5: The Art of the Matter

Count Scarlioni smiled as he looked around the lounge at the small gathering. His wife, Hermann and three of their hired men stood at his side as he placed a device similar in appearance to a small film projector on the table beside him.

‘A truly remarkable piece of equipment, I think you'll agree.’ He reached out and took the bracelet from his wife. Opening a compartment in the top of the projector, he slotted it snugly inside. ‘It makes the impossible,’ he said as he turned the device on, ‘possible.’

The Countess felt a shiver run up her spine.

Scarlioni continued. ‘Perhaps Professor Kerensky should be here to see it. I should like him to know that whilst he is undoubtedly a genius, the man he is working for is altogether more clever.’

Hermann spoke on cue. ‘Without question, Sir. Shall I go and fetch the Professor, Excellency?’

‘Yes,’ the Count responded, then after a moment's thought, changed his mind. ‘Ah, no. I wouldn't want to disturb the work... besides, I don't think the Professor would be very amused!’

The members of the little gathering chuckled knowingly at this. The Count looked around at their expectant faces. ‘Are we ready?’

Hermann nodded. ‘Yes, Excellency.’

‘Then let us begin.’ Hermann dimmed the lights in the room whilst the Count activated the machine. There was a momentary bright flash of light and they all shielded their eyes. When they looked again, the room had entirely transformed and now resembled the area of the Louvre in which the Mona Lisa hung. In the centre of what had just been the lounge, the famous painting now hung on a wall. A vague shimmering haze at the edge of the wall was the only thing that betrayed the impermanence of the holographic projection.

‘Now we are in the Louvre,’ announced the Count. ‘As you can see, the Mona Lisa hangs on the wall behind a glass screen. This piece of defence is simple enough. To avoid it, we use our sonic knife.’

He signalled one of his men, who went up to the projection and produced a small pen-like object. A thin red beam of light appeared at its tip, and he used this to cut a large rectangular shape out of the screen, which he and another man then lifted down to the floor. The second man reached through the hole to take the painting, and suddenly there was a hiss and six red vertical beams of light shot down in front of the painting.

Scarlioni chuckled. ‘And now we come to the second and far more interesting line of defence - the laser beams. Upset them, and every alarm in Paris will go off.’ He adjusted the projector. ‘With the aid of our particle beam transmitter, however, we deflect the beams, leaving the painting free for access.’

As he spoke, the device hummed, and the laser beams distorted, creating a gap large enough for the men to reach in and safely remove the painting. They held it up triumphantly, and the Count applauded. He then opened the projector and removed the bracelet, and then the interior of the Louvre, the glass on the floor and the Mona Lisa in the men's hands faded quickly from sight, leaving the lounge as it was. Hermann reactivated the lights.

The Countess looked on in admiration. ‘My dear, you must truly be a genius!’

The Count smiled modestly. ‘Let's just say I come,’ he murmured, ‘from a family of geniuses.’ He took hold of her arm and placed the bracelet back around her wrist. ‘A useful device. Wear it always.’

He gave her a smile, which she returned, and then he turned back to the others. ‘Tonight,’ he declared grandly, ‘enough of rehearsals. Tonight - the real thing!’

Professor Kerensky frowned at the man before him. ‘What are you talking about?’

The Doctor shrugged. ‘Well, you're tinkering with time! That's a bad idea unless you know what you're doing.’

‘But I do know what I'm doing!’ snapped Kerensky indignantly. ‘I am the foremost authority on temporal physics in the whole world!’

‘The whole world?’ The Doctor tried to look amazed instead of mocking. ‘The whole world?’

‘Yes!’

‘Well,’ replied the Doctor, ‘that's a very small place when you consider the size of the Universe.’

‘Ah!’ Kerensky smiled wistfully, ‘but who can, eh? Who can?’

Some can,’ the Doctor assured him, ‘and if you can't, then you shouldn't be tinkering with time!’

‘But you saw it work!’ persisted Kerensky. ‘The greatest achievement of the human race! A cellular accelerator!’ He gestured at the machine. ‘An egg, developed into a chicken in thirty seconds! With a larger model, I could turn a calf into a cow in even less time! It will be the end of famine in the world!’

‘It'll be the end of you, never mind the cow! Look!’ The Doctor pointed to the machine. The chicken was now a skeleton, suspended upright in the green haze. It had been accelerated too far.

Professor Kerensky coughed, embarrassed. ‘Yes, well, there are a few technical problems - minor ones, though.’

‘A few technical problems?’ exclaimed the Doctor. ‘No, the whole principle you're working on is wrong! You can stretch time forwards and backwards within that bubble, but you can't break in or out of it. You have created a completely different time continuum which is totally incompatible with our own.’

‘I... I don't know what you mean!’ stammered Kerensky.

The Doctor thought the problem over for a second and then approached the power console. ‘Have you tried doing this?’ he asked, and pulled a lever, flicking a few switches as he did so.

The machine audibly creaked - for a moment Kerensky thought it had broken down. Then the skeleton reformed into a chicken, which gradually grew younger until the egg reformed around it.

‘That makes a rather more interesting effect, don't you think?’ grinned the Doctor. ‘Did you know when you built it that it could do that?’

‘No!’ Kerensky stared at the egg, dumbfounded. ‘What did you do?’

‘I just reversed the polarity of the neutron flow! This is very expensive equipment, isn't it?’

‘Very!’ the Professor confirmed. ‘The Count is very generous - a true philanthropist - and I do not ask too many questions...’

‘Well you... wait a moment, what's your name?’

‘Ah... Kerensky.’

‘Kerensky?’

‘Theodore Nicholai...’

‘Theodore Nicholai Kerensky? A scientist's job is to ask questions! You should...’ The Doctor suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. In the green glow of the time bubble he could see a face forming. ‘Which came first?’ he mused to himself in amazement, ‘the chicken or the egg? Neither...’ The face was not that of a human. It was green and scaly with one eye...

The Doctor stared at the visage for some time. ‘Theodore,’ he said with a nervous edge to his voice. ‘Theo-’ He broke off. Professor Kerensky lay motionless on the floor, Duggan standing over him. The Doctor knelt down and examined the recumbent form and looked up at Duggan in surprise. ‘He's fainted!’ he exclaimed.

Duggan shook his head. ‘No he hasn't. I hit him. Now can we stop worrying about conjuring tricks with chickens and get out of here?’

‘That's your philosophy, isn't it?’ snapped the Doctor, getting up. ‘If it moves, hit it!’ He indicated the Professor. ‘He'll be all right. If you do that just one more time, Duggan, I'm going to take very severe measures!’

‘Oh yeah?’ Duggan clenched his fists. ‘Like what?’

The Doctor's voice lowered. ‘I'm going to ask you not to.’

‘Doctor?’ called Romana from the cell.

‘Yes?’

‘I was right!’

‘Were you? Good... what about?’

‘Those measurements. There's another room bricked up behind this cell!’

The Doctor immediately went towards the cell. ‘Is this important?’ asked Duggan as he followed.

The Doctor turned back to him, a wicked grin across his face. ‘Let's find out!’

Inside the cell, Romana had managed to remove a few bricks from the centre of one wall. The Doctor looked through the hole into the darkness beyond, and then selected a hammer from the small pile of tools Romana had brought in with her and began tapping at the other bricks.

‘Why do you suppose the Count's got all this equipment, Doctor?’ Romana wanted to know.

‘Well, he seems to be financing some dangerous experiment with time.’ The Doctor stopped and considered. ‘The Professor, on the other hand, thinks he's breeding chickens.’

Duggan snorted. ‘Stealing the Mona Lisa to pay for chickens?’

Romana frowned at him. ‘But who'd want to buy the Mona Lisa?’ she asked. ‘You can hardly show it if it's known to be stolen.’

Duggan shrugged. ‘There are at least seven people in my address book who'd pay millions for that picture - for their own private collections!’

‘But no one could know they'd got it!’

‘It would be an expensive gloat,’ Duggan admitted, ‘but they'd buy it.’

The Doctor ceased hammering at the bricks and stepped back. ‘I've managed to loosen some of it,’ he announced, ‘but I'm going to need some machinery.’

Duggan suddenly had an idea. ‘Stand back!’ he cautioned. The Doctor and Romana shrugged at each other but complied. ‘I've got all the machinery I need,’ Duggan declared, and with a fierce expression on his face, charged forward and slammed his shoulder into the wall. He repeated this action several times until the brick wall collapsed and he fell through the resultant hole. For once the Doctor appreciated Duggan's brute strength. He picked up the lamp and stepped through the hole, followed by Romana.

The room was thick with dust and covered in cobwebs. The only feature was a row of cupboard doors along the opposite wall.

‘What do you suppose is in them?’ Romana ventured.

The Doctor shrugged. ‘They've obviously been here quite a long time... shall we have a look?’

He moved forward and brushed a layer of dust away from the top cupboard on the left hand side. He opened the door and looked inside. His face paled, and he looked closer. Eventually he turned back to Romana and Duggan. His expression was a mixture of horror, surprise and fascination.

‘It's a Mona Lisa,’ he murmured at last.

Duggan didn't think he'd heard correctly. ‘What?’

The Doctor opened the cupboard door fully so that his two companions could see. And what they saw amazed them. A painting of a woman sitting, a woman with dark hair and no eyebrows.

‘It must be a fake,’ said Duggan, when he finally managed to find his voice.

The Doctor knelt down and examined the painting in greater detail, then looked back at Duggan and shook his head. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘no, I don't know what's hanging in the Louvre, but this is the real thing. This is the genuine Mona Lisa!

Duggan frowned. ‘But how can you tell?’

‘The brushwork. It's as authentic as the signature. This is Leonardo's work, no doubt about it.’

Romana was more curious than puzzled. ‘What's in the other cupboards?’

The Doctor obligingly moved to the bottom left cupboard door and again opened it just slightly, grinning as though he knew nothing could shock him more than the contents of the first cupboard. He peered inside and did a double-take.

With a glance back to the others, he opened the door fully. Inside it was another Mona Lisa. A look of concern had washed over the Doctor's face and he opened the third cupboard, then the fourth, the fifth and the sixth. The three of them stood back to look at what the cupboards contained. No one said a word.

Inside each cupboard was a Mona Lisa. In total there were six Mona Lisas - all painted by Leonardo da Vinci, all the original article, all the genuine painting...

When the Count came down the stairs to the laboratory, the first thing he noticed was the unconscious body of Professor Kerensky.

‘Now, now, Professor,’ he murmured, ‘I've warned you about napping during work...’

He went over and shut off the still-running machine, and then noticed the cell door standing open. It took him only a moment to realise what had happened. Drawing a revolver from his jacket pocket, he approached the cell...

‘What do you suppose they're doing there?’ Romana asked, breaking the long silence that had hung in the room as they stared at the Mona Lisas.

‘Gathering dust, I imagine,’ came the Doctor's reply. ‘What I don't understand is, why a man who already has six Mona Lisas should want to go to all the trouble of stealing a seventh!’

A revelation suddenly dawned upon Duggan ‘Come on, Doctor, I've only just told you! There are seven people in the world who would buy the Mona Lisa! In secret, naturally, but no one's going to buy it when it's still hanging in the Louvre!’

‘Of course!’ Romana exclaimed. ‘They'd each have to think they were buying the stolen one!’

It took the Doctor a few moments longer to catch on. When he did, he smiled. Then he laughed. ‘Of course!’ He clutched Duggan's arm and grinned. ‘I wouldn't make a very good criminal, would I?’

‘No,’ agreed a voice behind them. They whirled around to see Count Scarlioni standing in the entrance Duggan had only recently created. Scarlioni raised his revolver and aimed it at them with a smile. ‘Good criminals,’ he added, ‘don't get caught.’

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Epilogue