by Maureen S. O'Brien, 6/5/00
The corridors were dark and deserted. They smelled of damp and old
decay. Beth Lestrade walked gingerly on the slippery stone. Watson
kept scanning, but the stone was so thick that it defeated many of the
frequencies he could use.
"Carefully now, my friends," Holmes cautioned them. "There's no telling
what sort of obstacles that Moriarty might have left behind him...."
Moriarty walked around the corner. "Do I feel my ears burning? Glad to
see you've finally caught up, Holmes."
"Speak of the devil," Lestrade said dryly.
"They're not burning that much, I assure you. But perhaps you _humans_
can bring me tidings." Watson huffed at the slur as Moriarty's jovial
tones hardened. "For you have hampered me long enough."
"Dear me," Holmes said mildly, "that same old song. I've heard it
from the mouths of so many delightful fellows. Yet I am the one
still walking about the earth."
"Not for long," Moriarty said grimly, and lunged for him.
Holmes hit out at him with his cane for a bit, but within a
few seconds, Moriarty had knocked it aside and they were back to
wrestling. Holmes smiled and began practicing his baritsu
again. "Hurry," he called to his friends standing by. "And remember,
Lestrade -- you're the key!" In a moment, he was submerged in the
"Just what we needed -- another cryptic clue," Lestrade sighed and
jogged away. "Come on, Watson! You heard the man."
"But shouldn't we stay? Holmes may need our aid."
"Holmes is trying to buy time for us," she insisted. "We can't
waste it! Let's go." She ran ahead, not waiting to see whether
Watson would follow. After one last look back, he did.
They hurried around the scuffle and proceeded up the corridor. But
not very far. "A locked vault door!" Watson exclaimed.
"Yeah, with an oh-so-medieval alphanumeric touchpad. Very twentieth
century. What's it doing in an old abandoned castle? And more
importantly, how do we get past it?"
"I can try and...er...hack in," Watson offered.
"Hmm...maybe. But let me try something first." She reached for the
pad. "So far, all of the obstacle puzzles have had something to do
with one of us. And Holmes said I was the key...." She tapped in the
final letter and waited a moment. Slowly, the door slid aside.
"So what was the password?" Watson asked.
"LESTRADE." She closed the door behind them, and silence
fell. Now she could no longer hear the faint sounds of struggle that told
her Holmes was still holding off Moriarty.
No wasting time, she reminded herself.
Soon they saw a glow of light intruding on the darkness from around
a corner. "Someone's gotten ahead of us," Watson cautioned Lestrade.
"Fenwick, no doubt." She drew her ionizer, put her back to the wall,
and peered around the corner. "Yeah, there's the little creep now.
He's close to the door with his back toward us. Could be a trap. Or
could be he's just a little bit too cocky.... On three, Watson."
Watson sighed, opened his stomach panel and drew out a lariat.
Lestrade held up a finger. Then two.
Lestrade and Watson charged into the room like two shoppers with
platinum e-credit. Fenwick jerked around and went for his weapon, but
he wasn't nearly as fast as Lestrade's ionizer.
"Lestrade!" he hissed. "You can't be here!"
"Wrong." She kept moving. "So this is what was keeping you so
interested, Fenwick! A bank of computers? Hidden in this old castle?"
"They...they are nothing!"
"I'd better find out what's on them," Watson decided, extending his
networking plug. He turned to the computer. "Open wide and say ah."
Lestrade grinned and guarded the door. No sense repeating Fenwick's
"This is most peculiar," Watson murmured in a few moments. "These
computers have the wrong date on them."
"Guess whoever owned them didn't fix that pesky Y2K thing we read
about in history class."
"Not at all, Inspector. They claim that the date is 2003. And they
have all sorts of algorithms for some sort of primitive virtual
game. But strangely enough, the algorithms seem to correspond to...
"What?!" Lestrade strode back to Fenwick. "Show me, Watson."
The monitor lit, and Watson flashed screen after screen of
information across it. The game algorithms were busy running
subroutines that described -- no, commanded -- that the Watson
character be found in this room, running data through a computer,
while the Lestrade character guarded the door and the Holmes
character fought the Moriarty NPC.
"Where's the information coming from? Are we being tracked?"
"Well, yes...but it doesn't seem to think we're moving much."
"What?" Lestrade maneuvered herself over to where she could keep one
eye on the console and the other on the door. "Show me."
"Telemetry," Watson indicated with a gesture. "Labeled with our
names. But the telemetry isn't that of a conscious person; it seems
much more similar to that of a human dreaming. Even mine."
"Nothing that's not restricted access. And I'm having trouble looking
things up. The system's a bit different from what I'm used to."
Lestrade muttered a few words which Watson, like a gentleman, ignored.
"....And next thing, somebody'll be asking me to choose which color of
pill to take!" She broke off. "Watson, guard the door. I need to get up
close and personal with this computer. Now."
"Be my guest, Inspector."
Lestrade started hacking away. The first thing that struck her was
how slow and storage-poor the computer was. It wasn't a matrix
or even holographic, and all the files were in antiquated formats
that Watson would never have been programmed to understand.
Fortunately, that meant that the security was equally antiquated,
and Lestrade found her fingers flying to really ancient dodges, so
old she couldn't even remember why she knew them. Probably'd run
across them on the net archives when she was a kid and downloaded
But that didn't matter, because she was in, and finding
still more telemetry, from a group of people who had microphones
channeled into a voice recognition system. They seemed to be talking
about...well, everything. The way the world worked. Whatever they
said went onto the net, or into the files for News on Demand. And
News on Demand seemed to be...an algorithm that generated the
newscaster? Well, Lestrade'd joked about the newscaster being an
artificial person before, but....
"What if the world _was_ artificial?" she muttered to Watson as she
worked. "How would we know? And if we found out, how could we wake
"Beth," Watson said uneasily, "are you sure you're quite well?"
"Quite," she said crisply. "Now, if I were running an artificial world,
where would I hide the exit switch?"
She heard footsteps running down the hall. "Holmes or Moriarty?" she
asked Watson, not bothering to look up from her work.
"Moriarty, I'm afraid," Watson said quietly.
Lestrade said nothing. Her fingers flew faster. The sound of ionisers
filled the air, but she kept typing. Then she stopped. "Zed it all,
what's the object of this game?" she demanded absently.
"To win, my dear Lestrade," said Moriarty urbanely.
Time had run out. She suddenly realized that her ears had registered
the sound of Watson's losing fight, but she had had no attention to
spare. She knew that soon she would feel guilt for that and sorrow for
Holmes, but right now she had no time. She kept paging down with
one hand, reading Fenwick's files. "Ah, but how _do_ you win?"
"By sweeping one's opponents from the board, as I have done."
Her hand snaked out to her ionizer and fired at Moriarty before he
She stood up and saw the master criminal writhing in the coils of
her ionizer. "That's right. And I win."
And suddenly the world wavered and went away.
"Are you all right, miss?"
"Agent," another voice corrected. "Special Agent Akimori, you can
wake up now. You won."
"I won?" she murmured. She reluctantly raised her eyelids. The light
was ungodly bright, and she flinched and closed them again. Patterns
flared on her eyelids, dancing like the lights on her cruiser.
"Normal dilation," the voice said with satisfaction. "I don't think
the drugs he administered to her did any permanent damage," it
explained to someone else. "Hopefully the others will be just as
"Drugs? Damage? The others?" She stopped and rubbed her head. "No. My
name's not Akimori. It's Lestra...." She stopped again. "No. It is
Akimori. Elizabeth Akimori. And I was born in the year 1970. What's
"A lot," another voice, a male one, said dryly. "But opening up your
eyes would be a start."
She cautiously shaded her eyes first. No more bright lights attacked,
so she turned and looked. She was in an old motel room, but there were
cables and sensors and saline things all around. Police were everywhere,
both inside the room and roaming out in the hall, and there seemed to
be an awful lot of EMTs and their equipment as well. The short
redheaded woman bending over her wore a suit, but she felt like law
enforcement. The shorter guy with the fingerless gloves felt more
like a computer guy. She was sure she knew him, but she couldn't
think of his name.
"Special Agent Dana Scully. I'm a doctor. Follow my finger with your
eyes, not your head, if you would...good. What's the last thing you
remember?" the woman asked.
"I figured out the game and captured Moriarty before...." she said
automatically, then stopped. "But that's not what you mean, is it."
"No." The woman traded glances with the short man, then turned back.
The woman's voice grew kinder. "Take your time. The drugs are still
in your system."
No, not Beth Lestrade, she thought slowly. Elizabeth Akimori.
And suddenly the years clicked into place, and it was Beth Lestrade
who seemed the stranger, and the year was 2003.
"I was chasing a cracker," she said. "Martin Chuzlwik, he calls
himself, and I've been trying to take him down for years. But he
finally got careless. I couldn't get backup quick enough, so I came
after him myself." She glanced around her. "Guess that was pretty
"You'd been on his trail so long, he knew you as well as you knew
him," the man answered, trading wry glances with the woman. "We're
familiar with the problem. Anyway, he'd obviously been planning this
for a long time, to capitalize on his Victorian fixation and your
"You work for the Bureau. Your disappearance was noticed. It let us
connect him to all the others he captured. And we've got him now."
"Better make sure," Akimori said with sudden paranoia. "Let me see
"You've been drugged for two weeks. You shouldn't be getting up just
yet," Agent Scully told her.
"I can walk." Akimori slid off the bed and stood up shakily before
anyone could stop her. "Show me where he is," she demanded, looking
down at them from all of five foot eight.
Scully looked indignant, but the man laughed. "The immovable redhead
meets the irresistable nethead."
What would that little con Deidre have said? "I won't be able to rest
until I've seen him," Akimori tried.
Agent Scully raised her eyes briefly to heaven. "Call me when she
collapses, Frohike. I'll be down the hall." She left, high heels
clicking with irritation.
"She's pretty worried. A couple of her friends were trapped in here,
not to mention those three kids." The older man extended his arm to
her, and she took it automatically. "Good work on tracking Chuzlwik,
by the way. That guy was a real nuisance. But how did somebody as
talented as you wind up working for the Bureau, instead of doing
real programming?" he asked, walking her slowly out of the room and
down the hall.
"Somebody has to get rid of the nuisances," her mouth said as if of
old habit. She hated feeling so weak, but she refused to lean on the
man. "Where is he?"
"In here. And not in too good of shape, either."
A man sat slumped over at a computer desk. Saline and drugs were
plugged into his arm, and wires into his head. Paramedics stood over
him, doing their best, but from the orders they were snapping to each
other, his prospects obviously weren't good.
She peered at his face, when she could see it between bodies. It was
Martin Fenwick, his looks greatly improved...no, Chuzlwik! She
shuddered and turned away.
"That what you wanted to see?" The short man's voice was gentle.
"No," she said quietly. What she wanted to see was Baker Street, and
Watson with tea, and Holmes explaining everything in urbane tones.
"But I had to."
He patted her shoulder. "C'mon, kid. Let's get you out of here."
He led her further down the hall and she leaned on his arm without
shame. She felt tired and sick to her soul. Beth Lestrade would have
done something -- fought, argued, yelled at the top of her voice --
but she wasn't Beth Lestrade. Lestrade was a lie, like the rest of
her world. Like the Irregulars, and Greyson, and Watson. Like Holmes.
And yet, he had seemed so real! His voice still rang in her ears as
he sent her away to...to kill them all, do worse than Moriarty could.
She had destroyed the world. He was nothing but the ghost of an
illusion, but she could still hear his elegant tones....
She stopped dead in her tracks, unable to look into the doorway
they were about to pass.
"It was a truly incredible enterprise," said a familiar
voice. "How could such an small-minded and evil creature create such a
diverse and wondrous world?"
"The same way Hollywood does. He used other people's brains to do it
for him," a stranger answered in a monotone.
"Come on," the short man said, pulling at her arm. She shook him off
"But the people there were so real!" Watson insisted, his voice not
metallic but warm and human. "Inspector Lestrade, for example...."
"My dear Watson." The voice was so familiar, but she had seldom heard
so controlled. "You will do me a favor if you never mention Miss
Lestrade to me again." His voice grew quieter. "I should have known
such a woman was a creature of fiction. Indeed, she was always too
good to be true."
Her mouth twisted with annoyance, and she stepped forward briskly
into the room. "Too good to be true? Fictional? Zed, Holmes, I'm
not even that unusual!"
Watson jumped up when he saw her. "Beth! You're alive! You're real!"
Forgetful of all Victorian gravitas, he took her by the hands and
danced her around the room. He looked trimmer than he'd ever seemed
in the old photos -- a bit worn by his ordeal, but delight put color
in his cheeks. "But my dear girl, I had no idea you were an
She didn't take any offense; it was a fairly obvious observation.
"And you look rather nonmetallic -- not to mention being pretty young
for a man of a hundred and fifty or so. Shouldn't you be...well...dead?"
"Dead? Without an obituary in the Times? As for the looks, well, that
was Holmes' little experiment with the royal jelly. Tell her, Holmes!"
he said, motioning over her shoulder.
She turned, still clutching Watson's kindly hands. Holmes sat there,
looking equally well-preserved. His luxurious sideburns were gone and
he had lost the first bloom of youth, but noone would have guessed him
to be a day older than thirty. His eyes were a very dark blue, and
they bored into hers as he slowly rose from his bed and paced to her
"Your name is not Lestrade, surely, and you don't work for Scotland
She shook her head slowly. "Special Agent Elizabeth Akimori," she
admitted. "I work computer crime for the FBI. But I'm just a computer
geek, not a buttkicking nametaker like Lestrade."
He took her hand, turned it over, and looked at the musculature of
her palm. "Yes, here are the signs of keyboard use...but you also
practice some martial art, do you not?"
"Well, I know a little karate, if that's what you mean."
"She's got a second-degree black belt, Holmes," the monotone guy
added helpfully. "Not to mention nearly as many commendations as I
used to get."
Holmes' face twitched in annoyance, and he turned his head. "As
much as I appreciate your rescue, Mulder, you are now very much de
trop. Go elsewhere."
"But I need to know...."
She wanted to watch the little drama unfolding beside her, but she
could not stop staring at Holmes' face, living and real. Once those
eyes turned back to hers, she could not have moved if she wanted to.
And she did not want to.
Watson's hands disengaged gently from hers. "Come along, young Mulder.
You can interrogate our Beth later." His voice faded away with the
sounds of two sets of footsteps. "Much later, if I have anything to
say about it!"
Holmes cleared his throat. "Lestrade...Akimori, I mean...."
"Just call me Beth," she suggested quietly.
"I would like that," he said, his voice deepening.
"So would I."
They stared at each other for a moment.
Holmes cleared his throat again. "Chuzlwik called you Lestrade as a
taunt, Beth. He meant you to be an ineffectual fool, unable to solve
a mystery on your own. But although he could stack the deck against
you, he could not destroy your native ability. Little did he know!"
He brightened. "I'm only sorry that I missed seeing you defeat him
and Moriarty. I should have liked to have seen their faces."
"I'm just glad you're all right. When I thought you were dead...."
"Moriarty didn't kill me. He just brought out one of those
confounded grenades he'd filled with tear gas. You and Watson were
in danger, and all I could do was choke."
Their eyes locked again.
Time spun around her, and suddenly it didn't matter who she was or
what world she was in. She wanted this man who wanted her, and she
meant to have him before anything or anyone else could interfere.
She flung herself into his arms, knowing that he would catch her.
Her lips captured his, and he utterly failed to resist her.
She couldn't help one ignoble thought, before all thought
vanished from her head: So much for Irene Adler!
After a timeless time, their faces parted. Holmes' hand curled around
her cheek. "Beth," he breathed.
She leaned into him. "Not interested in women?" she carolled. "Boy,
you sure can't believe everything you read."
"You are but a speck upon the lens of my intellect," he pronounced
solemnly, then kissed her brow. "An adorable distraction." He kissed
her nose. "A weak creature who, despite being the better shot and
fighter, stands in constant need of my protection." He kissed her
eyes. "Clearly I will have to marry you just to...."
She found a way to shut him up.
Characters and situations from The X-Files
belong to Chris Carter, Ten-Thirteen, and Fox. The Matrix
ain't mine, either, but I liked it.
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