The Michaelmas Phantoms
The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
Theoretical Physics was situated next to the Nuclear Physics building, but the two buildings could not be more dissimilar. Whereas Nuclear Physics was contained within a glass and steel construction, a vision from the imagination of an acclaimed modern architect, Theoretical Physics dwelt within a high gabled Victorian pile. The difference between the two buildings had struck Colin instantly. He was not the only one to comment. The King himself, characteristically forthright, had openly disparaged the Nuclear Physics building when he had come to open it a few years ago, whilst praising the traditional techniques of the adjacent structure. Quite frankly, Colin thought both buildings were eyesores.
Colin led Rhonwen and the Doctor into the old building, and up the dingy staircase to the fourth floor. He pushed open the fire door, and peered along the corridor. A dim light tried to force its way through the inadequate windows, but could do little to pierce the gloom. There didn't appear to be anyone about.
Colin turned back to the Doctor. "It's at the far end," he said, pointing along the corridor. "But I doubt he'll be there."
"No," said the Doctor, "but I might find some clue."
"He'll have locked it."
"That shouldn't be a problem."
Colin frowned. "Look," he said, "I'd better not hang around if you're going to start breaking and entering. You may have some privileges, working for UNIT, but I can't afford to get into trouble with the University authorities."
"I understand," the Doctor replied. "Can you do me a favour?"
"Try to persuade Saunders that it's really in his best interest not to run the accelerator."
Colin sighed. He wasn't really sure he believed what the Doctor was saying. Whereas it was clear that something strange and deadly was occurring in Oxford, there was no real evidence that the accelerator had anything to do with it. Except that the Doctor seemed to know what he was talking about - and there really was no way of knowing what Wells's tampering had done to the equipment.
"I'll see what I can do," Colin said.
The Doctor smiled. He and Rhonwen slipped out into the corridor, leaving Colin to descend the stairs alone, and to think about getting some lunch.
As they went along the corridor the way Colin had indicated, Rhonwen glanced back towards the stairwell. She was worried in case anyone should discover them. "Maybe Colin's right," she suggested. "We shouldn't be breaking into places."
"It's important I find out what I can," the Doctor said. "There's more to Charles Wells than meets the eye. Ah, here we are."
They had arrived at a door. There was a metal bracket for a nameplate, into which had been pushed a piece of card with the words Doctor Wells scrawled hastily in felt tip pen.
"What if someone catches us?" Rhonwen asked.
The Doctor brushed the worry aside. "I'm sure I can think of something plausible," he said.
He started to examine the lock. It was a recent addition, an electronic system operated by the appropriate pre-programmed pass card. He started to rummage in his pockets, and eventually produced four slim plastic cards, each one marked in a different colour.
Rhonwen looked at them curiously. Each had a couple of magnetic strips, and seemed to be covered with fine silvery lines. "What are they?" she asked.
The Doctor took out his jeweller's eyepiece, and squinted through it at the lock. From another pocket, he produced a pen torch, which he used to cast some light upon the subject. Whilst doing this, he started to explain. "They're electronic skeleton keys. They were given to me by Lacroisier, a French locksmith I met in the twenty seventh century. You see, he managed to boil down every kind of lock to four basic types, and he designed the appropriate card for each one. They're the ultimate in smartcards. The software gets inside the lock, cracks the code, and convinces the lock mechanism that it's a valid card. All you need to do is know which card to use in which lock."
He straightened up from his inspection, and sorted through the cards in his hand. "Red, I think."
Selecting the red card, the Doctor slid it into the lock. Nothing seemed to happen. He smiled at Rhonwen. "Of course," he added, "if you choose the wrong card, it does tend to set off all the alarms."
The lock did not seem to be responding to the smartcard. Rhonwen cast a worried look at the Doctor. She glanced back down the corridor. How long would it take to get out of the building? Could they do it before any security personnel arrived?
There was a click from the lock. The Doctor withdrew the smartcard, and dropped it back into his pocket with the rest of his equipment. He extended one finger and solemnly pushed opened the unlocked door.
Rhonwen heaved a sigh of relief. They passed quickly through into the workshop.
The blinds were drawn, and the room was in partial darkness. Rhonwen could see the outlines of a couple of work benches, which were strewn with pieces of equipment and electronic components. The Doctor started to sift through them.
"What are we looking for?" Rhonwen asked.
"I'll tell you when we find it," said the Doctor.
In one corner, he saw a computer terminal. He turned it on, and illuminated the room with the eerie cathode glow of the monitor.
Rhonwen went to join him. On the desk beside the keyboard were piled a number of squares of thin blue plastic. The Doctor picked up one after the other of these. "Why doesn't the wretched man label his discs properly?" he muttered.
Rhonwen looked around the workshop. She couldn't see anything that was a clue to Wells's whereabouts. If there was one, she knew the Doctor would find it. She decided to ask the question she'd been dying to ask since yesterday.
"Do you know Wells?" she asked.
The Doctor looked up suddenly. "What do you mean?" he asked, all innocence.
Rhonwen couldn't help smiling. The Doctor just hated revealing information. He always knew much more than he let on, and she usually had to coax it out of him. "Well," she began, "when we first met him, I thought for a moment that you hesitated - like you were surprised to see him."
The Doctor sighed. He thought he'd been able to conceal it. Obviously Rhonwen was getting to know him better. "Yes," he admitted, "I have seen him before."
"Monte Carlo, 1891. He turned up out of nowhere. No one knew who he was. He played roulette on three different nights, and each time he broke the bank. He didn't use a betting system or anything. On the first two nights, he bet evens, and he just kept winning. On the third night, he bet on number five consistently. It came up five times in a row, and he just kept adding his winnings to the same bet until he broke the bank. The odds against that are astronomical. He was a bit of a sensation, but he just disappeared again without a trace. They wrote a song about him."
"But how could he be in 1891 and now in 1997?" Rhonwen asked. Suddenly it seemed obvious. "He's not another Time Lord, is he?"
The Doctor shook his head slowly. "No, I don't think so. I wasn't sure who he was at first, but I've got a few ideas now."
He left the computer, and went back to searching the work benches. He picked up some bizarre looking piece of apparatus. "This is part of an energy distribution system," he said. "The main conductive paths are made out of chronodyne. It's very unstable, which is why most of it has decayed. It's no wonder these things malfunction."
He put the device down. It had told him all he needed to know about Wells's origins. It had also given him much more to worry about.
"I don't think we're going to find anything else here," he said. "We'd
better go." He went to turn off the computer, and then inched the door open
a crack. A quick glance outside told him the corridor was still deserted.
They were in luck. They slipped out into the corridor once more.
Colin hurried along Turl Street, picking his way through the massed ranks of locked bicycles that claimed the pavement as their own. He made his way into the porter's lodge of Exeter College.
He stopped and glanced at his watch. It was too late to eat in College now. He would have to get a pub lunch. Colin was just about to turn around and go back out into the street, when he caught sight of Thomasine standing beside the noticeboard.
"Hello," he said. "I wouldn't have expected to see you here."
"I had to see you," said Thomasine.
"Have you had lunch?" Colin asked. "I was just on my way to get some."
They left the lodge, and started to walk towards Broad Street. Colin wondered what Thomasine was doing here. They didn't often meet at lunchtimes, particularly not when she was the only librarian on duty. "Is one of the others back at work today?" he asked.
"No," said Thomasine. "I shut the library up."
"You haven't brought me that paper, have you? I would have come to collect it."
"No, it isn't that. Actually, I haven't had a chance to look for it yet. I just wanted to see you."
"I can understand that," Colin said in mock arrogance.
They ended up in a pub in George Street. Everywhere else was packed. Colin ordered a couple of toasted sandwiches, and Thomasine asked for a ploughman's. While they were waiting, Colin bought a couple of pints and carried them over to the table where Thomasine was sitting, crammed into one corner of the crowded lounge bar.
"I'm sorry," Colin said, when he had sat down. "I wanted to see you, but the security arrangements are starting to get a bit heavy."
"It's not just that," said Thomasine. "I've got to tell you about something that happened last night. Just listen and tell me what you think."
She told him about her encounter with an intruder last night, and the mystery of her missing keys this morning.
Colin listened, concerned at first, for she appeared to have been in some danger. He hadn't liked the idea of her working late and alone, not when there were murders being committed. Thomasine had just shrugged it off, but she was sometimes a little too headstrong and independent for her own good. Colin's worries had relaxed a little now the Doctor had provided an alternative explanation for the deaths.
Colin's fear soon turned to surprise and intrigue. "Tell me again about this man," he said. "What did he look like?"
Thomasine thought. "A bit on the fat side," she said. "You know, I felt there was something creepy about him. Mind you, I had a bit of a headache, so that may have affected my judgement. I did notice he had a very good suntan."
Colin nodded. He could recognize Charles Wells from such a description. He wondered what Wells had been doing in the library. The locked upper floor and Thomasine's missing keys added up to provide the answer to one mystery. He knew where Wells was hiding himself.
Colin considered going round to the library now, and confronting Wells. But he didn't really know what he could say to him. He also recalled that the Doctor had been anxious to speak to Wells, and it would do no good if Wells was frightened away. As long as they knew where he was, they could find him again.
Colin took a long swig of his pint, and got to his feet. "Come on," he said.
"What about lunch?" Thomasine asked.
Colin sat down again. He had paid for the food. He might as well eat it.
"After lunch," he said, "there's someone I want you to talk to."
Wells stared at the mass of circuitry hanging out of his transfer capsule. He had managed to reconnect some of the systems, but they were mostly ones he had disconnected himself trying to find the fault. He still had not located the malfunction in the drive units.
He knew that the energy distributor had worn out. It had been the first thing he had checked. In the workshop which the University had been kind enough to supply, he had set about fashioning a replacement. He did not have any chronodyne to work with. The degraded remains of the conductor paths in the original device were no longer viable. He had used electrolysed zyton-7, residue from the chronon injectors in the accelerator, as a substitute. It was far from satisfactory, and gave him only limited power efficiency, but it might suffice to get him somewhen more civilized.
But that was unlikely unless he could get the drive units operating again. It was not his field, which was why he had desperately tried to call for help. Was the Doctor the answer to his call? It was too late to find out now.
Wells could think of only one thing that might work. If he flooded the output of all the distributor paths straight into the chronon stream, it might just distort the time field enough to punch a hole in the continuum through which the capsule could fall, effectively bypassing the fault in the drives. He would have no directional control of course - fate alone would dictate his destination.
He noticed that the librarian had not returned, and that the building
remained locked and empty. He was not sure whether that was a good sign or
a bad sign. Again, he felt threatened. The net was drawing in around him.
Crabtree stared through the large glass panel. Behind it were several shelves, on which were arranged various foodstuffs. The building was an establishment for the sale of sustenance, for in this period the populace were still using a monetary exchange system, even for such essentials as food.
Even so, some of the dishes looked appetizing. Crabtree thought about the protein concentrates that had constituted his lunch, and wondered what the period food would taste like. It would be relatively easy to fabricate the money of this period, so that he could make a purchase.
But it was forbidden. He dreaded to think what Gates would say. They had to avoid cultural contamination both ways. Just as they copied the dress styles of the period, to within fifty years either way, so they were not allowed to indulge in any of the peculiarities they discovered in the past.
Crabtree turned away from the displayed food, wishing that his mouth would stop salivating. He looked back to the Wolseley, where Gates was busy fiddling with the instruments in the glove compartment. He had been at work for several hours.
Crabtree got back into the car. "What are you doing?" he asked.
Gates looked up from his work. "I am attempting to retune the detectors to a wider frequency sweep," he said.
"If we assume that the anachronaut's transfer capsule is damaged, then we might also suppose that he is attempting to repair it."
"It is a logical assumption," Crabtree said.
"During such repairs, it is likely that low frequency temporal energy will be dissipated from his equipment, causing minute localized perturbations of the time field. Such energy patterns would not be registered by the usual detector sweeps. If I can adjust the instruments to these lower frequencies, we may have a better chance of locating our quarry."
Crabtree nodded. "Report any progress immediately," he said.
"Where's Saunders?" asked the Doctor.
Colin shrugged. He had arrived in the Professor's study just a few moments before the Doctor and Rhonwen, and there had been no sign of Saunders.
"There's only one place he might possibly be," Colin said. "Over at the accelerator."
The Doctor nodded. He ought to have expected that. He wasn't sure whether Saunders would keep his word. At least there was no danger until the power line was switched on this evening. After that, they would have to ensure that Saunders was watched very carefully.
"Did you find Wells?" asked Colin.
"No," the Doctor said, "he wasn't there."
Colin turned to the blonde woman who was standing beside him. So far, he hadn't introduced her. "Doctor, Rhonwen, this is Thomasine. She's a librarian."
"How do you do?" said the Doctor. "Wonderful places, libraries. I've visited a few in the past." He thought appreciatively of the pneumatic tubes beneath the British Museum Reading Room - and with sadness, recalled the sight of Alexandria's great Library devoured by flames. He had been powerless to save it. He couldn't alter an historical fact. He caught a sudden look of apprehension from Rhonwen, and decided not to recount any of his travels.
He returned to a more pressing matter. "Wells must have gone into hiding," he said. "He's obviously stashed away his transfer capsule somewhere. If we can find that, we'll probably find him."
"Listen," said Colin, trying to introduce Thomasine's evidence into the proceedings.
But the one thing the Doctor wasn't doing was listening. He had lapsed into thought, and was talking to himself. "I ought to recruit the help of the police. There can't be too many places to hide a transfer capsule. It's not the most inconspicuous thing in the universe."
Thomasine spoke up. "Doctor, this transfer capsule. It wouldn't be a large white sphere, about six feet across? Like a giant ping pong ball?" She was unsure why she had suddenly mentioned it, especially when she hadn't even told Colin. He had become so excited by her tale of the intruder last night, that he'd wanted to rush off immediately. Thomasine had decided to leave the question of the sphere - which would sound pretty fantastic at the best of times - until he was calmer, and able to consider it more rationally.
But now something seemed to be telling her that the Doctor was the man to entrust with her problem, that he was the only one who would know the answer.
The Doctor came out of his reverie immediately. "Have you seen it?" he asked, his face lighting up.
"It's on the top floor of my library," Thomasine said.