Biopharmaceuticals Limited certainly lived up to its name. It produced the best drugs, for a price. Treatments of the corporations’ patrons had nearly double the success rates of those performed through city hospitals, a statistic touted on billboards throughout London. Of course, there were the dissenters; rival companies, homeopathic agencies, and human rights activists were always pinning signs up on one streetcorner or another, but the general public paid them little mind.
“I’m sure you know why you’ve been headhunted by our agency, Captain Watson.”
John shifted in his chair, fingering the cuff of his wrinkled suit. The head of personnel and hiring, Dr. Sebastian Wilkes, grinned disarmingly.
“Actually, no I don’t. When I was notified that I was being subcontracted out by the army in lieu of a discharge, I was rather surprised. I don’t see why your company thought I’d be an asset.”
The agent looked surprised. “You’re too modest, Dr. Watson! Biopharmaceuticals Limited is always looking for the best and brightest doctors, and your record shows that you are certainly in that category. Plus a war hero to boot! No, we are very interested.”
John looked him in the eye, skepticism edging his discomfort. “I’m a doctor, not a pharmacist or a medical researcher. I don’t see why you’d even want me.”
Wilkes leaned over the table, and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “Well, Dr. Watson, you certainly want us. Your psychological profile says you don’t do well when you feel useless, and going back to Afghanistan certainly isn’t an option.”
John bristled. “How do you know—never mind. It doesn’t matter, and I shouldn’t be here.” He gripped the aluminium cane by his side and moved to rise. He’d never have been so insubordinate in the army, but this was not the army. Hell, he didn’t even know it was legal for the army to subcontract out soldiers who hadn’t finished their tours.
“Fine,” the interviewer sighed. “I’d hoped we could leave the messy side of things until later, but if you insist on knowing exactly why we want you . . . ” He rose from his indulgent leather desk chair and, motioning for John to follow, left the room.
He led the limping doctor down a ridiculously modern-looking hallway and to a bank of elevators. To John’s surprise, the interviewer pushed the “down” button.
“Wait,” asked the doctor, “Aren’t we on the ground floor?”
Wilkes looked excited. “Of course, but Biopharm Limited has three different subterranean levels as well as its aboveground stories.” He continued to detail the engineering brilliance that had allowed for this as the agent and the doctor sank underground in the polished metal box.
“First level is the lobby and offices,” Wilkes went on. “Basement 1 is Recovery and Readmittence, Basement 2 is Living Quarters and Surgery, and Basement 3 is . . . well, you’ve trained in hospitals, Doctor. You know these things don’t always go well.”
John nodded. Basement 3: Morgue. To be expected, he supposed.
“Of course, you won’t need to go down there. Doctors stay in Basement 2 with their IPs, Incubator Patients. And here we are now!”
They stepped out of the elevator and into another brushed-steel hallway. Wilkes led John to one of the thick metal doors, looked briefly through the reinforced-glass window inset, and walked into the room.
“Dr. Stamford! Molly! I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Watson, one of our prospective new recruits!”
Dr. Stamford looked up and nodded from where he was drawing the blood of a cheerful-looking young woman. She waved at John with her free hand, and said, “Welcome to the family, Dr. Watson!”
Wilkes went on. “Molly here is one of our best volunteer IPs. This is, what, your fourth round here?”
The young woman smiled shyly. “Fifth.”
“Volunteer IPs are the heart of our operation here at Biopharmaceuticals Limited.”
John looked to where the syringe was drawing blood from Ms. Hooper’s arm. The skin there was pockmarked from where it had been done before, scars upon scars. And he saw other telltale signs of repeated trauma: IV marks on the back of her hand, shaved patches on her scalp, and odd lines and raised sections in her hospital gown that spoke of multiple surgery scars. In the old days, this woman would have been diagnosed with Munchausen’s Syndrome and given psychological help. Today, she was a model volunteer.
The doctor was overcome by a sudden wave of disgust and only just managed to stumble from the room. The agent, alarmed, followed.
“No,” said John. “I can’t. I won’t hurt people like her, even if they don’t think they mind. I’m a doctor, and I made an oath to do no harm.”
Wilkes put an entirely unwanted hand on John’s arm. “So, you don’t want to do implantation support. So fine! Most of our doctors don’t do that anyway. Stamford in there, he just does supportive care—keeping the IPs as healthy as possible until their surgeries, when the synthetic organs are removed and they go back to the outside. You can even do the surgeries if you’d like.”
John looked up, suspicious and angry. “Your doctors—are they all like me? Subcontracted against their will?”
For the first time in their interaction, Wilkes looked vaguely uncomfortable. “Well, most of them are subcontracted. Though almost all of them are thrilled to work here, the pay is better than overseas. And we do good work, our drugs help to save—”
Just then, a scream rang out from one of the doors on the hallway, and a nasally-voiced man in a nurse’s uniform came flying out into the hall, where he made a beeline for Wilkes. A second look at the man showed John that he was sopping wet.
The recruitment agent sighed. “Anderson, I’m with a new doctor. Someone else can deal with it.”
But Anderson wasn’t showing signs of giving in. “Exploding saline bag. The third exploding saline bag this week. Something has to be done about him!”
Wilkes sighed and, in a hissed whisper, asked “Can’t you deal with it? We’re nearly as low on non-drowsy IPs as we are on doctors, so we can’t exactly get rid of him. Especially not in the middle of a round.”
“But he’s a menace! I refuse to work with him.”
“In which case he’ll be left without any physician and we could lose the drugs for good. And the cost will be coming out of your salary.”
At that, Anderson bit his nearly nonexistent lower lip and stormed off, leaving a wet trail of saline solution in his wake. As soon as the nurse rounded the corner, violin music started to flow from the open door he’d left behind.
John started towards the door, curious, when Sebastian Wilkes stopped him.
“You don’t want to go in there, that guy’s crazy. You won’t be getting assigned an IP like that for a while yet, so don’t worry about it.”
But John wasn’t going to be put off. Pushing past the recruitment officer, John entered the room.
“May I borrow your phone?” asked the man within as he put down his violin bow with a flourish. “Anderson took my last one.”
John, a bit dumbstruck by the room’s dark-haired occupant, didn’t move a muscle. The man, probably the one the nurse had been complaining about, was certainly a striking character. Everything from his height to his skin tone to his hair cut was unusual, and most unusual of all was that he was somehow able to appear in control and impressive while wearing nothing but a hospital gown. Doctor Watson had spent enough time in hospitals to know that no one—absolutely no one—could look dignified wearing that generic cheap polyester. Except for this person, it seemed.
“And don’t worry about the signal affecting the machines, Doctor, the walls around the surgical areas are all lead-lined.”
John shook himself out of his reverie and handed his mobile phone over. As the other man sent a lightning-fast text, John asked, “So, the exploding IV bag was because he took your phone away?”
“No, the intestines in his hair were because he took my phone away. Exploding IVs are just because he’s annoying.”
Dr. Watson shook his head as he accepted back his phone, and was about to respond to Dr. Wilkes’ frantic glances towards the door when the man with the violin cut in again.
“Afghanistan or Iraq?”
For the second time in the space of an hour, John Watson found himself in a situation he wasn’t sure how he’d gotten in to. Before entering the room of Sherlock Holmes, John had been looking for ways to get out of Biopharm Limited’s facilities. Now, he was apparently employed there, as private physician serving the enigmatic patient.
But really, he’d had no choice. Sherlock (he’d asked John to call him Sherlock shortly after expounding John’s entire personal history on the basis of next to no information whatsoever) had turned to Dr. Wilkes (a “Doctor of Business Sciences, who purposely misleads the general public by implying that he’s a medical doctor,” as Sherlock had openly told John while the personnel agent steamed) and asked the fuming man about his own treatment, drawing the response that if (when) Anderson quit on his account, the IP would quite possibly be kept in either physical restraints or they’d scrap the non-drowsy label (which meant a patient could not be given anesthetics, due to either an allergy or a drug history) and put the man in a medically-induced coma for the approximate four months until the potent blood thinner being incubated in the synthetic carrier organ in his abdomen was ready to be harvested. John, of course, had reacted with horror, at which point the stranger had turned his light eyes on him and asked if the doctor’s commitment to his Hippocratic Oath did not require that he do something about it. So although he still wasn’t sure how it happened Dr. Watson found himself no longer trying quite so hard to escape the employ of Biopharmaceuticals Limited.
As John wondered on his new situation, the third shocking circumstance came about. Dr. (or, as John now thought of him, Somewhat Sleazy Doctor of Business) Wilkes had all but run from the room to get the necessary forms for John’s employment, leaving John alone with Sherlock, who hadn’t waited more than half a breath before zeroing in on the doctor, a look in his eyes speaking of hardly restrained excitement.
“As you have seen I know almost everything about you, but there are still questions it would benefit us both if you would answer. First: You do not want to be here. The money is better than what you’re used to, so it can only be a moral obligation. I am already ninety-eight percent sure that this is the case, but your answer will confirm it, and I’ll know if you lie. Are you or are you not morally opposed to Biopharmaceuticals Limited?
John stammered, “Y-yes, I am. But how—?”
“Second,” Sherlock cut in. “You enlisted in the military, which speaks to a willingness to break social codes of conduct in attaining an end. If the end were important enough to you, would you do so here?”
This time, John was ready. “Yes.”
“Third: If, after you were shot, you had been given the choice to stay in Afghanistan or return to England early with a full military pension instead of your new contract, would you have returned?
John didn’t have to think about it. “Never.”
“And last: How do you feel about the violin?”
The doctor opened his mouth to respond, wrongfooted, when Sherlock cut him off again. “Never mind, not important. A doctor, with a strong moral principle, taste for adrenaline, and no aversions to following orders, has just fallen into my lap! It’s Christmas! The game is On, Dr. Watson!” The enigmatic patient was now pacing the room, practically manic with excitement.
“Wait, excuse me? What game?”
“The game. Well, I suppose you would call it a mission. Annoying governmental assignment to investigate internal workings of Biopharm Limited. They know something is going on here, but not what or why. That’s why I’m here. Personal physician was in on it, but bailed. Would’ve taken months to get an agent in, build a backstory and whatnot, but now you’re here, and you’re the real thing. You are obviously willing to help me, so no need for any more convincing, even. Four months is a long time for a job, but not unheard of and you clearly don’t have anywhere else to be. It’s so ideal, I’d ask if you were planted if you weren’t so obviously honest, Doctor.
John was still incredibly wrongfooted, but couldn’t deny that, if this man was doing what he said he was doing, he’d be more than willing to help. But then again, whether or not the obviously brilliant man was telling the truth, or even sane, had not been established to John’s satisfaction. Still, he was unsure how to pose the question. “Are you or are you not delusional?” seemed like a rather ineffectual way to put it.
Seeming to read John’s mind (for the umpteenth time in the last fifteen minutes), Sherlock said, “And if you want to be sure I’m telling the truth, speak to Dr. Sally Donovan. She was the initial government plant. You’ll find her in the staff lounge at this time of day, but knock. Anderson’ll be in there, too, and no one wants to see that. Fourth door on the left, just past the bathroom.” With that, he turned back to the violin and continued to play, seemingly unaware that John was still in the room.
Somewhat dumbstruck, John walked out and made a left, counting the doors as he went.
Dr. Watson reached the fourth door on the left, only just remembering Sherlock’s advice to knock before entering. The reason became apparent, as he only just managed to catch the nurse Anderson extricating himself from the arms of a tall, attractive doctor. John schooled his expression to pleasant neutrality, and asked, “Dr. Donovan?”
“That’s me,” responded the doctor, a bit of color in her cheeks. Anderson, standing half behind her, shot a sour expression at John before pushing past him and out of the room.
Ignoring him, John went on. “I’m sorry, but a patient asked me to speak to you about a, well, a potentially . . .” John looked around him, suddenly feeling a bit ridiculous. Did he really believe such a far-fetched story, and from a person whose sanity is already in question?
Interrupting John’s internal crisis, Sally cut in. “Sherlock Holmes? Stay away from him.”
John pressed. “So he’s . . . not really—”
“Oh no, if Holmes told you about the job he’s on, that’s legitimate. No, he has been hired to look into this place. It’s just that he’s not to be trusted.” Her face hardened. “Sherlock Holmes is a psychopath who doesn’t care about anyone or anything. He doesn’t care what he does or who he hurts. He might be on the side of the law for now, but it’s just a matter of time. The man’s not safe, and you’d do best to stay away from him. Run while you can,” she smirked.
John smiled, but didn’t let it reach his eyes. “Thanks for the advice, then. I suppose I’ll just be going . . .” He left the room more confused than he’d been going in. He’d gotten some confirmation that Sherlock Holmes wasn’t insane, at least, but John wasn’t sure what to do with the other information he’d received. The doctor had met a lot of questionable characters in the army, and Sherlock hadn’t fit the profile of a sadist. If anything, the man seemed, for lack of a better word, misunderstood. John was surprised at how protective he already felt of the strange IP, but his instincts had served him well in the past and he wasn’t about to start ignoring them now.
It was precisely these instincts that set off alarm bells when the phone outside the door John was passing started to ring. It wouldn’t have been strange, except that it was the third hall phone to go off precisely as John passed it, and each time it had stopped ringing as soon as the doctor got a few feet away. A technician had tried to answer the second one, but it had stopped as soon as her hand got near.
Testing the phenomenon, John turned and walked back towards the phone she’d tried to answer. As he got close enough to reach, it started to ring again. This time, Dr. Watson picked up.
“Good evening, Dr. Watson,” said a smooth, cultured voice. “There is a supply closet on your right. Enter it, and close the door behind you. I would make some sort of threat, but I’m sure your position is quite clear to you.”
This was about the strangest instruction John had ever received, and delivered in the most disturbing manner. But someone with the kind of access he’d just seen was probably not one to cross, so the doctor obeyed.
For a moment he felt eminently strange, standing in the middle of a dark and cramped closet squashed between a wall of medicine bottles and a free-rolling ultrasound machine, but then the screen of the unplugged machine flickered to life.
“Excellent decision, Dr. Watson.” The man on the screen stood mostly in shadow, in what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse, but John could make out a black umbrella in his right hand.
“How do you know who I am?”
“Unimportant, Doctor. What I’m interested in is your association with one Sherlock Holmes.”
John did a mental double-take. “I met the man an hour ago. How do you even—”
“Again, unimportant, Doctor. You are doubtless aware of his somewhat . . . unique position in the biopharmaceutical facility?”
Still on his guard, and trying not to give anything away, John replied, “I know that he’s not a usual sort of patient.” He kept his face stoic.
The man with the umbrella laughed. “Come come now, Doctor. You hardly need to keep Sherlock Holmes’ secrets from me.”
“I rather think that’s up to him, not you.” John quirked his lips uncomfortably.
“Please don’t interpret my concern as anything sinister, Dr. Watson. I’m merely looking out for Sherlock’s best interests. To that end, I’d like you to do something for me.”
“What?” asked John, almost positive it was an offer he would not accept.
“In your position as his doctor, you will be privy to certain medical records. I would like you to relay these records to me. Nothing delicate, of course.”
“Of course not!”
“But I haven’t mentioned a figure.”
“No need, I’m not interested. If you want to know something about Mr. Holmes, you should ask him yourself.”
The man on the screen quirked his lips, as if privy to a private joke John was not a part of. “Sherlock Holmes and I have, what you’d call a ‘difficult’ relationship. Nonetheless, I worry about him. Constantly.”
John was thoroughly out of patience with this exchange. “I don’t care if you’re his fairy godfather or something, I’m not going to be a part of it. Can I get out of this closet now?”
Umbrella Man gave an indulgent smile. “Whether or not we’re done here is entirely up to you, Dr. Watson.”
With that, John opened the closet door and stalked out, cane clacking on the hallway floor. But he didn’t entirely miss the slow smile that spread across Umbrella Man’s face, right before the ultrasound machine’s screen flickered back to black.
“Alright, it would seem I’m convinced,” John said as he reentered Sherlock’s room.
The dark-haired man was lying across a beaten-up couch, rosining his bow. Without looking up, he responded, “You spoke to Dr. Donovan.”
“Yes, and to . . . well, someone else.”
Sherlock turned to look at John, brows knitted. “Who?”
The doctor shrugged, resigned. “No idea. Talks through ultrasound machines, carries an umbrella, says he’s worried about you—”
“He offered you money to spy on me.” Sherlock looked at John sharply. “Did you take it?”
“Of course not!”
The other man shrugged, turning back to his violin. “Pity, we could have split the fee. Think it through next time, will you, Doctor?”
John shook his head, unsure of how to respond. He settled on, “If we’re going to be spending four months together, you might as well call me John.”
For the first time in the exchange, Sherlock seemed genuinely surprised. “Alright, then . . . John.”
“Don’t you usually call people by their first names?”
Sherlock gave a rueful half-smile. “I usually don’t end up speaking to the same people twice.”
Just then, Wilkes came back to the room with a thin manila envelope. He looked at John as if trying to assure himself of the man’s sanity before proffering the envelope along with a pen. As John signed in the indicated boxes, the Doctor of Business Sciences explained his new duties.
“You’ll be living in here, of course. All the personal physicians live with their IPs, protocol you know. Now, you said no to implantation support. What about removal surgery?”
John looked up, confused. This was all moving a bit quickly for him. He looked to Sherlock, who gave a nearly imperceptible nod. “Yes?” John answered, and Wilkes indicated yet another box to which the doctor had to sign his name. With that, the personnel agent closed the folder and made his way to the door.
“You can leave the facilities to work out the particulars tomorrow, Captain, but until the paperwork goes through I must ask you to remain here. Corporate espionage, you know. It’s everywhere. To that end, I must ask you to compile a list of personal acquaintances with whom you’ll likely be communicating. There’s a chance someone will come up subversive, but it’s a very small one. Still, better safe than sorry. Best of luck, Doctor.” And with that, he left the room.
John turned to Sherlock.
“Alright, it’s about time someone actually explained to me what’s going on.”
Dr. Watson was seated on the Underground with his solitary box of belongings, headed back from the tiny bedsit in which he’d been situated while awaiting his new assignment. Partially to pass the time and partially as an excuse to avoid eye contact with fellow passengers, he’d started reading the pamphlet Wilkes had given him before sending the doctor on this brief sabbatical. It was printed with the Biopharm Limited logo, and the overly-cheerful cover read, “Incubator Patients and You: What a New Doctor Needs to Know.”
John certainly wanted to know as much as he could. Since he was apparently part of a scheme that would involve another human’s life in his hands, he wanted to be sure he went into it with as much information as possible. Even still, the doctor skimmed the sections on employee benefits and the code of conduct, skipping straight to the parts pertaining to medical treatment.
It seemed that standard entrance procedure of an IP consisted of a minor medical procedure in which a thin plastic sac covered in tubing was inserted into the abdominal cavity, with a protrusion in the tubing inserted directly in to the patient’s circulatory system. The sac already contained the immature form of the drug to be produced, and hormones and nutrients (as well as chemicals ingested and/or injected for the purpose) diffused from the patient’s bloodstream converted this substance over time to the mature form. By the time this was accomplished, the sac’s external tubing, as well as its first layer of preservative coating, would have disintegrated away leaving the remaining vessel free-floating in the abdominal cavity. Without its preservative covering, the sac is recognized by the body as an irritant, causing the body to attempt to expel it. This eases removal surgery, the significantly more invasive procedure by which the sac of mature drug is removed. This product is the reason for Biopharm Limited’s existence; people pay thousands for just a few centiliters.
It hadn’t taken John long to pack; most of his belongings were still in long-term storage, so it should have been a matter of a phone call and a credit card number to extend his lease on the unit. The doctor had, however, encountered an inordinate amount of trouble trying to work the storage facility’s automated purchasing system. Finally, a neighbor (who’d evidently grown fed up with the shouting) advised John that, if he just said nothing into the phone except “agent,” he’d get an actual human being on the line. Things went more smoothly after that.
The few belongings John hadn’t put in storage were now in the mid-sized box on his lap: several sets of clothes, a laptop computer and charger, his phone charger, a mug, some family photos, a small electric kettle, and one very-illegal firearm. John still wasn’t sure why he’d kept the gun. It wasn’t that he’d had an overwhelming desire to keep it, so much as it just didn’t seem worth the trouble to return the thing. And if keeping the gun led to some sort of difficulty, he couldn’t bring himself to care.
But difficulty didn’t seem to be something John would find himself short of any time soon. One day a soldier, next day accomplice to some sort of government-hired private detective. “Consulting Detective,” Sherlock had called himself.
The doctor put the pamphlet in his pocket and got off the tube at the stop closest to Biopharm, struggling a bit with the box under one arm and his cane in the other hand. People on the stairs did their best to make way for him, but it still took a lot of jostling and shoving to get out of the busy underground and onto the busy street. Looking at his watch, John noted that he had a few more hours of freedom before he had to be back under the facility roof. He briefly considered finding a place for lunch before scrapping the idea; toting a box around searching for food didn’t seem very enjoyable, and quite honestly John was looking forward to getting back to his dubiously-chosen workplace, if only for the incredibly unusual man within. His Partner In Crime, as it were. Or maybe Partner In Crime Prevention. At any rate, it was certainly an exciting business, and in spite of himself John found himself enjoying it.
Unpacking his things didn’t take John much longer than packing them had. The room was small, and all of the furniture aside from the hospital bed that dominated the room had almost definitely been donated after seeing multiple owners. There was a long, beaten-up-looking couch, a low coffee table, a lumpy armchair, a chest of drawers, a small bed and nightstand, and a desk. Or, at least, what John thought was a desk. It was rather difficult to tell, seeing as the thing was entirely covered with what looked like the contents of half the facility’s hazardous material disposal bins. Petri dishes, pipettes, beakers, a microscope, several bottles of household and industrial-grade cleaning product, and at least one Bunsen burner all stood haphazardly on book pedestals, surrounded by slides, pamphlets, more books, assorted papers (some pinned in place by a knife), and a human skull.
“Didn’t get it from here,” Sherlock droned from his position, draped over the couch. It seemed that even with his eyes closed he could tell what John was looking at, and thinking.
“Right,” answered the doctor, and he continued to put his clothes in the dresser. But then he perked his head up again, looking towards the strange detective. “Where did you get it?”
Sherlock twisted around to look at him balefully. “Friend.” Then, he flopped back down.
Eventually, John had unpacked everything but the gun. He looked at it for a few minutes, debating whether to leave it in the now-empty box and stash the whole thing under the bed, which would allow him to avoid showing the thing to Sherlock, or to put it away somewhere among his other belongings and mitigate the chances of it being found inadvertently by hospital cleaning staff.
“Don’t hide the gun in your sock drawer, it’s cliché,” drawled the detective, still without leaving the couch.
John jumped, holding the box closer to his chest. “How did you—”
“No one spends that long contemplating an empty box, and there are a finite number of things you would try to hide. Considering your military service, a gun wasn’t much of a leap.” Sherlock still had his eyes closed, the world apparently too boring to bear at the moment.
But John was still thunderstruck, and couldn’t hold back an exclamation. “Brilliant.”
And the doctor wasn’t entirely positive, but he thought he saw a confused, but pleased expression cross the face of his enigmatic patient.
John wasn’t entirely sure what had woken him up. The room’s little second-hand bed wasn’t horribly uncomfortable, and the facility wasn’t inordinately noisy. If anything, the room seemed a bit too quiet.
The doctor pressed the power button on his phone and aimed the screen at the lumpy couch, on which Sherlock had been draped when John went to sleep. No consulting detective. He checked the hospital bed, still no consulting detective. A quick scan of the room didn’t reveal anyone, either.
Slightly alarmed, John stood up and flicked on the room light. But no, there was still no one there. The doctor went to the door of the room and leaned out, as there was always a chance his IP had just gone to the bathroom or something. But the hall was empty, too. John made a decision, put on a jumper over his pyjamas, shoved the gun (which had been stashed in his underwear drawer, thank you very much) into his waistband, and set off down the hall.
He tried the men’s bathroom, the women’s bathroom, Umbrella Man’s closet, and even the staff lounge to no avail. John was considering the relative immorality of checking the other IPs’ rooms while the occupants were still asleep when he ran into Sally Donovan. Zeroing in on the familiar face, he approached her.
“Dr. Donovan? Have you seen Sherlock Holmes? I woke up and he’d just disappeared.”
She looked at him pityingly. “Well, you’d better get used to it. That’s just about normal for him.” She went to leave, but John stopped her.
“Do you have any idea where he went?” John pressed.
Sally shrugged. “Try the morgue. He likes it there,” she sneered.
“Thank you,” John called as he jogged back down the hall to the elevator bank. He jammed the down button with his thumb, anxiety making his stomach crawl. But as the doctor stood there, he saw a sign by the lift door. It read: For The Safety of our Incubator Patients, Basement Lifts Do Not Operate from 8pm to 6am. With a groan, John located the door onto a nearby stairwell and ran down into the facility’s lowest level.
John caught sight of a shock of dark hair just as he pushed open the double-doors to the morgue. “What are you doing down here?” he shouted, still high on adrenaline from his run down the stairs.
Sherlock turned his head to look at the doctor, one eyebrow raised. “I could ask you the same question.”
John took a second to catch his breath before panting, “I was . . . looking for you . . . Woke up, you were gone.”
The Consulting Detective frowned slightly, a micropipette frozen in midair. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re here.”
The doctor rolled his eyes. Usually he’d have better manners, but the man in front of him had just given him two thirds of a heart attack, and was now acting like nothing much was happening. So, John reasoned, sarcasm was not only allowed, but called for. He responded, “Hmm, let me think? The man in the middle of a dangerous medical procedure and a dangerous government mission goes missing without a word in the middle of the night, and I assumed he might be in some sort of trouble. Yep, I was totally overreacting.”
Sherlock sighed dramatically. “Alright, perhaps that was a reasonable conclusion to your tiny little brain, but if you’d looked around the room for more than a minute, even you would have seen that there were no signs of a struggle.”
At that, John exploded. “Sherlock, I thought you were dead! Sorry I didn’t take the time to conduct a proper investigation. And what do you mean, tiny little brain?”
Sherlock started wrapping up the hopefully-not-human spleen he’d been working with when John burst in, saying with a resigned air, “Don’t be insulted, nearly everyone has a tiny little brain. And it’s patently clear you aren’t going to drop this, so would you be amenable to us continuing this conversation upstairs?”
John was beyond words, and settled for a nod.
As he and Sherlock climbed the steps to Basement 2, John asked, “Why were you down here, anyway?”
“To analyze how different strengths of acid interact with various organs.”
“Of course. At four in the morning?”
Sherlock pouted. “They don’t let me in during the day.”
“And they let you in at night?”
“In a matter of speaking.”
“The completely insufficient deadbolt is practically an invitation in itself.”
At that, John started laughing. He knew there shouldn’t be anything funny about breaking in to morgues, but somehow there was, and then Sherlock started up too.
And so, giggling like lunatics, the two strangest people in the building climbed up into the basement to go to sleep as the sun was coming up.
“You do know breaking into laboratories isn’t exactly conducive to keeping a low profile?” asked John conversationally as they reentered their room.
“Of course,” Sherlock responded, carelessly grabbing John’s laptop and flopping down on the couch. “But keeping a low profile is the most sure way to be caught. The best place to hide is in plain sight.” The detective seemed to be using John’s laptop to make notes on the spleen, and John decided not to comment on the appropriation of his computer for the time being.
“Take you, for example,” Sherlock continued. “Every time you mention the job I’m on, you look around for cameras and speak in a stage whisper. Now, imagine you were watching yourself on those cameras you don’t see. You would see a man acting very suspiciously. While if you were watching me, you wouldn’t see any behaviors out of place.”
“Except for breaking into laboratories?”
“Yes, except for that, but no one expects an IP to be entirely sane. They’re used to us acting oddly, so no one was all that surprised when I started using their facilities. And after the first week, they didn’t even bother trying to keep me out. Very useful, all that.”
“Useful for putting intestines in people’s hair?”
Sherlock gave a secretive half-smile. “For one.”
John pressed on. “And for what else? You can’t expect me to be of any help if you don’t tell me what the plan is.” The doctor went to scan the room for cameras before stopping himself.
The detective looked confused. “I’ll give you proper instructions when the time comes. All you’ll need to do to be an effective assistant is to carry them out.”
“But I’m your doctor first. And to be an effective doctor, I have to make sure you don’t die. And if you don’t tell me what you’re doing, I can’t do that now can I?”
Sherlock looked affronted. “You expect me to tell you everything I do?”
John sighed. “I have a feeling you wouldn’t tell me anyway. So no, I don’t need to know everything. Just tell me the basics, and, I don’t know, leave a note or something if you plan on disappearing?”
Sherlock sighed, looking extremely put-upon. “Alright, fine. Come here.” The detective angled the screen as he invited John to look at his own computer. John perched on the edge of the couch, and found himself looking at the “About” page of Biopharm Limited’s website. Front and center was a glowing picture of two men in lab coats, the older with a proprietary hand on the younger one’s shoulder.
“That,” said Sherlock, indicating the older man, “Is Elihu Stubbingwicke, eccentric medical researcher and the founder of Biopharm Limited. Two years ago he died, and left the business to his son, Kenneth,” Sherlock pointed to the younger man in the picture. “And with the change in management, Biopharm doubled in worth overnight.” The consulting detective sat back and looked at John, having apparently made his point.
John frowned, not understanding. “So? Why is that worth investigating?”
“Because Kenneth Stubbingwicke is an idiot!” the detective exploded, leaning way forward over the image on the screen. “I mean, an idiot compared to most people. Just look at his hair! It’s unlikely the man could’ve learned to tie his own shoes without a private tutor.”
“So, someone else is really running the company?” John thought he was catching on, but didn’t want to be too sure yet.
“Exactly,” continued Sherlock, on a roll. “And they’re not just making drugs, either; there’s no way one could make those kinds of profit with only the facilities on their tax record. No, this place is a front for something, and considering that the father dabbled in multiple borderline-legal fields of scientific inquiry, it stands to reason that it would be something along those lines.”
“Wait, so the whole using-human-bodies-as-petri-dishes thing is the morally legitimate aspect of this business?” John was having some trouble wrapping his head around that. “Then, what’s the illegitimate side?”
“That,” said Sherlock, with the devil’s smile, “Is what we’re here to find out.”
Within the first week, things fell into a sort of pattern. John would wake up early and make himself a cup of tea while browsing on his laptop. An hour or so later, a technician would come in bearing breakfast and whatever vitamins and immune boosters Sherlock was due to be given that day. John would remove his own food and put the rest in the room’s miniature refrigerator, then retreat to the staff lounge. There he’d spend a few hours chatting with whatever doctors and, occasionally, administrators who weren’t busy, keeping an ear out for anything that seemed important. Sometimes he’d wander the hallways, idly exploring. This was all easier to do without his cane—John hadn’t even noticed it until the next day, but when he’d gone looking for Sherlock in the middle of the night, he’d apparently been in such a hurry he forgot the thing. And waking up to see the hated crutch still where he’d left it before the little adventure had been a powerful case to the doctor’s subconscious that he hadn’t needed it in the first place.
Anyway, at about noon, the caneless Dr. Watson would return to his and Sherlock’s room. The detective would almost certainly be awake by then, either typing madly on John’s laptop, playing away on his violin, or poking at some experiment he’d set up with bits and pieces absconded from the morgue. It would then be John’s job to force Sherlock to eat something, usually by means of refusing to let the subject drop until the other man moodily agreed to at least some mediocre toast or breakfast cereal. Getting Sherlock to take his meds went down the same way.
The detective seemed confused, as well as annoyed, at John’s persistence in taking care of him. But as far as John was concerned, one of them had to. The doctor had even had one stroke of brilliance; Sherlock would let him check his blood pressure, heart rate, anything, so long as he let the detective use the equipment for his experiments when he was done. Officially Sherlock told John that constantly utilizing the doctor’s privilege to any and all of Biopharm’s available machinery now would be a good cover in case they had to appropriate something quickly later, but the doctor had a feeling his detective just enjoyed playing with the machines.
At about two in the afternoon, another technician would arrive, wheeling in a cart. Sherlock would extend a bored arm and, a few vials of blood lighter, take it back. Since he wasn’t yet in the final three months of treatment, he wasn’t being given any shots yet. John knew from Mike Stamford, with whom he’d become friends, that things would get worse when the shots started. Molly was further along than Sherlock, and Mike was spending less and less time away from her room. The shy IP was only a few weeks away from removal surgery, and she was displaying all the symptoms of stomach flu. Mike assured John that she’d be fine, that it was a very common side effect of producing the neurological drugs Molly was assigned, but John was still worried. And even if Mike’s IP was only bothered physically by what she was going through, that would hardly be the case with Sherlock.
For all that John’s patient didn’t seem to care about his own wellbeing, the doctor was beginning to notice subtle signs that he was aware of the ticking clock on his health. The detective had taken to making lists of what he had to find out in order to deduce the identity of Biopharm’s shadow leader. John had offered to help, to do some of the legwork (seriously, didn’t Sherlock think that he was capable of counting the number of technicians working between 4 and 6 pm on weekdays?) but the detective was adamant. The only thing he’d asked John to do so far had been to log onto Biopharm’s patient records software for him. The doctor was slightly frustrated with his less-than-glamorous role in their endeavor, but he had a feeling his job would be becoming a lot more difficult as the weeks went on.
As it turned out, John was correct. At about 11 pm, on the last night before Sherlock was scheduled to start his first round of shots, the IP called John over to where he was once again leaned over the doctor’s computer.
“Tomorrow I start the most intensive period of drug production,” stated the IP without intonation.
“Yes, I know,” responded John, waiting for Sherlock to get to the point.
“So, tonight is the last time I can be sure to be in possession of all of my faculties. Thus, it has become imperative that I share with you my findings, as I may be unable to adequately do so in the future. Trust me, I’m no more pleased with these circumstances than you are.”
John wasn’t quite sure that statement was accurate, as he’d personally been looking forward to being let in on his IP’s mission. But he remained silent on the point, choosing instead to wait for whatever Sherlock chose to share with him.
The IP had opened a spreadsheet of Biopharmaceuticals Limited’s expenditures, and was now looking at John expectantly. “Do you see it?”
John looked at the strings of numbers and frowned. “See what?”
Sherlock groaned. “It’s right in front of your nose! The amount of money spent on research and development is far in excess of what would be expected, especially since hardly any of it is going towards development of new drugs. No, Biopharm is only looking at new types of incubator organs! What does that tell you?”
John was getting annoyed with Sherlock’s tone. “So, they’re looking into making more specialized incubator organs.”
“Yes! But not for storing drugs!”
Now the doctor was intrigued. “Not for drugs?”
“Of course not! Look at the way they’ve been varying sizes and membrane thickness. And a program to make the organs x-ray opaque? There’s no way those things are even supposed to store a liquid, never mind one that has to interact with fluids in the body. Biopharm is looking for new ways to store something, but it isn’t drugs.”
“So, what are they looking to store then?”
Sherlock smiled, seemingly pleased with John’s enthusiasm. “Anything. Government secrets, flashdrives of missile codes, small weapons, bombs, illegal drugs, antique jewelry, whatever can be reasonably fit into a human.”
John started to feel ill. “So, all the people here might have bombs inside them?”
Sherlock waived aside his concern. “Of course not, John. This place is a front, one factory where they’re doing what they say they’re doing to show the public. The side research they do here is to fit other people as weapons, probably people in other countries. That’s where Elihu comes in, he had loads of accounts and contacts overseas, especially in war-torn countries with little regulation. He probably arranged for some of his friends to run the smuggling components of their organizations with and through Biopharm, with the stipulation that they financially take care of his son’s empire while the stupid boy twiddles his thumbs. You see, there isn’t a shadow leader of Biopharm, it was all set up ahead of time and is just running like an old clock. Take out the gears, and it will stop with no one to repair it.””
John just blinked for a minute. Once he’d gotten his thoughts sorted, he asked the detective, “So what now?”
Sherlock looked at him approvingly. “Now, we act as any other doctor and patient. In a month from now, however, I will be on the operating table and you will hack into the administrative mainframe and steal every bit of data you can.”
John took a breath. He could hardly even start to point out all of his problems with this plan. After a moment, though, he settled on the most obvious.
“You’ve seen me type.”
“Yes, you average about twelve words per minute. Half the speed of the average prepubescent, but that has little bearing on our current investigation.”
John was incredulous. “No bearing? How do you expect me to do any hacking when I can’t even make a computer do what everyone can make a computer do in a reasonable amount of time?!”
Sherlock shook his head. “Don’t worry that you won’t be up to task, John, everything you need will be on a flash drive. It will, in simplistic terms, ‘suck out’ the relevant data and send it to the appointed government account. All you need to do is plug the flash drive into the vice president’s computer. Honestly, even Anderson could probably do it.”
“Alright.” John was feeling a little lightheaded. “So, all I have to do is break into the company vice president’s office, stick a travel drive into his desktop, and we’ll be on our merry way?”
Sherlock smiled enigmatically. John thought to himself that he’d never seen someone quite so proficient at looking mysterious when Sherlock replied, “I highly doubt it will be quite that uninteresting, John, though you have the general point down.”
“And all that will happen while you’re in surgery?”
“Well, directly after. You’ll operate on me, remove the organ, and I’ll be sent to recovery. The technicians will all but forget about me, and you, as it’s the organ they’ll lose their jobs if they misplace. So you can just pop upstairs with a stolen ID badge and flick the drive into place. Then you leave, I leave, and the government gets its secrets. They get quite cross if anyone has any secrets but them, you know.”
“Do we have the travel drive?”
“It’ll be in a baggie concealed in tomorrow’s milk.”
“And the stolen badge?”
“Well, it’s not stolen yet. I’m on it though. Although if I’m too out of it, you may have to steal the thing yourself. It’s not hard, just pickpocket Wilkes next time he comes down here showing off to someone.”
“Alright,” replied John, feeling like he’d bitten off a bit more than he could chew, and not minding half as much as one would expect.
Chapter 13: This Is Not A Real Chapter, But You Might Like It Anyway
I realized that no matter how many times I tell myself I am going to pick this back up, there's a good chance I won't. So instead, I'm just going to tell you what happens.
Technically, this is spoilers for something I may eventually write but chances are slim.
Here's what happens next:
Sherlock starts experiencing symptoms related to the drugs getting pumped into him, mostly being dizzy and having the world feel less solid than it should. Everything is spinning, almost always. This means that while Sherlock is still mentally with it, he has a LOT of trouble getting around. Because his inner ears are now lying to him, he tends to boldly and dramatically walk into doorframes and things like that. Therefore, John does a lot of pushing him around in a wheelchair/grabbing him by the back of his shirt before he can walk into things. So, they live in each others' pockets and Sherlock gets used to trusting John. John is worried about Sherlock, both about his health and about his safety, but other than that he's having a pretty fantastic time getting to know him and living with the adrenaline rush. Although Sherlock in a wheelchair does treat John like his taxi driver.
Eventually Sherlock is in too bad shape to continue running John off his feet, as he's pretty much delirious. This is the first time he ever really opens up about how he didn't know he was lonely until now that he isn't. John is touched. John does not really need to open up in return, as Sherlock does it for him by deducing all of his pains and their reasons while he's too out of it to know any better (even less of a filter than usual). Sherlock pretends not to remember the conversation. John knows he's pretending, but doesn't call him on it.
Finally, the date of Sherlock's surgery arrives. Sherlock has all the info he needs, and all he has to do is get it to Mycroft, but this won't be possible until after his surgery. But considering how shady this place is, if Sherlock and John just let things happen chances are Sherlock will be re-booked in and kept there against his will even if no one finds out he's trying to expose the place. So, they have a plan. John is going to do the surgery, and with some bait-and-switch he's going to stash Sherlock in a closet before he can be readmitted. That way, he'll have some time to recover before he and John sneak out. His disappearance will be noted, but it's not like anyone will be in much of a hurry to admit they lost a human being.
Obviously things aren't that simple. John has to operate on Sherlock without anesthesia, on paper because of Sherlock's drug history but really because anesthetics would corrupt the blood thinner drug Sherlock's body is being used to create. John calls them on this by bringing up his medical knowledge of how there are anesthetics that are not habit-forming, but no one will give him access to any and he is told that if he refuses to operate they will get someone else. Because Sherlock basically has a bag of super potent blood thinner inside him, and if it is damaged he will bleed out and die, John won't trust anyone else to operate. So, yeah. Sherlock is just tied down really extensively and his life depends on his ability not to move while being basically disemboweled and John's ability to not nick the bag. Remarkably, this ends well. Someone makes an offhand comment to John about how impressive it is that he didn't kill Sherlock by accident, as survival rates for carriers of that particular drug are about 20%. John refrains from stabbing them.
Initially, the bait and switch goes well. John puts a very mind-palace-y Sherlock in a supply closet along with the vital memory stick full of data, and leaves him his gun despite knowing that there's no way Sherlock could fire it effectively (still dizzy, post-operative, etc). John just can't bring himself to leave him defenseless. Then, John goes ahead with the plan of reporting to his supervisor and pretending he has no idea where Sherlock went. However, everyone is suddenly making a much bigger deal about Sherlock's disappearance than John expected, and it's because the little specimen jar holding the bag of blood thinner John took from Sherlock's abdomen is missing, too. Yes, Sherlock managed to palm it while being mostly out of his mind. He probably would not have done so had he been in possession of more of his mind, but in his current mental state he felt he had a right to keep it. Maybe for an experiment.
There is a lot of running around and hand-waving and it all comes to a head where John is caught and the big bads know that he was trying to expose them and he has a letter opener to his neck (they're going to make it look like suicide) but and Sherlock comes in. He's doing a remarkable impression of a human being, despite being mostly flying somewhere above reality. Sherlock is pointing John's gun and bluffing about his ability to use it, and it seems like it will work but it doesn't. So, he produces the specimen jar and shares a meaningful look with John. We don't know the meaning. John does. Sherlock throws the floppy bag of drugs in the air, everyone goes to catch it, the biggest bad does but John takes the opportunity to get the letter opener. He STABS THE BIG BAD IN THE HAND, THROUGH THE SUPER DUPER BLOOD THINNER BAG. This gets some of the drug into the wound, and even around the knife it starts bleeding alarmingly. John smugly informs the bad guy that if he wants any chance of survival at all, he's going to have to leave the letter opener in and get medical treatment immediately. Big Bad and Big Bad's Goons are distracted enough that John and Sherlock get out.
Big Bad survives, but between the info Sherlock gives Mycroft and the legit hospital investigation into the freaky injury of the guy who almost died of getting stabbed in the hand, the whole facility goes down. It's dramatic and embarrassing and much more satisfying than if he just died. John moves in to Baker Street with Sherlock, and all is well.
P.S. Sherlock's look to John was just telling him to utilize the distraction. He didn't even think of using blood thinner as a weapon. But he was super impressed, and tells John so. John is a little smug.
So, that's that. Or at least, I think it is. I just figured that I knew how it ended and I thought someone else might want to know, too.