Master Licko was in one of his bad moods again. Around his sculptury were fragments of stone and from inside there was a cacophony of crashing, bashing, and thumping. Every now and then some luckless piece of statuary would fly through a window, whose glass had much earlier been shattered and scattered, and dive to the earth, throwing up loose soil and losing parts of itself in an ignominious partial burial. Squashed vermiforms either lay splattered beneath stone or squirmed uneasily, trying to detach their broken parts and wriggle away from the zone of destruction.
I paused at the door, wondering if this was really the right time to visit Master Licko and tell him that his Income Tax was overdue, but even though I could hear what sounded like an overworked lump hammer, I reminded myself that I was a Lawyer-at-arms and not frightened of people like Master Licko. Despite his enhanced musculature and his days spent lifting hundredweights of stone. I knocked on the door, and then went in without waiting for an answer.
Master Licko was topless, as he often was, and wearing a heavy hessian wrap-around apron around his lower half, which he didn't always do and left me wondering where to rest my eyes for decency. In one hand he was holding a lump hammer, in another a metal chisel, and in his third a powder-welding tube. He glared at me.
"Worthless worm," he said, but without much rancour. "I knew it had to be you. Everyone else has patience."
"Talentless hack," I countered. "All of my other clients have learned to appreciate me."
With the pleasantries out of the way, I looked at what he'd been doing when I came in. A humaniform woman was crouching atop an anvil, her legs splayed out but supporting her nonetheless, her arms stretched out to the sides, and the top of her head flattened to support a tray or slab. Her eyes moved constantly, scanning back and forth, but there was no sign of consciousness behind them.
"It's new," said Master Licko putting the powder-welding tube down. "It's so damn new I'm having trouble getting to the essence of it."
"What is it?" I asked, genuinely intrigued. I knew that Master Licko had real talent and didn't just churn out minor variations on a theme like so many artists I had dealings with.
"Posturetalk," he said. "These humaniforms... they have so many different ways of presenting themselves, their very posture tells you something of what they're thinking. If you sit and watch their soap operas you can see it: their lips say one thing, but their body language says another. So. I'm creating humaniform objects that can communicate with you, that can recognise your mood and adjust themselves accordingly. There's really not much structure required to maintain a flat surface for a table, for example. If we freeze this womanform's head, then the table is perfectly stable, and she can use her limbs to indicate a mood. She can adjust her face to show her mood. She can even tremble slightly if there's nothing spillable on the table."
"I'm... interested," I said, despite knowing that Master Licko always put his prices up if he thought he had a sale. I rather liked the idea of a table that trembled when you came near it, or a lamp-holder that could vary between sexy and functional depending on the guests.
"As you should be!" Master Licko's shouts calmed down quickly. "Except I'm having real difficulties getting the humaniform to recognise our moods. It's like they don't realise that we're real here."
"Perhaps you're flattening their heads too much?" I suggested. "I seem to recall that they keep squishy stuff in their heads and they break if it leaks out."
"Hmph," said Master Licko, but he frowned the way he does when he's thinking. "Perhaps I could build the head up instead. Or use the hands, they're easy to take off and put back on again at the right angle, and the wrists lock in place with no trouble if you use long enough locking pins. I saw a soap opera of theirs I think, they were all walking like Egyptians, and that would probably be a good posture for posturetalk."
"What's an Egyptian?" I asked, but Master Licko shrugged, already uninterested.
"Are you still here?" he said.
"Yes," I said, pulling the paperwork from a pocket. "I have your Income Tax papers here."
I watched, mildly impressed, as the humaniform's head sailed off her shoulders and through the window, bouncing in the flower-bed outside, and Master Licko howled.