Agent Tangerine sat listening avidly to Agent Green’s tale.
“And then what happened?”
“Well, apparently she went to school with Duchamp.”
“Yup. Hell of a coincidence. The boys drugged her and verified it all.”
Tangerine sat and sipped his mango juice. His Hawaiian T-shirt and sandals matched his vibrant red hair, as though he were a living explosion. Agent Green was wearing his customary black-tie suit. While neither of them should have attracted much notice in the busy city, as a pair sitting at the same table they were drawing more odd looks than Green was comfortable with.
“So how are things on your end?”
“Well, I’m busy working on something for the exhibition on Friday.”
“Keep it smaller than last time.”
“Of course, of course. Most people are keeping it pretty small this time around, as far as I can tell. The age of explosions and fireworks is winding down. ‘Loud and in your face’ has been done a billion times.”
“I doubt there won’t be a billion and first.”
A waitress walked over and placed a tea tray on their table. Green pulled it to his side, pouring hot water into a clinking china cup.
“Gotta admit, I’m enjoying playing the artist here. Bumming around all day and getting paid for it. Much better than having giant monsters trying to eat your brains, glad to be out of there.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
They tapped their glasses together, Tangerine downing the last of his juice as Green took a careful sip of hot milk tea.
“So what did you do with this girl afterwards?”
“Full course of amnestics, induced coma, stuck her in the hospital. Should be out of the picture for a month or two and no one knows we did a thing. Didn’t really need her for much else, and we’ve gotten rid of one of The Critic’s big ones.”
“Yeah. Makes things complicated for us, of course.”
“Friday’s thing was her exhibition. Whatever it was she had planned, she’d hyped up a lot of people about it. If she’s out of the picture, then the exhibition’s got nothing from The Critic’s clique.”
“Surely that’s good for us though, right?”
“No. Definitely not. See, it was just going to be The Director’s little dance number or whatever she had planned, but they aren’t just going to cancel it. That would make them look like they only had the one idea, they’d seem imaginatively sterile. They’ll be pulling in something else to make up for it, and whatever they do will almost certainly make a bigger bang.”
“Shit. Planning crowd control for these things is hard enough as it is.”
“Indeed. Glad that’s not my problem.”
“Any chance we could block the venue?”
“Do it in advance and they’ll move it, and once they’re there they won’t budge.”
“What kind of turnout are you expecting?”
“Ballpark it for me.”
“Pfffff… a thousand or so? Maybe two?”
“Shit. We can’t bar that many people without creating more problems.”
“Could get lucky, might not be that bad.”
Green downed the rest of his tea.
“Could we try and split the group? Set up another exhibition at the same time?”
“If you’d asked me a week ago. Your only real option’s to ride it out, I think. Have some guys attend as casuals in case someone pulls something stupid.”
“And how likely is it someone will pull something stupid?”
“I’d put odds at fifty-fifty, but everyone I know’s playing it safe. Basic stuff all around. The only real unknown here is Critic’s lot, but they don’t normally leave stuff lying around. Shouldn’t be any problems, don’t worry about it. If we make it through, cleanup should be trivial.”
“That’s a big if.”
“Don’t worry, seriously. Nobody’s going to start anything in the middle of an exhibition this big.”
They stood up, tossing change into a tip jar as they left.
“Hope you’re right, Tan. Good luck on your end.”
“Good luck yourself, Green. You gonna be there yourself? Take a gander at the impossible made real?”
“Of course. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Brilliant, I love seeing you in plainclothes. You always look so uncomfortable.”
The Sculptor sat listening avidly to The Painter’s tale.
“And then what happened?”
“Well, that’s what we don’t know, since the cameras were cut. Looks like the play itself might have been an exploit.”
“Yup. Made by a genuine anartist from the 17th century. That’s my guess, anyway.”
The Sculptor sat and sipped his banana milkshake. Unfortunately, the hospital cafeteria didn’t have a particularly wide variety of beverages, and even then the banana was the off kind of false, artificial banana flavouring, too sweet to be genuinely palatable, not to mention that the milk was skim. The Painter took a pause to swig his pocket flask of whiskey.
“So what are we doing about the exhibition?”
“No idea. Worst case scenario we just pull what she was working on.”
“What was she working on, anyway?”
“Well, it was a pretty standard exploit acrobatics show, from what she told me. You know the stuff, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, trapeze stuff, doing flips and shit. Not really what I’m into, but I can appreciate it at least.”
The Sculptor continued drinking. Seeing The Director’s body lying comatose with an oxygen mask had not been enjoyable.
“So. The Director turns up to her play that she’s been working on for two months, talks to all her actors, and then five minutes before showtime that asshole turns up and asks her to stop the performance. Then this. The question, then, is who actually made it happen.”
“You know as well as I do it was Duchamp.”
The Painter pensively considered the thought. He had previously dismissed it as being too obvious, then reconsidered it as being deceptively obvious on purpose.
“Well, he’s certainly the only lead we have.”
“The only lead we have? This is the same fucker who nicked Felix, you know! This is the stupid asshat who mailed you a painting that makes you shit yourself, this is the idiot who outright declared war on us, and this is his pre-emptive strike!”
“Could be. But probably not.”
“Think about it. Everything Duchamp’s done until now has been absolutely safe. Sure, he made me shit my pants, he sent stuff to everyone, but none of it was harmful. Duchamp might be an arrogant asshat, but this hurt the audience. People died. If I’ve got this right, and I reckon I do, Duchamp wouldn’t so much as hurt a fly. He’d harass us, yeah, but he wouldn’t pull something like this. It’s too much escalation, it doesn’t mesh with what he’s been doing. I really don’t think it was him.”
“But that’s surely exactly what he’d want you to think.”
“No. He wants to enact a cultural change, and as childishly as he behaves, he knows that something like this just gets him nowhere. What incentive would he have?”
“To weaken us.”
“If he’d wanted to kill us he would have done a cleaner job.”
“But that’s not what he was trying to do. He made it look as though Sandy did this on purpose, and the only thing that can possibly do is bring up our visibility in a bad way. The Man’s going to crack down on us if this goes on, and they will crack down hard. He’s poking a lion and a tiger with a pair of sticks to make them fight to the death.”
The Painter considered the implications.
“It’s certainly an interesting hypothesis, and if you’re right, it’s a clever strategy.”
“I’m right. It wouldn’t have been any of the Suits, weaponising exploits isn’t their style. He’s played it safe til now to get our attention, and pulling this is his way of letting us know he’s not messing around. We’ve got to do something.”
“What do you suggest?”
“He targeted Sandy because she was showing on Friday. That’s our chance to go big and show everyone we’re cooler than them. He wanted to break us down, to distract us from the community, to tear us from the audience and destroy us as artists. Well fuck that. Come Friday, we throw out everything we’ve got.”
They stood up, walking to the lifts.
“I’m guessing you’ll be wanting to call the shots on this one?”
“We don’t need to concern Critic with something like this. We’re not children, we don’t need him to change our fucking diapers.”
“No complaints here. I’ve been working on a piece that should suffice.”
“I’ll call the others, then. See you on Friday.”
Felix Cori sat listening avidly to Ruiz Duchamp’s tale.
“And then what happened?”
“Well, after she tried to stab me I just left.”
“Yup. I knew she wasn’t going to listen, I’m good at picking up subtle hints like attempted homicide. Best I could do was get the hell out of there.”
Felix sat and sipped his green tea. Ruiz was soldering a circuit board to some mechatronic actuators, occasionally flicking switches to check that all was well. He pulled a multimeter from his workbench and probed the currents. Satisfied with the results, he stood up, grabbed an apple-flavoured juice box, popped the straw in, and sat down next to Felix.
“So who do you think did it?”
“Well, it wasn’t an accident… I’d put money on the Suits. They’ve been pushing the bounds more and more lately.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know how they used to charge in guns blazing? There’s none of that anymore, and it’s not because they’ve ‘given up’. I reckon it’s a shift in strategy, but I don’t have anything solid to back it up.”
“Well, maybe. Can’t see them using exploits as a weapon, though.”
Ruiz sucked his juice box dry and started methodically unfolding it. Felix blew his tea, then took another tentative sip.
“So. What have you been up to, old man? Diving into the retirement fund?”
“Quite. I’m still working on things, just more traditional materials. Nothing out of the ordinary for a while at least. Time to eke out a bland and plain existence.”
“How profoundly boring.”
Ruiz had folded his juice box into a small aeroplane shape. He threw it across the room, landing it neatly in a garbage bin near the door.
“Will you be taking time out of your busy schedule of bland and plain for Friday’s exhibition?”
“I might, I might. What are you doing for it?”
“Oh, I won’t be going. Gotta finish all of this stuff. The last of my materials came in this morning, so it won’t be long before I send out the invitation.”
“Well, you’ll be missing out, I think.”
“Sandra had a big show planned. The guys – well, whoever’s left – they won’t just cancel it. They’ll have to show the Suits that they mean business, that they aren’t intimidated by this. They’ll be going very, very big, pulling out all the stops. Yep, it should be quite a show, methinks.”
“See, that’s the kind of childish bullshit that solves nothing.”
“Yeah. Honestly, they’re a bunch of kids. No idea what they’re doing.”
Felix sipped the last of his green tea and placed the cup at his feet.
“Glad I don’t have to deal with it any more. Hell, glad I don’t have to deal with you.”
“I’m not that bad. I’m just riling them up, really. It’s like kicking a beehive, but all the bees are artists and the kick is mailing out butt jokes. Butt jokes and poop jokes.”
“The pinnacle of comedy.”
“Quite. I just wish they’d lighten up, you know, not take everything so damn seriously. They’re not taking it the right way. Neither did you, to be honest. Retiring, bah. Scuppered all my plans, how dare you be unpredictable!”
Felix chuckled at the faux outburst, taking his cup and standing to leave.
“Well, good luck with this stuff, at any rate.”
“Don’t need luck when you’ve got talent, Felix.”
“Quite right. That’s why I wished you luck.”
“Hah. Get out of here, old man.”