The Quickest Way

[Authors Note: This was one of my early attempts at getting a mini story out of my head, and into actual words. It isn’t completely fleshed out yet, but I was motivated to write this story by my wife (who mysteriously has this steadfast idea that I could one day be a writer), and presented this stunted form to her on her birthday. Enjoy! – MM]

The quickest way to a womans heart, is through her mind.

Planting the seed

After giving what he felt was an exciting and inspiring rendition of the artistic merit of the work before him, the teacher turned to face his class. Observing the sea of disinterested faces before him, the old man was somewhat disheartened. He knew this group to be a well behaved group, with more than its fair share of studious individuals; indeed many could be seen frantically taking notes even now. But he didn’t want obedience. He didn’t want complacency.

He wanted passion, engagement and an eagerness to learn! Sadly however, this was not on offer in the throng before him.

Sighing, he stared through wall length windows to his left and noticed the growing rabble of parents outside, awaiting the release of their various children.

Eight minutes to go, he mused; perhaps I can give these kids something to think about before days end.

“Now then, who can tell me why this painting is important?” he asked, projecting his voice just that little louder than usual.

It got the desired response as eyes turned from their embedded desk screens to the man heading the class.

“What do you mean; you just told us why it’s a good painting” came a reply from midway up the room. Johnson, a semi-talented athlete, but a lacking artist; and always reliable for taking the bait, were it thrown out effectively.

“Yes I did, I did tell you why it was ‘good’. But now I am asking you why it is important.” The teacher punctuated this point by jabbing the air with his finger, ”The aesthetic appeal of this painting is without question, but there is something more interesting beneath the surface”

He looked around the class, now satisfied that he had the majority of the students attention, and was about to scatter their silence with his intended lesson, when a voice echoed toward his from the rear of the room.

“It was painted by Julian Grey”

A series of quiet gasps spread across the room. At the front of the class, the teacher looks toward the source of this answer and smiles.

“That’s right Miss Durant!” The pride evident in his reply belied the teacher’s usual air of composure.

At the front of the class room the large screen that filled the entire wall was still showing the high resolution image of the artwork in question. Moving toward the surface of the screen, the teacher grabbed a portion of the image’s lower right corner, and stretched it across until it filled their view. The magnified corner bore the unmistakable signature; J. Grey.

“This painting was one of the early works of Julian Grey; while he was still in school actually, only a few years older than you all, and long before he ever moved his attentions to the more nefarious deeds which you no doubt know him for today”

With a flick of his hands, the signature shrank back down, taking its original place at the corner of the famous artwork, which was now holding even more attention from the audience before him. The students squinted slightly, peering at the obscure abstract as if trying to force its meaning out through shear will. The teacher continued, conscious now of the looming deadline he had only earlier been trying to fill in time for, yet now found himself lamenting its inevitable arrival.

“What you are seeing here is one of the pioneering mindhacks of the twenty-first century; the first major step from artistic beauty being solely within the realm of philosophy, to it moving into the realm of science. Using what he had learned from his father’s illegal experiments in the thirties, Grey was able to construct what we call a population approximator mindmap, and tailor made this piece of artwork to be appealing to over seventy-five percent of the population. Subsequently, such methods have been made illegal, due to the Branson Act of 2041, where it was labelled as everything from a form of insider trading, to an artistic fraud”

“How can art be fraud?” another voice queried from within the classroom.

“Well, I am not certain if it can.” The teacher responded earnestly. He was not one to tow the government line on all regards, though he was careful to make sure it was well known and mentioned in his classes. He continued, slightly more aware of the cameras evaluating his teaching methods, and though he had been assured they weren’t used for surveillance, one could never be certain.

“The official angle on this verdict was that art such as the Mind’s Eye came about their appeal not through the artist’s vision and talent, but rather from the analysis of mind maps, and neurological structures. So they effectively think it cheating.

“You see, the way these things are created mean that they can essentially tap into the subconscious, and draw upon things there that are beyond not only our control, but also our detection. Things like hunger, desire, love, anger, pleasure, and so on. Grey made this one especially to trigger responses in the limbic system that are often associated with intertemporal choice and other economic patterns. In effect it makes you want to buy this painting”

There was an exchange of looks among the students that caught the teacher’s attention.

“You all seem a bit sceptical,” tapping a few keys on his pad as he spoke, a group of statistics floated onto the screen overlapping the painting, ”and yet I can see here that just over two thirds of you have saved this high resolution images to your cloud as it is”

A sea of embarrassed and amused faces greeted this revelation. The teacher couldn’t help but smile back.

“There is no reason to be ashamed of this fact. We are not all as in control of our minds as we would like to think. And this is why you will find this piece of visual art, along with the majority of Grey’s later work, in the public commons. The government couldn’t ban the material, as these days it is effectively impossible to remove something from the sphere of available information. So they decided to simply remove the potential benefits that conmen like Grey relied upon.”

The shrill tone of the school’s bell signalled the end of the class. Like a herd of well trained animals, the students present leapt to their feet, and instantly lost engagement with the lesson they had been learning. The teacher at the front of the class was happy either way. He had felt some good vibes form this class, and made a mental note to look into extending this next week.

Toward the rear of the class, another person was making mental notes on the subject, as his eyes were fixed firmly, but also discretely, upon Lyndsy Durant as she packed her books away, and exited the classroom.

oOo

Getting the tools

In the basement bedroom of one of the most opulent houses, in the most wealthy part of town, our hero David meets with an acquaintance, prepared to hand over a box containing his most prized possession.

oOo

“So why do you need this anyway?” said Mark, the person David had cut a deal with two night previously.

“Why is it you want to know?” came the reply, along with an accusatory glance.

“I don’t know I just-“ David stammered.

“You going to tell me why you need this file and who it is? Because this seems a mighty bit shady to me my friend” with that he poked David in the chest, and stared at him over the rim of his glasses.

“No. I mean, it could, but it isn’t. I’m just, I want to-“

David had been psyching himself up ready for tonight, the first major step in his plan outside of his own sphere of control. But Mark’s interest in his motives was unsettling any plans he had had of playing it cool.

“Relax brother. I’m not the least bit phased what you’re up to with mindmaps, provided you make sure to keep any reference to me under your ridiculous hat”

David felt a bit ridiculous now, sitting the converted basement of a one time friend; it was far from a suspicious looking activity, even for him. Yet in an effort to be extra cautious, he had worn one of his father’s old work hats, which sat just a bit too big on him, and looked like it not only belonged on another head, but in another era.

He took it off and placed it on the floor.

It was hard to believe that it was only two days ago he had enlisted the services of his schools most notorious hacker. Yet here he was, ready to part with something most people would pay good money to keep, and all because he had some crazy scheme to win over Lyndsy Durant.

“So why do you do this Mark” David said, bringing himself back to reality.

“Have you had your potential analysis done yet Dave?” Mark replied, seemingly to a different question.

“Yes. I mean hasn’t everyone up until this point?” replied David, following him off on this tangent.

“Most people;” Mark delineated this with a raised finger “but there are a lot of parents who leave it up to the kid, or wait until unit selection. Some people still like a bit of mystery in their lives. Obviously not you.”

David thought about this for a second before answering.

“I am happy knowing what my strengths and weaknesses are; that doesn’t mean they will define me.”

Mark shook his head at this, clearly not agreeing.

“They will if you let them, and they will if you let other people tell you so… Do you know what I do Dave?”

“Yeah, you…… you hack into government and company-“

Mark cut him off mid-sentence with a wave of the hand.

“No. I mean yes, I do obviously. But no that’s not what I mean. Do you know what my career will be? Do you know anything about my mindmap?” the hacker asked as he stood, turning his back to David, and walking across the small space of the room.

“You have one?” David replied, also standing as he felt compelled for some reason.

“Like you said, hasn’t everyone?”

“I guess” David was getting a bit confused where this was heading as he noted Mark placing his hand on some large shape obscured by a dusty grey sheet.

“So yes, I had mine done at quite a young age, and it showed a very unique talent for music. I have the makings of a virtuoso apparently. To be the best piano player in a hundred years.”

With the style and manner of a stage magician he dramatically whipped the sheet aside, revealing an ornate wooden piano. Exactly the last thing David had expected a hacker to be hiding in his basement headquarters.

“That’s amazing”

A look of amusement and derision appeared on Marks face as he sat in front of the instrument.

“Isn’t it. But you know what; I hate the piano. I hate playing it, I hate listening to it, and I definitely hate having my life driven by it, and the world insisting that I learn it, and excel at it, and be great!” his voice rose slightly as he hammered the keys. There was an odd melodious sound to the frustrated rapping that David couldn’t quite place. Mark continued his mini-tirade.

“My parents tell me all the time not just about my potential, but about my duty; my duty to mankind to nurture this gift. But it’s more of a curse. I am a prisoner to my potential.”

He slumped down dramatically on the keys, a cacophony of notes erupted from within.

“But enough about me, what are your potentials; how is your mind holding you to ransom?”

He turned and stared intently at David. Though they had known each other for years they had drifted apart for their senior years, and suddenly David felt as if Mark was looking at him for the first time again.

“I have no real outliers.” He answered, palms to the air with a shrug of dismissal, “I have some advanced ability in visual art, and a knack for logic and reasoning skills, but nothing beyond normal levels.”

Mark stood from his piano, flung the sheet across it again, and moved toward the small computer desk in the room’s corner.

“So a mediocre man gives one of his most prized possessions away in order to get a mindmap of his sweetheart to do something not sinister, but nevertheless secret… Am I going to find any unpleasantness on the news this coming week Davey?” the question was delivered with a raised eyebrow.

“No”

Mark stared at David through narrow eyes, as if giving him one last look over before he incriminated himself further. With a sigh he made his decision, and began rifling through a pile of junk under his desk. He talked over his shoulder to David as he searched for the item that had spurned tonight’s meeting.

“I have to say, I thought it was odd enough when you approached me to do this bit of hacking for you. And then to find out that you wanted me to break into an optometrists; I thought you were having some kind of breakdown. But after you explained your little plan it dawned on me that it was actually quite ingenious. The security there was laughably mundane, nothing like the upscale doctors or psychiatrists that usually stock this gear. And definitely nowhere near as formidable as the government servers they run these on.”

Mark emerged from the pile with a small token in hand. It was a generic brand, no different to those memory sticks used in most modern cameras; but contained within the tiny plastic shell was a quantum level chip, capable of storing zettabytes worth of data.

David motioned to grab the token when the hacker suddenly yanked it back and held it up over the air between them.

“Remember Dave-o, the motto is hack don’t hurt; you can do some pretty crazy shit with this gear” he said with a sense of seriousness in his voice that David wasn’t used to hearing from him.

Mark let his words hang in the air for a moment to highlight the importance of what he was saying. David slowly reached up to grab the token.

“Don’t worry. Believe it or not, I’m hoping to create a bit of happiness with this thing”

oOo

Later that night David lay on his bed, staring intently at the package he had acquired that day. The full weight of his plan was beginning to form around him, as the battle between his resolve, and his caution, waged on inside his head.

There is no turning back now, he thought. Though as soon as he had thought it, he reasoned a multitude of ways that he could drop his plan now and think nothing further of it.

I could just throw it away. No one would think anything of it, and no one would ever know.

But suppose they found the disk, and looked what was on it? It wouldn’t take long to track it back to him.

No. Don’t throw it away, burn it. Put it in the microwave, and then bury it in the back yard.

Yeah, he thought, feeling quite satisfied with the plan.

That’s what I would do if I were to chicken out.

But then again he wasn’t going to chicken out.

Before today he had made headway with his main plan, but so far it had all remained pretty much theoretical. He had done the research, made the program, and researched the results he was expecting. He knew how it would work, what to look for, and how he would make it happen. Up until his meeting with Mark the hacker, the only trace of what he was trying to do was a non-descript file hidden away on one of his older hard-drives, encrypted and ready to erase itself if anyone else failed to enter his ten digit password in the allotted two minutes time.

He smiled as the ridiculousness of it all set in. He was doing this because of a crush. What seemed like a lifelong crush with someone he had rarely spoken to.

Lyndsy Durant.

The light in his day, the muse for his artwork; giving him inspiration, and hope for the future.

He had never really had any plan for his future, but lately he had become certain that before school was over, he had to make a move somehow; some way. But he could never raise up the courage to do anything conventional about it.

All this for a girl he knew, but didn’t really know.

He knew she lived roughly in his neighbourhood, and he knew she had a penchant for photography. She was smart too. Smart enough to have recognised Grey’s painting the other day in class and start this whole mess. But also smart enough to soundly beat him academically in every class they shared.

David also knew that the reason she wore a somewhat clunky pair of black framed glasses was due to a form of lazy eye that had gone unnoticed during her mid teens, but had began to bother her as they approached their final years. The condition was more mental than physical, and she had told the class about how a special mindmap had been created to try and alleviate some of the internal causes of this affliction, but that it ultimately hadn’t worked. There were hopes for the future however.

David remembered this from a while ago, and like pieces of a puzzle things began to connect in his mind.

oOo

David had cleared a large space in his parent’s basement, and under the guise of his final year thesis, had forbidden any of his family from entering. Luckily he had proved similarly secretive while completing his actual artworks in previous years, so there was no question of family compliance. They just nodded and let him get on with his work.

While David’s talent in computing was not exceptional, it was still measured just enough above average for him to have felt comfortable enrolling in a programming course over the summer. He had actually quite enjoyed the exercises, and guessed this was due to his heightened abilities in reason and logic. Or perhaps it was because he and his classmates spent most of the time coding games to share among the student body. Either way, David now possessed enough of a working knowledge to create an ad hoc simulator with the mindmap Mark had provided.

This stage of his plan was simple. His computer would run though a series of iterative steps, giving a basic pattern of lines and colours, then run these through an emulator, and score the results. When an image scored high, it would be selected, and a series of alterations made; a collection of offspring if you will. His algorithm was based on evolutionary processes, and as such each iteration mutated, and was judged according to the relative success it spurned from the mindmap’s utilisation.

At some point along the way, the program would generate an image that was sufficiently complicated, and perfectly adapted to the mindmaps preferences. Then all he had to do was replicate the image on a canvas, and move on to the next stage.

Gingerly he removed the small memory token he had concealed in his pocket after coming down the stairs that day for breakfast. It only contained a copy of the mindmap (the original was locked away in his room), but still he treated it with a degree of reverence, delicately sliding it into his computer, and loading its contents into the app he had created. It took a few tense minutes of loading before the entire set of data had been transferred. Then with equal parts exhilaration and angst, he clicked on the run button.

The program ran through thousands of iterations a second, making small and unperceivable changes, but slowly increasing in intricacy. Every few hundred thousand generations, a preview image would fill the screen so that David could monitor its progress. It started off simple, just a few lines of colour streaked randomly across a white rectangle. Slowly as each hallmark was passed, the screen would refresh, and trends began to appear. There was a preference for blue that quickly made itself known on the canvas as abstract shapes began to snake across it; merging and billowing across his screen as if it were alive. In a sense David supposed it was alive; it was artistic life struggling to survive under the critical eye of the human mind. Albeit a copy of a mind.

When the final product was completed David projected it onto the large two by three meter canvas he had supported on a wall in the basement, and imprinted an outline of the basic composition in faint grey lines. He also printed of a copy similar in size to a broadsheet newspaper, and set about his task.

The painting itself wasn’t very hard. It was similar to some of his previous pieces, and this was intentional. Within his simulation program was a bias toward certain artistic techniques; toward the abstract and physical painting. After all, he didn’t want to generate something he couldn’t replicate.

When he was finished he spent some time simply looking at his creation. Though it didn’t really feel like his. It was a nice painting. There was no real structure; his teacher would later come to call it derivative, and question its inclusion over other pieces in his portfolio. But David insisted this piece be included in the student exhibition happening at the end of the year. It was crucial to his plan.

oOo

The Incident

In the upper class area of town, the silent night was shattered by a bevy of sirens and roaring engines. A shocked family watches on in despair as their youngest son, a world renowned pianist, is dragged shackled to a waiting police van.

The next day more news reports fill the local media. A hacker in their midst some say. A terrorist, theorise others. Either way, there is more to come.

A local school exhibition is the next scene of scandal, as officials arrive to confiscate a local boy’s entry, along with any digital replications in the cloud.

Few people know it, but the same night heralded the arrival of similarly armour-clad government officials at a house in the lower levels of the cities suburbs. They burst into the home, took a member of the family in custody, and erased the family’s computers.

For a short week the community was ablaze with rumours as to the story behind these disruptions. But before the truth could be found, the media went silent. The attention of the locals moved from the previously engaging story to more mundane and comforting things; local sporting events, and reports of Council indiscretions.

Meanwhile one young man’s plans lie in ruin.

oOo

Aftermath

A week later, David received an unexpected request in his inbox. He considered for a moment what this meant, but figured he had somewhat of a debt to pay.

It was a two hour ride by bike out to the edge of town, and David was only allowed out of the house if he accepted that his uplink had to be kept public, and traceable. He didn’t mind. He didn’t seem to mind much these days. It was amazing how your troubles and worries seemed to slip away when you were grounded, and had no future prospects. There was a sense of serenity in a life with no prospects.

He arrived at the prison that skirted the outer limits of his city in the mid-afternoon, and went through the large steel gates to meet an old friend.

oOo

“You have to admit, this stuff is ridiculously out-dated”

Sitting in the confines of a prison visitors room, David watched through a clear screen as his old school friend Mark sat on the other side, in prison fatigues. The out-dated tech he was referring to were the telephone handset and receivers, still utilised in this prison as it had been the past forty years.

“I mean, I am a fan of retro, but….”

The two boys chuckled, for a moment letting themselves forget where they were, and why they were being forced to use such an antiquated form of communication.

“So they don’t let you have net access in here?” David asked, flicking his eyes back and forth from the many cameras lining the prison ceiling.

“They do, but it’s very restricted, and only through voice commands.”

“Sounds alright I guess” David replied, not quite sure how to advance the conversation.

“It isn’t too bad. Anyhow Dave, the reason I wanted to see you is. I wanted to….” He was struggling. For the first time David noticed his unwavering confidence fail, and he sense his moment to interject had arrived.

“I want to say I’m sorry Mark”

“What?” a look of genuine surprise found its way on the prisoners face.

“I shouldn’t have gotten you into this mess Mark. I did it for selfish reasons, and now look what happened”

David was astonished to see anguish on Marks face as he suddenly seemed on the point of breaking down.

“No David, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But you don’t know what they can do to you. Your mind….. You think it’s secure. You think there is some kind of barrier between you, and the world. But there isn’t. They can reach right in and take. Take whatever they want. I didn’t want to give you up. I didn’t plan to give you up, and I didn’t think I had. But. But.”

David watched as his friend was almost brought to tears as he relived the past week’s events.

“It’s ok Mark. It was a stupid idea. I should never have gone through with it” David motioned with his hands as if dismissing the whole notion of winning over his crush as immaterial.

“I told them you were going to use it to make sexual advances on that Durant girl,’ Mark said in a shameful voice “or something worse. I didn’t think that, at least I didn’t think that I did. Jesus; I don’t even know what’s really in my head, and what’s left over after they rifled through up there. I’m sorry David. Truly I am.”

Mark placed his head in his hands, sweat beads forming on his forehead.

“Like I said, you don’t have to apologise, I knew what I was doing. What the consequences were”

Without looking up Mark kept talking, his voice now more monotone, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, but with it so to had left his passion, his motivation to explain himself.

“You can have your payment back. That is if you still want it… And if they haven’t confiscated it …..”

“You can keep it my friend; it doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to you”

A weary smile made its way across the prisoners face as his head rose to meet David’s gaze.

“You know, at least one thing came out of this alright in the end” Mark noted, somehow gaining his composure again.

A puzzled look came over David’s face, as he failed to see any good that had come out of the past few days.

“And what is that?” he enquired, watching as the guards behind Mark advanced, signalling the end of visiting hours.

“Look around you” Mark replied, gesturing to the all but empty rooms they each sat in as the guards helped him to his feet; “There are no pianos in here”.

With that a lopsided and weary grin Mark was escorted from the room.

oOo

Fruition

David had thought the two hour ride to the prison to meet Mark had been a tedious one, but a misplaced nail on the bike path halfway home had shown him just how tedious it truly could have been.

Walking through the grid-work of mid-level suburbia, he pushed his bike along silently. The front wheel was punctured, and due to a quick trip over the handlebars, its rim was slightly bent out of shape. Were it not for that secondary damage David would still have been able to ride home and make pretty decent time. But as things stood now, he was just glad that the wheel managed to spin, otherwise he would be carrying the confounded thing home.

A quick call back home had informed his parents of his escapades. Their initially cold glare soon wore off as they heard of his misadventure, and after a short laugh at his expense he could see a slight sign of worry on his mother’s tiny face projected through his phones display.

She offered to pick him up, but he declined. She would normally have insisted, but something in her son’s voice let her know he needed some time alone.

After the initial pain and ire of the afternoons proceedings had worn off, David actually began to enjoy his walk. The city streets were deserted as the day moved toward twilight, and it created quite a pleasant atmosphere. One where he could just immerse himself in the moment, and try to forget about the quagmire he had gotten himself into.

Pushing his bike up over a curb and onto some soft green grass, he entered the small park a few blocks from home, and could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. A sense of relief briefly washed over him until something in the distance caught his eye. He could see a familiar figure lazily swaying back and forth on one of the playground swings across the park from him. Conscious of the fact that he had literally frozen as he registered this, he averted his gaze, and began slowly pushing his bike again.

It was Lyndsy Durant. Lyndsy Durant right here, right near him.

David had known that she lived a few blocks from him, but he hadn’t ever run into her here before. He wasn’t sure what he was meant to do, but he knew he wanted to get away from here right now.

Much to his dismay, the bike wheel which had stayed quiet during his silent walk from the point of incident, now sprang to life, with a slight squeak emitting from the axel every rotation, and echoing clearly across the park.

He swore quietly to himself, determined to keep his eyes forward, and not stop moving. His breath was coming in short gasps now, and he was surprised at how much he was panicking right now. Suddenly David felt flushed around the collar and discovered that he couldn’t quite remember how long his steps usually were. Was he walking properly? Did he really usually have such a long stride? He kept his head looking intently forward during this inner crisis, not daring to look away, or even turn his gaze from the sun, which had lowered into his view causing him to squint.

Almost there, he thought, watching the approaching path inch ever closer. Just a few more seconds and I will be on the path, and can turn the corner. Turn out of the spotlight, and languish back into obscurity.

For the second time in what seemed like hours, but had only been minutes, David reached the outer edge of the park, and felt a sense of relief wash over him.

And again, this sense of relief was short lived.

“David?”

He heard her voice appear from behind him, and couldn’t believe it was really happening. In a moment of clarity the internal turmoil in David’s mind quieted, and he turned to face the person who had been the cause of so much planning on his behalf.

“Uh, hi. Hi Lyndsy, how are you” David listened to himself say this, but didn’t feel in control of the conversation. He was merely watching it happen with a sense of trepidation.

“Yeah. I’m not too bad” She replied brushing a strand of hair from her face. Her beautiful face.

In the light of the falling sun David looked at her and felt the absurdity of the situation drop away. Suddenly it didn’t seem weird that she was talking to him after he had been publicly humiliated and arrested for suspected subversion of personal autonomy. It didn’t strike him as odd that after all that had happened, he was just asking her how she was, and she answering accordingly. David had thought he might one day write to her and apologise. Or perhaps call her parents on the phone. He had thought these things, and had been certain of one thing; he would make sure never to contact her, or see her again. He had been adamant of that fact, repeating it to himself over and over again during the previous few days.

But now, standing awkwardly at the boundary of the park with his wrecked bicycle, all he wanted to do was forget the past, and focus on what was happening, right here and now.

“Uh.. And how are you?” She said after a moment, squinting in the sunlight and looking at him with a quizzical expression.

“Yeah, yeah” he said, shaking his head and realising he had spent the last few seconds just staring at her; “Yeah I’m pretty good too”.

“You look a bit dinged up there” she gestured to the series of small scrapes and bruises now making themselves known on his various joints.

“Nothing major, but my bike will need some work” he said, staring down at the misshapen front wheel.

“No doubt you will have some spare time to take care of that” came Lyndsy’s reply.

David reassessed her for a moment. There was a faintly mischievous glint in her eye and she smiled at his confused look.

“You’re not angry with me?” he asked her earnestly, not certain if he should be bringing up the recent, unpleasantness.

“You know a lot of people think I should be. And a lot more are angry at you in my stead. Incidentally, you might not want to come anywhere near my dad for a while.” She added matter-of-factly.

David hadn’t been planning to go near her home, but the possibilities left open by the suggestion only lasting ‘for a while’ hinted at something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“I should probably explain myself. The, uh. The painting, it wasn’t meant to be for. You know; what they are saying it was for. I just wanted to-” he stammered, slowly feeling the ease he had experienced earlier fade away, and his inner awkwardness reassert itself.

“Before you explain yourself, let me explain myself” Lyndsy said with an air of authority that held David back from any further comments.

David was reeling more and more as this strange conversation continued. He managed to compose himself, if only in appearance, and stood mutely while the girl he had lost everything for recently spoke to him.

“The police told me what was going on with your painting. They asked me if I had seen it, and I said I hadn’t. They said that was good thing, and that the painting would be destroyed. There were a lot of words being thrown around that night, and a lot of it was meant to make me wary of you. To make sure I understood what it is they said you were trying to do to me.” David tried to interrupt, but she held him back with a firm look in her eye, and a sharply pointed finger.

“That’s what I want to say-” was all he could muster before she cut him off.

“But I didn’t listen. I lied to them the moment I saw them. I don’t quite know why, though perhaps you do. Nevertheless lie to them I did. I lied because I had seen the painting.”

David’s eyebrows shot as far up his forehead as his physiology would allow. She had seen it; she had seen the painting!

“I saw the painting”, her words echoed his thoughts as he stood there stunned, “I saw the painting, but it didn’t affect me the way they said it would. I wasn’t suggestible; I didn’t feel flushed, or excited. It didn’t bring up any desires for you, or thoughts of you like they said it might. To be honest, I didn’t think of you at all, the whole time. I forgot to look at the name of the picture, or who it was by, because I had to leave. I didn’t have time, so I didn’t even know it was by you until they started yammering on about it.”

She waved her hands in the air in a dismissive tone. David felt exhilarated just to be this close to her, to be having a conversation with her, and to see her passions bubbling to the surface.

“But I did feel something” Her voice took on an odd quality as she said that last word; like she was trying to get across how important it was, but there was also a hint of confusion behind this façade; like she couldn’t quite understand why this was so.

“I can’t explain it, but it made me think of something I hadn’t thought of in a long time.”

For the duration of her speech she had been looking back and forth, never settling her gaze in any one direction. But now she finally looked directly at David, her eyes meeting his.

“It made me think of my mother”

She turned again, breaking eye contact.

“Oh, I would do anything to have that painting back; that moment. To feel again what I haven’t felt in so long. I was happy David, really happy. And I don’t care what people say, it wasn’t a mindhack, or a false happiness. It was a memory, a memory brought back by you; by your painting.

“I sat there and I listened to the police, and agreed with them on the outside because I didn’t want them to know that whatever it is you had done; it worked. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want it to be sullied, I didn’t want them to say it wasn’t true”

She turned again, facing him with a decisive look.

“So what I wanted to say. The reason I came here, and waited for you. Is I want to say thank you”

Silence filled the air between the two. David broke it reluctantly, not sure he wanted to risk saying the wrong thing, after she had said so much to him.

“You want to thank me?” he asked, not quite believing that something good might have sprung up from what he considered a life ending cataclysm.

“It might come as a surprise to you David, but no one has ever done anything so thoughtful for me. No one has really gotten to know the real me, and even though the same might be true of you, at least you tried to give me something real, rather than just wanting to take something away” her voice trailed off in the end, and she averted her eyes to the ground, as if suddenly embarrassed by how much she was telling David.

“It’s gone now. They destroyed it, along with my computer……” David stared at the ground trying to take it all in. Perhaps there was a way he could make it again? It went against his better judgement, but then again so had a lot this year, and somehow it seemed to be working along the same lines.

Looking up, he saw Lyndsy staring back at him with another mischievous grin on her beautiful face. She held her phone around for him to see. On its vibrant display was a photo of his painting, captured as it had hung on the exhibition wall that previous week, before the government had taken it away, presumably to be burnt.

As the sun parted from the evening sky, David felt the world seem to get a bit cooler. He looked across at the girl he had been chasing his whole life and was astonished to find her looking back at him, as he had always dreamed might happen.

Slowly Lyndsy leant across the divide, put her hand on David’s shoulder, and kissed him on the cheek.

“Thank you”

The End

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