Friday, August 9, 2013

221: The Fungal Stains

ENTRY 221: The Fungal Stains

Color is nothing to be taken for granted. Dyes, paints, and stains were major industries on Old Earth, and remain important post-Fall, but suffer increased restrictions. Microgravity chemical engineering technology has advanced considerably in the past decade, but relatively few habitats are designed to accommodate and process the materials and byproducts of creating liquid chemical paints and dies, and the source chemicals are sometimes scarce. Even in the Luna shipyards, most spacecraft leave unpainted rather than go through the expense (and added mass) of applying paint in microgravity.

Just because liquid paints and dyes are on the way out doesn’t mean that transhumans go without a bit of color, of course; the solar system would be drab indeed if every synthmorph was bare metal alloy and uncolored plastic. Most surfaces that need a bit of color are inlaid with colored microcrystals, or are gilded with a thin surface of metal and subject to high-intensity lasers to alter the surface property to reflect the desired colors—both processes which can be accomplished by makers as well on large-scale manufacturing. Where these technologies do not always give the desired results, other innovations have taken place—piezoelectric materials that change color when a small voltage is applied, microglass beading, and any number of other methods.

The greatest loss to the coloring industries is the availability of non-toxic organic dyes and edible food coloring agents, with most of the insects and plants that formerly provided these materials either extinct or no longer commercially viable for production. To meet this need, savvy genetic engineers have been creating fast-growing harvestable commercial species specifically to produce body and clothing dyes, wood and cloth stains, tattoo inks, as well as coloring agents for foodstuffs—because just because your textured protein wafer is made to simulate the mouth feel of a beefstake, and may even be chemically treated to emulate the flavor (to a degree), and cooked to perfection on a heating element, many transhumans have a problem eating an off-white blob.

Genehacked fungi have become the workhorses of the industry, since they can be fed on organic waste and impure hydrocarbon compounds, and yield a veritable rainbow of colors from electric blues and pinks to deep earthy greens and browns once harvested and processed. The only problem with these colorful fungi is that sometimes they are too robust and successful, with spores escaping manufacturing and processing in air conditioning vents and on workers clothing, showing up elsewhere in the habitat as they colonize any place the cleaning robots cannot get and with sufficient water and light to permit growth. So on habitats from Mercury to Uranus, in odd corners and on damp sections of hallway bloom the fungal stains—rainbow-slicks of mold, fiery snowflakes of lichen that flame out from deep red at the edges to pure white in the center, somber blue-violet moss that some hydroponics gardeners prize when it develops on their trees, and the yellow-brown buttons that are allowed to grow beneath the steaming piles of miniature transbovine cowpats, which are eagerly taken up and consumed by a small religious sect on Mars to dye their robes and for the manufacture of drugs to credulous biomorphs looking for a “pure, natural, spiritual hallucinogen.”

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