When Gaston Dimble stumbled into Marley’s condo, he immediately began tucking into the leftover popcorn chicken. Marley had ordered a bowl of all varieties to entice the historian. He could never work out what Dimble loved more, food or books.
Gaston’s first degree was in very ancient history. But if one was to rise in the demanding galaxy of today, a Certificate of Quantum Accounting, even a Diploma in Chaos Theory, was a better choice.
Dimble then did a Masters degree specialising in the archaeology of two contested periods of history on two postulated Outer-Orion Arm planets. He was the only student in his class and the lecturer, a jellyfish from Europa, was usually absent. When it was present it said nothing but bubbled in its tank.
It was a great joke among the professors that this particular jellyfish wasn’t an expert in the subjects Dimble was taking, but really specialised in insurance law. While it was supposed to be teaching, it was actually dictating its own thesis to the sound-sensitive coral in the tank.
“Would you like to see this, Gaston?”
Dimble shoved a handful of chicken pieces into his mouth.
Marley winced. “I have something you might find useful for your latest thesis.”
Dimble attempted to swallow.
“It might lead to a whole new thesis. In return, I merely want you to explain to me the meaning of a few words.”
Dimble smacked his lips together.
“Come over here!”
Dimble reluctantly obeyed and edged towards Marley.
Papers were strewn on the table and crumbling bits were already falling to the floor.
Dimble opened his mouth but couldn’t speak.
“You’ve bitten off more than you can chew Gaston.” Marley folded his arms.
Vigorously chewing followed. The remaining protuberances were tucked into his mouth. He scratched his bald patch. He stared at the papers. Slowly, his eyes widened. “Where did you get…If I’m not mistaken, you have in your possession a scroll, at least 1,500 years old. That means it was written before the human race dreamed of going to the stars. The writing is backwards, mirror script, from a hand in the late medieval period, perhaps later. And that smudge is definitely an olive oil stain.”
Having completed a thesis about the Renaissance era, Gaston was familiar with a lot of the identities, even if he often studied what they ate, rather than what they did. He looked at the paper so closely that he could have licked it, which he soon did. Recognition dawned. “I believe this to be…no surely it can’t. It couldn’t be one of the last surviving scrapbooks of what’s his name?”
“Gaston you have gone from food dispenser to history condenser. How is that possible?”
“That guy from the 1400s. Brilliant, enigmatic, illustrious, repressed–”
“Slow down. Slow down.” Marley sighed while Dimble pored over the papers.
“Mirror script is how people may write when left handed.”
Dimble measured the paper and squinted. He opened and closed each eye, then both eyes at the same time.
“Are you going to sleep?”
“I’m thinking. Look at these complicated diagrams: highly innovative considering the time they were sketched. Perhaps sophisticated scissors.”
“Very interesting.” Marley yawned. “I like this. Looks like a sleek patrol boat.”
“I think it’s a submarine, designed to explore vast underwater areas. And this looks like a space suit, or diving apparatus.”
“Looks like one of those kinky outfits the Seven Sisters wore in Silky Nebula.”
“And on this page, a man with four arms outstretched. Very symmetrical and well-shaped body, lots of geometrical lines drawn over it in the shape of a pentacle.”
“No more fantasies Gaston. Who is it?”
“Wait a second, on this page there’s a signature. Oh, I should have known all along. It’s Leonardo Da Vinci!”
“That man is Leonardo Da Vinci? How did he get four arms?”
“It can’t be genetic manipulation. This was the Renaissance period. They were building great cathedrals, painting beautiful frescoes. And I don’t believe the man with four arms is Leonardo Da Vinci. That’s one of his diagrams, a technical drawing on the proportions of the human body and their metaphysical relation to the universe: Vitruvian man, or his ‘Man of Perfect Proportions’.”
Marley frowned, a frown of both disgust and inadequacy.
“Da Vinci also painted that famous picture of the woman with a weird smile, possibly a self-portrait. ‘La Giaconda’: one of its many names.” Gaston paused. He summoned the room’s control panel and typed a few words. On the VT appeared a picture of a woman staring serenely beyond the viewer.
Marley felt a wave of mystique flow through him. Although the subject of the painting was asexual by today’s standards, there was something about her gaze that had him transfixed.
His trance was broken as Gaston’s rambling took off for another lap. “I have no idea how these diagrams found their way out of the private collection of the powerful Viscount à la Carte, Administrator of the Earthling Province of Far Western Europe. We must get these artefacts back to the Viscount before he finds out that we have them, before–”
Marley stamped his foot. “Is there anything we can use these scraps for? Money they could bring?”
“Sorry. Maybe you should just leave.” Marley began pushing him towards the door.
But Dimble would not leave.
“You might be able to exchange it for artisan.”
“A worthless currency. Unless you like screensavers.”
“Just five more minutes.”
Marley breathed deeply.