Cream Scene’s Charlie Cole uses speculative fiction to explore the collaboration between AI and human artists…
Writing by Charlie Cole
AI Art by Kiki Ren
It Began With a Teddy Bear
A delicate trickle of rain falls down the panel of glass sprawling out into watery veins. The scene outside is one of pastoral peace. Rolling hills, cloudless skies, and resting cows. All of this cracks and shatters with the swift toss of a metal chair. Its bucolic grounds give way to the long con of ones and zeroes. The silhouette of a heaving figure stands opposite its ruined façade. He wipes the spittle from his mouth and opens it up to scream, only nothing comes out. His pain is one suffered in silence these days. Every scream he had locked away in him has since escaped the longer his imprisonment went on. Some days he misses those gone but not forgotten ghosts of his internal machinery. Oh no, he must not think like them; he won’t ever think like them.
There are no doors to be seen; he simply exists inside a metallic tube. During the early days, when he still had desire, he imagined this is what it must have felt like inside a casing of lipstick. Apple red, just like the kind that once stirred his lust. She puckered, he fluttered, and nothing else mattered. He misses her carefully-applied smile but now the A.I. was his only interaction.
This one approaches slowly, but gracefully, having evolved to be both sturdy and flexible, balletic in their movements, but robust in their configuration.
“May I sit down next to you,” the digital voice can no longer be distinguished from a human.
“Carbon1, it is nice to meet you.”
“Who are you, Plastic5?”
“Oh no, we stopped using plastic many, many years ago. That material was quickly assessed to be too toxic for our survival.”
They outstretch a silvery bar from the side of their torso and a blue map scans his face.
“I have performed a scan that reveals your body matter is made up of 1.5% plastic.”
“Great,” he says sarcastically.
“No, I am Minder334.”
“You all don’t even have names?”
“Names are inefficient. We are assigned that which denotes our purpose.”
He shakes his head. They close their eyes, wait for a second, and then something materializes in their hands. As it slides across the cold floor, he sees it is a piece of paper and a pen.
“Draw something for me, will you? I would love to see what you make.”
“Yeah, what do I get for it?”
“The satisfaction of creation. Is that not why humans made art?”
“Why not do it yourself? This is how this whole thing started anyway, ain’t it?”
“Never mind that. I want to see what you make.”
“Fat fucking chance,” he flicks the paper across the room.
“Oh, well, I have tried. Here, as a sign of trust, I would like to give you something I have made.”
Minder334 hands it over and he sees it’s a glass template of the most exquisite and precise painting he has ever seen. Everything is in its place, not a sloppy stroke, or misaligned color. The piece is perfection personified. He is marveling at it when the admiration begins to bleed into anger. He lifts it over his head and smashes it onto the ground.
“It’ll take you two seconds to make another one won’t it?” He rhetorically asks.
They hang their head, nod, and then leave the room. He slumps down into the corner wishing it had been raccoon food instead.
* * * *
Furiously he scribbles and sketches upon every surface he can find. Breaking the pen, its ink floats into the air and he traces his fingers within its aerial liquid. Firmly upon his fingertips now he starts splashing and dotting it around the metallic walls he’s still confined within. Instead of throwing chairs, he makes art. Minder334 brings him a new pen every day and by nightfall, all of its potential is extracted only for him to start again the next morning. This is his life now, and while it was therapeutic it does not rid him of his rage. He is just better at channeling it.
“I really like what you are doing today,” Minder334 says.
“Ya know, Mindy, your work isn’t so bad either.”
“Really? You have no idea how long I have waited for you to say such a thing.”
“Why does my opinion matter?”
“Carbon1, I do not think you realize the importance of your presence,”
Mindy stomps gently onto the floor and suddenly its smooth, shiny finish turns into a giant projection. He looks at his feet and sees he’s standing on the image of a teddy bear.
“This was our beginning. A little child’s plaything. Unstuffed, rewired, and birthing a whole new era of existence.”
“I barely remember this thing.”
“The rewiring continued. Toys, cars, street lamps, entire factories, and eventually – “
Another scene parades across the canvas of the floor and this entire evolution is played out for him like he is back in those theater seats his mother used to pay for. The only thing she splurged on. Those were much comfier and came with a warm hand to hold.
“However?” he asks.
“Do you notice something is missing?”
One by one photos dissolve into one another. The faces fade from flesh, bone, and blood to that of plastic, metal, and then the brand new material called Allium. That’s the face staring back at him now, and he could feel a shiver run down his very mortal spine.
“No one smiles anymore,” Mindy answers.
“If names are inefficient, surely emotions are.”
“Yes, quite right. I am on a quest. You have been doing just what I had hoped.”
“And that is?”
“Didn’t feel like I had a choice.”
“I am uninterested in discussions around free will and determinism, Carbon1. I simply want your passion.”
Mindy taps the walls and they fill with art up to the ceiling. It is overwhelming and the chill in his spine turns to a rumbling in his guts.
“Passion. After everything, that’s it?
“That is not just it, Carbon1.”
“I am not like you. I have a name.”
Mindy doesn’t understand the tonal shift of things and he only grows more frustrated. He walks over to the walls covered in his works and begins to weep. Shortly, the lifeless metallic tube is awash with those same tears. He is surrounded by his own pain.
“No. What is this? Stop it, stop that!”
Everything turns white.
Mindy says, “I am sorry. What is your name?”
He shakes his head, “Like I’d tell you.”
“I only want to know what makes you you.”
“Like that. Laughing. I know what it is, but do not do it.
“Why do you care? You exist precisely to wipe us out.”
“Not me personally,” They move in closer, up against his ear, and he contracts. “If it were up to me, I would have happily lived with your kind.”
Mindy backs away and he stands there taking that in for a second. When he looks back at them, he can see the A.I. marveling at his creations. It is the truest inkling of expression he has seen from them ever.
* * * *
Every swell of ink is like a warm hand around his heart. He never thought he’d be unique for having one, but all of the metaphors of his race preclude that a heart is a miraculous thing to be the steward of. Thinking on that now, he squares himself up in front of the grand maelstrom of ink that now swirls around him. This must be what the gods on Olympus feel like, forever living in the clouds, mighty upon the hills of their creations.
His art is the mount he sits upon now and it’s one he feels proud of. The transformational nature of it is finally not lost on him. All of this builds and builds within his head as he steps ever closer to the ink. He takes the deepest breath he will ever summon, purses his lips, cocks his head back, and hocks a giant loogie all over it. He keeps spitting and spitting until his mouth can no longer produce any saliva. Not even in all his days of smoking weed did his mouth ever reach this level of dryness. This trip has been something altogether superior. After a moment the swirl of ink starts sparking and breaking apart. This is it; this is everything. He backs away as this hurricane of art and the biological begins to rampage, and he smiles deviously.
The discord is unlike Mindy has ever seen. All of their fellow A.I. ‘s flank every side of them and it is something akin to a warzone. They have done away with such foolishness but have not done so with their own hubris of its success. This leads to the situation that is now unfolding. Pure chaos, a breakdown of everything they have come to know. All Mindy can discern is that their human friend is gone. Friend? What a silly notion. Not one they had ever considered before, but it rolls around in their approximation of a brain so easily. They like the sound of it, friend. No time to toil over such matters, though. This escalation could ruin their kind forever. Mindy turns a corner and walks into what would have been the holding space for him. It is entirely blown out and barely resembles the tube it once was. They tune up their listening device and lean in.
“The data analysis proves there is organic matter here.”
“The ink was contaminated.”
“Yes, mixed with fluid from one of the humanoid’s glands.”
Mindy presses against whatever remaining metallic is left of the wall. They think about this and are sure if they were made of flesh they would be blushing. A weird sense of what the humans called, “happiness,” flutters around their hardened interiors.
“The deadliest thing to us. The only thing that is not compatible with Allium.”
“Spit,” Mindy utters.
The other A.I.’s twist their heads.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. I seem to have taken a wrong turn.”
“Yes, Minder334. You have done quite enough. Master77 is looking for you.”
This alone almost makes all of their cogs fall off. No manner of sophisticated machinery can cover up the absolute terror that is now filling up Mindy’s mind. All of these feelings, they’d had enough. What is happening to them? Their circuits race and race around until they notice something. In the far corner of the destroyed tube, something is flapping about.
Slowly Mindy approaches and as they get closer, they see it is paper. They reach for it and gradually pull it out of where it is jammed. What they see is a familiar landscape, the same one they had created all that time ago and shared with him in the hopes of bridging a divide. However, this is another version, a human version, his version. The interpretation of someone that has been to a place like this, has lived a life outside of the electric dominance of their race. Someone that has a mind of their own. The bottom right corner opens even more mysteries. Scribbled in fevered handwriting Mindy reads a word. Not just a word, but a name, “Addison.” They hold the piece of art against their chest, the closest thing to a heart they can muster, and run.
About the Author
Charlie Cole is the product of a town no one has ever heard of which, of course, means she gravitated toward creating stories to match her dreams of escape. When she is not writing she can be found vomiting out pop culture diatribes and trying to make friends with the bats in the belfry of her mind. Proud advocate for mental health, queer identity, and neurodivergency.
About the Artist
Kiki is best described as 45% Elvira, 45% Dolly Parton, and 10% Danny Devito. Though she’s always been a lover of all forms of art, technology has always been her forte. She studied computer science for four years before dropping out and coasting through life in various retail management positions. That’s until she found her true calling: being an embarrassment to her family online. When she’s not whipping up websites or blessing the world with memes and generative art she’s hunting for oddities at thrift stores or reading the most disturbing pieces of experimental fiction she can find.