More flash fiction
Marcel Miedinger surveyed the system one last time before he disconnected. The dumbs were already active, weaving their own tagging system to correspond to the existing catalogue. Marcel watched the broad strokes of the semantic filing system get mapped out, but moved on as it all got a bit too big data for him. No intelligence was ever going to need to deal with the dumb catalogue anyway - it was just an underlying system to support the semantic labeling that the Colour Foundation had meticulously created.
There had been some debate right before the downsizing began over whether or not to maintain all four versions of the semantic catalogue, or just the most recent one. Marcel had, romantically, advocated for the full system. He prided himself on an old-fashioned streak that valued preservation. But in the end he was outvoted by a bloc of neo-modernists who wanted to ensure the immaculate design of the Colour Foundation’s final edition. He could have reopened the issue once the Foundation had shrunk to a skeleton crew, but he didn’t. In the end, he understood the impulse; he’d been an iconoclast once too.
Now he’d come to think of himself as an old man, whatever that concept referred to nowadays. Even today he kept track of the exterior world’s calendar. He knew he’d been around the sun two hundred and eleven times since he’d last seen it, making him two hundred and sixty-five all told. That was surely enough to be an old man by any definition, he told himself.
Suddenly, a raft of connections he had to the system went dark. Marcel started, old physiological processes kicking into action as though they’d been built for this. But the adrenaline faded quickly - it was routine. The dumbs had moved the ports allocated to the Colour Foundation so that they all went through the interface the Design Committee had created for the general public. Marcel had seen it a thousand times, but decided to connect in one more time - perhaps just for the novelty of being the first customer.
The interface was based around the sensation of an antechamber. It was not, by and large, a memory, nor even an assemblage of memories. This was reverse engineered - a set of manufactured sensations laid around the sensation of feeling your sensory input shift from being in a confined space to being in an open one. The original draft had what Marcel considered a somewhat childish sense paradox - the neurological sense of an open space combined with visual perceptions of a long corridor. Marcel had gone off on a lengthy lecture at that meeting, reminding everyone, or perhaps just himself, that accessibility was a moral principle of design.
He really could be a right old bore sometimes.
Still, he’d gotten it changed to the current open chamber, made entirely out of invented materials. This produced its own vertiginous sensation; the human mind never entirely adapts to completely artificial sensation, and an excess of it remained unsettling, though not, even he had to admit, in an entirely unpleasant way. The chamber was, ironically, done entirely in blacks and whites. The colors flitted about at the edges of perception, or, at least, they would when the dumbs finished their setup. The idea was that as a consciousness began to notice colors the set they see would automatically adjust and become more prevalent based on their observations. For now the available colors were some greens and a selection of the Extreme Bodily Abjection line, and Marcel found himself standing pointlessly in an aggressively unreal chamber, staring at nothing.
This had, of course, been the problem, or, at least, his hobby horse throughout the hundred and thirteen years of the Colour Foundation’s active research. It was always the debate - what actually constituted a color? On the one hand were the biological purists - anything that could be expressed as data sent along the optic nerve had a color. This was the thinking that led to the Extreme Bodily Abjection line, which consisted of colors that provided sensory input the mind couldn’t handle. Usually this resulted in a rather impressive burst of searing pain, although more prurient options existed.
Marcel had not approved of this approach, believing that colors that could not meaningfully be seen devalued the basic concept of color. But he was equally nonplussed by the imaginists, who were interested in the effect that memory and association played in color perception. The imaginists were the sort who liked to get into lengthy debates over whether or not it was truly possible to replicate the color your childhood bedroom had been painted with the visible light spectrum alone. The fact that most of the imaginists were born post-mycosis and had never actually had childhood bedrooms did not seemingly impact this.
Had the Colour Foundation fully embraced either camp it might still be an active project. Instead it carefully defined color, giving enough ground to the biological purists and the imaginists to keep them on board, but not so much that the project would run forever.
Marcel tired of the slow pace the dumbs were adding colors to the lobby, and began looking around for some of the other interface features. He could see the outline of what he wanted - a small patch at the edge of the chamber done in remembered textures instead of imagined ones. But it was still only a thumbnail, and when he tried to move towards it the lobby simply failed to move.
With a sigh, Marcel switched into an administrator mode. He’d expected a debate when he proposed that, but there hadn’t been one. Everybody, it seemed, liked the notion that they could go back freely - that maybe there was something left to do. So the administrator mode had been built in such that any of the consciousnesses who had been involved in the project could still access the raw material.
The lobby dispersed, and he was quickly brought in to what he’d been looking for. The pride of the Colour Foundation’s collection. Nobody was quite sure of its provenance. It was too perfectly detailed to be a mere memory; you could feel the weight of the cardstock on every page, and there were nicks and dings on the individual cards. It was one of the closest things to a physical object Marcel had seen since he’d been eaten by the cloud: a Pantone Color Guide.
Marcel would have assumed it was simply an imaginary reconstruction. That was the only rational explanation for an object with as much sensory data as this. But he knew it wasn’t. He’d handled a slightly earlier edition of the Color Guide more times than he could count - it had sat on his desk at the old studio. It wasn’t the exact same - his a few shades of orange lighter. But it was close enough, and in such detail that it brought back memories like nothing else in the cloud. Flipping through the guide, trying to perfectly match the color of the Aar in the midday sun, or to identify each shade of brick in a neighboring rooftop. He could feel the weight of it in his postcentral gyrus, muscle memory rifling through the cards long after the muscles had been eaten away. He didn’t know how this object had survived, or in this much detail. He didn’t care. It was here, and preserved, and that was enough.
The Colour Foundation had augmented the ten thousand Pantone-approved colors a thousandfold. And then it had finished. He couldn’t argue, really. Everything worthy of being called a color had been identified, named, and catalogued. There was nothing more for the Colour Foundation to do. Sure, there was more work to be done in abjection and imagination, but newer, more iconoclastic foundations were already starting work on those. He could join one, he supposed - but he’d only bring a reactionary “even hand” to an organization that demanded foolish, youthful mistakes.
No, he realized; his work was done. He didn’t know what he’d do next. Some of the other Foundation members had already arranged for dispersal, but Marcel knew he wasn’t ready for that yet. He wanted to live. He’d find something to do. Perhaps he’d see what the consciousnesses from the old studio were up to, or, if they’d dispersed, whether anyone was made up of bits of them. Surely some design project could use his expertise. Or perhaps he’d try his hand at something new. Perhaps he’d just vegetate for a few decades. He’d figure it out, he told himself, and almost believed it.
Marcel Miedinger disconnected his brain from the automated repository of the Colour Foundation and walked away. As he went, he found himself thinking about a shade of pale yellow, just sharper than you could imagine the moon being. He was two hundred and sixty-five, and so far as he could remember, he’d never thought about that shade of yellow before. For a small and fleeting moment he thought about turning around, going back, and double checking that it existed in the archive. But instead he smiled the most private of smiles, and got on with his life.
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