By the time the fleet arrived, the Endeavor 1 was nothing but a smattering of debris strewn across space with an accompaniment of Simulant derelicts crippled in her destructive wake. The ensuing skirmish was cataloged as the Virgin Battle because nothing irreplaceable was lost. All ships returned with only minor injuries to report while the victory was decisively won. And the unsolved murder of Sherlock Holmes became nothing more than a caveat to be forgotten in the story of the detective inspector who discovered a weapons stash and the ship's captain who managed to save them all. The accomplishments of the dead had no reason to go on record. There was nothing deserving about a hologram that simply did as its programing directed.
At least the murder investigation was reopened. History would do wrong by them both but at least the present operated under assumed authority to undo the wrongs previously made. John had his freedom and all charges stricken from his record. Sherlock still existed. Presumably. Funny thing about technology is how quickly it moves. The Endeavor 1, a mining ship, had an aged hologram model that had been cheap and likely second-hand when outfitted for insurance compliance. The Proteus, flagship of the army and governing services, had only the most up-to-date capabilities. They needed to do a transfer to update him; tech-to-tech rather than man-to-tech as these things were designed and meant. John had hope, though, and it had served him well in the weeks prior. Nothing was lost so long as there was hope.
For all the help he had been, though, Commissioner Holmes wanted nothing to do with any of it. Not with Sherlock. His brother was dead and though he did not put it quite so plainly, it seemed he did not want to suffer the heartache of seeing the man with his eyes but having to still carry the weight of his unalterable demise. Death oversaw everything in his place. John's name for her had never felt more fitting. He almost hoped to never know what it really was; nothing else would ever seem as perfect. But for that reason, for the brother's wish to let the dead rest, John did not mention or ask about Sherlock on the occasions when they met in his office to discuss things that had happened, and things left undone. It was in his office John learned about the destruction of Endeavor 1, about his unanimously decreed innocence, and of Death's priority position as his contact in all things related to holograms.
Despite there being nothing else to say, John found himself in his office again, unrestrained and offered liquor like a welcome guest in the realms of the powers that be. They weren't friends but John appreciated the company of someone so assuredly on his side. It was a nice place to be after so long in adversity. It didn't exactly put his mind at ease to sit on his sofa and sip his brandy, though, when there was always a motive to every meeting. But Holmes was pleasant and even at his most self-serving he was still on the finer side of generous. At least to him. Which was all that mattered. At this point, anyway.
Sitting in his own high-backed chair, Holmes reclined with legs crossed and glass in hand, looking disinterested even though he was the one who called for John. It was all about power and he who cared the least had the most. Political games weren't John's style but they were everything the other man knew. So John played along and let the big man sit in his big chair without contention, content to drink and sit and wait for reasons to spill out as to why he was there.
Holmes spoke as much to his drink as he did to John as his eyes remained set upon the swirl of amber behind glass. "You're not a wealthy man, are you, John?" he asked, statement masquerading as a question.
John shrugged, not in the least ashamed of his financial status, though the subject seemed odd to bring up. "Uh... No. I mean, a doctor's salary is hardly nothing but... well, I don't expect to be paid much for the past six months."
"So you basically have nothing but your skill set," the commissioner stated. "No home, no job, and from what I can gather, not exactly close family ties."
"There a point to this?"
Holmes smiled just slightly, his glass coming to rest on a coaster set on the stately table to his side. His eyes settled on John, the same penetrating stare shared by both brothers now set once more upon him. "I have a job for you. One which you would be an idiot to turn down though I thought I may as well present it to you as though you had an option."
"While taking no small pleasure in reminding me that I don't." John half grimaced though curiosity held him back from holding it against him. Power games and the like. Content was far more important than its initial presentation. "What job?" he asked, leaning forward slightly in his chair.
Holmes clasped his hands, elbows resting on the plush armrests. "Have you ever heard the name James Moriarty?"
"No. Can't say I have."
"We have reason to believe he is the man responsible for the weapons deal with the Simulants utilizing the Endeavor 1. The man responsible for Sherlock's murder. Though I suppose you know him best under the alias Joseph Kerry," he said, each letter of the name articulated to cut.
The name recalled sensations of sickness-in the body, the mind, and in the heart. John bit the inside of his lip, calming himself through the pain, not wanting to jump to conclusions though excitement flooded his blood in anticipation. "What's the job?" he asked again, not wanting to be too obvious in his own desire.
"We employ spies and intelligence agents to look for men such as him. Obviously, they haven't managed to effectively infiltrate his organization or stop him from enacting such criminal plots," Holmes admitted, hints of annoyance through failure peeking through the calm of his exterior. "No one has ever even seen James Moriarty and lived to report back. Which makes this whole matter with the Endeavor 1 rather anomalous. Thus far we have been working more in the way of damage control against his terrorist attacks. You and Sherlock were able to undermine him. I think it's worth seeing if you can do it again."
"What's the job?"
Holmes smiled, his lips thin and eyes cold though pleasure was obviously taken in John's eagerness to be told. "I want you to find James Moriarty and bring him down using whatever means necessary," he explained plainly, exchanging pleasure for boredom as he looked away again and picked his glass up once more. "I will supply you with a ship, a crew, and fund all related expenses. Everything state of the art, of course-including the hologram equipment."
John nodded as he listened. "So you want to pay me to do what Sherlock and I would want to do anyway?"
"You wouldn't be able to afford to do it if I didn't," the older man replied, eyes growing colder in their gaze, unfriendly in their intensity and propensity to glare. "Don't mistake my meaning, however," he said. "This is a matter of extreme interest to the continued war efforts and at-home safety of the human race. Qualified teams have given us very little in results. I'm hoping that will not be the case with a lucky one."
John nodded once more, understanding the said and unsaid that accompanied it in lies that protected interests of the heart far away from the rationale of the mind. "I'll have to ask him, but I can't imagine Sherlock saying no to a chance to track down his killer," he said, knowing enough to say yes but favoring the symbolism of a query.
"Think it over if you must. I've started work on the preparations regardless. You will say yes, Dr. Watson," the commissioner promised.
"Yeah, but with an attitude like that, I won't say thank you."
Holmes' smirk fell to the mortal realms of pleasant amusement and he held his brandy to his lips. "You can thank me with results," he mused, drinking at the close.
John held his own glass, a toast imagined in the exchange of glances, as he tipped his head back and finished his own.
On the walk back to his room, it was all John could do not to further imagine the future Holmes had offered them. Things like the cost of operating a hologram had never been thoughts he'd had time to worry about. They were details of lesser importance that relied too heavily on the success of more immediate trials. It was only in recent weeks he'd had the luxury to worry about such ordinary things like finances, shelter, and careers. And he had worried, with the consolation that it had been and would be worth it. Concern for his own future was a recent development, though in fairness it wasn't just his anymore. He shared it with Sherlock-or would once the transfer was complete.
They promised higher digital resolution and better quality of sound. It wouldn't make him a better detective nor a better human being, but technology loved to improve upon aesthetics; something all the better to look at and to never, ever touch. Tactile exclusion was part of the reason Sherlock needed him, prejudice being another. And John needed Sherlock in ways that had no qualifying voice. He just did. Which was why it was their future, not his, that excited him. Holmes' offer was everything they could hope for with the mild exchange of working for the man himself in realms of their own united interests. Another promise of distraction from things that festered when brought into focus. Not his intention but part of the appeal. John liked keeping busy. It settled his thoughts-thoughts too often revolving around things outside his control and involving the unchangeable nature of the past. A job they could both do would be very good indeed and nothing was more worthy than the capture of the man who had started it all.
Hardly an ambassador, Holmes had made sure John had been given a designated suite upon his successful return as the Proteus was hardly a passenger cruiser and more often saw to delegates than normal men. It was much nicer than the cell he'd been in previously though such comforts almost put him less at ease. John placed his palm against the entry and watched the security lights turn green in permit to his passage before walking inside the darkened room where a book waited for him to return to and begin again. Though the lights were out, the room was hardly dark. The light emissions from the hologram sitting in his chair were more than enough to dimly illuminate the seating area though the man himself glowed like a back-lit photograph, too crisp to be confused with a ghost.
John hadn't thought there was anything wrong with the hologram before but the colors seemed truer, the rays more focused, and the realism of his manufactured form was sharper in every detail. Even the foil-like swirling of dominant colors in his eyes were more smooth a transition from their greens into grey.
Sherlock's proud smile pulled at newly revealed wrinkles that had been lost before in the haze of color-bleed. "Surprise," he said, standing up from the chair to slowly, soundlessly, walk over to where John stood in the entryway with the door sliding closed behind him.
John smiled, voice lost for a moment as he put his hand out to touch him, hope existing in those seconds before his skin passed through the hard lines of Sherlock's new body, fingers disappearing beneath the promise of a warm arm. It was beautiful, really, and perfect in nearly every way. But all those improvements in sound and color could not truly create something solid from light. Man could not recreate man. Rolling his fingers into a fist, John closed tight on the emptiness inside him that seemed to pool and stretch through blood to resonate with a wanting that existed as an emptiness inside himself.
He had to hope. Pointlessly, futilely, he had to keep believing one day it might not be so. But for now, all he could do was smile, and be thankful for all that was with a feigned ignorance to all that was not and which remained forever as a brilliantly masked emptiness.