Before Holmes Met Watson — 5
By Kitanya Harrison, writing as Harrison Kitteridge
What does it mean to have purpose? How does one seek and find one’s purpose? These were the sorts of meaningless philosophical discussions one had in drug rehab. Didn’t they understand that this stagnation, this torpor, the banal torment of strict scheduling would send any sane person reaching for the bottle or the pills or the syringe or a fucking razor blade just to stop them talking? Sherlock was baffled by it — all the inane chatter, all the sharing. How was any of this idle, self-indulgent prattle meant to help anyone?
It was all they talked about. Each patient was reduced to their relationship with the substance they used to self-medicate. They were all being forced to accept not only the label of “addict” but were being coerced through sequestration and what Sherlock believed to be highly unethical peer pressure to accept that “addict” was their identity. Behaviour and personality were linked, but they were not co-extensive, nor was one the subset of the other. Taking drugs was something he did, not something he was. His captors’ inability to sort out that basic point of elementary logic had Sherlock tossing nearly everything they said directly into the trash heap in his mind. At the rate things were going, he’d have to construct a conveyor belt that led directly to an industrial incinerator. Perhaps there was a way to induce some sort of semi–permanent trance that kept their nonsense out in the first place.
Sherlock was not “making progress” in his treatment.
Of course he wasn’t. At the core of their philosophy was the belief that he was like everyone else they were treating. But he was exceptional. That wasn’t arrogance. Words had meaning, and surely the term had to apply to someone somewhere. What was the point in pretending he wasn’t such a person? Weren’t they meant to be telling the truth? To a point and no further, he’d discovered.
They hadn’t even allowed him his violin, claiming he could use the (far inferior) instruments in their music therapy department.
They had cut him off not only from the drugs but from his work, his experiments and his music — his every outlet for the incessant churning of his mind. Couldn’t any simpleton see what a catastrophic miscalculation that was? With nothing to occupy his mind, his mood blackened to coal, and the pressure of his enforced captivity hardened it to diamonds.
He felt like a trapped animal.
Crossing the path of a rival from The Ludus could have had only one outcome.
Sherlock had humiliated one of the orderlies in the ring quite badly, and, once Sherlock caught sight of him and felt the ardency of his malevolence surging across the dining room, he knew the man would try to get his own back. Luck had been on Sherlock’s side — the orderly’s shifts and duties seemed to be at odds with Sherlock’s schedule — but Sherlock knew it was only a matter of time. Performing his calisthenics and practising his forms, preparing for the battle to come was the only thing that kept him sane.
It happened on a Wednesday evening after Sherlock left the pool for the showers. His opponent probably imagined Sherlock’s near nudity indicated vulnerability. The poor attempt at strategising made Sherlock livid when he thought about it later. He longed for a worthy opponent. There was a blind corner leading from the pool to the showers, and the orderly and a burly comrade pounced on Sherlock as soon as he made the turn. Had it not been for the overwhelming smell of chlorine, he would have been warned by the stench of their nervous sweat. He wasn’t quite caught off-guard by the attack — he had been practising constant vigilance and, after what happened following his first night at The Ludus, he anticipated the dishonour of being ganged up on. Nevertheless, he took a glancing blow to the head, and his anger and shame at having allowed that imbecile to lay a hand on him made him merciless. His attackers’ screams soon brought other inmates and staff running. No one intervened. They hadn’t dared. They let Sherlock finish delivering his ruthlessly brutal chastisement then warily escorted him to the secure wing and locked him in a cell.
On the other side of the world, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Captain John Watson was holding a soldier’s heart in his hand. A strong stomach, an unflappable demeanour and small, steady hands. Once his gross anatomy professor had observed those traits, she had enthusiastically encouraged John to pursue a specialisation in surgery. John gladly took the advice and was thrilled to have found his calling so early in his medical career. It was grisly work being a trauma surgeon in an active combat zone, but it was where he had felt he was the most needed. He was skilled enough to have found a respectable placement at nearly any of the major trauma centres, and, while no one had said anything directly to his face, he sensed his professors’ and fellow students’ confusion at him choosing to forgo a comfortable living to join the R.A.M.C. and head off to war. His parents hadn’t lived to see him make the decision, but he liked to think they would have been proud of him.
John massaged Corporal Jalloh’s heart, literally holding her life in his hands, while the bypass machinery was set up. Her new heart was being printed down in organ supply, and it would take some time for the technicians to complete the extensive testing protocols. John and the other surgeons had railed that having viable, fully tested organs on hand for everyone on the base, not just the most senior officers, should be standard procedure. But it was cost-prohibitive. It was during a thundering row over the matter that he’d met Salman. John’s temper was legendary, in part because of how rarely it showed itself, and there were a few close calls where he’d nearly got himself done for insubordination. His fair-mindedness always saved him in the end, though. He was fighting for what was best for the soldiers on the base, and allowing him to bellow his piece was good for morale. Nevertheless, when he worked himself into a lather, he could be quite terrifying. Salman had taken all the shouting without flinching then smiled and offered John a cup of tea. John had been thoroughly disarmed. At the end of their meeting, Salman had agreed to have the substrates prepared ahead of time, cutting a couple of hours off of the organ preparation. He invited John to come back for tea whenever he wished.
The transplant surgeon and his team were standing by to take over Corporal Jalloh’s surgery. She had already been on the table for five hours. The transplant surgery would take several more. Even more time would be lost as they waited for her heart to be prepared. She had lost so much blood. Yes, it had been transfused, but she was incredibly weak, and John worried she might not have the stamina to survive the lengthy procedure. When the bypass machine was ready to go, he melted away from the table, and the transplant surgeon and his team took over seamlessly. He nodded at them and exited the theatre. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror on the way out. He was covered in blood from head to toe and looked as if he’d just stepped out of an abattoir. Butchery and surgery were opposite sides of the same coin, he thought as he stripped out of his surgical scrubs. They were separated by the thin line of death and the intentions behind the actions of the person holding the knife — to repair or dismember.
“Christ, I need a drink,” he sighed.
Later that evening in the officers’ mess, over a hand of poker and a finger of scotch he was given the news: Corporal Jalloh hadn’t made it.