Everything is dark but for the palpitating lights of the sensors, the transmitter, and the recording equipment reflecting off the glass panels. My eyes slowly adjust. It really can’t ever be dark enough in here.
You are unconscious. The neural network hums with your absence, the barrenness of your soon-to-be-permanently shuttered mind.
According to the monitors, your heart rate is what I assume passes as normal for someone in your condition. I hope I didn’t break you. Not yet. If that sounds villainous, then good. I have goals.
Your head and shoulders are slumped, yet you remain standing: an unworthy supplicant’s pose. You are held in place by the neural network’s nanofilaments. You are held in place by your recently viewed past.
I’m afraid to move, afraid to look for my own past that you keep in a file. That’s not what you call it, but that’s what it is. For all of the grandeur you attribute to your art, the best and worst of it is collected and cataloged in a file. I mean that to sound degrading, because it is.
Yes, I am afraid, but I won’t have to move much. I have your remote control in my left hand.
Your body is cold and gray, a barely living statue to honor your honorlessness. I should take a simple still photo of you, your back to the camera, you hanging limply within your own web, and insist your final gallery opening consist solely of the photo. That I ever thought what we created was art is near the top of my list of greatest shames.
Art is not what we are doing now.
I press a button on your remote, the one so clearly and lovingly well pressed. Your captured spirits are allowed to play on the glass again. The furies are a wonder and a horror. We know—we’ve learned—the two words mean the same thing.
There I am. I like to think this version (you stole? captured? created? confused? called forth?) is still inside me somewhere, even if the truth wavers before my eyes. How could she have ever truly been part of me if she is there now? That’s what I tell myself. It’s the only way I can keep on stubbornly breathing.
You showed me her once. Do you remember showing me? You were so proud, so smug, thinking I would be awed or even grateful at this most fleeting and feckless immortality. And the worst part was, you might’ve been right. Then. Not anymore.
I don’t need to see her face again. I need to see the fury you haven’t showed me, the one from our penultimate project: yet another lost version of me. She’ll be my new muse and a model for what I am going to make of you.
This other me, she is from our most viewed, most popular collaboration. I haven’t yet found her swimming through the false infinity of your glass, but I will.
You must remember that performance. But do you remember the details, or only your role as the self-appointed, self-elevated god?
The base image we used was of a child’s room in a suburban home. A toddler bed in the shape of a car, red and empty in the corner. Glowing celestial stickers decorated the blue walls. It was a nice touch to have those stickers all but dimmed by the end.
The woman who volunteered was too destroyed and too high to properly give consent. No matter how warped your definition of consent might be. I knew better then, too. So I’m damned, just like you.
During the performance, the woman repeatedly whispered a nonsensical phrase. Do you remember what it was? It was a line once uttered by a child, a line that once belonged to a child. I don’t think you knew that and, frankly, I don’t think you cared. I only know because she showed me.
You had her wear a 1950s-era short-sleeved polka-dotted dress. Americana, you said. We’ll show them the lie of what it always was and what it has become. Your prurience and garish lack of subtly was why this was our most successful and popular project. Do you realize this?
I agreed. I wanted to show everyone what we all had become.
The ruffled hem fell to her knees. With dots of lights the same size and shape as the ones on her dress we spotlighted the acne on her face, the livid bruises and ruined veins on her arms and legs.
You had her cradle a globe cactus in her left arm, instructed her to hold it as she might hold a sleeping child. As she once held her child. The spines dimpled her flesh. She whispered her phrase to the cactus. Did you hear her? Did you ever hear her?
As you made your map with the thirteen (did you really have to spell out for the audience what the thirteen stood for?) loaded syringes, as you poked holes in her skin, I connected to the neural network. I had my own pathway by then. I assumed you knew. I assumed you knew a lot of things.
Despite your bombastic and too-on-the-nose John Philip Sousa–parodying synth soundtrack, her convulsions and spasms in rhythm with the patriotic march, I heard her whispering that phrase clearly. I saw her fury emerge before she...