Milly and Charlie were in a Fabrication class. They enjoyed the subject because the teacher, Edgar Borgia, was completely incapable of telling the truth, even about the simplest matters. And his lies (or ‘artificial truths’ as he liked to call them) were so outrageous that they wouldn’t have fooled a group of trusting nuns. It made his lessons very entertaining.
It was only five minutes into the lesson when the door was thrown open and Badpenny prowled in, shadowed by the Wolf. Borgia’s innocent blue eyes widened even further and extra beads of sweat sprouted on his forehead, but he carried on as best he could.
“So, ah, to recap on today’s Fabrication challenge. You’re in the Louvre to relieve that overstocked gallery of one of its most famous paintings – Van Gogh’s ‘Old Peasant in Big Clogs Milking a Goat’. You’ve brought a special piece of equipment with you – a sonic clicker. One click of this object sends everyone within a radius of 200 metres into a deep sleep. The length of sleep can be adjusted. You think you’ve set it for 15 minutes, which will give you time to pinch the painting and get away, but you accidentally set it to only two minutes. Just as you’re removing the painting, the Dependable visitors and guards – lots of guards – start to wake up. You need to think of a convincing artificial truth, or you’ll be spending the next decade in a grotty French prison. What do you come up with?”
William Proctor’s hand leapt into the air.
“Why doesn’t the sonic clicker send you to sleep, too, Sir?” he asked, with a smug glance towards Badpenny.
“You’ve stuffed your ears with cotton wool before entering the gallery,” Borgia retorted.
“That could be dangerous, Sir. You wouldn’t be able to hear whether alarms were going off, or if people were coming round.”
“Never mind, Mr Proctor. You’d just have to stay on your toes, which in your case would also have the advantage of bringing you up to a reasonable height. Have you got any suggestions for an artificial truth to get you out of the sticky situation?”
“Why don’t you just press the sonic clicker again, and send everyone back to sleep?”
Borgia was starting to look a bit uncomfortable at William’s merciless questions.
“Because, Mr Proctor, ah… the sonic clicker can only be used once every hour. It takes a while to gather up its, its… strength after being used.”
“What I’d do, Sir, is go on Pros and Cons and hire some henchmen to do the pinching. I could watch from a safe distance and flee if it went wrong, leaving the expendable minions to take the blame. Then I’d be free to offend another day. The successful evil genius, as Ms Martinet likes to remind us, must always put himself first. And as Mr Babington says, Every Crim for Himself.” William’s cherubic face was wreathed in self-satisfied smiles.
“Very good, Mr Proctor. Or at least it would be, if this was Plotting or Betrayal. Unfortunately, your response contains not the smallest shred of a Fabrication. If this was an exam question, you would have just failed.” Borgia permitted himself a small smile.
“Would anyone else like to offer their solution to the problem?”
After witnessing Proctor being humiliated in front of the most infamous criminal in the land, the rest of the class were reluctant to stick their necks out. Borgia drummed his fingers on his desk for a moment and surveyed the room.
“Milly Dillane. You’re looking unusually sharp today. Help us out.”
Every pair of eyes swivelled Milly’s way. Pecunia Badpenny had been staring at a poster depicting Pinocchio’s most inspired fibs, but at the mention of Milly’s name she turned to examine her. The Wolf picked up Badpenny’s interest and its tails snaked in Milly’s direction.
Milly had been doodling a mouse with Borgia’s frightened eyes and wide, glistening forehead. She sighed, put down her pen and sat up straighter.