“Artistic License”

Here’s another dark urban myth from the Twinmaker universe. You can hear me read it here.

I_AM - smaller“Artistic License”

Once upon a time, people used to steal things.

I know. Crazy, isn’t it? Before everything was backed up in the Air, anything lost or broken or stolen couldn’t be made again from scratch in a fabber, so it actually mattered to people that their stuff was theirs, and heaven forfend anyone tried to take it away from them.

We’re a lot more sophisticated these days. Or so we like to think.

If there’s one thing that can’t be copied, it’s time. Hence we still have money. Too lazy to plant those flowers into your empty front garden? Pay a person to do it for you. One minute of your time will cost one minute of someone else’s. Were all equal under the eyes of the clock.

Now, you might think that there are actually two things that can’t be copied: time and expertise. But that’s wrong. Here’s why.

Imagine an asshole, the kind they used to have once upon a time when not only did people have money, but some had a lot more of it than anyone else. This kind of asshole thought that money made them powerful–and in some ways it did. They could snap their fingers, hand over a wad of cash, and people would bend backwards to give them anything they wanted. They got what they wanted, so they came to expect it, and some of them thought they deserved it.

You don’t need money to be an asshole, but it helps.

So, this particular asshole. He thinks the world owes him everything. And there’s an artist, someone really popping. Everyone wants her work, but it’s really exclusive because these works aren’t copied into the fabber bank for anyone to have, like that Dylan Linwood guy who builds cars and whatever–but not exactly like him, because Dylan Linwood doesn’t go through d-mat. We need to imagine someone who has no ideological objection to the whole being-taken-apart-and-put-back-together affair. (Note that the Abstainer non-copying thing is itself a kind of assholery, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.)

Asshole approaches artist, wanting to commission something new and unique, just for him and him alone. Artist says no. Asshole asks again: he won’t take no for an answer because he’s used to hearing yes. Artist is insistent that she chooses her own projects, is her own boss, won’t be told what to do by anyone. So it goes, back and forth, to and fro. It’s obvious that the asshole is going to lose. What’s he going to do? Some people just don’t do their shit for people like him.

This asshole decides to take what he can’t buy.

There are hackers. We all know that. Some of them will do anything for fun, even if it’s illegal. The asshole finds one of themand buys a way to hack the artist’s private booth in order to take a copy of her pattern. Next, in a private booth far from the peacekeeper’ prying eyes, the asshole make a new artist from scratch, a perfect copy he plans to set to making whatever he wants.

Now, technically he hasn’t stolen anything. The original artist is still out there, blithely following whatever ethereal whim takes her that day. She still has everything she was born with and every skill she’s earned through hard work and experience. She’s still her. What she doesn’t know is that she’s not the only her. There are now two of her, and one belongs to the asshole.

There are lots of ways to persuade people to do something. Maybe he threatens her. Maybe he threatens her family or friends. Maybe he promises to let her go if she does this one thing. Maybe he promises to erase her, afterwards. Whatever.

She does it.

But of course that’s not enough. He wanted and the universe provided. That point is proven. Now he wants more. Why shouldn’t he have it?

How long as it been since he asked himself that question?

Some people are bottomless pits, like black holes. You can throw anything you like into them, and they only get hungrier.

Black holes and assholes . . . The analogy writes itself.

Anyway, you see my point. You might not be able to steal someone’s expertise, but you can certainly copy it. And maybe you think I’m talking about something so unlikely that it’d never ever happen, but remember this: we will never rid this earth of assholes. If you’ll forgive a bad pun, they are a fundamental part of who we are.

Remember that warehouse they found in Rome full of sculptures by Fico Abbascia, the world’s greatest and most elusive sculptor? A treasure trove of unknown works, they said. A lifetime’s work, completely unknown to critics. Authentic without doubt, since they were uniquely signed with his DNA.

People said he must have been making them in secret so as not to devalue the public works, but I have it on good authority that it was physically impossible for him to have made even a tenth of them. There were too many. He could never have fitted them all in around his known commissions. Maybe if there were two of him, some wit once said, or perhaps a dozen . . . but of course that would be impossible.

His estate did eventually claim the works, because what else could they do? If the work of a copied artist is a forgery, what does that say about the work of the original? Better to go along with it and not ask too many questions.

And whoever did it, they got away clean. They’re probably dead now, or else the cache would never have been found. The asshole is dead like all of his copies of Fico Abbascia, their work unappreciated in their lifetimes. The world is a more beautiful place for their existence, but no one wants to think about the why or the how behind their existence.

Behind every great artist there’s an asshole. That’s never been truer than in this case.

Now, let’s not even consider what lengths some people will go to to steal another’s heart . . .

(With thanks to Garth Nix)

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Image: morguefile

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