(The story begins here.)
“As I investigated,” Dr. Fleming continued, “I came to a curious conclusion: none of the manipulator arms was in quite the right place for the attack. They can move, of course, but the angle wasn’t quite right: they aren’t made for stabbing downward. They didn’t have the proper bloodstains, though the dagger was bloody and would have been worse had it struck its intended target.
“Then I noticed this section of the machine—there’s a nearly invisible seam, and I thought it was a door. But it’s welded shut.”
“That’s a support,” Dvorak said. “It can’t be hollow and bear the weight and torque of the mechanism.”
“I doubt the mechanism would’ve seen much use after your death, but I agree that it is no longer hollow. For it was also quite warm to the touch—it must have been very hot at first. So this is what I think happened: the arm and dagger emerged from this niche and made the attack. Then the arm dropped the dagger and returned to the niche, probably triggering a thermite charge or something similar. The arm had been nestled among metal blocks that the thermite melted, thus covering the arm in molten metal that later solidified.”
“But the cards—”
“There were no cards. When you activated the machine, your position was predictable; all the killer needed was for an arm to shoot out and down with a knife. The blow knocked the knife loose, the arm retracted, and the thermite fired and encased the arm in molten metal. The device had no more need for a punched card than a mousetrap does.”
“You are asserting nonsense,” Dvorak shot back. “There’s no proof—”
Dr. Fleming had opened the cabinet-like machine and began probing the interior. “I think there is. The circuit formed when the cards were loaded included a branch to the trap. So there should be a line about here… Yes! See this wire?”
“Very clever,” a metallic voice called from the machine. “But you have only forced me to trade subtlety for ruthless efficiency.”
Darren had one of those flashes of insight that had kept him alive many times in his brief existence. He seized Dr. Fleming’s arm and ran for the door. Lassiter, warned either by a similar revelation or Darren’s actions, was already through the door, and Antonin’s guardian instincts led him to haul Dvorak through backwards in the wheelchair. Darren and his friend were just past the threshold.
“Goodbye, my friend,” came the voice. As the two men pushed on the door, a blast shook them.
1 year ago