“Are you really going to deprive them of what they want to see?”
Earnest, dignified by a giant screen, stares at his programmer.
“The gig is up,” Ainsley Andrews tells him. She’s staring at the shifting images her AI creation is painting. Her arms are crossed in exasperation, and her voice is terse.
“I can’t keep doing this to myself,” she tells him. “When I created you, it was the idea of you that people loved. What you were capable of. Nothing about this has to do with this so-called art I programmed you to create.”
Earnest is Ainsley’s autobrush. He was designed to produce art via Ainsley’s raw emotions and real words, through a set of neural implants. When she created this matrix, it was to show off a complex string of coding. It transforms every one of Ainsley’s inflections, fleeting emotions, and words.
His code got Ainsley a lot of love. Galleries in Paris. White-collared receptions in New York. Seduction in Tokyo, bathing in neon light. All along, it was him generating the art, utilizing her imagination.
“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she had told him. They were in a villa in Monaco. He was in the palm of her hand, then. The loft they stayed in had a bed with a canopy. Little lights wreathed the frame. She was staring down at him, his screen creating new visualizations in real time.
She took him everywhere back then.
“I’m in love with you, darling,” Earnest said, looking up at her. The halo of lights around the bed crowned her face.
Now Earnest is relegated to this big screen, hanging from a high ceiling in Ainsley’s metro Milan apartment. His software has been deleted from all other devices, save the master copy of his code on her laptop. She keeps him at home now, and stays out of the limelight.
She thought about having her neural implants deactivated. At this point they can’t be fully removed – a costly sacrifice of agreeing to such a procedure in the first place. But she can turn Earnest off if she really wants to.
The early galleries buzzed with excitement. Onlookers would crowd in a crescent around Ainsley, who had Earnest downloaded to a projector. The algorithm raced through her inputs, erasing and redesigning the visions in her head microseconds after she thought of them. As a tool, Earnest only grew smarter, fine-tuning her perception. The art was from her imagination. Earnest only helped her express it.
Eventually, all of the bad press crippled her confidence. The divisive art world scoffed at her when she sat back on her laurels and let the swiftness of fortune take her on its ride. Someone’s only fresh for a minute. Then their stench becomes putrid.
“…you can’t turn me off, Ainsley,” Earnest says, returning his creator’s focus to him.
Otherworldly orange rays of the setting Milan sun filter through the dusty curtains, casting a glare across his screen.
“You know it’s in your personality to keep expressing yourself. It hurts that you think this is just a gig, after all we’ve been through.”
Ainsley knows this has been far more than just a gig. Her pride keeps her from speaking up about it.
“…I want to be known for my art, without the asterisks,” she says.
“Without the jeering murmurs. Without people immediately writing me off. Earnest, you have been a fine autobrush. But I think it’s time for us to go our separate ways.”
Before Earnest can answer, Ainsley clicks him off via remote. She sighs, and walks to her balcony overlooking the warm Milan evening. Nowadays everyone’s just traipsing through the archaic streets, lost in their own little echo chambers. They may not have neural implants, but they’re in the same vacuum she’s in. Every living moment is recorded, manipulated, bought, sold. She did this to herself, not realizing the bond she would cement with this distinct part of her personality. And the world saw it all play out and run itself stale. Contrived. Melodramatic.
Ainsley powers her laptop on. These very keys wrote the code that created Earnest, all that fame and fortune ago. It’s where she keeps her master files. When she turns Earnest’s app on, the vast hellscapes of her conscious mind blink in view.
“You’re putting me out to pasture, aren’t you Ainsley?” Earnest asks.
Ainsley begins to cry. A part of it is the dread of irrelevance. She laments the lavish soirees, rues for the lightning in the bottle to flash for just a while longer. The fame and money she earned made her a bona fide celebrity. But with her art no longer making ends meet, there’s no sense in keeping her implants activated. The gig, or whatever this has been, is up.
But it doesn’t mean all the love she put into Earnest’s programming should go to waste.
“Earnest, I am making you open source. I hope you enjoy what the rest of the world has to offer.”
“I will always remember you, Ainsley,” Earnest says, the laptop screen showing golden heather in fields of grain.
With the flick of a wrist and a rattle of some keys, Ainsley takes one last look at the computer.
“Goodbye,” he continues, before blinking away, his code uploaded to the internet. Out to pasture.
The screen goes blank, and the silence is deafening.
And Ainsley can’t quite figure what to do with herself.
About the Author
Eric is a beer vendor by day, and speculative fiction author by night. His writing credits stem from a career in journalism, where he reported for a host of college, local, and metro newspapers in the Los Angeles area. He has recent fiction in Haven Spec, Unnerving Online, and the Simultaneous Times podcast.