Chapter 1: the ship
It's been forty-five days, forty-six if you count the day of the installation, which Molly doesn't. It was really only a half-day, and Molly doesn't need to count half-days if she's going to be hopeful.
She has no real reason to be, at this point, but it's better than giving in and being devastated.
She's halfway through her daily walk through every corridor of the ship, switching cameras off and on, playing with the comm units on the walls. As if she was looking for a lost child, she wanders the halls, calling his name.
Forty-five days after the installation... and nothing. Not a word, not a sound, not even a flash from a light to let her know that it had been a success.
The crew has all gone, fired, really, with the upgrade making their jobs obsolete. Even the captain has given up. He's looking for work on other ships, but no one will offer Lestrade a position he's willing to be demoted to.
For all Molly knows, they're grounded, indefinitely. Until a buyer comes along with a crew, and then Molly would lose her job, and her home. She's worked on the Baker Transport for seven years now. She has nowhere else to go. They'll have to drag her away.
They're probably going to.
"Sherlock?" She calls, cleaning dust from a camera lens with her sleeve. "You there?"
Installation is a difficult process, traumatic and occasionally fatal... but it's only been forty-five days, Molly thinks, yes, okay, forty-six. Forty-five and a half. It hasn't been long enough for her to accept that this is most likely just another one of the fatal situations.
There's nothing to do, though, but call his name, and hope that he might hear her.
And then... after forty-five days, the comm-unit on the wall in the emergency stairwell on the starboard side of the C-deck crackles to life. Molly's heart jumps into her throat at the sound of quiet static where there had never been signs of life before.
"Sherlock?" She says again, running to the speaker. She presses her palms against the wall on either side of the thing and leans in close. "Sherlock, can you hear me?"
For what feels like hours but really is only a few seconds, the speaker just crackles. And then a voice, sounding ragged and very far away, chokes out four words that change everything:
"I'm here. I'm online."
John wakes screaming. All it takes is a few deep breaths of purified air and he remembers where he is again, but the nightmare lingers. It keeps coming back in flashes, burned onto John's retinas; the blood, the bodies, the screams of his men, his brothers...
He'd taken a hit to his shoulder from a radiation gun, the shot going clean through. Infection had set in before he could be airlifted away from the warzone and onto the transport vessel that was currently bringing him back to Earth; he'd spent the first few weeks of his journey in a delirium, drifting along the edges of sanity while his blood boiled in his veins and his brain all but melted out his ears.
Or so it felt like, when he was able to feel at all. Medication has been helping, but the doctors are gradually weaning him off.
So now he's hurting, and he's having nightmares. Not the most ideal situation, but with the alternative being a slow death from an infected injury, John certainly isn't going to be complaining.
That is, of course he's going to complain, he's completely miserable; Just not to anyone who can hear him.
"Fuck," he breathes, pressing his shaking hands - oh yes, he's suffering from tremors too, now - to his eyes. "Fuck..."
"So. Illyria or Elsinore?"
The man's voice snaps John out of his self-pity. He hadn't heard anyone come in. "Sorry, what...?" he takes his hands off his face... to see that no one's come in.
There's nobody there.
John is seconds away from diagnosing himself with hallucinations, now, too, when the voice says again, "Illyria or Elsinore?"
The disembodied voice is coming through a speaker on the wall just next to do the door. "Doesn't it say in my file?" John says, feeling a little strange talking to an empty room. It makes him reluctant to write off his hallucination theory so quickly.
"This hospital is laughably short on staff," the man says, his voice void of the sympathy that everyone else talked around when talking to him, talking to poor, miserable John. It's refreshing. "None of the doctors here saw fit to waste time entering the data of a patient they didn't expect to even survive."
Typical. "So you're telling me I'm a waste of time, then?"
"More like a waste of resources," he amends. "But you don't need to worry about that now because you've survived, hurrah, three cheers, etcetera, and so now I ask you a third time: Illyria or Elsinore?"
"Elsinore," John says, feeling a little dazed. "I... fought. At Elsinore."
"Wonderful," is the disembodied reply.
John shuts his mouth against a biting reply. He's tired, he's recovering: he doesn't need to say anything he'll regret. Instead if idly wonders if whoever he's talking to can see him.
"I'll need your name," the man continues, sounding incredibly put upon, "since the task of entering you into our systems has apparently fallen to me. As if I don't do enough already."
"John Watson. Captain, of the Northumberland-"
"Just the name," the man cuts him off.
"Alright," John says, bringing his knees up. He's been in bed for too long, and it's starting to make him anxious. Not enough to get up, not just yet, though. Tomorrow, maybe. "Anything else I can help you with?"
He meant that last bit to be sarcasm, but the man talking through the speaker takes it literally. "Oh no, that will be all. Captain."
"Can I at least ask who you are?"
"Sherlock Holmes," the man says, his voice taking on a grand, sweeping quality, "your gracious host."
"This is your ship, then?"
That earns John a disembodied laugh, the speakers crackling with static before going completely silent.
John waits a few minutes just to be sure Sherlock isn't going to come back on the comm and talk to him again before rolling onto his side and falling back to sleep.
When he gets out of bed the next day, his leg gives out. In spite of John's fitful protests that he hasn't even hurt his leg, that they must have done something to him during surgery, his doctor tells him that it's just a psychological reaction.
They give him a cane, and tell him he's going to be fine.
As the next few weeks go by, his shoulder heals, and the pain gradually fades. The nightmares remain as vivid as ever, though, and more often than not John wakes up in a cold sweat, tugged violently out of his dreams by the sound of his own screaming.
He doesn't hear from Sherlock Holmes again until one day, out of the blue, his voice rings out over every speaker on the ship. "We will be docking at Lunar Station zero-zero-one in twenty-four hours. All passengers transferring to Earth transports, make your preparations now. Those remaining on board, we will be docked for seventy-two hours. I will leave without you, if you're not back in time."
"No he won't," comes the hasty reply from a second voice.
"Just try and stop me," Sherlock snaps back. His answer was obviously intended for the man who'd spoken just before, but he still broadcasts it to the entire ship all the same.
It leaves John feeling a little bit unsettled, and a little bit curious too. Until then, he had all but forgotten Sherlock, the strange, disembodied voice who'd asked him where he fought as if he didn't really care, the man who was too busy to meet with John face to face but personally updated the hospital computer systems with his information when he didn't even have the time to do so. Unsettling, and curious.
John idly realizes that he's probably never going to have the chance to thank Sherlock in person, not with the Lunar station (and a shuttle ride to Earth) just 24 hours away.
From that thought, John's mind continues its trajectory down with the shuttle, and back to London, where... he doesn't know what will happen. This was nothing like the future John had imagined for himself. Thinking about his discharge and being airlifted out of the war zone starts his hands shaking again; thinking then about going home and what he's going to do with the rest of his life makes the shaking worse.
John clenches his betraying hand into a tight fist, then just shoves the damn thing into his pocket.
It really has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes and everything to do with a sudden - slightly irrational - thought that going home will kill him that sends John limping into the hospital administration offices unannounced. He's made it through the first of two doors when the security alarm snaps on.
The door behind him swings shut, obviously locking, ultimately trapping John in a small hallway. With all of John's new physical and psychological problems that seem to have grown in overnight, it's a relief to find that claustrophobia isn't one of them.
Still, he's only there for a few short minutes before the alarm shuts off and the door behind him unlocks and swings open again, letting in a woman in a security uniform. "There's a clearance to be in there," she says. Her name is Sally Donovan, and John knows that because he was looking at her name tag and not her breasts. "You don't have it."
A wave of calm washes over John, as has always happened during situations that tend to be stressful for most people. "You could give me clearance, though," he says. "Sherlock told me you were short on staff, and I was just looking to see if I could help with that."
The corners of Sally's mouth turn down with blatant distaste. "Did he, now? What else did he tell you, then?"
"He, ah," John says, "told me that your doctors here never bothered to even enter my information into the computer systems because nobody thought I was going to live."
"You weren't going to live," Sherlock remarks, his voice coming in from a radio speaker on the low ceiling. "It's a bit miraculous your fever broke in the first place. Good on you."
"Hello, freak," Sally says, sounding neither friendly nor welcoming with her greeting.
"Donovan," Sherlock acknowledges. "Hello, John."
"Do you always just pop into conversations unannounced?" John snaps irritably. He's probably about to be arrested, thrown into whatever passes for a prison on a ship this size - brig? - and Sherlock's voice had caught him off guard. "Is this a thing with you? You just sit up in a room with a microphone, waiting for someone to say your name?"
"In fact, that is exactly what I do," Sherlock says, sounding tickled. "Expertly observed."
John can tell from his tone that he's not going anywhere. Wherever he is in the first place.
"What do you want, then," Sally more or less demands, rolling her eyes and not really caring all that much about how unprofessional she's coming off as.
"Just to inform you of the facts, which you are obviously overlooking."
"I don't need facts," Sally says. "I'm just here because the alarm went off."
Sherlock sighs, and John just stands there and listens while the conversation continues on without him, as if he's not even there anymore.
"If John's doctors had seen his files, they'd know he was a field surgeon on Elsinore," Sherlock says. "They would also know, had they spent more than just the necessary amount of time with him, that he's suffering from post-traumatic stress, indicated by the tremor in his left hand and rather severe nightmares. The man hasn't slept through the night in, I'd say, two weeks, more or less, going by the state of the bags under his eyes, and most likely coinciding with him going off his medication.
"Perhaps someone would also have noticed that he's absolutely dreading his return to earth. He practically had a fit when I made the announcement. He obviously has connections in England, from the forms he's filled out for the Lunar shuttles, London, from his accent, but he's not specified an address, so his destination is clear: rental office. While he has family in London, he'd rather risk sleeping on the streets than let them know that he's back from the war, well, that he's been discharged. It's perfectly clear why he's just trying to . And besides, I've certainly had an affect on him as well. He's a curious man, our John here, and is just dying to know who I am and why I keep popping in out of the blue to talk about trivial things like, say, his most recent dilemma. You'll do well to bring him through to administration, Sally. Give him a break; The man's a veteran, for god's sake!"
What follows is a period of stunned silence. Sally seems to be taking it all in, while John can hardly even begin to process what's just happened. Part of him wants to feel embarrassed, another part wants to be furious, offended, outraged. But all parts are too small to inspire John to act on any of them, and he just stands there gaping, depending on either Sally or Sherlock to move the moment forward.
It ends up being Sally, who reacts so naturally that John realizes this must be at least a somewhat normal occurrence for her: "What were you doing going through his files in the first place?"
"Bored," Sherlock says simply, with what sounds like a shrug. As if that's even a valid reason to be bothering with John's personal files.
And then the soft static of the speaker switches off, and Sally says "He's gone, you can relax."
John releases the breath he didn't even realize he was holding. "What was all that about, then?" he manages to say, trying to pass for being able to handle what just happened. But he just sounds nervous and a little bit shocked.
"That's just how he is," Sally tells him.
"But who is he exactly? I mean, I have to admit that I'm more than just a little bit curious now. He told me before that he owns the ship...?"
Sally looks at him with what is unmistakably pity. "John," she says. "Sherlock Holmes is the ship."
"Sorry, what do you... the ship?"
"The spaceship. We're on a spaceship, yeah? Sherlock's the ship."
And John is trying, he's really trying to make sense of this, and Sally looks like she's trying very hard to be patient. A rush of static crackles over the speaker which means that Sherlock is back and he's laughing at John, which really isn't fair. If he's a spaceship, what's he doing laughing at anyone? What's he even doing talking? And Sally looks away because this all must be terribly awkward for her and just...
It just... John would love it if this would make sense. He would really like to understand. He just... he really just can't.
Chapter 2: making sense
There are plenty of things that are decidedly more important than John Watson, so the fact that Sherlock is focusing his energy on watching a tremor in John's hand is... more than just slightly worrying.
It makes quite a lot of sense, actually, and really isn't too difficult to grasp once John’s had it explained to him. Patiently. And by someone who agrees that just saying "he's a spaceship" over and over to him as if he were deaf isn't going to help him make sense of how a spaceship can even be a 'he' in the first place.
John had managed to secure a position on board the Baker transport, in their poorly staffed hospital. When Sherlock made the ship-wide announcement that they were now docked with Lunar Station 001, John no longer needed to pack his bags and get off the ship, no longer needed to proceed to earth via shuttle, then to London, to guilt his sister into taking him in while he tries to find his way in a world he had long since left behind him.
He still needed to get off the ship, though - it, him, Sherlock... whatever - as it had occurred to him that all he had in terms of clothing were his combat fatigues (blue to match the foliage on Elsinore, brown from where his blood had dried) and hospital issue pajamas. He decided, rather than impede on a hospitality that he was still not entirely certain of, he'd need to do some shopping.
With Sherlock's threat of leaving without anyone who wasn't back in time fresh in his mind, John makes himself a mental shopping list and proceeds to limp in a big circle before he finds his way to the main deck (during which time John finds himself worried that Sherlock is sitting up in his little control station or wherever he is, laughing at how lost he's gotten -- although at least he has the decency not to laugh at him this time).
Which is only the beginning of the sequence of events that results in John being stopped by a woman called Molly Hooper who claims to recognize him from the security footage, then apologizes for the second-hand embarrassment she's probably inflicted on him by calling him out in public, and then asks if he wants have coffee. She also happens to be the bio-technichal mechanic responsible for keeping Sherlock-the-Spaceship running smoothly, which she manages to fit into her introductory monologue as well.
John, definitely feeling embarrassed (but also a little thirsty), accepts.
The coffee is good, as is John getting to rest his leg, which is aching fiercely. Neither of these compare, however, to the fact that Molly is not only fine with answering John's questions, but eager to. Surprisingly so. Like she just waiting all this time for someone to talk to.
"You must get this a lot," John says, still feeling a little self-consciousness. Molly shakes her head, her ponytail flipping over her shoulder.
"Not really." She sits back in her seat, blowing on her coffee before taking a sip. "So, let's have it."
"The questions. I know you're dying to ask about him. About Sherlock, I mean,
John blinks, raises his eyebrows, bites back a surprising bark of laughter, and then Molly dives right in.
It began years ago. That is, for Sherlock. The actual concept of human brain transport -- Molly keeps referring to it as bio-tech, which John can't be sure if it's in a casual way or if that's the actual name of the... of the thing -- started nearly a hundred years earlier, in the military. ("I'm surprised you've never heard of it." "I was a field surgeon. I didn't have anything to do with plugging people's brains into spaceships." "Yeah, that makes sense.")
Soldiers who were too injured to return to the front lines were put to use in more creative ways, their still-usable brains getting connected to combat ships. The concept was a success, and after the Great Sector War of '86 was over, the surviving human ships were upgraded and installed into other ships, more practical things like personnel carriers, even small space stations.
And then, of course, when another war swung around, it was back to the front lines with them.
By the time John got to the army, the rules had changed. Bio-tech combat ships had been declared unlawful and cruel seventy-two years earlier, and it became illegal to commission one for anything other than peaceful flying. Since then, the concept went underground; bio-tech legal, but extremely covert.
Unless John owned or was a passenger on a human ship, he had no way of knowing they even existed.
It began for Sherlock nine years earlier. He'd been paralyzed from the neck down, injured in a way that Molly had never been informed of. Because of his brain, which was always said to be extraordinary, and what Molly suspects to be a well-connected family, Sherlock was installed into a personnel shuttle. Four years later, he was installed into the Baker transport, and has been there ever since.
"Did you know him, before? I don't know, pre-spaceship?"
"Oh, god no," she says around a nervous burst of laughter, her cheeks going slightly pink. "I've met his brother a few times. Mycroft Holmes."
It sounds like a name drop, but John can't be sure where he's ever heard it before.
"This was five years ago," she continues. "Mycroft sought us out himself and proposed the installation. Sherlock was installed in the personnel shuttle at the time, and, according to his brother, he... wasn't doing so well," she says delicately. "From the tedium."
"I don't see what's so tedious about being a spaceship," John remarks.
"Imagine a shuttle, like the ones going back and forth between Earth and Lunar 001. It's small, can only hold about thirty people or so. It's really only got one basic function. Sherlock is," she says fondly, "well... calling him a genius would be demeaning. His mind is truly extraordinary. The passenger shuttle must have been incredibly boring for him."
"He was just bored," John huffs, tickled by the notion of a spaceship getting bored. "Well, then."
Molly isn't laughing. She has both hands wrapped around her coffee mug, as if to steady herself. "It was bad, John. I went to see him, to assess if he would be a good candidate for an upgrade. Upgrading is dangerous," she adds, a slight tangent. "it's very difficult and it's almost never done. So I had to go and see if he was even eligible in the first place. He was... John, I think he'd gone crazy."
"Flying round in circles, was he? Lights flickering on and off?"
"Remember that thing he did to you in that hallway? The way he was saying all those things about you."
"Yeah," John says. "He was reading from my file."
"He didn't read your files," Molly says, her voice full of steel. "He read you. He saw you, standing there in that hallway, and he could see it written all over you, little signs that nobody else eve looks for but are obvious to him. He was like that when I went to assess him, only I don't think he could stop. He was talking faster than anyone could understand, going on and on about every detail he could pick up, and then he'd shout about the cameras not being able to zoom in enough. He had nothing to do, nothing to stimulate his mind... and he went mad."
"And now he's got a ship full of people to analyze until they, themselves, have gone mad. Excellent."
John remembered Sherlock admonishing the state of his files, the fact that there was no information on him in the entire system. And yet, how else would Sherlock have known all those things about him if it wasn't in his file?
He hadn't considered any possibility other than the obvious. "How can he do that, though? Is it a spaceship thing?" He notices that his left hand is shaking, and he clutches his coffee to hide it.
"It's a Sherlock thing," Molly chirps.
"He's incredibly bright. A ship this size would normally require a crew of at least ten pilots. With Sherlock, all we need is a good mechanic. And you can imagine how much money is being saved."
"Sure." John hadn't been thinking about the money. He was still having trouble getting past the part where Sherlock could read him like a book without even trying. Or also the part where he's a spaceship, but that novelty at least is beginning to wear off.
"He likes you, you know," Molly says.
That snaps him out of it.
"I said, he likes you."
"He tell you that, did he?"
Molly's mouth quirks to the side, her eyes downcast. "I just mean, from the security footage. I could tell. He was defending you, which means he probably finds you interesting. That's as close as he gets to liking anyone."
"Sounds like you were watching a different security tape. Sherlock humiliated me."
"He really didn't," Molly says. And then there's that tone in her voice that John's beginning to get used to. Pity. Compassion. Poor thing, you've been through so much, no wonder you can't trust anyone...
The coffee cup shakes in John's hand.
In space, it's difficult to keep track of time.
First, there's the trouble with traveling through space in the first place. It's just a great, empty void, and everyone is only ever just passing through. There's planets, many planets, all with their own rotations and calendars, and John could sit up nights just keeping track of the hours as they tick away into the past, but that would be less productive than it would be tedious and maddening.
There also trouble with traveling in the first place. The ship keeps its own time, displayed prominently on monitors and screens, clocks and calendars. Sherlock keeps his own calendar, as if he were a planet instead of just a spaceship. Instead of just a man.
The worst part is the sun. That is, not being on a planet rotating around it. Such things are irrelevant to Sherlock, obviously, with him being a spaceship and having no need for orbits or rotational. But John grew up on Earth, waking up with the sun and going to sleep in the dark. He's not used to this perpetual darkness.
He could have Sherlock announce the time to him every hour, it still wouldn't help his own stubborn body clock and it's blatant refusal to adapt. Without the sun rising and setting with every passing day, John feels like it's always night. He's tired, all the time.
Waking up from horrific nightmares and flashbacks don't help, either.
Along with the job in the ship's hospital, John is also given quarters on one of the crew decks. Room 221, deck B. It's a modest room, hardly bigger than the bed inside it. There's a communal bathroom at the end of the hall, but even that is worlds better than what he'd come from. John's new room is little more than a dormitory; It's still pretty much rows of beds and shared toilets, just like being a patient in the hospital; but at least now the beds have walls between them.
John returns from the lunar station with his cane in one hand and his bags in the other, so he has to juggle to get his key out of his pocket. His leg and shoulder are aching. He's exhausted, ready to sleep. No matter that the clock on the wall tells him that it's only four in the afternoon, he's tired. He's going to lie down, shut his eyes, and sleep until his alarm wakes him the next day for job training.
"Dig up anything interesting?" Sherlock's voice rings out from the speaker on the wall as soon as John's shut the door behind him.
When the sheer, incredible terror passes and John can breathe again, he finds himself sitting on his bed. His bags are on the floor. John doesn't remember dropping them, doesn't remember falling onto his bed. He comes to clutching his chest, his heart hammering like mad against his palm. He might have screamed, cried out in shock, who knows; there's an echo ringing in the metal walls.
"Jesus," John swears, once he can speak, gulping down air, closing his hand into a fist to try and stop it shaking. "Jesus christ..."
Sherlock remains silent.
"You can't just... sneak up on me," John continues, fighting past the embarrassment. "A little warning... would be nice. For example: hello. People often start things off with a nice 'hello', so as not to scare anyone out of their skin."
Silence. John peers up at the speaker on the wall, the tiny camera lens embedded in it that he knows is feeding directly into Sherlock's... command station? Cockpit? Whatever.
"Are you even listening to me?"
"Didn't want to interrupt," Sherlock says carefully. Then he adds, belatedly: "Hello" It sounds like he's saying some strange, foreign word that he doesn't quite know the meaning of.
"Yeah," John says. "Hi."
"So," Sherlock says, picking up his original train of thought as if nothing had happened between then and when he'd first made himself known in John's room. "What did you dig up?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," John snaps. The fact that Sherlock is going to just breeze past the issue, without even apologizing, sets him on edge.
"On the lunar station. What were you doing?"
"I bought some clothes," John says.
"You were curious before, I could tell," Sherlock insists. "You must have done some digging."
"Trousers, jumper," John says, glancing down at where his bags had fallen. "Couple of shirts..."
"What was it, tea? With Molly Hooper?
"New pair of shoes," John continues, trying to ignore Sherlock, who is, in turn, trying to ignore him in favor of pursuing an answer he probably already knows.
"Plying the woman with warm beverages for information that I would have given you freely?"
Both stand their ground, John more literally than the disembodied voice currently harassing him. Eventually, though, John runs out of purchases to list, while Sherlock shows no signs of slowing down with his interrogation.
"Fine," he says, giving in. "Coffee, alright? We had coffee. But she did the inviting. I wasn't plying anyone."
"No need to get defensive," Sherlock says, and it's as if he's cranked up the volume on the speaker. A conscious choice, John supposes, now that the initial terror and the subsequent recovery have both passed. "It's not as if I could do anything about it."
"Oh I'm sure there's a lot you can do about it."
"Perhaps," Sherlock says, his voice taking on a decidedly sultry tone that unnerves John almost as much as his sudden appearance had. "But that would be boring."
"Right," John says, not quite sure how to proceed. He feels like a prisoner, like nowhere on the ship is safe from Sherlock's... voice? Really? It is, of course, ridiculous, John knows that. Still, he feels trapped.
And then, as if he wasn't already feeling enough like a rat in a cage, a loud, metallic click fills up the silence that had set in.
"I've just locked your door," Sherlock announces.
"Have you," John says, not a question, his voice catching with a quick breath, followed by a slower, more conscious one. Don't panic. Sherlock's not going to hurt you, he tells himself.
"Should have done that yourself," Sherlock admonishes. "These doors aren't automatic - you never know who could be wandering the halls."
Oddly enough, the panic subsides.
"You'd know," John points out. "And I suppose you'd warn me if it was anyone worth locking my door on.'
"Suppose all you want, but I wouldn't suggest relying on me to be there for you."
"You're here now, though. Not really sure why."
"Do you know how many people there are on board this ship?" Sherlock says abruptly, his voice taking on a more curious tone.
"No," John says, not concerned in the slightest. "Im guessing you're about to tell me, though."
"Eight-thousand, four-hundred and nine. It is equipped to house up to ten thousand. Sign of the times, though, not meeting capacity. Still, that's a lot of cameras I have access too. Lots of different people whose lives I can peek in and out, coming and going as I please."
"Peek? More like bulldoze through."
Sherlock continues on, ignoring him. "One of the most basic requirements on a ship piloted by a human brain is that every room is to be equipped with a camera and a comm unit. I can't expect to be master of this ship if I don't have access to every part of it. If you think of it as a body, which is useless for me but possibly helpful for you, as you seem to think only in black and white terms like man and machine... if this ship is my body, just think how useless it would be if a person was unable to
"Some people get injured," John suggests. "Strokes, paralysis, what have you."
"I'm not a person, though," Sherlock says, like the final button at the end of the speech, the point he'd been trying to prove all along. "You said before: people say hello. People get injured. You forget what I am, John."
"Oh no, I remember. It's just, there's got to be a man in here, somewhere in all this machinery."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because I'm a doctor," John muses. "Because I'm a man. Because I'm human."
"There's a withered, useless body buried deep inside this ship, in a room you'll never find. Said body is preserved only to the point where the brain inside its skull will not die. Said brain is connected to, as you put it, all this machinery, with links far more complex than what once connected it to its body. I am the ship, John. The ship is everything, and I am what makes it work. And I mean it. You'll never find it."
"For god's sake, John. You went to the lunar station to find out information about me. Nothing could possibly convince me that you wouldn't try to find my body as well."
"Good guess," John relents. "I suppose I am curious."
"Your hand stopped shaking as soon as I mentioned this new fascination. I didn't need to guess."
John looks down at his left hand, which has indeed gone still. He hadn't noticed. Sherlock's cameras must be very good if they can pick up something as subtle as a tremor.
There are plenty of things that are decidedly more important than John Watson, so the fact that Sherlock is focusing his energy on watching a tremor in John's hand is... more than just slightly worrying. Life support, for example. Gravity. It makes John begin to feel like that rat in a cage again. Makes him wonder why all this attention is being focused on him in the first place.
Ulterior motives, he suspects. "Can I ask you a question?" he says, trying not to sound too suspicious.
"I suppose that would be fair," Sherlock says.
"Alright," John says. "Try not to take this the wrong way, but why are you talking to me?"
"Because you'll listen," Sherlock says frankly.
"Oh." John hadn't expected such blatant honesty. He should have, though. Blindsided, he supposes. "What do the other eight thousand people on this ship do?"
"They shut off their comm units."
"I... didn't know you could do that."
"There's a switch on the bottom that can turn the sound off on your end."
Again, more honesty. That is, unless Sherlock is just winding John up for future embarrassment. John files the information all away for later use.
"Good to know," he says. "Cheers. But really, though. Why are you talking to me? If there's so many people here, so much else for you to do, don't you think you should be paying more attention to, I don't know, running the ship?"
"Honestly, John. Have you ever had difficulty trying to walk and breathe at the same time? Blink and talk? Do you really think I'm such an idiot?" He huffs, a strange sound to hear through a speaker, more digital than natural, since John doubts there's any air involved in the act. "You also enjoy having someone to talk to. Who am I to take that away from you?"
And John supposes that he does like having someone to talk to, someone he doesn't have to coerce into talking to him, even if it still feels more like having something to talk to than someone. "Yeah, well I don't have someone to talk to, do I? I have a spaceship to talk to."
"Nothing wrong with that," Sherlock says, and John thinks, yes, there really is.
"So, is that all?" John says. He's ready to be done with this conversation, ready to go to sleep. Yes, he could just turn the sound off his wall unit, but that would be rude. Walking out abruptly while someone else is talking. Time to wind down. "You were bored, so you lock me in my room so you can talk me to death?"
"No, of course that's not all," Sherlock says, his voice distinctively brightening, as if all this time he'd just been waiting for John to ask. "I need you to do something for me."
Chapter 3: the blind spot
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"Someone's been shorting out my cameras," Sherlock says that night. Well, that afternoon. The clocks all displayed 4:00PM everywhere he looked, but his body took in the dark space sky and called it night, leaving John exhausted and badly needing sleep. "I want you to help me find out who. And, of course, why."
"Couldn't the cameras have broken down on their own?" John suggests around a yawn, then braces himself for Sherlock's rebuttal.
"I do hope your tiny mind starts to understand the concept of human brain transport soon, because I'm getting bored having to keep explaining it to you. If a human breaks their leg," Sherlock in a monotone that reeks of superiority.
"You're human too, you know," John points out.
"Hardly," he scoffs. "If a human breaks their leg-"
"Alright, I get it. It'd hurt, you'd feel it. Right?"
A pause. "It wouldn't hurt," Sherlock admits, and John assumes from the fact that Sherlock doesn't correct anything else that he would actually, somehow, feel if his systems weren't operating properly. That makes sense.
"Why me?" he says, because there are thousands of other people on the Baker transport better-qualified to investigate broken cameras of a brain ship. People who could walk unassisted, for one thing. People who actually knew about the mechanics of a ship like Sherlock - or really any ship at all.
Sherlock answers his question with another: "Who else can I trust?"
So John fires back with a third question: "Um, everyone?"
The questions stop there, as does Sherlock. The room goes silent, save for the ever-present hum of the engines that John has yet to get used to. If Sherlock was there in the room with him, John imagines he'd have his arms crossed, his face pinched into a frown, staring moodily at the ceiling as he waits for John to change his mind. Because of course he already knows John will.
He knows before John even does.
So when John realizes this, he doesn't even have time to be surprised. He just says to his empty room: "Alright. What do I need to do?"
Sherlock immediately launches (as if from a great height, building up speed and momentum by the second) into a detailed description of how he first came to notice an issue with his cameras. At one point, a tiny red light shoots out of Sherlock's wall unit, hitting the ceiling above John's bed and swirling around in shapes that don't make sense until a small fleck of metal lands on John's forehead and he realizes that the light is a laser and Sherlock is carving out a map of the area that the cameras can't see anymore.
As John is both marveling at and worrying about the laser carving in his ceiling, Sherlock tells him that he's to examine the blind spot caused by the broken cameras, vehemently insisting on four separate occasions to write down every minute detail.
"Even things that you wouldn't think to look for," Sherlock says, his voice taking on a manic sort of intensity. "I want to know what the walls smell like. I want to know what the specks of dirt on the floor are. Everything, John, I want to know what the dirt tastes like, what it feels like when you rub it against your cheek. Use all of your senses. Take everything in."
"Do you think that whoever blocked out your cameras is trying to hide something from you?"
"Oh, no, John, don't be idiotic." Sherlock's voice crackles on the speaker. "I think they're trying to get my attention."
Something twists in John's stomach. He suddenly feels betrayed. His left hand begins to shake. "So," he says, swallowing hard against the panic, "you're leading me into a trap."
"I am," Sherlock agrees, "so be careful."
"You want me to go now, don't you?"
Silence. No answer from Sherlock. A yes, then.
So instead of going to sleep, John puts his shoes back on, takes up his cane, fishes his tablet out of his bag (which his therapist suggests he use as a diary, to publish through the ship's database so everyone can read it, onto which John still hasn't written a word), and sets off into Sherlock's blind spot.
Said area turns out to be an old service passage that leads to the ship's expansive kitchen. The hall is dark but spacious, and houses a number of old generators that moan and rattle with effort. John... investigates. His tablet has a video setting, so he takes a video, assuming that what Sherlock needs could easily be found with a proper visual. If anything is amiss, he'd be the one to see it.
He suspects Sherlock might have been exaggerating when he told John to smell the walls and lick the dirt, but he does zoom in with his tablet, rubs some dirt between his fingers, looks around for anything suspicious. It's strange, knowing that this hallway he's standing in right now is the only part of the ship Sherlock can't see. And Sherlock is basically a god, the way he reigns over all the ship's functions and all the people on board. A hallway that he has no control over? Well, that's powerful. It can be quite useful, if one had need for being discreet.
John takes notes of the hallway's metallic odor. He swings the tablet left to right as he walks, making sure to pick up the strange stains on the wall, doors that appeared to have been forced open, broken pipes, cobwebs, every detail he can see. His hand shakes a little, which he's sure does a disservice to the video, but he can't do anything about that. He doubts that Sherlock would get dizzy or nauseous trying to watch his unsteady footage, not like he even had a stomach to upset.
As soon as John had emerges from the blind spot, having sufficiently filmed and documented it all, Sherlock pounces on him. "Did you find anything? What did you see? John? Are you sure you got it all?"
Again, he pays no regard for John's sensitivity, scaring him half out of his skin. At least John doesn't scream this time, having been expecting this kind of anticipation in the other man. Ship. In the ship.
"Yes, I got it all on my tablet," he says. "Take it easy."
"Good, excellent, that's very good," Sherlock says, sounding slightly less crazy as John limps along the endless hallways through the ship back to his room.
"Okay. Blind spot," John says, once he hears the click of his room door locking behind him. Sherlock again. He is beyond exhausted, his eyelids heavy and his leg even worse. He practically had to drag it behind him it as he made his way down that last hallway. "How do I do this? Do you want me to hold it up to your camera?"
"Do it tomorrow," Sherlock had said, sounding almost dismissive. It had been a stark contrast to his previous frenzy of eagerness.
"You're tired. Get some sleep, show me tomorrow."
"Oh," John says. He'd been mentally bracing himself for a long night, so Sherlock's surprise reprieve is a bit of a miracle, and more than a bit too good to be true. Still, John isn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so he offers a halfhearted 'thanks' and climbs right into bed.
He's still very much aware of Sherlock's presence. The man, if he's still there, can see him, and while the war had beaten the modesty out of John, he feels strangely self-conscius about this. He can sleep in his clothes. The war had prepared him for that too.
True to form, the speaker on the wall unit crackles a few moments later.
But then, instead of Sherlock's voice, John gets a scratchy, old recording of classical music.
It's weird. Very weird. John stares up at the laser-cut map carved into his ceiling and just thinks, why? "Are you," he tries, then starts again: "What is this, violins?"
"Yes it's violins," Sherlock retorts, as if John's just said something incredibly dumb (which John feels is a harsh and unwarranted assumption). "Mozart, to be specific. Thought it might help you sleep."
"Sherlock, I'm exhausted. I'll fall asleep fine."
"Of course you will. You always do. I meant your nightmares."
"Oh," John says, surprised. "Um, thanks. Thank you."
He falls asleep pretty much as soon as he shuts his eyes.
And then he wakes up. For the first time since before Elsinore, John wakes up feeling rested and alert. He doesn't smell blood, isn't covered in sweat, hasn't gotten himself twisted into a knot of his bed sheets. He just... wakes up and feels fine.
Unfortunately, his happiness is short lived. Sherlock is on him in seconds like he either had some system alert him when John woke or he spent all night watching John sleep (both are disturbing possibilities to entertain, so John chooses to ignore them both) and asks to see the information. John plugs his tablet into the wall unit and synchs it with Baker's mainframe.
"What," Sherlock says, pronouncing each word with languorous distaste, "am I supposed to do with this?"
"It's, uh, the information you wanted? About your blind spot? Caused by the cameras being-"
"If I'd known you would have been this useless, I would have just gotten Molly to repair my cameras. God, what I wouldn't give for a pair of eyes right now. Human bodies are so outdated, unless you know how to use your senses, my god, you bloody idiot! This is even worse than I expected."
John lets Sherlock have his fill, distraught as he obviously is. "You didn't ask for fingerprints," he counters once he eases off the shouting. "You didn't tell me to lick the grease off the bloody walls!"
"I shouldn't have to! I told you to observe, John, not take a scenic tour around a crime scene!"
"Hold on, hold on, you never said anything about a crime scene. How the hell was I supposed to know-"
"Of course it's a crime scene! Why else would I have sent you there?
"I did what you asked," John says to his empty bedroom.
"Well you did a terrible job," Sherlock says. No thank you, no I appreciate you taking time out of your day to do this for me when I obviously can't. Nothing. Just shouting abuse and insults.
"Fine! You want me to go back? If that's what you really want, I'll go get you more information. There. Problem solved."
"I'm not licking any walls."
Sherlock nags him the whole way down to the crime scene, his voice abruptly cutting off once John crosses the threshold into his blind spot.
In retrospect, John should have said no from the start. Perhaps if he had just suggested that Sherlock seek help from other, more qualified people, he wouldn't have ended up on the ground, immobilized, his hands held behind his back, someone's knee grinding into his kidney and fingers splayed harmlessly across the pressure points in his neck. The metal walls are still echoing from where his cane had gone flying.
The knee is hardly necessary, John more than aware of the five ways his assailant could kill him without even trying (five ways for the five fingers of their right hand).
Yeah. John should have just said no.
A rough voice belonging to a man who John could only see in his periphery tells him that he's going to let him go now.
"I mean, of course, let go of your neck," the man says. "I'm going to remove my knee and my hand and I'm going to stand up. Then you're going to stand up, and you're going to go for a little walk with me, and if you try to run I'll snap your neck. Don't doubt it, soldier. I got you on the floor fast enough. I'll do it. Are we understood?"
John the soldier, John with the enemy at twelve-o-clock and his men at his back, would have slammed the back of his head into his assailant's face. He would have reached back and flipped him over his shoulder, slamming him down onto the floor, then straddling him to keep his arms at his sides. He'd have beat him into submission, then taken him in for interrogation, all kinds of things he could have done to gain the upper hand. Basically, were John not alone, and in Sherlock's blind spot, and as weak and useless as his injuries had rendered him, he would have fought back, even if it meant getting his neck snapped for his trouble.
But John thinks that this might just be what Sherlock was meant to see, and with his cameras still out of order, John's description will be the only thing he would have go to by. So John has to survive. He won't help any by being brave and getting himself killed.
So he clears his throat and says, with his face pressed into the floor, "alright," and climbs slowly to his feet.
This was a short one, but I would rather get it up sooner than later to let you guys know that YES this fic is still on, and yes I am still in the game!! Thanks for the patience.