Winner of Writing Challenge #28!
This contest is now closed to submissions!
The prompt for this contest has been...
Write about a species whose members display emotions by changing skin-color. What happens when one of them has a secret to hide?
And the first-place winner is...
Leticia Toraci with "Cherry Red"
We received a bunch of great stories, but one, in particular, caught our attention and didn’t let go. Congratulations, Leticia, for your second win, and thanks for entering!
Read the winning entry below.
By Leticia Toraci
I) Planet Raven, the 10th. Colony of the Prime Space Corporation Empire, 2730 years after the Expansion.
Kyree Yenfasa sighed deeply while looking at the Fatty Earth Joint’s door. Her long fingers waving, her red fingernails clicking a deconstructed alien rhythm on the table, her skin changing from light to dark purple. What the hell is Dushao thinking? I can’t sit the whole night here while credits reproduce themselves in my E-Money card. She was picking up her small purse and standing to go when her contact with the Raven Anarchist Force arrived. The salmon tone of his skin was an insult to her, how could he make her wait and be so unworried about it?
“Chill out Lilac, if you want to talk to me you better turn a nice peachy color.”
Kyree stood, her dark purple skin turning into a dark gray.
Dushao held her arm. “Sit and listen.” He didn’t even apologize for arriving late this time. Not that it mattered, his delays were an unescaping routine. Kyree sat, daggers in her stare. Dushao was one of the nicest rebels she knew, but some of his passive aggressive habits would never change.
“What do you want from me?” She said. “If it isn’t the real deal this time, I don’t want to waste my time with you again.”
Dushao turned bright yellow. “Two hundred thousand credits sweetie.”
Kyree turned white like the area around her lilac eyes. “You can’t be serious.”
“Of course I am,” he smiled. “You are the best controlling your colors, and for this mission, we want everything perfect, therefore the good reward. So, will you show me some pastel tones now?”
Kyree pressed her lips, turning lime green, and whispered. “Dushao, you know I really need the money, but are you sure the Athian you’ll kidnap is a bad guy? I don’t want to kill a nice guy with a family waiting for him back home.”
Dushao smiled. “He has no family sweetie and, have you ever met a nice Athian before?”
Kyree sighed, her face turning salmon and then apricot. “I understand. Now tell me, how will I get filthy rich while helping free this planet?”
They talked happily for a while, then Kyree stood to go. She waved the Anarchist good-bye and left the room, going to the Fatty Earth’s small cloakroom to collect her coat. Only a folding screen divided her from the table she had shared from Dushao. She accidentally turned olive green. What if something went wrong in all this? Then she tried to concentrate on going back to salmon, it would not do to appear in the streets with olive green skin, a patrol could suspect her and stop her for questioning. So she stood behind the folding screen calming her breath and waiting for the beats of her heart to slow.
Dushao’s cell phone rang. Kyree didn’t intend to pry, but Dushao was always loud. She then heard him: “Tell Udolph he doesn’t need to worry. We will take care of the heir.” She turned forest green. He’ll probably kill me if he discovers I heard this. So she went away as silently as possible, slipping through the Fatty Earth Joint’s door with the grace of a salmon colored ballerina.
II) Athia, Capital of the Prime Space Corporation Empire
Adrian Shearfort thought for the eleventh time. “This is a really bad idea.”
His younger brother Udolph laughed at his worried face. “Come on,” he said after taking yet another glass of wine. “Live a little.”
“I don’t need to embark on a pleasure cruise across one of our most wretched colonies to, as you say, live a little.”
“The Raven colony… The most beautiful sand beaches in the ‘verse, with females turning bright red when excited.” Udolph grinned wickedly. “It’s time you get to know the good side of being the Heir of the Prime Space Empire old pal.”
“I don’t want to go,” Adrian said.
“If you don’t go with me, there will be no one to control my blunders…”
Adrian knew what that meant. Udolph’s blunders would one day cost their family’s reputation. He hated to admit it, but he was the only one who could indeed control him. So he would go.
“I won’t take part in your…” Adrian wrinkled his nose. “Activities. I want a separate room.”
“Done.” Udolph left in a rush.
Adrian looked around and sighed. He would regret this… for sure…
She looked at the uncooperative mirror and breathed deeply. You can do this, you are the best actress on this cruise. Her image started to change in all rainbow hues, the only unchanging thing her purple eyes. Heart rate, breathing patterns, outplaced thoughts, skin reactions… Concentrate, you can pull this off. And then you will have money enough to take care of you son. You won’t fail. You can’t fail. This last thought made Kyree turn lime green. She couldn’t imagine what the Anarchists did to people who failed them, but she didn’t expect such people lived to tell the tale.
Her fists tightened and she said. “Merde!” For good luck. Time to act.
The Royal ship cruising the largest ocean of Raven was a luxurious and decadent symbol of what the Athian empire members thought Raven was. The walls were painted with sensual Raven girls, always in apricot, rose or red, as if the females in this planet had nothing else to do than remaining peaceful and aroused all the time. They were always shown dancing, scantily clad, their body proportions exaggerated. There were no Raven male pictures, the Royals did that part of the equation behind the curtains. The Athians were ridiculous like that.
Kyree stepped on stage wearing a feathered costume which was nothing more than a decorated string bikini and did nothing to hide her skin. The crowd before her stared at her body, waiting to see the exotic colors that marked her as a tourist attraction. She started singing, her skin colors floating together with the melody. She left behind shame for showing her typical Raven ass to a crowd and sang beautifully, her thoughts jumping from images of sadness, anger, defiance, resignation, peacefulness, happiness… But she wouldn’t turn bright red now. This was for the girls who would perform after her. She was a singer and an actress, put here to give this place the last touch of class. So she would show her body, but would not go so far as pretending to be aroused on the stage. This gave her show the last touch of self-dignity.
If you wanted others to respect you even if most of your ass was being seen, you had to carry that sparkle of self-respect inside yourself. Otherwise, she would be like one of the dancing girls, who did double duty as whores for the Athians on that cruise. Usually, she would leave the others to their money hunting and disappear after her act, but not tonight.
Tonight she would make an exception for Adrian Shearfort. He meant a new life for her and her son, far away from this wretched ship.
Before Kyree could give chase the Athian stood and left his table, leaving only an unpleasant red-faced guy staring at her like she was roasted bacon being served on a silver platter. She hurried up to follow Adrian’s long strides. She was catching up with him in the ship’s corridors when someone grabbed her from behind. It was the red-faced guy from Adrian’s table, his breath heavy with alcohol “We have some matters to attend to.”
Adrian appeared: “Udolph, let the woman go.”
“She is walking half naked in the ship’s corridors, for God’s sake,” Udolph shouted, waving him away. “She isn’t a respectful lady you have to protect. She’s a whore, and she has the best ass in this ship. Now go away and let me have fun.”
But the Athian stayed. “You let her go. Now.”
Udolph didn’t pay attention to him, one of his hands holding both her arms with a strength much greater than hers and his other hand grabbing her breasts as if he was going to milk her. Kyree felt like a thing. She looked at Adrian, half expecting him to leave. This wasn’t the first time. She hated all of them. All Athians.
She went white when Adrian punched the drunk Athian, freeing her. She looked at him, cherry red.
“You don’t have to be ashamed.” The Athian said. “It wasn’t your fault you could not stop him.”
Kyree held her tears back. “So you know… what cherry red means.”
He nodded sadly.
“I thought only Ravens knew about this color”. Cherry red wasn’t a state of higher sexual excitement as was so strongly advertised by the Raven government to increase tourism in Raven. It was the color of shame, the color female and male Raven skins looked like after being abused. A color no one wanted to talk about. After all, it was just a slight difference from bright to cherry red, wasn’t it? It was easy for most to ignore they meant different emotions.
That her Athian victim was a good person made things much more complicated. Kyree thought, but she couldn’t forget why she had started this. “Can I stay a couple of moments with you? Until the ship’s corridors calm down and I can return safely to my quarters?”
Adrian opened his door. “All right. I always wanted to ask a Raven what they thought of Athians anyway.”
Kyree forcibly calmed down her breath, displaying a salmon coloring over herself. Adrian’s behavior was again quite unexpected, making it harder for her to control her coloring and to do what she had come here to do.
She entered the most luxurious cabin of the ship. She had been here quickly before out of curiosity. All ship’s employees couldn’t resist a sneak peek into the life a Royal Athian would have, even if just for a couple of weeks while traveling here. It made some dream, and some angry. Kyree tried to stay away from both feelings. They were Athians and she was Raven. They led different lives in different roles, even if the only major difference was their skin. Athians were like albino Ravens. They would never color, but be perpetually white.
It took a while for Ravens to get used to the idea that the white Athians weren’t all the time shocked, that they could have other emotions even if it was very difficult for Ravens to discern them without training and that Athians considered themselves superior and mostly treated Ravens like scum. She steadied her breath, forcing herself to turn salmon, apricot now would be too much of a change, and said. “So, is he your brother, Udolph? And you really are — ”
“Adrian Shearfort, the heir of the empire indeed.” The white Athian’s furrowed brows told Kyree about all the unending responsibilities weighing him down. As a young single mother, she could understand that.
Adrian sat in one of his big cabin’s armchairs. “I would be very grateful to you if you wouldn’t tell others about what happened today. My father lets him ran rampant and I have not yet the power to stop him. But I soon intend to do that. It’s a question of weeks now until I finally have a chance of fixing all the wrong things with the empire.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t say a thing,” Kyree said, white threatening to cover her salmon. “May I use your bathroom?” She didn’t wait for an answer but hurried there. She closed the door, white and olive green splashing her shape in waves. So Adrian was the heir that Dushao was talking about on the phone. They weren’t planning to do something to free Raven but helping to put Udolph Shearfort into power by kidnapping the first-born son, the rightful heir to the empire.
And Raven’s population would pay dearly for the death of the Athian’s heir. Dushao wasn’t an anarchist rebel. He was just a criminal who would get money out of his own people’s suffering.
Kyree breathed deeply. She could finish the dirty work Dushao had told her to do, get her money and feel like mercenary garbage for the rest of her life. Or she could do the right thing and put herself and her son in immense danger. She went out of the bathroom, her breath now even, salmon again.
Adrian smiled, his eyes amused in his never changing white face. “So, Kyree Yanfasa, who is known for never mingling with Athian cruise tourists, why were you following me?”
Kyree laughed with bright yellow glee. “I wasn’t following you, your Highness. Why? Are you used to be followed by females?”
Adrian smiled with narrowed eyes. “All right, unfollowing lead singer of this under-your-level cruise, what would you like to talk about?”
Kyree shrugged: “You don’t strike me as the usual kind of Athian noble who travels to Raven in search of pleasure.”
Adran sighed: “I visited Raven before, in secret, by myself. I stayed in a fisherman’s house who didn’t know who I was. I spent days fishing and nights lying in a hammock looking at the stars from the fisherman’s veranda. It was paradise.” He pursed his lips. “But now tell me about yourself.”
Kyree smiled. “I would certainly bore you, your Highness.”
She bit her lip. “Well, I… I’ve worked over a decade here. It isn’t that bad, a lot of people have a much harder life than me, it’s just…”
“You are almost a slave. Aren’t you?” Adrian said. “Your expenses on board are all reduced from your salary until all that remains is a debt you never cease to pay.”
Kyree turned white. How did that Athian know so much how things worked in Raven?
“An empire never thrives, unless at the expense of millions. Or billions.” Adrian sighed. “I had heard about it but your color just confirms my suspicions about all the things my father swept under the rug during his reign.”
Kyree turned to face the window, looking at the green sea in an attempt to shun that color away from her skin.
The cabin’s bell chimed, a waiter brought a bottle of champagne with the compliments of the cruise’s captains. This was the signal agreed for Kyree to drop a drug into the heir’s drink. She wasn’t sure if the drug would only make Adrian sleep or if it would kill him, turning her into his assassin. If Dushao had lied about their motives he could as easily have lied about her reward too.
She waited until the waiter left and, pointing at her thigh, whispered: “Look…” She gestured him into silence and traced letters over her skin. It took all her expertise to do that trick. Usually, she did it in her show’s finale, or to amuse her son, but it could be put to another use too. Each white letter she traced with her long red nail would fade in the salmon background of her skin slowly enough so it could be read before disappearing. She concentrated fiercely while forming the letters, putting a breath between one word and the next:
W E A R E D I S C O V E R E D. A T R A P. E S C A P E
Adrian looked at her wide eyed. She stood and gestured for him to follow. When he went towards the door she raised both hands to stop him and pointed to the balcony. There were some simple metal handles outside for workers who needed to make exterior repairs on the ship, they were hard to climb, but they had a better chance of arriving at the helicopter parked on the ship’s ceiling climbing than facing the anarchist group waiting outside in the corridor.
Kyree started climbing. Adrian looked at the makeshift escape route and whispered. Are you serious? But when Kyree made the universal gesture of a knife slicing her throat he hurried after her.
When they neared the helicopter, Kyree asked: “Can you fly this?”
“Great, I’ll distract the pilot and you knock him out.”
He nodded and whispered: “Why are you doing this?”
Kyree breathed deeply. “I want you to stop at my town in the end of nowhere and pick up my son. We’ll have to leave Raven and disappear if we want to remain alive after this.”
“I understand,” The Athian said. “I’ll help and reward —”
But then he was speechless. Kayree shone bright, a ruby-colored curvy form of sensuality. She left her hiding place, doing pirouettes in front of the helicopter as if she was one of the ship’s dancers.
The helicopter pilot opened his mouth: “Raven devils.”
Kayree waved. “Come here handsome.”
The pilot left the helicopter and approached her. Adrian jumped from his hiding place and beat him unconscious.
They both heard noise coming from below. The mercenaries had found out about Kayree’s betrayal and were on the way. They quickly entered the helicopter’s cockpit and flew away.
After they were safely flying back to the Empire’s Spaceship, Kayree’s son sleeping by her side in the helicopter’s seat, Adrian asked again. “Now seriously, why help me, a stranger Athian?”
Kayree turned apricot and smiled. “I would not want an empire ruled by Udolph. Perhaps I’m mistaken and you just deceived me well enough, but I think you will be a better ruler.”
Adrian narrowed his eyes. “And I will start now. As soon as I’m crowned I want you to be my adviser about everything concerning Raven. This has been way too long a role played solely by Athians who just want to use your planet as a touristic resort. It’s time for this to change. It is time also for us to stop seeing ourselves as two different species. After all, the only difference between us is the skin.”
Kyree had tears in her eyes, a mild butter yellow softening the angles of her face. “I could never imagine an Athian to say such things. Not after everything I’ve lived.”
And she looked at her pale white son.