Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer

He was sitting in his chair exactly where I’d left him six hours ago, looking out the window of the impeccably reconstructed early 16th Century workshop. His plate of fruit, bread and cheese remained untouched. I glanced at the blank canvas and sighed. He’d been in this workshop for three weeks now and hadn’t drawn even the simplest sketch or touched his carving tools. This project was already way over budget. Unless this over-priced, over-hyped, gene-resurrected artist produced something, anything, he was destined for the chemical vat and I would be out of a job.

But artists, particularly Italian Renaissance artists, especially THIS Italian Renaissance artist, were a sensitive lot and don’t respond well to economic pressures.

“Good morning, Leonardo,” I said in Italian, suppressing my frustration and getting into character, “are you feeling ill? You haven’t touched your breakfast.”

“I have no appetite of late, Francesco,” he said, not taking his eyes off the holographic representation of the Chateau D’Amboise beyond the window, the exact view he would have had from his workshop at Chateau De Cloux in France during the last years of his life. “Food does not taste the same to me anymore.”

Could he actually recognize that the food was synthetic? If so, a gross oversight on my part, but one that couldn’t be helped; real farms were a thing of the past due to environmental pollutants. Everything was now grown hydroponically from cloned hybrids deep underground.

“Mi amore, you must eat,” I entreated, cooing like a mother hen. “You must work. The King grows impatient.”

Leonardo dismissed my lie with a flick of his hand and remained staring out the window, waiting for something. After a moment’s silence he spoke. “I’ve been having a dream, Francesco, every time I sleep.” He was so quiet I had to step closer to hear him. “I’m in a strange, dead land, familiar, yet unknown. The sky is the color of ash and weeps black, sooty rain. The trees are stunted, barren of leaf and flower. Beauty has fled the world. The shrouded sun brings no joy to the starving soul, no color, no life.”

Did he suspect that he too was a cheat, a facsimile of the man he was? Could he somehow sense that his original body lay buried under the radioactive ruins of Chapel Saint-Hubert and had been for the last seven hundred years?

“But you’re awake now, Master.” I knelt beside him and pointed out the window. “Look, the sun shines! The trees are in bloom! The sky is clear as sapphire! It’s but a dream that troubles you, amore – A ghost of the mind.”

“There!” He said, pointing suddenly at a passing blackbird, “Every hour, the same bird flies the same path. The clouds too are different, but the same. I’ve been watching. Its like I am looking at a moving painting, rich in detail, but devoid of God’s touch.”

Damn! Some programmer just lost their job. I would too if I didn’t get Leonardo to produce a new masterpiece. “You must paint,” I implored, “or feel the carver’s chisel in your hands again. Then you will rediscover the world’s beauty.” So would we. “It’s been too long, Lolo.”

He looked at me then with cold, loveless eyes, which scrutinized every wrinkle and contour of my face, reconstructed to resemble his most beloved pupil.

“Inspiration is dead, Francesco,” he whispered with deep sadness. “This room is artifice. This view is an illusion. Even you, amore, are an imposture. My heart knows this. How can I paint a lie?”

I had no answer.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows