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The Sculptress

FOR ART'S SAKE
by Doug Atkinson


   "Well, what do you think?"
   Kirstin came to an abrupt halt behind me in the doorway. "It's..." She gaped around the studio, glancing from sculpture to sculpture. "I can't find the words, Kelly. How...how did you make them?"
   I wheeled myself through the door and gestured towards the back room. "I'll show you in a second. First give me your first impression."
   Kirstin dropped her backpack on the wooden floor and took a long, detailed look at the nearest piece, a collection of swirling reds and yellows I called Fyrestorm. Her brow crinkled; I recognized the symptoms of her slipping into critic mode. "You're using an entirely new artform here, but I think you're still thinking in clay. This is, what, some sort of energy field?" I nodded. "They don't have to be all the same intensity, do they? You're trying to convey flame, but your color sense is retarded from working in a monochrome medium. On the other hand, the sense of shape and the curves are remarkable, and however you're levitating it is very effective. I prescribe working in watercolors for a few weeks and trying again." She looked up at me. "Now will you show me?"
   I smiled. Kirstin is a good friend, but she can be merciless in her honesty. That's what I get for befriending a critic. "Sure. I must say, you're awfully calm for encountering something this far out."
   "I've lived in California all my life. Far-out art and new technology are staples of my cultural development."
   "You're jaded, Kay." I pushed open the door to my workroom and gestured in. "There it is, have a look."
   She poked her head in. "Where? I don't...oh! What is it?"
   "Just your run-of-the-mill Southern California glowing red pyramid. I'm sure you've seen lots of them."
   The pyramid sat on top of my pottery wheel, its red glow faintly illuminating the corner of the room. Occasionally it pulsed, brightening and fading as if in time to an interior heartbeat.
   "No, I can't say that I have. Did you use that to make the light- sculptures?"
   I wheeled over to it. "Not quite. This is just the battery unit. This is what I used to make them..."
   I placed my left hand on the surface of the pyramid and focussed on its internal energy. I felt the semi-familiar tingling as the silver flowed to envelop my hand, coating it in the flexible metal down to my wristwatch. Holding it up to the entranced Kirstin, I said, "This is what makes the light-forms. Impressive, n'est ce pas?"
   Kirstin stretched out a tentative hand. "It's...some sort of metal glove? That creates energy?"
   "Right. Watch this..." A brief focus of my will created a white baseball-sized globe in my hand. "The Gauntlet makes these fields, and I can choose what they look like or are shaped like by concentrating." The globe turned blue, then red, then green. The glow I produced illuminated Kirstin's expression of wonder; it began glowing brighter, and then faded to black. I set it on my lap and began shaping it with the gauntleted hand, turning it in turn into a cube, a cylinder, and a disc. Feeling my concentration slip, I tossed it into the air and mentally commanded it to vanish.
   "That's amazing," Kirstin whispered. "Where did you get it? The station can't possibly pay you enough to buy something this revolutionary..."
   "I found it. Remember in August, when I went to the desert to watch the meteors?"
   "Yeah. Sorry again for missing that."
   "No problem. Anyway..."

   I hadn't been to the desert since the accident, but the news reports of the expected heavy meteor shower had been enough to entice me out. Long experience as an amateur starhack had taught me that viewing was best when as far from civilization as possible. An hour's drive in my pickup along a lonely dirt road brought me far beyond the lights of San Diego.
   I parked a few hundred feet off the road, somehow maneuvered myself into a beach chair, and settled back with a Mountain Dew to anticipate the show. A few clouds hid the western horizon, but the overhead sky was clear and the early stars shone clearly.
   The first meteor appeared as I was shaking the last few drops from my can. It shot quickly through Cygnus, leaving a fuzzy afterimage that neatly skewered the Northern Cross. I tossed the can into the cab of the pickup and readjusted myself, anticipating the best.
   A mediocre half-hour passed, and I was beginning to wonder if I could reach another Dew when a light appeared in Sagittarius that caught my attention. It began as just a pinpoint, a dab of color in the center of the Teapot. (A busy night for asterisms, I thought to myself...) It probably wasn't a nova...satellite? Squinting through my glasses confirmed that it was moving, slowly, but not from side to side...it was growing wider.
   A lot of thoughts crossed my head, at least one being that I was about to become the victim of the first meteor fatality. I felt slightly silly when I realized that no meteor would be moving that slowly. Well, being a guest at a genuine Unexplained Phenomenon beat a so-so meteor shower any day. A glance showed that the thing was still growing slowly; I grabbed the second Dew and waited.
   The dot's growth accelerated, still seemingly headed in my direction. It reached the size of a full moon, then stopped growing; instead, it fuzzed at the edges and began to move extremely rapidly. Almost before I knew it, an object was shooting towards me.
   I flinched and hid my head in my arms, but I wasn't pierced through with a molten piece of nickel-iron. A faint warmth on my lap alerted me to this fact. Peeking through my fingers made the source clear.
   A red pyramid hovered an inch or so above my jeans, pulsing at me. I reached out to touch it, the light putting a crimson cast on the digit.
   A deep, masculine voice sounded in my skull. "Kelly Lynn Tanaka, you have been chosen to receive the Gauntlet of the Patrol."

   Kirstin shifted in her chair. "I hate to interrupt this, Kel, but..."
   "I understand, Kay. Go get your dishwasher."
   She stood up. "I really want to hear the rest of this. Even my fascination for a weird story won't persuade me to endure another day of dishpan hands, and I'm not going to miss the delivery this time. I'll call you later, OK?"
   "No problem. I need to work on my color composition, anyway, remember?"
   "Right. I'll get right on arranging that show for you, too."
   We said our good-byes, and I tapped my hand onto the Recharger. The Gauntlet opened the telepathic connection to the intelligence within.
   "Yes, Kelly?" Over the weeks of association, the Recharger had picked up a more female tone from my mind and now sounded like the computer on Star Trek.
   "The art's coming along fine, and we need to have that talk."
   "Indeed. Kelly, you were not issued the Gauntlet for personal gain."
   "I got it because I was in the right place at the right time. You didn't say explicitly that my job was crimefighting, right? I thought the Patrol's mission here was to make us suitable to join galactic civilization. We're supposed to do that by raising our culture."
   "Agreed. However, you have not yet taken one direct action to raise your species' consciousness in any manner."
   "I moved that car that was in the handicapped space."
   "Insufficient." The Recharger glowed more intensely. "This unit is permitted to transfer to another host if it is deemed necessary for the mission."
   "Charger, what do you expect?" I gestured down at myself. "I'm in a wheelchair. I can't walk. I'm also nearsighted. And you expect me to go out and arrest bank robbers? I may be able to lead a 'full and fulfilling life,' but there are obvious limits!"
   The Recharger pulsed on and off a few times. "The Gauntlet allows you to fly, so locomotion is not a barrier. And do your glasses not allow you adequate vision?"
   I sighed. "You're stubborn, but you're also my potential meal ticket. Tell you what...I'll try it your way if you grant me my art show, OK?"
   The pyramid pulsed on and off again, leaving me with an irrepressible desire to hum the Jeopardy theme music. Finally it said, "Agreed. You may retain the Gauntlet, provided you prove that you are capable of putting it to good use. Please leave it, to restore it to full charge."
   I let it flow off my hand and moved the pyramid back to its resting place. This would take some thought to pull off.
    
   My first adventure in crime-fighting wasn't the unmitigated disaster I thought it would be, but neither was it anything Batman would have been proud of. Even the Adam West version.
   It's not difficult to look like a helpless mugging victim waiting to happen; just drive to the worst parts of town, and wheel around back streets with your purse in your lap. The Gauntlet was hard to hide, so I wore work gloves. I was soon followed by several toughs, who eventually cornered me and threatened the usually felonies and misdemeanors.
   Biting back my nervousness, I encased the nearest one in a Lucite-like cube of force. (I remembered the Recharger's warning about harming sentients, so I cut him an air-hole.) His compatriots were taken aback and tried to flee, but I sealed off the end of the alley with an enormous black brick. Each assailant got his own personal block, leaving me time to wonder how I would handle them.
   Eventually I went back to my pickup for some rope and tied them up, together with a note to the police explaining that these were desperate criminals who had tried attacking a helpless woman. Maybe they'd buy it, maybe not; Spider-Man never had trouble with that sort of thing. No one would believe their story, anyway.
   I drove back to my apartment and flung open the door, eager to tell Charger the news. I pushed my way in...and paused in shock.
   Fully half of the light-sculptures were visibly damaged. Swamp Gas, Dryad and Blue Cyclone were gone completely; Fyrestorm's bright yellows and reds had faded into grays and blacks. Others had slumped like candles. Only one, "Blue Cube," was unhurt.
   Racing into the studio, I slammed my Gauntleted hand onto the Recharger. "What the Hell is going on?" I demanded.
   "Congratulations, Kelly. I have monitored your progress..."
   "Who cares about that? What happened to the art?"
   "Energy constructs are finite, depending on available energy and user's concentration. Your cubes distracted you and diverted energy; as a result, your sculptures suffered accordingly."
   "So, what you're saying is that my hopes of becoming a revolutionary artist are shattered, and I'm stuck as a weekend news anchor the rest of my life." I was close to tears.
   "Production of a large enough number of 'sculptures' would have had similar effects. Gauntlet-produced constructs were not intended to be permanent."
   "Great..."
   "You have shown yourself capable and worthy, however."
   "How? I roughed up some punks, is all. There's no evidence to convict them on. Maybe I scared them a little, but that's it. What good does that do in the long run?"
   "In the long run as I perceive time, they will soon be dead. That does not mean that efforts in improving their lives were wasted. They have been shown that threatening helpless women is not a good thing."
   "Sheesh." I shook my head. "You must exist longer than any of us, but you still see God in the details. We're nothing but short-lived motes, but..." I paused.
   "Continue, Kelly."
   "No, hold on. You've given me a cunning idea."

   "Attention?" The microphone buzzed slightly, and all eyes turned to the podium. "Attention? I would like to thank Ms. Tanaka for donating the proceeds of this show to our organization.
   "As you are aware, her new sculptures of light are considered 'transitory art.' Although they shine brightly at first, they eventually darken and melt away, eventually becoming just a memory."
   The man sipped his water and adjusted his tie a little. He looked about as comfortable as I felt in my formal dress. "I see this as a powerful metaphor for human life. By inventing this artform, Ms. Tanaka has reminded us of humanity's fundamental mortality.
   "On behalf of those of us who live with mortality every day, I and the AIDS Foundation would like to thank her again for her generous gift."
   The applause felt wonderful, especially because I'd finally found the perfect compromise with the Recharger. Who needs violence to uplift humanity?

 

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