This article is part of the The Great Authors Series series.
Artyom Zaytesev's regret manifested in his deep-set eyes and the furrow of his brow. It was a face of worry, passed down from mother to son, and before that across many generations cursed with enough intelligence for full understanding of consequence. The mouse moved beneath his hand and he closed out the window.
It did not matter. What had been done was irreversible. The torrent had commenced. Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo was on its way to his computer one piece at a time, though it would take some 705 hours to receive it from the one seeder available.
Artyom pulled at his shirt. The agony of his deed was hot on his skin. He knew that he would wake with this feeling and wished, rather than to watch the exploits of Deuce Bigalow, to have his skull and brain crushed by a large stone.
"I did not buy this on digital versatile disc," he said aloud. The ticking of the clock a reminder that with each breath he drew nearer his ultimate judgment. "I did not pay for a rights managed download."
Over the coming years he would construct a prison of regret and beat himself against its bars until every piece of him was broken.
Her belly growling and empty, her many sisters and brothers living in squalor and deprivation, it was easy for Yelizaveta Kuznetsov to justify the use of unlicensed digital images on her website. It began with only a few, on her personal blog, but when her sister, Irina, asked Yelizaveta to design a page for Irina's Etsy necklaces, Yelizaveta made a decision that would change many lives.
She searched Google for "woman in necklace" and "smiling woman" and found a bevy of images with faint watermarks of stock catalogs. So skilled in her craft was Yelizaveta, that she easily removed the watermarks in a freeware image editor. One after another, as if gaining momentum, her misdeeds compounded as she stripped away watermarks, attributions, and used clever tricks to disguise the original source.
Days later, Yelizaveta awoke with a start from a nightmare in which her sister was held responsible for all these crimes. Poor Irina never knew about the stock art. Quickly, Yelizaveta went to her sister's apartment. She arrived to find there was a police van outside.
"Do not go inside," warned a policeman in a dark uniform. "The woman inside has cut her own throat."
"No!" cried Yelizaveta. "Why did she do it?"
"We do not know," said the policeman. "But before she died, she said, 'Getty.'"
As war will come for the sons of a generation and cast them to their graves, Yelizaveta learned that misdeeds are equally indiscriminate and the vultures have a taste for innocent bodies.
Vladimir Petrov believed it would be fun to violate the terms of service of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and for a time it was, but soon enough his account name of "Bilbo Faggins" was reported. His account was suspended. He read the email in disbelief. Why had he done this? He had so much future, so many unfinished quests, and now? The deed sat inside him like a parasite, always gnawing at his innards. There was no quieting its teeth, nor recovering what he had lost so carelessly. Forever he would exist, a man by appearances, but a worm inside, coiling through him and chewing so loudly that on most nights Vladimir Petrov could not sleep.
‘Toad coin?’ wondered the traveler as he examined the pebble. It did not look all that different from any other pebble, and certainly nothing like a coin. ‘What manner of coin has no head or tail, and bears no seal or flag? Who backs this toad coin, the toad bank? The toad treasury!?’ The traveler laughed, but the toads croaked sternly back at him.
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