It's Simple. We Steal The Statue Of Liberty

It's the quiet hours, barely past two in the a.m. in the dead of November. There is a frosty wind coming off the Atlantic as security guard Kevin Shea makes his rounds. It's a basic and unchallenging job, at least it is after night falls and all the tourists are gone. He tours the visitors center on the south side of the island, nearest the dock, and then ambles around the perimeter of the gigantic stone plinth towards the steps. He swings around the corner and hops up the steps, four-D-cell flashlight in one hand, bag of donuts in the other. There's a smaller security station on the next level up.

He knows something's wrong before he gets to the top. The lighting is wrong. He should be able to see more clearly, floods reflected off the cabbage green of the Statue. He rounds the corner.

He drops his donuts. He winces at the glare from the floods on the far side of the plinth. All the lights are aimed at nothing. There's a blank space where the Statue of Liberty used to be. It's been stolen.

"Aw, shoot. I'm gonna lose my job!"


Back at the hideout, celebrations are in order. Tony congratulates each of his rag-tag gang of accomplices in turn: Gerald, the hilarious electronics guy, Vaughn, the dour, old, but occasionally wise confidence/sleight-of-hand man, Beatrice the demolitions expert, Alberto the quantum mechanical macroscopy expert, and the twins Dave and Wave, vehicle drivers.

"A fabulous piece of work, friends," Tony says, raising his champagne glass. Everybody cheers and drinks. "I've never seen a plan go down so beautifully. There were some real scares towards the end there, right? Some real improvisation from Vaughn with those donuts?"

"Background research," Vaughn remarks, casually. "I know every personality on the whole of Liberty Island. It was a piece of cake."

"Dave and Wave, excellent work there..."

Wave drove the boat, Dave drove the van. It was fine work.

"Alberto, couldn't have done it without you. Beatrice, that blasting job... I've never worked with someone who didn't respect explosives, because a person like that doesn't last long, but I've worked with folks who don't respect explosives experts, and... let's just say, it's always a pleasure. Gerald! In the nick of time."

Gerald folds his tiny computer away. "Only way I work. Pour me some of that."

Tony pours him a generous glass.

"Tony," Alberto says.

Tony holds a finger up, indicating that he'll be done in a second. "To the bounty! Six ways!"

Everybody raises cheers, although Alberto doesn't cheer that much. "Tony," he says. "I feel like... I think six ways isn't the right way to split this. I feel like I did most of the heavy lifting here. You had the idea of stealing the Statue of Liberty. Wave drove the boat. Dave drove the van. I feel like we could have made do with just Dave or just Wave—"

"They come as a package," Tony explains. "Their names rhyme! Dave's no good with a boat, Wave's no good with cars."

"Well, I feel as if you or I could have quite easily driven both of those vehicles. But they're relatives, you wanted to throw them some work, I respect that."

"Brother-in-law and brother-in-law's brother," Tony says.

"Sure! Sure. You gotta throw a favour. It's just..." Alberto tries to choose his words properly. "You went to Vaughn because you needed a talker, someone to keep a security guard or two out of the way while we did job. You came to me at my poky little lab at the local college, as a stranger, and asked me to figure out how to lift a 225-ton copper and iron statue, intact, off its pedestal, and take it away to our hideout. And I did it. This should have been impossible. A dozen other people would have laughed you out of the room. I invented molecule multiplication and division. I pioneered previously impossible science to make this one happen."

"It's supposed to be a commentary on America," Tony explains. "The statement I'm making is that freedom is worth paying for."

"I was never fully clear on the symbolism here," Alberto states. "I always thought that was a little ill-thought-out from the get-go. But that's fine. That's fine! I'm a part of the whole plan. You're the ideas guy. I respect that. I'll leave the ideas to you. I was more into the camaraderie and the fun and the challenge of the project than that. I'm just saying, I'm more than one-sixth of this project. I'm more like... all of it. We six didn't steal the Statue of Liberty. I stole the Statue of Liberty."

Beatrice says, "Alberto, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that after we recoup expenses — I know an operation like this costs, a lot of times people don't talk about that, a boat isn't free — I'm taking all of the money," Alberto says.

Tony knocks his champagne back and sets his glass down. "Alberto, I think maybe you're taking this in the wrong direction."

"I wanted to figure out another way to twist this," Alberto says. "I really wanted us not to be one of the gangs where the news reports that we turned on one another. All the emitters are still buried on the site. Just give me all the money, before this becomes surprising."

Tony looks around the hideout. It's a spacious, dark warehouse, laden with equipment. Alberto's sat at his workbench, with nothing to hand but half a glass of champagne and some soldering irons. Everybody else is sat in a rough circle, some on folding chairs, Beatrice on the step of Dave's van.

On the far side of the circle, reduced to roughly Beatrice's height and only a small multiple of her weight, is the shrunken Statue of Liberty. Not so much shrunken as "divided", Alberto would always insist. His method combined and eliminated duplicate molecules, eliminating the mass at the same time.

"Hell of a lady," Tony remarks.

"That's it," Alberto says. "You've lost control of this metaphor. I don't think you ever had it. Are you going to give me what I want, or are you going to make a statement?"

"You need to check a history book."

Alberto shakes his head, mystified. "I feel like there's some powerful theme you're going for here, but it's coming out as bad art. Let me turn this into good crime for you." He takes a button off his workbench, a single red push button with a few stray wires soldered to its terminals, not mounted to anything, flips the safety cap off the top, and pushes it.


When the cops find the hideout they find something of a horror show. Four people, shrunk to the size of Barbie dolls. Human physiology can scale from the size of a baby up to a fair distance beyond two metres in height, but the growth manipulation technology Alberto developed simply isn't suitable for use on living organic matter. It literally duplicates molecules in place to make things grow, and it strips out what it perceives to be "duplicate" molecules in order to shrink. On inorganic matter like metal, nothing all that terrible happens, aside from sometimes ruining crystalline structure. On a human, the effect is death by a combination of neurological and physiological causes, nearly immediately.

There is no Alberto in the warehouse, and no trace of his equipment, and, as is to be expected, no Tony.

They already found Tony. It was impossible to miss Tony. He reappeared on exactly the spot where the Statue was taken, on top of the massive pedestal, at exactly the Statue's scale, which was roughly thirty times human scale. By all accounts — thousands of people had seen the Statue vanish and many thousands more saw him reappear, live — he attempted to raise his hands to his head and scream, but was dead within seconds. And then he collapsed, his monstrously multiplied body unable to stand up, let alone live. Every molecule in his body had been duplicated in place around a thousand times, and a human body flatly could not work like that. He caved in, falling on his face in terrible slow motion. Dismantling him would take years.


Alberto catches the video of the event some days later, as it repeats on the news, but he wasn't specifically looking for it. He knew what it would look like. He lives a continent away, now, and keeps the Statue on a mantlepiece in his villa. He bought the villa by duplicating gold. At some point down the line, he'll have to figure out how to obtain enough rare earths to duplicate them in bulk, and then figure out how to sell that bulk without being exposed and having the technology stolen.

It might be possible to do the same with clean water, too, and some kinds of food. He hasn't tried multiplied meat yet but it could be kind of a serious deal.

"Ah, Tony," Alberto says, watching his fellow thief fold up. "What a statement of freedom you make."

Someone else at the restaurant asks him what he's talking about. Alberto nods at the screen, but shrugs. "I think someone stole his story," he says.

Next: A Robot Must Conceal Its Own Existence As Long As Such Concealment Does Not Conflict With The First Or Second Law

Discussion (10)

2020-11-08 21:40:58 by qntm:

1,704 words. Running total is 15,627 words. This is from my big list of scrapped story concepts. The title is basically the premise, and the reason for scrapping it was essentially "And then what?" But you probably could have guessed that. These are taking increasingly long to write.

2020-11-08 21:53:51 by skztr:

Reminds me somewhat of "this was supposed to be a parable about the power of the imagination", both in terms of ostensibly being a metaphor, and in its matter manipulation. I'd always thought that story-within-a-story could have stood to be expanded. Did it get converted into a preview/simulation for similar "then what?" reasons?

2020-11-08 23:25:29 by thatoneguy:

nice. kinda reminds me of unsong? fun times.

2020-11-09 01:11:27 by John F:

Don’t make your mad scientist angry. They’re already mad!

2020-11-09 06:42:25 by Len White:

Yeah, Tony's the discount Dylan. Not that Dylan was a particularly unique concept in the first place.

2020-11-09 18:48:00 by Smith:

This seems like a Carmen Sandiego caper gone dark.

2020-11-09 20:04:47 by FeepingCreature:

Yeah I also got Dylan vibes off him. Mostly the nonchalant attitude and the big emphasis on theming. And of course, being a lot less in control than he likes to think. :)

2020-11-10 00:52:10 by Felipe:

Heh, I quite liked this one. It's a little silly, but it works well for what it is.

2020-11-12 21:15:02 by -dsr-:

This feels like the rest of the story wouldn't be about Alberto, so much as the consequences of Alberto's machine. I don't know what there is to say about a duplication/disintegration machine that wasn't done in Venus Equilateral, but there might be something there.

2020-12-19 14:33:50 by Giraffe:

This is one of the most deliberately, hilariously stupid things I've ever read, it's excellent.

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