Humor Science Fiction near future nanotechnology visual arts

Waterlilies

By Edward Willett
Oct 27, 2018 · 4,956 words · 19 minutes

Flowers of bougainvillea in spiral

Photo by Jr Korpa via Unsplash.

From the author: An artist gets more than he bargained for when he uses nanotechnology to create his artwork. After all, why does "grey goo" have to be grey?


“HERE, MONKEY, MONKEY, MONKEY!”

Danny eased a step closer to the black-leather couch. The rhesus macaque balanced on the armrest bared its teeth. Danny snarled back, then lunged. All he came up with was a handful of fur; the monkey, chattering, scampered to the farthest armrest.

Just beyond rose a meter-and-a-half-tall column of purple glass, lit from within and topped by a 25-centimetre nude woman. Molded of synthiflesh over a robotic armature, lifelike in colour and texture, correct in every anatomical detail, she was the only piece from Danny’s breakthrough one-man show Fembotsthat he had kept for himself. Her name was Fembot 21, and as her motion sensors registered the monkey’s presence, her programming activated. She stood on tiptoes, spread her arms wide, and—

The monkey leaped to the top of the pedestal. Fembot 21bounced off the wall and thudded in pieces into the burnt-orange Neo70s Revival shag carpet, where she lay on her back, one leg sticking straight up, the other lying some distance away. The monkey stared down at her and howled triumphantly.

“Shit!” Danny started around the couch. The monkey screeched, leaped down, and vanished into the hallway. It emerged like a jack-in-the-box, shrieking even louder, dashed over Danny’s shoes before he could grab it, dribbling pee as it went, and disappeared into the kitchen.

Helga emerged hard on the monkey’s heels. A head taller than Danny and twice as muscular, a former member of Germany’s Olympic waterpolo team, she carried a huge suitcase in one hand as easily as though it were a briefcase, and with the other wielded her electrobrolly like a Teutonic sword. Blue sparks crackled and popped along the ’brolly’s length as its water-repellant static charge reacted to the dust and monkey fur in the room’s air. Helga’s eyes, as they locked on Danny, were the exact same colour as the sparks.

She lowered the ’brolly and stepped close, forcing him to either crane his neck or talk to her breasts. She had turned on her recently acquired Medusa-’Do, and like clouds scudding above a skyscraper, the tendrils of hair weaving snakelike patterns above her forehead made him feel a little queasy.

“Is over,” Helga said, her voice a booming contralto. “Over! No more model. No more sex. No more nothing. You promise me Orbital Hilton. You go out to buy tickets, make reservations. You come back with monkey!”

Glass shattered in the kitchen, but Danny didn’t dare turn around.

“Helga, sweetheart, you don’t understand,” he said in his best wheedling voice. “That monkey is going to win me—us, I mean—the Stanislaw Prize for Avant-Garde Art!”

“The Stanislaw?” Besides enormous prestige, the Stanislaw carried a $500,000 prize. Danny could almost see Helga translating that into euros as she stepped back a pace. “Explain.”

More crashing in the kitchen; it sounded like the monkey was throwing teacups against the walls. Danny kept his eyes on Helga. “Androids make money, but they’ll never win the prize, love, no matter what I do with them. My Fembotsare passé; the artistic statement I made with them has been heard and assimilated into themilieu. ‘Just as robots are programmed by their creators and masters,’” he quoted from the exhibition catalogue, “‘so we are programmed by ourcreators (our parents and teachers and) and ourmasters: the corporate conglomerates that determine what we see, feel, and think. Like the Fembots, we are all robots under the skin.’”

“You are boring me,” Helga said. “Answer question!”

From the kitchen came a sound like fingernails on a blackboard. What the hellwas that monkey up to? “So, honeybunch, it’s time to rethink!” Danny said. “To be relevant, art must argue with itself. To win the Stanislaw, I will argue, not with other artists, but with myself, with my own earlier work: how much more avant-garde can you get? I will argue that rather than being robots under the skin, as I said before, we are...” He paused for effect. “Animals!”

As if on cue, the monkey screeched; and outside, where the skies had been leaden all day, lightning flashed. The ensuing clap of thunder coincided with the sound of something heavy falling over in the kitchen.

A thundercloud seemed to have descended on Helga’s face, as well. Her lips pressed together, her eyes narrowed, the Medusa-’Do writhed, and the ’brolly came up again, flashing sparks like the magic sword from Final Fantasy XXI. “You—want—to—put—my—body—on—a—monkey?” Helga shouted, emphasizing each word with a poke—and a fat electric spark—from the ’brolly. “Nein! Nein, nein, nein!” Four more pokes, each sharper than the last, then Helga swept by him, flung open the front door, and stalked down the front steps into the rain, the ’brolly popping up and open in an explosion of sparks. The monkey burst from the kitchen, crossed the living room in a brown, furry blur, and dashed after her.

Danny ran after both of them, but at the end of the front walk, Helga turned right, heading for the tube station—and the monkey turned left, toward the towers of downtown. Danny stopped, looked after Helga, looked after the monkey, did a quick mental comparison of the cost of the monkey versus the cost of hiring a new model—and followed the monkey.

Three hours later, soaked, chilled, and seriously pissed at all primates, Danny stood at the mouth of a downtown dead-end alley. He hadn’t seen the monkey for half an hour, but he’d long since figured out its destination. He’d have been here two minutes after that if he’d been able to find a cab, but cabs, it seemed, were avoiding long-haired bearded sandal-wearing coatless artist-types tonight.

A single blue light illuminated a rust-red door at the alley’s far end and the black letters stencilled on it: “Honest Art’s Avant-Garde Art Supplies.” Smaller letters beneath the main sign added, “And Surplus Store.”

The door opened before he got there, revealing a short, brawny figure, silhouetted against the bright interior light. “Well, well, well,” it said. “First a wet monkey, then a drowned rat.”

“Hello to you too, Art,” Danny said. “Are you going to let me in or make fun of me?”

“Both, probably,” Art said, but moved to one side and gestured Danny in.

Danny stepped gratefully into the warmth and stood dripping on the store’s tile floor. Art handed him a towel. Danny took it and began drying his hair. “You always keep a towel handy?”

“Didn’t you ever read A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Besides, once the monkey showed up, I figured you’d be close behind.” Art headed toward the back of the store. “Come back to my office when you’re dry.”

Danny and Art had known each other forever; they’d grown up as next-door neighbours in the Assiniboia Arms Apartments. Danny had been into art and music and drama, Art was more interested in science, computers, and blowing things up—but somehow, they’d maintained their friendship right through high school.

Then Danny had enrolled in art school, and Art had vanished—just dropped out of sight like a black hole had swallowed him up. For eight years Danny hadn’t heard a word from him; then, just a couple of years ago, he’d suddenly popped up again, looking fit, muscular, and tanned. Pretty soon it was like they’d never lost touch, but Art never told Danny where he’d been. “Traveling,” was the most Danny ever got out of him. Every once in a while, Art would disappear again for a couple of weeks, but he always came back.

He’d opened the store after hearing Danny lamenting the lack of a local source of the supplies needed by truly serious artists. Danny had just started working on theFembots, and the cost of shipping in synthiflesh and microgears from out of town was eating up his grant money so fast he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to build the complete series. Art had listened, questioned him extensively about what kind of supplies were needed, and then vanished.

A month later, he’d called Danny to invite him to the grand opening of Honest Art’s Avant-Garde Art Supplies and Surplus Store.

Danny hung the towel on the coat rack by the door, then started toward Art’s office. But as always, he was distracted by the store’s amazing contents. Here was a pattern for a dress made entirely out of flank steak, next to a freezer full of the steak you would need to make it. Next to it, a variety of cutting tools “ideal for dismembering small animals,” plus hooks and chains for hanging and stretching the body parts—although he personally found artistic putrefaction so20th century.

Sensitive to the limited budgets of grant-dependent artists, thanks to Danny’s input, most of Art’s high-tech hardware was used. Danny passed a rack of last-generation VR goggles, shelves of discontinued digividcorders and clunky old table-top genesplicers, and a whole selection of Geiger counters so beat up they looked like they’d doubled as prospecting hammers.

He paused at the selection of pigments made with diseased blood, each tube marked with a biohazard sticker detailing the virus that infected it. “West Nile Vermilion? I know someone who would kill for a tube!”

“The price isn’t quitethat high,” Art said, materializing at his left elbow. “Forget all this stuff. I’ve got something special to show you.”

“All I want is my monkey,” Danny said, following Art to the back of the store, where several small animals scampered around large cages, transparent from the outside, that Danny knew provided their occupants with endless natural vistas. His rhesus was happily ensconced in one, eating monkey nuts. Danny paused, but Art kept walking.

“Forget him,” Art said. “He’s not going to win you the Stanislaw.” He stopped at his office door. “I sold my only other monkey just this morning.”

Danny’s heart skipped a beat. Two Stanislaw entries making use of monkeys, no matter how differently, would render each other non-unique—grounds for automatic disqualification.

That was it, then. He couldn’t use the monkey. And that meant...the thought hit him like a fist. Helga!He’d let Helga leave, had let her walk away without trying to stop her, for nothing.

Danny had feigned existential despair often enough in interviews with critics, judges, and granting agencies; this time he felt it for real.

“Chin up, Danny,” Art said. “What you need is obviously an entirely new approach.”

Danny massaged his forehead. “How about ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Suicide?’” he muttered.

Art chuckled. “I don’t think you need to go that far. Instead...well, let me show you. Something so new no one is using it yet. It’s military. Experimental. Cutting-edge. Interested?”

Military? What did the military know about art?

On the other hand...turning weapons into art...he could call it Swords into Ploughshares, or something like that...what did he have to lose? “I’m interested.”

Art nodded, and opened the door into his office. As always, Danny was struck by the contrast between the shop’s dim-lit clutter and this room’s bright-lit, perfect order.

Two computers flickered and clicked to themselves on two separate desks, their screens portraying an endless flow of gibberish; Danny couldn’t tell if they were doing serious work or if Art was running his antique Matrixscreensaver again. Tools ranging from a rack of screwdrivers to a series of callipers gleamed on the wall above a workbench whose centrepiece was a miniature scanning electron microscope.

It was notthe office of an art dealer. Not for the first time, Danny wondered what exactly the “Surplus Store” portion of Art’s business entailed.

Art took a pair of insulated gloves from a hook next to the callipers, and walked to the far end of the room, where he had installed a walk-in vault. He tapped a long sequence into a keypad on the vault door; then, as the door hummed and clanked, pulled on the gloves.

The door swung open automatically, revealing a room half again as big as the office, packed with crates and lined with what looked like safety-deposit boxes. At the back of the vault was a smaller door; Art went to it, slipped a keycard on a silver chain out from under his shirt, slid the card through a scanner, and then tugged the door open. As ice fog tumbled out around his feet, he pulled on the gloves, then reached in and slid out a gleaming, golden metal cylinder about ten centimetres in diameter and maybe twenty-five centimetres long. He closed the freezer door and exited the vault, and the vault door shut noiselessly behind him before locking with a metallic clank.

Art placed the tube on the workbench and took off the gloves. “This,” he said, “will win you the Stanislaw Prize.” He pressed the end of the cylinder, and it split down the middle and popped open, revealing a dozen crystal vials nestled in red padding. He lifted one out; silvery liquid, like mercury but less viscous, sloshed inside it.

Danny took a step back. He’d seen too many movies where terrorists pulled out just such a vial before announcing their plans to unleash a plague that would wipe out humanity. “What is it?”

Instead of replying, Art took the vial turned to one of his computers, to which was attached something that looked like a battery charger. He dropped the vial into the hole on top.

“Something simple,” he said. “Mondrian.”

“What?”

Art ran his fingers over the computer’s touchpad for a few moments, occasionally clicking a button with his right thumb. Nothing seemed to happen. He removed the vial and unscrewed the lid, walked toward the vault, and, without the slightest warning, splashed the vial’s contents against the metal door.

Danny gasped, but Art laughed. “It’s harmless,” he said. “Watch!”

A complex pattern of lines and boxes filled with primary colours covered a portion of the door; within two minutes it covered the entire surface of the metal. Art glanced at the computer. “Any second now...”

The wall’s outline suddenly blurred behind a veil of shimmering dust, and the pattern vanished.

Danny stared at Art. “What the hell?”

“It’s called nanopaint,” Art said. “You can program it to cover any surface with any pattern you want. Great for camouflage. Also good for bridges and other large structures.”

“But the scaling problem—it would pixilate—”

“Fractals,” Art said, as though that explained everything. “Never mind that. What you need to think about are the artistic possibilities. What you have here is a self-replicating, completely programmable pigment. The silvery stuff is made up of assembler nanomites. They build the pigmented nanomites out of whatever raw materials are available on the surface on which they’re placed—dust, old paint, it really doesn’t matter. Then those pigmented nanomites make more pigmented nanomites, and so on, and so on, and so on.”

“It didn’t last very long.”

“You set its lifespan to whatever you want,” Art said. “And watch this.” He set the vial on the floor. A stream of silver coalesced out of nowhere and flowed into it. “Only the second-generation nanomites have a limited lifespan; the initial assembler nanomites are permanent. The vial contains a transmitter they home on, so you can always get them back; then you can reprogram them and use them again.”

Danny looked at the tube. “Wow.” The Stanislaw Prize was as good as his. Paint that made its own paintings! Intelligent pigment that could crank out fake Picassos, ersatz Pollacks, phoney Miros, then vanish into dust. Who was the artist? Wasthere an artist? Was it art or artifice?

“Forget the monkey!” he said. “I’ll take it.” Then he hesitated. “How much?”

“It’s yours,” Art said.

Danny stared at him in astonishment. Friend or not, Art had never given him art supplies for free before. “Why?” he said, unable to keep the suspicion out of his voice.

Art shrugged. “Advertising. You win the Stanislaw, I won’t be able to keep this stuff on the shelf.”

“You said it was military surplus,” Danny said slowly. “I’m not going to get in trouble, am I?”

“Danny!” Art looked hurt. “Of course not! I own this stuff fair and square. Got it at government auction. Got all the documentation, too—well, most of it; there were some blacked-out chunks, and there’s so much of it I haven’t finished reading it yet. But I got the gist of it. The army canned the program, and sold off the equipment.”

“But if it works...”

“Obviously it doesn’t—not for military purposes. Maybe it falls off tanks when they’re hit by machine gun fire. Maybe it isn’t waterproof. My guess is, it just isn’t permanent enough. Anyway, what do you care?”

Good question, Danny thought. He didn’t have to know how the stuff worked; he didn’t understand the science behind synthiflesh or threedee recorders, either, and he used them all the time. This wasn’t Renaissance Italy; he didn’t have to mix his own pigments. That kind of thing was for the post-postmodern fundamentalists, not the avant-gardistes.

Art gave Danny the tube of pigment he’d just demonstrated, and packed it into a chilled, insulated tube for him, then packaged up the programming interface, its cable, and a datastick. “It takes energy to make new nanomites,” he explained as he worked. “So don’t get any on your hands; you do, and you’re looking at minor frostbite at least. Worst-case scenario, I figure, is that your fingers break off like so many Popsicles. When you’re not using it, keep it in your freezer. The assembler nanomites were designed to stay quiescent at about -10 Celsius.”

Danny was feeling uneasy again. “What if I do get some on me?” he said. “What should I do?”

“Pray,” Art said solemnly. Danny stared at him wide-eyed, and after a moment Art’s grave expression crumpled into a grin. “Rubbing alcohol,” he said. “Kills ’em dead. Or you could try a blowtorch—they can’t assimilate that much heat all at once—but that’s a rather drastic form of first aid.”

Uneasy but eager, Danny said good-bye to Art and took a cab home. By the time he got there he had his work that would win him the Stanislaw firmly fixed in his head.

It would consist of three gilded, old-fashioned frames, all hung on a wall within a larger frame—a simple black square delineating the edges of the work, with his signature in the lower right corner.

Within each of the smaller frames would be a layer of the nanopaint, programmed to create a particular classic style of painting: pre-Raphaelite, Abstract Expressionist, Impressionist, Neo-Classical, Cubist. But every few minutes, each painting would change to a different style. No human would touch the canvases, yet scores of original paintings would appear, tease the eye for a few minutes, then vanish, never to be seen again.

How could any avant-garde jury resist a work that had so much to say about the mechanization of art, the dehumanization of the creative process, the transience of genius?

It was almost midnight when he got home. He went into the kitchen, turned on the light, and gasped. Table on its side, cabinet doors swinging open, broken glass everywhere, his best Scotch puddled on the floor...damnthat monkey!

Well, he’d clean it up tomorrow. He put the cylinder in the freezer compartment of his refrigerator, then went into his office, connected the programming interface Art had given him, and installed the software, feeling only a slight uneasiness as the first screen warned him this program was CLASSIFIED and PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY and said something ominous about FEDERAL PROSECUTION. Art said he bought the stuff fair and square, he reassured himself.

A lengthy text file popped up first, plastered with more WARNINGS and CAUTIONS, but Danny closed it without looking at it. He preferred the intuitive approach.

There were a lot of options for programming the paint, but Danny ignored everything except for the FAMOUS PAINTINGS menu. He picked something at random—Monet’s Waterlilies—and clicked PROGRAM.

A warning box popped up on the screen, empty except for an exclamation point and the words, WRITE WARNING TEXT HERE. Impatiently Danny closed the box and was rewarded with a new one: INSERT PIGMENT INTO INTERFACE.

“All right!” Whistling, Danny made a quick trip to the freezer; a few seconds later, he was slipping a vial of nanomite assemblers into the “battery charger.”

Almost at once, the computer beeped. PROGRAMMING COMPLETED, it said. He closed the software, pulled out the tube of pigment, and went down the stairs to his basement workshop.

In between serious pieces, Danny liked to paint oil landscapes, so he already had a couple of prepared canvasses. He set one up on an easel, opened the vial, and dribbled half of its contents on the canvas. Almost at once, colour appeared, spreading slowly, faint and amorphous at first, but soon vividly, unmistakably, one of Monet’s famous paintings of waterlilies.

Yet it seemed...thin, somehow, like watery gruel. Danny frowned at it, thinking. Of course, Waterlilieswas far more complex, visually, than the Mondrian that Art had demonstrated; and Art had said something about fractals...didn’t that mean almost endless levels of complexity? That would obviously take time.

Danny yawned. He was eager to start on the frames, but he didn’t do his best work when he was tired. Maybe a few hours’ sleep wouldn’t be a bad idea. Screwing shut the vial, still half-full of programmed nanomites, he climbed back up the stairs, returned the vial to the tube and the tube to the freezer, then went to bed.

It felt cold and empty without Helga, but Danny was confident it was only temporary. She’d be back. Once he won the Stanislaw...yeah, she’d be back. Or someone else would take her place...he slipped into a pleasantly erotic dream.

The phone rang. Groggily, Danny rolled over and looked at its glowing screen. Art’s Avant Garde Art Supplies, he read; and, 3:27 a.m.

He punched the speakerphone button. “Art, what the hell are you doing calling me this time of night?”

“Danny, listen carefully.” It was Art, all right, but he sounded odd—breathless and frightened. “Danny, whatever you do, don’t use the paint.”

“What?” Danny yawned hugely. “Art, is this some kind of a joke?”

“Danny, I’m not joking. Don’t use the paint.”

Danny rubbed his eyes, trying to come awake. “It’s too—” he yawned again. “Too late,” he finished. “I’ve already started my project. You were right, Art; it’s going to win me the Stanislaw.”

Dead silence for a very long moment. “You’ve opened it?” Art finally said, barely whispering.

“It’s making me a Monet,” Danny said.

When Art spoke again, he sounded half-strangled. “Did you...” He cleared his throat. “Danny, did you fill in allthe specifications when you programmed it?”

“Huh?”

“Did you tell it, very specifically, what kind of surface to paint, and most importantly—did you program in a lifespan?”

“No.”

“Oh, God,” Art said, and if Danny hadn’t known Art was an atheist, he’d have sworn he meant it as a prayer.

“Art, what’s wrong?”

“I finished reading the documentation, Danny. You’ve got to destroy that paint. Now. Have you got any alcohol? A blowtorch?”

“There’s a bottle of alcohol in the medicine cabinet—”

“That’s not enough. Look, Danny, I’m on my way. I’ll bring a drum of alcohol and a spray pump. Maybe we can still stop it.”

“Stop what?” But all Danny heard in response was a clatter, as though the receiver had been dropped. “Art? Art?” Was that the sound of a door slamming?

Very odd. Danny yawned. He tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but Art’s call niggled at him until finally he muttered, “Shit,” and got up.

Naked except for his slippers—protection against all the broken glass the monkey had left behind—he padded down to the kitchen, opened the freezer compartment door—

—and slammed it shut again in an instant.

Either everything in there had gone spectacularly bad all at once, exploding and covering the inside of the fridge with multicoloured mold, or he had a problem.

He opened the door again, just enough to turn on the inside light.

It wasn’t mold. Everything, from shelves to walls to containers to a loaf of bread, bore a fine representation of Monet’s waterlilies.

He ran to the basement door, opened it, took one look, and slammed it closed.

Every goddamn thing in the basement was covered with Monet’s waterlilies, too. Another step, and he’d have drowned in them.

He looked back at the refrigerator. Waterlilies were starting to creep around the edges of the refrigerator door.

Alcohol. Art had said alcohol would kill them. Danny spun around to run to the bathroom medicine cabinet, but his slipper twisted under his foot and he stumbled and almost fell, catching himself with one hand on the refrigerator.

Icy cold bit at him and he jerked himself upright again, staring in horror at the faint colour on his fingertips; almost instantly it began to spread, running up his fingers toward his knuckles. “Shit!” he screamed, and ran for the bathroom. There he flung open the medicine cabinet and jerked out the bottle of rubbing alcohol. He twisted the cap off with his teeth and splashed the alcohol over his hand, now as numb and cold as though he’d been cycling in January without a glove. To his relief, the colour faded, and when he wiped his fingers clean on the towel, nothing bloomed on it.

So the little bastards weren’t invulnerable. But his rubbing alcohol wouldn’t go very far, and that damn monkey had smashed every bottle of whiskey he had in the house. Art was on his way, but even a tank of the stuff might not be enough...how far had they spread?

Danny ran back to the kitchen, to discover waterlilies creeping across the kitchen floor, avoiding the puddles of spilled whisky. They covered the kitchen counter, and the refrigerator wore a complete mantel of Impressionism.

Something popped downstairs and all the lights went out. With an audible hiss, the pigments spilling out across the kitchen floor, now barely visible in the glow of a streetlight outside the kitchen window, accelerated their growth, reaching hungrily toward Danny’s feet. He jumped onto a chair. The temperature plummeted. His naked body erupted in goose bumps and he could see his breath.

The damn nanomites must be doubling their numbers every few minutes. In no time they would engulf the house, then the block, then the city...eventually, maybe the world.

He suddenly envisioned Earth covered with Monet’s Waterlilies, a stunning Impressionist painting hanging in space—beautiful, and quite, quite dead.

He had to stop the nanomites there and then, and if he couldn’t do it with alcohol, he’d have to do it with fire.

But first, he had to get off his chair; nanomites were running up its legs. Fortunately he was close to the arch into the living room, where the nanomites had so far been stymied by the thick shag rug. He took a deep breath, and jumped.

He landed on the now-motionless Fembot 21, twisting his ankle and falling into the purple glass pillar, which went over with a crash. Swearing, he staggered up and limped out the front door, hobbling as fast as he could around back yard to the gardening shed, where he fumbled frantically with the combination lock. It took him three tries to get it open. By the time he emerged with the gasoline can, waterlilies covered the kitchen windows like exquisite stained glass.

He dashed around the house, splashing gasoline on everything he could reach. He must have been making too much noise; a window slid open in the next-door house, and a little boy’s voice shrieked, “Mommy, he’s not wearing any clothes!” Danny shot one frantic glance around in time to see Mommy take one long appraising look at him, then disappear with the child. A few seconds later he could hear her yelling to the 911 operator.

Danny threw aside the can—and realized he didn’t have any matches.

Back to the shed for the butane lighter he used for his barbecue. By the time he got back to the house, he could hear sirens in the distance, drawing closer.

He stuck the lighter against the siding and pulled the trigger.

The old wooden-frame building went up like a torch, the flames licking hungrily across the clapboard, racing across the roof, dancing around the chimney. The kitchen seemed to resist burning at first, and he could imagine the nanomites trying to suck up all the extra heat energy surrounding them, but there weren’t enough of them, thank God, and soon the kitchen, and the pigments, and all of Monet’s waterlilies were burning merrily.

By the time Art, the police, and the fire trucks all arrived, flames roared a hundred feet into the sky, and the whole neighbourhood was on hand to watch Danny, a blanket thrown around his shoulders, being handcuffed and led away.

Art had the decency to look guilt-stricken as Danny passed him. “Don’t worry,” Art said. “I’ll bail you out.”

Danny said nothing. A deep sense of relief made him almost giddy. He looked up with satisfaction at the tower of black smoke billowing into and merging with the overcast sky.

Then, as he slid inside the police cruiser, it started to rain.

Relief gave way to numbness as he watched the raindrops hit the ground. In a way, he supposed, it was his finest work, definitely worthy of the Stanislaw. Instead of society devouring and debasing art, as it usually did, this time art would devour society. From the Orbital Hilton, no doubt, it would be spectacular.

He wished he was going to live long enough to travel there and see it, but he doubted that he would…because everywhere a raindrop fell, waterlilies bloomed.

This story originally appeared in Space and Time.


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Edward Willett

Edward Willett is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy for readers of all ages.