Fakes. Johan’s newly purchased antique Barcelona chairs came fresh from an asteroid factory, not from the prior century on distant Earth.
Facing his wife’s anger, risking their friends’ scorn, could he use an interplanetary crisis to turn the tables—and chairs?
Sample of “The van der Rohe Forgery”
The van der Rohe Forgery
Johan stood in the living room, the concrete cool on his bare feet, while the appraiser and her athena worked. The next distiller run could wait. He wanted to be here the moment they finished.
The appraiser sat crosslegged, with ragged blonde hair over bulging vacant eyes, while her athena crawled on its hands and knees around the pieces. The athena, a conscious robot, looked like a cherub mannequin. The heat-shimmer from its cooling wings heralded good news.
The two barcelona chairs faced each other, with the barcelona couch perpendicular to both. All three stood on the Persian rug, under Jazz Age advertising posters and suspended halogen torchiéres. The athena extended its robot tongue and licked one of the couch’s legs. The curved steel legs gleamed. The black leather cushions had aged well; the dye only slightly faded, a few tiny scratches in the hide. The pieces looked almost fresh from the assemblery. But they weren’t. They had traveled the solar system, with a document trail stretching back to a 1950s American importer. More than a century old. Everyone would talk about them after next weekend’s party.
The appraiser’s knees and ankles crackled as she stood. “We have bad news. They’re fakes.” She squirted the data into his mind.
Fakes? They couldn’t be! “How?”
“I’ve tracked down import and export records from the Venus Development Corp. sunshade. It wasn’t transshipped through there.”
“A smuggler forged the shipment records. That doesn’t make them fakes.” Black marketeers needed a document trail to prove the pieces’ authenticity. Why else smuggle?
The appraiser went on. “As for Armstrong City, its records of the alleged outshipment from Luna were lost in the Second Euro-American War. I know a data archaeologist in Von-Braun-Stadt on Luna, but he’d probably find nothing in Armstrong City’s wrecked servers.”
The data archaeologist would be worth the cost. The pieces couldn’t be fakes! Johan’s software assistant picked out trends from the data, and he clutched at one. “The carbon-14 levels are consistent with 1950s manufacture.”
“Isotope enrichers are cheap.” Wrinkles splayed from her eyes. “I understand you don’t want to believe me,” the appraiser said. “They’re closer to van der Rohe’s original design than many pre-assemblery antiques. But, please, look at the carbon deposition errors in the steel lattice.”
The data popped to consciousness, and his software assistant dissected it with accelerated intuition. All random, as it should be; except for three carbons followed by a gap; then one, four, one, five, nine.… all told, the first fifty digits of pi.
“That’s from the couch,” the appraiser said. “The chairs repeat the first fifty digits of e.”
The defects weren’t random. Fakes from someone’s assembler. Johan sagged. Iron cost eleven piastres to the kilo, carbon cost fourteen. The material in the three pieces cost less than six dinar. He’d paid 6000 dinar, and thought it a bargain. What would Andrea say? Their daughter? Their friends? He wished he could burrow through the floor, out the dozen lower levels and Pallas’ half-kilometer-thick skin, and let the asteroid’s rotation fling him away.
“No charge this visit,” the appraiser said, and more shame washed through Johan. What gave her the right to pity him? He was a distiller–an artisan–not someone who counted leather stains or lattice defects. Had she ever seen barcelona chairs, built to van der Rohe’s design during the man’s lifetime?
He gasped. What if she lied? She had a high reputation in Pallas’ agora, but had she ever had an opportunity like this? The pieces could be real and her report a scam to buy them for a few dinar. Or maybe she’d been infected with an anarchy virus and wanted to derail the free market with false information.… “I want a second opinion.”
She shrugged. “Your choice.”
The athena stood up. Its doll-face, expressing pity, came to the appraiser’s elbow. It spoke from a speaker in its mouth. Its lips moved in time with the words. “Your pardons for bringing such bad news, sir.” It bowed, then followed its mistress to the door.
After the door slapped shut, Johan wandered into the distillery to think. The foam walls swallowed his footsteps’ sound. On the far wall, next to a Burgundian vineyard in the videowindow, shelves carried lab equipment and reagent bottles. The wheat mash’s sick odor mingled with the reagents’ acetone scent. Normally he welcomed the aromas, but not now.
Fakes. Six thousand dinar lost to computer error; error in the one-kilo meat computer between his ears. At least no one outside his family would know. Why hadn’t he appraised the chairs before he bought them? Because they won’t last at this price, he’d thought. He couldn’t blame Brüning, the antique dealer. Brüning hadn’t pushed the chairs. Johan had jumped.
He poured a drink, hand shaking. The fakes threatened to take more from him than six thousand dinar. If they faked barcelona chairs, they could