By Ingvar: Timo Tay sat at the short end of the meeting table, looking down at the two lines of Guild members seated before him. He lifted his small wooden mallet.
“As chairbeing. I declare the fourth annual general meeting of the Guild of Copycats and Plagiarists open.”
The mallet thudded onto the small protective butt, rather than the table.
“First item is the financial report for the previous year. Could Miss Cristina Blatante please read the economic report?”
Cristina stood up and cleared her throat. “The Guild received 81,000 Solar Credits in membership dues. The Guild spent 147 Solar Credits for buying off one complainant. The Guild member whose unsubtlety caused the ruckus has been fined 500 Solar Credits. We further spent 40,000 Solar Credits on legal insurance. In total, last year saw a gain in the funds of 41,353 Solar Credits. The Guild has no outstanding debt to service. This concludes the economic report.”
“Thank you, Miss Blatante. Anyone opposed to adding the economic report to the Guild’s archives? Hearing none, the economic report is filed. Next, we need to elect Guild heads for the coming year. The proposal is that Timo Tay is elected as Guild Master; Cristina Blatante is elected as Mistress of Treasure; and, a change, Slem ven Pocketry is elected as Voice to the World, replacing the esteemed Anna min Scortch, who has decided to step down for personal reasons. Anyone opposed to this proposal in bulk?”
A voice rang out from the far end of the table. “Yes!”.
“Having heard an objection to electing in bulk, I will proceed position by position. Anyone opposed to Timo Tay staying on s Guild Master? Hearing no objection, I find myself elected Guild Master. Anyone opposed to Cristina Blatante as Mistress of Treasure? Hearing none, I find Miss blatant re-elected as Mistress of Treasure. Anyone opposed to Slem ven Pocketry being elected as Voice to the World?”
“Yes!” rang out from a single voice.
“Anyone in agreement with electing Slem ven Pocketry as Voice to the World?”
“YES!” rang out from most of the assembly.
“Finding that the voices in agreement vastly outnumber the voices in opposition, I find Slem ven Pocketry elected as Voice to the World.”
“Next, we have a motion to amend the rules of acceptable standards for Guild members. Mr ven Fengsler, if you would be so kind?”
John ven Fengsler stood up and cleared his throat.
“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I find it still necessary to proceed in front of this august assembly. I have put forward a motion to amend the rules of acceptable behaviour of Guild members. Having perused the Guild archives, I have found that many of our esteemed members have, in the last five years, neither plagiarized nor copied. As the Guild rules stand, this is not required. But my motion purports to make it mandatory to commit at least one plagiarism every three years, for continued membership. With a sunset clause, requiring any member who does have more than three years since the last plagiarism to commit one in the next 18 months, or risk expulsion after investigation by the board. The full text has been duly added to the agenda, and everyone should have a copy. As a side note, the motion is a slightly edited copy from the Performing Works section of the constitution of the Sulphurian Society, so technically counts as a plagiarism.”
“We have heard Member ven Fengsler present his motion, and will now proceed to debate. Debate will start with those opposed, alternating between supporting and opposing, until such a time as we have exhausted one side. Who is first? Ah, proceed, Voice ven Pocketry.”
“I am, as is Member ven Fengsler, part of the Sulphurian movement. I was one of the people arguing for our movement having a similar rule, but I oppose it here. For one simple reason. Sulphuric poetry, song and art is tolerant of mistakes. But, in plagiarism, there can be no margin for error. If you plagiarize unwisely, we would attract the notice of the authorities. And as we heard, even without this policy, in the last year our Guild have spent over 40,000 Solar Credits either to preemptively protect us, or as a direct result of someone having been caught. And for that reason, I am opposed.”
“Very well. Anyone speaking for? Member ven Fengsler has the floor.”
“We are a Guild of plagiarists, for a guild of plagiarists. It is imperative that our members actually practice the trade we propose to regulate and foster. And in plagiarism, as in many things in the world, skills decline if left unused. I have not looked deeply into our member that was caught, but I would not be surprised if the time since last registered plagiarism before unfortunate most recent is more than four years. My research shows that plagiarism skill declines slowly over a period of 20-26 months, then with an accelerated decay from there to 34-40 months, at which point it normally drops below the level we would accept from a competent Guild member. It is for this reason I urge the Meeting to pass this motion and add it to the Laws of our Guild.”
“We are now looking for someone in opposition? No one? That means the floor is open for either opposing or supporting. Ah, Member min Scortch wishes to speak.”
“Beloved Guild members. Member ven Fengsler consulted with me before putting this motion to the Meeting. At that point, I was in favor. But, I must say that Memb, ahem, Voice ven Pocketry have convinced me that this is a cure that is worse than the disease. For that reason, I urge the Meeting to oppose this motion.”
“Well spoken, and clearly against. We are now looking for a speech supporting. No one? Anyone wanting to argue against? Finding none, I will now take votes. Anyone opposed? I see a raised hand. Member Bobbingsley, what is the matter?”
“I call for this Meeting to vote via secret ballot. It is far too divisive a question for open voting.”
“Secret ballot has been called for. Every member should have been given two stones, one white and one teal. In an orderly queue, please walk to the voting table, then deposit your vote into the urn marked ‘Vote’ and your other stone in the urn marked ‘Discard’. If you would like the motion to pass, please deposit a white stone as your vote and if opposed, the teal one.”
The meeting dissolved into a chaos of people moving about, slowly forming into something that looked like a pale imitation of an orderly queue. When people eventually returned to their seats, Chair Tey picked the urn marked “Vote” and spilled it onto the table in from of him.
“I have not yet done a count, but from the look of the pile of voting stones in front of me, I would say that the Ayes have it. I will now proceed to do an accurate count.” A few minutes later, the stones had been separated into one white and one teal pile, the white pile towering over the teal. “Having counted the votes, the Ayes have 48 votes, the Nays have 17. The Ayes carry the vote, and we now have a rule requiring committing at least one plagiarism every three years. As of this moment, all members with more than three years are on an eighteen-month grace period.”
This is the point where we leave the remainder of the annual general meeting of the Guild of Copycats and Plagiarists to wend its own way.
Trigger was sitting at the kitchen table, his morning bowl of cereal and syntxemilk in front of him, spoon in hand, chewing the first mouthful of cereal, when he decided something was definitely not as it should be. He wasn’t quite sure what was wrong, but something was. This, this was not normal.
“Beloved Coraline, did we get the right cereal?”, he asked.
“Dearest Trigger, it should be Nutty Neptune Nuggets, as usual”, his wife replied.
“Hmm. Something’s not right, then.”
Trigger stood up and walked to the dry-goods cupboard, opened the doors and looked. He could see the cereal box, and it looked as it should. Wait. No, something was off.
He looked carefully at the package again.
“Beloved Coraline, it seems we have purchased a box of NÃ¼tty NeptÃ¼ne NÃ¼ggets?”
Coraline darted out from the bedroom, hair still in disarray from the night. She stopped beside Trigger and looked at the cereal box.
“Why, indeed. This is not Nutty Nuggets, at all. Whyever did this happen? Let me telephone the General Store right now!”
After having dressed, Trigger walked downstairs, to his office.
“Dearest Trigger”, Coraline said, “I have spoken to the store manager and he is as surprised as we are.”
“What I shall do, beloved Coraline, is to walk over and talk to him in person. We know this is not right, and it needs to be investigated.”
Trigger walked through the front doors of Fort Corallium General Store.
“Abner? It’s Trigger. What’s up with the cereal delivery?”
“Well, Sheriff, I have looked at the shipping manifest and we should have received a pallet of Nutty Neptune Nuggets, half a pallet of Sugary Snowflakes, and half a pallet of Maize Crispies. But, looking carefully at the contents, it seems that a full third of the Nutty Nuggets are these… NÃ¼tty NÃ¼ggets, And all of the Sugary Snowflakes are, instead, some sort of impostor Snowy Sugarflakes, that I have never seen. Most of the Maize Crispies are right, but one out of about ten is a Maze Cruspies packet. I have checked and double-checked, and it just makes no sense.”
Trigger scratched his square, manly jaw with his right hand. Something was afoot, and it was not good game.
“Odd indeed, Abner. Odd indeed.”
Slem ven Pocketry sat down in front of the table. On the other side sat Timo Tey, in the middle, flanked by Cristina Blatante and Lena Bobbingsley.
Timo cleared his throat.
“Member ven Pocketry, you have a report?”
“Yes, chairbeing Tey, I have a plagiarism to report. I have successfully infiltrated fake cereal onto the market, at normal market price, at a 55% profit on my initial investments. As a dues-paying Guild member, I wish this to be recorded in our books.”
“Well done. Does any of the other members of the inquisitors panel have any remarks or questions?”
“Member ven Pocketry, could you explain why you chose cereal products for your plagiarism, instead of something more conventional, like books, illustrated magazines, or art?”
“Certainly, member Bobbingsley. It is actually a much higher return on investment. Having previously primarily focused on plagiarizing furniture and sculpture, my profits tended to be in the 5% to 20% range, but in cereal, my initial probing attempt incurred a 40% profit and with some streamlining of my counterfeit production line, I could easily realize the current 55% profit margin. It is thus much more profitable and I envision the ability to expand this to plagiarizing and counterfeiting other food items. Alas, my learnings really do not carry over to luxury items, all my attempts at counterfeiting caviar have, for example, all fizzled out. While I can make a convincing replacement, I do so at a cost higher than what I can sell it for.”
“And how, exactly, are you recouping your costs?”
“Ah, this is possibly the most clever bit. I have contacts at a wholesaler, and I am using that to essentially pad their stocks and shipping my copies out mixed in with shipments of the originals. Quite ingenious, even if I say so myself.”
Trigger Snowflake had checked up on the transport company that had sent the shipment to Fort Corallium General Store, and they were headquartered in Ytterbium Valley. While outside his jurisdiction, he had a pretty good feeling he would be able to get permission from the local law to investigate.
He arrived at the Ytterbium Valley Sheriff’s Office and knocked on the door.
“Sheriff Scrogginski? It’s Trigger, from Fort Corallium. I need to be accredited to do some investigation and a few interviews here in Ytterbium Valley.”
“Trigger! You know you can call me Urbel. What’s up?”
“I have this weird case with counterfeited breakfast cereals, and I thought I would simply go and talk to the next step in the transport chain. I’ve already interviewed the store manager and he seems to be on the up and up. Next, I thought I would talk to the transport company, but since they’re here, I either need you to do it, or you can deputize me and I can use that to ask the questions that will be needed.”
“Hm, well, that seems quite straight-forward. Let me just give you a deputy star to complement the one you have from Fort Corallium.”
About an hour later, properly deputised, Trigger arrived at Intersolar Transports, the transport company he was after. He walked up to the reception, where a young man was sitting behind the counter.
“Hello, I am Trigger Snowflake, deputy to Sheriff Scrogginski. I need to interview a few people in regards to a crime. Who would be the logical first person to talk to?”
“Ah. Eh. Well… You probably want to talk to the general manager, who can guide you further?”
“Excellent, can you give me directions to his office?”
“Who? Ah, the general manager. Yes, if you walk down this corridor, her office is the thrird door on the right-hand side. It says ‘General Manager’ beside the door. I’ll just give her a call and tell her to expect you.”
Trigger knocked on the door, and a gruff voice called out “Come in”. He opened the door and quickly scanned the room, not really for threats, just out of sheer unbridled habit. Angled against the far right corner was a sturdy desk, behind which was sitting a woman, dressed in tough-wearing coveralls.
“Hello, I am Trigger Snowflake, deputy to Sheriff Scrogginski. I am here to investigate a crime discovered in my home jurisdiction of Fort Corallium, where counterfeit cereal was shipped to our General Store. The shipment came from this company, and I would like to get to the bottom of this.”
“Cereal crime? This is unheard of! Oh, pardon me, I am Jenna J. Jameson, the general manager for Intersolar Transport in this orbit. Well, if you can tell me, roughly, when the shipment was delivered?”
“Two, maybe as many as four, days ago.”
Ms Jameson hummed, as she walked over to a filing cabinet. She pulled open a drawer, rifled through the paperwork, then slammed it shut, only to open another one and rifling through some more papers.
“Aha. Yes, this is a shipment that came in from Luna, a week ago, and was delivered three days ago, to the Fort Corallium General Store. The shipment should have been half a pallet of cereal boxes, a quarter pallet of canned goods, and a quarter-pallet of chocolates and other sweet items. Let me see… Ah, as I thought. You need to speak to Ear-John. Follow me.”
After about five minutes of rapid walking, they arrived at a small glass-walled hut, in the middle of a gigantic warehouse. Inside was a man, again dressed in the seemingly ubiquitous hard-wearing coveralls. Stitched to the right breast of the man’s coverall was a name badge, reading “J Marriott”.
“Ear-John, this is Sheriff Snowflake, from Fort Corallium. He’s been properly deputized and is here to ask you some questions. Please answer them as fully as you can.” With that said, Ms Jameson turned around and walked away, at quite a pace.
“Hello, I am John Marriott, foreman of local loading. They call me Ear-John, because I have a good memory for details and, for this noisy environment, good hearing. What can I help you with?”
“Three days ago, you sent a pallet of goods to the Fort Corallium General Store. Was there anything unusual about it?”
“Not really. We used a new subcontractor to ship it from Luna, but other than that, it was all pretty standard. Why Was there any damage?”
“No, no. Well, not damage as such. It’s just that when the shipment arrived, a large proportion of the cereal boxes had been substituted for fakes.”
“That must’ve been before it arrived at this warehouse. Hm. Actually, I think we have a representative from the subcontractor, over by the arrivals processing area. If you follow me?”
Another few minutes of brisk walking, then Ear-John walked up to a man dressed in a sharp suit.
“Mr ven Pocketry? From Sniiki Transport? I have someone who wants to talk to you.”
When Slem ven Pocketry turned around, he saw Trigger Snowflake and went suddenly very pale, as if all blood had just left his face. “It wasn’t me, Sheriff. I don’t forge cereal. You can’t prove ANYTHING. I want my lawyer!”
Trigger Snowflake was stunned. Not only was this a ne’er-do-well that he had encountered before, but ven Pocketry had pretty much confessed without a single question being asked.
“Slem ven Pocketry, I am placing you under arrest, on suspicion of cereal forgery. Anything you have said, are saying, or will say can and will be held against you in a court of law. Will you follow willingly, or will I have to hand-cuff you?”
Back at the Ytterbium Valley sheriff’s office, ven Pocketry was sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair, looking morose.
“Urbel, we can either do the interview here, or if you rather I take the suspect back to Fort Corallium?”
“Might as well do it here, Trigger. I have this nagging feeling that you want to be close to the spaceport.”
After some extensive interrogation, which we will skip, since it is no fun at all, ven Pocketry had duly confessed to forging the cereal boxes, and had named three other persons involved, all based on Luna.
Trigger and his prisoner arrived at Luna Spaceport, having duly sent ahead a message listing the Luna-based suspects. As they passed through the arrivals check, the processing officer suddenly froze.
“Aha. Sheriff Snowflake. I have a note here that you should go straight to the Office of the Peace, where you and your prisoner are needed as soon as possible. I will now take the liberty of requesting a buggy to take you there, unless you strongly prefer to run?”
“A buggy will be fine, gentle herm. Will it be long?”
“It is just pulling up behind the door to my right. If you walk through, you will be taken to the Office of the Peace.”
Some quick driving through Luna Colony later, they arrived at the Office of the Peace, the main office of the organization that appointed sheriffs throughout the Solar System. Trigger had only been at head office twice before. Once for his official swearing-in, and once to receive his transfer order from being a sheriff-at-large on Mars, to his posting at Fort Corallium. They walked the limestone stairs up to the main entrance.
“Sheriff Snowflake, Fort Corallium, with a prisoner, as ordered. What next?”
“Ah, excellent. We have the suspects you named under arrest, and we’ve started interviewing them. It seems, from all we can tell, that the only counterfeiter among them is ven Pocketry here, who will be prosecuted under the False Pretenses act, while the rest of them mainly seem to be in it for the opportunity to defraud the shipping industry, also a serious crime.”
“That is good to hear. Will you need me to give further statements?”
“Not as such, we just need you to counter-sign the telefacsimiles you have sent, in order to make it less of a contentious point at trial. Would you like to stay for the proceedings?”
“No, Officer, I would rather go home to my beloved wife, not having to think about cereal trials.”