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Audience
Artwork by Thorsten Grambow
Audience
    by Ty Franck

Linus watched his personal assistant bustle through the door of his immense bedroom at exactly the right time. He had been awake long enough that he was no longer bleary-headed, but not long enough to start thinking about doing things for himself. This was the perfect time for someone to come talk to him about the day's plans, and this particular assistant had arrived at exactly that moment every day for the last six years.

Of course, Linus thought, his very perfection is why he is my personal assistant.

"Slept well I hope? Good, let's talk about the day's appointments," said Michael as he walked across the room and drew back the curtains. Every morning it was the same. A quick, impersonal greeting and on to business. Linus sighed and decided not to make too much fuss today.

"Yes, Michael, I slept very well. The bed was very comfortable, and the comforter is wonderful. Please send my compliments to everyone."

"Excellent," said Michael, making a few quick notes on his pad. "You have a very full schedule today; shall we go over it?"

"Will there be much traveling today, Michael? I'm not feeling up to traveling. I think I might be getting a headache."

Michael merely gave him the blank stare he used when he thought Linus was being petulant. When just enough time passed that Linus began to feel silly, but before he felt the need to become truly obstinate, Michael said, "All of your appointments today are here in New York. We will be traveling by car from here to the museum for an art exhibit, paintings I believe. We will then travel by car to your luncheon. A new restaurant called The Orange Garden. There are three chefs there, and all are in contention for top rankings this year. It is your most important stop of the day. After, we will travel by car to the Opera. The composer is Lisa Takei. She is a relatively new talent to the rankings, but some are saying the finest since Whitworth last year. It has a highly ranked cast."

Michael was giving him the other look now, the one that asked whether he was going to behave or not. "I do try to appreciate Japanese opera, Michael, you know I do. I'll be very attentive, I promise," said Linus.

"After the opera is a dinner party in your honor. You have not been to New York in some time, and the Mayor felt it necessary for the city to show its appreciation. All of the top ranked talents will be there. Naturally, there will be some trying for unscheduled showings, but I needn't remind you that appreciating any of their works without an appointment is a bad idea. It is getting hard enough to move you from place to place without crowds of unranked talent disrupting things."

Linus knew how bad it could get. Michael had been his assistant for six years now, but he was actually a replacement. Linus' first assistant had nearly been killed when an unranked stone carver threw one of his works off an overpass onto their moving car. Of course, security was much better now, but there were still those so desperate for appreciation that they would throw themselves in front of his car just to get him to view their work.

"Yes Michael, I'll be a pillar of inobservation for the entire evening."

"Inobservation is not a word, Linus. You might want to refrain from using it in public," said Michael as he moved toward the door. "Your tailor will be here shortly. Breakfast is in one hour. Please call if you need anything." With that he bustled efficiently away.

Before Linus had time to decide whether he should get up or not, a large mound of moving fabrics shuffled into the room. It took him a few seconds to realize there were legs at the bottom of the pile, and then the clothes were quickly being hung up all over the room on nearly anything with an edge on it.

A tall, gangly man slowly appeared as the clothes were distributed. When his face was visible, he started to talk. "I hope you like a more formal look. I know that everyone has been putting you in lighter colors this year, but I've always thought that you had the right kind of dignity for a darker, more classic look. And pleats, your figure is very good for pleats. Something in a dark maroon color maybe?"

"Ummm, could you wait a second? I just woke up, and I need to use the restroom. I think I'd like a shower too. I promise I'll be right out, ok?"

The gangly man deflated. "I am so sorry. I just didn't think. What's wrong with me? Please, take as much time as you need." He moved closer with a terrible look of desperation on his face. For a second, Linus felt an irrational fear that the man might hurt him. "Please, don't let my unforgivable rudeness keep you from appreciating these clothes. I have worked very hard on them. This is the greatest moment of my life, please don't let my excitement and lack of social grace destroy everything I've worked for… please."

Linus breathed a sigh of relief, and felt a little shiver go down his back as sadness, and a little pity, replaced the fear. "Of course not. The clothes look wonderful. I can't wait to try them on. Just let me shower really quick, and I'll be right back. OK?"

The clothier smiled and nodded, but still looked defeated. Linus went into the bathroom and locked the door behind him. While he was showering, he thought about how desperate some were to be appreciated. They work so hard to get here, and the playing field is far from level. Every single person on earth is doing whatever they are best at. They read it right off our genes before we are even born.

The left brain talents weren't so bad. They accounted or assisted or researched, and they were happy. The right brain talents were the problem. They needed to be noticed, they needed to be compared, they needed to be appreciated. No wonder this poor tailor is scared. He thinks he has blown his one shot at immortality. Well, I can fix that, I can make him happy again.

The tailor was still waiting and looking flat when Linus came out of the bathroom in his robe. He always wore his own robe, and it was the only thing he took with him from place to place. Linus liked to wear something familiar and comforting each day, before putting on a suit of clothes he would wear once and never see again.

Well, time to put on my game face.

"Hey, that maroon suit is really nice. I saw it when you first came in, but it's really grabbing me now. Can I try that one on first?"

When the tailor realized that he might still get a chance at appreciation, he seemed to regain some of his former energy. "Absolutely sir. An excellent choice, and the one I myself thought would be most flattering on you. You have a very good eye for fashion sir." Which technically was not true.

If I had a good eye for fashion, thought Linus, I would be a fashion designer like you.

Linus tried the suit, declared it to be one of the finest he had ever worn, both for look and comfort, and sent the tailor away beaming. The tailor took none of the other clothes away with him. Why take them? Each had been painstakingly designed with Linus himself in mind. If he wasn't going to wear them, no one would. It always seems such a waste, he thought. But no one ever goes without anything they need anymore, so maybe the world can afford to be a little wasteful in the interests of art.

As soon as he was dressed and the tailor had left, Michael came back. "All ready for breakfast? Very good. Come this way please."

Michael led him out of the room and down to an elaborate dining area. Michael always led him everywhere. Since Linus slept in a different place nearly every night, he could not be expected to keep track of where things were. It was Michael's job to know how to get around. Every now and then, Linus would try to wander off, but he almost always got immediately lost. When Michael found him, he would never scold, of course, but he would give that look. Linus wondered if the ability to reprove without speaking was one of those genetic markers they looked for when deciding who was best suited to be a personal assistant.

Once in the dining area, Linus sat on a very comfortable chair and ate an elaborate, yet surprisingly non-filling, breakfast. Afterward, he was offered a tray covered in sugary pastries. Linus was widely rumored to love sugary pastries. In truth, he was indifferent to them, but took one anyway. The baker who had made it was watching from the doorway and gave a loud whoop when Linus took it. Michael looked exasperated because such displays during appreciation were considered the height of vulgarity. Linus, however, secretly loved to break someone's composure like that. Good for you Mr. Baker; live it up, man.

Just to rub it in, instead of taking one bite and putting the pastry down, he ate the whole thing while looking right at Michael.

"All finished? Very good, let's move on. The car is waiting," Michael said without a hint of impatience.

"Yeah, ready to go," Linus replied around a mouthful of pastry. On the way out, he winked at the baker.

The ride to the museum was very comfortable. Of course it was. Linus tried to think of how many people had worked on this car so he could ride in it this one day. Someone to design the outside, and make it visually pleasing, yet functional. Maybe some other person designed the inside, made it roomy and comfortable, without being cavernous. Some engineering genius to design the engine and other mechanical parts; an electronics wizard to design the sound system and video monitors. Maybe even someone to design the seats.

And those are just the designers, Linus thought. Then there are people who machine and build and stitch. It was all hand built of course. Linus had never ridden in a mass-produced car.

All those people, picked at birth to be designers and mechanical engineers and leather workers and mechanics. They work their whole lives to be the best in their field, and everyone they are competing with was also picked at birth, given the same education, raised practically from the first moment of consciousness to be that thing. No wonder they are all starving for attention. So focused on what they do, they never see what anyone else is doing. But they all need someone to see them.

The thought put him in a melancholy mood.

"Michael."

"Yes Linus?" Michael seemed far away, reading something on his pad. Probably tomorrow's schedule, or the weather in Amsterdam, or even the lunch menu. Always working, but the most famous personal assistant in the world because he works for me.

"How many paintings will I see today?"

"Several dozen, I would think. We have you scheduled for three hours. Why?" And now Michael was giving him the questioning look. He is wondering what I am getting at, what I plan to do. I still scare him a little.

"A few dozen paintings… I see so little of what they do, Michael. How many paintings were created today I wonder? How many last year? How many of them do I ever see?"

"You only see the best of them Linus."

"But who decides that? The other painters? Blinded by envy, always competing, how can they judge the others work?"

"And yet some are deemed worthy of your attention, so the system must work."

"But what about all those others, the thousands of other painters who never make it high enough in the rankings to show me their work? Who appreciates it?"

"Their work is shown at the regional levels. Others of their talent see it. The better pieces are purchased and put in homes or other buildings."

"Purchased. By who? Doctors, physicists, personal assistants? How many paintings do you own Michael?"

Michael put down his pad. He sat back in his seat and relaxed. This conversation was going in a familiar direction now. He knew what to say. He was no longer worried. "You know perfectly well that I do not own any paintings. I do not have a dwelling of my own. My life is working with you, assisting you in your work. If I ever settle down and own a home, perhaps I will purchase paintings."

"Is that enough Michael? Following me around? Making sure I get to my appointments on time? Do you ever look at the paintings we go to see?"

Michael looked out the window at the rain and wet streets going by. The conversation was still going where he expected, but it required a gentle touch, and a bit of truth. "It is enough Linus. I have always known that this is what I would do. I was raised from birth to be a perfect companion, confidant, secretary, protector. The better I was at my job, the more important the person I assisted would be. And I assist the most important person in the world, so I must have become very good at my job. Mock me if you like, but that is a satisfaction I cannot explain to you."

Linus sat quietly. He knew that Michael was speaking the plain truth to him now, and he treasured such openness because it happened so rarely. He honored it with his silence. After a while, Michael spoke again.

"The world revolves around you Linus. You only see the top, the tip of the iceberg, but you are the reason for so many things. These paintings we are going to see? They may only be twenty or thirty out of all that were painted. But when you look at them, you justify the painting of them all. Every one of those artists knew that maybe, just maybe, theirs would be the painting that made it all the way here. And for perhaps the first time, their work would be looked at by someone who does not judge, only appreciates."

"How could I judge? Half the time I don't even understand." Linus replied.

"That is your gift. You are the world's most unique genetic combination. A man with virtually no talents. Median level intelligence, average physical skills, and no genetic predisposition for anything."

"The luckiest man in the world, because I'm nothing."

"The luckiest man in the world, because you can see everything. You still have a sense of wonder. You will never look at the work of another human and say 'My own work is better.' And so, you are the only person people want to show their work to. You can appreciate, and that is the only talent left that is in short supply."

"I promise to try very hard to appreciate the Japanese opera. I really will," Linus said quietly. "I'm sure they must work very hard on those complex arrangements."

Michael smiled at him for a moment, then picked up his pad and returned to work.

Linus sat back in the seat. He felt his clothes on him, and they were comfortable and flattering. And he felt the seat, all the soft leather. The precise hum of the engine, the smooth glide of the car, the breakfast sitting lightly in his stomach, all easy to appreciate. He would try hard to look like he enjoyed the opera, so they felt appreciated as well.

He remembered a play he saw once, written by someone who died long before they had talents and rankings. There was a character, who later died stupidly if Linus remembered correctly, who was strutting around on stage ranting about 'how all the world is a stage, and we are merely players on it.' And sitting all alone in the darkened theater, Linus had thought, All except me: I am the audience of one.

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