Before Holmes Met Watson (a novel) — Prologue

Sherlock Holmes was a thing of the shadows. He was also the bearer of the light that drove out the darkness. Living out this paradox could be quite stressful. Obfuscation. Lies. Deceit. He had always been fascinated by people’s attempts to subvert the truth while living in a world in which there were cameras everywhere, constantly recording, sending everything back to The Archive, where anything governments or other powerful entities hadn’t obscured was searchable. Everyone could see everything, know everything about everyone else. “The Age of Transparency” was how the headlines had heralded The Archive coming online. Mendacity now took careful planning. Saying you were working late when you were really at a seedy motel rolling around on the bed with a colleague was a nearly impossible sell now. As were most forms of impersonation. The ubiquity of biometric readers employed to do everything from unlock doors to sign for packages meant most impostors quickly set off alarms when The Archive recognised someone was in two places at once. It had become so difficult to hide, and detective work was about uncovering concealment. The spotlights The Archive shone into people’s lives made Sherlock’s illuminating insights seem like a flickering candle, and he feared he was obsolete.

As a boy, Sherlock would spend hours upon hours neglecting his school assignments to browse the Personal Archive Files of strangers. He watched in fascination as the chain reactions of their ill deeds accelerated towards their explosive finales. All the evidence was there. The outcomes were predictable, yet the affairs, the embezzling, the betrayals always seemed to blindside the victims. They see, but they do not observe, Sherlock often thought. More damningly, they thought The Archive could do the observing for them. Everyone was watching everyone else all the time, so the misapprehension wasn’t wholly unreasonable. Nevertheless, it didn’t erase the simple consequence: Sherlock Holmes was a detective who almost never had any cases to solve. If you are what you do, what did it mean that he was constantly doing nothing?

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John Watson was a doctor and a soldier. He lived and worked in a war zone. He saved the dying and on rare occasions had to pick up a gun and kill the living. He’d been trained well to do both. He preferred the former. There were moments when John was alone that it seemed to him his life was some sort of dream or even a simulation. War was terrible and chaotic and hellish. It was also thoroughly ludicrous. There was always something to do, though, and that left you with little time to realise that nothing made sense. The why of the fight was impossible to appreciate when you were in the valley of death. And when you stepped away far enough to look in at the mass slaughter, you realised the why was never good enough, and the true insanity was anyone thinking the depth of the suffering was justified. John struggled with the contradiction in himself: he was a healer and a killer. There was something he enjoyed about the risk of standing next to that yawning, dark abyss. He tried to ignore that part of himself and focus on the bit that spent exhausting hours in the operating theatre patching up the wounded. He thought of himself as a surgeon first, but his title belied that. Everyone called him Captain Watson.

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Harrison Kitteridge

Written by

Writer, prisoner of hope. | Author of BEFORE HOLMES MET WATSON and SHERLOCK HOLMES & THE ADVENTURE OF THE PAPER JOURNAL│ www.harrisonkitteridge.com

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