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Letters from Khan

Chapter Text

My Dear Brother,

I told you you'd regret it.


John sighed as the sleek black sedan with tinted windows pulled smoothly to the curb. The back passenger door was pushed open from the inside.

“He could just call me,” John complained, ducking down to peer at Anthea, only to find that Anthea hadn't come to pick him up this time.

“Good morning, Dr Watson,” Mycroft greeted him with his usual thin smile. John had no idea if Mycroft knew how to smile properly at people he was genuinely happy to meet, or if smiling was as hard for him as it could be for his brother.

“I have the shopping,” John protested half-heartedly. Mycroft nodded slightly and John turned to find a bulky body guard standing just behind him. The man relieved him of the plastic bags and deposited them in the boot of the car. John drew in on himself in annoyance, letting his shoulders slump and his eyes close as he considered what his life had become since he had risen to the great heights of power that the Holmes family represented. Then he straightened, lifted his chin, and gave in to the inevitable. The body guard climbed in behind him, sandwiching him in the middle. The car pulled out into traffic.

“I heard you had a favourable result on your last case,” Mycroft ventured, as if they were meeting at the club rather than squashed uncomfortably in the back seat of a car.

John shrugged.

“It was a fairly boring murder. Sherlock was muttering the entire time about how Scotland Yard should do their own bloody job and stop bleating to him all the time.” John turned a bit awkwardly to look at Mycroft.

“What do you want, Mycroft? Everything's good in Baker Street. Finances are fine. Sherlock's on an even keel…”

“Not shooting holes in the walls, yes, I'm aware,” Mycroft replied agreeably. He lapsed into a thoughtful silence. John was starting to feel quite put upon.

“So. We've never had an armed escort on any of our abductions before,” John prompted.

“No,” Mycroft agreed. He took a deep breath. “No, as you have obviously rightly deduced, this is not one of our usual visits.” He paused, no awkward smile. His fingers tightened on his umbrella. “This is, in fact, an actual abduction. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes disappeared today. In about three weeks, your bloated, disfigured bodies will be found in the Thames, Harriet and I will be asked to identify you, and Lestrade will find and convict your killer. The tabloid headlines will be lurid.”

Mycroft sighed, as if from sincere regret. “The Murder of the Great Detective.”

John twisted sideways to stare at him in disbelief. As Mycroft continued to gaze with melancholy into the middle distance, disbelief rapidly changed to heart-hammering fear. Then Mycroft blinked and smiled again.

“Of course, you'll both be perfectly safe. We're on our way to a small military airfield where a helicopter will take you to your destination. My brother is already there, I believe. I'm sorry to have to involve you in this, but the choices of hostage were either you or Mrs Hudson, and as an officer and a gentleman, I'm sure you prefer it to be you. Besides, when leveraging Sherlock Holmes, it doesn't pay to go halfway.”

“Leveraging Sherlock to do what, exactly?” John gritted out. Bloody Holmses. Bloody pair of drama queens.

“If you would roll up your sleeve, sir,” the body guard ordered. John ignored him.

“The project is so shocking I refuse to discuss it. You'll be fully briefed upon your arrival,” Mycroft replied. His mouth had a pinched look of obvious disgust.

“Then why is this happening? Why are you trying to force Sherlock to do something you…” John asked, then paused in realization. “Oh. Alright, that's bad. You can't stop it, can you?”

“No,” Mycroft replied tersely. “It is completely beyond my power.”

“Sir, your sleeve,” the man prompted. John gave a huff of irritation and leaned into Mycroft, pressing their shoulders together, as he pulled his arm from his jacket sleeve.

“This kind of sedation isn’t safe,” he complained to Mycroft. “Can’t we just go with a bag over the head and maybe zip ties?”

Mycroft made an annoyed clucking noise. John scowled and yanked open his shirt cuff to expose the bare skin of his forearm, and then glared at the man when he jabbed him with the syringe, not bothering to prepare the injection site.

The drug took effect so quickly that John couldn't even properly sit up again before it flooded his system. Probably methohexital he thought. He slumped against Mycroft like a puppet with its strings cut. Mycroft caught him in an awkward embrace before he could land face first in the man's lap. Mycroft's voice reverberated where John's ear was pressed against his chest.

“No, I can't help you, and I'll regret it until my dying day. Look after him for me, John.”

Then the world faded away.

Dear John,

I'm afraid our association has been a very great inconvenience to you. I hope you are not too put out with me over this unfortunate incident and that you will forgive me for being relieved that you are here.

Kindest regards,

John woke in a dimly lit room. The bed was comfortable. He was still wearing his own clothes, though someone had removed his shoes and jacket and tucked him under the covers. When he sat up he felt his usual post-anaesthesia nausea and was relieved to see that whoever had put him into bed had considered this possibility and placed a waste paper basket within arm's reach. After a proper puke, he took a better look at the small bedroom. To his surprise, there was an en suite. As prisons went, this one seemed determined to be more like a pleasant hotel room. He got shakily to his feet. He found a toothbrush on the sink. He ripped the wrapper off and scrubbed the vomit taste out of his mouth. He splashed water on his face and over his head, so it ran cool down the back of his neck.

The towel from the shelf over the toilet was remarkably soft and smelled sweet, but the cup by the sink was plastic and the mirror over the sink was stainless steel. There was no door on the bathroom and he realized no door on the bedroom, either. So, still a prison, then. Well, time to find out what other delights his cell had to offer.

Now more aware of his surroundings, John noted that the bedroom had a modest writing desk on the other side of the bed. To his amazement, there was a tablet computer sitting on it. He picked it up, carrying it with him.

The next room was a small sitting room, complete with sofa and a pair of comfortable arm chairs, coffee table, and modest entertainment system against the wall opposite a closed door. It was really quite cosy and comfortable looking. And of course, what sitting room would be complete without one consulting detective sprawled over the sofa? It was too short for him – Sherlock's booted feet stuck out over the low arm – yet he lay there staring at the ceiling, fingers steepled under his chin. Thinking. His eyes fell to John in the doorway.

“You just got in the car, didn't you?” Sherlock accused dryly.

John didn't dignify his comment with an answer, just scowled at him.

“And you got here how?” John asked pointedly.

“Armed men, waiting in the flat. They jabbed me with a sedative before I realized they were there. They shouldn't have been able to take me by surprise like that. I blame Mycroft; I'm sure he gave them a key. You could have made a break for it, at least,” Sherlock groused at him. He went back to staring at the ceiling.

“Maybe if I were Jason Bourne,” John retorted. “Besides, the milk was in the boot already.”

“Ridiculous,” Sherlock muttered, but the corner of his mouth twitched.

“So who are you supposed to be? James Bond?” John asked. Sherlock was kitted out in battle dress, all black. John didn't like the implications of that at all. “What is it Mycroft wants from you this time? This isn't his usual style.”

“I presume from the preposterous clothes I found when I woke up that I've been conscripted. Though I was wondering how Mycroft planned to ensure my cooperation with whatever this endeavour turns out to be. With no data, I had hypothesized seven strategies he might attempt, each more outrageous than the last. A threat to a loved one seemed an obvious choice, though I honestly didn't think he'd stoop to involving third parties. Still, what's a hostage or two between brothers?”

“Well, black suits you, and at least they didn't shave your head,” John commented.

Sherlock made the same disapproving noise his brother had made in the car. John wondered if Sherlock realized the both did that, and who they had learned it from.

“So?” John ventured. “Mycroft said we'd be briefed. Has anyone told you anything? Where are we, anyway?”

“We are somewhere in the far northern reaches of Scotland. And they've told me everything,” Sherlock replied. He waved to the tablet computer in John's hands. “Try not to laugh. A madman named Singh wants my DNA to contribute to his super-soldier project.”

John accepted the tablet with a frown, sitting down in the armchair and tapping the screen to bring it to life.

“You are kidding me,” he muttered.

“No, no,” Sherlock assured him. “According to the tablet there, everyone is doing it. The Israelis already have soldiers in the field. The Chinese are close. The Russians are doing some very interesting exercises in Pakistan.”

“It was bound to happen, I suppose,” John said absently, reviewing the folder titles. “Genome mapping is getting much faster and cheaper.” His eyes widened as he tapped one folder. “And then there's nano-technology.”

“Singh's methods appear sound, “ Sherlock said. “There are records going back to his earliest experiments in the late '80's and he's been successfully replicating results in humans since 1997.”

John found the relevant folders, opening and scanning through the contents.

“There are over a hundred living human subjects here,” he breathed.

“All alive and thriving,” Sherlock informed him. “The regenerative capabilities Singh has worked into their cells is remarkable.”

John opened a case file. It took him several minutes to read through it, jumping from bookmark to bookmark in the electronic text, scrolling rapidly through the lengthy document. He finally looked up again to find Sherlock watching him raptly.

“A medical opinion?” Sherlock demanded immediately. Not as if he ever really needed one, but John thought Sherlock respected the complexity of the human body and its systems enough that he preferred a professional opinion even after he had reached his own conclusions.

“They're not aging?” John wondered aloud. “Degenerative illnesses cured… Stage IV cancers eliminated as if they never existed…” He shook his head in amazement.

“When you read the cytological studies, you'll see that the cells of the oldest test subjects have been replicating for years without any apparent degeneration in the RNA. Singh seems to have created the perfect human specimen,” Sherlock said. “They are stronger, healthier, use calories and water and oxygen more efficiently, don't get sick.”

“Possibly don't die?” John asked, looking for the folder for the cytological studies.

“And yet?” Sherlock prompted.

John raised his eyebrows and paged back to the case file, looking at the bookmark index more carefully, clicking through it more slowly.

“No increase in intelligence,” he realized.

“Exactly!” Sherlock declared. “In everything else, Singh is getting orders of magnitude of improvement. He's been able to raise IQ slightly, and all his test subjects are more intelligent than average, but he can't be happy with these results. He doesn't seem like the type to settle for incremental improvement,” Sherlock said. “If he's going for super-intelligence, he hasn't found the right DNA donors yet.”

“Therefore…” John waved his hand around the room absently, still scrolling through documents, clicking ones that looked interesting.

Sherlock didn't respond.

“Okay,” John said. “But you were in A&E three times in the last two months. If a secret government eugenics project needed your DNA, it would have been pretty easy to get whatever they needed without you ever even suspecting. Why are you all…” John gestured broadly to Sherlock's clothes, “…Andy McNabb?”

“There are actually three involuntary participants: myself, Chavelle Clarke, and Mei-Hua Li,” Sherlock told him. John had seen folders for all three of them. He clicked them open one after the other.

“They've listed you as a super-processor. Chavelle Clarke is Jamaican. They have her down as a super-calculator and then there's, huh.” John squinted at the screen. “A psychic? Mei-Hua Li, formerly of Hong Kong. Apparently she can influence the emotional state of other people under laboratory conditions.”

John swallowed hard.

“So Singh is going to try to graft your ability to collect and understand data, a savant's capacity to handle calculations, and psychic powers onto a bunch of possibly immortal people? It doesn't get much more super-human than that.”

“He's going for orders of magnitude,” Sherlock agreed. “Notice the list of subjects for the next round of enhancement. They're are all geniuses already.”

John tapped back up the file tree.

“They're all geniuses and widely published specialists in important fields. How do you get that many smart, successful academics to join a military experiment?” John asked. “Can it be possible they don't know? This isn't some kind of think tank. Singh is designing weapons.”

“Did you notice the mix of specialty areas?” Sherlock prompted.

John read them out.

“Cryogenics. Astrophysics. Aeronautical engineering. Computer science. That's what I don't understand. These are people who should be working for the European Space Agency or NASA, not volunteering to be guinea pigs for some kind of enhanced human military whatever-we're-calling-this.” Then he frowned and looked up at Sherlock. “Wait? Is that what they're doing?”

“After the whole Copernican thing, I defer to you,” Sherlock replied. “But the mix of fields certainly seems suggestive.”

“But that's crazy! Singh can't be planning to go into space?”

“That's what I thought,” Sherlock said. “But what other reason is there, aside from space travel?”

“That can't possibly be the main thrust of this program,” John decided. “It can't. Governments don't really care about space travel and space colonization. As a government project, this is clearly a bid to create a better human for the battlefield.”

“And yet… Soldiers don't really need a great ability for deduction. Soldiers don't need psychic powers. Singh successfully created what the military really needs years ago. He's setting the stage for something else, and he's convinced his sponsors to allow it,” Sherlock murmured. “He recruited these individuals. He has a larger plan.”

John tossed the tablet onto the table between them.

“I still don't understand why they brought you here, personally, no matter what he’s planning. It seems like having someone like you anywhere near this place is a disaster waiting to happen,” John said.

“You flatter me, John,” Sherlock said dismissively. “But I fail to see what sort of threat I pose. Even Mycroft couldn’t put an end to this program. It must be protected at the very heights of power.”

“But I just don’t see the point,” John insisted. “Bringing you three here as kidnap victims and using hostages to force your participation is just...unnecessarily complicated. If they needed to take samples by force, they could have done it more safely and conveniently far from here. There was no reason to tell you – everything!” He waved the tablet in the air then tossed it onto the coffee table between them. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Sherlock had been contemplating the ceiling, fingers under his chin. Now he turned his head so that he could stare directly at John, with a look that suggested sympathy for the state of idiocy that was John's entire existence.

With a sudden feeling of inevitability, John grabbed the tablet from the table. He tapped until he brought up the list of subjects for the next procedure. An even hundred of genius academics, with Khan Noonien Singh listed at the top of the page, the rest following in alphabetical order.

His eyes skated past the name CLARKE, Chavelle and landed squarely on HOLMES, Sherlock.

“I don't understand. Why would they force you to be test subjects?” John demanded. “They shouldn't need you. They're splicing sequences into adult cells. They should have plenty of volunteers. Hell, they have had plenty of volunteers. All these successful subjects were terminal patients in hospice. I don't understand why they need you.”

Sherlock shrugged.

“Why not me? Why not a few dozen geniuses? If he can't get his orders of magnitude by engineering, he can get it by natural means.” Sherlock snorted. “You can't miss the implications of the fact that he's building a super-soldier program with a perfect one-to-one male to female ratio.”

John gave a disbelieving laugh.

“Well, in any case, I have an appointment with Dr Singh in about an hour. More data. Should be enlightening.”

John shook his head and got up from his chair.

“Is there any tea in this place?” he asked, as he went through to the tiny kitchenette on the other side of the sitting room.

Mei-Hua Li sat alone in the drab conference room, waiting for the others to arrive, wishing she could turn down the bright florescent lights to ease the ache in her head. The guards outside the door were bored. The facility hummed with so many people and their thoughts, but that wasn't the source of Mei-Hua's headache. She had spent hours sorting though the different minds here, trying to find answers to the questions raised by the information on the tablet. She most wanted Dr Singh's thoughts, but she hadn't been able to find him. Too many people. Excited, busy people, anticipating tomorrow's events. She had stumbled upon the mind of one Dr John Watson, who experienced fear with the most interesting calm. She had felt her sister, Chu-Hua, far from her, and carefully guarded. Mei-Hua's guards had been told to treat her as the most dangerous person in the program, and they were right, though her guiding principal had always been never to use her abilities to hurt another person.

The current circumstances would have been an exception, she thought, if not for Dr Singh's foresight. She knew she could not reach her sister in time to save her, and so Mei-Hua waited to hear what Dr Singh would say to Ms Clarke, Mr Holmes and herself about their fate.

The first to arrive was Mr Holmes, a tall, light-skinned man with dark, curly hair, and pale, all-seeing eyes.

“Ms Li,” he greeted her, not offering his hand to shake, for which she was grateful.

“Mr Holmes,” she replied. He was circling the boring room, examining walls and floor as if he would solve some gruesome ritual murder by the things he would learn. She was a Londoner, after all. Sherlock Holmes was a local celebrity.

Ms Clark arrived while he still paced restlessly. She was very short, with amber skin and chestnut eyes. Her black hair was cut close to her skull. Ms Clarke took a chair immediately and then waited, utterly still, an odd balance to Mr Holmes' swirl of movement.

Mei-Hua was intensely curious about both of them. They were exceptional people, as strange as herself in their own ways, and she was drawn to them the way she was always drawn to other psychics on the rare occasions she met real ones. Mr Holmes and Ms Clark were equally fascinating. He was angry, and underneath it, anxious. His mind was unusual, his emotions shallow, and tightly controlled. In her experience, the average person in his place would be drowning in fear and despair. But perhaps, his experience with crime and its results had made him more rational than others in the face of danger. Still, Mei-Hua hated to feel the suffering of others. She reached out to soothe his distress with her mind, to extended a gentle reassurance, calm before the next task, which was sure to be very unpleasant.

Mr Holmes stopped abruptly and turned his head so that he was staring at her intently.

“I'll thank you to not do that, Ms Li,” he snapped. She gave a gasp as he pushed her mind away. “My thoughts are my own, and I'll feel what I like. I don't need your assistance.”

Mei-Hua was shocked. There were people whom she could not influence, most of whom were other psychics. But she had never… no one had ever… people didn't know like that. People did not recognize her mental promptings as anything but their own emotions.

“How?” she whispered to his mind and she had the small satisfaction of seeing his eyes widen in amazement at this communication. Then he scowled, annoyed, ceasing his pacing and settling in the chair across the table from her, hands pressed together as if in prayer beneath his chin, as he leaned backwards and contemplated the ceiling.

Mei-Hua drew away from his mind. He was now turning an innumerable number of observations over and over. It was unnerving to feel what she knew Dr Singh was planning for her – for all of them, really. She wasn't sure how Mr Holmes could stand it, so much thinking. She knew it must be constant, she felt it was his normal state, always, always thinking.

Mei-Hua blocked him out and turned her attention to Ms Clarke.

And she found nothing.

Ms Clarke's thoughts were still, and where she should have felt something – fear, anger, calm, curiosity, anything - there was just nothing.

That nothingness terrified her. In her panic, Mei-Hua projected that terror to everyone around her, as if she were still a toddler, making everyone else hurt and cry when she skinned her knee on the pavement. The guards in the hall gripped their weapons tighter as their hearts began to pound. Mr Holmes came up straight in his chair, feet flat on the floor, palms pressing into the table, preparing to fight an enemy that was nowhere to be seen. Even Ms Clarke started.

“What are they doing?” Mei-Hua, this time aloud. “What are you?” she asked Ms Clarke.

She found the answer with Mr Holmes. He had already returned to his original calm, dispassionate state. His whirl of thoughts had settled on one conclusion, and she could feel it.

He was thinking psychopath and sociopath.

“Dr Singh is creating what evolution cannot achieve, Ms Li,” he said aloud. “Ms Clarke and I are critical, I think.”

“Indeed, Mr Holmes,” Dr Singh agreed from the doorway. Mei-Hua had not felt his approach, but now he was very present in her mind and she reached out with all her resources to learn everything.

“Sentiment and attachment are weaknesses that it is high time we removed from the human genome, but it is so difficult to find the right genetic material to root them out. So many individuals who truly feel no sentiment are hobbled by completely unacceptable mental disorders and learning disabilities, but you,” he gestured to the two of them. “You are a gift to my augmented humans.” He smiled in pleased delight. Mr Holmes and Ms Clarke were going to give him everything he wanted. They were the key to making the world a better place, ridding it of all the biological trash that was weighing down evolution, holding humanity back from perfection.

With their help, he would purge the world. That anticipation circled at the top of his mind, and permeated every corner of his thought. They would start in Pakistan and spread outward toward China in one direction, through Afghanistan to the Mediterranean in the other. They would kill and destroy and burn until they brought whole regions to heel.

Mei-Hua understood. Dr Singh was utterly, completely insane.

She could stop him. All she had to do was get Mr Holmes and Ms Clarke out. They could leave right now. She could shut down every guard that stood in their way. She had never done it, but she thought she could, by touching the right part of a person's mind, induce the heart to stop beating, the lungs to stop breathing. Of course, she knew she would sacrifice her sister.


It wouldn't matter, because it wasn't them anymore. It was their blood and cells and DNA that Dr Singh needed, and he already had those.

She would have to kill Dr Singh instead. She stared at him as he stood at the end of the conference table in that boring room, smiling at them, so excited and pleased. She could do it. She should do it. It was her duty to the rest of humanity. Her whole body shook with revulsion in the presence of his thoughts.

She could do it.

And she didn't. He stood there, still breathing, still delighted and giddy about what he would do tomorrow, and all the days after. She was too selfish and squeamish to crush his mind and kill him. He would succeed because of her. She knew it. She felt shame and horror, but it didn't change anything. She couldn't make herself do what she knew she must.

Mr Holmes was watching her, following her reactions and movements at the periphery of his vision, even as his gaze was focused on Dr Singh. She drew in on herself. She didn't want to know if he had already reached one of his strange, miraculous deductions. She didn't want to know if he understood that he was contributing a large part of what Dr Singh needed so that he could undertake a mass murder on the scale of the greatest holocausts of the twentieth century. She didn't want to know if he knew that she was failing to stop it.

“I must again object in the strongest terms to being held against my will. And I do not consent to the use of my genetic material for any reason,” Ms Clarke stated. She, at least, was oblivious.

“I agree with Ms Clarke,” Mei-Hua said, because she could still protest. “I am British, you have no right to keep me here.”

Dr Singh frowned. “I had hoped that you would see what is being offered to you, and forgive the way that you were brought into the program. However, your contribution is too critical. I'm afraid I may have alienated you by my aggressive strategy, but I could not risk that any of you would reject the opportunity to volunteer.”

“I don't understand why you need us at all,” Ms Clarke replied tartly. “All you needed was a couple of pints of blood, and since no one has taken any sort of tissue sample from me since I arrived here and our 'procedure' is scheduled for tomorrow, I assume you acquired all the material you needed from me, at least, months ago.”

“Sadly, it is not a simple as patching your extraordinary minds into other people. Genetics isn't everything, after all,” Dr Singh said. “The three of you understand what you can do, and how to use your minds to their maximum potential. Without your assistance, I believe my project will take many years to bring to fruition. However, with your guidance, I'm hoping to reduce the preparation time to months.”

“You believe that I will teach you to use my abilities as a weapon on the battlefield,” Mei-Hua said softly. “You think I will teach them to put fear into the hearts of their enemies.” She directed fear at Dr Singh, so that he blanched and went pale with terror. But he found the strength for a sickly, wavering smile.

“Ms Li, you should consider your situation carefully. There is so much Chu-Hua could lose,” Dr Singh threatened.

“Dull!” exclaimed Mr Holmes. All eyes turned toward him. Mei-Hua released Dr Singh's mind and he collapsed in relief, all remaining fear of his own making. Mr Holmes gestured to the three involuntary participants. “Daughter, sister, lover,” he said. “It's clear that you think you can control us. If there's nothing more interesting to discuss than threats against our respective hostages, I'm sure we'd all prefer to be let go from this useless exercise to do something more interesting with our final hours as humans.”

Dr Singh shook his head.

“You fail to comprehend, Mr Holmes. Today you are human. Tomorrow you will be better.”

Mei-Hua quailed at the way Mr Holmes' eyes went dead and cold.

“But we're already better,” he sneered. “That's why we're here.”

Mei-Hua felt Dr Singh's wounded ego. He felt inferior, especially before Mr Holmes. It made him angry, but also ashamed. It seemed to her that Mr Holmes must know this, too, that he was deliberately provoking him.

“You have a reputation for being uncooperative, Mr Holmes. I hope that is not going to be an impediment to the project moving forward.”

Mr Holmes laughed. It was a harsh sound, and the smile that accompanied it immediately went as flat as his untouched eyes.

“You are about to make ninety-nine more people exactly like me, yourself included. I should think you would have considered the consequences of this ludicrous proposition. Everyone who has ever met me would have told you that I'm impossible to work with. Dr Watson would surely testify, if you need a character witness.”

“And Dr Watson won't thank you if you continue in this vein, Mr Holmes,” Dr Singh rebutted angrily.

Mr. Holmes leaned toward him, anger and arrogance in every line of his body.

“Do you understand that when my brother advised you not to involve me in this little endeavour, he wasn't protecting me? He was trying to protect you,” Mr Holmes growled at Dr Singh. Mr Holmes stood abruptly and turned to Mei-Hua. “Was there any point to this meeting?” he asked her.

“Dr Singh hoped to persuade us to become voluntary participants,” Mei-Hua said.

“And also to remind you that by making you subjects of the program, and giving you unrestricted access to the research, if you attempt to leave you will be hunted by every intelligence agency and military in the world,” Dr Singh interjected.

“So John and I would prefer servitude to Queen and Country, rather than the Russians or Americans?” Mr Holmes turned on his heel and stalked toward the door. “We're through here. Tomorrow at 10:00, I believe,” he sneered, lip twisted up at the side in derision. Dr Singh nodded to the armed guard standing at the door. Ms Clarke also rose from her seat, and Mei-Hua, stood with her. They trailed out of the room in Mr Holmes' wake.