'An egg cannot break a stone.'
John stared. No, he gawped. The Hub, as Ace called it, was was indescribable. The ceiling was at least four storeys above his head, and he hadn't even descended to the lower level he could just see across the room. From the floor-to-ceiling cylinder in the centre to the workstations scattered about, the place was full of technology both familiar and foreign. Or, more accurately, alien. The only remotely ordinary thing there was what looked like a glass-walled conference room up two flights of open stairs.
"I hope this isn't being funded by taxes," snarked Greg. He folded his arms over his chest and glared. Despite his youthened state, John could see the beginnings of the crow's feet that usually accompanied that expression.
"You're a bundle of fun, you know that?" Ace shot back at him. She planted her motorcycle helmet on the sofa that stood against a wall that looked more like an Underground station than a high-tech secret government base.
"You should have heard him in the car," Martha said. "I almost want to RetCon myself so I can purge all his complaining from my memory."
Mickey and Ace laughed. Greg continued to glare. John continued to gawp.
Sherlock sulked. Just as he had the entire drive from London to Cardiff. He'd practically hidden inside his overcoat. John would have thought that with so much to observe in this place he would have perked up. Apparently his adolescent appearance had come with an adolescent attitude.
"All right," Ace went on. "Martha, take our guests for a full med screening. Mickey, you and I will get on the artefact and see what we can learn."
The med scan turned out not to be nearly as invasive as John had expected.
"Handy to have alien diagnostic technology," Martha said with a smile.
"If it's 'alien', how do you know it's diagnosing humans properly?" asked John.
"We've made modifications," was her cryptic answer. "And according to the data, you are a perfectly healthy 20-year-old. There's evidence of past injuries, since healed. You had a rough and tumble childhood, didn't you?"
Her remark was off-hand but hit too close to home for John's comfort. "Something like that."
"You can get that specific?" Greg asked.
"Yep. For instance, your current physical age is currently 27. You broke your left arm at maybe 13? If I'm reading this correctly, anyway. It's a bit of a challenge to sort out with the age regression you've gone through."
"I was twelve, actually," he reluctantly confirmed. "But what about more recent injuries? I've had plenty of since joining the force. Broken fingers, cracked ribs."
"No sign of anything recent."
Sherlock spoke for the first time since entering the Hub. "John. Your shoulder."
John had wondered if that would come up. He probably should have wondered when it would come up. "It's fine."
"What is it?" Martha gave them both a puzzled frown. No one answered her.
John pulled off his knit jumper and began to undo the buttons on his shirt. Slowly he pulled the fabric away to reveal perfectly healthy, unscarred flesh.
Sherlock stared at it. He nodded sharply. "Right. Of course. It makes as much sense as everything else. Good. Fine."
"Sherlock--" John tried again.
Ace interrupted then. Leaning over the railing above the medical area, she said, "We've got something. Come have a look. Nice pecs," she added to John with a wink.
He blushed and quickly buttoned up his shirt, then followed the others up the stairs.
"The best we can figure, the device erases the physical evidence of roughly 22 Earth years. It's old Chula tech. Pre-nanogene era," Ace explained.
"Assuming that's true--" Greg began.
"What the hell is the point?"
Mickey pulled up a computer file and the largest screen in the place lit up with data. Sherlock's eyes locked onto it, observing everything and, presumably, logging it into his mind palace for later review. "Chula are a warrior race, right? Seems like a reasonable method of extending the usefulness of anyone going into battle. Of course, when they developed nanogenes that pretty much immediately heal any wound or illness, this thing would've become obsolete."
"So the three of us are all more than two decades younger than we were this morning?" John asked.
"How do we reverse it?" Sherlock demanded.
"I was gonna ask why you'd want to," Mickey answered lightly, "but I can kind of see that, looking at you."
John's reflexes were always good, but at 20 they were excellent. Lucky for Mickey, otherwise he'd have taken a painful right hook from the consulting detective. Scrawny as he was at present, Sherlock was still shockingly strong.
"Easy, man! I was just kidding, all right?"
"Not all right!" Sherlock shouted, struggling to get out of John's grasp.
"Oy!" yelled Ace, interposing herself between the flailing teen and her teammate. "Back off!"
"Sherlock. Sherlock! Calm down!"
Finally, he stopped fighting and John cautiously let him go. Sherlock yanked at his coat, wrapping it around himself and looking like nothing so much as a giant bug in a dark, tweed cocoon.
"I have to think. Somewhere quiet."
"Use the conference room upstairs," offered Ace, keeping a wary eye on him. "It's soundproof and there's a couch if you want it."
Without a thank-you, Sherlock bounded up the steps and into the conference room, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Greg leaned in to John and said softly, "This is absolutely the wrong time, but I have to ask. What's with his hair?"
John answered him just as quietly. "It got darker as he got older. I've seen photos of his childhood. The Holmes boys started out life as tow-heads. But I never expected ginger."
Martha looked up at the conference room with a worried expression on her face. "Are you sure one of you shouldn't go talk to him? He seems really upset."
"How old did that device of yours say he is?"
"Yeah. I'll pass thanks."
"But that's just physical age," she protested.
"There's a Berber saying I learned from a friend in the Army: 'An egg cannot break a stone.'" John pointed up at Sherlock, barley visible where he sprawled on the sofa in the glass-walled room. "Right now, I'm the egg, and that's the stone. So, since it looks like we're going to be here for a while, could we maybe get a cup of tea?"