2049 – Insulated from the repercussions of it’s unique hunger. Humanity isolates in towering pyramids scattered across the world. Two workers, in the art vault sector of pyramid Zed-43, talk. Ensconced in the obsolete sterile suits issued to Zed block, they are indistinguishable.
“You ever think about how it came to all this?” Number Two’s words are hollowed out behind his mask.
“Sure.” Number One didn’t look up from the crate at his feet. “It was a short think though… money. Money, is your answer.”
“Money? What good is that now?”
One tugged at his suit, aligning his eye holes to his eyeballs. “It’s beyond good or bad now, it’s just habit. It’s been like this since before you and me. When we’re dead some other stiffs will be humping around in these same suits. You can bank that.”
“But, the commissary takes work credits. They wouldn’t know money if they saw it. Hell, I might not know money if I saw it.”
“And that is the crux of it.” One popped the latches on the crate. “The story went, anyone could get money. Work hard, and be rewarded. It was meant to light a fire. But it works kind of like these pyramids. The wide bottom supports the weight, but nobody gawks at that. They wonder how the point got so high in the sky.”
“I think I follow” Number Two looked to the fluorescent lights for his next thought. “So the folks that got wealthy from all that work, they didn’t think about the future? About what came next?”
“That, Deuce, is the long and short of it.”
“Makes you sick to ponder for very long.”
“Don’t go retching in your suit. At least we were born inside. We could have been one of those things.” Number One gestured to the security monitor at an ill-formed shape lurching from right to left across the screen.
“So this is just our lot? This, or scrabble with the beasts outside?”
“Yep. Ours is but to do… or die. Not sure they’d even give us the option of the beasts if we stopped working.”
“Seems like there should be more to livin’ than this, but I don’t wanna die.”
“And that, Deuce, is how they get you… Help me move this fuckin’ thing.” Number One gestures to Picasso’s painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”.
“Why you figure the rich people have all this art.” Number Two fanned his arm down the corridor.
“You see, the same bastards that set you and me and the rest of us up to live this way see themselves as ‘saviors of culture.’ Not sure they ever stopped to wonder who they’re saving it from.” One dipped his head and nodded for Deuce to come closer. “Between you, me, and these pointy titties… the rich don’t know shit about art.”
“How do you figure? There’s piles of this stuff.”
“Deuce, I got a degree my friend. Degrees actually. I run this sector because I know what’s here. At some point they’ll realize they shouldn’t teach some of us quite so much in school, but again, no foresight.” One’s voice filled out, became clear and bigger than the constrains of his mask. “Art’s my thing. You find something beautiful, something that takes you out of this shithole and, me anyway, I want to know all about it. Boss man can’t be bothered with that part of it. He’s just collecting, could be Frida Kahlo or fingernails, he don’t care. If he has it it, nobody else can have it.”
“So, One, why does it all looks so weird.” Two lifts a glove toward the distorted face in the lower right corner of the Picasso. “That one don’t look all that different than the things outside.”
“Help me move this, I’ll try and explain. Pay attention.”
Two grabbed one side of the frame.
“I’ll keep it simple, just to people.” Number One glanced up at the monitors. “So the oldest known drawings were cave paintings, say from 30,000 BC. They were sloppy, simple, looked like a child drew them. Around 800 AD things start getting fancier, more detailed, but everything looked flat. It wasn’t realistic, but it didn’t look like a kid had done it either.”
Number Two lifts his head as if to ask a question.
“Hang on, just pay attention… By the 1600s shit starts looking more real. A lot of these clowns used lenses to sorta cheat, to make things look so accurate. It didn’t take long for artists to tire of that though. Deuce you want a picture that looks just like your neighbor when you could just go across the hall and look at the real thing? Probably not.”
They set the painting against the wall below the lights where it would hang.
“By the 1800s some artists decided that real authentic was real mundane. They started fucking with how they made people look. You’ve heard of Van Gogh? You’ll not confuse your neighbor with one of his paintings, I’ll say that. He twisted people up so much that no one wanted to look at it, couldn’t sell a thing. Not long after he gets going, he dies. Suddenly, that fucked up painting is all the rage. This Picasso here, with all the weird points and angles… like you said that looks more an outsider than any group of ladies I’ve happened across. He’s a big deal though. This deconstruction of form, of people, built on itself over time. By 2020, or so, they didn’t even teach figure drawing at art schools any more.”
“So, it went in a circle. Back to the kid stuff.”
“It sorta did, Deuce, you paid attention. I have a theory, might be crazy, but it’s mine.”
Number Two adjusted his mask to look directly at One.
“Earth, life, is the ultimate art. Greater than anything man made, it doesn’t need us. After we’re gone, that artwork will become whatever abstraction it sees fit. If we’d just stayed in the caves, or been smart enough to evolve with that in mind, we might have had a paradise. Instead we got these pyramids and musty suits”
“We fucked it all up?” Two asks glancing back to the monitors.
“Yep, us and money. These rich bastards built these places, because there aren’t any museums to hang the art in. Or neighborhoods to hang the workers in for that matter. There probably never will be again. Me and you might be the last folks to look at these, or whatever poor suckers end up in our boots when we’re gone. No one is seeing these, but then who wants to stare at a pile of fingernails anyway.”
Two staggered back at the thought. His boot pushed through “Les Demoiselles” separating the canvas from the frame. The dry tear skittering up his spine. “Oh shit, what do we do? One, what the hell do we do now?” Two asked, his wide eyes magnified through his mask.
One looked to the shorn canvas, then to Two’s panting suit. There was a twinkle in his eye.
“Get it to the incinerator. No one will even miss it.”
©2021 Scott Candey and Jonathan Canady