Chapter 4 (The Extraordinary Man and His Impossible Machine)
The sphere was unsalvageable. The Doctor had taken one dismayed look at it, pocketed a few bits and pieces before throwing the rest into a neighbour's black bin (collection day: the bins had been moved to the pavement and he could smell thirteen days of built-up refuse). Sherlock discarded the notion of digging after the pieces; the Doctor would obviously take anything worth looking at and keeping, which left him with the satisfying task of picking the man's pocket. The problem was that the other man constantly remained a couple of steps in front of him, chatting merrily away, allowing the detective to absently add to his own theories. It didn't seem to matter if Sherlock sped up or slowed down; they remained the same distance apart, with no apparent change in the Doctor at all.
As he tried to draw level, he attempted to get answers from the strange man through subtle and not so subtle ways. However, all he received were vague answers carefully constructed to give him no more than what the Doctor wanted him to know. He knew that Henchmen were several creatures that were fused together and were held in place and animated with 'psychic energy'. Utter rubbish of course, he would have to probe deeper, but the man seemed reluctant to do so, simply shrugging it off as 'unimportant' or 'complicated' (offense taken at the latter).
He was about to shift subject to something that would make the man relax and let little vital clues slip by (or find out if the other man simply didn't know and understand the science behind what had just happened. Possible. It would explain the man's vagueness as an attempt to hide his ignorance), when the Doctor veered the subject into another direction.
"Well, this is my stop then," the Doctor said, halting before a door and pulling out a key.
Sherlock looked up behind the man. "A police box?"
It was in the 1960's style, but not an authentic police box. At first glance there were a dozen mistakes that would be missed by your average layman, but it was a poor replica in his opinion. The tip of the roof was twenty centimetres too low, the rest of the height was made up by the lamp on top to bring it to only four centimetres shorter than a genuine police box. The lamp was completely the wrong style, twice as tall and half the diameter it should be and the cover was also completely wrong. The entire box was thirty-three centimetres too wide. The panels of the door too large and, ah, there was no Metropolitan Police crest on the right hand door. The rest of the mistakes could be filed away as unimportant with that glaring mistake.
"I could go to the end of the universe and back in this," the Doctor replied. "Have as well, weeeell, one way. Coming in?"
So the vagueness was an attempt to lure him to follow the other man in order to get more answers. Hmph, Sherlock was not one who liked to be manipulated. "A bit cramped in there. I think I'll pass."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that…" The suggestion was left hanging as that annoying knowing smile appeared back on the man's face. He didn't turn until he stepped back into the box and walked further in.
A frown appeared on Sherlock's face, so slight that it barely creased his skin. The doctor was walking further in, into a box that had a diameter of one metre and eighty centimetres. He could hear the footsteps, distinct in their non-police box nature. They were metallic (closest sound he could come up with was iron, three centimetres thick and most likely a grate rather than a solid surface floor, but it didn't quite fit the mould). The delay between the footsteps and echo indicated the room had a twenty-three metre diameter, most likely a circular room. All of this was ridiculous though because he could see well enough that the man had walked into a police box.
The footsteps continued walking away, five metres, 2.78 times the width of the box He could feel heat from the inside (27 degrees Celsius compared to minus one outside). Unable to resist the puzzle presented by these clues, he stepped round the open door and stepped into the mystery of the blue box.
Never, in his thirty-three years or for the rest of his life, had he been so shocked or surprised.
He had expected a simple, silly trick, but he found the opposite and it hit him like nothing else ever had. Rather than the cramped, dingy interior he was expecting, he found himself in a large, spacious… room. Control room, he corrected himself as he looked at the column that stood in the centre, clear glass (or presumed glass, from the look of it) surrounding what appeared to be a kind of piston (would need closer examination to know for certain what it was and its purpose). The pillar gave off a light green glow that filtered through into the control panel (that much was obvious, a ninety-four centimetre wide console that circled the column. Button, levers, dials, cranks, reception bell, switches, sliding controls…yes, definitely a control panel, but seemingly one designed by an overly eager child who had no concept of practicality). It seemed to be in full working condition (he would need a closer to look to be certain whether it was simply for show).
His feet carried him forward as he was pulled towards the heart of the room. His steps echoed against the metal walkway (a grate, as he had suspected, iron most likely, but there was something wrong. The sound was a tone too high, the texture too smooth and dark). The room was twenty-three metres, a dome shape, but the floor dropped another five metres below the walkway, and steam floated around the pit. The walls and curved pillars were of a strange material that he could not identify. Too organic to be metal, the supports could almost be wood (too smooth, no grains on the surface). The echoes weren't lying, couldn't be lying when his own eyes were telling him that the inside was really as it appeared to be: bigger on the inside than the outside (even more so than he realised if the doors leading off from the room were anything to go by).
Everything was well and truly three-dimensional (depth was there, layers and space, no images. None of it was faked). Nothing could fool him this well, not a photo, projected image, mirror or an extremely talented artist. He was taking his fourth, fifth, sixth step, he should have run into a wall four steps ago. He stopped, ignoring the smirking Doctor.
He finally understood the feeling that sent people into gob-smacked awe, that turned them into mindless fish. This… As far as he could see was-
Sherlock took a step back.
No. This was not possible.
He backed towards the door. An object could not be this disproportionate in surface area and volume. This had to be some kind of clever trick. A fiendishly clever trick.
He fled (not fled, Sherlock Holmes did not flee) outside. As soon as he was out in the cold winter air he did a quick round of the 'police box', to check for signs of trickery before they could be cleared away. Nothing. He found faint scorch marks on the sides and back (quick touch revealed the texture was indeed 'wood' and the blackening was ash, not paint or oil). As he passed the door again a glance told him the interior was still there and he started the second circle, keeping a hand pressed against the wood (if it was wood, he sincerely doubted that now). He examined the surface and area more closely, looking for a paradox, any grain out of place.
He tapped the surface, nothing unusual. He took out his pen knife and dug the blade into the surface, or he tried. He couldn't even make a scratch. He tried stabbing the exterior, but the blade just slide over the surface, narrowly missing cutting himself. Closing the knife he returned it to his pocket and took out his lighter. Flicking on the flame he held it against the 'wood' for sixty seconds. He frowned properly when the exterior was unscathed: no wood he knew of was that resistant. What could leave marks on such a material? (It wasn't too important, could be put lower down on the list of priorities. Whatever it was, it had to be intensely hot).
He checked the joints, the cracks, the panes. He did everything he could think of to find the trick, but he failed. He couldn't find the secret. His senses had failed him. What scared him though, and more than just a little, was that he wasn't sure how much they had failed him. Could he trust his eyes anymore? Could he trust his mind? Unlike the HOUND he couldn't put this down to drugs. There was no point within the last hour in which he could have ingested the drugs (would have to be within the last hour in order for it to be taking affect now), it felt too real as well. Not even Baskerville felt this real; this was too clean and crisp.
He took a third circle round the box, because there had to be something. This couldn't be real and his senses couldn't be failing him. He needed his senses, he used them. Not in the dull way everyday people did, he actually used them. There was nothing though. Nothing he had missed. No trick that he could see, nothing that he had overlooked.
Stopping in front of the doors he looked them up and down, really taking them in before he pushed the door fully open and stepped inside again. His eyes roamed the inside once more as he took in the sights, sounds and smells to seek out the answer that did not want to present itself. It left two possibilities; either he had finally 'lost it' (as John would put it) and he could no longer trust himself, or that this was all true. He wasn't sure which he preferred. The former scared him more than he cared to admit, but he struggled to bring himself to believe that this wasn't some elaborate hoax. It defied the laws of physics and mathematics.
However, if he believed in this, all the other pieces of the puzzle started to slip smoothly into place, forming the outline of a large and cohesive picture. The more he thought about it, the deeper it took root in his mind, letting all the other theories shatter and fade away. It was the only one that made sense with all the components, as insane as it seemed.
Sherlock's eyes finally came to fall on the Doctor, who was looking more pleased with himself every second.
"This is impossible." The detective simply settled on.
"Most people start with 'It's bigger on the inside'."
"That much is obvious. This breaks Galileo's square-cube law."
"Not my law though." Under normal circumstances he would have given the man a dressing down about how the laws of mathematics bowed to no man, not even Mycroft. You couldn't just decide which of the building blocks of the universe were going to apply to you and which were not. They applied to everyone, regardless of wishes and desires (or perhaps 'delusions' was a better word).
"It doesn't work like that."
"No, but the universe doesn't quite work in the way you think either."
"How does it work?"
"Now that would take a long time to explain."
"Start with this then."
"It's a TARDIS: Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. Has a dimensionally transcendental aspect to it which allows it to be larger on the inside. Could fit a village in here. Used to have a village on the fourth floor actually, before I misplaced it. Wonder where I put it..." The Doctor placed his hands in his pockets and frowned thoughtfully.
"And you built it in the shape of a 1960's police box?"
"Nah, not really," he scrunched up his face a little as he swayed his upper body slightly, "It's supposed to alter its shape to blend into the background, but the chameleon circuits got a little frazzled and it's stuck like this now. Still, I'm quite attached to it. Doesn't seem to make much difference anyway, nobody notices."
"People are stupid," Sherlock said as an agreement, more to himself than his conversation partner, "they see a police box and think nothing of it, no matter where it is. It's odd, but so are hundreds of other things in their lives, they just forget about it." His eyes raked the inside again, before fixing on the Doctor. "And where and when are you from?"
The Doctor could not look happier. "Oh, you got both of them. That's good. Do you really want me to tell you though? Wouldn't you rather tell me?"
Sherlock stepped forward, further into the TARDIS and towards the man, examining him and all the information and actions he'd received over the evening.
"You're from another planet," he continued moving forward as if he was slowly being pulled in, "most likely from another 'dimension', or whatever you want to call it. You're not human, but you know London well enough so you've spent time here, judging from the TARDIS shape probably the 1960's, early 1960's, probably making repairs from whatever damaged these "chameleon circuits", or hiding from whatever did it." (A slight twitch of the other man's lips, so that wasn't quite the reason for his stay in London). "That makes you at least in your fifties, more likely late sixties to early seventies. Noooo, I think you're far older than that. Your youthful appearance hides most indications of your age, but I would put your age in the hundreds, closer to one; no offence but your lifestyle doesn't seem conducive to living a long time. Speaking of which, you seem to treat this whole affair very casually. A regular occurrence? A hobby? A profession?"
"You could call it that I suppose, but you're wrong about my age. I'm older than the United Kingdom."
Sherlock digested this information (older than the United Kingdom, not England, so between 306-1076 years old), no longer able to feel surprised by the news. "You regenerate your cells then. Oh! 'I've become attached to this face.' You can change your appearance, but not at will otherwise you would have done so to escape the Henchmen. Implies you can't heal mortal or serious injuries. If you're maimed, there's no simple reversal. I would say that before death you shift form? Regenerate?"
"Oh, you are good. My body is a lot better at healing itself than yours, but my biology is very different. It can easily deal with things that would kill a human, but not quite as efficient in other ways. I'm very aware of my body, helps me to control my aging, but if you shot me then my body can't deal with it any better than yours. If I'm about to die, it triggers a regeneration and I get a brand spanking new me. Well, not always spanking. I can trigger the regeneration myself, but that's just wasteful."
"Wasteful? So you have a limited number of regenerations or limited energy to regenerate?"
"I can regenerate thirteen times."
"What are you then?"
"I'm a Time Lord from a planet a long long way away from here called Gallifrey."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow as his lips twitched up. "Time Lord? A bit pompous."
The Doctor smiled back, a little embarrassed, and a hand rose to scratch behind his ear, titling his head a little as he did so. "I suppose we were rather, but it's an accurate name. The TARDIS can travel through time and space, anywhere I want to go. All I have to do is press a few buttons."
"THIS travels through time and space." Now that Sherlock did find hard to believe.
"So police boxes that are bigger on the inside than out and chimeras powered by a psychic link are ay-okay, but space and time travel isn't?"
Touché. "It is a bit hard to believe."
The Doctor's smile spread into a grin. "Want me to prove it to you? Tonight was just a small taste of where I can take you, but it will be dangerous."
Danger? That didn't bother Sherlock; if anything it upped the stakes. Here he stood, in an impossible machine with an extraordinary man with the most unbelievable claim. Moriarty's network seemed like a dismal child's game in comparison. He turned back to the alien and gave him a small, smug smirk.
The night-shift at Saint Albion's Hospital was unusually quiet. Doctor John Watson would have expected a small shuffle, a soft snore or at least Emily Jones trying to sneak out of her hospital bed again for a midnight snack with Milo Wilson. He smiled to himself; trouble the pair of them, but they were good kids. Working in the paediatric ward was a mixed blessing. He found the children, generally speaking, were more pleasant to work with than the adults, but it was always a little depressing to see children in hospital. At least these children weren't suffering from anything terminal by way of injuries or illness, most would be out of here within the next couple of weeks, though some were more serious than others.
He slipped between the curtains that separated Alice Harper from the rest of the ward. The girl stared up at the ceiling, her gaze blank, as if her eyes were made of glass. Sighing at the sad sight, John picked up the clipboard at the end of the bed and scanned the sheet.
She was a strange patient: she didn't move, except to breath, or speak. It wasn't paralysis, or catatonic sleep. It was as if the outside world wasn't there; the hospital, her friends, family, doctors, all of them. Like an empty shell was lying in the bed and the worst part was that they had no idea what was wrong with her. One minute she was in the school playground with her friends, playing a game she had made up, the next it was as if she had decided to go on holiday and had forgotten to pack her body. It disturbed the nurses and most of the other doctors, one reason he did the rounds here so often.
No matter what tests they ran, they couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. Not that he knew what they had actually done; he was just covering for a pregnant employee. Besides, she was being moved in the next couple of days to a new hospital, somewhere more specialized and capable of handling the strange case.
"Are you the doctor?"
John nearly yelped. Jumping out of his skin, as the clipboard tumbled from his hands and clattered loudly on the floor. He stared wide-eyed at little Alice who was sitting up in her bed, her 'gaze' fixed on him but the eyes remaining dead.
"Are you the doctor?" she repeated.
He opened his mouth only to find his voice as absent as the life behind her eyes. Closing it again he licked his lips and swallowed before trying again. "Yes," he finally managed, recovering from his shock as he quickly moved forward, "I'm Dr. Watson, the-"
John froze as he stepped round to the side of the bed. She followed him with her gaze, her head tracing the path he took, stopping when he did, but the rest of her body never moved. It was as if an invisible hand turned her head. His skin prickled, unease slithering up his spine and his mind whispering warnings. He hadn't felt like this since…since seven months ago. She looked through him and if he didn't know better, he would have thought that nothing more than an extraordinary doll sat before him. There was nothing there, no life, no soul. It was beyond disturbing.
This was ridiculous. He'd run through towns and deserts under gunfire, an eight-year-old girl was nothing in comparison.
"…the night shift doctor," he finished. "How are you feeling?"
Her head cocked ever-so-slightly to the left, looking 'at' him.
"You're not the doctor."
John frowned, but before he could ask what she meant by that, the child collapsed back into the pillows. The fear suddenly released its grip on him and he rushed to her side. "Alice? Alice?"
But he received no response. She remained as she ever was, dead to the world as she stared into the void. Unmoving and unseeing as a china doll, leaving him to wonder if he really had seen anything at all.
So, we had a surprise guest appearance from John Watson in this chapter. Hope you enjoyed this. Next chapter we move onto the next arc. :D
Hope you've enjoyed this so far. If you have constructive criticism, or general comments, feel free to tell me. I'll always think and consider what you've said, anything that will help me improve my writing. I'd like to know where I go wrong while writing this so that I don't continue making the same mistakes arc after arc. :D