope, and only partially because of her red stiletto heels.

A silver, chain link bracelet with an anchor charm drapes twice around Irene’s wrist. It’s merely this one piece of jewelry and a little black dress that breaks up the otherwise caramel canvas of Captain Irene Adler.

Her tanned skin glows in comparison to Hope’s sick and pasty flesh.

“You are suggesting-”

Irene winces and leans away from Hope upon catching an earful of the young woman’s excessive volume.

“That your hair fell out whilst inspecting the body, however,” Hope tilts her head and tries a step out from the woman’s attempted confines. “I know for fact that this is not the case.”

Irene licks at wet red lips. Her voice carries in a wave of exhaustion as she inquires, “And how’s that, Miss Holmes?”

“For starters,” Hope reaches across the lab bench to pick up a second sample of hair with some tweezers. “this hair- your hair- was webbed in and around the shower's drain pipe, suggesting it had been guided and/or forced into the drain by the pressure of water.” Hope mumbles with a gentle lowering of her evidence holding hand. “And second...” She continues, “The fact that you're here, that you've sought me out and broken into my flat, can only mean you knew I would find this... And that you intend to do something about it.”

Hope stares dully at Irene Adler, a Captain with far too much to lose.

Irene stares back as though she were thinking this through, plotting her course of action.

A Captain’s trait, no doubt.

Thoughtful, patient, concise.

Which begs the question…

Hope steps away from her in-home lab. Her hands fold behind her back as she takes several steps to the right until she’s inoffensively trapped Irene between herself and the lab. “Enlighten me.” Hope says without a twitch of emotion. “What could a sea Captain such as yourself possibly gain from seeing the world at war? A promotion? Death? Are you bored? Being threatened? Paid?”

Irene smiles. “So many questions.” She breathes. “You really are quite curious, aren’t you?”

Hope says nothing in wait for a response to her previous inquiries.

Irene clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth, then makes a few rounded steps of her own so that they stand parallel one another.

It’s a nonthreatening advancement, but still Irene’s movements are abrasive. She has a goal and distance unrelated, she’s reaching it.

Cat and mouse.

A game.

Both are completing against one another for the role of cat, and yet both are equally qualified.

The two maintain eye contact as though one glance away will be all it takes to lose the game.

Game, game, game…

Hope wonders if she’ll ever get sick of them.

Irene bites her bottom lip, looks up and down the height of her competitor, and then releases it.

“You're unusually small in stature, Miss Holmes.” Irene huffs out a laugh. “I almost feel I could carry you around in my pocket- so thin, so short, so frail...” Irene's tongue holds the “L”.

Hope’s tone is cool and collected as she responds, “If you’re going to size me up, I suggest you account for my resourcefulness. You’d be amazed by how much little can do.”

Irene’s lips tug at the warning.

“Yes.” She agrees with a downward tilt of her chin so that she is no longer looking down her nose at the P.I. “I see that, now.”

“Fantastic.” Hope mutters.

A stillness befalls the duo.

With the tavern downstairs out of business the flat has become unusually quiet. It’s as though the building has lost it’s previous life, dangerous as it had been.

No smell of cigars, loud conversations, drunken stupor, or even secretive whispers.

The space has lost it’s livelihood.

And fallen prey to silence.

“I didn’t kill that man.”

Irene’s confession is followed by more silence.

The air has turned still, so still that one can hear the people chatting outside, their breaths, and their heartbeats all at the same volume.

Irene takes a forward step and in response, Hope steps back.

It only takes a second, but in that moment caution, alarm, and distrust break through the mask Hope has long since built for herself.

Irene glides her tongue over the back of her lip and repeats, very slowly, “I did not kill that man, Sherlock.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“It’s your name.”

A breeze drifts in through the second window and with it stirs a chill.

The door downstairs unlatches and falls open. A man with a limp shuffles into the entryway downstairs. He coughs once into something soft- a sleeve, and shuts the door behind himself.

His steps are heavy and uneven as he starts up the stairs.

Its obvious to the ear that the man is having more than a little difficulty keeping his balance and not just because of an improperly cared for bullet wound.

“Oh…” Dr. Watson moans from behind the door. He leans his body against the railing and in doing so, taps his jacket zipper against the iron bar.

He’s just outside the door, but he doesn’t come in. Instead, he moves to his right, toward the kitchen, and walks inside.

“Sounds like the doctor’s had a bad day.” Irene observes.

Hope straightens at the mention of the doctor. “Keep him out of this.”

Irene’s brow lifts and smile tugs. “Oh?”

“He is irrelevant and distracting. It would be an unfair advantage.” Hope protests.

Miss Irene Adler, Captain of the USS ALICE, takes another step forward. She’s more than pleased when the other challenges her by standing her ground. “Well,” She purrs. “We wouldn’t want that, now, would we?” Another forward step. “Not when I already have such an,” her breath hitches and feet advance. Long, slim fingers brush at the chaotic stands of hair shaping Hope’s face. “unfair advantage.”

Black painted nails scrape the skin of Hope’s cheek, down to her chin, before retracting.

Irene bends until she’s certain the other woman can feel her breath on her cheek. It’s between controlled breaths that she whispers, “I’ve taken it into account.”

She pushes at Hope’s shoulders, hard.

The smaller woman flies back at the impact and into the arm of Dr. Watson’s favorite armchair. Her spine hits against the cushioned frame of an arm and she curls. Body wounded and vulnerable, Irene grabs Hope by the shirt and wrist, forcing her into a seated position.

Hand still over wrist, Irene crawls over the smaller woman. Her breathing is ragged, uneven. Smiling, she reaches for the dagger she keeps tucked within her thigh holster only to feel it’s absence.

Hope doesn’t squirm beneath the woman but instead holds her eye and remains as still as she can manage. Calmly, she explains to the woman, “You’ve miscalculated it’s worth.”

A wide, amused grin stretches the Captain’s lips to the point of discomfort.

It’s then the door to the flat’s living space falls open and Dr. Watson comes limping into the scene.

He freezes at the sight of a beautiful woman entangled with Hope on his armchair.

He looses his chance to shut his gaping mouth and ask a real question when Hope lets out a steady, “I can explain.”

—-

“I understand the game. And to be frank, I intend to win.” Irene explains. She sits with her legs crossed over one another. Her hands clasp above her right knee. She’s sitting punctually in Hope’s armchair as though she were at a job interview rather than an interrogation.

“Win?” Dr. Watson echoes. He reaches up to rub at his aching temple. After Hope’s whirlwind of a story one would think he’d sober up, but as it turns out, the complexities of such a thing only dimmed his already befuddled wit. “What, is there a prize, now?”

“Survival.” Hope explains from within the chair Dr. Watson is leaning against.

Irene nods a yes.

The natural light is fading. This shadows the living space, making it far colder than it needs be.

Without leaving pale green Hope reaches down between the cushions and pulls out a bejeweled dagger. The weapon’s case has been drowned in well cared for jewels, mostly diamond, some ruby. They sparkle a clean white and vibrant red in the dark room.

The sheath of the knife curves to a round, solid tip of white gold.

Irene’s chest fills with air at the sight and she straightens impossibly more.

Hope holds the weapon by it’s diamond dusted, t-shaped handle and gives it a proper look over.

Dr. Watson takes one look at the weapon and frowns. His eyes darken.

“Jewels, rubies and riches…” Hope whispers.

Irene turns away from the dagger and closes her eyes in frustration.

Hope unsheathes the dagger to reveal a shining surface of white gold. The knife’s surface is inscribed with a symmetric, bowing symbol that curves left, then right.

“Peace.” Dr. Watson snorts. He darts a look to Irene. “I knew it. That symbol? You’re a member of the rebellion.”

“I stand alone.” Irene corrects.

Hope sheaths the dagger in one loud, sharp movement. “And yet you have an After World vessel and crew at your back. How is that?”

“I’m resourceful.” The woman coos.

“I’m sure you had a bit of help.”

“Perhaps.”

Dr. Watson narrows a look between the two women. He hears the words passed between them, but it’s as if they’re having another conversation all together, one he’s been excluded from.

Hope tosses the dagger at Irene and, instinctively, she catches it. Black coated claws dig into the expensive piece of weaponry. Perplexed, the woman asks, “You’re giving it back?”

“Obviously.” Hope drones. “The cuts on the body were rugged and uneven. They came from a shank of mirror, not a dagger. Your toy is irrelevant to the case.”

“Toy.” Irene echoes through an unexpected smile. She looks down to the expensive keepsake and her smile softens. It turns from aggressive and provocative to sweet and sincere. “I thought I was going to have to take it from you.”

“Excuse me,” Dr. Watson interrupts. His hand shoots out to gesture toward Miss Adler. “but I don’t believe either of you explained just what it is you’re doing here.” He blinks rapidly through his thoughts, then adds a quick, “Ma’am.” as an after thought.

“Fair question, I suppose.” Irene holsters her dagger in it’s custom leather casing, then pulls down her dress for modesty. After a quick shift for comfort she confesses, “I’ve come to check out the competition.” She looks to Hope. “And I must say, I’m both surprised,” she turns to look at Dr. Watson; “and relieved.”

Dr. Watson’s eyebrows drop on their own accord.

“I’m a free spirit.” She goes on to say. “I can live with threats, but what I can’t have is some man watching my every move.” Again, she shifts in her seat and looks between the duo. “It’s bad for business.”

“Hmmph.” Dr. Watson huffs. “I’m sure it is.”

Irene snaps a dangerous smile the doctor’s way. “I’ve studied the book, my character, all of the characters, really. I’ve analyzed this man’s patterns, his triggers, nothing is without cause. His work and our brief encounters have been meticulous. But what I don’t understand…” Irene lets out a huff and shrugs. “Is your role, Dr. Watson.” A chuckle bubbles at the base of her throat as the woman asks, “Just what, exactly, do you bring to the table?”

Dr. Watson deflates at the insult and in doing so, drops the eye contact.

“I mean your blog is awful-”

Then don’t read it.” Dr. Watson snaps.

“She’s bating you, Dr. Watson.” Hope tilts her head to rest against a propped arm. “Don’t let her control your thoughts and actions.”

Dr. Watson exhales for a moment’s peace. Once his guard is properly in place he looks Irene Adler in the eye and holds it, strong and sure.

His “inner soldier”, Hope refers to this part of him, as.

Irene notices the atmosphere’s shift and smiles in it’s face. She’s no stranger to a challenge.

—-

Gregson stares at the body laid out before him. The boy had agreed to testify, to tell the world what he knew, and this is what that good deed got him.

Shanked in a shower.

Thick fingers rub into the dry crows feet at the corners of Gregson’s eyes.

It’s been a long day.

His inhale comes with an aroma of early decay and wet iron. It’s a hazard of the job, but he’ll never be accustom to the smells and sights he signed up for.

Every day of his life he’s surrounded by death and yet he’s still foolish enough to think that putting on a suit and strapping on a badge is going to make some sort of difference.

“Excuse me? Detective Inspector?”

Gregson pulls his hand away from his face, but not before brushing the side of his wide red nose. He turns his head away from red and custard to meet eyes with the red head who just walked in.

“You’re that idiot.” Gregson says. His voice carries in the otherwise small and silent space. “The one who insists this is a suicide.”

Matthew gives a little shrug and looks down to his hands. His breathing is shaky and hands a jitter as they fiddle with an opened envelope that’s been stamped with a red seal.

Gregson’s eyes draw to the wax “M” like a magnet. “Where did you get that?” He barks.

Matthew feels a sting in his eye and tremble in his bottom lip. It takes courage, a lot of it, to look up from the envelope and hand it over.

Gregson takes the paper from Matthew’s shaky hands without hesitation and pulls it open. Inside is a single sheet of card stock. It’s practically a replica of the one already in evidence, he finds.

Except this time… this time is beholds the word:

Jessica

“My daughter.” Mathew chokes out. “W-we all got one this morning. Just before receiving the call.” He explains with a pained look to the corpse at his feet. His breathing stutters and tears build up until they’re overflowing. “I-it’s a threat, right? If we tell you?”

Gregson spreads the tips of his fingers across the smooth parchment. The cursive handwriting… there’s no doubt it belongs to the same person who wrote the first letter.

He shouldn’t ask. He knows he shouldn’t ask.

But he has to.

After all… it’s part of the job.

“Tell me what?”

—-

The room is dark. It’s lit only by the lampposts outside and what little moonlight has managed to filter it’s way in.

It’s cold, and there’s a draft, but no one seems compelled enough to reset the window.

Instead they stay paralyzed in their spots while air bites at their cheeks and chills their fingers.

“Did Moriarty tell you to kill that boy? Or was that all you?”

Hope’s words break the silence, but not for long.

What follows is another wave of discomfort before Irene finally speaks up to say, “I’ve already told you. I didn’t kill him.”

“Perhaps I should have said sooner, but I felt my disbelief had been implied.” Hope retorts.

Irene leans forward in her seat. “You’re wasting time on this, Holmes. What you should be doing is tracking down Moriarty. Anything else is a distraction. You should know that.”

Dr. Watson drops his line of sight to the woman sitting in the armchair he’s leaning against.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The noise is faint, as though it were coming from a distance, but as it draws nearer it increases in volume.

Irene darts a panicked look to the door, then to Hope. “What did you do?” She stands from her seat. “I’m being set up. Can’t you see that? This is Moriarty’s doing!” She shouts in frustration. “You’re supposed to be able to see that!”

Dr. Watson’s head snaps to the door at the sound of their front door being blown off it’s hinges.

Hope sets her hands defenselessly on either arm rest and takes a breath. Her eyes drift to meet Irene’s, but the woman’s gone.

Disappeared into thin air, it would seem.

“Where’d she-?” Dr. Watson tries to ask, but he’s cut off by yet another door being propelled off of it’s hinges and into their living space. He barks out an angry, surprised noise as officers in uniform come piling into the room with large guns, not tasers, resting in their hands. They point them at Dr. Watson and particularly Hope.

“Hands up!” They shout, and Dr. Watson is inclined to do just that.

“What is this?” He asks, but he’s ignored, or rather, aggressively pulled by the back of his collar and tossed out of harm’s way.

For a moment he’s confused.

Then he sees Hope’s hands raise and his heart sinks.

Boots hit against the steps until the last of the officers are in position around the suspect.

“You’re-” Dr. Watson looks to Gregson and Lestrade as they enter the room. The former of the two holds out a holographic warrant in Dr. Watson’s direction. “You’re mistaken.” He insists.

“Dr. Watson, believe me… As much as I wish that were true?” Lestrade pinches a frown and shakes his head. “We’re not.”

HOPE

The Woman, Part Two

 

A Novelette

 

 

It’s dark. Very dark. In fact, Hope’s fairly certain there’s no light at all.

Improbable.

Unconscious. She must be unconscious.

Hope’s pushes through the darkness. It’s a struggle for control, but eventually the opposing side gives in and she can start to feel her eyelids.

It only takes a second more before she can push them open and reveal the light she couldn’t previously acknowledge.

Blue.

The light, itself, is white.

But the cold surroundings trick the eye into seeing blue.

Hope shivers and breath fogs.

Like a dragon breathing smoke, was what Gregson once said, correct?

Childish.

That’s a child’s game.

This is much more real.

Hope’s arms strain from the weight being forced upon them. Especially her wrists ache and bruise.

String.

Red, flexible, plastic string digs into fresh bruises at Hope’s pitiful attempt to pry herself free.

She’s hanging in a cooler midst a line of frozen swine. They’re bound before and behind her in this wide open space.

There are walking paths between each of the rows of swine and rubber matted floors made with enough traction to keep even the clumsiest of employees from falling.

Which begs the question…

Just which institution is this?

Where is she?

Hope bites back a shout as the numbing effect temporarily loses it’s impact on the split open flesh upon her temple.

It isn’t bleeding, but it’s infected.

It burns despite the below freezing temperature.

“Two nine… one eight nine five-” Hope hisses aloud. The rectangular device in her pocket chimes to acknowledge her access code. “Dr. Watson.” She breathes, and the phone sends out a signal to said doctor’s mobile.

—-

Dr. Watson smiles at the healthy, young, normal public transport attendant.

The young woman smiles back and gestures toward the right of the sleek bullet train.

The exterior is as black as night, while within the train has been designed for both class and comfort. It costs a pretty penny to get a boarding pass, but the privacy alone is worth it.

Irene Adler must have thought the same.

Dr. Watson slings his old military sack over his shoulder and walks to compartment C.

It consists of two benches, a wide window, and a privacy curtain that he immediately takes advantage of.

If Moriarty doesn’t already know where he is, he wants to keep it that way.

Dr. Watson sets his sack down on the opposing bench and drops to a seated position. It’s dusk outside and therefore leaves most of the lighting to the cute little bell shaped lamps above the window.

The red leather seat below his bottom is as comfortable as leather can get. It’s outlined by a gold frame that plays well off of the golden bell-style lights.

Dr. Watson scans outside the window, but the station is as barren as one might expect.

Not many dare travel in the foreshadow of war.

He sighs in relief, closes his eyes, and leans back.

It’s safe, he tells himself.

He’s safe.

The mobile in Dr. Watson’s pant pocket vibrates against his outer thigh.

Curious, the doctor pulls out his phone and frowns down at the name flashing before him.

Hope.

Why now?

What could she possibly want now?

He’s just about to get out of this game and yet here she is trying to drag him back in.

Dr. Watson holds down the red light until the clear glass fades clear once more.

At it’s silence, Dr. Watson opens the old window at his side and smashes his phone down against the pavement.

He’s had it with the games.

—-

“Dr. Watson is unavailable.” A computerized voice rings out through the enormous freezer.

Hope grits her teeth at that, then begs, “Lestrade. Call Lestrade- mmph.”

It hurts.

She’s been hanging here for quite some time.

“Miss Hope?”

Lestrade’s innocent, curious inquiry rings within the room.

“Lestrade.” She pants. “Lestrade, track my phone. I- I'm in a large, industrial freezer.” She slurs.

Her lips, tongue, cheeks- they're numb.

It makes it difficult to speak.

Spinning.

Her head is spinning, swaying…

Or is that the room?

“Miss Hope, are you alright-?”

“Give me that.” Gregson cuts in. “Stop it with the prank calls, Holmes, we’re busy.”

A resounding click signifies the connection’s been cut short.

All Hope can hear is her own heavy breathing as she hangs there in the florescent freezer.

No windows.

Just bright, blinding lights upon the ceiling.

“Mycroft.” Its her worst fear, involving her brother, but she’s out of options. “Call Mycroft.”

The following three beeps then indicate the temperature’s murderous affect on the glass device.

Power down.

Off.

No connection.

She’s on her own.

Hope’s head lolls forward.

She’s lost control of her fingers, of her limbs. She can’t shake, can’t lift her head…

Pale blue eyes are rimmed with vibrant pink.

Her eyes burn, if only for a second.

It’s cold and she’s grown weak. Whatever they have planned for her they better do fast…

Because she isn’t going to last long.

—-

Eight Hours Earlier…

Sun beams dust across the clouds to reach down and kiss those upon the ground.

The air is brisk.

If one hopes to stay warm, they best bring a jacket.

Hope’s jacket is a dirt brown. It plays poorly with her inmate tan shirt and trousers, and even worse with her black as night boots.

It’s loud where she’s being kept. The high security cell block is overpopulated, meaning she gets to spend the time before her trial mingling with large groups of other inmates.

Hope peers up over her shield of arms and drawn up knees to look across the tightly packed blacktop. She, as well as fifty or so other inmates, have been squished together like sardines between four walls of steel and a cloudy sky.

It’s to no surprise to her when she finds several of the conversations being had involve pointing in her direction, so she tucks her head back down and takes a breath.

Conversation, tobacco, sweat.

Nervous chewing on nails, scuffing of shoes, humming.

Dirty beneath the fingernails, oil slick hair, chapped lips.

Callouses, chipped nail polish, poor vision.

Bruises, cuts, bandages.

Hope drowns in her coat and uniform. She’s nothing but a small, insignificant inmate tucked against a back corner and yet she knows exactly who is and isn’t going home after their trial, where they’ve come from, what they do, and whether or not they’re guilty.

So why is her own situation so hard to read?

—-

“EEEEH.” A buzzer hisses. What follows is the click and clang of a door popping open and then closed.

Hope steps across the floor in slow, steady steps. To her left is a metal wall lined with a single bulletproof window. Back straight, she lowers herself down onto the metal chair that’s been welded to the floor of this small, four cornered space.

Her wrists and ankles are bound by wire. Should she speak out of turn or move in any way, she’ll be zapped.

Bright blue eyes glow in the poor lighting of Hope’s new cage.

She refuses to speak first and instead leaves that task up to her visitor, Dr. Watson.

Watson stares into the dark and dreary room Hope has been set in. Bright lights at his back glare Dr. Watson’s side of glass. But that doesn’t stop him from seeing the animalistic holdings his flatmate has been thrown into.

The steady hands of a doctor with years of experience in death and war shake as he rubs sweat from his palms to his trousers. The dark color of the pants hide the wet perspiration, but somehow he knows Hope can see it.

“They’re charging you with murder.”

Hope doesn’t feel inclined to confirm the obvious.

Dr. Watson glances to the guards at his back and tries again. “They're charging you with the serial killings. The women, engineers, the attempted murders at the wedding- all of them. They're saying you're Moriarty, Hope.”

Hope bats an eye, but that’s the extent of her response.

Frustration bubbles in Dr. Watson’s chest. He can feel heat climb up his neck, cheeks, and ears. It’s no doubt turning his skin a nice red.

“The letters, the handwriting- experts are saying Moriarty's letters were written with your hand, Hope. They found your hair at Thomas' crime scene and- and your bank account is full of untraceable funds! Just where did you get that kind of money?” Dr. Watson scoots forward in his chair. As the questions fall from his mouth his movements become more and more animated until he's eventually up and moving around. “What? Do you offer your 'services' for hire? Is that it? Is that what this is, Hope!?”

His chest heaves in the aftermath of his outspoken mind and with air he finds his composure coming back to him.

He licks his lips and looks away from Hope’s pitiful state to walk around his chair and grab at it’s back. “I don’t understand… Why aren’t you saying anything?” He mumbles to the ground.

“Dr. Watson…” Hope whispers.

Said doctor looks up from the ground. His eyes have turned red around the edges and knuckles white. Breathlessly, he begs her to continue.

To explain.

Hope blinks through a thought, then gets out, “Tell Mycroft to stop.”

Dr. Watson stares at Hope. He’s nothing but patient as he waits for her to continue, to tell him what he needs to hear.

But all he gets is, “He’ll understand.”

And nothing more.

—-

Mycroft sits punctually in a plush velvet armchair. Book in hand, he reads the pages of a grotesque take on New World history at the healthy rate of thirty pages a minute.

Dark eyes skim the paper copy of a classic.

Written by Robert Smith, a well known After World historian.

Unlike some, this gentleman is careful to leave out opinions and focus only on the facts that exist before him. Unfortunately for the New World, this turns Isaak Kazimir’s paradise into something rather ugly and difficult to understand.

After all, it fails to answer the simple question of why?

The fireplace at Mycroft’s feet warm the man’s trousers and the legs buried within them. Warm, quiet, comfortable…

The room’s curved architecture is entirely lined with books. Thousands upon thousands of them.

It’s the widest collection in the After World, that they know of.

And he has no doubt it will continue to grow. In fact, there are plans for expansion beginning just next June.

He’s sure the new levels will make the tower more marvelous than ever.

Ladies and gentlemen of all ages and government associations move slowly around the building as though they have more time than they can spend. It’s a beautiful open space with winding shelves, tall underpasses, and curled staircases everywhere you look.

Light filters beautifully through the clock-like mosaic ceiling and tea stained windows that fill the building.

It looks aged, but like most other After World designs, it’s brand new.

But unlike most places in the After World, this place is sanctuary. Noise, itself, seems distant.

In a word… It’s seclusion.

“Hey.”

Mycroft ceases mid-flip of a delicate, worn piece of paper.

At the sound of this single word, the spell is broken. In this single word… his safe haven is destroyed.

Mycroft licks his bottom lip in frustration. “Dr. Watson.” He greets without bothering to look up at the man standing idly behind his chair.

On the next floor up a visitor drops a book. The deafening, heart stopping noise echoes throughout the building and catches the attention of all.

Like Mycroft, now everyone has been pulled from the intriguing realm of literature.

Dr. Watson darts a look above at the noise, then does a subtle turn to try and find whom had dropped the book. To his surprise, all he finds is that he is the only one interested enough to look away from what it was they had been doing moments prior.

“What is this?” Dr. Watson can't help but ask. “Some sort of- of secret society? A cult?”

Moriarty flicks the hardcover closed and takes a breath. “A library.” He corrects.

“Oh.” Dr. Watson gives a vague nod. “It’s nice.” He tries, but Mycroft has already lost interest in his company.

“Go away.” He drones. “If I could get Hope out I would have by now. The higher ups have refused bail.”

Dr. Watson stands in place, unwilling to move.

Mycroft tosses his book beside a small pile he’s built up on the stand beside his chair. After another winded sigh he rubs at his temple and dares a gesture toward the empty seat beside him.

Graciously, Dr. Watson accepts.

Hands aged with many years of medical practice wrap around the arm of the plush velvet seat. The material feels cool upon the initial touch, but it’s fast to match the temperature of his hands.

Mycroft stares at the doctor for a good amount of time without saying a word.

Likewise, Dr. Watson can’t seem to put his own thoughts into words so instead he just… sits there, his mind racing a mile a minute and lips practically sewn shut.

“You went to see Hope.”

Dr. Watson nods slowly at the base of the fire set out before him. “She looks awful…” He whispers.

“Well,” Mycroft drums his fingertips against the deep red velvet of his armchair. “it is prison.”

“I don’t think she’s eating…”

A red tongue reaches up to touch the outside of a right canine. Curiously, Mycroft deduces, “Guilt… You think Hope may have actually-”

“No.” Dr. Watson barks.

The noise echoes throughout the library, much like a fallen book. After the passing echo of noise, the space only feels that much quieter.

“No.” He repeats, this time in a whisper. “I just think…” Dr. Watson drops his line of sight in shame. “I don’t know what I think.”

“No surprise there.” Mycroft humms.

The gentleman kicks one leg over the other and leans, just slightly, to his right. His chin meets a propped arm. “Hope’s past is unorthodox.” He confesses. “As is her personality. There’s no denying that.”

Dr. Watson’s eyes swell with onset worry. “You’re not seriously suggesting your own sister-”

“Heavens no.” Mycroft laughs.

It’s such a foreign noise, deep and full of ridicule. But it’s accompanying smile is far more pleasant. It’s a shame one couldn’t see such a glow on the man’s features unless he were insulting their intelligence.

Dark eyes roll to Dr. Watson and once they’ve ceased movement, his left brow lifts toward the heavens. “I merely wish to convey the fact that these quirks are part of what makes Hope such an easy target.”

“Easy…” Dr. Watson trails off with the thought. “The police are thorough.” He mutters aloud. “If Hope thinks it’s the Adler woman, they’ll find something on her. Something that clears up this whole…” His hand raises out to roll through the air. Absently, Mycroft watches the movement. “Situation… I’m sure of it.”

Mycroft nods in feigned agreement, then adds, “So long as no one thinks to kill Hope in the meantime,” Mycroft clears his throat and reaches carefully for the delicate book beside him. “break the investigation short.” He finishes with the flip of a page.

He flips a few more, but although Dr. Watson’s eyes are resting on the object, he can’t see a damn thing.

He’s lost himself in the picture of Hope lying cut up on the prison floor, absent of defensive wounds and forever classified as the suicidal manic they all “knew” her to be.

With her size and mental instability?

It would be easy.

—-

Henry stares blankly out the wall of windows within his office. He’s deep in thought by the time Dr. Watson knocks at his door, interrupting his inner dilemma.

The man stutters a wide eyed look to his visitor in clear dishevelment. He practically jumps in his chair when he sees who it is and immediately shifts upright.

“Dr. Watson!” He barks. His fingers come up to run through his already neatly combed hair. With his other hand he then gestures to an empty seat before his desk. “Please.” He seems to beg.

It’s an odd, unexpected change of character, but then again… the same goes for Dr. Watson.

The doctor is standing tall in the tinted doorway, a secretary at his back.

Dr. Watson doesn’t so much as bat an eye as he says, “I’d like to make a deal.”

—-

Pupils resting in pools of ice blue shrivel at the contact of light. Lids lined with dark, long lashes close and at the same time, black brows bend and contort.

Then her eyes adjust and Hope’s expression fades into something less pained.

The sight that comes into focus is a familiar one.

Tall brick buildings, care free faces, and a barren road blocked for government officials and emergency crafts.

Stone steps hug the dirt beneath them, keeping Hope standing tall and straight.

A processing station.

She’s been released.

Light, airy clouds float across the sea of sky.

Like the average smiling face, they haven’t a care in the world.

A war on the horizon and threat of a drought overhead and yet… the world keeps turning.

Instead of following the lives of strangers, Hope’s eyes fixate on but one individual.

Dr. Watson.

He’s standing at the foot of the staircase, both hands in his pockets.

His lips form a tight line across the bottom of his face. In this lighting, his eyes are full of color. Gray tinted blues look up into a pale, sky-like color.

He doesn’t say a word.

And neither does she.

—-

Hope paces the length of her disastrous bedroom. She’s staring ahead of herself and tapping at the side of her head as though she were attempting to claw voices out of it.

Her lips move to half spoken words that slur with her breaths.

Her feet step over obstacle after obstacle without the need to look down. It’s as though there’s a diagram of the clutter drawn out in her just as chaotic mind. One foot here, another foot there. Never does she step on the objects lining the hardwood.

—-

From outside Hope’s bedroom, Dr. Watson tries a heavy breath. He’s sitting with his back to Hope’s door and arms crossed over his chest.

The flat is a mess, but with the fall of night, this fact becomes less and less obvious.

He can hear footsteps inside the room.

Pacing.

She’s pacing again, thinking something through.

After they arrived to the flat she waltzed right into her room and locked the door. Not a word has been shared between them since he visited her in prison.

He supposes it’s because they both have things on their minds, things they don’t particularly want to talk about, but still…

A part of him wishes she’d at least ask.

She knows about what.

How did he get her out?

She has to be wondering.

Dr. Watson looks down the length of his body to his boot clad feet. His legs were originally crossed for comfort, but as time dragged on he could feel a numbness crawl the length of his right leg.

Again, he takes a deep breath.

—-

Irene Adler.

Captain of the After World’s USS ALICE.

She was there. At the crime scene, she had to be. Her hair was caught in the drain.

Then again, so was Hope’s.

Caught in the drain, just like Miss Adler’s. And yet the captain didn’t so much as receive a suspicious glance from the authorities.

She’s in on it.

She has to be.

But the notes.

The letters.

What of them?

Why frame an individual and then threaten anyone who dares make note of it?

Senseless.

Fruitless.

Futile.

Contradicting.

It doesn’t make sense.

Does it?

Hope freezes mid-movement. Like a possum confronted by it’s predictor, she stills.

The letters match her handwriting- identical handwriting- forgery. All along he's been forging her handwriting. Perfect curves on tall letters.

Similar.

Yes, similar.

But it isn’t hers.

It’s Moriarty’s.

Which implies a similar chaotic and yet ironically reserved personality.

Much unlike Irene Adler. Too forward, too abrasive, too provocative… Perhaps even too sane.

Hope brow lifts at the thought and stays there.

When it lowers, her entire body relaxes.

Moriarty didn’t frame her.

Irene Adler did.

Captain Irene Adler.

A scene plays out in the forefront of Hope’s mind.

221B is empty, barren, and yet oh so clean.

Everything is neat and tidy.

The front door to the building pops open and two gruff men step in. They’re navy, it’s a plain as day. The foreign scent of tobacco grown only in the mountains of Eastern America cling to the air the second the men walk into the building. It’s a strong scent accompanied by a pungent body odor.

The gentlemen are in casual dress, as they wish to avoid suspicion.

The first of the two men pockets his government official override badge and takes on the steps.

Slow and steady, no doubt.

There’s no hurry.

The men ascend the staircase until they reach the door they’re looking for. The first of the men removes his badge and places it face first against the scanner, but its declined for the system has been given additional security for events such as this, courtesy of one William Sherlock Holmes Scott.

There’s no other option.

The game plan changes.

Aggressively, the sailor breaks in the control panel and hits the door inward. It’s kicked open with ease and smashes in the wall upon contact.

A simple, undiscovered break in turns robbery.

Tables are turned, chairs scattered, flasks shattered- but for what? What were they really after?

Hope leaves her ghost-like state to reenter the real world. She turns to look around her mess of a bedroom.

Ancient artifacts worth a collector’s fortune lay broken and/or out of place, but none missing.

Hope walks the length of her bed and up to the circuit board beside it where the lights are controlled. Gently, she touches the glass screen and lifts up on either side, then slides the glass left until she can see the wires behind it.

Gone.

And because of this she’s now a number one suspect in another homicide investigation, bail or no bail.

Oh how this will get old if she doesn’t do something about it.

Hope turns toward the door and carelessly throws it open. She storms out of the bedroom and looks immediately to the open windows.

Both had been left open when the men left the flat, but one had been shut when-

Hope looks over her shoulder at Dr. Watson, whom of which avoids eye contact by staring at his boots. He doesn’t so much as blink when she asks, “Why didn’t you tell me she was here?”

“Who?” Is Dr. Watson’s delayed response.

“The Woman.”

“You could at least learn my name.” Irene calls from where she sits within Dr. Watson’s armchair. Her legs cross in front of her and eyes drift from the cuticles of her fingers to the far end of the room. “After all, I did get you out of prison, Holmes.” She coos with a drop of her head so that she can look at her audience.

Dr. Watson starts at the declaration. Wide eyed, he looks to Irene and she grins back.

“Had to kill a man and everything.” She adds. Her green eyes glow like a cat in the shadows of her face.

“You made a deal with Henry.” Hope concludes.

Irene looks away from Watson to meet eyes with Hope. She nods but once and Dr. Watson deflates.

Inside, he’s conflicted and more than a little confused.

“You framed me.” Hope says in a steady monotone.

Irene looks hurt for all of three seconds before she drops the facade and confesses, “Fine, yes, I did. But as I said, I got you out-”

“By murdering Henry’s brother.”

Red lips pull back to reveal a set of white teeth. “I had the go ahead.”

Dr. Watson closes his eyes and bites at a chapped lip. He wishes they’d move on, already.

Hope stares silently at Irene until the woman makes a move to stand. It’s mid-motion that Hope barks out, “You’ve made a mistake.”

Irene’s lips quirk and eyes narrow. It’s a look of calculation that she passes over the young woman standing across the room. “No…” She whispers. “I don’t believe I have.”

“Framing me, getting me out- you have too much control.” Hope elaborates. Her head tilts ever so slightly to her left as she warns, “You're not going to get away with it.”

Irene huffs out an amused laugh and takes three steps around the old armchair to instead stand at it’s back, facing Hope. Casually, she slings her right ankle over her left and leans against the back of the chair.

“Careful, or I might think you’re sweet on me.”

“You’ve been foolish. Reckless. If you step outside the lines Moriarty will find a way to force you back in them.” She pauses through a thought, then straightens out her posture and adds, “Or he’ll simply rid himself of you and your character.”

Long legs unwind so that Irene may stand, too, at her full height. Cat-like eyes drift up and down the scientist’s body until they land on a pair of warning blue.“I assure you, I’m not that expendable.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.” Dr. Watson mumbles from where he’s been silently listening in upon the floor. He looks up just long enough to catch the surprise in Hope’s eyes, as though she’d forgotten his presence, but then it’s back to the floor with his line of sight.

Irene bites her tongue and tries a step forward. Her black dress sways forward with the step, then falls back in place around her hips and torso. It’s a loose a-frame the same night color as her nails and pumps. “I’ll take my chances.” She tells the doctor.

The woman refocuses her attention on Hope. “I used you, yes. I needed a diversion. But because of it, this can now be over, don’t you understand? I have a plan to end this.”

Hope’s left eye tries a twitch, but the subtle spasm passes unnoticed. Her voice carries a lack of emotion as she mutters, “I sincerely doubt that.”

Heavy lashes bat with an upward tug of red painted lips. There’s a cockiness to it as Irene promises, “With your help we could make it bulletproof. So what do you say?” She looks from Hope, to the doctor, and back. “Well? Are you in or out?”

—-

Hope stares through the one sided mirror at Sebastian as the man is brought into the interrogation room. His hands are bound before himself and legs linked together by thick, clanging chains.

One step at a time he approaches the only table in the room.

Sebastian slides between the chair and the table to take a seat on cold metal.

Irene Adler sits across from this man. Her fingers rest locked before her highly held person as she waits for Sebastian to settle. Once he has, a silence befalls the room and the door closes.

Dark, dead eyes stare across the length of a metal slab. He breathes in and out in a steady, almost invisible rhythm while Irene smiles back.

A white cap shadows the upper half of Irene’s face, which only highlights the grin she’s sending the inmate’s way.

“I didn’t kill that boy.” Sebastian states with as much clarity as he can possibly muster.

“I know.”

Sebastian’s expression darkens at the assurance.

“Sherlock Holmes did.”

The sniper laughs, short and abrupt. His head snaps back at the burst of noise, then falls forward through a series of chuckles that die into the words, “Sherlock Holmes was released this afternoon. That was a bullshit call, anyway. Everyone in the crib knows that was a set up. The only question is…” His eyes drag up and down the Captain’s uniformed body. “Who set her up?”

“A question that will never be answered, I’m sure.” Irene laughs. “But yes, she was released. Just as your friend Evan Sterling was released.”

Sebastian’s eyes dart to the one way mirror at Irene’s back.

“Just as you’ll be released.” She adds.

The sniper’s eyes trail back to Irene.

The air is thicker now, more threatening.

Slowly, he gets out, “Evan got out.”

It’s not a question, it’s a statement, something Hope is quick to take note of from where she observes the two behind her shield of mirror and glass.

“Yes.” Irene huffs through her never wavering smile.

The words are a whisper when Sebastian mutters, “You killed the boy.”

“Yes.” She repeats. “And many more.”

Sebastian’s eyes dart to his reflection once more before Irene assures him, “No one will hear this conversation besides the two of us. Not now,” she shrugs, “not ever.”

—-

Dr. Watson leans against the back wall of the recording studio that sits behind the interrogation room’s wall of mirror. It’s a dark room lit just enough to ensure no one trips over their own feet when walking about the barren space.

Screens light the back wall to the doctor’s left but they’re off, just as Irene implied they would be.

“Seems sketchy…” Dr. Watson mutters to Hope’s back. “Keeping the computers off, I mean.”

“She’s incriminating herself.” Hope responds. She doesn’t come out and say that it’s necessary, but the tone of her voice heavily implies it to be so.

Dr. Watson bites down on his lip. He pulls at what’s left of dead flesh before replacing it with a short nailed thumb. Around it, he mutters, “Or making an undocumented confession…”

Hope doesn’t respond.

Instead she looses herself in the undertones of the conversation being had in front of her.

Threats.

Irene is threatening Sebastian and he’s quick to catch on. Should he believe her they may just have found themselves an upper hand.

Perhaps even the key to their survival.

A heavy thud sounds against the door to the viewing room. It’s loud and dull and is followed by a swift opening of the door.

Dr. Watson watches, then, as Detective Inspector Gregson storms into the room and stalks right up to Hope, who in turn ignores the red faced man.

Her eyes analyze Sebastian’s reactions at the woman’s next words.

“You know what I want.“ She tells him. “The only question is… how easily are you going to give it to me?”

A stutter in his breath, followed by a long exhale.

He’s come to a decision.

Hope’s brow furrows at the interrupting view of Gregson’s puffed up face and snapping fingers. “Out!” He barks with a point toward the door. “You have no authorization to be in here!” Gregson does a double take out the viewing glass window and changes the direction of his arm to instead gesture toward the glass. “What the hell is this?” He demands to know.

Lestrade hangs by the door. His arms are crossed over his chest and features sagged drastically from the work load that’s been thrust upon him. He’s waiting patiently for his partner and Hope to finish up when he notices Dr. Watson doing a similar thing in the back corner.

Casually, he waves. “Hey.”

Dr. Watson tries a subtle gesture back and calls, “Hello. Healing nicely?” He adds with an idle gesture to his ear.

Lestrade reaches for his injury. It’s been without a bandage for a few days now and, despite the expected hearing loss, is healing quite well. “Oh, yeah.” He mumbles. “It’s coming along, thanks.”

“Yeah?” Dr. Watson’s throat catches, so he takes a brief pause to clear it. “That’s good, good…”

But alas, the social trifles are fruitless against the tension in the room.

Gregson licks at his lips and lowers his hand. The taste of salt bites at his tongue and forces a flare of reddened nostrils.

He’s barely keeping it together when Irene strides through the open doorway Lestrade has been leaning against. The woman tucks loose curls beneath her hat as she strides into the scene, her heels clicking the whole way.

“Oh.” She murmurs upon catching sight of an enraged Inspector. “Is there a problem?” She asks in a tone of pure innocence.

Gregson turns to stand perpendicular Hope and Irene. “You damn bet there is.” He fumes. “This one,” his finger extends to tap at the air before Hope; “is a suspect in numerous murders- not to mention a thief and it’s quite possible she’s been working under an assumed identity for the past-”

“That should be enough, thank you.” Irene interrupts. Her smile is forced and it shows. Distastefully, she informs the detective, “I’ll take your suspicions into consideration, but I must ask that you please leave the room as you are not authorized to-”

Gregson barks out a loud, fast breath of laughter.

“Partake in the investigation of this case.” Irene finishes through the interruption.

Gregson’s sense of humor fades into the silence. He darts a look to his partner, but the boy is just as dumbstruck as he is. The detective darts another lick at his lip. It takes two blinks before he can ask, “What?”

Irene tries an impatient smile. “This case, as well as all others involving Sebastian Moran and the conflict between New France and New England, have been officially transferred to the head of After World security. I will be in charge until the arrival of special agents Strew and Conrad.” She nods at Gregson, then the door. “Now please take your leave, Detective Inspector.”

It takes Gregson all of three seconds to realize his jaw is hanging open, but by then it’s too late. His pride and control have already been pulled like a rug from under his wide, weary feet.

He takes three additional seconds to gather what he can of his pride and nods at his commanding officer, then Lestrade, who in turn steps out of the doorway and into the hall.

Gregson takes a quick look at Hope, then returns his gaze to the floor as he steps toward the room’s exit. He doesn’t stop as he passes Irene, but under his breath he does mutter, “She’s a ghost.”

Heavy lashes droop at the warning. They don’t rise until the door falls closed at Gregson’s back. Vibrant pools of green then lift to catch on soulless blue. A smile pulls at her lips. If it’s fake, it’s far more authentic than the one she tried on for the Detective Inspector.

Hope avoids the warm stare to instead look out the viewing glass.

Sebastian is pulling, wanking at his hair. The sniper’s become a rather slump figure curled over the hard metal surface of the interrogation room’s table.

Anxiously, he awaits something.

“Still not talking,” Irene sighs; “unfortunately.” She drags her gaze over the porcelain portrait of Hope’s face. “But no worries… I’ll know what he does by day’s end.”

“By using what methods, exactly?” The third party, Dr. Watson, growls from the dark and dreary corner of the room. His tone is angry and accusatory, the complete opposite of the the dead, lifeless challenge he gets from Hope.

“Does it matter?”

Dr. Watson’s hard expression softens while, at the same time, Irene Adler chuckles, low and sultry. Flirtatiously, she slings her body up against the viewing glass. “You and I,” she bites at her tongue and drags another long look at Hope’s frame; “are going to make an excellent team, I can tell.”

“I want answers.” Hope emphasizes. “That’s all.”

—-

Irene kicks at a red puddle of water mixed clay dust with a dirtied black heel. A long white coat that extends from the top of her lips to the knees of her legs wraps snugly around her mid-frame before funneling out like an “A”.

The coat is pinned with a Captain’s badge and head topped with a white uniform cap.

The bottom of her shoe scrapes against the brick path she and Dr. Watson are standing on. The grainy friction causes a screech mixed squelch to ring out in the openness just beyond the New London prison.

Dr. Watson’s breath fogs the air at every exhale. It’s a traumatizing sight now a days, but he does manage one breath at a time.

Lost, is the look in the old doctor’s eyes.

Is he old?

He feels old.

At least in the sense that he’s outlived his life, that is.

A life without Sherlock Holmes, without a bullet through the thigh… That’s the life he’s missed out on, the life he should have lived.

Retirement, marriage, kids?

He can’t have that.

Not after all of this.

Not with that constant fear of someone playing with you like a cheap instrument.

Even with Moriarty behind bars there would still be that inkling of doubt, of fear.

It can happen once, why not again?

“Although, I always preferred the rain. Don’t you?”

Dr. Watson’s eyes dart to Irene, now wide and alert. “Hmm?” He begs.

Irene had been looking up at the clouds overhead.

At least, that’s what Dr. Watson assumes considering the half raised position he catches her line of sight at.

The woman’s eyes are round, curious, and a little off guard, as though she hadn’t expected the doctor to have been so out of the conversation.

It takes but a second for her to catch on before that curious look fades into a twisted grin.

“My, you haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you?”

Dr. Watson “Hmmphs” in disinterest, then adds, “I’m afraid I don’t find your company very interesting, Captain Adler.”

Irene tisks at the air and shuffles her stance to better accommodate her weary knees. Wind nips at the exposed flesh of her and Dr. Watson’s nose and cheek bones, turning the skin there a raw pink.

“You don’t like me much, do you?”

Dr. Watson merely shrugs at the rhetorical question and looks over his shoulder.

They should be here by now.

Irene observes the nervous tick from a safe distance, then looks to the ground. “You’re not amused by the game like Holmes, nor aroused by the play of control like-”

“I don’t feel the need to talk, so.” Dr. Watson forces a tight, pained shrug that is followed by some much needed silence.

The woman pulls on a sly smile and moves her pretty green eyes back down to mud laced pumps.

She’s muttering to the ground when she says, “I simply mean you no longer need to be here, Dr. Watson.”

The doctor narrows a peculiar look at Irene, and likewise, she looks back.

“We’ve entered the final ring. Hope and I have strings still to cut, but you?” She shakes out a little smile. “You’re a free man, Dr. Watson. With me here you’ve officially dropped out of the running for a potential threat and, because of the exact same reason, Moriarty is going down. You can leave, doctor… Get a head start on your new life.”

Dr. Watson’s eyes look far more gray than blue in this lighting.

Hard.

One could say they’re as solid as stone.

“There is no ‘new life’ after this… There’s only the one.”

“Ah.” Irene huffs. Her eyes dart to a space behind Dr. Watson’s back and when he follows it he finds a hovercraft making it’s way toward them.

It’s a dark blue vehicle bulky on all ends. On it’s side bears the symbol of the After World, of freedom and a new age.

A wide rectangular window that’s been tinted for what Dr. Watson guesses is secrecy sits atop of the large vehicle’s forefront.

Irene starts making her way toward the fence’s metallic gate and Dr. Watson follows.

The woman is headstrong as she stalks up to the opening doors and directly before the hovercraft’s path. She doesn’t hold out an arm to halt the vehicle. In fact, she keeps both of those tucked warmly within the confines of her bright jacket. Instead, she simply stands in the dead center of the opened gates in what seems like her permanent smile.

Like clockwork, the hovercraft then slows to an unprepared stop and the gentlemen driving the craft pop out of the vehicle’s doors. They’re bearing weapons over their shoulders and are decked out in deep blue military uniforms as they pile their way out.

Two race to the back of the vehicle to guard the back as the rear latch kicks open and Hope climbs out.

She’s dressed as one of the soldiers and upon seeing her carry a weapon, Dr. Watson ducks on instinct until she’s safely pointed it toward the ground.

Hope and two official officers dressed in dark wool uniforms stalk up to the gate they’ve been stopped at.

With the latch undone it’s easy to hear the screaming of a bound and gagged man who thinks he’s about to die.

It makes Dr. Watson queasy at his core.

“Strew.” Irene greets. “Conrad.”

Strew, who stands at Hope’s right, nods his own greeting and says, “Moran is officially in custody of the After World headquarters division. Transport him to the island immediately.”

There’s an accent to the man’s words. It’s subtle, but it’s the same as Irene’s and no doubt Conrad’s. The words just seem… harder, than they should.

Foreigners, how peculiar it is to hear such a thing.

“He has sensitive information, you understand, Captain?” Conrad says through a scabbing lip.

Ah. There is it. The expected accent of an Oliver citizen.

“Understood.”

A sleek black vehicle slows to a gentle stop behind the bulky monstrosity of a prisoner transport vehicle. Dr. Watson has only a second to worry before both Strew and Conrad pledge their goodbyes and make for the smaller hovercraft.

It’s when they climb in and squeeze passed those at the gate that he realizes they’ve just left Sebastian Moran in the hands of a sadist and a psychopath.

“What island?” Hope asks.

Island.

Dr. Watson feels a sinking pit grow in the base of his stomach.

He heard about such a thing in his military days. An island where surviving rebels are taken to be tortured.

Rumor.

It has to be.

After everything with the New World and all known mistakes of the Old?

It just can’t be real.

The After World is better than that.

They have to be.

“Oh, sweetheart.” Irene giggles in a pleasant note. “It’s not as bad as the rumors say, I promise. It’s…” Her throat catches on the thought. “It’s really a mundane establishment, to be honest. Evan Sterling is there now and it’s where I had promised to take Thomas after his testimony. Although…” She trails off.

“You didn’t kill Thomas?” Dr. Watson has to ask.

Irene snuffs at the air, particularly in Hope’s direction. “Hard to believe, I suppose.”

“Take me to him.” Hope barks. “Take me to the island.” She turns her back to step up into the vehicle but is caught by a hand on her shoulder.

“Wait, wait, wait-” Dr. Watson chants. His fingers dig into the bullet proof and shock resistant material of Hope’s blue and black uniform.

Gray/blue eyes dart to a curious Irene before settling on ice blue.

Hope looks worn. Her eyes are Islands, themselves, for they’ve been surrounded by dark discoloration.

“You’re tired.” He whispers. “You shouldn’t be making rash decisions like this, Hope. An unmarked Island controlled solely by the government? Mundane or not, you can’t trust this woman.” He leans in ever so slightly. “She framed you.” He hisses.

Hope stares directly into Dr. Watson’s eyes and says nothing.

There’s a disconnect.

He can feel it.

He doesn’t know when or how, but something’s different about Hope. She used to have a light in her eyes, but now? Now there’s nothing.

Dr. Watson stares back.

He’s lost in the dead look she’s giving him, and what’s more, alone.

She’s scaring him.

Irene pats at Dr. Watson’s shoulder and he blinks to break the contact with Hope.

“Dr. Watson,” Hope starts; “you are more than welcome to remain at home. You are not needed for this.”

She turns fully, then, and climbs into the front of the vehicle to take the passenger’s side.

The doctor feels a hand slip into his, then, and so he looks away from his ex-partner in crime to catch Irene sliding something into his palm. He feels it’s something small and metallic, but that’s all he can make out from her having closed his fist around it.

The woman leans against him until her breath ghosts his ear. “A new life.” She whispers as she walks away.

Her heels click with each step against the stone beneath her feet as the woman makes for the back of the hovercraft where Sebastian has gone unusually silent, be it by choice or otherwise.

The other uniformed men and women then climb swiftly into the vehicle with well and practiced ease.

A slide of the door, click of the lock.

The hovering craft pushes forward in warning and so Dr. Watson steps off to the side and lets it pass.

He can feel the gate closing at his back more than hear it, but it’s an irrelevant fact as he is already outside the prison’s entrapment.

He watches the hovercraft speed off down the secluded road shrouded by greenery for all of a quarter mile before looking down at his hand.

In it he finds a single gold chip stamped with the official After World 1st class rail station forever symbol. A token to take you anywhere at any time.

The hovercraft he and Irene Adler used to get here humms back to life, catching Dr. Watson’s attention.

It’s parked just a short distance from the gate but still the driver takes it upon himself to drive the government vehicle over to the doctor for pickup.

The military driver presses into the button under his arm to open the backseat for Dr. Watson.

“Do you need to make a stop before the New London Station?” He calls in question.

Dr. Watson slides his fingers over the warmed metal chip Irene has given him.

Anywhere.

He could go anywhere.

Start a new…

Wordlessly, Dr. Watson looks around the abandoned space.

He could go somewhere no one would find him.

—-

The large, bulky transportation hovercraft pulls up to the dock runway where Irene has stationed her massive ship.

The thing stretches the entire length of the quarter mile dock and then some.

It’s a pale metal craft that sits upon the water like a duck.

The scent of rain mixed with sea salt drifts across the docks in a light fog. It’s a dreary sight that does wonders in muting the magnificent view of After World technology.

USS ALICE, from above, is shaped like a big eye. The surface of the craft is flat, however, the dark grey “pupil” of the ship is concave. It also happens to be the only entrance to and fro the deck of the ship.

A wide, pressurized door stands open at the side of the vessel.

It takes merely one glance at the contraption upon climbing out of the hovercraft for Hope to realize this is one of the infamous U-Boat designs released just this year.

New, top of the line…

It goes to show just how respected Irene Adler is in her home city.

And yet, until just recently, Hope had never so much as heard of the woman.

“Like it?” Irene whispers in the shell of Hope’s ear as she comes up behind her.

Hope doesn’t flinch at the invasive brush of air, but she does look at the woman through the corner of her eye.

“New and so so beautiful.” Irene purrs. A proud grin stretches the Captain’s lips.

The musty weather had dulled the shine of the coated metal significantly, but it’s not without it’s glamour. Even in this sky of gray the white manages to pull through.

Gray waters knock at the sides of the ship, threatening to move it, and the extended ramp set out for the team, out of it’s firm and stationed setting.

But it’s to no avail.

The ship has gripped itself tightly in place as though it were a piece of land rather than a water transportation vehicle.

Hope looks just ahead where several men in Navy uniforms stand armed and ready beside the vessel’s boarding ramp. Then she looks around the foggy port and not for the first time makes note of the lack of presence.

This shipyard has been cleared.

A well worn dock broken down by the elements and years of use and yet the only ship along this coast belongs to that of Captain Irene Adler.

It’s a private dock used only for the Navy, but… just where are the other ships?

The local troops?

They’ve abandoned the port, left it in the hands of the After World headquarters.

It’s a curious observation to say the least.

Water from the sea splashes roughly against the shore. Each wave creates a loud swoosh and slap that inevitably pulls back into the ocean.

It’s as loud as it is aggressive.

Hope brings her attention back to the forward position. She can hear footsteps of soldiers, heavy and synchronized, but they’re mixed with the dragging of limp and uncoordinated limbs.

To her left, the soldiers who drove with her to the dock escort, or rather drag, a sedated Sebastian Moran down the walkway and to the ramp of the vessel.

“They got it wrong.” Hope mumbles toward the sight of Sebastian being dragged into the USS ALICE.

The driver of the hovercraft closes the back of the vehicle, then walks around to follow the direction of his comrades.

Irene bites her lip and shifts her stance. She’s got her hands buried in her coat pockets, but that still leaves her face to whiten in the brisk seaside air. Long strands of dark brunette untangle from their hat covered assortment to dance with the wind and slap against the woman’s numbing cheeks. She’s watching Hope, but the shorter woman refuses to look back at her.

“They locked down the port and kept this transport a secret in an attempt to stop sabotage, and yet…”

The soldier walking toward the ramp is just about to pass Hope when she adds, “it’s not their men they should be worrying about. It’s you… You’re the one who’s been destroying this case, cutting the loose ends. Not Moriarty…”

The driver steps up beside Hope.

Irene lets out a smooth exhale. Her fist is balling in her over sized pockets. It’s slow, steady, calculated.

“…You.”

Swiftly, Irene pulls a syringe from her pocket. With a pop, the cap falls from the needle and the woman makes a stab for Hope.

It’s in that exact millisecond that Hope swings her rifle around and clocks the end of it against Irene’s nose, mouth, and jaw.

Disoriented, Irene’s head snaps forward, into her readying head.

Flip of the weapon, a heightened aim-

Hope hits the innocent bystander, the soldier at her left, in a similar fashion and, in his moment of haze, snatches the key to the hovercraft from his belt.

It happens fast. So fast the guards by the ship’s entrance don’t even have time to make grabs for their weapons before Hope has attacked, made a run for the hovercraft, and fallen.

It’s nothing more than a pinch in her neck.

Then she’s falling over limp limbs and crashing head first into the rugged metal dock.

Upon impact, she hears ringing and her vision blurs.

She's vaguely aware of the fact that she's in danger, that she should stand, run, crawl, do anything- but she can't move.

Her neck won’t so much as turn.

Hope stares ahead, at the dock that, in the near distance, breaks off into the ocean.

It’s gray on gray, the ocean and sky.

So unusually void of color…

A dirty black heel steps before Hope’s view, then another. One extends as if to touch her face, but she can’t feel it if it has in fact made contact.

Oh, but it has.

It forces a crane of her neck so that she can see Irene standing over her. She’s pocketing a used needle.

“I caught on fast.” Irene says, but to Hope’s ears her voice sounds muffled. “To the game, I mean.” She explains. “I knew after hearing about Dr. Stephans and the ‘Study In Scarlet’ murders that there was more to this than just a letter in the mail and head at my doorstep. And after reading Dr. Watson’s god awful blog I realized I could end this. All on my own.”

Hope’s eyelids grow in weight until they’re forced to flutter closed. It’s a battle to reopen them every time they fall shut, and unfortunately, it’s a battle she’s losing.

“You see… The world is changing. It no longer belongs to everyone, as Moriarty has made clear. It’s breaking apart, and I want my piece of it.” Irene’s mood shifts. She’s no longer cocky, but instead annoyed. “But the threats? The harassment? He’s constantly threatening me, controlling me, and you know what?” She barks out an angry laugh. “He’s only doing that because of you, Holmes. The one and only, you know that?”

She bends at her knees to get a better look at Hope’s tired, fighting eyes. “And after reading Dr. Watson’s blog it all makes sense… He’s been playing with you, toying with you, sure, but what he’s really trying to do… for whatever reason… is find the perfect way to kill you. And when I give that to him…” She licks wet and salty lips for a brief pause of thought, then nods at her predetermined choice of words. “He’ll stop procrastinating… and the After World will finally end.”

Irene stands back up to her full height and releases her hold on Hope’s head. Dead weight as it it, her head falls to the side and her temple slams against the grate of the dock.

Head pounding and ears ringing, Hope’s vision fades to black.

—-

Gregson taps his thumbs against the leather of his hovercraft’s steering wheel. His dark eyes are scanning the barren road, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

People walk by minding their own business. They keep to the walkways, just as they’re supposed to.

Just as they do every day.

From the passenger’s side, Lestrade palms his face. He’s been holding it there for a while, his clammy palm against his over heated face.

The heater is set way too high, but it’s the senior detective’s duty to control the temperature in the vehicle, not Lestrade’s.

Eyes open, he stares at the ceiling.

Bored, hot, tired, cramping.

The only thing that could make this day any worse would be to demote the poor bastard.

Oh, wait.

Lestrade’s brows furrow at the thought.

He and Gregson have been sitting in this car for five hours now. Doing what? Making sure every passing craft on this road is licensed by the government.

So far three crafts have passed.

Not one was without authorization.

Against his palm, Lestrade asks, “Can I retire yet?”

Gregson huffs in amusement. “Not even close, kid. Ask again in fifty years.”

Lestrade drops his hand to his side and groans, loud and agonizing.

Gregson glances at his partner, then goes back to scoping out the area. “There are worse things than traffic control.”

Lestrade lolls his head in Gregson’s direction. “We’re supposed to be detectives, not meter maids.”

“We are.” Gregson assures. “This is temporary. We’ll be back to solving crime in a week, two weeks tops.”

“This is your fault. If you hadn’t hit that Conrad bloke-”

“Hey, now.” Gregson hisses. His eyes shift and hand extends as he says, “He was treading on thin ice with you, too, as I recall. Taking our prisoner and the hard copies of his file?” He scoffs. “Someone had to hit the man, he was out of control.”

Lestrade glares dully at the side of his partner’s face. He’s waiting to make eye contact, to show just how little that speech has worked on him, but Gregson refuses to look in his direction.

Defeated by Gregson’s stubborn persona, Lestrade closes his eyes, crosses his arms, and shifts to get comfortable.

Sometimes he wishes he could simply request a new partner. Wouldn’t that be something?

But alas, Scotland Yard only has the one Detective Inspector and it is not him.

Yet.

A chime echos in Lestrade’s healthy ear. It’s a soft ding that fades into silence before softy repeating the noise. Pleasant, is the word Lestrade would use to describe this new update to police telecommunication systems.

With a tap at the back of his ear, he answers the call.

Gregson, suspicious as he is of the innocent pedestrians, doesn’t so much as glance at Lestrade until the man says the magic words.

“Miss Hope?”

Gregson turns his head so hard to the left it’s a wonder it doesn’t disconnect itself from his shoulders and go spinning off.

Lestrade furrows his brows and jolts upright in his seat. Curling inward, he holds at the back of his ear, where the communication device has been implanted, in an attempt to better hear the young woman.

“Miss Hope, are you alright?”

“Give me that.” Gregson hisses with a grab at Lestrade’s jaw. Aggressively, he pulls Lestrade over and down so that he can yell into the man’s good ear. “Stop it with the prank calls, Holmes, we’re busy.” With a rough press into the back of Lestrade’s ear, he hangs up on Hope and releases his hold on his partner.

Lestrade springs upright and grabs at his neck. It’s laced with a slick layer of sweat thanks to the standard police issue uniform he’s forced to wear in an overheated car.

Did he mention it weighs close to a ton?

Groaning, Lestrade moves as far away from Gregson as he possibly can. Foot on the seat, he leans against the passenger’s window and looks to his fuming partner.

Quietly, they sit beside a sidewalk of civilians on a traffic-less road.

“She sounded hurt.” Lestrade starts the conversation by saying.

“She’s good like that. Holmes could fool a cow into thinking it were a duck if she felt she’d get something out of it.” Gregson seethes in distaste.

“A video like that would go viral.”

It’s hot in the car, loud outside, and painfully boring as a whole but please, dear god, don’t let Lestrade start cracking jokes.

—-

Hope’s shoulders beg to lift her weight from them. Like a small child, the tenants threaten to give way and allow her bones to dislocate, perhaps even rot and tear off if given enough time.

Breath clouds before Hope’s eyes, but she can’t be sure it’s hers.

No, not when her chest is so numb she can’t tell if she’s breathing or not.

Pain.

She can no longer feel it.

A door at Hope's back- no.

It’s a ways to her left, isn’t it?

Damn. Her perception is off.

Heels click from one direction or another. They grow louder with each passing step until Irene Adler strides up beside Hope.

Warm fingertips full of color brush up against Hope’s cheek, but the skin on her face feels dead and heavy. What’s more it can no longer register the heat Irene’s body is giving off.

Cold, lifeless flesh…

It won’t be long until the rest of her catches up.

“Wh-where am I?” Hope stutters. Sluggishly, her head falls forward, toward Irene. “The island?”

Irene huffs a breath of laughter and bites her lip. Gently, oh so gently, she glides her thumb over the tender flesh of her captive’s eyelids as if to wipe something from their corners. “There is no island, sweetheart…” She whispers. Leaning forward, Irene catches Hope’s breath and slides her fingers down the young woman’s cheek before cutting across her neck. “It’s code.” She explains.

Hope takes a heavy look around the disturbing cooler. “Then- this is-”

“Shh. Save your breath.” Irene coos with a tap of her finger against chapped, purple lips. “You’ll be needing it.”

—-

Frigid limbs drag beneath the rest of Hope’s body as she’s taken upon the deck of the USS ALICE.

She’s dragged by two soldier impostors who, despite lack proper training, move with swift and practiced synchronization.

One stair at a time they climb the concave eye of the deck’s center until they’re out of the open doorway and upon the spiraling ramp that leads to the rest of the deck.

One step at a time.

One breath at a time.

One second at a time, and with each passing of a moment Hope begins to feel just a little more life return to her body.

Slowly, very slowly, she’s regaining feeling.

Just in time for whatever it is Irene has next in store.

The deck of the ship sits upon the water, much like the tip of an iceberg. To the untrained eye the ship would look like little more than a common transport vessel while beneath lies the entirety of a battle submarine.

Clouds churn overhead. They threaten to bring forth something foul, and by the waves knocking against the deck one could only assume the ocean agrees.

Hope’s eyes drift from the ground she’s being dragged upon to the edges of the deck where water crashes into the unmovable vessel and up onto the USS ALICE before rolling back into the ocean.

The two men pulling Hope along stop beside the edge of the dock, then drop their limp prisoner onto the wet metallic surface face first.

Hope goes down with a tired thud and stays down.

What’s quick to follow is another thud, this time a little louder, as though the object had some weight to it.

Hope forces her body up onto spasming forearms and looks up. She’s weak and as pale as a ghost but damn if she doesn’t know how to fight.

Irene smiles down at her captive, then lifts her heel up to rest upon the top of an old treasure chest. She’s dressed as she was before, uniform jacket and all, but there’s something different about her now… something freeing.

It’s then Hope notices the clear film stretching across the back of her ear and down to her jawline. It’s near translucent, but at the right angle the surgical skin replacement reflects what little light still pulls through the clouds.

She’s removed the implant.

But does she not realize freedom is still far from achieved?

“I love pirate stories.” Irene chimes through her sickening grin.

She waits for a breath, then continues to say, “You’ve read about them, haven’t you? Horrible human beings, certainly. But they were adventurous and unafraid. They took what they wanted and didn’t apologize. Most people don’t seem to realize they were real, not just stories… Can’t blame them, though. After all, it’s so hard to turn rubble into history.”

Irene lifts her foot from the chest and leans against the dock's railing. Waves splash at her feet, but she doesn't care. Those shoes are garbage, anyway. “My crew and I took this ship a little over eight months ago. Just boarded and claimed it as our own- after killing everyone aboard, that is.” She scans the horizon with a far out look. Then, very carefully, removes the Captain's hat from her head and looks down at it. “You've already deduced that I'm part of the rebellion by my blade- hand crafted in what's left of the Eastern States, actually...” Irene lifts her hat over the railing and releases it to the wind. It flies away, skids across the water, and finally meets it's fate in the jaws of a nasty looking wave.

The woman smiles at the sight, then turns to look at Hope. “Beautiful, didn’t you think? It was a gift from my father.”

At Hope’s unimpressed stare, Irene sighs and turns her back against the railing. Tightly, she crosses her arms across her chest. “Well, anyway, we had this brilliant plan to cruise right into any After World dock of our choosing, pretending to be an ally of course, and, well-” she laughs; “blow it to smithereens. You know, help the world along. But… when we docked we received a transmission that called me by my name and implant number. When I stepped out of the ship I was handed a letter with the address of my new housing coordinates on it. That… was where I found my father’s head sitting on the front porch beside the blade that decapitated him.” She’s gone absolutely mad. Grinning from ear to ear she tells her tale and smile ever present, she continues, “Now, I don’t know how or when he got a government tracking device put in the back of my ear, but my guess is you and Dr. Watson have one, too. If I’m right, Dr. Watson is dead for trying to flee the game and Moriarty has no intention of saving you which means… I win.”

Wind slices what should have been a resounding silence.

Hope’s lips are chapped and wind bit. When she licks them, they do not moisten. It’s a fruitless effort, but she tries again. She can hear the waves slamming against the vessel loud and clear. They’re far louder than her, she knows, but just as fruitlessly, she forces out the words, “You killed Sterling… You killed Moran… You killed Dr. Watson…”

Irene gives a casual shrug at each passing name.

Names.

That’s all they ever were and will ever be to her.

“You’re going to kill me…” Hope continues. Her eyes narrow in what can only be described as ridicule. “Why the hell shouldn’t he kill you?”

“He might try.” Irene shrugs. “I can’t stop that.” She steps idly away from the railing and up to the chest set out between them. “But with you gone and the game over I’m betting he won’t waste the energy in trying to track me down. With so many wars going on it’ll be nearly impossible to keep track of the vessels I take charge of. And really… Who has the time?”

Hope’s arms shake beneath the weight of her. “He won’t stop.” She grunts. “He won’t stop until he finds you and he decapitates that serpent’s head of yours and mounts it as his trophy. That’s the game. That’s how this works. There are no winners until he’s dead.”

Irene tuts at the insults. “My, you’re awfully verbose at the end of your life, aren’t you?”

The man at Hope’s right steps passed her trembling body to unlatch the antique set out before his captain.

The chest is of great age, as the lock is in no way computerized. It unlatches by a single skeleton key that the man then hands to Irene after having heard the satisfying click of an old lock unlatching.

Taking her prize, Irene then walks around the large gold and brown chest to stand beside it.

Hope watches the lid reveal an empty treasure chest that’s been void of treasure for quite some time if the dust inside it’s chambers is anything to go off of.

Limbs spasming, Hope has no chance of control as she’s picked up by either side and thrown into the old chest.

Upon impact the dust inside her coffin clouds the air and stales Hope’s last breath.

She coughs on her inhale and very nearly loses a finger when the lid of the treasure chest is slammed closed.

Musty, damp, stale.

And dark.

Can’t forget dark.

Hope’s body curls perfectly into a fetal position to fit inside the chest.

Knees to her chin, Hope struggles one breath after the other.

Already she feels as though she’s suffocating.

Can’t hear, can’t see.

It’s dark all around her.

The only noise she can hear is the sound of her own strained breathing.

Likewise, the only feeling she can make out is the numbed strain from being curled up into such a position.

Eyes wide, she scans the darkness.

But there’s nothing.

Out of what seems like nowhere Hope’s body jerks toward the part of the chest where her head is pressing against wood. The sudden movement causes a crook in her neck that she can’t quite move out of. At least, not until the other side of the chest is lifted and her body levels out.

Hope lifts a hand against the top of the chest in an attempt to gain a false sense of security, of control.

Her fingers jitter against the hardwood.

Control.

It’s a joke.

Her body jolts against the side of the chest as she’s thrown overboard. Stomach churning, she gasps for breath just before she slams into the rocky waves.

Like a rock, she sinks.

Water fills the trunk through gaps in the wooden paneling that make up the treasure chest. The water is freezing. So much so that Hope can already feel what little movement she’s regained numb back to paralysis.

She’s breathing in loaned spurts, trying to think of something, anything, but she’s drawing a blank.

All she can focus on is the water building up around her and the tight, spine bending position she’s been tucked into.

Her neck strains to reach what little air is still within the chest, but her muscles are spasming. She can’t hold the position.

As water rises to her cheek bones, Hope takes her final breath and watches, silently, as the last of the air is replaced by ocean water.

She can hold her breath for three point two seven seconds, she’s counted.

She’ll last approximately one point eight with her lungs compressed as they are.

A bubble escapes a small part in Hope’s lips and drifts upward. She watches the beeline it takes before hitting the top of the chest and escaping through one of it’s tiny cracks.

Idly, she reaches for the top of the chest and runs her fingertips over the wood, there.

Oak.

Strong, sturdy.

In temperatures such as this her organs will last hours.

The brain will be first to go. Without oxygen the heart will starve and, as consequence, the brain will cease function. She’ll lose consciousness and shortly after all of what makes her who she is and was will be irreparable.

Although, with the water contaminated as it is, perhaps they’ll learn something of interest from her remains.

A contribution to science.

That wouldn’t be the worst way to harvest one’s organs.

Gentle, practiced, by the book…

Another trail of bubbles escape Hope’s lips.

Her eyes, usually so bright and full of life, loose their light underwater. Instead they’re dull and solid.

She blinks, and again more bubbles pass before her.

She’s starting to feel a tension build up in her ears.

Deeper and deeper, she sinks.

So gently, so uninterrupted…

Just how far will she sink, she wonders.

Will she reach the ocean floor?

Will she ever be found?

Perhaps her remains will become an unsolvable mystery, forever puzzling prosperity.

Hope’s ears pop from the pressure.

It hurts.

But it could be worse.

Blown to bits, sliced to pieces, burned alive, shanked in a shower…

All in all this end is rather peaceful, isn’t it?

—-

Knock, knock, knock.

No response.

Lestrade bites his lip and tries a step back from the door. He takes one step closer to the public walkway, then looks back at his partner, who stands impatiently beside 221B’s front entrance.

Gregson slams his thumb against the door’s scanner and knocks again, this time louder. “Open up, Holmes!”

Lestrade scans the perimeter for anything suspicious. Aside from their parked police vehicle, there's nothing out of the norm. Pedestrian's walk by, same as they always do. No hovering, no whispering, no gawk- Well, no more than what is to be expected when a citizen sees two uniformed police officers banging on a door.

Lestrade stretches his arms out wide, then asks his partner a hushed, “What are we doing here?”

“Shh!” Gregson hisses back.

Dropping his hands, Lestrade looks back out at the street.

Gregson leans against the door to listen in.

Silence.

Leaning back, Gregson pulls his badge off of his uniform and presses it against the lock pad beside the door.

It works like a charm.

The door pops open with ease and so Gregson bites his grin and steps inside the narrow hall.

“Detective!” He calls back to Lestrade.

The boy beams at the title. Wide eyed and bushy tailed, he hops up the stairs and follows Gregson into the building, no questions asked.

—-

Gregson ascends the staircase in a crouched, sideways position. The door at the top of the staircase has been blown off it’s hinges, courtesy of the After London police.

The lock pad beside the door, he notices, is also busted.

He didn’t do that.

He knows he didn’t do that.

So when and who did?

And why?

“See that?” Gregson asks with a point to the lock pad. “Someone broke in.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s been like that.”

“What?” Gregson stops just within the doorway to look back at his wide eyed partner.

“It was like that when we arrested Miss Hope for Thomas’s murder.”

“Why the bloody hell didn’t you say anything?”

“There wasn't time, we were being bad asses- breaking down doors and shit-”

“Oh, just stop- stop it.” Gregson groans through a swat at the air.

Lestrade’s lips close respectively.

Silence restored, Gregson takes a deep breath and advances in through the rubble made doorway and to the center of the room.

Last he was here he was arresting Sherlock Holmes for murder.

The place is still.

There are artifacts, books, and broken glass scattered all over the flat as though it’d been ransacked. A table lays on it’s side in the center of the room and chairs thrown about in chaos.

Absolute chaos.

It feels cold.

Cold and empty.

Just as a home that’s lost it’s owners should.

Gregson forces his eyes to move on, to keep searching for whatever’s been nagging at his gut.

Along the wall he catches sight of a few computer screens. They’re clear and practically invisible if it weren’t for their metal rimmed edges.

They sit just above a lab of some sort.

It’s all glass and technology, not Gregson’s thing, but he walks up to it nonetheless.

He reaches out to touch the screen and it lights to life with the file of Captain Irene Adler.

Identification number 6691-0800

Beside her profile stands a list of DNA markers that were compared to some sort of sample that had been fed through the… datascope?

The older detective’s face cringes at the science-y bullshit written across the screen.

Lestrade, meanwhile, pokes around the rest of the flat. He’s careful not to step on any of the broken and/or fallen items, but it’s proven to be quite the challenge. One foot here, a pivot there.

It’s not an easy task.

A tan, calloused hand of a blue collar worker in his early stages of life fiddles through the air. It’s hovering across a shelf of turned over books when it freezes mid-motion.

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

His lips mumble out the words.

After, he uses that same hand to grab the book from the shelf and flip it’s pages.

They’re old, delicate, and scribbled across in neat cursive notes. The pages fall with just the slightest hesitation as Lestrade runs through them one at a time.

Curious, he stops upon one of the more obstructed pages of the lot.

On it’s margins are notes, under it’s text are lines.

She’s been making connections, it looks like.

Real life vs. the stories.

Noting similarities, differences, anything to try and find some sort of pattern.

Pink lips murmur through the concentrated reading and deciphering of Hope’s unusual handwriting.

Union, marriage. Impure motivations brought on by a lack of foresight and disregard for consequence.

Sibling. Motivation: money.

Money. War.

Benefits of war include, but are not limited to-

“Lestrade.”

Lestrade breaks away from his reading with a fast and spine snapping, “Huh?”

Gregson holds a more modern device in his hands, a police issued hand held tablet, but he’s looking at it as though it were from another century. With an upward glance, he raises the device to about Lestrade’s eye level. “Can you read these science things?”

Lestrade shrugs from across the room. “Not really.”

“Well, take a look, anyway.” Gregson growls.

Lestrade closes the book he’d been holding and sets it neatly upon the otherwise mess of a bookshelf.

His steps are fast paced and because of his hurry he stumbles more than a few times.

Cursing under his breath, Lestrade kicks crushed glass out of his path and scoops up the tablet from Gregson’s hands.

“Okay, what… am I looking at?” He has to ask.

Strange numbers and letters pop back at him. Not only do they seem to lack any sort of order, they’re multicolored, as well.

If he had to guess, he’d say kindergarten threw up on Gregson’s tablet.

“They’re Hope’s DNA markers.” Gregson half heartedly explains through a sour look of distaste for science. “But,” he sighs. “Don’t they look the same?” He asks with a point up at the screen bearing Irene Adler’s profile.

Lestrade does a double take from the screen in his hand, to the one on the wall, and back. “That’s…” His head shakes. “That’s not possible.”

—-

Irene Adler stands upon the deck of her ship, arms crossed upon the railing and one foot kicked behind the other. She stares out at the rough sea, at her mistress.

There’s no smile upon her lips, no mischief in her eyes, just a void.

A calm, empty void.

“Captain…” The soldier at her left prompts. He’s been waiting patiently for her order, but none seems forth coming.

Irene releases a slow, displeased breath.

“I expected more.” She explains to the howl of the wind and crash of waves. “She’s just a girl, after all…”

“Captain…” The man prompts for the second time.

Irene turns her back on the ocean and steps away from the railing. Her hair is a chaotic assortment, as is her dress.

“It’s been a long day.” Her lips twist upward. “Let’s put it behind us, yeah?”

—-

Lestrade glances repeatedly, like a broken record, from the passenger’s seat, to the road, and back.

It’s a nearly constant motion, and at every slight jerk of his head the hovercraft pulls with it.

“Now, Either Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes are long lost sisters, or someone’s being framed for murder.” Gregson seethes at the empty space in front of him. Eyes on the road, he holds down the trigger implant at the back of his ear and continues, “I don’t care if you have to materialize them out of thin air. I want those missing hard copies found and I want them found now. And for the love of god, could someone get me a track on Holmes?”

—-

Hope’s eyes are open and body still.

Lifeless.

Inside her ice water tomb her body waits to be discovered, to be found and harvested for science, for answers.

One way or another she’ll be made of use.

One way or another her killer will be caught.

Just like the bodies in the other chests scattered about the ocean floor.

Pale skin blues in discoloration.

It’s quiet.

Very quiet.

The treasure chest knocks to the side and back. Solid as it is, the body inside knocks around with it.

A few more sloshes back and forth, then the lid of the chest pops open and Hope’s limbs expand out of their previously compressed state.

There’s a moment’s pause, of startle, before the man strapped in the portable oxygen tank grabs the small woman around the waist and starts swimming upward.

Bursts of air escaping from the pack on the man’s back force the pair upward at an accelerated rate until they’ve soon breached the surface.

Fist in the air, the man’s magnetic wristband connects with the outer surface of a boat-like craft sitting upon the rough waters. With each passing wave the craft rides the water and in turn pulls the duo up with it.

The craft is small in structure.

It’s base is thin and curved. A bench, windshield, steering wheel, and dark screen line the front of the craft while a barred off bench marks the back of the vehicle.

Tired as he is, Dr. Watson throws his oxygen mask up into the craft and gasps for a salt ridden breath that leaves his tongue stinging.

Then, none too carefully, he tosses Hope’s limp body up onto the back seat. Body curved over the side railing, she moans an inaudible protest followed by profuse coughing.

“Wh-” Dr. Watson scrambles to release his magnetic wrist band and simultaneously board the rocky water vessel. “You’re alive!?”

“What is this?” Hope squeaks in question. Her body is solid as a rock and lips a pale blue. Still, her eyes fixate on the plaid, mud colored cape draped across the back seat.

“Oh, right.” Dr. Watson’s grinning ear to ear as he plops himself up onto the floor of the craft. Brow raised, he explains, “Well, I was planning on sweeping you off your feet with my dazzling good looks. Then I’d throw a jacket over your shoulders and we’d ride off into the sunset, but that’s not quite how it happened, now, is it? No, because the woman you left me for stuffed you in a trunk and threw you in the ocean.”

“Chest.” Hope gasps against leather wrapped plastic.

“Hmm?” Dr. Watson pardons. “What was that?” He asks with a forward push of his body up into the back seat of the boat. His hands are shaking as he reaches across Hope to grab the cape and wrap it around the numb, paralyzed woman.

“No- I-I d-don't want that on me.” Hope stutters in protest, but it goes ignored.

A quiet laugh escapes Dr. Watson’s own purpling lips. “I’m very surprised you’re alive. I mean,” his hand reaches out to pat Hope’s shoulder, but the tears in his eyes make him miss and hit her head, instead. “I was certain you were dead-” He chokes.

“Dr. Watson.” Hope mumbles against the back seat of the craft.

Dr. Watson perks up at the calling of his name and wipes an unshed tear from his eye. “Yeah?” He breathes.

Eyes wide and unblinking, Hope stares forward. Her lips and jaw are trembling, spasming, as she forces out, “I know how she killed Thomas.”

—-

Waiting by the shore line is Mycroft Holmes in all his glory. He stands, cane in hand, beside one of what few vehicles he still has in his possession while he watches Dr. Watson draw near the public dock.

It’s a small dock, not used by many, but it keeps itself maintained by the ocean hobbyists of the world.

Two lampposts illuminate the dock. One at it’s head and one at it’s base. The light is a bright white that draws circles of light around the near entirety of the dock and it’s connected ports.

Five crafts similar to the one Dr. Watson is using line the dock. There’s an empty space on the end for a sixth, which is exactly where the doctor homes his craft.

It’s a rough parking job, but once the craft nears it’s port the vehicle’s automatic parking system locks it into place as though it were an extension of the dock, itself.

Dr. Watson makes haste to then climb over the front seats and scoop Hope into his arms. Carefully, he takes one steady step up onto the dock and then another.

Once he’s aboard, the doctor takes his bundle of Hope and breaks for Mycroft and his hovercraft.

“She’s alive, I presume?” Mycroft asks with such an air of distant civility that it makes Dr. Watson want to clock him in the jaw.

That would show him.

Concern, worry.

It doesn’t come easy to the Holmes siblings.

“Barely.” Dr. Watson huffs as soon as he’s come close enough to be heard.

A gentleman dressed in a driver’s cap and tux walks beside the door and lifts the handle so that it my open, then, on it’s own. His arms outstretch as if to grab Hope, but the doctor ignores the man and instead lowers Hope into the back seat, himself.

Wind tosses the strands of Mycroft’s dark hair playfully around the man’s stone cold eyes as he stares out across the ocean waves.

From a distance, he can hear sirens, loud and clear. Then he sees them… the parade of police crafts bobbing about the ocean waves in a series of flashing lights and obnoxious sirens that are designed to startle the civilians of the After London city.

They break for the cloudy horizon, fast and sure.

A hunt.

They’re tracking something.

Or rather someone.

The last signal Hope’s cellular device let off will lead them to the middle of nowhere where they will discover nothing, for Dr. Watson has beaten them to it.

If it’s Irene they’re after, Mycroft has no doubt they’ll be at a complete loss.

The woman will have been long gone by now.

“Mycroft!”

The tone is so unbelievably rude and aggressive, Mycroft has no choice but to glare at he who used it.

Panic.

Terror.

The emotions are swimming in Dr. Watson’s eyes.

He doesn’t say another word, just stares at Mycroft, who in turn allows the bloke to get by with his rudeness. After all, the man did go diving for his sister.

Mycroft pushes his bad leg forward and steps on until he’s reached the vehicle. Climbing in, he takes a seat across Hope’s sprawled, unconscious body and tugs at his suit jacket.

—-

Lestrade stands in the center of a vacant hospital hall. At either end people, nurses mostly, scramble to get to where they need to be. The lights above are florescent, just as one might expect from a hospital.

Flowers sit within built in shelving units. The colors they consist of are loud and obnoxious. Inaudibly, they scream for admiration and child-like awe.

Unfortunately, they’re one of the only warm objects in this hospital. The walls are a washy blue/gray and floors a clean white.

It’s nice, but…

It’s not cheerful.

He’s standing outside of a room with a screen beside the door that reads:

Holmes

In dark cursive letters.

He takes a breath, long and steady, and then lets it go.

—-

“Hmmph. Remember when the roles were reversed?” Dr. Watson asks the patient.

For a moment, Hope says nothing. She simply stares back at the doctor seated beside her hospital bed with a void, lifeless stare. He’s smiling at her, wide and dorky. But that smile drops when she drones, “Tell Lestrade to stop hovering outside the door. I have information to release.”

“You’re a shit.”

The door slides open to reveal the detective of the hour, Lestrade.

He’s almost startled to find that Hope’s awake and already looking in his direction.

Awake and alert.

Just like before the-

“So long as you’re finished feeling sorry for yourself, I’d like to give my statement now.”

A weight presses down on Lestrade’s shoulders. It’s been there since Gregson came across his not so legally obtained hard copy of Hope’s file, but it’s just now he’s noticed the extent of it’s presence.

He takes a step forward. “Miss Hope, I-”

“Don’t care.” Hope snaps. “Get over yourself and let me give my statement.”

The weight lifts.

Lestrade bites his shadow of a smile and pulls up a chair beside the hospital bed. He then takes a seat and removes his police tablet from the inside of his jacket.

“Please.” He then prompts.

“Thomas.” Hope starts, and Lestrade’s brows drop. “How did she do it? The answer is her favorite past time. Paralysis.”

Dr. Watson kicks one leg over the other and leans back in his chair to better absorb the story to come. Eyes closed, he listens to the words on Hope’s soft spoken lips.

“Much like a fall in temperature, this paralytic freezes the muscles by soaking into the body by the pours in one’s skin. Unlike most, it does not require a passage through the blood stream and therefore does not leave trace evidence in a toxicology report. The poison deteriorates the muscle so rapidly that the body goes into shock. Shaking limbs and weak knees quickly stop movement entirely until the victim is nothing more than a conscious mass on the floor. To a toxicologist, the results will look like little more than malnutrition believed to have developed over the course of time. By the time it’s taken effect, it’s untraceable. Unless, of course, one has a sample of the active ingredient which no one does considering the water was left running far passed the introduction of this chemical. What escaped through the drains has no doubt been long since filtered and processed by the prison’s recycling system by now.”

“So…” Lestrade coos like an idiot. He’s staring at his tablet, at his notes, with a purse of his wide pink lips. His eyes then dart up to Hope, who’s staring patiently back. “She just…” His brows furrow at the thought. “Slid a knife into the boy’s hand and started stabbing him with it?”

“For a novice, that would be the best way to ensure a plausible angle and range of motion, yes.” Hope agrees. “Given that she’s a sadist, we’re looking for a chemical concoction that ensures consciousness.”

Lestrade shifts upright in his seat, then leans forward to rest his elbows upon his knees. “Then… what about you? What happened?”

“Yes. It certainly does beg the question, doesn’t it? How did she swap our DNA records? In all systems, too, no doubt-”

“Hope.” Dr. Watson calls from his seat beside her bed.

“Well, all except my own, which was her down fall.” Hope goes on to say. “The glitch was actually a virus introduced to the police systems through a routine software update.”

“Hope.” Dr. Watson tries again.

“As for me, I design my own software updates. Much safer that way. Of course, I suspect it was Evan Sterling who designed this one, given the timeline. That is, before he was ‘transported’, or rather, murdered by-”

Dr. Watson sits up in his seat and reaches out his hand to touch the scraped and bruised flesh over Hope’s knuckles. She’s biting her lip, not looking at him as he says, very softly, “You have to get it out.”

“The woman hung me like swine in a cooler, locked me in a chest, and let me drown in the ocean. What of it?” She snaps.

Lestrade clears his throat to break the tension. “That’s, umm…” He stands. “That’s all I needed, thank you.”

Like a child, Lestrade excuses himself from the room and scurries for the door to take his leave. He’s uncomfortable with conflict, anyone could read it on his face and in his stuttered motions.

The door closes itself at his leave and again Dr. Watson and Hope are separated from the world, or so it feels like.

Separated.

Helpless.

Alone.

“You were going to leave.”

The words hang in the air for perhaps longer than they deserve.

Dr. Watson stares open mouthed at the side of Hope’s face. His lips are parted and eyes alert, but no thought has managed to cross his mind, nor a word from his lips.

Hope tears her gaze away from her blankets to meet the doctor’s eyes head on. “You wanted me to say it, didn’t you?”

Again, silence prevails.

There’s a humm from the machinery, but it’s just quiet enough to make one wonder if perhaps the noise is coming from inside their own heads.

Hope breaks away to stare passively ahead. In doing so, she frees Dr. Watson from his stupor and like a waterfall his first thought comes tumbling out of his mouth. “But I didn’t.”

“No… No, you didn’t.”

Dr. Watson removes his fingertips from the back of Hope’s hand to instead set it upon the arm rest. “The woman…” He prompts. “What’s to become of her now?”

Hope ponders the question for a moment, then answers, “With Moriarty still out there?” She gives an idle, curious raise of her brow. “She’ll be on the run for the rest of her life.”

“Unfortunate.”

The response is so rough, so bland, so sarcastic Hope can’t help but crack one of her nearly invisible smiles.

—-

Irene shuffles passed a short red headed girl and her father to get to her reserved cabin. It’s a vibrant, antique mix she’s since grown rather accustomed to.

If it’s not the ocean, train will do.

Sliding into her seat, she presses herself up against the window and ducks a look outside.

They’re about to cross a river.

She pulls at the jacket she left sitting on the seat in front of her and slides her arms through the holes.

Soon she’ll be back with her shipmates.

But for now… they have to lay low.

The blade strapped to Irene’s thigh slips into view from under the folds of her black dress. It reflects a golden hue from the setting sun.

Gold, orange, red.

The explosion brings on a similar assortment of colors.

Gold, orange, red.

Metal screeches as the train goes up in flames and the bridge comes tumbling down into the wide open river.

Scraps of metal crash into the reflective waters below.

Gold, orange, red…

It lights life to the river’s rippling surface.

AMSER STUDIOS 2017 CONVENTION

 

Amser Studios cupcakes and book signings will be available for pickup one day only – May 6, 2017 at the Duluth, MN Music and Arts Armory on London Road from 10am-8pm.

More Info: http://www.AmserStudios.com/Events

 

AMSER STUDIOS TRAVELING CUPCAKES

 

Amser Studios inspired cupcakes are now available for order! Free delivery in Duluth, MN.

There are delivery charges for clients outside of Duluth- specifications will vary.

 

To see the full menu and order your cupcake(s) please find Amser Studios Traveling Cupcakes on Facebook!

 

A few items available are:

 

After World Archive- Almond Crumb Cake with Sea Salted Caramel and Almond Dusted Frosting

 

Assembly Of Planets- Honey Cake with Black Tea Frosting (Recipe found in A.A.I.G. 2017)

 

Hope- Naked Honey Cake with a surprise Chamomile (Poison) Frosting at it's core.

 

New World- Wendall Farms' Honey Cake with Honey Buttercream Frosting (Recipe found in A.A.I.G. 2017)

 


Hope: Complete First Set

The works of Amser Studios fit together like a puzzle. To see the timeline of this unique universe, please visit AmserStudios.com I hope that you enjoy this and all other Amser Studios reads and ask that you PLEASE REVIEW on sites like goodreads, amazon, barnes and noble, etc as they are being made free temporarily for your convenience. Thank you. The year is 2414. History has finally taken a turn for the better after not only the war of the New World, but numerous civil wars of the After World, as well. The records of mankind before the Great War are scarce. It's hard to paint a picture of what life used to be like, but they make due with what little still exists. No matter the level of peace as a whole, crime will never fade out. Murders in the After World, London, have taken a staggering rise in a matter of but two short weeks. There are no leads. At this point, Scotland Yard needs a miracle. It comes in the form of Hope, a borderline psychopath ex-forensic analyst of Scotland Yard. An encrypted message guides Hope to the scene of the crime, forcing detectives Gregson and Lestrade to bring her in as their number one suspect. Of course Hope, aka William Sherlock Holmes Scott, is rather the victim of this Old World fiction copycat crime, as opposed to the perpetrator. Someone has taken to falsifying records, destroying careers, and killing innocent citizens to bring people with similar names and backgrounds as those of the Old World Sherlock Holmes stories together. Forced into this twisted game, Hope and Watson have no choice but to make sure this classic's rewrite doesn't end in their own demise.

  • ISBN: 9781370763627
  • Author: Legend Brook
  • Published: 2017-05-11 23:50:14
  • Words: 73331
Hope: Complete First Set Hope: Complete First Set