Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dark World: Mysteriouser and mysteriouser

(The story begins here.)

“You recognize the dagger?” Darren asked.

“The crest,” Lassiter replied. “It was on some of the stuff that belonged to Althaus and his friends. Some society or other.”

“That figures,” Dr. Fleming muttered. “A pointer to an obvious enemy.”

“You don’t believe it?” Darren asked.

“I’m undecided. It’s both credible and convenient.”

“It’s not that credible,” Darren stated. “A real assassin wouldn’t attack that way.” Seeing the doctor’s look, he said, “Go ahead and strike at me the way the attacker did.”

Dr. Fleming complied, miming a downward arc that Darren easily blocked; then Darren sent a right hook less than an inch from the doctor’s chin. “I could have put a knife anywhere I wanted in your chest, stomach, or throat,” he added helpfully.

“Karel was attacked from behind.”

“It doesn’t matter; anyone used to a knife would attack like this.” And Darren poked his fist horizontally toward the doctor. “See how much harder that is to block? And it’s faster: while you’re drawing back for that dramatic downward sweep, I can launch a lethal attack of my own. No, this was an amateur job—or meant to look like one.”

Lassiter had resumed work on his sandwich. “He’s right—I’ve seen some real knife fights, and they keep it horizontal, with thrusts, not downward sweeps.” He popped the last mouthful in just as a chime sounded.

“Dvorak’s amazing machine has finally decided that he’s out of danger,” Dr. Fleming muttered. “A real doctor would’ve figured that out some time ago, but it’s not bad for an automaton.”

Lassiter frowned. “I hope Antonin doesn’t double-check it. He wasn’t happy playing cook while his boss was in that traveling coffin.”

“It’s not that easy to trust an important job to a machine,” the doctor murmured as he absently ran his hand over the ornate surface of the automaton.

“Maybe that’s because we know it’s a blind, inferior version of its creator,” Darren suggested.

“What do you mean?” Dr. Fleming asked as he began to explore the cabinet-like structure more carefully.

“These things of Dvorak’s try to incorporate his knowledge and skill into a machine that acts in circumstances he couldn’t completely foresee. It’s like trying to guide someone with no medical knowledge through surgery—and doing it over the telephone. It’s worse, really, because at least the novice surgeon can ask questions. Dvorak had to guess at all the possible situations, which is humanly impossible.”

“Brilliant,” Dr. Fleming cried as he continued his probe now of the machine’s interior.

“Thank you,” Darren said, abashed.

“Not you, the scheme—though you can be assistant genius for the day if it pleases you. I think I know what happened.”

Next: The Assassin Unmasked

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