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Posted as [ profile] serenissima on 25 December 2007 in the [ profile] yuletide exchange.

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Title: Calculation
Author: killalla
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes/The Baroque Cycle
Rating: G

Spoilers: For all three books of The Baroque Cycle, and most of Sherlock Holmes canon, including The Final Problem and The Empty House.
Author’s Note: This story was inspired by Sherlock Holmes Society of London lecture on Mathematics in Canon. The speaker referred to the fact that Professor James Moriarty had initially gained academic recognition for his treatise on the binomial theorem, which he noted had in fact been discovered by one Isaac Newton a few centuries earlier. From there, the calculation, as they say, was a simple one.
Summary: Perhaps mathematics really is the most dangerous discipline of them all.

“It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring forever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing forever upward, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour. We stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.” – The Final Problem

After a long time, a man pulled himself from the roiling waters at the base of the falls. Retching and choking, he vomited a large quantity of water over the jagged rock which lined the pool, and wearily began to pick his way along the muddy, treacherous riverbed, his left arm handing limp at his side.

By the time he had reached the comfort of his inn, bathed, changed into dry clothing, and bound his arm up in a sling, his pain had greatly decreased. He was considering the merits of packing and leaving at once, when the landlord knocked on his door with the news that he had a visitor. He sighed. So, there was to be a reckoning, after all. “Come in, Doctor Waterhouse – or should I say Watson?”

The man at the door was middle aged and heavyset, conservatively dressed in the style of a travelling English gentleman, with a full and an impressive moustache. He wore an expression of perplexity and wonderment. “So, it is you then?”

“Honestly, Daniel, must you be so predictable?” The speaker waved his companion into one of the two large chairs that sat before the fire, where a cheerful blaze was just beginning to warm the room. “Will you have something to drink? The brandy is not particularly good here, but I am sure the landlord would stretch to a pot of coffee.”

“Nothing for me, thank you.” Daniel Waterhouse, who for the past fifteen years or so had answered to the pseudonym “John H. Watson,” set down his coat and hat, and then collapsed heavily into the chair. “When Holmes first mentioned you, I began to wonder, especially with the mention of the binomial theorem – that wasn’t very subtle you know, Isaac. Even I could guess.”

“Bah.” Newton swept aside the tails on his coat with one hand as he seated himself on the opposite chair. “No-one but you and Gottfried were likely to notice, they never pay attention to mathematics these days.”

“Is that why you felt it necessary to turn to criminal enterprises?”

“If you are referring to the flattering title you protégé has bestowed upon me, he overstates the case.” Newton ran a hand across his forehead, resting it there for a moment. “I met Bonaparte while he was in exile in Elba, just before the hundred days. He had a much better grasp of strategy and tactics than I ever would, although I fancy what he lacked was vision – he could not see the shape of the future that was emerging.”

“I do not think there is a man in Europe who can see the shape of the future as you do, Isaac.” Daniel focused on a wall panel just above his head. “But surely that should be a reason to support the rule of law and order, not to promote chaos through a network of blackmail, intimidation, bribery, theft and murder!”

“How so? Do you think that the mere fact of its existence necessarily makes a government just? The system of the world, our system, extends beyond the petty concerns of nation and state, and if there are those who would seek to constrain it, well then, other methods must be found.” Isaac sighed. “It is always a disappointment to me when otherwise promising intellects fail to grasp that concept.”

“You refer to Holmes.”

“You’ve done a good job of grooming him, Daniel, and supporting him – much as you once supported me.” Isaac smiled very briefly, as that memory passed over his face. “And I don’t doubt that you have dropped the occasional hint about the system, or the shape of things to come. But until your detective is able to step beyond the bounds of his narrow logic and embrace an altogether stranger world, he will never achieve his true potential. And he will never be able to match me. After all, time is on my side.”

“Touché.” Daniel shook his head, ruefully. “Still, I expect you were rather put out when Holmes managed to break your syndicate.”

“It was an experiment, nothing more, and now it is over. It is time to be someone new. What will you do, then, will you wait for your detective?”

“You know, I think I will have a glass of brandy after all.” Daniel stood, and walked over to the sideboard, where a tray, glasses and gasogene sat beside the crystal decanter. “Will you have something, Isaac?”

“Just a splash – no water, thank you, I’ve ingested quite enough this afternoon.” Newton extended his good arm to accept the glass that was offered to him and inhaled deeply. “I doubt I’ll sleep at all, otherwise. I do find that death, or near-death experiences tend to leave one uncommonly energized in the aftermath. Indeed, I surmise that it is actually akin to a mental process of rebirth – and a new life, or at least a new identity is created as a result. Certainly, this is the case for those who, like us, have partaken of that particular elixir. But even in ordinary men, a brush with death is likely to precipitate often radical changes in beliefs, appearance and habit.”

Daniel sat down again, cradling his own glass. “But you haven’t changed that much over the past century or so, Isaac – you’re still brilliant, arrogant, insufferable and completely convinced of the superiority of your own ideas.”

Newton laughed. “Ah, Doctor Waterhouse. Always ready to set me in my place.”

“But, you have changed a little – just now, when you laughed. The old Isaac would have been positively indignant and tried to argue the point. Perhaps it’s just that you can take heart in the fact that you could simply have me killed, or at least tortured in several nasty ways. You’re more emotional now, but at the same time colder. It suits you.” Daniel shook his head. “The hair doesn’t, though.”

“I will admit to a twinge of vanity at its loss.” Isaac brushed a hand along his scalp. With the appearance of a balding crown and a prominent forehead, he had an almost reptilian look. “It was always natural, you know – I never in all my days required a wig. But, your Victorian gentleman does not favour the long hair of our youth, so I must adopt the appropriate camouflage.”

“You’re thinner, too.”

“While, you dear Doctor, have if anything become more robust. It’s delightful, and entirely suited, the moustache especially.” Newton looked across at his companion, and for just a moment, those cold eyes softened. “You never do change much, do you, Daniel?”

“Despite my own death or near-death – first in London, and then in India, and later in Afghanistan, I’m still the same stubborn old fool. It is my only virtue. Well, that and patience, I suppose.” Waterhouse drained his glass and set it down on the floor. “So in answer to your earlier question, yes, I will wait. I will go back to London, and tell the world of the death of the world’s greatest detective and the world’s most notorious criminal mastermind. And then I will resume my medical practice and my writing, and I will wait and see. What will you do?”

“Oh, a new identity, I think – although it has been rather enjoyable being a ‘criminal mastermind’ as you so dramatically describe it. The system of the world is beginning to take shape, but I fear that there will be many obstacles and conflicts before it comes into being.” Isaac gestured to his bandaged arm. “I’ll have to wait until I finish healing up, of course, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. Perhaps I’ll go to Berlin and see what Leibniz is doing these days.” He took another sip of brandy, and then paused, as if steeling himself. For a just a moment, the greatest mind in Europe almost looked uncertain. “Everything changes, Daniel, and we must change with it. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to come with me?”

Isaac said nothing more, but Daniel could hear the unspoken argument in his head, as compelling and as persuasive as ever. On the loose in London, wandering across the continent, making new discoveries and finding new adventures. Back together again, just Daniel and Isaac, just like old times. But no, not this time. “As you say, Isaac, everything changes, and I must change as well. So I’m going to refuse you, at least this once. I am going to London. When Holmes comes back, if he comes back – well, if he wants me, I am his.”

If Newton was hurt or angered by this response, he gave no sign. In fact if anything, the expression on his face was thoughtful, almost amused as he raised an eyebrow at his old friend and companion. “And what happens after that?”

“Then, we find out how long forever lasts. After all, it’s all down to your system, isn’t it?” Daniel rose, and put on his coat. He picked up his hat, and there was an awkward moment as he contemplated attempting to embrace Isaac. But the impulse passed. “Goodbye.”

Isaac nodded gravely, but said nothing, remaining motionless until the door clicked shut, and Daniel’s steps could be heard retreating down the hall. Then he raised his head and whispered softly to the empty room. “Not goodbye, my dear Doctor, but au revoir – until we meet again, whether in this world, or the one to come.”
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