Line Go Up

Of course, art has always been toy money for the rich to play with. We just made it more ubiquitous, more efficient, more technologically mediated. We made it faster.

Agnes Jonas for Noema Magazine
Credits
Tim Maughan is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His debut novel “Infinite Detail” (FSG, 2019) was The Guardian’s science fiction and fantasy book of the year and was shortlisted for the Locus Award for best first novel.

“Where’d you find this guy?” Dave Clutch asks me, pushing bangs out of anime-girl eyes with a flick of a cell-shaded hand.

“Yeah, nice try lol,” I reply. “Like I’m gonna tell you my trade secrets.”

Dave’s avatar giggles, its hand in front of its mouth, red spirals of blush spinning on 2D cheeks. I brace for a stylized sweat drop that never comes, thankfully. The aesthetic is so played out that my reaction to it borders on allergic, but at least it is an aesthetic.

When I first found Dave he was just another youtuber, all skinny white boy grey skin and sagging eye bags lit by nothing but the slowly cycling RGB LEDs of his gaming rig, staring awkwardly into the camera as he read his scripts and flicked real bangs of hobbit hair out of his eyes. It was a look that screamed a desperate need for authenticity, and it was the first thing I had to beat out of him. 

Back then he was posting weekly videos about his patent dives into smart contact lens technology ­— long, rambling monologues detailing what he’d unearthed about some obscure Chinese manufacturer and how they were going to “reinvent personal immersion” by making VR headsets and spex obsolete. What he didn’t know was that the company was already in acquisition talks with Meta, and they’d been feeding him bullshit patents for fantasy tech in order to drive their market value up. Meta didn’t give a fuck, the whole deal was pocket change for them, but the day traders whose algos had already decided his info was whack and the company was a good shorting opportunity were pissed and braying for blood. It didn’t help that Dave had been stupid enough to blow his student loans on buying shares in them himself. 

It was not, as we used to say, a good look. My algos kept finding people mentioning the SEC and his name in the same sentence. There were three separate subreddits dedicated to memes of him in prison, ranging from the genuinely witty to the violently homophobic. 

Which is when I swept in, his fucking white knight on a golden steed, and showed him how rebranding and tokenization could flip downvotes into coins. He was a performance artist now, a status formalized and legitimized by the fact that anyone could buy tokenized shares in him on all the major art exchanges. The little shit had made close to a quarter mil just by minting PDFs of the clearly fake design docs he’d been given. But more importantly it meant the SEC wouldn’t go near him; they were still licking their wounds from the Abramović NFT case to try to figure out if some youtuber with a K-On! avatar was guilty of insider trading or just selling really opportunistic meme art. 

“He was a performance artist now, a status formalized and legitimized by the fact that anyone could buy tokenized shares in him on all the major art exchanges.”

“Look, I don’t give a fuck,” Dave says. “You know me. I trust you. But if we’re running this as a straight P&D I’m going to need a good story for my marks, ‘cos believe it or not they’re not as stupid as you think they are.”

“Chill Clutch, Jesus. Just mention my name. They’ll assume I’m doing the same secret sauce Svengali shit I did on you and he’s going to be a superstar. They won’t see shit but coin.”

“And you’re not doing your kingmaker shit on him?”

“Fuck no. A street artist? Graffiti? What the fuck am I meant to do with that? Guy paints on actual walls. Nobody goes outside anymore.” 

“Yeah, which is exactly why I need a better story than ‘Hey look at his pretty pictures.’ C’mon man.”

“Okay, Okay. I got one word for you.” I pause for dramatic effect. “Prescience.”

“Pre … wait,” Dave’s avatar’s eyes narrow, bangs and pigtails bouncing as its head snaps to the left to read some unseen window. “You mean PreScience? That predictive policing start-up Alphabet bought?”

“Yeah, that’s them. Man, people got short memories these days. Before they got into ACAB shit they made their rep doing trend prediction. Real-time mapping and analysis of FB and Twitter feeds. Picking up emerging fashions through image analysis on IG. They were the OGs at that shit. Sitting on millions of data points.”

“And they’re doing talent spotting now?”

I smile. “I mean, in a way they always were. But yeah, let’s just say I got some beta access to a new product for early adopter art collectors they’re testing. Let that slip to your guys, I’m sure they’ll be able to check it out, see what I’ve seen on this guy. Should put their minds to rest.” 

“Poor fuckers,” giggles Dave, cat ears erupting from his avatar’s skull with an obscene popping sound. “Ok, leave it to me.”


I am taking off my spex and staring out the window at the city below. Full whiteout. The Manhattan skyline across the river, struggling to be seen as eddies of snow spiral around one too many uninhabited Greenpoint condo towers. A sudden shot of anxiety. I shudder, more at the thought of people than the cold.

I am slipping my spex on, and I’m back, safe again. The room is full of data. So much that the view is hidden once more, behind subreddits and art exchanges, Twitter threads and rolling news, market visualizations and shard value trackers, the New Yorker and Artforum, Coindesk and Bloomberg. And in the middle of it all, seeming to hold everything in place through unseen gravitational waves, floats a single window: Fragileman’s Instagram page.

It’s a simple, unassuming bio. Typical, even. Fragileman. Street artist. Baltimore. And then a hash link to his NyftEX page. Below it, the infinite scroll of images. Pictures of his work splattered over the sides of red brick walls and greying, damp concrete. The work is … nice, actually. Good use of color, bold hard lines. Organic, almost botanical details juxtaposed against simple, urgent geometry. Not my world, but I can see the appeal. 

I wonder how the PreScience algorithms found him, what they saw as they scanned every pixel of these images. I wonder what patterns they saw emerging from his colors and lines that — when mixed with patterns from a hundred thousand other data points they’d extracted from the fumes of his data exhaust — matched the patterns they’d been told equaled potential. 

What’s missing from the page is anything personal. No selfies, no friends or family, no plates of food. Just the work. I have no idea who Fragileman really is, what he looks like. Presumably the PreScience algorithms must know his true identity, having divined the connections from immeasurable flows of data that no human brain could conceive. But they weren’t telling me. Some things are, believe it or not, still private, still anonymized. Or at least they are at my tier of account access. 

I blink through to his NyftEX page, apparently the only exchange he’s ever registered with. Like every young kid with an IG account he’d tried minting a few of the images as NFTs. None had sold. Well, not until yesterday, when I got some bots to buy a few. But like every artist that got in after the initial goldrush, Fragileman had realized there was no real money in tokenizing your work when you were starting out. The days of buying any tokenized art you saw just for the novelty or some mystical potentials were long gone; now only established artists, artists with connections and influence and a recognizable brand, made serious money selling their work. 

No, as a new artist there was little point wasting money and carbon on having your work minted when you could tokenize something far more valuable: yourself. Pay an exchange to mint you into an NFT, split it into thousands of shards, and then put those up for sale. Suddenly you were there, legitimately part of the real art world: a line on a chart. 

The artist as tradable financial product, your artistic value ranked by the automated exchanges, subreddit day traders, stonks hustlers, hedge fund analysts and high-frequency trading algorithms. They — the critics, the holdouts, the no-coiner ludds — they keep telling us we’d finally destroyed art, reduced it all to nothing but stocks and shares, meaningless toy money for the world’s rich to play with. Of course, the truth was that’s what art had always been, for centuries if not longer. We just made it more ubiquitous, more efficient, more technologically mediated. We made it faster.

As I stare at Fragileman’s NyftEx page, I see his shard price tick up by two points, and smile. We made it damn near instantaneous.  

“The work is … nice, actually. Good use of color, bold hard lines. Organic, almost botanical details juxtaposed against simple, urgent geometry.”

The play here is simple. It’s a good old-fashioned pump and dump. Quick in, quick out. Over the last week I’ve slowly and silently, via a couple dozen proxy accounts and shell DAOs, been buying up Fragileman’s shards. Not too much volume, not too fast, just enough to make it look like there’s some organic upward movement on his shard price. Now Dave was in the loop, buying a few shards of his own, and privately tipping off some of his inner circle — his most loyal YouTube and Patreon subscribers, the ones with the deepest pockets — about this exciting new investment opportunity. 

He wasn’t the only one of course. I tipped off a handful of other influencers about Fragileman. Some of them, like Dave, were in on the play. Most of them weren’t. Most of them were just happy to have someone like me hand them some fresh, exclusive-looking content. Something that’d make their followers pause their doom scrolling for a second, to look at something they were being told was cool, and beautiful, and relevant. And crucially to remind them that the person showing it to them was also cool, and beautiful, and relevant, and had shards to buy on the influence exchange of their choice. 

Now I am looking at social media data, at trending terms and engagement metrics. I am watching a previously unknown street artist go viral in real-time. I am watching his name spread through networks like a virus through an unvaccinated immune system, jumping from influencer to influencer, from subreddit to subreddit, from bot network to bot network. Minutes pass, then hours. Guided by invisible hands — of both the market and NyftEX’s automated influence metric trackers — Fragileman is up seven points. The infection grows, turning everything into organic, almost botanical details and simple, urgent geometry. Fragileman blossoms with big main character energy. 

And now, here come the big fish, the sharks in the dark pools, the celebrity-branded investment funds. Cyrus Capital, Swift Finance, Knowles & Carter Investment. The pop stars fronting hedge funds, the people that finally brought trading to the masses, that helped them see that side-hustle culture and financial speculation went hand in hand, selling them a dream where they can actually own a tiny sliver of their anointed significance, that asked them to prove their fan loyalty via direct investment. They are all over Fragileman now, tweeting and reposting, slipping his work into stories and mentioning it on livestreams. Hashtags trend. Fragileman to the moon. Line go up. I wonder where he is right now, what he’s doing, what he must be thinking as his phone blows up with notifications. Up 17 points now, and still rising.

First we pump, and then we dump.

It’s all about timing now. It’s all about holding the line until you feel it’s right. Between us, Dave and I now own — via various proxies and shells — about 2,000 of the initial 5,000 shards Fragileman had minted of himself. We got them all for around a buck each. Pocket change. I’ve a figure in my head, maybe. A number that I’m holding out for. Or I might just go with my gut. Either way, at some point I know it’ll be time to sell every Fragileman shard I’m holding, to cash the fuck in. To flood the market and take the money while everyone else rushes to follow us and do the same, and to watch Fragileman’s artistic value fall like a stone. Line go down.

I’m staring at Fragileman’s work again, at the good use of color and bold lines. For a second I actually feel guilty. I’m not sure why. He’s an unwitting pawn in this, but he’ll be ok. It’ll be a wild ride, but he’ll survive it. Fuck, he’ll come out of this pretty well off, if he’s sensible — he’s already got a hundred times the followers he had this morning, and he’s sold a bunch of minted images. He’ll come out of this with a profile he never had, probably richer than when we started. I minimize his IG page with a flick of my hand, and the guilt with it. What’s the worst that could happen? 


I am at a gallery opening. I do not know who the artist is. The work seems uninteresting, procedurally generated iterations of something or another. Flickering gifs hang on flat, white walls. I don’t care. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one feeling that way. From a quick scan of the crowd, most of them are more interested in the venue than the art. It’s the first night it’s been open, and nothing gets rich people more excited than gawping at other rich people’s real estate. 

I’m standing in the corner, hoping nobody notices me, idly watching a window full of numbers in my periphery, when AphexFan08 slides up next to me. Another tedious nerd fuck that owes me a career. When I found him he was posting YouTube mixes of other people’s ambient music called things like “14 hours of lo-fi chill beats to avoid studying to,” and the fact that he had two million subscribers for them was just pissing the DMCA algorithms off even more. I hooked him up with some Reaktor plug-ins that procedurally generated fake field recordings, an AI prompt agent that walked him through media interviews, and gave him a 48-hour influence bump via my network. I also made sure the style pages thought he was from Canada, rural BC to be exact. A week later he had five million subs and an opening set at Coachella. 

“Nice spot, huh?” he says, meaning the gallery. 

“Yeah. Yeah,” I manage in reply, staring out through glass walls. Rolling green fields, blue-white cliffs, towering pines swaying gently against perfectly azure skies. “Real fucking serene. Must have cost a bit.”

“Lots.”

“Where’s it meant to be, exactly? Banff?”

AphexFan08 laughs, louder and more raucously than any ambient composer ever should. “Nah man! Really? You don’t recognize it? It’s ‘The Silent Cartographer.’”

I stare back at him blankly. “No fucking idea.”

“The classic Halo level? From the first game? Really?”

“Never fucking heard of it.” 

“Wow, I just — I’m surprised, I guess,” He’s got that glee in his eye, the barely concealed joy that he knows something I don’t. Fucking nerd pecking-order bullshit. “Bit before my time, but y’know — I thought this is where it all started?”

“All what?” I am very bored now and refusing to hide it.

“The culture! Everything! Y’know, all the stories, your generation — coming home from school, Cheetos and Mountain Dew, logging into Halo to shout slurs at each other, learning that this other world existed, where nobody could stop you, tell you what to do — y’know, the beginning! Of the culture! The future was built here, man!” 

“Not by me,” I reply. “Never had an Xbox.”

“Y’know, all the stories, your generation — coming home from school, Cheetos and Mountain Dew, logging into Halo to shout slurs at each other, learning that this other world existed, where nobody could stop you, tell you what to do — y’know, the beginning! Of the culture!”

I can sense him about to lurch into more of it, more of the weird, context-free nostalgia his generation maintains for stuff they never fucking experienced in the vague hope they can construct a history for themselves that’s more than just a list of pop-cultural references that got transformed into financial products. So I change the subject. 

“Who’s that guy in Clutch’s group without an avi?” I gesture over at Dave, holding court to his inner circle of special followers, all presenting as similarly drawn anime girls. All except one, that is, who doesn’t have an avatar at all, his body nothing but the anonymous, translucent mannequin you get when you create a new Meta account. “Someone thinks they’re special?”

“Oh you didn’t hear? Can’t remember the guy’s name, but it’s one of Dave’s top followers. Got scammed out of the ownership of his avatar. Guy’s down 60 grand, apparently.”

“How’d it happen?”

“Who knows? Usual shit, probably. Got given a link to a NyftEX sale that looked too good to be true, because it was, clicks it anyway, ends up giving his very real login creds to a very fake site. Next thing you know and yoink, ownership of your favorite lolicon avi has been transferred to some pervert who’s richer than you. Whatever. All part of the game.”

“Fucking idiots. But then why turn up with no avatar at all? I’m sure the guy has a creepily large collection of other waifus he can present as.”

“Now, see, that’s why you should always try and turn up to these things earlier. Always a surprising amount of drama, watching others arrive. So the guy gets here, right, and he’s wearing some anime girl, looks like exactly the same shit as the rest of them to me, but what the fuck do I know. Anyway his crew is not happy, they just circle him immediately, start insisting he take it off. And he’s like ‘But guys, I just lost 60k in a scam,’ but they don’t fucking care, they’re like ‘That’s not from the same show we’re from, either you wear the right one or nothing at all, or you can leave,’ and they make him go naked, right here in front of everyone. It was fucking brutal. You could hear the sobbing over the proximity chat.”

“Jesus fucking Christ.” I shake my head. “I know for a fact every single one of those fuckers is a 45-year-old fintech coder. I swear Dave gets off on running them through this high school hazing shit.” 

“Yeah man, for reals. Look what you fucking made lol,” We both laugh at that one. “Speaking of which, what’s the deal with Fragileman?”

“Oh, what, the Baltimore guy?” I say, like it’s no biggie, as if I’m not watching his numbers in a window I’ve positioned just to the right of AphexFan08’s face. “Yeah, looks super interesting. Good use of color, bold hard lines.” 

“Yeah, yeah. Certainly a talented guy.” I can tell from his tone that he’s not even glanced at the guy’s work. “I mean his numbers over the last few hours, just incredible. Incredible. Picked up a few shards myself. To the moon, man.”

“He knows a lot of people with a lot of money and no fucking clue, who don’t know a good use of color from a bold line but will buy some art if an algorithm tells them it’s the right art to buy.”

I know exactly what he’s going to ask me next.

“Where d’you find these guys?” 

“Oh, y’know, I have my methods,” I tell him. “It’s what I do, man. Pattern recognition. Nodes in the network. Emerging forms.”

“Sure,” he says, slightly awkwardly. He doesn’t want to offend by prying further. Perfect. “I mean, of course, What you do. Super interesting.”

“Look, I can tell you this.” I lean in closer to his avatar while pinging him a private chat bubble. He’s accepted it before I’ve even finished talking. “But you can’t say shit to anyone. This is real insider stuff, plus I’m under an NDA, understand?”

“Of course. I mean, of course.” He’s so excited it’s almost cute, and I have to mute expression capture so that I don’t laugh at him. “Your secret’s safe with me.”    

“You know PreScience?”

“What, the copware?”

“That’s them. Well they’re diversifying a bit. Going back to their trend-spotting roots. Put me on a very exclusive beta of their new product. Uses the same algorithms they use for predictive policing to spot emerging talent. So far, the results I’ve had have been incredible.”

“Wow, that’s … wait? So you’re saying this isn’t the first time? You’ve found other artists this way? Who?”

Clever kid. I mime zipping my lips tight and throwing away the key. 

“Wow, that’s amazing. I really had no idea.” His head flaps back and forth, as he nervously glances over his shoulders. I can’t tell whether he’s worried someone is watching us, or terrified that nobody is. “That’s incredible, I’d love to talk to you more about it.“

“Of course, anytime,” I say, simultaneously killing the private chat. “Just not right now, yeah? Actually, speaking of emerging forms, I gotta hit the bathroom.”

And I pull my spex from my face, hard disconnect. The gallery is gone, replaced by more condo blocks and swirling snow. I imagine AphexFan08’s avatar still standing there, metaphorical dick in his hand, not knowing what to do first with the data bombshell I just dropped on him.

Grinning, I put my spex back on. The room is full of data again, but I’m only watching one window. In my mind’s eye AphexFan08 has zipped his dick away and is teleporting around the gallery, trying to mingle while simultaneously spamming his contacts’ DMs. If there’s one thing I know about him from hours of painful Spotify negotiations, it’s that the motherfucker is clinically incapable of keeping a secret. Right now he’s telling everyone he can about my PreScience revelation, and reveling in how fleetingly significant it makes him look. Good. He knows a lot of people with a lot of money and no fucking clue, who don’t know a good use of color from a bold line but will buy some art if an algorithm tells them it’s the right art to buy. 

I stare at the window as minutes pass. I can imagine a gallery full of avatars seeming to glitch as they simultaneously pause to buy shards. Already green numbers start to climb further. Line go up.


I am sleeping with my spex on, so that when the notification hits at 3.17 a.m. I awake directly into a world of screaming alerts and flashing red numbers. 

Line go down. 

Dave is already talking when his avatar teleports into my room. “Yeah yeah, I’m on it, I’m on it.”

“What the fuck is going on?” I am sitting upright, rummaging in the drawer of my nightstand for a Xanax I’m sure is there.

“I … ugh. Oh fuck.” He pauses, anime eyes narrowing and darting from one unseen screen to another. I know he’s reading the logs of the dark pool he operates, a semi-private, invite-only market for high-frequency algorithms to trade shards. Originally, dark pools were used by big banks and funds to trade shares in secret so they didn’t affect public market prices. But Dave’s pool basically does the opposite — it mainly exists to sell trading data instantaneously to outside investors and exchanges, so they can get nanosecond jumps on the rest of the market. “Looks like a bunch of algos started automatically dumping back into the pool.”

“Whose?”

“Well … a couple of mine, for a start —” 

“The fuck —” 

“— and some of yours, senpai. Don’t worry, I’ve shut them all down.  It … it looks like the price is stabilizing. Phew. Weird.”

Line go flat. 

“Tell me something good Dave, fucking please?” The Xanax is nowhere to be found. 

“I dunno. Something spooked the algorithms, and then the whole pool. Looks like I caught it before the exchanges spotted it, but who knows.”

“Yeah but what? If it can spook them now, it can spook them tomorrow. I need to know what it is Dave, so I can make it go away.”

“I mean, you did due diligence on this guy, right?”

“Due … what?” I am actually laughing out loud. “He’s an anonymous fucking graffiti artist from Baltimore, Dave. I don’t even know his fucking name!” 

“Well, I suggest you fucking find out.” Dave makes oversized eye contact with me, his face turning a cartoon shade of angry red. “Like, we don’t know what’s in this guy’s past, who the fuck he is, he could be one of those me too guys, he could have been canceled —” 

“There’s nothing bad on the socials, not a thing.”

“Not yet!” His voice is full of disbelief. “You know these are meant to be predictive algos, right?” 

“Ok. Ok. Fuck.” I’m out of bed, pulling on a shirt. “What do I do? How do I find this guy?”

“On PreScience?”

“You kidding me? It’s all anonymized for end users. I don’t have that kind of access.” 

“Well, I guess you’d better find someone who does.” 


I am realizing that even though I drink their coffee every day, this is the first time I’ve actually been inside a Starbucks in at least seven years. Since the first lockdowns, I am guessing. I stopped going inside a lot of places around then.

I am watching the cop sitting opposite me. His eyes are twitching and blinking behind his Oakley spex. Such an ugly design. He is checking to make sure the shards I just deposited in his NyftEX account have cleared. We’re sitting in the badly lit corner near the bathrooms, away from the counter. The air smells like burned Colombian roast and diarrhea, and the tiled floor is slick with trodden-in snow melting into grey water. 

He picked the table when we arrived, saying he’d already checked the store’s network and this was a blind spot. “It’s fucked,” he had said, pointing at an unmoving dome camera on the ceiling. 

Now he nods, grunting. Takes the spex from his face, passes them to me. “You got five minutes,” he says, surveying the store with that self-important cop gaze. I know really he’s just trying to avoid my eyes, as though it’ll somehow distance him from his crime.

I slip the spex on, trying not to think about where they’ve been, and then I’m there, in the copverse. 

“I mean, you did due diligence on this guy, right?”

I’m trying not to laugh. In here it all feels so … Hollywood. Like “Robocop” meets “Minority Report.” Retro futuristic fascism via white sci-fi fonts on deep blue text boxes. On the sides are a few windows showing grayscale camera feeds: subway platforms, a drone’s eye view of the intersection outside, the Starbucks cam watching the entrance. In the center are two windows.

The first is a rap sheet. A mugshot of a young man. Tired eyes. Andre Hendrix. Twenty-three years old. Known alias: Fragileman. Then a list of minor offenses, the usual shit. Minor vandalism, destruction of public property, a little light shoplifting as a kid. Nothing major. Fines and community service but no prison time.  

The other window is far more interesting. The only things I recognize on it are the PreScience logo and the same mugshot. The rest is data viz that’s unfamiliar to me: flow charts of cascading probabilities, tables full of chances and odds. Pie charts cut into percentage slices of likely outcomes. I realize I’m looking at a rap sheet again, but this time a speculative one. Crimes that haven’t happened yet, and may never. A man’s life mapped out years in advance, based on cop data, institutionalized racism, hidden mathematics. It’s a lot to take in, too many possibilities. The visualizations shift and bloom when my gaze lingers on them for too long. But one prediction sticks out from the rest, pulsing a steady red designed to draw attention:

68% chance of being involved in a violent assault before age 25. 73% chance assault will involve firearms. 81% chance of fatality.

Suddenly it clicks into place. I can see what spooked the trading algos. Some of them, somewhere on a server out in some shithole muddy field in New Jersey, had done the due diligence they were designed to do, that I never could. They’d made the connection, worked out who Fragileman was, and saw a bad investment opportunity that ended in either death or incarceration. That or someone that Dave or AphexFan08 knew had let slip I was using PreScience and had higher-level access than me, and was actually smart enough to use it. Whatever. I let out a small breath of relief. This is fine. This is something I can work with. In fact, this is an opportunity, one the machine intelligences managing my portfolio had failed to predict.  

I take the spex off and hand them back to the cop. He makes to leave, but I stop him.

“Wait a minute,” I say sipping my coffee. He looks annoyed. “I’ll double the number of shards I just deposited if you get me a screengrab of that PreScience file. Just the front page. Nothing else.”

He settles back into his seat, a shit-eating grin spreading across his face. “Triple,” he says. “And go get me a fucking donut.”


I am spinning a story, a story of great injustice and stolen futures across the metaverse.

A new image spreads and infects, a leaked screenshot from a police database, a young man denied a career by anonymous, unseen software. A promising artist denied the fruits of his work and talent because the odds were always stacked against him. TikToks full of justifiable anger and distress. Headlines and tweets that write themselves. “Predictive Policing Tech Ruins Young Artist’s Dreams.” “Artist Punished For Crimes He May Never Commit.” “Questions Raised About PreScience’s Privacy Policies As Artist Sees Value Adjusted.”

And now, here come the big fish, the nodes in the networks, the too-big-to-fail legacy media platforms. The New York Times. Buzzfeed. Vice. Vox. The story ripples out from each of them, triggering an infinite cascade of retweets and reposts, upvotes and likes. 

And finally they’re here, the celebrities, the only market leaders that really matter, the guardian angels of late-stage capitalism. Tay and Bey, Nicki and Cardi, Kanye and Travis, Kylie and Miley. All of them coming out to show their support, fighting injustice the only way they know how — buying back the shards their analysts and algorithms were jettisoning hours ago, at rapidly inflating prices. And telling their legions of fans to do the same. Invest in justice. Invest in community. Invest in solidarity. Invest in all our futures. Invest in Fragileman. 

The exchanges react, adjust their valuations.

Line go up. 

“Invest in justice. Invest in community. Invest in solidarity. Invest in all our futures. Invest in Fragileman.”

Dave ports into my living room just to tell me I’m a fucking genius. We watch the numbers together.

“This is fucking nuts,” he says. “At this rate we could hit 250 a shard by midnight. That’s … we could come out of this with a half mil. Jesus.”

“My pleasure,” I say.

“We should dump soon, though? Like I thought the whole deal was to get out quick?”

“Hodl,” I tell him. “This news cycle has barely started. I give it another six hours at least.” I stare down at my open palm, at the small, skinny, stick-like Xanax tablet sitting in it. “Go chill out, jerk off in VRChat or whatever it is you people do. I’m gonna get some sleep.”


I am deep in Xanax space when my spex buzz next to me, vibrating angrily against my nightstand.

I put them on. No red numbers, everything green. Line go up.

Dave is here, animated. Hi Dave.

“Jesus fucking Christ dude what the fuck, I’ve been trying to wake you up for 20 fucking minutes.”

“Chill Clutch, fuck.” I start to sit up, wipe drool from my chin, glad he can’t see me. “What’s the problem? Everything looks fine.” 

“It’s Fragileman,” he says, panic in his voice. “He’s dead.”

Suddenly I am fully upright. Clarity returns.

“What?”

“Check your timelines,” Dave says.

I’ve already got them open. A video clip is spreading now, infecting. I blink it open; it starts to play.

The all-too-familiar low-light graininess of bodycam footage.

Some back alley, dimly lit. Melting snow on the ground, hints of collapsed industry in the architecture.

The body cam’s owner starts moving fast, toward a figure. A man, hooded. Back to the camera. Silhouetted against a glimpse of a half-finished mural. Good use of color, bold hard lines. Organic, almost botanical details juxtaposed against simple, urgent geometry.

A voice, too loud, too close to the mic, shouts “FREEZE!”

The figure spins around, a face I know, the first time I’ve seen it moving. 

Startled.

A hand starts to raise, something shiny, metal in its hands.

The sound of the shot.

The face shocked.

The body crumpling, lifeless.

The object falls from his hand.

In the snow.

A spray can.

“This is fucked,” Dave says. “It’s fucked. It’s so fucked.”

His voice seems distant, muffled. My hands are numb. I say nothing.

“What do we do now?”

The clip repeats, loops endlessly.

“Dude! What do we fucking do!?”

Clarity returns.

“When did this happen?” I blink open the exchange. Still trading. Line go up. “How long ago since the footage was first posted?”

“I dunno, two hours ago? Three?” Dave suddenly gets where I’m going. “Oh shit, yeah. But the exchange is still trading his shards?”

“And it will until his next of kin says otherwise,” I hear myself say, as if on autopilot. “We need to act quick.”

“Fuck, yeah. I’ll start dumping everything —” 

“No.” I say. “No. Wait. I’ve got a better idea.”


I am watching live-streamed drone footage of police forces in five cities simultaneously rioting. They surge through ranks of peaceful protestors, smashing heads with batons, trampling them underfoot, knocking them to the floor with polycarbonate shields. Tear gas arcs and swirls. Some of the protestors carry placards with Andre Hendrix’s mugshot printed on them. Others, his art. I see at least two people with huge, blown-up prints of the PreScience screengrab I got off a cop in a Starbucks at 5 a.m.

Line go up.

Two hours ago, I was on the phone with Andre Hendrix’s mother. She was inconsolable. I lied to her. Told her I was a friend of Andre’s, that I had been advising him on his career. I managed to convince her the best thing to do for her family’s future was to keep the Fragileman shards trading, but to consolidate them into a decentralized autonomous organization. I explained to her that by making them a DAO, everyone who owned a shard — Andre’s fans — would get a vote on the future of his career. I told her it’s what he would have wanted. I also told her I was transferring her a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of btc, 500 of her son’s own shards and that I’d be setting up a trust fund that would pay her and her family an annual dividend from whatever profits her son’s work made.

I did not tell her that Dave and I, via various proxies and shells, held enough shards between us to have a controlling vote over the Fragileman DAO.

She thanked me, said she was happy Andre had friends like me, and that she’d mention me in her prayers.

At midnight tonight, as the tear gas canisters still fall, we’ll drop an exclusive set of NFTs, just 20 images from the bodycam footage. We will make a fortune. Sometimes it takes a little human intuition to see investment opportunities the machines miss.  

Sometimes, as I stare out of the window at the swirling snow, I think I might be dead inside.

Line go up.