Paid & Displayed

Sam stepped off the pavement and moved across the road. Drawing close to the opposite side he glanced up at the blue sky, the bright morning making him squint. His eyes passed over a road sign, a common enough sight in any town. A blue square with a white ‘P’ and below it the not unfriendly query ‘Have you paid and displayed?’

It was hardly an unusual query, placed as it was 30 feet or so from a parking meter on a road that had numerous spaces for street parking, but for some reason the sight of it stopped Sam in his tracks.

“Paid and displayed…” he murmured to himself, and the image of a woman burst into his mind. Pale skin, eyes bluer than the sky above and a cascade of raven hair tumbling over one shoulder. And with the image of her face, the memories came as well, filling his mind as he stepped up onto the pavement and carried on walking down the street.


She’d smiled at him first from across the room. Or so he’d thought, at least. After a furious twenty minute process of building up the courage to take the initiative, to go and, for once in his life, be brave and actually talk to a woman – to make any move, let alone the first one – he’d walked awkwardly over to her and asked if he might buy her a drink. She had looked slightly surprised, and just as she was opening her mouth to reply, her friend returned from the bar with their drinks.

It was, of course, her friend she’d been smiling at, not Sam. Her friend, who’d been standing at the bar behind Sam. So there he stood, before the beautiful woman who hadn’t smiled at him after all, quietly wishing the floor would open and take him to oblivion. He’d mumbled an apology and turned to go, when she reached out to touch his arm. He turned back to her, a second apology on his lips, when she told him he looked cute when he blushed. And that was all it took.


After six months they took the plunge, moved in together. It was rocky, as you might expect, but the evenings curled up together with wine and a film or music, made up for the misunderstandings, the occasional arguments. Sometimes they’d live in each other’s pockets, sometimes life and work would mean the only moments they would find would be in the minutes and seconds before sleep came. They muddled their way through, and perhaps against everyone’s expectations, they were happy.


He’d found the ring in an antique shop one day, six or so months later. It hadn’t perhaps been the most conventional choice, but as soon as he’d seen it he’d known it was the right one, the perfect accompaniment to one of the oldest questions. He’d bought it without a thought, and when the moment came and he asked, it fit her finger as though it had been made for it.


They didn’t change each other, as such. That was what two of his oldest friends had told him one evening as they sat about a campfire.
“She hasn’t changed you, and you haven’t changed her. But you’re both… more when you’re together.”
It was a wisdom born of whiskey, but it rang true all the same. They had found each other and were more because of it, and he couldn’t imagine a world without her.


He’d opened the door to see a man and a woman on the doorstep, their faces calm and composed, their uniforms neat and tidy, imposing in their lack of threat. An iron band closed about his chest as they sat on the sofa, speaking quietly. It began to tighten, slowly, inexorably crushing his lungs and his heart.
“…unfortunate accident…”
“…three others killed…”
“…very sorry…”
The world shattered into pieces and the iron band grew tighter and tighter.


Time passed, in hours and then days, weeks and then months. Slowly, ever so slowly, he began to breathe again, finding his way around the absence of her. Their friends were kind to him, understanding and patient, though they had lost her too. He had raged and roared, and wept and waited, but in the end he had finally paid his dues of grief. The scars were still there, but only those who knew him well could see them. The iron band had loosened, though it would never fully let him go.


His remembering had carried him down the street, into and out of shops where he scanned the shelves, not really seeing. He stepped once more into the sunlight and moved to cross the road again, heading to his favourite coffee shop. As he reached the far pavement, he saw a second sign like the one which had started his quiet reverie. He paused beneath it, reading again the not unfriendly query.

‘Have you paid and displayed?’

Standing in the sunlight Sam shrugged. He’d paid as best he could, and whether or not the scars could be seen by all, they would heal in time. He smiled a sad smile as her face flashed through his mind again, and then he lowered his gaze and walked on in the sunlight.


We Can Print

Alex looked up from her laptop, her hands pausing above the keys in the middle of a sentence, as a bell chimed in her earpiece. She smiled and nodded to the hooded figure as he stepped through the, letting out a small breath and feeling her heart slow back to normal. Nothing to worry about. Jason was a regular, big in the D&D scene he made custom miniatures, pretty epic ones in Alex’s humble opinion. Alex’s shop is where he came to do all his printing, she wasn’t the cheapest, but she was the best.

“Got some more miniatures for me Jas?”

Jason nodded causing a lock of thick, black hair to fall and cover his eye. He swiped it out of the way self-consciously and handed her a battered USB stick. Alex slipped the drive into her security machine which scanned the drive for viruses and waited for the green light. Once the green light flashed moved it to her custom analysis machine which served two functions. Firstly, it made sure that the file was complete and provided a cost based on the amount and type of material to be used. Secondly, it checked for potential violations of the 3D Printing Enforcement Act. The scan was required by all 3D printing businesses, in theory, to ensure that nothing dangerous was being printed; gun parts and the like. However, the secondary function was to makes sure that people weren’t printing anything without the permission of the rights holder. Designed your own Mickey Mouse figurine? You better believe that the house of the mouse will not allow that… unless you pay the licensing fee and sign an eternally-binding agreement giving them access to your design for free, forever to do with as they wish.

The screen flashed red showing a 64% match to an existing D&D figurine and Alex raised an eyebrow at Jason.

“Plagiarism Jas? I expected better of you…”

The youth grimaced the blood rushing to his face. “They’ve copyrighted everything it’s impossible to make anything new without it being a little bit like something else. It’s like a band copyrighting the A, G and C chords and then expecting everyone to either make songs without them or pay them for the privilege. It’s stupid.”

Alex held her stern face for as long as she could but faced with the earnest young man blushing and scuffing the ground with the toe of his battered converse she only lasted a few seconds before a smile forced its way onto her face. She tapped a couple of keys, the computer whirred briefly, and the red light turned green. The perk of having a custom machine was it gave you some discretion in applying the law.

“My mistake,” said Alex with a smile. “That will be one hundred and forty credits please.”
On the other side of the counter Jason allowed a brief smile to dance across his lips then he held out his wrist to the scanner. Alex heard the ka-ching noise in her earpiece that the credits had made their way to her bank account and she nodded to Jason.

“Printing is starting right now and-“

She cut off Jason as pushed rudely aside and a pale, manicured hand was thrust into her face a pristine USB drive held between finger and thumb. Her gazed followed the hand, up the immaculately tailored sleeve to a vaguely familiar pinched face behind the darkened pince-nez glasses.

“If you don’t mind I’m in the middle of serving a customer,” said Alex trying to keep the anger out of her voice with limited success. Like all English people there was little she despised more than rudeness and pushing in was the epitome of the ill-mannered.
“Oh, I don’t think he will mind,” replied the man his voice somewhere between a whisper and a hiss. “Do you boy?”

Jason shook his head and took a step back his hands raised.

“I’ll come back later and pick them up Alex okay?”

“Nonsense,” replied the man liking his lips. “I’ll only be a moment. Why don’t you stay a while?” He nodded to a seat in the corner and Jason moved quickly over and took a seat hands on his knees. While not overtly threatening there was something dangerous about the man. It hung around him like a fog of cheap cologne. Something tugged at the back of Alex’s mind but just as she thought she was on the verge of getting it, the man turned his reptilian gaze back on her and her mind went blank.

“Now how about we proceed with my transaction? It shouldn’t take long it is a simple design.” He bent his fingers and waggled the USB in front of her face.

Alex shot Jason an apologetic look then snatched the USB from the man and slipped it into her security scanned.

“Be careful there girl,” said the man his eyes narrowing. “I don’t take kindly to people who disrespect my property.”

“And I don’t take kindly to people who disrespect my customers,” said Alex somewhat less forcefully than she planned. There really was something odd about the man it made her shiver. The security box flashed green and she moved the USB over to her analysis machine. She looked up quickly while the process ran and found the man staring at her unblinking his head cocked slightly to one side, tongue poking out slightly from between his thin lips. She felt like a mouse staring into the eyes of a snake, in terrible danger but unable to move. He held her eye for a long moment then he computer gave a series of odd clicks and beeps and he flicked his gaze away breaking the spell.

Alex almost sagged to the floor when he looked away. Her legs felt like jelly, sweat was pouring down her face and her breath came in short gasps.

“What’s the matter?” hissed the man waving a hand at the computer. “Why is it making that noise?”

Alex looked up at the screen and her brow furrowed. It was an error she had never seen before.

Error 196: Permission withheld.

Her fingers danced over the keys but no matter what she did the same error message remained.

Error 196: Permission withheld.

“I don’t understand,” she said looking up at the man. “I’ve never seen this error before.”

“Well bypass it.”

“I can’t I-“

“I saw you do it for him,” he snapped jabbing a finger over his shoulder to where Jason still sat, hands on his knees, head bowed like a naughty child waiting to see the headmaster. “Do it for me.”


“Do it now or you will regret not doing as I say.”

Looking into his eyes Alex knew that her life depended on what she did next. Without looking away she typed a command and the screen changed from blue to red. The old error message was replaced by a new one.

Error 763: 100% match to IP owned by the Metropolitan Police.

“What is the problem now?”

“It says that this is a match to a copyrighted work.”

“Copyrighted by who?”

Alex spun the screen around, so the man could see for himself. She watched his eyes dart across the screen then the corners of his mouth turned up in what on anyone else would be called a smile.

“So, they think they can claim my work, do they?”

“It’s their work now,” said Alex spinning the screen around and taping at the keyboard.

“They copyrighted the design six months ago.”

“I’ve been using this for almost two years,” replied the man. “It’s really quite distinctive I’m surprised you don’t recognise it.”

“I don’t look at the designs the computer does that…”

“You see that is the problem with the world today. Everyone wants someone or something else to do everything for them. Why don’t you take a look?”

“I really don’t-“

“I insist.”

Alex lowered her eyes to the screen and after a few clicks the file opened. On the screen a distinctive hooked blade spun slowly end over end. Alex mouth fell open and then it hit her. Why the man looked so familiar. She turned and looked at the notice board by the door. Among the advertisements for dog walkers and yoga schools one thing stood out. A picture of a slim man in a long black trench coat with a pinched face behind pince-nez glasses and underneath the picture six words; wanted in connection with multiple murders.

“It’s quite the likeness no?” said the man with a smile. He reached into his coat and came out with a long-curved blade. “Now how about we proceed with my order?”