Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dark World: The Assassin Unmasked

(The story begins here.)

“It’s really quite simple once you realize it’s complicated,” Dr. Fleming mused.

“I should know better,” Dvorak muttered from his wheelchair, “but that still sounds like gibberish.”

Dr. Fleming smiled with satisfaction as he surveyed the group. “You still don’t remember what happened?”


“A result of the shock, no doubt. However, the facts are clear: you were stabbed from behind in an unprofessional fashion, your assailant is not obvious, and the weapon was left behind—no doubt deliberately, given the blatantly obvious clue of the crest. Also, though the attack was stealthy, it still failed remarkably: the strong thrust of the knife became a glancing blow, and no coup de grace followed. Why?

“The answer is clear: the assassin did not know the attack had failed—because the attacker was a machine.” He paused while Darren restrained Antonin. “Ignorant of the failure, the machine completed its predetermined mission with a concealment phase.”

“Where were the instructions for the machine?” Dvorak asked.

“You said Antonin wouldn’t harm Dvorak,” Darren commented, “so I suppose that’s out.”

“Correct,” Dr. Fleming said. “At least for the most part. Actually, Antonin helped save Dvorak’s life—and so did we.” He paused for reaction, but Dvorak evidently wanted him to get it over with, as did Lassiter, and Antonin was brooding silently. “Remember what you said about the problem of not knowing what a machine would encounter? An unknown can destroy any pre-arranged plan, and the murderer did not allow for two unknowns: first, our arrival with Lassiter, which delayed Karel enough that he put off the trial run until morning. Ordinarily he would have run the tests alone in the evening after dismissing Antonin: he wouldn’t want a disapproving critic on hand until he was sure of the device. So he would have lain there for several hours, quite possibly until morning, by which time loss of blood would have killed him, if not the severity of the wounds.

“Second, the distant killer did not foresee what Antonin decided to do—I suspect it was a last-minute inspiration anyway. Antonin was up during the night, which wasn’t unusual, and he had access to the workroom. It wouldn’t have been difficult to add a few cards to the waiting stack.”

“I would not kill the master!” Antonin roared, shaken from his sullen stupor.

“Of course not; we’ve settled that. But you might decide to give him a scare. What would he say if his great achievement attacked him? It wouldn’t actually harm him, though it might shove him or bruise him. You could rush in and fire on the machine, partly destroying the evidence—and if Karel were sufficiently dazed, you might be able to remove the incriminating cards as well. But you saved his life: your attack must have come just before the attempted murder, and it knocked Karel out of position. I’ve checked, and I’m virtually positive that if he had been normally positioned when the dagger struck, it would have penetrated his heart. But he was shoved less than a second before, so he received only a flesh wound. It was really man versus man, but the machine both threatened and saved him.”

“This is all very clever,” Dvorak said, staring suspiciously at his assistant, “perhaps even true. But you still haven’t explained how the machine got the homicidal instructions—or why there were no bloodstains on the manipulator arms.”

“That’s the most ingenious part,” Dr. Fleming replied.

Next: The Master's Voice

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