The Singular Affair of the Second Moriarty

Chapter Four

by TT (a.m.tilmouth.s99 at cranfield.ac.uk)
Tessa did not have a good night. She carefully removed her mask well away from the small mirror in the room and then began to undress. She shuddered as leathery skin passed under her fingers as she pulled on her pyjamas, 'so beautiful' her mother had once called her, and now nothing but scorched skin. It took her a while to get to sleep and once her weariness finally overcame her, she slept fitfully, tossing and turning in her hard bed. Nightmares came and went; once again she saw the flames lick at her bedroom door; once again the searing heat as the handle burnt her hand; once again the hideous white smile as the figure outside jammed the window shut. Nightmares switched; she was on her board again, flying high on a floating track lit by hovering beacons that hung out of the sky like Olympic torches. She was practising before the race, cloudskimming in the thin air and watching the little puffs of clouds jet away behind her board. Without warning, she felt the hum beneath her feet splutter then die.
For about a second the momentum carried her forward and then gravity caught hold of her and snatched her downwards. It had been her worst fear during every race and the reason she had her board checked and triple-checked beforehand. Downwards she plummeted, a streamlined black figure tumbling like a stone towards the ground. The nightmare changed again. Shadows filled the dream like icy water, a torrent that came crashing down like a tidal wave. She ran, feet pounding the floor like hammers, arms moving like pistons, friends and family disappeared behind her into the chasing shadows. For a moment she thought she saw Holmes and Watson out of the corner of her eye; she slowed in surprise and the darkness flooded over her.
She did not scream as she jerked awake -- months of nightmares had stopped that -- but cold sweat ran down her back, her eyes were wet and her throat dry. She turned and caught sight of herself in the tiny mirror on her dressing table. She’d been too preoccupied to turn it face down before she went to bed and now regretted it most bitterly as her white face floated in the semi-darkness of the small frame. Closing her eyes, she crawled and groped over to the table and threw the offending object across the room where it shattered noisily. Climbing back into the bed, she gathered the covers around her to make a nest, the kind she’d made as a child when she was upset or frightened and waiting for her mother to come up and chase the bad things away. She knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep for the rest of the night but at least she could huddle in the darkness until morning, haunted by the sight of her face in the dark.
Smoke filled the air of the hotel room, small intricate white twists filtered up from Holmes's pipe. Smoking tobacco had been made illegal under a health act in the 21st century, a fact that had caused him two months of cold turkey anguish when he had made his reappearance. The pipe that now hung out of Holmes' mouth contained the alternative: a mixture of synthetic chemicals made into putty called bacco, designed to produce the same effects without the health problems. It was beyond detestable and for that reason Holmes had whittled his pipe habit down to the moments when he needed the feel of the old habit to kick his brain into peak condition. It was nearly six in the morning and Holmes’s brain was still ticking away slowly like some unexploded bomb. He was, he had to admit, more than a little worried about Lestrade; this Shadow was above all a murderer and a hired thug. He didn’t think his opponent would kill her just yet but there were other things than his victim’s death for such a creature. He shuddered as Tessa’s masked face came to mind -- the bitter venom in her words as she talked about the Shadow's death. He had more than once had to stop his mind as it tried to sketch in the face behind the mask. What could such tragedy so young do to a mind that bore the master criminal himself in its ancestry?
Dawn came and went and eventually Watson stood up from his seat by the door and flexed his joints. "Good morning, Holmes."
Holmes’ tobacco supply had run out during the night but he still had the cold pipe clenched between his teeth.
"Up all night, I see!"
Holmes set the pipe on the floor and got up from his cross-legged position on the floor, his long limbs unfolding themselves and shaking off the night’s lethargy. "Good morning, Watson; be a good chap and hurry up with the tea, will you? Today, I believe. my dear Watson, the game is very much afoot."
There was a slight knock on the door; both man and compudroid froze. Watson stared fixedly at the door for a second and relaxed. "It’s Miss Moriarty, Holmes; no need for alarm. The doors are so thin here I can scan right through them."
It was indeed Tessa, but how changed from the previous evening. Hair stuck out in little wisps around her face, and her mask didn’t quite hide the rough skin underneath. She looked tired and drawn, with dark patches under her eyes. Her clothes too were not quite right; the zipper on her jumpsuit was half-undone to reveal a thermal undershirt with the catches done up askew.
"Someone else who hasn’t slept, I see."
Tessa nodded slowly and rubbed her unmasked eye. "Yesterday evening brought up some unpleasant memories. Can I borrow a mirror for a moment? There was an...accident with mine."
Holmes pointed towards the bathroom and Tessa disappeared into it shutting the door behind her.
When she came out Holmes had pulled a variety of tiny bags and boxes from his overnight bag. "Now, Miss Moriarty...."
Tessa shuddered. "Can you at least call me Tessa today? The name Moriarty is starting to get on my nerves."
Holmes grimaced. First names were not often used in Victorian England. "Very well...Tessa. I have everything I need to disguise you here except the right size clothes; what I had was too bulky to carry away yesterday."
Tessa frowned for a moment. "I have some blue cotton trousers and a top from last season. He won’t have seen that unless he was following me a long while before he was hired."
"Excellent. Unfortunately there is just one other thing." The look of sympathy returned to his face. "Tessa, I need you to remove your mask."
For a moment the world spun around her in sickening haste. She staggered and a metal hand caught her; she found herself being lowered into a chair. She couldn’t breathe properly, her mind blurred, but then the face of the Shadow appeared smiling at her. Anger brought the world into sharp focus again.
"I haven’t taken it off for anyone since I left the hospital... I’m...not sure I can."
Holmes sighed and knelt down so he was level with the chair, Tessa felt four again. "I would not ask unless it was necessary...Tessa, the whole thing could be ruined if he recognised you; the mask will be an instant giveaway even if we pulled you hair over it. He would follow you simply because you were covering your face."
It made sense but her body had frozen; she felt frightened and more vulnerable than ever before. She wasn’t sure she could even go through with it until she remembered the face of the Shadow at the window. There was her reason for anything and everything. She would go through hell and back again to see him pay for what he’d done. Her hands still wouldn’t move; a tear formed in her masked eye and ran behind the leather. Slowly and quietly she began to speak.
"Anything to get him...You will have to take it off; I can’t move my hands. There’s three catches in my hair: one at my forehead, my ear and my jaw."
She squeezed her eyes tight to stop more tears; her whole body shook as she felt the first catch go, then the second. The third catch felt like it took an age to undo but finally she felt the air move past her skin. The mask was gone.

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