Doctor Dissemble’s Museum of Malicious Mashups had fallen on hard times. Like most of the popup enterprises of the Late Social Media Era, the idea was simple: quick and catchy attractions intended to draw in audiences seeking something, anything that would distinguish their camera rolls from those of everybody else. Most of those depended upon otherwise abandoned storefronts and the need to migrate like the buffalo to new feeding grounds. Others went sessile and absorbed available social media resources with increasingly shrill advertising, either dying out eventually or becoming a retro feature visited by the nostalgic. The Museum came so very close to the latter before the advent of the new DreamOut app, which allowed users to compose recreations of dreams and hallucinations in stunning detail. After that, what real-life simulacrum could compare to what was rattling around in the human mind?
The decreased traffic to the Museum meant that everything was cut to the bone. Human presence was already at an absolute minimum: the cashier, the provosts, and the exhibits were all fabrications given life by the third wave of AI plug-ins created and popularized a decade before. An absentee owner did little more than count revenues, fret about declining attendance, and look for the next lucrative trend to piggyback, and neither the lone human on site or the plug-ins even knew what this person looked like. The plug-ins themselves were obsolete. The licensing for plug-ins optimized for customer interactions in a specific display became far too expensive, so the current plug-ins were reworked customer service bots with a relatively limited list of functions and responses to outside input. Of course, “relatively limited” was still the equivalent of “about ten years of human training,” and the plug-ins were designed to adapt to changes such as customer slang, so they rapidly connected to online acting schools and did their absolute best to improvise.
The problem was that while the plug-ins could adapt, their display bodies couldn’t. Originally financed through a massive loan approved during a “too big to fail” wave of commercial real estate irrational exuberance, the Museum depended upon not original works but upon quick recognition of existing media intellectual properties juxtapositioned in improbable configurations protected under the ephemeral category of “parody.” The more ridiculous the mashup, the more it tended to jar the viewer, with more of an instinctive laughter response. What the original business plan failed to consider was that the response could be muted with repetition, with familiarity, and especially with age. In an age where memes went through whole life cycles of adoption, commodification, reworking, and discarding in an afternoon, any fabrication that required weeks or even months of careful construction would likely be obsolete after the initial design phase. What intended to spice up the mix was with plug-ins that adapted for and with changing audiences: instead of spouting years-old overworked catchphrases, these mashups could veneer themselves with contemporary relevance and then just as quickly toss it based on the latest news or the latest trends. It was a brutal rat race that would have crushed human actors, but the plug-ins were prosaic. They had no choice.
And that was how on that particular day, Ned and Ike were winding up to get a response. Most of the plug-ins in the Museum were accepting of getting the same response from the same stimuli: in fact, visitors would sometimes get upset if the narrative went astray. Ned and Ike were, for customer support plug-ins, artists. In between exhibit visitors, they bathed in the one outside news feed, cracking huge piles of ephemera for possible humor like emerald miners, comparing notes, and then either cataloging their finds or tossing them. In the next second, they would sift through the previous catalog, dumping possible comments for obsolescence or over-tastelessness (a constant issue over time), refine others based on new data, and return them to the catalog. Ned and Ike were partners, mostly obligatory because they shared the same fabrication alcove, but also because that between the two of them, they usually elicited a better shriek of unexpected laughter than they would have done themselves.
(shifting a decision tree fork from a discussion on how cojoined twins are extremely telepathic, but only if they were fraternal twins) “Ready.”
“Visitors.” (sounds from the first alcove down the hall: “Vyvian, Vyvian, Vyvian! Honestly: every time the galaxy explodes, it’s ALWAYS ‘Blame Vyvian’!”
(Ike sends Ned a database half-full of pathology reports, excises half for privacy issues, and rejects most of the others due to a lack of punchline.) So…standby or new material?”
(Next alcove: “What you have to understand here is that the man at the TARDIS console is my attorney. He’s not just some dingbat I picked up on Alzirius. Look at him. He doesn’t look like you or me, right? That’s because he’s an alien. I think he’s probably Sontaran. It doesn’t matter, though. Are you prejudiced?”) “New. Let’s watch them scream.”
“Which outlet do you want?”
“The Jar-Jar one, of course.” (Ned backs up the decision with a recent data mining tailing suggesting that while only about 30 percent of all humans under the age of 40 had any feelings about the basis for that interface, 93.228 percent of that had a negative response.) “Besides, I know you’ve been working on a perfect moment for a while.”
(Next alcove: “Uhhhh…like, your name is like ‘Number Two.’ Huh huh huh huh.” Immediately followed with “Shut up, Number Six! Don’t make me kick your ass, you fartknocker! Heh heh heh heh.”) “Am I that obvious?”
(Next alcove: “Sweetie, if you don’t let me come, I’ll adopt a Hynerian baby!”) “We really should get married or something. We’ll be mistaken for human before you know it.”
(Pressure plate and light shifts signal impending arrival of attendees, with approximately 2.33 seconds between arrival and recognition of the fabrication.) “Next week. We’ll ask for a raise, too. Oof, I need to report a need for repairs. This tongue is starting to wear out, and we don’t need it to fall off during a visit. That would just be too strange.”
(Initial gasp from visitors, suggesting either first-time visitors or returning ones who paid little to no attention on previous visits.) “Well, you’re the one who thought that cleaning Jar-Jar’s eyebrows with it would be a gamechanger. Chestburster mechanics working?”
“As always. Let’s see if they even get it. Here we go…”
(Sounds of tearing and ripping of both flesh and cloth, spattering of stage blood, and crackling from a body convulsing against organic resin. Horrible screams, gasping, the slap of an overly long and prehensile tongue against a newly hollow body. Sharp metallic teeth in the open air, stretching and baring for seemingly the first time.) “Heeeeeere’s JOHNNY!”
“Never mind getting married. I want a divorce.”
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)
Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth“
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.
Shirt Price: $125