trillsabells: (Slash)
[personal profile] trillsabells
Title:The Prize
Author: [livejournal.com profile] trillsabells
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] jupiter_ash
Rating: This Chapter R, NC17 overall
Length: This Chapter 5700, overall nearly 100k
Summary: On 29 January 2010 an unknown Event wiped out 98% of the population. This is the story of the survivors, four months on. Based on this prompt here
Warnings (for entire fic): Starts with the death of over 6 billion people and goes downhill from there. Death, destruction, disease, violence, fire, plane crashes, slavery, graphic sex and serious consent issues
Author's Note: Hope you all had a brilliant Christmas! Next chapter should be New Year’s Eve. Or should that be New Sherlock eve?

Chapter 1 : Chapter 2 : Chapter 3 : Chapter 4 : Chapter 5 : Chapter 6 : Chapter 7





Sherlock set the soil analysis program running and then went to the security office to see Lestrade about his things. The detective inspector had already helped himself to a box of the nicotine patches and had sent the clothes down to laundry.

“When they’re ready have the dresses sent to my room and everything else sent to John’s.”

“All right,” said Lestrade, sounding doubtful. “But I don’t think they’ll suit you.”

“Nonsense,” said Sherlock. “I have it on good authority I have the legs for it.”

From her seat in the corner of the office, holding her cup of coffee in front of her like a barrier, Sally snorted. Sherlock was determined she wouldn’t get a rise out of him. After all, whose opinion was he going to trust? That of a woman who had been sniffing around, and shamelessly flirting with, Anderson of all people before the Event? Or that of John’s, a man who was smart enough to survive in London without wasting hardly any bullets, kept up with his deductions and recognised his brilliance. It hardly required his intellect to guess which one he favoured.

“Did you get the doctor a collar while you were out?” Sally asked, apparently having not noticed his decision to ignore her. “You’re already dressing him and he follows you around like a lost puppy.”

Sherlock turned and graced her with an insincere smile. “Just for that, you’re not getting a new dress.”

Sally scrunched up her face, disgusted. “As if I’d want one a freak like you picked out.”

“Or any chocolate digestives,” he added, picking up the bags and sweeping from the room.

He went back to his room and upended the tennis bag and one of the plastic carrier bags. He selected a few of the dolls and some of the more generic toys and stuffed them into the plastic bag along with the colouring pens, a few notebooks and one of the bags of ‘funsize’ chocolates. Finally he threw off his jacket, combed his hair as flat as he could without chemical assistance then, grabbing the bag, headed off in search of the temporary accommodation for the new civilians.

One of the labs had been turned into a temporary play area for the five children. Two women – neither of whom were clearly the biological mothers of any of the children – stood by chatting, while two seven year old boys played with toy cars that they must have brought with them, another boy on the cusp of adolescence played cards at a table, a ten year old girl sat underneath the table writing on loose sheets of paper and a three year old girl watched a DVD about a pink cartoon pig with huge fascination.

Sherlock tapped gently on the door causing the women and the two older children to look up at him.

“Hi,” he said, his friendly tone, his change in stance and the adjustments he had made to his appearance carefully disguising him from the man who had impatiently interrogated them the day before. “Can I come in?”

The children went back to what they were doing and the women gave him a wary look so he crept in and gave them all a shy smile.

“How’s it going?” he asked. “They driving you mad yet? Must be hard, Blue Zone isn’t exactly set up for kids.” He held up the bag. “I thought this would help.”

“It’s not much,” he said pulling out the toys, – the three year old immediately looked up and snatched a pink teddy bear – the notebooks and the colouring pens. “But you know what they used to say. Every little helps. Oh and,” he pulled out a box of earplugs and handed it to the woman with the largest bags under her eyes, “if you’re having trouble sleeping.”

The woman smiled apparently in spite of herself. “You’re a life saver.”

Sherlock shrugged. “We’re all in this together.” He started as if only noticing the two boys for the first time. “Hey!” he cooed. “What’s that you’ve got there?”

He sat cross-legged on the floor and asked the boys a few questions about their cars until he was satisfied that the women had tuned him out, gratified that someone else was taking a turn to keep the kids entertained for once. The older boy continued to watch him suspiciously out of the corner of his eye while still pretending to play cards but that couldn’t be helped.

“All right you two,” he said, letting his voice go back to its natural tone. “I’ve got a packet of chocolate bars here and I’ll give you each one if you tell me what I want to know.”

“No, you don’t,” one of the boys said.

Sherlock reached into the bag, tugged open the packet and showed them the goods.

“Those aren’t proper chocolate bars,” the other boy said. “They’re too small.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I’ll give you two.” Both boys reached for the bag. “Ah, ah, ah. Not until I get my information. Now tell me, what did you think of the team who came to the university?”

Children were such good judges of character and absolutely wonderful spies. It cost him half of the chocolates, promises of the rest for further information and an excruciating twenty minutes in which he learnt more about Peppa Pig than he ever wanted to know, but he got a far more detailed picture of the mission from the university end of things than he could ever have gotten talking to adults. Case in point, the casual chat he started up with the two guardians afterwards was not half as illuminating. He left off talking to the older boy until last, having been watched like a hawk by him the entire time.

Sherlock dropped down into the chair opposite the boy. The boy gave him a bored glance, pulled together the cards which had been arranged for a game of fours, then, after a quick shuffle, dealt himself seven cards and Sherlock eight.

Sherlock gave his cards a quick perusal then selected one to place down next to the pile of remaining cards.

“You going to offer me chocolate as well?” the boy asked after a few minutes of silent playing.

“Would it work?” Sherlock asked picking up a card, placing it amongst the others in his hands then discarding another.

“My father always taught me never to take sweets from strangers,” the boy replied, snatching up a card only to drop it back down just as quickly.

“Your father’s dead.”

The boy didn’t react, only picked up the next card. “Even more reason.”

“What was your father’s name?”

“Anthony Wiggins.”

“And yours?”

The boy finally looked at him, peeking over the top of the cards held close to his face. “Anthony Wiggins.”

“The third.”

Anthony didn’t react, apparently neither impressed nor thrown by the deduction. He merely picked up a card, slotted it at the end of his hand then discarded one from the middle.

“What was your father’s subject?” Sherlock asked

“Maths.”

“So I should expect you to be very good at this.”

Anthony gave the nonchalant shrug of a practiced con artist.

“From the time the team arrived at the university to the time your group arrived back here did you see anyone make a phone call? Anyone from the team or from your group?”

Anthony made a show of considering the card he had picked up from the pile then delicately placed it down. “The colonel guy was always on the radio to base. Talked about the arrangements a lot. ETAs that sort of thing. Something to do with four oh seven seven. Other than him… Colonel asked Major Denny to make one of the calls. And I saw Private Fisher on the phone at one point. Couldn’t hear what he was saying.”

Without taking his eyes off his cards Sherlock slid two of the chocolate bars across the table. “I want you to keep an eye on Private Fisher for me.”

Anthony snorted. “If you think I’m tagging around after some soldier for sweeties you’ve got another thing coming.”

“What else have you got to do all day? It’ll save you from boredom.”

“I’m told school is the latest fashion.”

“I’m sure you can find the time.”

Anthony laid down his cards. Four aces and three queens. “Not for chocolates I won’t. I want a DS.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes as his internal acronym dictionary quickly flicked through possible meanings. Anthony rolled his eyes before he reached a result.

“Nintendo. And games of course. It’ll save me from boredom.”

Sherlock considered this. “If you can get results-“

“And what, if he does squat I’m trekking after him for nothing? No chance. I want guarantees.”

“I’d have to go out and get it and I’m quarantined at the moment.”

“End of the week?”

“End of next week.”

“Then I’ll tell you what I got end of next week.”

“Deal.”

Anthony grinned and offered his hand. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

Sherlock shook it then stood up. He dropped his cards revealing the diamond straight he had been holding back for the previous six goes then walked out in search of John.


~


John took hold of the coffee that was placed in front of him and clung to it as if it were a lifeline. Seb dropped into the seat opposite.

They had picked a private table in the corner of the canteen away from the few other people enjoying a morning coffee break or a very late breakfast.

Seb sighed, took a sip of his coffee, then stared at the ceiling as if asking for divine inspiration.

“That,” he said after a while.

John waited but there didn’t seem to be more to come. The other man had a look of deep concentration on his face as if he was turning over the words they had heard in his head. John didn’t blame him, he was having trouble settling them in his own mind. He couldn’t quite match up the Sherlock from the last few days - who had laughed with him over dinner, broken into a collector’s house, taken him on an exciting chase, and then joked over tuna with coconut milk – with the man who would sit and acquiesce so quietly to the terrible things his brother had been saying.

“That,” Seb appeared to be having another attempt at language, “was Mycroft Holmes-”

Was it? That was the first time John had heard what the elder Holmes’ real name was. Sherlock hadn’t even told him what his brother’s name was? Did he really know anything about the man?

“-in a nutshell,” Seb finished almost lamely.

John raised his eyebrows. Seb shrugged.

“That’s just how he is. That stuff about an ‘equilibrium’, that’s how he thinks. All the time.”

Seb scratched idly at the scar on his chin for a moment. John took a sip of his coffee, barely tasting it.

“To him,” Seb continued, “everything has a value and he’s got the balance sheet in his head. And people are just another resource with costs and benefits. Some people,” Seb gestured towards him with a tilt of his fingers, “you for instance, being a doctor and all, have very high benefits and he snatches them up when he can.”

John remembered what Mycroft had said the first time they’d met. About being currently worth more alive and well than dead. He hadn’t realised that that worth had been calculated in numerical terms. He closed his eyes as he let out a weary breath.

“Other people just get left where they are,” Seb said after waiting for John to look back at him. “For the winter to deal with them.” He added darkly. “It’s cold, and god knows how the man sleeps at night, but…” Seb shrugged again and stared at his coffee, “to be fair to the guy, you’ve just got to have a bit of that these days. There’s a finite amount of resources and they’ve got to be preserved. Some decisions have to be made and I, for one, am glad that Mycroft is the one to make them.” The words were said resignedly with the colonel avoiding his eyes as if ashamed of having to say them. “You and I deal with life and death on a daily basis but not on this scale. Not when thousands of lives hang on his slightest whim.”

Seb hesitated, taking a sip of his coffee. John followed suit. The smell of meat cooking floated from the kitchen. More people started to drift in and take seats although none near where they were sat.

When Seb continued it was in a slightly odd tone of voice.

“Especially when we know our sisters could be out there. It would kill us to make those choices.” The other man finally met John’s eyes again. “But Mycroft’s fine, he doesn’t have a heart to bother him. You can trust him.” The colonel snorted a laugh. “Not that you have a hell of a lot of choice on the matter. But at least he takes it all seriously. Sherlock on the other hand.” Seb leaned forward on the table. “Look, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the guy. I mean he’s sharp as a needle, comes out with the most amazing stuff. Well,” there was a flash of Seb’s usual grin. “I don’t understand a word of it but it always gets the guys down in research very excited. So there’s no case for nepotism here, the guy’s more than earned his place around here. It’s just he treats it like it’s a game,” the colonel sounded frustrated, “you know? It’s like when we go out into the city we make plans, we get the right equipment, we take a team, we at least tell bloody base where the hell we’re going. But him, well you’ve been out with him enough now.”

Sherlock hadn’t called until they had been five minutes away. Hadn’t taken anything for a night away but used what they had found. Had gone up against collectors when the only weapon had been John’s. Had Sherlock planned anything about that trip at all? Or had he been making it up as they went along?

“He doesn’t think- no,” Seb interrupted himself with a raised finger, “that’s not right. He does think, he thinks all the time. But he thinks like lightening, you can’t keep up with him.”

John certainly couldn’t deny that.

“And the instant he gets the idea to do or say something off he goes, nothing else matters. He wants to go somewhere, he’s gone.” Seb’s eyes flicked off to one side as if following where an imagined Sherlock had gone. “He wants something, he gets it. He takes a shine to someone, he picks them up and drops them when he’s done.”

John suddenly found it hard to swallow the mouthful of coffee he had taken.

“You heard Mycroft, today he’s arguing about collectors, tomorrow he’ll find himself a new stray to fawn over. Sherlock didn’t even defend himself, did you notice?”

He had noticed.

“Can’t deny it. You know, what we heard was probably a good thing, horrible as it sounds.” Seb rolled his eyes again. “It was Mycroft reining Sherlock in, stopping him from doing something stupid and risky. Mycroft is the only one who can keep Sherlock in check; he just ignores anyone else who tries. Like they’re all…”

Idiots?

“Beneath him. He acts above it all. That’s just him, that’s just how he works.” Seb placed his mug on the table and leant back in his chair. “Listen, I know this is all messed up, but we’re not exactly in the perfect situation right now. This is just… how it is. Plus, you know, at least if Sherlock’s bothering you right now he’ll get bored soon. Then you can settle in properly without being dragged all over the place at all hours of the night.” Seb suddenly looked at his watch then started to get up. “Speaking of which, you look knackered. I’ve got to go on duty but you should get some rest. I’ll see you around, yeah?”

“Yeah,” John said, placing his own mug of coffee down on the table and easing his fingers which were now stiff from clinging to it.

Seb showed off his usual shark-like grin, went to tap him on the shoulder then seemed to think better of it and simply walked away instead.

The canteen was starting to fill up with people coming in for lunch. The noise level started to rise, giving John a headache. He closed his eyes and willed everyone to keep their distance, give him some space to breath. He thought about going to bed, like Seb had suggested, but the idea of crawling under the covers and hiding from everything and everyone seemed too much like cowardice. Besides, it looked as though it was bangers and mash for lunch. He couldn’t remember the last time he had had sausages that hadn’t come out of a can. There was gravy too.

That settled it. You didn’t survive four months practically on the streets by turning down decent food. He was going to have something to eat, not think about anything, then go and get some much needed rest. Tomorrow would sort itself out. John nodded to himself as he got to his feet. Sounded like a plan.

A plan that was almost instantly derailed when he came back from collecting his plate to find Sherlock Holmes sitting in Seb’s recently vacated seat.

“I need you to assist me in talking to ops,” Sherlock said the instant John dropped into his chair. “To know exactly when the team would reach the junction the inside man would either have to be on the team or one of the operations officers receiving the information and relaying it back to the ambushers. I’ve got some of the team under observation already and I have my suspicions, but at this point it would be too risky to rule anyone out. So I need you to come to the operations office with me now.”

“What do you need me for?” he asked.

“You’re my cover. If I’m seen to be investigating the inside man will know I’m onto him. If I’m just showing you around then there’s nothing to fear. So I need you to appear curious, act stupid and ask lots of questions.”

John stared longingly at his plate of bangers and mash. The mash was obviously from a packet. With the gravy it looked like heaven.

“Can it wait until after I’ve had lunch?” he said, looking back up at Sherlock.

“There’s no time,” said Sherlock. “The shift we need to speak to finish at one.”

“Then can’t it wait until the morning? I’m tired and wouldn’t it be better to go when we’ll have more time?”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes as if annoyed that his logic made sense when it came to a conclusion Sherlock didn’t approve of.

“Fine,” Sherlock said eventually and sat back in the chair.

Relieved, John made a start on his lunch only to realise, halfway through chewing a piece of sausage, that Sherlock was staring at him. He swallowed.

“Was there anything else you needed me for?”

Sherlock said nothing.

“Were you going to get some lunch as well?”

“The meal this morning was adequate enough to keep me going,” Sherlock said blandly but with humour in his eyes.

John found a smile tug involuntarily at his lips. “You should thank the chef.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

John smiled into his potatoes, unable to fight it despite Seb’s words continuing to echo in his ears. “Go on then, what are you hoping to find out from ops tomorrow?”

John ate while Sherlock talked, starting with the speciousness of starting an investigation with preconceived ‘hopes’ before moving on to relating how Sherlock had somehow hired kids to spy for him. After John had finished Sherlock walked him to his room then leant against the doorway as they made arrangements to meet up again the next day. It was almost like going on a date. With a cold-hearted bastard. Allegedly. He’d have to see, wouldn’t he?


~


John re-joined him early the next morning just as he was setting the soil analysis to run again after the first set of results had turned out to be ridiculous. Very early in the morning actually, he thought as a glance of the clock told him it was just one AM. They weren’t due to meet for another five and a half hours. He re-examined his companion, this time taking the time to dwell on the meaning of the bags under his eyes, the hair still damp from a shower, hand shaking ever so slightly, mug of coffee clutched securely in said hands.

“You had a nightmare,” he said.

John looked away as if ashamed. “Yes.”

“And you came here.”

A shrug. “Where else was I supposed to go?”

A part of him curled up with glee that he was the first person John came to after a nightmare. Although he was a little annoyed he didn’t get to see more of the post-nightmare behaviour. Or actually get to observe the nightmare, that would be interesting.

“What was it about?” he asked, settling for any data he could get hold of.

“The usual,” John replied, obstinately.

Repressing a frustrated sigh he persisted, “Which is?”

John looked him in the eye, lifting his chin with defiance. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

No data and now John was annoyed. Sharp tone, body racked with tension, that just wouldn’t do. If the doctor was going to be convincing as the curious, bumbling tourist then he needed to do something to calm the man down. He cast around for a distraction, pausing briefly to glare at his soil analysis for being so preposterous – Dartford and Thorpe, come on – before finally settling on his violin.

“Sit,” he said, sharply, reaching behind the desk to where he kept it.

By the time he had the case in his hand John’s irritation appeared to have faded into surprise and suspicion.

“Sit,” he said again, gesturing downwards to further exaggerate his demand since it had been clearly misunderstood the first time.

“You play the violin?” John said.

No, he just had one to look at.

“It helps me relax,” he said, taking the instrument out of its case and handling it fondly. “I’ll play you something if you sit down.”

John hurried to sit on a stool.

“No,” he said, suddenly hit with the thought that perhaps he could play John to sleep and then maybe he would be able to observe a dream after all. If only he had a sofa! Oh well, have to make do with the next best thing. “On the floor.”

“The floor?”

“Yes, there, by the wall. Hurry up.”

“This isn’t very relaxing so far,” John said but with humour in his voice as he lowered himself down.

Despite his selection of a number of French and Russian lullabies the violin solo failed to send John to sleep, but with the amount of appreciation the other man showed for the performance afterwards Sherlock found he didn’t mind so much. When John asked for an encore he launched into a few more jauntier pieces then finished off with an adaption of the first movement of Vivaldi’s Winter. When John said that that was his favourite he could not suppress the smile or the warmth that blossomed across his chest as he agreed.

After that John insisted that they go and get ‘a midnight snack’ as he called it and this time refused to accept Sherlock’s protestations of not being hungry, even when the food available turned out to be a pastry with some kind of unidentifiable meat in it.

He still found it amazing how easy it was to just chat with John over food. He had never really experienced that before. Dinners at home had always been intellectual, almost always relating to some new amazing achievement Mycroft had gained with that seven year advantage. At university the other students had always blabbered on about their dull social lives as if they weren’t utterly predictable. He had usually stayed out of those conversations, sometimes avoiding meals altogether. It had almost been a relief to discover that despite what he had constantly been told he could function perfectly well without food every day. After university there had been no one around to share meals with aside from the occasional grateful restaurateur. In those circumstances he had rarely said anything, simply soaked up the offered local gossip that was so useful to his profession.

With John there was give and take, jokes, teasing, storytelling and questions on both sides. He got the feeling that as long as he ate every meal with John, food would never be a chore again. It was as if the combination of John and food made time go faster. The end of the meal and their scheduled visit to ops almost came too soon.

There were a few objections when he barged straight into the operations office with John trailing behind, but he quickly dropped into a tour guide persona and started pointing out the features, showing off the equipment and introducing the staff. In Sherlock’s opinion John overdid the enthusiasm, after all it would hardly be convincing that he would waste his time with a gawking idiot. But the other man did his job and by engaging the staff in casual conversation and approaching the subject from a roundabout way John managed to get the staff talking about their actions at the time of the ambush. With several prompts the right questions got answered, the staff seemingly more willing to open up to John’s kind smile than they ever would to Sherlock.

Once he had all the data he needed he charged straight out of the office, intending to call Mycroft to get hold of the office logs so he could compare the testimonies with the official records. However, John said he had to check in with the Infirmary. Sherlock considered denying him permission but reasoned that since he was just going to be running over the records for the next couple of hours, John’s continual presence wasn’t actually necessary. They could catch up later.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll come by later and we can have lunch. Oh, and you can have this back.”

He held out the object he had wrestled away from electronic decon team the previous afternoon. It was a Nokia N97 phone with scratch marks around the charging portal and an engraving to someone who was not John. It had been found zipped into a hidden pocket at the very bottom of the doctor’s duffle bag.

John stared at it as if he didn’t recognise it. The other man reached towards it before hesitating and giving Sherlock an examining look.

Oh for- what was it with John and phones he offered the man? What was he supposed to have done to them all?

Eventually John’s hand crossed the remaining space and grasped hold of the offered mobile. The doctor turned it over in his hands, tentatively running his fingers over it as if worried it would vanish.

“Electronics always take longer to go through decon,” Sherlock said. “It’s fully charged and connected to the network.”

“Thank you,” John said, sounding awed.

“It was your sister’s,” Sherlock continued. “You wouldn’t have kept it if it wasn’t of personal significance so it stands that she gave it to you, even if she did only do so to get rid of it after she left her wife. Disagreements over her alcoholism I would suspect.”

“Yeah,” John said quietly.

“The number’s still the same, so you can give it to the Infirmary for them to use to get hold of you if you like. There are one or two black spots here and there but in general the signal is quite good across the whole Enclave so I should be able to contact you whenever I need you.”

“Right, of course.” John finally looked back up at him, the emotion having gone from his face leaving the firm, shuttered expression. “I’d better.” John waved vaguely in what was probably meant to be the general direction of the Infirmary.

With that sorted, Sherlock nodded and, walking away, pulled out his own phone to begin the onerous task of texting his brother for the logs.

When he got back to the laboratory the soil analysis had finished again and was still showing Thorpe and Dartford. Frustrated he set about cleaning the entire machine from top to bottom. There had to be some kind of cross contamination, perhaps with those seedlings the team had brought back a fortnight ago. Or perhaps there was a glitch in the machine.

A result showing pollen from the Dartford area should mean that the ambushers were River Trolls after all and that they set up the ambush to make the Enclave believe that there were more collectors north of them then there actually were for some obscure and utterly mysterious reason of their own devising.

Pollen from Thorpe, on the other hand, matched up with his own predictions of another group from South West London. Okay so Thorpe itself was a wreck – everything that close to Heathrow was still burning – but if the collectors were in that general area it would match up with all of his data; all his maps, trends and distributions.

So which was it?

Finally satisfied as to the state of the machine he set the analysis running again and, determined to stay put until the idiot thing finished properly, set about reading the logs.

It was some time later when he burst through the doors to the Infirmary, John’s expression of disapproval not quite covering over the immediate reaction of pleased surprise before he had the opportunity to spot it and file it away.

Dodging the nurse who attempted to head him off he strode straight up to John and grabbed his arm.

“You have to see this,” he said, tugging just hard enough to illustrate his intension but not hard enough that John would feel pushed and try to resist out of pride.

He must have gotten his calculations wrong because John shook him off and said,

“I can’t, I’ve got things to do here.”

“This is important.”

“So’s this. Everyone else’s quarantine runs out tomorrow and they’ve been running me through procedure and instructions-“

“-so they can call skitter off back to cushy Green Zone leaving you in charge.”

If John was permanently assigned to Blue Zone Infirmary that would be brilliant; the other man would be so much more accessible and have much more time available to assist him.

“Sort of,” John said, running a hand through his hair. “There’s just so much to get done-“

“You’re allowed to take time off for lunch,” he said, insistently.

John frowned. “Yes and I did. Three hours ago.”

Without him?

John gave him a bewildered look. “Sherlock, it’s five PM.”

Oh. Was it really? Living indoors most of the time had really messed up his internal clock.

“Couldn’t you have waited?”

The small smile the doctor gave him could only have been described as fond. He decided to press his advantage.

“They’ll still be here in the morning and you’ve been up since close to midnight so aren’t you due another break?”

“Well,” John said, looking thoughtful.

It was all the weakening he needed so this time when he pulled on John’s arm the doctor came with him, still looking as if he were trying to make his mind up. Really, if the other man just left the thinking to him it would be much easier all round.

Ignoring the calls of Mister Wearing as they exited the Infirmary he hurried John along the corridors to the lab. He kept his hand on John’s arm the whole time but it didn’t take much pressure to persuade the doctor to come with him. It was so easy to tell that this was what John really wanted to do when it came down to it. It was harder to tell why exactly that caused a warm feeling to unfurl in the bottom of his belly.

Once they got to the laboratory he manoeuvred John into the seat in front of the screen that showed the soil analysis results and gestured to the map of Greater London with its two blinking spots. John regarded it with apparent interest for a moment then looked back at him expectantly.

He sighed. “Thorpe and Dartford,” he said waving a hand to express the obviousness. “At first I thought it was a mistake but I’ve run the test six times now and the same result has come up every time. Thorpe and Dartford.” He started to pace. “They must have originated from Thorpe – anyone from Dartford would have had to have circled the entirety of London before coming to the crime scene to get these results – but travelled via the Dartford crossing. That is why I dismissed it as more likely to be cross contamination before; the River Trolls would never let another group of collectors use the crossing, so how did this group manage it? Did they get special permission? Some kind of bargain? Trade? Alliance? Collectors are fiercely competitive and territorial. If some of them have actually started to get along then that is very, very bad. Whoever is organising this is clever, very, very clever. They’re not just trying to control us, they’re trying to control everyone out there. Manipulate what we think so they can put their plan into action, uninhibited.”

Stopping mid stride he spun to face John to gauge his reaction to his outburst. The other man was staring at him, wide eyed with shock and, it seemed, a little admiration.

“So what’s their plan?” John asked

He lowered himself onto a stool. “I don’t know,” he said. “But the best way to find out is to get to their inside man.”


Chapter 9



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