“Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” (1953) by Irish artist Francis Bacon.
“It’s by Francis Bacon,” Mialy pointed to the violet hologram and elevated her voice, “ ’cept for the shrieking, of course. That’s a modern addition.”
“Wait! The Francis Bacon? The one who invented everybody’s favorite sizzly meat that almost nobody is able to get their hands on anymore?” Joba snickered. “He sure did a lot of wildly different stuff in his lifetime.”
The screaming subsided as Joba spoke, but the New Memphis Art Museum & Distillery hum-spun sound within its walls, smothering the tortured yells for the next patrons.
The building itself had been dubbed “acoustically perfect” through stringent certification channels. One’s ears could only be thankful the hologram of Munch’s famous disconcerting painting was housed in a faraway room.
“No, goofball. It’s some other Bacon according to Teacher Farflung’s notes.” Mialy moved her neck from side to side and it cracked as she attempted to get the implant into better position. “I told you, you should have gotten the neural implant at the door. Teach will not be pleased, if it’s monitoring this field trip out there somewhere.”
Mialy thumbed over a shoulder, causing mauve hair to swing a seeming pendulum behind her head.
“Hmm. I thought they were supposed to be motion- and heat-sensitive to a particular genetic pattern,” Joba muttered.
“Oww, that chair guy is giving me such a hunormous head-ouch,” she typed hurriedly onto the tablet, afraid the wailing would start up again at random.
Joba nodded. “Or maybe it’s the imp. I’ve heard of brains that reject the injection . . . “
“Nah.” She interrupted. “Just listen! Whadda you figure’s his problem?”
“Access your hoytay-toytay mind-friend, why don’t you? Harness alllll the benefits of your tech,” he mimicked the booming voice in the jingle for TechUnique Products. Mind-fiend is more like it, Joba thought.
Mialy nearly shouted again. “I know, but I wanted to figure it out myself. Art’s effect is personal, y’know. Some people get pain from art, especially this holo-painting. Some reap pleasure. Some get both. Art’s supposed to provoke, amiright?”
“Yeah, but with the whole pain/pleasure thing, art reminds me of drugs.”
“Uh, well, yeah, I guess it’s like those drugs that mold to a person’s genetic contours. Personalized psychotropics.”
Joba fiddled with his tablet. “Howya access the data on, um, what’d you say the artist’s name was again? Franks’N Bacon?”
Snickers seemed to trigger another blood-in-a-centrifuge moment courtesy of the now-popping hologram.
“You know,” Mialy made a tunnel of her fist to amplify her voice, “I think the screams are changing. You hear it? But why?”
“Just a bug in the programming,” Joba offered.
“Anyway, let’s get going. We’ve got lots of art to partake of today, my lady.” He pulled Mialy gently by the hand and past the room sensors that guided the advanced acoustics of the 19th and 20th Century Modern Art pavilion of the museum.
In an interior room adjacent to the artwork informally called “Screaming Pope,” two people are at work.
“Ay, Segala, you can go easy on the audio now,” Rayson shouted to his colleague from well across the room.
“It’s no use,” she called back, letting the arm drop to the side of the chair.
“Damn. That’s the sixth audio to crap out this week, and it’s only Wednesday.”
She shook her head slowly. “I know, tell me about it. Hope we don’t get a lecture from Kathy. She’s a beast when it comes to protocols.”
Segala tugged on the straps, but nothing gave.
“Ray, can you help me get the electric nails out? It looks like I accidentally blew a vein. Don’t slip on her hair . . . anyway, we’ll have to pick up another volunteer on the way back from the DR.”
“Yup, I sure hope the next one holds up longer, for both our sakes. And is less messy. You just never can tell by looking when you’re gonna get a spurter.”
“Yeah, and it seemed like those last patrons were beginning to suspect . . .” Segala’s voice trailed off.
The wet echo of a thump came, and then only a prolonged squeal-screech of a cart on wheels. As the two left the room, a resonant door slammed behind them, complemented by a piping up of hidden music, which was believed to encourage employee tranquility.
“I think to myself/what a wonderful world” serenaded the duo down the hallway, although neither had a clue who the singer was.