The Quanta of Art
by Adam Colston
The man stood on the far side of the gallery, in front of one of my favourite
paintings; Gova's Sensate -- a wall-encompassing canvas of spiralling reds, blues,
Beside him, on the polished basalt floor, crouched a large black dog, its coat
glistening like burnished ebony. Silhouetted against the painting, the man seemed
like a traveller poised to step through the twisting vortex.
I checked the time.
"I'm sorry, sir," my voice echoed off the marble walls. "The gallery closes in five
minutes -- and pets are not allowed."
The dog -- or what I'd thought was a dog -- stirred. A long feline tail uncurled;
heavy muscles flexed and bunched across lion-like shoulders as it first stretched,
It was no dog.
"Mr Chasin," the man said, without turning from the picture, "does not like being
called a pet. Eh, Mr. Chasin?"
"No," the beast said -- its voice deep, yet muffled -- as it swung round. "But I am
I stepped back, my heart thumping -- it was a panther.
Its lower jaw had been subtlety altered, flexing oddly when it spoke. A ridge of
pink tissue nosed through the black fur around the top of its enlarged skull.
Padding silently towards me across the floor -- every inch the predator on the hunt
-- its breath rumbled in and out.
"What . . .?"
I stumbled back -- my legs threatening to give way on me -- heading towards the
gallery's central service desk. My thoughts split between the beast and a bolt gun I
kept stashed for hanging pictures.
"I apologise, in advance, for anything I may do," the beast growled. "I have no
wish to harm you, but you must know that this man controls me completely."
As the back of my thighs bumped against the edge of the hardwood desk, the beast
stopped. It settled onto the floor and watched me.
"It's true, Mr Whistler -- what he said. I stuck a compliance node in his head."
I glanced at the man; he'd followed the beast over.
He was old, Afro-Chinese, perhaps sixty-five or so, grey-haired, tired clothes, yet a
sly smile under a broad, scarred nose.
I slid sideways, round the desk, to the other side and tentatively lowered myself
into the chair. "D . . . Do I know you, sir?" The bolt gun was inches away -- the
urge to wrench open the drawer was strong.
The man ignored my question. "Mr. Chasin owed me money and tried to run
away." He reached out and stroked the black fur on top of the beast's head. "He
was a fool. Some black-market surgery . . ." The man's finger traced the ridged of
pink tissue encircling the beast's head. ". . . and now he serves me, whether he
likes it or not."
"Who are you?"
"Hei Long." The man made a small bow. "Just a simple business man."