New London (2194)
Aunt Beth mostly doesn’t talk about work.
Then again, mostly there’s not much for her to talk about. Crime hasn’t been a problem for years now, not since scientists figured out how to fix the brain-chemistry issues that make people commit it. So the few people who still take up crime only get one shot at it, and there are fewer of those as time goes by.
Except recently, that is.
Which was what had Aunt Beth worried. “There’s somebody out there, JJ,” she said. “They’ve figured out how to beat the system. We’re starting to see career crooks again – and whoever’s behind them has an agenda. I just don’t have a clue what it is.”
“You’ll figure it out,” I told her. “You’re the smartest investigator in New Scotland Yard.”
“Ha,” she said. “These days that’s not saying much. And this new character – they’re subtle as hell. I can’t even prove whoever it is really exists.”
I blinked. “You do know who that sounds like, don’t you?”
Aunt Beth’s laugh was sour. “What, a brand-new Moriarty popping up in this day and age? You’ve been reading too many of the journals in your granda’s attic. That family’s been defunct for over a hundred years.”
I waggled a finger at her. “Which you know because you’ve checked the DNA registries just this week. Am I right?”
“You are,” she told me ruefully. “But even if this invisible super-crook isn’t a Moriarty by blood, they’ve still got would-be Napoleon of crime written all over them. I can feel it. And there’s one other thing. About two weeks before the crime stats first started to spike, a building collapsed just next door to a particular address in Cambridge, doing serious damage to several of the adjacent structures.”
I blinked again, recalling a series of dramatic entries from one of Jamie Watson’s journals. Maybe I should say ‘especially dramatic entries’; for all the criticisms leveled on our family’s writings, we’ve never been accused of being dull. “You mean Meiringen Limited.”
“Right in one.”
“So there might be an actual Moriarty connection after all.”
“It’s possible,” Aunt Beth said, reluctantly. “Unlikely as hell, but possible.”
“And if there is?”
She picked up a biscuit, spent a good minute and a half turning it over and over with her fingers like an oversized poker chip, and then ate it in one bite. “I take it you’ve been through that last packet of Jamie’s letters.”
“Just this month,” I said. “Someone had tucked them into a hidden drawer in Granda’s old desk. You’d almost think they were keeping them a secret.”
“I should hope so! Think of the circus there’d be if word got out.”
“What, that we have the last of the world’s all-time greatest family of detectives floating in a vat of specially brewed honey in the middle of the Yorkshire moors? I suppose the media might take a bit of notice.” I gave Aunt Beth a thoughtful glance. “And I bet you saw the piece in the Guardian yesterday about Dr. Hargreaves and his research into cellular rejuvenation.”
She eyed me right back. “Jonathan James Watson, you are too clever for your own good.” Then she sighed. “Yes, I did. And no, we don’t have a choice. If I’m right, no one alive has a chance of catching the mind behind what’s going on now.”
“But Charlotte Holmes just might,” I said. “So when do we go see Dr. Hargreaves?”
“We?” Aunt Beth’s eyebrows went right up past her hairline.
“We,” I said firmly. “If I read the article right, the process literally reverse-ages the subject so they come back – if they come back – quite a bit younger physically than they were when they died. If it works, Charlotte Holmes will be a lot closer to my age than yours...and she’ll need someone to bring her up to speed on things.”
“Ha,” Aunt Beth said again, genuinely amused this time. “What you mean is she’ll need a Watson – namely you – as opposed to a Lestrade.”
“If you say so,” I said, unable to suppress a grin. “And it is a family tradition.”
“Oh, all right. Come on,” she said. “If we’re going to do this, we might as well get started.”
Waking up came as a distinct surprise.
It wasn’t that the process had worked. I hadn’t designed it to fail – no matter what certain others might have thought – and the underlying science was perfectly sound. Indeed, it had clearly been improved during my hiatus. Even without opening my eyes, I felt far younger on emergence than I had been going in. Moreover, my hair (which, not being an idiot, I had shaved off before having myself completely submerged in honey) had fully regrown. That was a detail I’d not thought to include in the revival protocols.
No, the wonder was that someone other than Jamie Watson had taken the trouble to bring me back.
I opened my eyes, blinked, and examined my surroundings. The large oblong room was not one I recognized; evidently I had been moved from the Yorkshire catacomb where Jamie and I had set up the suspension apparatus. I lay on an exam table in its center, dressed in what amounted to plain blue pajamas. A tangle of computer hardware lined one wall, under the oversight of a portly man in a lab coat. Standing over me, meanwhile, were two individuals whose identities were all too predictable.
“I hope you realize,” I said, “that I’m by far the Yard’s all-time least favorite Holmes. You’d have done better to bring back Uncle Leander or thrice-great grandfather Sherlock.”
Inspector Elizabeth M. Lestrade – so identified both by the family’s classic chin and a badge worn round her neck – traded a shocked glance with her companion. “Do you mean to say they’re...in storage, too?”
“Good God, no. At least Leander isn’t.” I paused, frowning. “Sherlock, now – that’s rather a mystery. The original honey-bath formula was his, but there are gaps in his notes, and no one knows exactly how or where he died.”
“Great-Doctor John must have, but he left bushels of manuscripts everywhere with all sorts of don’t-open-till-somewhen warnings attached. JJ Watson at your service,” Lestrade’s younger companion added, quite unnecessarily. He was a trifle bulkier than Jamie had been, and a natural redhead besides, but there was a considerable resemblance. “We still get the occasional letter from a bank or a descendant of one of Sherlock’s clients.”
I nodded. “Jamie tried to keep track, but there was never enough time, there were a surprising number of forgeries, and a good many of the genuine cases were just bizarre. Speaking of now, though—”
“2194. May 25th, to be exact,” said Lestrade. “Welcome to the 22nd century – or what’s left of it.”
My subconscious did the math automatically: one hundred forty-seven years. Too long, I thought, and not nearly long enough. “So,” I said aloud, “I don’t imagine you’ve woken me just to chat about our respective ancestors. And the Yard has always had trouble with really creative criminals. Still—”
“We had hardly any criminals, period, for over fifty years,” Lestrade interjected. “Then about three months ago, things changed. Now we have two sorts of lawbreaking on our hands, and neither one makes any sense. There’s a whole run of perfectly ordinary one-off violence and property crime, all of it done by otherwise respectable citizens out of the blue for no good reason whatever. Only then there’s also this string of outright impossible thefts – all high-tech hardware and data – where the stolen goods just plain vanish. And that we can’t properly tie to anyone at all.”
“No criminals, period?” I inquired, arching an eyebrow. “I’m certain I don’t want to know how that was managed, but tell me anyway.”
It was Watson who answered. “Crypnotics,” he said. “Scientists worked out how to program criminal behavior patterns out of people’s brains. The research began during the late 21st century, and the UN accords allowing it were passed in 2137 after a three-year run of really awful terrorist incidents worldwide.”
I couldn’t help but shudder. “Brainwashing – government-sanctioned brainwashing, at that. Didn’t anyone object?”
“Absolutely,” said Watson. “The protests were incredibly sedate. The objectors wanted it to be really obvious that if any participant was crypnotized, it was for being opposed to the process, not for any actual crime. Only none of the protesters were crypnotized, and the programmers have always been careful about keeping the algorithms as specific and narrowly focused as possible.” While it was clear he believed the bit about the government’s intentions being pure, his tone made it equally obvious that he didn’t entirely approve of the technology.
“And it worked,” Lestrade added, with rather more enthusiasm. “Crime just about stopped cold, and now? We’ve made huge scientific discoveries, colonized half the solar system, and there’s talk we might just have interstellar travel worked out in the next dozen years or so.”
I shrugged. “Impressive, I suppose. But I don’t see why you woke me up, given you’ve just explained at least one of your crime waves.”
Lestrade gave me a sour look. “Oh, sure – the what is obvious. Someone’s broken the crypnotic algorithms and is using them to induce crime instead of suppressing it.”
“Or starting to, at least,” Watson put in. “Most likely what we’re seeing are just the mastermind’s test subjects. As to the other thefts....”
“They’re building something. Something big,” said Lestrade. “That’s why we need you, Charlotte Holmes – to work out the why. To look at the data and see the pattern, see what our big fish is really up to. And then to help us catch whoever it is.”
I eyed the two of them. “Do recall that my own scientific knowledge is nearly a hundred fifty years out of date.”
JJ Watson grinned, abruptly looking much more like Jamie. “We can fix that.” He stretched a hand to one side, scooping up a headset and several tiny cubes from a nearby desk. “These are holo-learning modules: history, sciences, current events, and so on. Run them in accelerated mode, and you’ll be up to speed by tomorrow morning.”
“Perhaps,” I said, sitting up on the exam table. “I submit that certain practical considerations remain to be addressed. Clothing, shelter – and no, Inspector, that pill in your hand is not proper food.”
“Granted,” Lestrade said, “but your body needs fuel now, so it’s this or two days in bed with an IV. There’s an outfit and ID kit in there,” she added, gesturing, as Watson picked up a valise. “As soon as you’re changed, we can head for your new lodgings.”
“Aunt Beth picked the perfect place,” Watson put in cheerfully. “You’ll be thrilled. Trust me.”
“I admire your optimism,” I told him, though I’m sure the blue pajamas severely blunted the impact of my ironic tone. I swung my legs off the table, accepting the pill from Lestrade and the valise from Watson. “Time will tell whether it proves justified.”
Some two hours later, as Lestrade parked her flying car (!) at our destination, I found myself surprised all over again – and, unexpectedly, hopeful. Perhaps, I thought, this second life will prove less fraught than my first.
Jamie Watson was an idiot.
He meant well, mind you. And he wasn’t totally wrong. If the truth had come out at the time, there’s every chance Charlotte wouldn’t have survived the fallout. But Jamie kept it back even in his private journals, and as a result, neither JJ nor I were prepared when the case proceeded to explode in our faces. For her part, Holmes points out that Jamie couldn’t possibly have foreseen the consequences of his reticence. “There’s improbable, and then there’s the psychological inverse of winning EuroMillions.”
That was afterward, though. As it was, Holmes’ first night in New London went well enough. I’d installed her, under the name of Charlotte Hudson, in the basement apartment at 221A Baker Street, and both JJ and I stayed to be sure she was safely and properly settled in. Jamie’s journals made it clear that Charlotte had been emotionally unpredictable at the best of times, which meant I had a tricky job ahead – not least because Holmes was three steps ahead of me out of the gate.
“Afraid I’ll slip out in search of illicit pharmaceuticals, in whatever form they take nowadays?” she inquired, watching from her bed as I arranged a pillow and blanket on a corner armchair. She sounded amused, but there was something else in her tone as well.
“The thought had crossed my mind.” There was no question of being less than frank with a Holmes. Two centuries’ experience had taught my family that lesson: almost no lie would fool them, and – with very rare exceptions – the very attempt at subterfuge was unthinkably disrespectful.
“And mine,” Charlotte admitted. “Oddly enough, my body disagreed. The rejuvenation process seems to have flushed away a lifetime of chemical sin; beginning it anew seems . . . premature.”
“Agreed,” I said. “We have other priorities just now. Better get some rest.”
Holmes quirked an eyebrow at me. “I’m astonished. Are you actually going to skip the bit where you tell me to keep my hands off your nephew on pain of—” she paused, clearly looking for an alternative to the obvious word “—well, unspeakable pain?”
I laughed. “The thought had crossed my mind. And yes, JJ is totally up for playing Watson to your Holmes in world’s-greatest-detective mode. But you’re both adults – thank God – and I refuse to play chaperone for either one of you. If something happens, I trust the two of you to deal with it.” JJ’s prediction had been accurate. According to Jamie’s account, Charlotte had gone into hibernation not long after her forty-eighth birthday; now her body was about half that age, and JJ himself was just two years younger.
An awkward silence stretched past the end of that thought. “Trust,” Holmes said at last. “A far more terrifying prospect than any threat of physical torture.”
I nodded. “Agreed. The less people trust you, the easier they are to impress. My boss, for instance.”
Holmes was carefully not meeting my eyes. “Whereas impressing people who do trust you – that takes work.”
“It does,” I said, likewise avoiding hers. “But the result justifies the effort five times over. Though I doubt I need to tell you that.”
That produced a short, barked laugh. “The Lestrades of my generation were a great deal less perceptive.”
“We’ve had over a century to improve,” I pointed out. “And Da did marry a Watson.”
“Touché,” said Holmes, reaching for the headset lying on her nightstand. “And good night.”
“You need sleep, too,” I said, settling into the armchair. I had every intention of staying awake long enough to enforce that observation – but my own body took less than ten minutes to decide otherwise, so I was the one who dropped off first.
The Master’s orders that night were more than a bit odd. We’d finally got all the hardware I needed for his primary project – circuitry, plastics, laser tools, biomold components, and so on. Most of the sub-neural programming was finished, and the physical design work was done as well. The Master’s under-Web held a third of the world’s computers within its reach, and half the rest could be tapped with little more than a minor act of will on his part.
So what were we doing now? Lurking behind a house in outer Hampstead, just off Acol Road, our target a cache of papers whose contents the Master feared might be too dangerous to be left in someone else’s hands. “The material I need to see has not been digitized,” he had said. “Which may have been very stupid or very wise, depending on what was recorded.”
I had argued for conducting the raid wholly by remote control, just as we had carried out our earlier supply runs. “Not this one,” was the Master’s reply. “The variables are too unpredictable.” I had been forced to construct a half dozen new drones as well as modifying several others, creating a fleet equally prepared for simple data-gathering, outright theft, and – should the need arise – armed combat. Moreover, I was managing the entire force via a hastily rigged multi-channel neural interface helmet.
Just now, most of the fleet was concealed in a nearby cluster of trees, while two of the smallest drones hovered just outside a particular attic window. I linked to Number Four’s data display, which read:
SECURITY MEASURES DETECTED:
WIRING-BASED SENSORS – DISABLED.
ALUMINIUM INTERNAL LATCH – DISABLED.
“Scan for and report interior security measures,” I told it.
VIDEO SURVEILLANCE – NEGATIVE.
MOTION SENSORS – NEGATIVE.
ELECTRONIC COUNTERMEASURES – NEGATIVE.
KEY-TYPE METAL LOCKS – AFFIRMATIVE, PRESENT ON SOME SHELVING.
Beside me, the Master’s personal telepresence drone emitted a soft bleep. “Show us the interior of that attic.” Several moments passed, the LED grid I’d programmed to display his neural activity flashing like a madly spinning kaleidoscope. “No labels on any of it,” he muttered, clearly less than pleased. “We’ll have to go through it all. Locked shelves first,” he instructed.
“As you wish. Three,” I said, “raise the window. Five through Twelve, stand by for entry.”
Ninety-five seconds later, eight fully stealthed intelligence drones – plus the Master’s own – sailed silently into the attic. I seconded the infiltration group’s management to the Master’s own systems, keeping the handful of remaining units on patrol outside the house.
It was as well that I did. No more than fifteen minutes passed before the unmistakable muted roar of a New Scotland Yard hovercar growled out of the night. In moments it had parked in front of the house, and three figures piled out. Number Two promptly catalogued them for me:
ELIZABETH MARY LESTRADE, INSPECTOR, NEW SCOTLAND YARD.
JONATHAN JAMES WATSON, RESIDENT, THIS ADDRESS.
FEMALE, CAUCASIAN, APPROXIMATE AGE 24.
IDENTITY REPORTED AS CHARLOTTE HUDSON; ACCURACY QUESTIONABLE.
RECORD ADDED TO DATABASE WITHIN LAST 48 HOURS.
NO OTHER COMPARABLE RECORD AVAILABLE.
Lestrade’s arrival was alarming, though not wholly surprising. I had known for weeks that she was probing our activities, and that my reputation as one of the world’s foremost bio-cybernetics experts had drawn her attention. But none of our supposed crimes could be tied to me, as I’d always been dozens of miles away from any of the sites where they’d been committed. Her nephew, of course, lived here. But their mysterious companion – that was another story entirely.
“Catch that girl! Catch her at all costs!”
For the first time since I’d found him in the vaults underneath the old Meiringen Limited compound, there was a note of utter panic in the Master’s voice. Till now it had always been cultured and urbane, even amused, as he’d been when I asked who he was. “Not Who,” he’d said. “Say rather, what. I am the Master, and you will obey me. Yes, that sounds about right.” A laugh – one that wasn’t entirely sane – followed.
I knew, of course, that he wasn’t the television character he’d quoted, though at times the resonance was disconcertingly close. And given where I’d found him, I had my suspicions about his true identity – especially now, given whose home we were burgling at the moment. But it had been safer for both of us not to probe that well too deeply. There would be time enough for that, I judged, once I’d completed the project that would restore him to a much-improved semblance of his former self.
Assuming, that was, that we both emerged unscathed from the present situation. “One, Two, Fifteen through Eighteen – combat mode, non-lethal! Immobilize all targets!” So long as the battle stayed in front of the house while I remained behind it, watching through the drones’ video feeds, I felt relatively safe.
“What in the hell is this?” JJ Watson demanded, dodging ionizer fire as he tried to reach his front door. “Killer robots from outer space?”
“One for three,” the younger woman told him. She had emerged from the hovercar with an ionizer in hand. Thus far her accuracy had been minimal, but she was improving rapidly, and her dodging ability was uncanny. “I make it ionizer robots from...possibly Fulham. Certainly no farther than Battersea.” The deduction was equally uncanny, given that our current base of operations was indeed underneath the streets of Fulham.
A shot from Lestrade took Sixteen out of the fight; meanwhile, Nine and Ten shot into view from over the roof, presumably dispatched by the Master. Watson didn’t have an ionizer, but he grabbed a rock from the ground and threw it at One. The missile went wide – but it struck the side of the house hard enough that a loose shingle skittered down off the roof, crashing squarely onto One and knocking it dizzily to the ground. And that gave Watson enough time to dodge through the front door.
“Incoming!” I warned the Master. “The Watson boy is inside!”
“Catch that girl!” came the order, a second time. “Nothing else matters now! The mission is aborted. All unarmed units, retreat to Site Two. All armed units, engage – use lethal force if necessary on all targets except ‘Charlotte Hudson’. Fenwick – when you take her, bring the girl to Site Five.”
“I’ll do my best, Master!” I did not, however, like my odds. Even with the drones’ aid, the girl would be a challenge to transport – and that assumed I could win the firefight on my own.
The Master evidently sensed my lack of confidence. “At the very least, I must have a sample of her DNA. Oh,” he added, his tone almost casual, “I wouldn’t advise entering the house at this point.”
I drew in a breath. “Understood, Master.” I then took stock of my remaining resources. Lestrade had shot down Ten and Seventeen during my exchange with the Master, and the other girl had somehow caused Two to self-destruct. “Nine,” I said, programming instructions through my neural interface as I spoke, “deploy spider swarm. Fifteen, target the inspector’s hovercar and execute final strike.” That left Twelve and Eighteen, both of which were currently circling Lestrade herself.
The swarm – a flurry of micro-sized databots – did precisely as I’d hoped, landing on ‘Charlotte’ and scratching her with their hundreds of tiny but very sharp claws. In absolute terms, this did very little physical damage – but once their target had brushed them aside, they scurried away, and the skin cells they’d gathered would soon find their way back to one of my laboratories.
But then ‘Charlotte’ fulfilled the Master’s worst nightmare. Instead of going to Lestrade’s aid, she turned and ran into the house, presumably in search of the Watson boy – who had, unless I badly missed my guess, headed straight for the attic and the store of family journals the Master had sought.
That, however, was before Lestrade’s arrival, and before the Master chose to flee. I had no doubt what he’d left in the attic before his departure, and a check of the relevant telemetry confirmed my suspicion. I had roughly thirty seconds to resolve my dilemma. If I allowed the suitcase bomb to explode, the woman I’d been ordered to keep alive would surely be destroyed – but if I disabled it, the Watsonian archives the Master had taken pains to annihilate would remain at his enemies’ disposal.
I could not decide – yet neither could I not decide, my mind being linked directly to the device via the neural helmet. Whatever command I issued could not be taken back. Inaction prevailed for eleven seconds, weighing of outcomes six. Four seconds more went by as I framed my command – and then I saw the case come flying out the attic window, and rational thought ceased to occur. I lacked even the time to contemplate the Master’s reaction before the earth-shattering K’BOOM! engulfed me.
Three days after the debacle at Hampstead – which was to say, Thursday afternoon, just at teatime – the bell rang at 221A Baker Street. It did so seemingly of its own volition; only the keenest eye would have noted the faint but forceful whiff! of compressed air aimed precisely at the doorbell from the beak of a pigeon perched twenty feet away. Fewer still would have discerned that the pigeon was, in fact, a cunningly crafted robot.
The door of 221A opened, and the flat’s raven-haired occupant thrust her head out. Seeing no one about, she began to shut the door before the packet lying on the stoop caught her eye. On reading the name neatly printed across its front – CHARLOTTE HOLMES – she gave a soft, sharp whistle and closed the door with a thump.
A few moments later, the door reopened. This time Inspector Beth Lestrade stepped out, passed a sensor wand over the packet, and frowned as she studied the readings on her wrist display. Shaking her head, she scooped the packet up in one gloved hand, stepped back into the flat, and allowed the door to shut behind her.
Inside, Lestrade dropped the packet onto a table. “It’s clean,” she told Charlotte and JJ Watson, who were seated at opposite ends of a long, shabby sofa upholstered in neon-purple velvet. “No explosives, no contact poison, no electronic surprises. Also,” she added, “no biometric data whatever. No prints, no sweat, no skin cells, no nothing, not even on whatever’s inside. As far as the evidence goes, no human has ever touched the damned thing.”
Charlotte eyed the item thoughtfully. “That would be consistent with our Monday encounter,” she said. “The object could easily have been delivered by a drone like the ones that attacked us.”
“Maybe,” Lestrade said, clearly not convinced. “But if so, that means Martin Fenwick is still out there. The techs found enough DNA traces behind the house to prove he was there, but their read was that he’d been right at the epicenter when the bomb went off.”
Watson stood up and began pacing along one end of the room. “Nobody outside this room – except Dr. Hargreaves, I guess – should have any idea Charlotte Holmes is alive and well and living in Baker Street. So how did whoever sent that know to address it to her – and to send it here?”
Charlotte gave him an approving nod. “That’s the key question. Let’s find out.” In one smooth motion, she stood, crossed the room, picked up the packet, ripped one end of it open, and thrust her hand inside. After a moment she drew the hand out again, holding two objects: a data module and a large gray calling card. The former she tossed to Lestrade, turning the latter over to reveal its inscription:
Her face went corpse-white in the space of an instant, and Watson rushed to her side barely fast enough to keep her from crumpling to the floor. Instead, he set her gently on the sofa, positioning a cushion under her head. “Are you all right?”
“I – will be. Play it,” Charlotte said, waving vaguely in Lestrade’s direction.
“On it,” said Lestrade, who was already standing next to the enormous roll-top desk at the far end of the room. An assortment of up-to-date computer components occupied several of the desk’s cubbyholes, and she moved to thrust the data module into one of them when Charlotte interrupted, her voice frayed but still firm.
“Not there! Nothing – connected.”
Lestrade thwacked her forehead. “Right, it’s probably loaded with eleven kinds of spyware.” She rummaged in a drawer, came up with a portable music player, and inserted the data module. “This ought to be compatible.”
“Fourteen, in fact,” said a cultured, calm voice that held a great deal more resonance than the portable player should have been able to produce. “But no matter. Greetings, Inspector Lestrade, Master Watson – and my dear Charlotte. Welcome to the end of the twenty-second century, and I do mean the end.”
“Moriarty?” Watson said, an astonished expression on his face. “But that shouldn’t be possible.”
“Yes, well, which one?” Lestrade demanded. “If it is a Moriarty, it might be any of them, from the original Professor on down.”
Charlotte was sitting up, her legs folded under her. “Or it might just be Fenwick playing games. That voice is synthesized – it’s an actor from the old Doctor Who serials. John Simm, I think.”
“How the memory slips with time,” came the amused reply. “Anthony Ainley, actually. I am the Master, and you will obey me. Fenwick serves my ends, no more. And as for which Moriarty, my dear Inspector, I should think that would be obvious.”
“M-squared,” Watson said slowly. “The second Professor. The last Moriarty. The journals don’t say much more than that, and it’s never been clear where he belongs on the charts. There were one or two academics in the later generations, but neither Patrick nor Rory ever actually went in for serious crime.”
“He was never on the charts,” Charlotte said, softly. “He wasn’t even a Moriarty when those were drawn.”
“Not true, my dear,” said the voice from the music player. “DNA doesn’t lie. Yours makes you a Holmes – and mine made me a Moriarty, first, last, and always.”
“Only by half,” said Charlotte. “You had a choice. And your mother gave you away – to us.”
“Walter would have had me killed in the cradle. And Maeve was playing the long game – planting a seed, laying groundwork. In a way, she won. She destroyed the Holmes clan just as thoroughly as you destroyed mine.”
Charlotte smiled crookedly. “You did most of that work yourself – and to yourself, in the end. Remind me whose idea it was to build plastic explosives into the structure of the Meiringen compound.”
“Details,” the voice said mildly. “I hadn’t planned to be in the compound when they went off. Luckily, I was also playing the long game, and one of my contingency plans is at last coming to fruition. I make it three weeks at most before the world is fully under my control.”
Unexpectedly, Charlotte laughed. “A sure sign you’re about to crash and burn,” she said. “You’re too optimistic for your own good.”
“We shall see, my dear,” came the reply. “I have resources you can’t begin to imagine, and I know how to use them. I could kill you all as we speak.”
“Doubtful,” said Charlotte, “or you’d have done it already.” She turned her head and addressed Lestrade. “You’ve traced the signal by now?”
“He’s been bouncing it all over New London,” the inspector said, “but we’ve got a solid lock in the Underground at Picadilly. There’s a team going in now – and they’ve been briefed to watch for drones and boobytraps.”
The mind behind the voice cursed inwardly. Abandon Site Five, it ordered. That location is compromised. “Well played,” it said aloud, over the broadcast channel. “But yours is a minor and temporary victory. The game will be mine. Au revoir, sister dear – until next time.” A single mental word, and the data module evaporated into plastic dust, though the six other passive monitors insinuated into the Baker Street flat remained intact.
Watson’s jaw had dropped. “Sister?”
“Half sister,” Lestrade put in, “if I followed that right. Which explains the M-squared thing – Milo Moriarty. Self-centered much?”
“Very,” Charlotte said dryly, finally sounding more like herself, “even before he found out. We should have seen what he was up to long before we actually did.”
“But how in hell is he here, now?” Watson demanded.
Charlotte frowned. “I’m not totally sure he is, but I have a theory. Milo was experimenting with advanced robotics and AI back when we were alive – well, first alive. That was why he started Meiringen Limited. We know he was trapped in the compound when it imploded in 2039. If he uploaded a brain-scan into one of his backup mainframes, and if the storage system held together underneath all the debris, that data could have survived till now – and Martin Fenwick might have come across it when the Meiringen site was disturbed early this year.”
Lestrade and Watson exchanged glances. “So our new Moriarty might be a digital artifact?” asked Watson.
“It’s possible,” said Charlotte. “It obviously thinks it’s Milo, but there’s no telling how good a copy it actually is.”
“Or how sane it is,” Lestrade pointed out, “if it spent 150-odd years in total isolation.”
“A point,” Charlotte admitted. “One thing, though: based on what’s been taken in those technology thefts, Fenwick just might have been trying to build him a body.”
The look Lestrade gave her was less than pleased. “Just what we need: an evil robot mastermind.”
“More like an android,” Charlotte corrected, “judging by the components, but yes. The question is how far along they were before our adventure on Monday, and whether or not Fenwick survived. If he didn’t, our Moriarty may be stuck in digital form for a while yet.”
Watson, meanwhile, looked unexpectedly cheerful. “We may have the worst Moriarty,” he said, “but we also have the best Holmes. You beat him before; you can do it again.”
Charlotte regarded him warily. “This world relies on computers even more than mine did. As an electronic intelligence, his influence could be unbreakable.”
“Don’t bet on it,” Watson said. “I’ve got friends who’ll help, and some of them have mad skills. And there are sealed systems in place to guard against just that kind of threat.”
“You said it yourself,” put in Lestrade. “We didn’t wake you up just to chat. But this is our fight, too. We’ve been watching your family’s back for better than two centuries, and we’re damned sure not going to stop now.”
Charlotte sighed – but as she did, she stood up and moved to stand between Watson and Lestrade. “You’re both mad. But then again, so is whatever’s left of my brother. All right, then,” she continued, her eyes flicking to each corner of the room in turn. “If you want a fight, you’ve got one.”
She paused. Watson eyed her expectantly. “And?”
“The adventure’s starting,” he said. “You know how that’s supposed to go.”
Charlotte glared at him. “That was Conan Doyle’s invention. Jamie just copied it.”
Watson folded his arms across his chest. “We’re waiting.”
“You’re waiting,” said Lestrade, turning an amused look on them both. “I’m not getting in the middle of this.”
Several moments of silence followed, in which no one moved. Finally, Charlotte shrugged. “Oh, very well. All together, then...” She lifted her hand, giving a silent one-two-three count with her fingers, and the three said as one:
“The game is afoot!”
And I, said the mind that thought of itself as Professor Milo Moriarty, and M-Squared, and the Master (but not that Master), shall win it this time, once and for all.
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