“I’ll take two!”
“Sir, I’m sorry, the policy of the studio is to only distribute one file at a time. We make that clear in section J28—”
“Do you know who I am?!”
“No, sir, I don’t know who—“
“Well, Miss Bad Attitude, you will soon enough. I promise you that. You’re in Hell—there you’ll stay.”
“You heard me.”
“Is that a threat, sir?”
“It’s a promise, Devil. You’ll pay for the radicality of your sins.”
Clarissa took a deep breath and stared at the fractal animation wallpaper app that ran in her pink and green work space sim. It zoomed in deeper to structural detail of the fractal pattern, endlessly revealing identical versions of the exact same structure. It made her feel both calm and terrified.
A moment later, Clarissa returned to the conversation on her phone app: “Sir, I’m sorry, but there are no special arrangements of any kind—ever. The Hopper Painting Studio has a strict one-file-per-customer policy. “
“Is that so?”
“You’ve failed me so miserably, Miss Bad Attitude.”
“You’ll be hearing from me very soon, Devil.”
There was no answer.
A butterfly sim floated through the pink and green work space sim.
“Devil,” said Clarissa to herself. “He called me ‘Devil.’ That term died out in the twenty-first century…”
Clarissa made a sour expression with her lips and then yanked her finger out of her ear, quitting the phone app.
She tried to recall a thought—what was that?—but she lost it and then threw up her arms in exasperation. “Aa-agh! I can’t believe these people!” she shouted, scaring the butterfly sim away.
Clarissa watched it go and then took a deep breath. What am I doing with my life, she thought to herself.
Clarissa looked into the fractals. They made her feel calm.
“Better…” she sighed.
Clarissa nodded approval and initiated a mirror app.
She examined the pores on her skin.
“You look fine,” she whispered into her own reflection.
Clarissa quit the mirror app.
She shot her fist in the air, blinked twice, and fell through the pink and green floor of the work space sim as it disappeared.
Falling, falling, falling through the spaceship…“Am I in Hell?” she asked. Falling, falling, falling through the spaceship…
Clarissa landed hard, whipping her head back and forth near the ground so that a cloud of dirt and carrot sims rose in the air.
“Sam!” she called out. “Why can’t you adjust the height of your work space sim so that it’s like every other work space sim on the spaceship, huh?”
Sam turned to look at her and shook his head while she coughed dirt and carrot sims out of her mouth. He snorted, took a sip of coffee, and returned his attention to the work station sim.
She chomped down on one of the carrot sims. “Sam, quite frankly, your carrots taste like asparagus. You need to alter the coding,” she told him with a matter-of-fact flatness. Other than the occasional asparagus-like carrot sim, though, the representation of terra physics in Sam’s garden sim was at the cutting edge, just so long as you had the correct nano to perceive it, which, of course, Clarissa did.
She looked at the surveillance cam sim in front of her and then took another chomp out of the carrot sim. “Ah, what’s up, doc?” she asked, mugging for the cam sim. The lens sim altered focus with a mechanical “shick, shick” sound.
“Sam, did you ever see the movie The Shining? ‘Ah, what’s up, doc?’ You remember that?”
Clarissa spit the carrot sim from her mouth and surveyed the work space sim. Bean stalk and bell pepper plant sims, tomato and lettuce leave sims, and more cabbage sims than you could count on two hands…Why did Sam develop a vegetable garden sim, she wondered. Of all sims…
Clarissa stood up, dusted herself off, and walked over to Sam’s work station sim. “Sam, you wouldn’t believe some of these people we do business with. I feel murderous…murderous!”
Clarissa flicked the tip of Sam’s poofy hairdo so that it bobbed back and forth.
“Hush, Clarissa, I’m…”
Sam turned and stared with a mania in his eyes. “I’m working on something and I need to finish. I’m sorry. You just need to trust me on this one. ”
Sam’s head turned back to the screen—slowly, as if he were undead.
Clarissa gave the tip of his hairdo another good flick and then looked over his shoulder.
Sam was touching-up one of Mr. Hopper’s most recent paintings. It depicted an empty, sun-filled terra bedroom.
Click. Click click click click. Click. Click click. Sam zoomed into the surface of an off-white wall in the painting and began to alter the texture of its surface, employing the techniques that Mr. Hopper taught him. He smoothed-out some of the brushiness of the strokes and increased their length; in others, though, he did the opposite. Overall, the tension between the banality of the subject matter and the strangeness expressed through its nervous, glowing hum increased. It seemed that the stillness of the bedroom depicted in the painting would either implode or explode at any moment. The viewer’s inability to understand which way it was going (or if it was going at all) was either hypnotic or deeply unsettling—call it dread. Endless nightmarish non-motion, non-resolution. “A brush that can’t drip its paint.” That’s what Mr. Hopper always muttered when discussing the feeling his paintings engendered. “It just don’t drip its paint.”
The thought of it was either calming or nauseating to Clarissa. These effects were not what interested Sam, though. “I save three hours a week by going through and doing the walls in every new painting in one batch with this cloned brush stroke,” he announced. Sam had become far more interested in streamlining the painting process to maximize efficiency than he was in any aesthetic significance.
“You’re obsessed,” she told him.
“You’re not obsessed,” he replied automatically.
“What?” she asked, but Sam was by then too deep into the painting to hear her.
Clarissa huffed and pouted. She walked up to a scarecrow sim, clawed its eyes with her pink and green fingernail sims, and turned to Sam.
“I’m the Devil,” she said in a raspy voice.
Sam didn’t respond.
Clarissa rolled her eyes.
“Sam, I’m leaving.”
Clarissa punched her fist downwards to the dirt sim, blinked twice, and shot through the sky sim ceiling as it disappeared.
Floating, floating, floating through the spaceship… “Am I in Hell,” she asked. Floating, floating, floating through the spaceship…
He’s neglecting his admin duties, Clarissa thought as she landed in the pink and green work space sim and initiated the bed app.
She flopped down on the pink and green bed sim, catalyzing a handful of feather sims to shoot out of the pillow sim.
Clarissa stared at the fractals.
Why maximize efficiency anyway, she wondered. Efficiency to do what? I used to know. It used to be obvious—it was to make the paintings look and feel like “Hoppers.” That was reason enough. Mr. Hopper’s paintings were studied and beloved by millions. However, ever since the studio left Earth and Mr. Hopper continued painting terra themes as digital sims it became difficult to believe in the works in quite the same way. All formula now. So why did it matter? Maybe I am in Hell, uh.
Clarissa winced. She stood up and paced around the pink and green work space sim.
Do some work, she thought. Get your mind off it.
Clarissa opened her inbox app.
“800 new messages!” she exclaimed. “Everyone wants a Hopper; I can’t keep up with this!”
She stared at the fractals. They made her feel nauseous.
“Gotta see the boss…Gotta see Hopper…”
Clarissa took a deep breath, shot her right arm out, blinked twice, and flew through the pink and green wall of the work space sim to her left as it disappeared.
Flying, flying, flying through the spaceship. “Am I in Hell,” she asked. Flying, flying, flying through the spaceship…
Clarissa jogged through the monochrome gray sim in Mr. Hopper’s work space.
“Mr. Hopper? Mr. Hopper?” she called. “Mr. Hopper, we really need to hire an intern.”
Clarissa reached Mr. Hopper’s work station sim, but he wasn’t there.
“I wonder where the old man is…” she asked.
Clarissa stepped lightly on the gray floor sim, taking mild satisfaction in its slightly bouncy give.
She looked around. The corners of the work space sim were rounded so that the walls, floor, and ceiling merged into one smooth, completely gray surface and it was difficult to understand how deep anything was. “The whole minimal gray thing,” as Clarissa often called it, seemed a bit pretentious or at least boring to her, but she had to acknowledge that it worked for Mr. Hopper. When he paced around the work space sim, deep in thought, both he and the endless grayness took on a regal character.
Hopper’s work station sim, like the work space sim, was simple. He used outdated hardware sims that he tinkered with himself from time to time and a late-21st century Linux operating system. The paint app was custom, too, although he didn’t program it. That’s not to say it was flashy, though. Like everything else in Mr. Hopper’s life, the app, too, was lacking in bells and whistles. In fact, the only thing in Mr. Hopper’s life that was complicated was his painting, even though the untrained eye may have found that to be simple, too.
Looking over her shoulder, Clarissa walked closer to the screen sim and turned it on.
There she was in a painting—naked, standing on the crest of an otherwise empty sand dune with horns on her head and a curlicue tail.
She felt sand in-between her toes.
“Is that…” she asked, reaching out to touch the screen app.
The paint app switched off and a password prompt appeared.
Clarissa hurriedly pressed a bunch of key sims.
Clarissa thought she felt sand in-between her teeth.
She looked at the gray floor sim beneath her red sneaker sims. A surveillance cam sim passed by in front of her. She looked up and stared into the lens.
Clarissa looked at her reflection.
“Am I…?” she asked in a muffled voice.
“Are you what?” Sam asked from the rear of the work space sim, startling Clarissa.
“Sam, what are you doing here?!” she hollered at him.
The image of the curlicue tail suddenly became pronounced in her mind and it made her feel nauseous.
“I found a new way to save money on server space; I want to run it by Mr. Hopper. What are youdoing here?”
“Sam, Mr. Hopper painted me naked and like a devil with a curlicue tail.”
Sam jumped at the console. “Let me see…”
“J-O” he said, pounding the two letters on the keyboard sim. The password was accepted and…
…Nothing—a sand dune—no people, no devils, just an empty dune.
“I was there…” Clarissa mumbled.
“Well, no, you weren’t,” Sam retorted.
She imagined the curlicue tail growing longer.
“I’m going to be sick.”
“Really, Clarissa, hold it together…”
The curlicue tail grew longer and longer and wouldn’t stop.
“What is that?” she asked.
“What are you talking about?”
The curlicue tail spiraled down, drilling into the floor, through the spaceship, and out into space—endlessly. “Oh, Sam, I just want things to be one or the other!” Clarissa started coughing violently. “Look at the gray in Mr. Hopper’s work space sim, Sam. Look at the color—that’s me. Oh, Sam, do you see there’s no decision? Is it black? Is it white? It doesn’t know. It just don’t drip its paint. That’s me, Sam! I’m spiraling. I don’t make art. I don’t do anything. I just check the inbox! Oh, Sam, I feel like I’m going to—”
Clarissa vomited streams of tan, olive green, and orange bile all over the work station sim, causing real sparks to shoot out from the inside.
“Holy shit!” Sam exclaimed, ripping off his shirt in order to start wiping up the vomit.
Clarissa stared at him. She began to remove her own shirt, felt nauseous, and then stopped. She tried to recall a thought—what was that?
“Don’t just stand there, Clarissa!”
“What?!” She snapped out of it, initiated a water bucket app, and doused the station with an H2O sim, which, of course, didn’t do anything.
“Not sims! The real thing!”
“What should I—?!”
And then real water, accompanied by the blare of an alarm, rained down throughout the gray work space sim, extinguishing the sparks, and washing the rest of the vomit away.
“Oh, no!” Sam yelled, pounding away at the keys. “The work station sim is totally broken now! Look what you did!”
“I was there!” Clarissa screamed at him as the water cascaded down on them. “In the painting!”
“In the painting—as a devil with a curlicue tail!”
They were drenched.
The amount of water soaking their clothes sims tripped the autosave-and-quit function and, all of the sudden, they were naked. They looked at one another’s genitals and then the clothes sims flickered back on.
Sam smacked his hands against his temples.
“What are you talking about?? Oh, never mind. Look, Clarissa, I’ve got to model a full sim of Mr. Hopper’s work station right now, before he comes back. Please be respectful of the process; I need quiet.”
Frustrated, Clarissa made a move to slap Sam across the face, but then thought twice about it. Sam is right, he needs to work right now and I would just get in the way…ugh…I am the Devil…
The alarm stopped blaring and the water let up.
Clarissa looked around the room. She felt tears well up behind her eyeballs, ready to evacuate.
But then the tears dried up, too.
Clarissa took a deep breath, shot her left arm out, blinked twice, and flew through the gray wall of the work space sim to her right as it disappeared.
Flying, flying, flying through the spaceship… Am I in Hell, she asked herself. Flying, flying, flying through the spaceship…
Upon entering her pink and green work space sim, Clarissa initiated a mirror app, screamed at it, and the glass shattered into a thousand shard sims. She quit the mirror app as quickly as she initiated it and then initiated a bed app, flopping down on the bed sim.
Clarissa stared at the fractals.
“What good am I? I just respond to the inbox; they don’t even let me near the paintings. Where is this going?” she asked herself quietly.
Clarissa checked her inbox app. 3,000 new messages.
The doorbell app indicated that a spacejumper had docked onto the ship and someone now wanted entry into the painting studio.
Clarissa initiated the dock surveillance cam monitor app and a monitor sim appeared in front of her.
A tall, skinny man in a tight-fitting black suit stood at the threshold to the ship.
“May I help you, sir?” Clarissa asked into the monitor sim.
The tall, skinny man leaned into the surveillance cam sim, opened his eyes wide, and stared.
The lens sim adjusted focus. “Shick, shick.”
The tall, skinny man grabbed a clump of his hair and pulled it out. “I’ve come to help you, Devil. The world you live in, the world you create, this world, this fake world—I’ve come to heal you,” he declared, eyes bulging.
“You need to go or I’ll call the galactic police cruiser.”
The tall, skinny man took a step back from the surveillance cam sim and pointed his long, skinny finger directly into the lens sim. “You’ll hear my voice, Devil.”
Despite every bone in her body telling her to quit the dock surveillance cam monitor app, Clarissa gestured for the door to the studio to open.
The tall, skinny man entered and, a moment later, he was in Clarissa’s pink and green work space sim, pulling clumps of his hair out.
“Devil, Devil, now you’ll pay, Devil, Devil, what I say. Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil. Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil. Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil, Devil. “
“Mr. Hopper!” Clarissa yelled as Mr. Hopper, an old man in a conservative gray suit, hobbled up to her and the tall, skinny man.
“I’m not Hopper,” Sam announced as the Mr. Hopper disguise sim disappeared. “I had to inhabit a Mr. Hopper disguise sim in order to better replicate his work station sim. Everything should be in place now. Ok, what’s going on here?”
“You!” the tall skinny man yelled, shoving his finger in Sam’s face. “You simulate everything; you simulate a man, you simulate a work station, you simulate a painting, you simulate a garden—”
“The garden sim reminds me of where I’m from!” Sam interrupted. “It’s real!”
The tall, skinny man let out a high-pitched shriek and then grabbed Sam by each ear. “That’s the trouble. It’s not home. It’s not real. It’s simulation. You say it’s home, but it’s not. You say it’s real, but it’s not. Not really. Simulation, Sam. Simulation Sam. Everything is simulation, Sam. Take a Hopper painting file. I wanted two and I was denied. Why? They’re not real paintings, after all; just files—sims you treat like real things. Like real Hoppers. Do you see? Do you see how mad it is these days? Not even love survives amidst all of this endless simulation. Not even love, Sam. And that’s where I come in. I am on a mission to bring back love. Praise God, we will defeat the Devil’s sorcery. Love will survive. It will. It’s more powerful than you.”
Sam was stunned.
“Mr. Hopper!” yelled Clarissa as Mr. Hopper hobbled up to all three of them.
“What’s the meaning of all this?” he asked in an even-handed, yet commanding boom.
“Devil!” the tall, skinny man yelled, letting go of Sam to pounce on Mr. Hopper.
Mr. Hopper dodged him, grabbed his wrist and slammed him down to the pink and green floor sim. “You, sir, are mistaken. I do make simulations; that’s true, but everything either one of us knows or thinks we know is always already simulation. Do you understand me? People have adjusted to a state of ubiquitous simulation because they’re always already there. And love? There is no reallove. Love is not a static object you can point to and say “that’s love.” Love is in flux, love evolves as lovers evolve. Oh what you would know??!”
Mr. Hopper wrapped his hand around the tall, skinny man’s neck and, with a grunt, lifted him high in the air. “Now, be gone, and never harass my employees again!”
He tossed him through a window sim, out into space.
They all clamored around the window sim and watched him float away, pulling clumps of his hair out along the way.
“Where will he go? Will he come back?” Clarissa asked.
“He might. Just when you think he’s gone for good, he shows up again,” Mr. Hopper replied.
At that moment, Mr. Hopper placed his right hand on Clarissa’s forehead and, then, his left hand on Sam’s.
“Good luck, you two.”
Mr. Hopper gently removed his hands from each of their foreheads.
Sam squirmed a bit and looked to the ground.
Mr. Hopper nodded, shot his arm out to the right, blinked twice, and flew through the pink and green wall of the work space sim to his left.
Clarissa looked over to Sam and bent foreword to meet his gaze.
“What just happened, Sam?”
“I don’t know. I never calculated for this…”
Clarissa lay down on the floor of the pink and green work space sim.
Sam took a deep breath and lay down next to her.
They both stared at the fractals running on the ceiling.
Sam propped himself up and looked down to Clarissa.
”That man was right, Clarissa. There is no real love anymore, just simulations. We’ve gone too far.”
Clarissa propped herself up, grabbed Sam’s head, and looked straight into his eyes.
“I’m gonna make art.”