Consciousness and discomfort came together. John craved more sleep, didn’t breath too deeply. An aching line crossed his chest, his shoulders protested stiffly when he shifted them and a prickling sensation ran along both arms. He had been somewhere warm and sweet. He wanted to return. John moved his hips slightly, his feet slipped, dangled. Muscles tensed; fingers grasped. The instinct not to fall overrode everything. John’s eyes opened wide.
Lab? John lifted his head and looked down. He couldn’t imagine how he hadn’t fallen off the stool, unless he’d only dozed off for a few moments. His head felt too heavy for that and his arms too numb. The blood. He froze, cautiously turning his head, peering around the lab lit only by the light from the corridor shining through the glass panel in the door. “I didn’t dream it,” John murmured. He leaned back slightly to see beyond the microscope. “Mike gave it to me. That’s why I’m here.” He craned his neck, let out a sigh. There. Pushed well back from the edge, a labelled vial, the end of the date showing – 2007.
John reached out, closed his fingers around it, took long, slow breaths, in and out, and the warm, sweet place didn’t seem so far away.
John called the morgue. “Molly, could I draw a little of your blood?”
“Yes, sorry, Molly. Hello. Do you have an older sample, too? From before I...well, before the roof,” John asked. Before the roof had two meanings for them now.
“You’re getting as bad as…where are you?”
“Lab Nine,” John replied.
“I don’t have any old samples, but I’ll come up. I was just going to get some coffee, shall I bring you some?” Molly asked.
“Thanks, no sugar. Coffee and blood. Perfect,” John said.
The slides rested at a relaxed angle in the rack, four neatly numbered, the fifth identified by the symbol Sherlock had created from sigma and eta, the key recorded in John’s notebook. John tapped the wayward fifth slide into alignment with his pencil, then nudged it back out with his fingernail. “Always different,” John murmured and turned to the sheet of labels he had prepared with the combinations he intended to test.
“You haven’t been in much. How’s your experiment going?” Mrs Hudson asked from her doorway as John wiped his feet on the mat and slipped off his wet jacket in the hall.
John glanced up, caught the wistfulness in her expression before she saw him looking and smiled. “Good, good,” he replied, moving towards the staircase, pausing at the bottom. “Thank you for letting me take a sample.” He stepped around the bottom stair, arm outstretched. “Let me see,” he said. “The puncture isn’t red or itchy or anything, is it?”
John pushed the microtome back to lay the print-outs side by side next to the microscope.
The spreadsheet for the first phase of his experiment was nearly complete. Except for Sherlock’s, each lone sample and each combination of samples had been checked three times, the results logged with different coloured pens. John had followed Sherlock’s lead on that and not entered the information into any computer. When he was finished for the day, he filed his notes in the back of one of the box files he’d found in the alcove with articles by Sherlock and Bertrand on haematology and lab notes of Sherlock’s on gene therapy as a treatment for certain blood diseases.
The neat rows and columns of numbers and symbols on the spreadsheet appeared so ordinary. The conclusion they were pointing towards was not. John’s eyes flickered to the rack of stoppered test tubes. He hadn’t tested Sherlock’s sample yet, although it had been tempting to study it first, some instinct, or sentiment, had held him back. Perhaps he was just savouring the anticipation. Perhaps he didn’t want to face the reaction he’d found on the footpath. Nothing. It had left an empty sensation and sparked an idea. John hadn’t even broken the seal on the vial.
The specimens had presented both similarities and differences, other than blood type. Molly’s samples all contained small quantities of John’s white blood cells and on one slide, John had observed them engulfing a foreign particle. He hypothesised that it might have been Moriarty’s, but the process was too far advanced to identify it. John scribbled a quick note in the top margin of the print-out. There were a number of blank columns on the spreadsheet. They had frozen some of the liquefied roofing material before it all evaporated. One column would be for recording the reactions when he combined that with the blood samples.
Molly’s, Mike’s and Mrs Hudson’s blood all contained varying, small proportions of cellular material other than their own which did not appear to trigger an immune response in any of them. The proportions in Mike’s and Molly’s blood were similar, in Mrs Hudson’s it was less. Was age a factor? John sighed. All of these aspects required further testing.
The anomalous cellular material appeared to be bonding with the host blood cells in John's blood. The cellular material was not a diseased or mutated form of any blood component John had been able to identify, neither was it a virus nor a bacterium. The organic material was the same for each of them with Molly having John’s white blood cells in addition to it. The substance did not trigger an immune response from his white blood cells in Molly’s system either. John tapped his pencil at the top of his first column. Like Molly he had two types of foreign cells in his blood in different concentrations. One type, the less abundant, was steadily being devoured by his white blood cells. Not surprisingly, his white blood cell count was elevated. The second type, which matched the material in Mike’s, Molly’s and Mrs Hudson’s blood, made up nearly a third of his blood volume and was causing no immune reaction at all.
John rubbed his hands through his hair and let out a long breath. Maybe we’re all dying of something. He slid his hands over his face. “We seem healthy enough,” he said aloud. His hands moved down to his chin. “Maybe we all eat too much take-out,” he muttered. John sat up and looked at his spreadsheet again. A silver hair had settled on the paper. John picked it up. “I’m surprised they’re not all this colour by now,” he said, as he turned the hair. It glimmered in the light.
John reached for an empty slide.