Chapter 1: Prologue
The light flickered at the end of the hallway, casting a silvery glow on three figures entering the corridor. Darkly dressed, the two upright individuals seemed to blend in with the walls around them. The body they were supporting, though, stood out from the surroundings; iridescent blue light crisscrossed the torso. Each upright figure was pulling an arm, dragging the slim body across the glossy floor. They stopped at a large set of double doors, and one of the guards dropped the arm to knock on the metal door. The sound echoed through the nearly deserted corridor.
After several seconds, the door opened, seemingly of its own accord. The two guards dragged the body through the doors, before dropping it unceremoniously in the center of the room.
The room itself was dimly lit as well. The walls appeared to be covered in bookshelves. In the far corner, a single lamp partially illuminated what seemed to be a man sitting in a chair, though all that could be seen was his legs and half his torso. His fingers drummed against the arms of the chair.
The guards stood silently next to the figure sprawled on the floor. Even though the body was not bound in any way, there was no movement. The only sign of any life was the faint motion of the chest slowly rising and falling.
One of the guards pulled out a slim black disc and set it on the small table in front of the man.
“Is this her?” the man in the chair asked suddenly.
“Yes, sir,” one of the guards replied, slightly inclining his head.
“You may leave. I’ll send for you again if you are needed.”
After the two guards followed his orders, the man leaned forward in his chair, his fingers steepled in front of his face, contemplating the body before him. He slowly rose and walked up to the figure on the floor. Kneeling, he pushed the body over, revealing the face of a young woman. Her eyes were closed, and her light brown hair partially obscured her face. He leant forward, examining her head, clothes, and body.
Whatever he gained from looking her over, he disapproved. He scoffed, and stood up. He had one more sweeping glance of her strewn body, before making a sweeping kick to her midsection.
The woman grunted, and instinctively pulled her body in to protect herself. The man kicked her again, this time with more force. Eyelashes fluttering, the woman muttered something to herself as she regained consciousness. She opened her eyes to see a thin man silhouetted by the light behind him, standing above her with a sinister grin on his face.
“Hello, darling. How nice of you to finally join me. You know, it’s rude to keep your host waiting.”
Horror spread across the woman’s face; her bottom lip quivered and her eyes widened in terror.
“So kind of you to be here on such short notice. You didn’t come to my attention until about an hour ago, but I know how to work quickly. Your user is quite inept when it comes to subtleties, isn’t he? Once on the main Grid, you were easy to track and overwhelm.”
The woman was still in a state of shock. She started trying to back away while still lying on the floor.
“Oh, no. We can’t have that,” the man drawled, with a smirk on his face. He kicked her again, causing her to let out a small cry.
Picking up the disc on the table, he held it up to her. “Your exact function on the Grid, on my Grid, was the only thing that that was effectively programmed into you, but I’ve gleamed what I can, Molly.” His voice was bordering on manic, as he starting pacing the room.
“Are you not a secondary program to assist JOHN? In whatever his true function may be? I can’t prove that his function is in opposition to mine but you are much easier to read. Did you arrive to assist him? Break him out?” His voice had been reduced to a growl, and his face was contorted in rage.
Molly whimpered, and covered her head with her arms.
“TELL ME,” he commanded, kicking her again. As this yielded no result, he placed the disc back on the table and he reached down, grabbing her arm. “Well, then, there’s other ways to find out what I want.”
“No!” Molly screamed, attempting to thrash away from the man.
He gripped her arm tightly, and grabbed the side of her head with his other hand. He clenched his hand around her hair, effectively holding her head in place.
“I will get what I want, Molly. I always do. These feeble attempts by your user to send programs like you into the Grid will not be tolerated. I may be playing nice with John right now, but the second I get bored, he will be gone.”
Picking up the disc on the table again, and examining it, the man smiled. “Your user doesn’t even know there is this big of a threat though, does he? All he knows is that some of the memory space has mysteriously disappeared. Along with a few of his programs. You’re just an inquiry program. Nothing more. And you will definitely not be finding anything.”
“You’ll make an interesting experiment though. I’ll be able to thoroughly learn your user’s techniques, which will make it so much easier to extract information and corrupt programs like you later.” The man grinned as he traced his finger around the circle of the disc, causing various sections to light up and spark. He thought to himself, tonight was going to be so much fun.
101010 101010 101010
And at that moment, in the reality we are all familiar with, in an office building in London, a man named Greg who created a program designated MOLLY, which had been designed to pick up and trace discrepancies in the current OS of ENCOM, sat at his computer baffled on how it had disappeared before his eyes. After so many failures, he reluctantly conceded to himself he couldn’t do this alone. Praying he wouldn’t regret this later, Greg sighed and starting dialing an old friend.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“Oh Christ!” Greg jumped off a circuit board his foot had crunched into while trying to traverse the minefield that was better known as Sherlock Holmes’ flat.
“Sherlock?” he called, peering around the disassembled computer , enormous manuals, and other assorted books haphazardly strewn around the flat.
Greg sighed. He hadn’t seen Sherlock for months after he was fired for alleged illegal conduct. Sherlock was… different. Greg had been one of the few at the office who could even attempt to deal with him. He had been a brilliant programmer for Encom, but very difficult to work with if you weren’t up to his standards.
However, with the problems he was facing at Encom, he knew there was only one programmer he could trust to explain what he had been encountering. Greg had been fiddling with the system one lazy afternoon after he had finished his assignment for the day and came across some unusual coding at one section. Immediately, he knew that something wasn’t right. He created several small programs to approach the almost insignificant error he was detecting to see what analysis they could provide; when the analysis was nearly complete, the programs would mysteriously disappear.
He had tried what he could, some of which probably wasn’t completely legal. Greg knew some outside assistance was needed from someone he had to trust to get the job done, to discern what the problem was. He had been feeling uneasy about the company recently; he desperately wanted to know he wasn’t going crazy.
Sherlock was cut-off from the company; he didn’t harbor any positive feelings for Encom, that Greg knew for sure.
“Sherlock! I know you’re hiding somewhere.” Greg slid between two ridiculously tall stacks of books to reveal Sherlock huddled behind one of the armchairs with an actual functional laptop.
Sherlock kept on typing furiously away at his laptop, scrunched in a position that held the laptop precariously on his knees. It looked extremely uncomfortable to Greg.
Greg threw what looked to be a hard drive of a computer and several notebooks on the floor to make room on the seedy looking couch near Sherlock to wait until he decided to acknowledge his presence.
Ten minutes passed and Greg was getting impatient already. He started going through his phone, repeatedly glancing over at Sherlock, who was still madly typing.
“Sherlock? I don’t have all night. I think you’ll find this interesting.”
Another minute passed, until finally Sherlock closed his laptop and stood up.
“And what could be so interesting that a man I haven’t seen in 4 months and 7 days decides to break into my flat and grace myself with his presence?” Sherlock asked coldly.
“Now hold on, I didn’t break into your flat. The door was unlocked.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “What do you want?”
Greg began to explain the problem to Sherlock. He silently listened to the whole story, intently watching Greg’s face.
“… So I was wondering if you could come down to Encom and have a look at the OS and confirm or deny my suspicions. It would be a huge favor, I know, but I’m willing to—“ Sherlock shook his head.
“You don’t want to—“ Greg started to ask, slightly surprised.
“No. You were going to tell me you would pay me for my troubles. I don’t need the money. Breaking into Encom and rooting through their system will be reward enough.”
“All right. Fine. That’s fine. Thank you.”
“Do we want to do this tonight?”
Greg looked taken aback. “Tonight?”
“Yes. What’s stopping us? No time like the present, as people say. Of course it’s exceedingly trite the majority of the time but it applies well enough here.”
“Right. Shall we go in my car?” He stood up, motioning to the street outside.
“No. I don’t want to be seen arriving with you, if someone looks at the security cameras later. I will take a taxi and find my own way in.”
Greg raised an eyebrow but nodded. “Meet me in room 34 on the first floor. It’s large and houses most of the large scale experiments. You know the one.”
After Greg was down the stairs and out the door, Sherlock felt a surge of excitement and purpose. There was finally something to do to ease the never-ending boredom that was these past few months. It had been absolute torture. He had taken small jobs here and there but nothing as thrilling as this. He practically ran to grab his long, dark coat and a scarf, and then dashed down the stairs. A way to possibly prove he wasn’t the one who stole the information while obtaining evidence to prove how corrupt that damn CEO of Encom really was? Sherlock could barely suppress a grin.
He directed the cab to stop a few blocks before reaching the main building downtown. What they were doing tonight was dangerous and highly illegal, two of his favorite things, but it did require some discretion.
He walked the rest of the way, his shoulders hunched and the lapels of his coat up to cover part of his face. When he had been abruptly separated from the company, the CEO, Mr. Moriarty, was very pleased to have him go. He had been accused of a lot of things, only half of which were true. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble trying to convince the world that he had leaked several crucial security components online and stolen other significant data from the OS and company. All of which did occur, only Sherlock couldn’t truthfully claim responsibility for it. However, everything led back to him and so he was removed from the company. His brother was the only reason he wasn’t criminally charged with anything too serious.
Sherlock had left with inconsequential criminal charges, a grudge against the company, and a suspicion that Mr. Moriarty wasn’t all that he seemed.
Someone had actually gotten away with these things and might still be getting away with them, and Sherlock was the only one who knew it wasn’t him. It was an intriguing thought if they were related to the inconsistencies Greg had encountered. Definitely something Sherlock had to look into once he was locked into the system later tonight.
Once near the building, he slipped down a side alley to reach a back entrance that janitors used. Sherlock pulled an ID out of his pocket that read “Gregory Lestrade”. Smirking at it, Sherlock swiped it on the receiver. He used to enjoy nicking them from Greg, as he had higher clearance than Sherlock, and tonight wasn’t any different.
The door slid open, and Sherlock stepped inside. He took off down the hallway, knowing exactly where he had to go. He had been away from the company for months, but he still knew this building inside and out. Before he was fired, he had practically lived here and knew all the dark corners he could work in peace.
Rounding the corner, Sherlock practically rammed into something solid. Grunting, he managed to catch himself from falling.
Sherlock straightened up to see Greg regaining his balance as well.
“What are you doing there, hovering in front of the door?”
“Waiting for you, you dolt.”
“I knew where the room was.” Sherlock strode past Greg, pushing at the door. It swung open, revealing a large room, more than two floors high, filled with small desks and very large, unique looking instruments. Sherlock’s eyes swept across the room, eager to observe what the company had been up to in his absence. This wasn’t his department, but he had loved sneaking in here every once in a while, as they did design some intriguing and even sometimes useful gadgets.
Making a bee-line to the nearest computer in front of a ray-looking machine, Sherlock sat in the chair and swiveled around to face Greg, arms crossed. “Well?”
“Well what?” Greg asked, bemused. “Just do your thing. What do you want? A tip?”
“I need your access password,” snapped Sherlock, giving Greg a look that clearly said, “Who’s the dolt now?”
“Oh.” Greg stepped forward to enter it in for Sherlock.
Once in the system, Sherlock went to work. Greg stood awkwardly behind him for a minute or two before Sherlock turned around, his face in a frown. “So what sort of programs did you send in?”
“The first two were nothing special. Basic inquiry programs. The third was a bit more involved but came to the same end as the first two. It was frustrating, to say the least,” said Greg haltingly.
“You were beginning to suspect something was stopping you from finding what was wrong?” Sherlock asked.
“ Yeah,” Greg sheepishly responded. “Nothing in this system should behave like this… unless you want to hide something. I then took off two days from work and wrote another program, different from the others. It’s primary function, or I say, outward appearance, was that of an inquiry program. But it was more than that. It also could gather evidence of faulty programs, creating sort of a report, and if it saw something it could fix, it attempts that. But it disappeared like the rest eventually. The weird thing is I still get fragments of reports from it. I really can’t tell what’s happening.”
“Of course you can’t. You’re an idiot. Well, not as much as an idiot as everyone else at this company, but enough of one. You are convinced that there is something bad going on with the CEO though? That he’s behind this?”
Greg nodded, his face resolute.
“Good.” Sherlock smiled. “Oh, and another thing. Could you go elsewhere for a bit? Just anywhere but here. You’re thinking too loudly.”
“Thinking too--? Never mind” He shook his head. “I’ll just sit in one of these side lab rooms then.” Greg walked off towards a row of doors at the end of the large room.
“Finally. Quiet,” muttered Sherlock, tapping on the desk with his left hand as he stared at the screen displaying lines of computer code. “Interesting. This is all wrong. Either the person who programmed it was an idiot too or…” Sherlock bit his bottom lip.
Deep in concentration, Sherlock didn’t even notice when the machine behind him switched on of its own accord. It was only a quiet hum after all. The lens flared with an iridescent blue light, which projected on to Sherlock’s back. Sherlock didn’t realize anything was wrong until it was far too late. By then, he had almost completely disappeared from this reality. Pain flared across his body for a second and then as quick as it came, it vanished. Utterly confused, the only thing Sherlock Holmes could sense was that this was the start of something new.
Hey guys! Thanks for reading. I think I will try to update every week. I am currently working on chapter 3.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
When Sherlock Holmes bothered to put on clothing while venturing out into public, he always wore a suit. Fitted, designer suits were his preference; they were way over his current budget of approximately nothing, but that’s what brothers with government controlling jobs are for. So when Sherlock pulled himself up into a sitting position, musing on how in the world did he get that way in the first place, the first thing he really noticed about his surroundings was the fact that the sleek black, tailored suit he had been wearing 10 seconds ago was gone. In its place was an unknown material, unique in every aspect. It was completely fitted to his body, with silver illuminated lines running through the fabric.
He ran his fingers over it, testing its elasticity and strength. “Fascinating,” he muttered. And then he glanced up to take in his surroundings, and his mouth fell open.
Like his new outfit, everything was novel; this world was like nothing he had even dreamt of, beyond all possible fantasy. Blackness draped over the landscape and light radiated from lines, reminding him of something familiar to him, though he couldn’t put his finger on it. His eyes widened, as he drank in the world around him.
Sherlock straightened up and absorbed the unfamiliar scene, a chill running down his back. Though nothing was actually in pieces, he still could sense a general feeling that he was standing amongst ruins, like this was the desolation of some major city. Maybe it was that everything was darker than he was used to, but that didn’t explain the overall sinister feel of the place, like it was corrupted. He had fallen down the rabbit hole it seemed, and he couldn’t wait to start exploring.
Sherlock shifted around, feeling a curious weight on his back, and reached behind him to feel what it was. There appeared to be a thin, metallic disc strapped to his back. He returned it for now, more bemused by the second.
Running his fingers through his hair as he stood up, he tried to recall the events that preceded him waking up here, and for the first time in years he couldn’t remember what had happened to him. It was like there was a wall in his brain, which frustrated him immensely. After several minutes of concentration though, some small facts leaked through. He knew he was with Greg. And they left his flat at one point; he was alone by that time. And something about Encom. But when was Encom not on his mind?
He shook his head and pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. He had more important things to concentrate on now. Such as, where the hell was he currently?
He could obtain no orientation of direction whatsoever, as there seemed to be no stars, or sky for that matter; Sherlock found this utterly disorientating. The place really did look wholly unfamiliar, like something out of those lousy science fiction novels that kids at his school would muddle through between lessons. There weren’t any trees, not even a hint of vegetation to be seen in the area surrounding Sherlock.
Still, he decided it would be wisest if he left the isolated vicinity, as he didn’t think anyone would be looking for him here. Picking a point in the horizon that seemed to be lit up the most, he started walking.
After several minutes, he came across the nearest of the glowing white lines that ran through the landscape. Curious, he bent down to examine it. The black ground itself was some sort of unknown material, perhaps metal or a dense plastic. If he didn’t know better, it was some sort of combination of the two, but that wasn’t possible. The stripe itself was nebulous, and his hand ran through it. He couldn’t discern its purpose for existing here, but then again, he didn’t even know where ‘here’ was. He needed more data.
Still crouched on the ground, Sherlock perked his head up. There was a humming sound coming from somewhere in the surrounding area. This was the first sign of life he had sensed since waking. Sherlock jumped up, eagerly scanning the surrounding area. Behind him, the sound was coming from behind him.
Twisting around, Sherlock was blinded by a burst of light. He flung up his arms to try to shield himself from the worst of it. Stunned by the unexpected brightness, he blinked rapidly, still attempting to cover his eyes, but his arm was grabbed by a set of hands, which pushed him forward.
Sherlock fought, trying to pull away from the large hands. He refused to go with anyone until he gathered data on who they were and where he was. A second pair of strong hands wrapped around his other arm, and their combined strength was too much for Sherlock. He still struggled but he almost immediately realized it was a useless effort. Two figures, which seemed like men from their bulk alone, were dragging him to a platform where other people were wearing clothing similar to him.
Stumbling forward, Sherlock wondered briefly if it had materialized out of the ground but upon further inspection of it, he concluded that the platform was actually just part of a larger craft. How had he not heard anything more than a hum before it was too late? This must be some brilliant technology. Despite the fact that he was now getting his arms and legs fastened to the platform, he eagerly tried to figure out how the machine worked. The bright light still inhibited most of his vision, however, and so he settled for trying to see the people around him.
The craft lifted up again, almost silently, flying smoothly across the landscape.
Twisting around in his restraints, Sherlock attempted to get a better idea of where he was by aerial observation, an exercise that proved to be pointless as everything looked pretty similar from above. However, he was able to get a better idea of the crisscrossing white lines, which had no discernable pattern that he could think of. That nagging feeling in the back of his mind continued to bother him though, that it reminded of him of something.
Nearing the ground, Sherlock could finally see other figures running about it, actual signs of life. They all appeared to be dressed in suits similar to his own, which Sherlock studied intently.
As smoothly and quietly as it took off, the craft landed near the edge of what Sherlock deduced was most likely an actual city. It had risen up from nowhere; from a distance it blended in with its surroundings.
The guards stepped towards Sherlock, unlocking his arm and leg restraints.
Their faces were anonymous, without any physical or emotional distinction. Sherlock figured that they probably didn’t even have original thoughts.
He paused from walking down the platform like the guards, who were now behind him, wanted; Sherlock turned to try to see what he could deduce from the guard on his right. The guard was a big man, and everything about him was an attempt to be imposing, from the boring black suit he wore to the visored helmet that covered his eyes. He scanned his entire body, but there was nothing familiar to him. Completely unnerved, Sherlock decided perhaps now was the time to start asking questions, but before he could phrase anything, the guard on his left kicked him in the knee.
“Move, program!” he growled.
“Fine, fine,” Sherlock said under his breath. “Would one of you care to tell me where I’m going?”
The guards stayed silent, periodically pushing him in the right direction.
“Program?” Sherlock muttered softly as he walked, looking thoughtfully around his surroundings. Sherlock’s mouth flew open and the word clicked. “That’s right! Greg wanted me to look at the OS at Encom. He thought it was corrupted after his programs went missing. And I was sitting at that desk in front of the one computer. I told Greg to go away. I saw him walk away. The room… what did the room look like.” Sherlock closed his eyes briefly in concentration, his mouth thinning as he pursed his lips.
They walked through a large set of doors which slid open as the guards and Sherlock approached. They led him down a series of nondescript hallways before reaching another set of sliding doors, which Sherlock was also whisked through.
On the other side, Sherlock saw what he could only assume was a prison. It looked like a never-ending warehouse with countless nearly transparent doors, possibly made of some energy projection.
After being lead down the hall for several minutes, he was unceremoniously shoved in one of the cells, the door disappearing and then rematerializing only long enough for him to be pushed through. Quickly turning around, Sherlock looked out the little window, and watched the guards march away.
Sherlock sighed, and shook his head. It was turning out to be an interesting day, to say the least. He was now stuck in an unknown prison for unknown reasons, in unknown world. Nothing beats that, Sherlock thought, smirking.
“What are you smiling about?” a voice inquired.
Sherlock turned around to face the other man in his cell, a robust fellow that must have been in his later 30’s or 40’s. If he was human. He had on clothing like Sherlock’s, but he wore a pair of glasses too small for his face. Sherlock had his suspicions of where he was and who, or what, he was surrounded by, but decided to confirm it with his cellmate, as this whole situation was wonderfully ridiculous and impossible.
“Are you a program?”
The man narrowed his eyes, but then perked up after a second of thought. “They picked you up from the Outlands, didn’t they?”
He got up and reached out to Sherlock, as if attempted to put his hand on his shoulder. Sherlock quickly jerked away. The man simply held out his hand.
“Hello. I’m Mike,” he said, lightly smiling. “And yes. I am a program, Monitoring Interconnected Known Emulator to be precise. And you are?”
Sherlock frowned at the hand extended in front of him, lost in thought. “Sherlock,” he said simply.
Mike lowered his hand, but continued to smile. “It’s nice seeing some new coding in here. Hopefully you’ll have what it takes.”
Still trying to take in the implications of being surrounded by manifestations of various programs in what must be the actual computer interface, literally inside the circuits, Sherlock took a second before he registered what the program had just said. “Oh, I’m not a…” He paused. Revealing he wasn’t actually a program could have serious implications. He immediately decided against saying anything and jumped into asking another question. “’Have what it takes?’ What do you mean?”
Mike had a bemused look on his face. “For the Games, of course. Surviving in them, I mean. All programs in The Hold are forced to participate.”
“Well I’m not most programs,” Sherlock replied, as he started to pace the small cell, attempting to dispel nervous energy. All the walls were see-through too; there was only a slight distortion in the view into the other cells. Sherlock stopped at one to observe the neighbors.
Hearing a slight laugh behind him, Sherlock turned around. “What?”
“It’s funny, but you’re not the first program to tell me that today. And I believed him too.”
Sherlock just shook his head and resumed pacing. “What happens in The Games?” He asked the question, but he had a sick feeling of what the answer would be. This was all too familiar.
“You win, or get derezzed. Simple as that. No one lasts long. Gaming wasn’t our primary function.”
Sherlock laughed sardonically. “Then why are you all here? Oh, stupid question. It is a prison. And there’s some dictator or something that has you play for his amusement? This is all a bit Roman, isn’t it?”
Mike stared at him, confused. Programs really weren’t that dissimilar from humans, Sherlock thought. Still perpetually befuddled by the simplest things.
“There’s the Master Controller, if that’s who you are referring to,” Mike finally answered.
“Dull.” And Sherlock plopped down on one of the two cots provided.
He sat there for a while, his hands on his head, brainstorming ways to get out of this situation, until loud noises snapped him out of his reverie.
Programs from all the cells around him were yelling, their words becoming incoherent en masse.
He lifted his head, instinctively glancing at Mike. “What’s happening?”
“The programs from today’s Games are coming back. Or I should say Program. Only one program keeps surviving.”
Sherlock opened his mouth to ask the obvious question, but suddenly the words being shouted around him shifted together to be in unison, so that he could finally understand what was being said. It was the name of the program in question, who just walked into view: John.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
Hey guys! Sorry about the wait. School/life decided to sneak up behind me and start beating me with a bag of bricks. But without further wait, here is Chapter 3!
John limped past Sherlock’s cell, his face haggard and rough, but still gave a slight grin as he looked around at all the programs calling his name, soaking in their encouragement. Two guards flanked him with spear-like weapons, uselessly attempting to get the other programs to settle down.
John was thrown into the cell on Sherlock’s right by the unnamed guards. Sherlock strode to that wall to unabashedly study him, this program that repeatedly defied the odds.
Now resting on a cot, Sherlock could really observe how weary this program was. He may be winning the Games, but most likely not for much longer. There was the limp he saw earlier, and some sort of shoulder wound, by the way John was moving his right arm.
John looked over to see Sherlock staring, and nodded at him. “I haven’t seen you before.”
Mike was at Sherlock’s shoulder in an instant. “This is Sherlock, John. They brought him in not too long ago. He’s a bit off, like you,” Mike added, with a smirk. This was clearly something he had teased John about before.
John gave a half-hearted smile to Mike, before turning back to Sherlock. “They took you in today?” he asked, his eyebrows raised and interest etched across his face. Sherlock nodded.
“He was found in the Outlands,” Mike added.
“Aren’t they all,” John answered softly, his voice trailing off. The lines on his face became even more distinct. “Did you see anyone else out there?”
He shook his head. “Should I have?”
John’s face remained impassive. “I wouldn’t think so. Programs aren’t allowed out there, you know?” However, his green-brown eyes glinted with something Sherlock couldn’t distinguish.
Sherlock held his gaze, in a vain attempt to decode whatever John might be thinking. He was almost unreadable, just so very different from anyone he had ever crossed paths with before.
Breaking eye contact, John moved to lay on the cot, folding his arms behind his head. Years seem to melt away from his face as he closed his eyes with a slight smile.
Sherlock, though lying on his cot with his eyes shut, stayed awake for most of the night listening to every rustle of movement and tapping of footsteps passing his cell. Mike had been snoring loudly for about the same amount of time, much to Sherlock’s annoyance.
A thousand thoughts, emotions, and plans passed through Sherlock’s mind as he contemplated his situation. Funnily enough though, worry or fear were not part of them. The shear challenge and novelty of this whole experience excited him beyond measure, encompassing and drowning any negative emotions.
John had to be one of the programs Lestrade created. Sherlock could feel it, though feelings weren’t something he usually trusted, but this new situation was changing a lot of things.
“You are different, you know. I can tell,” a voice said quietly, breaking Sherlock’s reverie. If he hadn’t been categorizing the noises throughout the cell block, he might not have heard the soft-spoken words, but he recognized them immediately as John’s.
“As are you.”
Somewhere about 10 meters to Sherlock’s right, a guard coughed. A pregnant silence settled between them, to Sherlock’s disappointment. Worried that John would close up to him again, Sherlock knew that he had to act quickly. He must to see Sherlock as a possible ally. The current darkness and absolute quiet around them made this the most opportune time they would ever have.
“Who are you, really, John? You excel in these Games, so you must not be some boring, ordinary program. Who’s ever in charge can’t be too happy about you continuously surviving. But they must allow it. What purpose do you serve them? Worth more alive than dead, for now at least, I expect. You clearly have great rapport with everyone here. You give them… hope. No tyrant would appreciate that. How much longer do you think he’ll allow you to live? Or a better question, how much longer do you think you’ll last? You’re in bad shape, John.”
Sherlock heard John sit up from his cot, moving quickly. Sherlock rose to meet him at the wall between the two cells. They stood inches apart, as close as they could without touching the energy beam.
“What do you want?” John hissed, his face contorted with fear and confusion. He flexed his left hand as if he wanted to grab Sherlock and shake him for his answer.
Sherlock’s eyes bore into John’s. The slight glow emitting from the white lines on John’s clothing covered his face in a mosaic of shadow and light. The light and shadow flowed as John’s chest rose up and down rapidly. Sherlock waited until John had calmed a little.
“What’s your purpose here, John? What sort of program are you?”
“It’s classified,” he replied, smoothly and mechanically.
Sherlock nodded, as it was what he expected.
“And who are you exactly, if that’s the sort of questions we’re asking?” John demanded, narrowing his eyes.
“A friend, I hope. Something is really wrong here, isn’t it?” Sherlock said urgently, gesturing vaguely to all around him. “You were designed to find out what the problem was and fix it? Fight the programming error, per se. But it’s so much bigger and complex than you or your user expected. I should know, I’m having the same problem.” Sherlock smirked. “I’m a bit over my head, and let’s just say I don’t utter those words often.”
John took several deep breaths, shifting his eyes from the ground to his hands. Looking back up at Sherlock, he seemed to search for something on his face, in his eyes. Sherlock could see the reasoning of all the options before him now filtering through John’s mind, as he contemplated Sherlock’s motivations and character.
Sherlock stood still and just looked back down at him.
Suddenly, John just sat down next to the fence. “Down here. We’ll draw much less attention,” he whispered.
Sherlock promptly sat down, his heart racing.
“Yes, something is very much corrupted in the system. The Master Controller is esteemed by all in the Grid. He’s a master at manipulation.”
“Not with you though. Because of your programming? Why are you stuck here?” Sherlock’s need for answers was practically exploding, and he was only barely talking in a whisper by this point.
John quirked his mouth, attempting to hold back a grin. “You are enthusiastic about this, aren’t you? You don’t miss a thing.”
Sherlock’s face fell, a wave of the familiar feeling of being mocked crashing through him. “I am need of answers. Asking questions is the correct procedure of obtaining them, is it not?”
A confused expression flitted across John’s face. “It’s fantastic. Most programs seem to be incapable of it here.”
Sherlock felt a warm feeling settle in his abdomen, and he relaxed.
“But I was captured almost immediately once I appeared in the Outlands. Those Network Lines out there, the MC has some sort of device that is triggered when you cross one. I foolishly didn’t realize it until it was too late. They’re everywhere, so it is pretty ingenious. I was brought to him, roughly questioned for a bit, but he quickly realized he wasn’t getting anything from me. Threw me in here instead. I’ve been fighting here ever since.”
“In more ways than one,” Sherlock added.
John nodded thoughtfully. “Like I said, programs don’t really think for themselves here. They really do love him, as he knows exactly how to play them. He really is a genius, albeit a mad, evil one. I’m stuck on how it would ever be possible to fix this corruption in the system.” Sighing, John laid down on the metal ground.
“You’re losing hope,” Sherlock realized, his eyes wide.
John’s silence was an answer enough.
“Why are you here then?” John asked, glancing over at Sherlock. “You were located at the Outlands too, so did my user send you here to help? I haven’t been able to make contact at all, imprisoned here.”
“I…” Sherlock stopped, unsure of what to say. He didn’t need to know he wasn’t a program yet. “Yes, I think we have the same user. He sent me too, to assist you.”
John laughed. “Well you’ve done a brilliant job of it, mate.”
They talked for what felt like hours. Too soon though, Sherlock could hear the rustling movements of the programs around them, waking up for what Sherlock assumed was morning. He had lost track of time completely. There was no sun or any clear way to distinguish the time of day from whatever cycle they seemed to follow here.
They both grew silent, but remained sitting side by side, only the wall separating them.
Footsteps could be heard and they grew louder until two guards appeared around the corner, marching until they stopped by John’s cell. John slowly stood up and raised his arms, knowing exactly what they were there for.
They stood defensively, weapons pointed at the door as it slid open. One of them dodged in the cell, throwing John violently against the wall, and handcuffing his arms behind his back.
Standing up as well, Sherlock glared at the guards as they pushed John out of the cell, and down the hallway. He turned to Mike, who silently watching this whole scene.
“Is it always like this?” he demanded angrily. “He surrendered to them and they still treated him like he had attacked them!”
“They’re afraid,” Mike said softly.
Sherlock shook his head, but sat down on his cot. Immediately, he heard the sounds of more footsteps, which were louder this time. A group of guards turned the corner. Instantly, several doors to cells opened, including Mike’s and Sherlock’s.
“Out,” one of the guards commanded. “Now.”
Sherlock glanced at Mike, who sat up and walked towards the door. Mike looked back at him, gesturing with his head to follow. Sherlock grumpily walked out of his cell, joining more than a dozen other programs.
He shouldn’t have to follow these goons’ orders. What were they doing? Heading to the Games most likely.
Come to think of it, Sherlock didn’t even know what the ‘Games’ consisted of. He was never much of a game type of person as a child. His peers had Nintendo’s or other useless toys while he preferred to run countless experiments on more significant matters. His parents enrolled him in a football league once but shortly regretted the idea and Sherlock was able to drop out very soon after.
The guards herded them down the hallway, passing countless cells full of programs with sad eyes and defeated looks. Once out of the prison, they filed through a dark passageway. It came to a dead end, and the guards stopped. Everyone was silent. Several programs were shaking, but no one comforted them. They all seemed consumed in their own fears and problems. Sherlock shuffled through the crowd to Mike.
“What’s going on?” he whispered.
As if on cue, sections of the walls lit up, displaying a large arena. The deafening roar of a riled crowd could be heard through the screens and above them all. Sherlock looked at the ceiling above him; at least he knew where they were now.
A figure was being raised through the floor, and the crowd’s yelling swelled. John stepped onto the platform, reaching behind him and pulling the disk off his back. He stood in a defensive position, feet set apart and knees bent.
From the shadows on the far side of the arena, a large man stepped out to the platform as well. Sherlock could vaguely hear the announcer rumble out something, but he only caught the name of the program. Moran waved to the crowds, and then turned to a darkened box above the crowds and saluted.
He faced opposite to John, taking the same position and pulled the disk off his back.
“Mike,” Sherlock whispered. “What are those disks? I know I have one too. Some sort of weapon?”
Mike looked at him like he was speaking Latin. “They’re identity disks. They store your information and…”
Mike broke off as Moran took a running start, throwing his disk at an unbelievable speed towards John. John hurled himself to the left, dodging the disk and throwing his own. Moran’s disk swung around and flew back towards him, like a boomerang.
Moran deftly caught it, and in the same instant, threw it back towards John, who barely had time to catch his own disk in order to raise it and deflect the disk that was slicing through the air dangerously close to his head.
Sherlock sighed in relief as John safely twisted away from the disk. John flung his own, which passed within a hairsbreadth of Moran’s right arm, much to crowd’s enjoyment.
The two were equally matched, or about as close as two people could be at such a sport, Sherlock supposed as he observed the two of them fight.
“How is the winner decided again?” Sherlock quietly inquired to Mike.
“The loser is derezzed. The winner survives,” he said simply. “John’s not getting out of this one, I’m sorry to say.”
Sherlock rounded on him. “And why not? He’s survived all the other times. What’s so special about this one?”
Mike pointed at the big man on the screens. “That man, Moran? He’s the Master Controller’s right hand man. He can’t be beat. This is John’s last game.” He lowered his head apologetically.
Sherlock turned back towards the screen where John was near the edge of the platform, deflecting an onslaught of attack after attack with his own disk.
John was going to get out of this one way or another. Sherlock knew it. He was a soldier, a fighter. And a man like him did not admit defeat because of his opponent.
John ducked as the disk was flung at him and suddenly sprung forward towards Moran who was only a few yards away now. John reached Moran just as Moran was able to grab his own disk from the air.
John slammed the metal disk at Moran, who blocked it and attempted his own slice at John. The two started a variation of a sword fight, with their disks. John was gaining some ground, slowing moving away from the edge.
Quickly turning to avoid a blow, John’s face etched with pain. Sherlock could see he had twisted his already bad leg. Moran saw his window of opportunity and lunged at John, throwing him to the ground. John was able to grab Moran’s arm that held his disk, barely allowing himself to not be cut.
They struggled on the platform ground as seconds ticked by, each trying to shift the other’s weight to their advantage.
John threw his leg up at Moran’s body, kicking him in the stomach, and at that instant, pulled his arm that was holding his own disk away from Moran’s arm, slicing the arm clear away from the bigger program’s body.
Sherlock, and the rest of the stadium, watched shocked as Moran’s arm fell to the ground, shattering into a million pieces.
Moran howled in pain and pulled away from John, clutching his stump. The crowd fell deathly silent.
Guards from every direction walked onto the platform. John looked desperately at all of them but was completely surrounded.
The feed cut out.
Sherlock looked around frantically. There had to be something he could do. Anything. He had to help John. He was his key to discovering what was going on here and how to get out. However, the guards seemed to have different plans for them.
“Programs, to your designated locations. Game simulation is approaching.”
“Designated…?” Sherlock asked, bemused.
Certain spots on the floor, however, had started to light up, and the programs started shuffling to them, each of them standing on one.
John had been in the arena, which is where these spots would presumably take them all. And that was only seconds ago that John had been there, which means that if he was taken somewhere, he wouldn’t be far, and Sherlock would find him. Somehow. This Master Controller had wanted John alive this long; Sherlock didn’t think one little scratch on his chief lieutenant would cause him to kill John now. At least not yet for a little bit, which would buy Sherlock some time until he could get to John. Reaching John in time was imperative. So he just had to survive these games, which was deemed impossible for all but John. Sherlock shook his head. This would be interesting, to say the least.
Sherlock walked over to an open circle next to Mike. “Ready for this?” Sherlock asked.
“Not even close. But good luck, mate, all the same. It was nice knowing you.”
Sherlock grimly nodded as the circles they were all on rose from the floors and the ceiling opened from above. The deafening cheers were heard once again and the light from the stadium blinded him. He grabbed behind him and drew his disk.
Sherlock had never taken up sports. He hadn’t been the best at childish board games or video games. None of that mattered. He was going to be the best damn disk fighter the Grid had ever seen.