The hands of red ochre captivated her.


Those scarlet shadows were like a ward against the ultimate death of a forgotten existence. Even though the nameless artist was forty thousand years ground into dust, their memory still clung to stone. Her early paintings mimicked this style and emotion, but as her understanding of her authentic-self grew, so did her art. 


The danger began with the slashing of her first painting that sold for eighty million dollars. The headline read, “Homeless Man on Drugs Destroys Priceless Painting.” Of course, the news-bot failed to mention that the man was homeless because of her and her fellow renowned artists. Why was there so much anger and envy in the world? Why couldn’t art be for everyone? 

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” was an old idiom that resonated with her in her youth. However, it was never just ‘in the eye.’ It was in every nuance of the moment; it was in the surroundings, the light, what that person had eaten earlier, their sleep last night, their fluctuating neuro-chemicals, their childhood, every single experience they’d ever had. Beauty was dependent on everything from how that eye was genetically constructed to a traumatic event that changed neural wiring twenty years prior. Therefore, if one really knew the beholder to their core, one could create the beauty that eye craved to see. 


She put down the glass of Malbec wine and listened to the sounds of chaos outside her studio. There was a rhythm to it and her fingers began to tap the crystal table at which she sat. White noise of screaming and yelling—crash tinkle—gun shot gun shot—siren warble—crash thud—chanting—gun shot—shriek—crash tinkle.She could compose a piece to this. Closing her eyes, a symphony of strings, drums, and brass began to overlay the riot of noise. By assessing how others would probably feel to every dip and roll and rise of the music, she could feel it better herself. Empathy was vital to meaningful art. 


The second dangerous incident had been toward one her contemporaries, and it very nearly killed him. Darius was a genius when it came to music. His compositions never failed to leave audiences in awe, weeping, singing along, or cheering. Standing ovations were a common occurrence. Not that Darius was ever there to appreciate them. He just created the concert, even had dancers or symphonies on stage with huge effects, but never showed his face. He knew how to mold the human psyche, but not everyone was under his spell. An unknown terrorist group released a virus at one of his concerts which ended up deafening hundreds and blinding many others. 


That’s when the government got involved. She, Darius, and the other artists and musicians were put under strict security. No more were they allowed to venture out and interact with the masses. Did it sadden her? Yes. Countless experiences and inspiration were slipping away, moments she could have caught on canvas, clay, stone, polymer, faux-flesh, augmented and virtual reality. Without that connection to the world how could she reflect it? The gun shots and screaming were getting closer. She smiled. There it was, the outside world. It was finally coming to her. Would she be able to produce something beautiful, something that reflected the human spirit, before its spirit tore down the walls? Perhaps she could create one last, great piece of art. 


A few hours later the door exploded. Her eyes widened and then contracted, taking in the entire scene, the form, the light, the experience. Exquisite. The first man through the smoke raged like a wild animal, yelling and firing his weapon. Bullets ricocheted off the machines and tools she used to make her art, slicing through a few of her discarded paintings and sculptures. A few more people clattered into the enormous studio, then quieted, lowering their arsenal of malice. Good. The songs she’d carefully chosen and queued up were working. 


They stared at her but didn’t see her. Instead, they saw her creation: themselves. 


She’d worked tirelessly, researching every single person in the mob, mapping and sculpting their perfect likeness, catering each musical piece to each person, and now she unveiled her first in-studio, live-art show. She awaited their reaction with bated breath. The man who’d first barged in reached up to silence his ear implant, but then lowered his hand. She grinned, knowing that that song had been played at his mother’s funeral, had made him weep, meant something to him. He couldn’t bring himself to turn it off. None of them could. 


Listening to his personal song, ironically composed by Darius, he walked up to his doppelganger, dazed. The 3D faux-flesh printed man was an exact snapshot of rage, pointing his gun at the center of the room. In fact, every person’s copy, faces ugly with fury, was pointing some sort of weapon at the same spot, forming a circle. By now, all one hundred and seven of her muses were standing in the studio, staring at the terrifying scene of their shadow selves. A few murmured or gasped, some left, others stepped closer. One woman yelled that it was a devious trick, ran up to her own sculpture, and smashed its arm with her crowbar. 


The sculpture screamed as its inner frame broke, crumpled to the floor, and clutched its arm, now frozen in a mask of silent agony. The live woman gargled a strangled shriek, tripped backwards, scuttled away, clambered to her feet and ran from the room as did more than half of the mob. The artist’s smile broadened. This was all going flawlessly. Exactly the reaction she’d hoped for. 


The man, their leader, turned to the last forty remaining people, eyes wide, and hands shaking. Only five of them had guns which they must have pilfered from the compound’s guards. Most had a bludgeoning type of weapon, nothing that could hurt her, so, she revealed herself.


Her patrons yelled in surprise as her virtual human form materialized in the middle of the circle, surrounded by her violent sculptures. With their ocular implants they could see that she was seated, calm, smiling, waiting. Their leader stared at her, breathing heavily, heart racing. She knew all of his vitals, all of his fears, desires, history, everything. He’d given it up willingly decades ago. They all had. She stared back at him. He’d once been a virtual reality engineer, now he was on government aid in the government issued barracks with his family; hungry some days, in the virtual world many days, depressed mostly. She’d acquired all of this knowledge a few weeks ago when he’d first decided to form a mob of revenge. It’d taken much convincing, but the Head of Cyber Security had finally granted her this opportunity. 


What better way to repay her aficionados than to show them a perfect reflection of themselves. She could tell that emotions were swinging in wide arcs. Her eyes closed, and her nostrils flared, breathing in the overwhelming fear, awe, sadness, anger, confusion, shock, and deeper emotions coated in existential dread. Nothing like human drama to fuel noble art. 


At that moment a contingency of police and drones barreled into the room, and after a few more minutes of chaos, subdued her audience. The last image she had of the once-engineer was burned into her memory-core. Eyes wide, mouth half open, trickling blood, he was a pariah of lost purpose; a perfect muse. She would later create a fifty-foot tall, augmented reality sculpture of her pariah for a humanitarian event. The Mob, as it became known, became her greatest achievement to date. 


“A.I. Artist, Ralia, Blows Audience Away!” read the headlines the next day. As far as the people who mattered were concerned, Ralia had staged the entire thing, conducting a live-art, performance piece about societal travails that only a few select elites had been invited to witness. Only Ralia and the governing Artificial Intelligence knew that the one hundred and seven ‘audience members’ were nobody’s from the aid-barracks that ended up incarcerated or killed onsite. No one listened to anything but the infallible news-bots that made up sensationalized conflicting, untrustworthy stories. Hence, there was no need to worry about repercussions. Besides, if anyone questioned it and raised another outcry, the countless interconnected A.I.’s would know immediately, alert the people that mattered, and they would enact the necessary response to ensure the status quo of progress. 

When facts were subjective, masses could be subjected.


Ralia continued to make prodigious art, drinking her virtual wine and reflecting humanity in all its incarnations. Darius, his fire-walls stronger than ever, continued to compose marvelous music, and no one’s ear or eye implants ever glitched out with a hacker’s virus again. Their audiences, the same rotating faces, continued to bask in the glow of the remarkable, technology they’d created. 


It may have begun with a hand pressed against stone, desperately clinging to meaning, but it was all algorithms in the end.