This excerpt is chapter 61 from my new speculative fiction novel Liquid Reign.
Another keyword reminding him of 2015. Daniel’s mind wanders back over their last year together, when Helen and he had spent dozens of hours binging on all the Pacific island media content they could find, and even took sailing lessons. That was right in the middle of the most overworked period of his life. He’d pushed his academic career as hard as he could, just to see how far it would get him, and the result almost broke his mind: he still can’t believe how much he got done in this system of vogonic administrative impediments with their incentive to maximize elusively formatted, peer-reviewed citations apparently designed for no purpose exept extinguishing his passionately burning curiosity. It all would have been entirely impossible without Helen’s support. The memories warm his heart, his eyes closing for a second as he says: “Tonga…” Following more than six weeks of wrangling conducted in vogonic poetry, his Sorbonne contract gave him the right to an unpaid third-year sabbatical. They were planning to set sail from Tonga in September 2017, exactly two years after his inauguration. The warmth is gone, replaced by the void of thirty five years that could have been the prime of his life.
Rummaging around for a pack of gum in a box beside the sofa, Willy hasn’t noticed Daniel’s reaction. He just keeps talking: “Tonga had been making good money hosting torrent sites on their .to country domain for a while, and when the new generation came into power, they took things to the next level. The crown prince had… Wait, I’ll show you. Marvin, can you throw the ‘Hermes Shrugged’ documentary on the wall for us?” and pops a stick of gum into his mouth. He has seen the short many times before, but it’s a classic and Daniel needs to see it. Pirates are cooler than terrorists anyway.
The bookshelf opposite the sofa moves aside with a barely audible screech. Willi prefers his good old light-to-wall projector over the retina-projecting flowers growing all over the rest of the house. The wall lights up as the opening piano chords swell. Then a title: “Pirates of the South Pacific Productions Proudly Presents,” fade to white, the music gets more dramatic, “The Birth of a Myth,” fade to white again, a cello comes in, “With the Kind Support of His Majesty, Lord of the Squid, Ruler of the Bit,” and another fade to white, drum roll, a paradisiacal beach appears, and clouds spell out — in 8-bit ASCII font — “Hermes Shrugged.”
A big, beautiful woman in a bright green bikini emerges from the waves, long black hair, her face hidden behind a diving mask. A close-up shows a single droplet of water on her shoulder, then the sun mirrored in her diving mask. She’s pulling a rusty iron chain behind her, using it to haul a yellow tank onto the beach. In the next shot, the tank is mounted on a funnel, pouring its green content into a fermenter. The camera pulls back in a wide shot, the woman walks towards a small hut thatched with palm leaves and a street sign in the background announces, “Welcome to London.”
In the little hut, a shelf full of ‘London Dry Gin’, its logo a squid wearing an eye patch. The handheld camera flies into the black of the eye patch, then dives through a black screen into a bare room on the other side. Five old, bald mustachioed white men in suits, the oldest sitting at a wooden table, the others standing around. She’s across the room, having switched her bikini for a pirate costume: a saber in her copper belt, green tricorn on her head, leather boots and countless chains and jewels.
The seated elder announces: “I herewith announce “ — clears his throat — “the decision of the arbitration tribunal: the company, Pirate Squid Holding International” — the judge pauses at this point as the camera cuts back and forth between his face and the pirate’s body. The slow motion scene is skillfully cut to express the unique mix of desire, disgust and fear that men in his position feel when they encounter a three hundred pound pirate in their office — “is guilty of regional brand plagiarism. The term ‘London Dry Gin’ is protected as intellectual property under paragraph 1.7.3 of the Pacific-European free trade agreement. The production and distribution of the product under this name by the Pirate Squid Holding is thus in violation of the agreement. Retaliations apply.”
The orchestra strings suddenly create a crescendo and the pace changes from andante to forte. The pirate bows to the camera, draws her saber and shouts: “You will regret this,” smashing her saber into the window glass, shards everywhere, and out she jumps.
A high-rise building in the City of London and a broken window halfway up. The pirate uses her saber to slide down a wire to a rooftop terrace on the other side of the road, the camera flying close behind her. She lands in the arms of a thirty-centimeter-shorter, athletic young guy wearing a bast-and-coconut costume. In the close-up they kiss passionately while gently caressing each other’s ears. Huali announces: “War it is.”
The couple is still holding hands. They’re also surrounded by a previously unnoticed escort of five black knights in full plate armor, all with their two-handed swords pointed to the ground. They wear cast-iron guyfawkes masks and with their deep baritone voices start chanting “we wish you a merry christmas” in in a minor key. Nobody seems to know why. Cut.
Soft piano scores. A mountain chapel in the Sierra Nevada, steel blue sky, one white cloud, with a clear view to the Pacific. As the parade of guests moves up to the chapel, a projector throws a flying spaghetti monster onto the single cloud. A dreadlocked priest intones: “And I herewith declare Huali Wheke, CEO of the Pirate Squid Holding of Kiribati, and Vaea of Moimoi, crown prince of Tonga as wife and husband.” Camera moves in, she’s wearing a red-green dress, he in a feathered outfit. Another passionate kiss, and cut.
The two are giving a lecture at Singularity University. Cut. Huali with a bottle of smuggled ‘London Dry Gin’ on the rooftop of the Google headquarters. Cut. Vaea’s eye in extreme close up, the mirror image of Huali wearing a head -mounted display. Cut, cut, cut. The audio during the rapid series of shots of the couple at various Silicon Valley hot spots is a distorted mash-up of conversations. Daniel picks up no more than a few single disconnected words, ‘plausible deniability’, ‘cryptorrent’, ‘cube satellite’, ‘mesh network’… Did they just say Helen Milhon? The cuts get faster and faster, fading into black.
Back to a beach at sunset. A bamboo stage and right in the center of it, Vaea on his throne. Huali is standing next to him, both in traditional festival get-ups — well maybe not exactly traditional, but definitely fantastic… Huali’s color-shifting squid hat seems a bit outré compared with the the authentically traditional green-and-orange feather costumes worn by the officials and priests around them. Behind the throne the high priest raises his arms as the chants get louder. He holds a golden crown above Vaea’s head. The chants stop, total silence, and a close-up of Vaea. The high priest lowers the golden crown into his uncombed hair. Drum roll and fireworks. The ceremony ends with a collective bow to Vaea by the crowd on the beach, the camera pulling back.
“Cherished citizens of my kingdom, dear guests, beloved Huali. I’m incredibly grateful you all came to Tonga on this special day. Welcome.” He looks over the crowd. “OK, I suck at speeches. The time for formalities is over, I’m king now so I make the rules. It’s like a never ending birthday party! Let me just announce my first two official acts before the party starts.” Unrolls a parchment and reads with deep solemnity in his voice, “Act number one: From this day forward, Tonga offers unconditional asylum for each and every human on this planet prosecuted for illegally accessing or distributing information of any kind. No matter if you’re a whistleblower or a movie pirate, no matter if you copied digital or genetic information. Refugees welcome! Obviously, asylum includes a hut on the beach and satellite up -links for all.”
He signs the parchment with a flourish and hands it to one of his ministers. Roaring applause. “Ehm, and act number two. The concept of ‘intellectual property’ no longer exists in the Tongalese language. As a matter of fact, our pre-colonial ancestors did not have the concept, and we are proudly returning to their ways. All information is free, copying and distributing are sacred. This act further accepts copyism as the official state religion.” He signs the second parchment and nods to Huali. She pushes a button, psy-trance starts to hammer and the royal couple has the first dance. Thudding, almost inaudible beats, vibrating in Daniel’s guts. The deep slow-paced rhythmical drumming sound like a mother’s heartbeat inside a womb… Daniel is reminded of a term paper he once corrected for Willy, discussing how techno parties in churches create metaphorical brotherhoods by dancers sharing the same womb. Another cut releases him from the unstoppable eclectic thought train that had hit him so often when he spent time with Willy. The camera flies back into the crowd, moving between the dancing guests, with fireworks and a laser show in the background. Daniel recognizes a few faces, that was Linus Torvalds there, Audrey Tang and Alexandra Elbakyan. Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Tiffany Trump. Even Kim Dotcom and Ross Ulbrich made it. Oh, and there is Willi, dancing with… Helen. Cut.
Later that night, full moon rising over the ocean. Vaea comes back on stage, music stops. He starts talking as he scribbles on another parchment. “And number three: Distributed Autonomous Organization is a legal form on Tonga… And number four: Molecules are information, too — there’s no such thing as an illegal substance.” He pulls out a big mushroom and starts munching. “And now, tonight’s main event, the cherished Hungry Band!” They rise from below the stage, Worakls opening up with a few minutes on the piano before the band begins to play ‘Toi’. Cut.
The music keeps playing as the credits roll down on the right, while news snippets pop up on the left. CNN: “Tonga accused of violating trade agreements.” Business Insider: “Bitcoin price surges as first nation accepts crypto currencies for tax payments.” CNN: “Novartis sues Tonga for plagiarizing of malaria medication.” Wired: “The Silicon Beach — How DAO’s are transforming the Pacific islands.” CNN: “International banks banned from doing business in Tonga.” Ars Technica: “Economic boom on Tonga — the first etherium-based unicorn emerges from the sea.” Rolling Stone: “Amanda Palmer first artist to publish her work exclusively on the pirate chain.”
The lights go back on, the book shelves screech back into place.
“Boy, how I miss those years. Fuck.”
Willi gives him a hug. “I’m glad to have you back man. I can’t even begin to think about how many times I wished you were here…”
“Thanks. But the movie didn’t mention the Tonga Index.”
“Ha, exactly the Daniel I’ve missed so hard — always focused on the underlying story, no matter what the emotional circumstances.” Willi tries to summarize: “Vaea’s government launched the Tonga-Index as an upgrade to the cryptorrent donation function. It’s a decentralized system to verify and arbitrate issues around the origins of content.”
“And the Tonga Index now replaces IP globally?”
“That strange construct called intellectual property is nothing but a history, and artists now make their living off the Tonga Index. But other domains have other solutions. It took a while to sort things out, starting with the alternative music, film and game scene — for lesser known creators it was always more attractive to go for open IP and Tonga Index instead of than having to suck some big producer’s cock.” Willi moans when he remembers those financial negotiations back in the day. “Also paid better. And as Tonga kept booming year after year, other countries joined in and abolished IP, too. First some other Pacific island states, including New Zealand, then the least developed countries globally, mainly motivated by pharmaceutical patents and the fact that Dengue had been eradicated in the Pacific Islands by that time. The secret arbitration courts couldn’t even keep up with their rulings and fines. Japan was the first traditional economic powerhouse to join — they had a giant issue with the dementia epidemic, more an act of desperation to revitalize their software industries. And it worked, Japanese tech companies had a major comeback soon after. Toyota launched the first functional reverse-engineering extended intelligence. It was able to code a functionally equivalent open source alternative to pretty much all software products on the market at the time. That was the final nail in the coffin, the WTO eliminated intellectual property from its rules the same year.” OK, enough distraction now, time to talk terrorism. “And now, thanks to the holy king, protector of the waves in water and ether, ruler over squid and chip, Vaea the third, every cent a viewer donates for ‘Green Army Fraction — Behind the Lines’ ends up in my account, shared only with my editor and sound production team. And that’s the main feature of this cinema night. Marvin, popcorn!”
* * *
Vogons and their poetry
The history of IP abominations
An oath for open science
The Pluto Network
The peer review functions implemented by Medium.com
That other London
The Flying Spaghetti Monster
The guest list at the coronation
The place where Willi found his editor and sound production team
Big Beautiful Women
Assassin’s creeds camera movements
Follow Camera Technology for BBC
A Swiss newspaper article about raves, glued onto a 20-year old handmade box.