Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dark World: Helpers of Hephaestus

(The story begins here.)

Dvorak’s assistant led the way to a kind of workroom. He unlocked the door and made a point of examining the area minutely, gun in hand, to Dvorak’s evident displeasure.

“Antonin! Enough! This is the most secure room in the manor; if anyone but us enters it, he will not repeat the mistake.”

Darren halted immediately, his foot just before the threshold. Dr. Fleming brushed past him into the room. “Don’t worry, Darren; we’re with them. It’s coming alone that would prove disastrous.”

Antonin glanced back. “Yet caution is wise—especially before the unknown.”

Darren entered the room and looked around. “This place calls for caution. All those arms jutting from walls and ceiling as though strange beings were trying to emerge from bondage!”

Dvorak chuckled. “In a way they are. This is Hephaestus’ workroom, you might say, and he built metal workmen to help in his labors. I hope someday to produce freestanding workers, but for now they remain imprisoned in the walls, reaching out only hand and arm to assist their creator.”

“Hephaestus was crippled.”

“Our ignorance cripples us all. Only Science can cure us. These partial beings are part of that cure: they help me not only build new units but conduct experiments. Soon I hope to supervise them in surgery—work too precise for the inexact hand of man. And it’s all done by humble cards.” He pulled out a small drawer to reveal a precise stack of cards. “Would you believe that this stack is really another arm, one with a cutting torch, waiting for me to call it forth? And with this new reader, my assistants shall become even more powerful.” He gestured toward something that looked like a large desk with a wardrobe at one side. “The precision of this instrument shows the true promise of the concept. It can thread a needle quite easily, and with the proper operator, even the most delicate surgery becomes child’s play.”

Dr. Fleming eyed the contraption with mild puzzlement. “It’s rather ornate, isn’t it? All those knobs and excrescences—I didn’t think either of you went in for such things.”

Dvorak scowled slightly. “We don’t. Producing this required skill beyond our own. It’s the work of a colleague, though we provided the more important components. Unfortunately the man had an assistant with Victorian tastes who decided to show off his skills by adding all these embellishments. If I hadn’t been in a hurry to test it, I would’ve broken them off and filed them down.”

“What kind of test?” the doctor asked.

Dvorak laughed. “I had suggested that I could at last get a proper haircut. Antonin considered it too risky, but he was not willing to offer his own head in place of mine. So instead I shall use it to craft a delicate component its own builder would find challenging. I already have the card set prepared; all I need do is enter the cards, set the initial position, and watch the finest craftsman never born.”

“You’ll do that tonight?”

“Tomorrow; it’s getting late, and I want to be fresh for the experiment. Besides, there’s the small matter of your patient to be settled. You wanted him restrained?”

“He is capable of great feats of strength and ferocity, and I would like to try provoking such an episode while he is properly restrained and monitored.”

“He has no more than average strength.”

“He can. . .transform,” Dr. Fleming ventured. “In the other state, his strength is superhuman.”

“If he can ‘transform,’ as you call it, perhaps you should take him to Dr. Newman; transformation is his specialty, not mine.”

“Your facilities are better, and I would like to avoid any sensationalism if possible.”

“Very well. We can make arrangements while Antonin helps your friend prepare your quarters.”

Next: The Werewolf Who Came to Dinner

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