The Color of Disappearance
A Greta Imelda Gandhi adventure
by Bertil Falk
a commodius vicus of recirculation...
— James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
A.D. 13,267. Greta Imelda Gandhi bit her lower lip, replaced her left breast and picked up the turbo-fainter. She squeezed it and fell across the brilliant network of tide-lines, thereby introducing a fairly acceptable way of snapping back into a random search for pleasure. Using the coordinates of an eight-dimensional refractor, she was able to stabilize her own four-dimensional reality. She simply used the eight dimensions as a box to keep the four dimensions in a firm grip without any convulsions, not even a slight shiver.
She had a problem to solve. Since solutions constituted the very peak of civilization in this particular nook of the universe, it would seem to be an easy task. In truth, it was not.
The problem had to do with the Lessness Pool of the Amusement Planet. In the pool one could experience timelessness, weightlessness, spacelessness as well as a dozen of other lessnesses. Over the past weeks three customers had literally disappeared when taking a swirl in this whirligig.
Greta Imelda Gandhi considered the problem to be slightly beneath her dignity to deal with. But the dumb Lady in Black, who talked with her stillborn eyes, had urged her to take on the problem. And you cannot disappoint your superior, no, you simply can’t. Especially since your future welfare and your past career depend on her.
That was why Greta Imelda Gandhi squeezed the turbo-fainter and fell across the tide-lines. She knew pretty well the structure of the color-sensitive Lessness Pool. The business concept was based on the very fact that the interior of the planet was a veritable kitchen midden of caves and galleries. They were mixed like an ileus of multidimensional convolutions. It was actually a muddle of Klein-bottles entangled in Möbius strips. That particular singularity was due to magnetic contractions and gravitational tensions caused by certain peculiar shifts that had twisted the natural laws, sort of bent them in a way unknown to most of the rest of the populated systems.
Anyhow, this anomaly had paved the way for a business concept. A financial syndicate turned the interior of this extraordinary planet into a veritable orgy of adventure, a kind of infraDisneytional roller coaster with extra-sensory vertigo sensations. Grown-ups liked it. Children loved it. The experience of crossing the tide barrier made them all feel so good. To be processed through the interior was an enjoyment out of this world and larger than life.
Anybody throwing her-, him-, or itself into that wonderful pool landed up in an oblivion-like state of lessnesses and forgot all the sufferings of everyday life. He, she, or it enjoyed a bliss more sheer than once in a blue honeymoon. Some people became very, very rich in the process; they were the members of the syndicate.
All this was none of her business. Her business was to solve the problem. She had studied the blueprints for the rebuilt interior that made it possible to use the upside-down laws of nature inside the planet for the purpose of entertainment. She could not find any fault that disintegrated people.
Nor did she find anything that spirited people away like teleported germs of the pathogenic kind. That was a medical treatment that had become the fashion. The team that had invented it was awarded a Nobel Prize for medicine; all three hundred and seventy-three researchers, who had been involved in its development. But as said, it was not applicable here now.
She was given the VIP-treatment. The CEO pretended that he was delighted to see her. In reality, he wished she were far away. She knew it, and he probably knew that she knew it. He was of ordinary Betelgeusian height and Denebian middle age. Hair yellow, eyes yellow, nose surgically removed according to the latest craze, dictated by the fashion industry of Proxima Centauri. He looked handsome.
“A slight problem,” he admitted. “Three people on different occasions have disappeared into thin air, so to speak. Maybe they left the establishment through some back door or-”
“You have back doors in the Lessness Pool?” she interrupted him.
“We have emergency exits, according to the regulations. You’ll see for yourself.”
“But the law states that the exits must be attended by trained attendants.”
“Sure, sure,” he hastened to admit. “They’re there, but something happened anyhow.”
He accompanied her to the entrance and entrusted her to an employee, who probably was an attendant of some kind. She saw the CEO return to his office.
“Hi, I’m Greta Imelda Gandhi,” she said and smiled at the thing in charge.
“Welcome,” it said. It wore a strict uniform: red, with a helmet of the same color. It looked at its guest and shook something that probably was supposed to be some kind of a head, since the helmet was on it.
“No, no, that won’t do,” it said after scrutinizing her. “You must change your outfit.”
Greta Imelda Gandhi was wearing a green dress she had just bought.
“Why is that so?” she asked.
“Didn’t you see the sign?”
At that moment there was an invasion of happy tourists and the answer was drowned out in the cacophony of their voices.
Greta Imelda Gandhi was given a red uniform with a helmet. She took off her wristwatch, the ancient one she had luckily been able to purchase at a garage sale on a godforsaken moon during a gap between assignments. She peeled off her tight dress, changed to the ill-fitting uniform. Putting her paraphernalia aside, she joined the party.
The blueprint had shown a confused heap of Einstein-Rosen bridges and Klein-Möbius tunnels. She had studied it carefully until she got a reasonably good picture of the structure. And now she squeezed the turbo-fainter and fell across the brilliant network of tide-lines.
Unlike the customers, who fell without having any idea of what was happening, Greta Imelda Gandhi was prepared and at every bend, turn of curve, swerve of shore, and winding of swing and of sweep, she knew exactly where she was. She felt the soothing caress of weightlessness, the untinged colors of timelessness and the untouchability of spacelessness, but she did not fall a victim to this matchless effect, for she used the red helmet the workers used when they cleaned up after closing time. The helmet prevented her from being too seduced by pleasant feelings.
She passed through the so-called Chamber of Colors. It was, of course, not a chamber at all. It was a perception of shades, tints and hues, a dizzy kind of universal complexity, a colorful and screamless scream of pure vertigo. The helmet not only kept her mind in a lucid state, it kept the balance of downside up.
She noticed the bluish cloud-like forms with a touch of cobalt on the fringes. There was an ultramarine crack in all of them. A haze of amber light drifted across the yellowish nothingness. Even that haze had a crack. The confusing lilac vortices of mauve and violet nuances were supplied with a purple crack. So when she discerned the orange crack in a nearby conglomerate of ochreous mists, she was not exactly surprised. Cracks? She swam around in this feast of shifting colors. Cracks? Something was missing, wasn’t it?
She was jettiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisoned a way a lone a first a long the stream and wound up at anooooother station, a langwidgestretching one. She was surrouououounded by pleasure-seeking customers, who seeeeeeeeemed to be completely absorbed by the crisscrossing jet-streams. Like lullabyyyyyed babies, they drifted aimlessly in a gigantic swirl of rocked-along cataracts.
This was the Chamber of Childhood, the romantic nursery of rhymes of old-fashioned anachronistic sentiments, and she saw on their faces that they were all joyful. But she saw no flaw in the structure, nothing that could cause people to disappear.
Next was the Hall of Mirrors. Mirrors and mirrors. Well, to call it a Hall of Mirrors was an error: it was rather a Hall of Horrors, but the reflecting sheets of pure energy that moved in orbits everywhere had rubbed off on the name given to the hall by the syndicate. The silver-shining sheets mirrored super-gestalts, towering shadows of great lifelikelessness, another of those lessnesses that was a kind of underlying theme for this unspatial park.
But she could not spot anything unusual that would have caused disappearances. The ugly shapes were horrifying. The kick was in being scared before continuing to the Hall of Heaven. The Hall of Mirrors functioned as an atavistic artifact of purgatory as an entrance-hall of heaven.
She returned through an emergency exit to the main entrance on the surface and downed a highball of radium chloride in the locker-room café. She found that she had returned to the surface half an hour before she actually went into it. Obviously, the helmet had its limits.
She had a vague feeling that the untimely disappearances were due to some sin of omission. The reason for her suspicion was the obvious lack of enthusiasm the CEO had shown when she turned up to scrutinize their routines.
Now she asked for still pictures of the victims. He grunted but delivered three pictures, which she studied carefully. A young man, green eyes, bewildered gaze. Dressed in blue space trousers and an orange overall. He looked normal. The bewildered eyes were due to the snapshot.
A young woman dressed in a vermilion-colored dress had a ring on her left hand with a mounted emerald. She smiled a slanting smile, otherwise nothing specific. There was an older woman, who had had her face replaced with a younger face the color of glowing, fashionable lime-juice. Nothing strange about her either.
These three had one thing in common. They had disappeared when they were enjoying diving into the Lessness Pool. Was there some other common denominator? Something invisible to her eye? Something visible to her eyes? She glanced at her wristwatch. It was gone. Of course. She had put it in her dress when they forced her to change.
Before she dived back into the pool and picked up her multi-dimensional wristwatch, which showed the time on billions of billions of billions of planets, translated Wednesdays from one calendar to Slipperdays of other chronologies, measured light-years and cubits and parsecs and whatever.
The shades and the clouds and the hazes and the vortexes and the mists and all their colors surrounded her. It was here that she had felt that something was missing. She made an ocular inspection of the different cracks: the ultramarine ones, the yellowish, the purple and the orange cracks. What was missing? She removed her left arm sleeve that covered her wristwatch. The luminous hands told her that it was 305,26 Standard Universal Time (SUT).
Then it happened. The watch turned towards the yellowish crack. The crack performed like a magnet, its color turned greenish — of course, the missing color. There was no green color in the pool, and she had not been permitted to wear her green dress when she first entered.
And now the green, fluorescent hands of her old-fashioned... yes, the yellow crack had turned green, focused on her atavistic wristwatch, and attracted it. She felt the pull. She saw the crack. The glowing green hands and figures were the catalysts.
She was drawn towards that crack. She saw it open into an extra-spatial ultra-timely void. A series of formerly unrelated facts passed in review: color-sensitive, a lime-juiced face, an emerald ring, two green eyes. That was it. She knew the common denominator. But was it too late?
The crack grew, it opened its mouth to swallow her. She knew it was here the three had fallen victim, because they had brought the prohibited color into the pool: the man had green eyes, the woman wore an emerald ring, that face-changed lady had the lime-juice colored skin. And now that Greta Imelda Gandhi knew why and how and what, was it too late?
Instinctively, she covered her wristwatch with the sleeve of the red uniform. The crack closed and became yellow again, just a fraction of a second before she was to be swallowed by it. She had cut the connection.
Greta Imelda Gandhi’s acrimonious expression was unmistakable and the CEO turned red. He had understood that she had found the reason.
“You must have known this,” she said.
“That’s why the warning signs are there.”
“Are they dead?”
“We don’t know.”
“You don’t know!” she screamed.
“We think they’re alive somewhere. We’ve engaged a group of researchers to try to find out. So now you know. How did you find out?”
“It was the hands of my wristwatch that triggered the crack to change and open,” she said.
When she left the place she saw the big sign:
GREEN COLORS ARE STRICTLY FORBIDDEN INSIDE THE POOL.
The pool was closed by the universal authorities for a couple of centuries but after long drawn-out legal procedures it was opened again A.D. 13,793. The victims? Well, Greta Imelda Gandhi found them later on, but that is another story, as someone said in a distant past.
Copyright © 2008 by Bertil Falk