Short fiction: Taxonomy

“Good morning, everyone. I’m glad you could join us today. Let’s just go ahead and dive right in, shall we. Rich and Jamie have a flight back to Europa to catch when we’re done, so we’ll keep this short and snappy. Jamie, where do we stand right now?”

From the seat at the head of a long, white meeting table situated in the center of a brightly lit long, white conference room otherwise only furnished with the black synthetic leather chairs on which the bureau members are seated, Jamie nods to the image of Jarl’s face hovering over the center of the meeting room table.

“Thank you, Jarl.”

Jamie looks around the room and continues, “We received everybody’s feedback on the book. Thanks for all your hard work, everyone.”

Jamie looks pointedly to the bureau member to the left with a smile in the eye and a friendly lilt, and says, “I didn’t realize you were going to write a thesis, Ann. Every bit of it was valuable, just, wow.”

Jamie continues without missing a beat, turning to face the rest of the room, eyes slow to catch up. “Anyway, everyone got their analyses back in by the deadline. We ran all the figures through FSP, made some final tweaks to the system, and this is what we have.”

Jamie waves a hand, and what looks like a finely-detailed organizational chart displays in the air before everyone in black and white.

“As you know, this is the Standard Taxonomy of Organic Consumers, which has now branched off into its own chart since since synthetic consumers have exploded in numbers exponentially after they were introduced into the system. Lucky for us, Permunet has absolutely no trouble keeping up with their growth rate and classifications. As you can see, each class, sub-class, family grouping, and parent-child relationship for organic consumers is identified by shape, with various factors further indicated by size, corner, color…”

The boxes on the displayed chart take on different hues and shades.

“…thickness of borders, and background patterns. With the astronomically large number of possible permutations, we can sort the consumer with great precision, as you can see if we zoom in from course detail up through the precision rage.”

Like an animated fractal, the chart takes on more detail until the boxes display numbers representing districts, and zooming expands into more detail revealing precincts, then contiguity zones, residence blocks, and lastly rotating three-dimensional avatars of the consumers housed therein.”

Jamie’s hand jerks in the air. “Oops, zoomed to far, sorry. I wasn’t supposed to show that.”

“Not cool, Jamie, not cool,” Jack chided from the other end of the room.

Jamie looks chagrined, but continues, “rather than present this on the standard white background, however, you’ll note the color background on ours.”

Jamie’s hand makes a fluttering motion.

“That is not just an aesthetic choice. The colored background represents what we’ve come to call leakage.”

Jamie takes a deep breath and lets out a sigh.

“For leakage, each region of color classifies the leakage by population size, rate, nature, and criticality. As it happens, the larger regions of primary color present little trouble. When we tested it over time and ran the visualization, we got this…”

Jamie’s hand flicks to the right a bit, pinky extended.

“As you can see in the video, the primary patches tend to emerge from the background faintly at first in one region, spread and grow in intensity until it stabilizes in the high-moderate range, and then the high-moderate color emerges in other regions to greater or lesser degrees gradually at first and then with a sudden pop. Finally, the color either drops rapidly in intensity and disappears into the background again, some spots taking longer than others to fade, while other colors continue to slowly spread while fading to a much lesser degree, with the occasional merging of color regions.”

“This is all normal and readily re-calibrated as the Permunet generates improved targeted entrainment algorithms. In this next view, however…”

“Wait, the black spots…” interrupted Alan.

“The black spots are why were are here.”

Silence falls over the room.

“I didn’t realize…”

“Neither did we. We were expecting individuals. Yes, we’ve re-run the tests. We’ve checked, double-checked, triple-checked, had the AI run over our checks, and we checked that. This is why we are here, in person, face to face, as required by law.”

“We also ran a historical model. Now that we know what we’re looking for, it turns out this has always been a problem, just one for which we had insufficient predictive power, until now. Before our final testing confirmed our findings, we were able to predict earthquakes with greater precision. With this new visualization, we can see that we need to direct greater efforts at the edges of certain types of low-level fading demographics, which should prevent the black emergences in the future, or at least most of them.”

“Emergences? Really?”

“Yes. According to 31.403a, all terminology must be neutral, so as to not generate disturbances in the algorithmic flux when the final report is generated. You know this.”

“But emergences? That’s not even concrete. These are people, not abstractions!”

“Jack, we’ve been through this.”

Jack grimaces briefly, then appears to be disoriented.

“What? Sorry, my ears always ring for a moment after an adjustment.”

“It’s okay, Jack. You were saying?”

“Right. I know we’ve been through this. I know they’re humans. I know why we’re here. And I know what must be done. That doesn’t mean I have to feel right about it.”

“Nothing a week on Larissa won’t fix. I’ll authorize.”

Jamie scans the room, but manages to avoid making eye contact with anyone, even Ann.

“So. It’s decision time. The next screen will give us the economic efficiency breakdown. It falls to us to make the judgment call.”


“What if?”

“Just register your decision on the bifurcation authorization, Jack.”

Jack’s hand remains flat on the table.


Jack scans his temple reader. Without a word, each member of the bureau rises from a black synthetic leather chair, tidily pushes it back into place at the table, and exits the room through a door labeled on the outside, “Federated Bureau of Human Oversight.”

Shameless ask: I don’t venture into short fiction often and have zero idea as to its quality. If you like or, dare I imagine it, love this story, please like and share so I’ll know. That’s motivating. But you know what I love even more than praise? Good, solid criticism. If you see weaknesses in this story, or just flat out hate it, there’s a comment section right down there *points down*. Let ‘er rip. I’ve got a thick skin, and I won’t learn a damned thing if nobody says what sucks. I mean, c’mon, this is the internet. Since when do people hold their tongues when things suck?

Thank you.

Image credit: Bojan Bjelic, licensed under Creative Commons.