M rated sections will be labeled so as to give warning to those who wish to avoid such content. In that case, the story will still make sense and can be read as T.
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The awesome cover art is by ndilettante, and you can find more of her drawings on her deviant art account (warning: there may be slight spoilers).
Disclaimer: Not for profit.
Chapter One: Brain and Brawn
Sherlock Holmes spun away from a shrouded Irene Adler with his talwar sword raised above his head and his arms braced, and he caught one last fleeting view of her lurching forward after a moment of apparently stunned paralysis, tripping over her chador in her shock. It was the first time he had ever seen her physically falter. Immediately he dismissed her from his mind, though; she would be responsible for own exit from this point, and if he ever had a chance of seeing her stumble again (his lips quirked up to the side at the thought), he needed to attend to the fallout. Of course, she would be aided in her escape from the fulminated mercury and magnesium bomb he had planted near the front guard, that should detonate in—
A reverberating boom echoed through the stucco and concrete complex, spilling smoke into the room and sending flakes of plaster down on their heads, to the alarm of the six other men inside.
Ah yes, right on time.
He estimated that he would have approximately 4.7 seconds' headstart due to his opponents' surprise culminating from Irene's flight, his seemingly sudden betrayal, and the explosion, and he meant to take full advantage of the time.
While he was aware of the weaknesses of each individual opponent, this mission was by no means simple; these were dangerous, extremist fighters willing to kill and die for their cause, and they were equipped with aging but nonetheless lethal Soviet-era arms left over from the USSR invasion of Afghanistan: AK-74s, Kalashnikovs, and SKS-45s, not to mention the Soviet answer to a Humvee, the LuAZ-1302.
Meanwhile, he was armed with his one talwar sword – and the Marakov in his waistband he had procured as soon as he'd arrived in Karachi. The pistol was merely insurance, though; he intended to disarm the hoard in hand-to-hand combat alone, and the danger of such a proposition (and the entire situation) only heightened his senses and honed his mind. Adrenaline was a beautiful, magnificent drug.
When he had initially entered the dark chamber, his first gauging calculation was where Ms. Adler knelt in her ceremonial execution pose, so that he could plot his imminent position, which would be directly adjacent to her. In his mind he immediately mapped out a grid with geometric angles showing the proximate relationship between himself, the four other figures standing around him, and the two men in the military vehicle, in terms of both distance and subsequently velocity, and he only needed one sweeping glance across the room to confirm that each player remained in his or its original location.
Less than 0.5 seconds had passed since the detonation, but the pace of his thoughts lengthened that time, and he had already fully visualised the manner and methodology in which to disable the man just behind his left shoulder, who was the oldest at about 43, in a room full of men in their early 20s. And while 43 may not be terribly old in England, with its socialised health care and long-term home-front peace, this militia commander had clearly spent his years in a harsher, crueler place, and suffered badly-healed injuries that spoke of his hard lifestyle. In particular, he held his left arms cradled higher to his chest than his right, and his milky right eye was meshed in a web of scar tissue. Land mine injury. That, combined with his slower reflexes due to age, made him the ideal starting point.
The commander didn't give up with out a fight, however. As soon as Sherlock had completed his arc to face him with the sword held aloft, the other man had instinctively lowered the AK-47 and positioned himself in the firing stance - it was only the disruption of the bomb that bought Sherlock the extra time, during which he had stabbed downward and pinned the man's kurta hems to the hardpacked floors with his talwar. Now, leveraging his additional inches of height over the older man, he brought his right elbow crashing down into his left eye, then jabbed him hard between his right 7th and 8th ribs. Practically blinded, and assuredly in considerable pain, the older insurgent hunched inward towards his old injuries with an exhalation of pain, and Sherlock was able to sling the strap of the rifle off his shoulder and swing it onto his own back. Then, almost as an afterthought, he rammed the buttstock of the gun into the commander's skull just above his glabella, and the man crumpled to the floor with a groan, all before any of the other men had reacted.
But now they were; his 4.7 seconds were almost up, and after the disorientation caused by the bomb, the insurgents were realising that Sherlock was the source of the chaos. Angry shouts resounded around him, and the two men in the military vehicle lurched forward in the front seat, reaching for more weapons in the rifle rack. Unfortunately for his adversaries, however, he was at the centre of the room surrounded by them in a ring-like shape, and if they shot towards him, they would surely kill each other. And while they were unquestionably ready to die themselves, and kill their enemy, he knew that they were less inclined—so far, at least—to mow down their brothers-in-arms.
He used his last split second's time of their indecision to recall his next move, upon which he acted at once. Seizing the handle of the sword, he heaved it from the ground and flung it, tip over end, towards the LuAZ-1302, which was indeed military-grade but old, and not anti-assault. The blade crashed through the front windscreen and glass exploded everywhere, including directly into the faces of the two men who had been leaning directly towards it, eagerly reaching for their weapons. The blade narrowly missed them, but they both clutched their eyes and began to scream in agony, and Sherlock could see blood trickling down their faces as a result of wounds from imbedded glass. He grinned a grim, closed-lipped smile, but did not hesitate to move forward with his plan. There was now not a moment to spare, and the strategy concerning the vehicle was only partially fulfilled; he still needed to get them out, and himself in.
Not to mention he needed to reach the LuAZ-1302 uninjured, of course – first things first, after all.
In apparent reaction to seeing the spilled blood of his comrades, the insurgent who had confiscated Ms. Adler's mobile seemed to drop any pretence at prudence, and propped up his rifle, but Sherlock had anticipated this next move as well. The man was young, only in his late adolescence, and his finger had been intently stroking the Kalashnikov's trigger even before he was aware any danger. It was immensely obvious to Sherlock that he was consumed by ideology, eager to prove himself, hungry for combat, and intensely trigger-happy.
Sherlock dropped to the floor exactly as sharp reports ricocheted above him, and he rolled towards the shooter. Simultaneously—exactly as he had predicted would happen in his original risk-assessment—the man who had been stationed in front of the LuAZ-1302 was cut down by 'friendly' ammunition, and fell forward with a gargled shout. Regrettable, Sherlock thought, but no matter.
In fact, he had foreseen the advantage to this event, which he analysed amidst fierce scrabbling on the ground with the young insurgent for custody of the second gun. The other man landed two crushing blows to Sherlock's jaw and chest, but Sherlock barely felt them. He was too keyed up, and had too much invested in observing the developing situation to react to the strikes:
The sound of gunfire was drawing numbers away from the investigation of the bomb, which would hopefully facilitate a slightly less perilous escape for The Woman, and create fewer obstacles for he, Sherlock, once he finally reached the vehicle. Which was, however, proving more difficult as the young man somehow continued to cling to his weapon.
Sherlock grunted in frustration and shoved the downed commander's AK-74 in his possession hard across the insurgent's throat, effectively pinning his wrists as well, and as he heard running footfalls approach, his efforts intensified. He may be able to defeat them, as one against . . . four in total, he quickly counted by the new set of three other footsteps, but it was definitely an unappealing thought, and such a scenario significantly increased the number of potential outcomes, not all of which were favourable.
At last his adversary's grasp weakened, and he grabbed the rifle away with his left hand while he sunk a punch into his foe's face with as much strength as he could summon. He noted that he had definitely bruised and perhaps even broken some bones in his knuckle, but he put the knowledge away for future reference; as with the blows he had received, his body was thrumming with too much energy and adrenaline for the pain to truly register. He felt impervious, alive.
Just as the rough hands of the other men finally reached out to clamp onto his shoulders, he grasped the barrel of the rifle and shoved the gun backwards through the space between his elbow and side, so that the buttstock of the gun swung upward with jarring force into the first oncoming insurgent's chin, downing him without Sherlock having even risen from the ground or turned.
Forty-six seconds in total had passed since he had revealed himself to Ms. Adler and the insurgent cell, and a furtive glance told him that the six men that were downed so far were not current risks. This left the two armed men before him, as well as the person who had been operating the video-camera that was to have recorded Ms. Adler's execution.
Although Sherlock could not find any indication that he was armed, he did not intend to dismiss him; while he didn't see a weapon on his person, the loose fabric of his kameez could not obscure the ropey muscles beneath, particularly those of the abdomen and thighs, indicated knowledge of a hand to hand combat system such as. . . Sherlock scanned his brain, and with gratifying ease, the information came forward:
Tae Kwondo. . .The dedicated fighting style of the SSG, or Special Services Group. . . special operations force within the Pakistani Army. . . though not taught in the Army in general. He scrolled quickly through the SSG's primary tasks: Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defence, Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action, Hostage Rescue, Personnel recovery, Special Operations, Asymmetric warfare, and Counter-terrorism.
His musculature, in conjunction with the fact that he kept defaulting to the martial pose of standing 'at ease' prompted Sherlock to conclude that the man was former military. But as such a highly-trained asset, why was he relegated to camerawork? And moreover, why had he apparently rushed for cover behind a concrete pillar when the shooting had begun? It computed with the superficial appearance of 'camera operator', but not with Sherlock's own conclusion. This puzzle was insistent and seemed highly relevant, but to Sherlock's frustration, he had more pressing matters before him.
The vehicle was farther away than ever, and he was facing the wrong direction and surrounded by three remaining insurgents, two of whom were armed and enraged. They bore down towards him, screaming at him in Urdu, jabbing at him with their guns; he appeared utterly at their mercy. And yet, his plan had not gone awry. Smirking slightly, he drew himself up with his hands raised, and slowly turned around.
Adopting a stricken face, he pleaded in (admittedly poorly-spoken) Urdu, "Barai mehrbani. . . Mhujhey na cheroh?" [Please, don't hurt me?] The eyes above their black keffiyehs were murderous, and just creased in derision at his words.
"Choop raho, kafar!" one spat, [shut up, infidel], while the other muttered "Londay baz," which Sherlock took as some sort of derogatory offence, although it was one with which he was unfamiliar.
While one of the men held an AK-74 to Sherlock's head, the other yanked the two rifles from off his shoulders and tossed them to the ground, then spun him around and prodded him hard in between the shoulder blades with the end of his own rifle. This forced him towards the rear of the room, in the direction of an expanse of blank asphalt that could serve well as the background to a firing squad. However, Sherlock had noted this the moment he had originally entered the room—as well as its close proximity to his escape vehicle, the LuAZ-1302.
"Phir mar jaa, gashti ka bacha" one of the insurgents sneered [you're going to die, you son of a whore] and though Sherlock's face seemed to blanch, he felt euphoric and smug. Back on track, he congratulated himself.
They had marched him approximately 6 paces—two fifths of the way to the wall, but halfway to the vehicle—when Sherlock abruptly stopped and in one fluid motion jammed the sharp olecranon bone of his elbow into the cheek of the man to his right, into his lower right first molar and premolar, to be precise.
The man clearly was a substance abuser; Sherlock had immediately recognised the symptoms he himself had experienced in his own past: dilated pupils, tremors, nervous tics, and manic energy. Based on their geographic location alone, it was possible that it was cocaine, but the man's physical signs such as the green tinge of his teeth and his pronounced facial asymmetry meant that it could be nothing other than prolonged khat leaf chewing. And besides leading to ulcers, heart complications, and depression, khat—like methamphetamine—caused high inflammation of the mouth and expedited rotting of the teeth. The way Sherlock's foe had been setting his jaw and the manner in which he had spoken (out of one side of his mouth), indicated that he was suffering a painful dental abscess between that set of teeth. A sharp blow that landed directly on the abscess would be excruciating, and debilitating.
As expected, the man shrieked a howl of pain, and lost hold of his gun, whimpering. Wasting no time, Sherlock snatched the gun from his first target and twisted towards the second, who had been slightly caught of guard by the loud noise from his partner. And though Sherlock could not detect any outward flaw that he could exploit, he was a man, and therefore had an inherent weakness. . .
The other had started to cry out and raise his weapon, but Sherlock shook his head in one curt motion.
"No," he said, in an almost bored tone, before he jerked his knee upward into the insurgent's groin, aiming for the softest part of his anatomy. When the man doubled over with a guttural moan of agony, Sherlock aimed the butt of the gun at his rear parietal bone like a cue stick, and when he jabbed it down, the man fell to the ground, completely unconscious.
The knee to the groin was classic move, and perhaps a little too obvious, Sherlock thought. But effective, nonetheless. In fact, he felt rather pleased with himself, and briefly wondered what John would say about his combat skills if he could see him now. . . not that he would ever find out about this.
Three seconds had passed, and now the khat-chewer was recovering his wits, but it was too late. He received the same treatment as his comrade, and went down just as heavily.
Panting and covered in sweat, Sherlock straightened and ripped the excess fabric from his face, before glancing around the room in one final assessment. The camera operator was the only figure, besides himself, who was still conscious, but he was still hiding behind the concrete pillar, unarmed and seemingly terrified. Still, Sherlock did not at all trust the man with military training, and if he managed to reach a weapon and start shooting at Sherlock from their current distance and angle, he would have little recourse.
He glanced around the room once more, and saw faint stirrings; it was time to make his final move. He hesitated only for an instant as he noticed a shiny black object laying a metre and a half in the other direction, and bounded over to scoop up The Woman's phone, which had fallen from the lax hand of the insurgent who had taken it from her after she'd sent her final text. Then, not wishing to spend one more moment in the dank and cavernous chamber, he sprinted to the vehicle, flung open the door, and pulled out the man behind the steering wheel, who was conscious but totally incapacitated, and at least temporarily blinded by glass shards. He slid into the driver's seat and felt for the key in the ignition; he would shove the other blinded and moaning insurgent out of the passenger seat once he got started.
But to his consternation, the key—which he had previously seen clearly in the ignition—was missing. And at precisely that same moment, he felt cold metal stab into his side against his ribs.
"Hello," the other man spoke, no longer moaning—or blinded, it seemed. The area around his orbital bones was bleeding profusely, but his eyes had escaped any serious injury. Apparently he had been over-exaggerating his casualties to lure Sherlock into a false sense of security, and Sherlock was furious that it had worked.
With the hand farther from Sherlock, the insurgent lifted up the key and waved it almost playfully, while his closer hand caressed the trigger of his AK-74. "Hello, maa yahawaaay Amrici," he rasped with a smirk, but homicidal rage was burning in his bleeding eyes. [American motherfucker.]
American! Sherlock thought indignantly, before deducing how this had happened. The man must have snatched the key and then repositioned the weapon while Sherlock had bent down to retrieve the mobile. But how could I have missed his change in position when I entered the vehicle? he scolded himself in frustration. Stupid, stupid!
It was just one moment of oversight, caused by his eagerness to finally quit the premises, but it was one that could cost him his life.