Serena Anagbe / Photo Editor
A colour wheel.
As he was always meant to do, Carter thought about love.
This time, he was sitting in a dimly lit, warm café. Rain pattered against the windows, heavy enough that the claustrophobic street outside was obscured and distorted, sometimes seeming halfway through melting, like some bizarre fusion of photorealism and Jackson Pollock. The vendor across the street had retreated inside their door, at times glancing suspiciously up at the clouds, as if trying to glare them into retreat. And yet the storm carried on, the rain pattering down-down-down-down-
Carter shook his head, clearing his mind as the door opened, the small bell hanging above jingling to signal the arrival of a new guest. He and the café owner looked at the same time as the new customer entered, though when Carter saw it wasn’t the woman he was waiting for, he refocused his attention on the mug of coffee cradled in his hands. He realized, now that he had paid attention to it, that the heat coming off it was starting to hurt his hands. He released his grip and placed them down on the cooler leather, soothing the discomfort as a small lilt of gentle laughter carried over from behind the counter. He turned back to observe the newcomer as she sat on a stool, making casual conversation with the owner. It was the same sort of conversation one might have with a bartender: lamenting over the weather, the daily trials and tribulations of full-time work and the relief accompanying the feeling of finally being able to sit down.
Carter cocked his head as he observed the interaction. He didn’t hear the words, probably because they weren’t there; it was the intent he was paying attention to, the body language and the direction of the interaction. The new customer had barely taken a small sip of their drink and now it already sat to one side, ignored in favor of the “stimulating” conversation with the owner. The owner, for her part, had poured her own drink and was casually leaning with her side toward the counter, half-turned towards the television in the corner, but still engaging with the customer who continued to ignore their coffee-ignore their coffee-ignore-ignore-
Carter narrowed his focus, blocking out the circular logic again. He observed the customer, the way her face shifted when she looked away or how her eyes never strayed long from the owner’s face, though they did occasionally linger on her hand, pressed flat as she leaned against the counter just a foot away from the customer’s own. The smile was genuine, with just a touch of warmth to it. And the way it seemed to fight its way onto her face, almost half-suppressed and… gently biting her lip? The customer seemed to really be into-
Red, the thought rose unbidden, uncontrolled and unexpected. But it was true; she felt red for the owner. Carter could see it now; excited feelings, rising in tandem with thoughts of long nights and stolen kisses, of losing hours or nights together and-
Carter double-checked her body language and found all the same signs, confirming his suspicions. Red, he thought as loudly as he could, watching the customer’s shape become saturated with the scarlet hue before setting his focus on the owner herself.
She was somewhat older than the customer, though only by a decade or so. Still young for a coffee shop owner, though perhaps it was inherited or received through non-financial means. He still couldn’t make out the words they exchanged, but the customer’s shy laughter mixed with the sly smiles and raised eyebrows of the owner, plus the bantering tone in her voice, suggested some amount of mutual interest, though Carter could tell it was… different, somehow. The sideways glances, the banter, the gentle jabs and prods, almost cat-like in its energy. They were familiar with one another, though they probably hadn’t known each that long, given the age disparity, as the older owner was-older-older-older-older-
Carter shook his head again, clearing it away. The owner’s eyes moved towards him, and he watched the face change, the playfulness-Purple-falling away as she remembered she had another customer who had perhaps been observing them just a little too long. Carter felt himself smile politely before turning back to the window and raising the still scalding mug of coffee to his lips. He had stared too long. He’d have to apologize after, he knew better than to make social mistakes like that. Still, he felt rather pleased with himself for quickly identifying the owner’s feelings for the customer. Purple, he thought to himself again, though he didn’t want to look back to confirm it for himself; one social misstep was enough for this visit.
The bell on the door jingled again, and Carter’s eyes moved up as he saw his partner entering the establishment, her coat drenched in rain and gently dripping on the floor. She set it up on the hanger and exchanged a few quick words with the now-violet stained owner behind the counter, probably placing a quick order for herself before she approached the table Carter sat at.
He watched her approach as if in slow motion. Her small smile, her eyes never leaving his, her pace quickening to approach him, the way her hair slightly fell in front of her face as she swiftly pushed it aside before leaning towards him, her eyes closing as their lips meet for just a moment before she pulls away, her eyes opening slowly as if waking from a dream, and he doesn’t even need to wait for her to sit down.
And the color floods her form immediately, as if the setting sun was pouring through her every molecule. She sits down and greets Carter, but like before, he doesn’t hear it. Not really. He hears the intent, knows what she’s saying without really registering it, feels her hand gently clasp his own as she relates the events of her day. But that’s all he feels: her hand.
Carter knows it’s happening again; the world ending, the purpose of his wakefulness fulfilled. He looks down and sees her orange hand resting against his own, as grey as the world around it, as the world-world-world-world-world-
Researcher Adams stretched his back as the bar on the screen finally filled up; C4-TR Simulation Complete. He leans forward and reads the results; C4-TR successfully avoided three circular logic errors and accurately identified three out of four behavior patterns. He didn’t need to finish reading to know the result; as usual, the AI couldn’t determine its own feelings because it didn’t feel any. He leaned back again and rubbed his eyes as he heard familiar footsteps come up beside him.
“Simulation done already?”
He heard Caroline ask, her own work, as usual, left behind and forgotten at her desk as she plopped down on a chair next to him in the Created Cognizance Control Centre. It was late enough in the day that they were alone, save the security at the front door and the janitors throughout the floor.
“Yeah, but I’m still not getting anywhere with emotional registration. The color wheel logic helps it with identifying other relationship dynamics-”
Caroline held up a hand to interrupt him, “I’m sorry, color wheel logic?”
“Yeah,” Adams replied. “I adapted the program so it perceives everything in monochrome. I’m using colors to fill in other simulated figures after it identifies their current behavior as fulfilling a certain relationship dynamic. So, the customer is all hot and heavy for the owner-”
“But the owner is more just playful and non-committal, yeah, you’ve told me this part before. What about Carter?”
Adams sighed in frustration.
“The C4-TR program,” he shot a glare towards Caroline as she rolled her eyes, “is meeting with his partner. She’s programmed to feel romantically inclined towards him or ‘orange’, and he’s supposed to reciprocate.”
“So, Carter is able to figure out how other people are feeling, but not himself? I don’t know man, seems like that’s the human experience right there when it comes to relationships.” She smiled playfully at him, and Adams simply rolled his eyes. “Anyways, I’m finished up for the night. Want to grab a bite to eat? I know a spot.”
“Uhh… maybe next time, I still have to shut things down here. But I want to ask you about something so just wait in the lobby a minute.”
“Sure thing. Just don’t make me wait too long,” she said, a strange hint of… something in her voice as she got up and left the room.
Adams started the shutdown sequence when he saw a notification from C4-TR’s chat program. He opened it up, and it was a monochromatic picture – courtesy of the workstation’s built-in security camera – of his and Caroline’s conversation, with his fellow researcher’s outline stained in purple.
Adams stared at it for a few moments, then decided to grab that bite to eat after all, as he hurriedly left the room.