The only bit of loveliness in the entire room, Jonah thought. On an off-day he could have paused to enjoy the sight of her naked body, maybe even enjoy some playful intimacy, but today there was a strict schedule to be maintained and no sooner had he yawned than he was rising and walking into the small shower panel set into the wall of their bedroom.
"Five minutes to wash myself and get dressed," he mumbled as the sonic spray came on and he leaned against the gray wall of the shower. "Ten to eat breakfast and catch a glimpse of my son before he's shuttled off to school. Just like yesterday, just like tomorrow. Not enough time to even think about anything else."
Joyce, sensing her husband was in a bad mood, decided to give him his shower alone and slipped a gray robe over herself. On the rare days when he got moody like this it was usually best to let him be, for trying to help workout his frustrations simply ate up too much of their time. That was for licensed psychologists to work out, on legally-granted off-time.
Their nine-year-old son, Ronnie, was usually agreeable in the mornings and woke up quietly when his mother shook him gently. He rubbed his blue face groggily but nodded and asked for blueberry pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast.
"Why not try another color this time?" Joyce suggested as she rummaged inside Ronnie's closet for a clean body suit. "You've had blueberry pancakes for the last two weeks. Don't you get tired of the same thing everyday?"
"We're Blues," Ronnie said, pulling on his blue underwear, "and we don't get tired of ourselves."
Not necessarily, Joyce commented to herself as she handed him his blue bodysuit and boots. "Right, then. Blueberry pancakes it is. Now hurry and take your shower and get dressed."
Five minutes later, Jonah and his family sat at the breakfast table and ate in silence. It wasn't that they didn't have anything to say or that they detested conversation with one another; there simply wasn't time to be wasted when they were hungry and on a schedule. Files had to be processed at Jonah's office, lessons had to be learned at Ronnie's school...society had to keep to the schedule it had created for itself.
"We have to get going," Jonah announced halfway through their eating period. Joyce obviously hadn't eaten enough, but she nevertheless helped to clear the table quickly so she could get dressed in time to take Ronnie to school and get herself to work an executive office, similar to Jonah's but separate to ensure maximum productivity as set out in The Manual of Social Imperatives.
The morning was overcast, making everything seem grayer than usual. Since there were no trees or bushes allowed in this sector, the ground was paved with cold steel, just like the Moreno's living complex. Numerous other Blues were exiting their apartments and heading for the transportation terminals a block and a half down the street.
"See you at seventeen-hundred," Jonah said, kissing his wife briefly on the lips and his son on the forehead before everyone was off to their respective destinations for the day. He jogged quickly along the shiny gray sidewalk and checked his wristwatch periodically. Somehow, the time had crept up on him so that he was now running late.
The transportation terminals were crowded upon his arrival, filled with dozens of people of various colors waiting for their rides. Dodging a middle-aged Orange gentleman who was waiting for the bus that would take him to his construction site, Jonah glanced again at his watch, then out across to the Blue line terminal, where he saw the 0700 bus pulling away.
Swearing under his breath, he slowed to a walk again and ran a hand through his hair, trying to think of what to do next. He had an hour to get to work and the next Blue line would be arriving at seven forty-five far too late to get him to his proper sector on time. He would be half an hour late if he waited for the next bus and tardiness was a crime that rivaled blasphemy. His supervisor wouldn't tolerate a sluggish employee and would surely have him demerited or even fired if he started popping in at inappropriate hours of the day. A year ago, one of the employees in his department had come in fifteen minutes late and gotten booted. What was worse, he'd eventually had to convert to a Brown and become a farmer to make ends meet.
No, that wasn't a pleasant fate. Jonah's social position might not have been as prestigious as he'd have liked, but it was more than some people were stuck with. He'd be a fool to waste his status because of a late bus, which meant he had only one option if he wanted to get to work on time: He would have to take one of the other buses.
Immediately, Jonah's gaze went up to the roof of the terminal, where the arrival/departure times were flashing across wide video screens attached to the domed ceiling. Beneath each screen was a sign reading, "Thank you for riding with Metro Shuttle. Color mixing strictly prohibited." That meant he could be fined a pretty penny if he was caught riding any bus that wasn't designated for Blues. But what else could he do? Wait and risk losing his job or catch the next bus that passed through his sector and risk being arrested by the police. Either way, he was tempting fate.
One of the video screens beeped and a computerized voice came on, announcing that the 7:05 Purple line was about to leave. Jonah quickly made his way towards the Purple terminal and found a map, displaying the line's route through the city. As far as he could tell, this bus passed through his work sector before it reached its destination in the Purple sector.
"Purple line 207, final boarding sequence..."
Jonah looked at the terminal where the Purples were filing into their bus. It was his last chance to be on time. Without a further thought, he squared his shoulders and strode towards the bus, getting in line and trying to act like nothing extraordinary was happening. The driver gave him an inquisitive look as he swiped his credit card quickly and entered the passenger cabin, which was mostly full. There was one seat near the rear of the bus that was unoccupied and he made a beeline for it, hoping that everyone was either too sleepy or disinterested to notice him.
As he sat down a Purple behind him made a muffled gasping noise and he heard soft murmuring, something like, "Look at that Blue. Unbelievable!"
Jonah turned towards the window and tried to concentrate on the terminal outside, though he kept getting looks from this tall, husky man a few seats in front of him.
God, what the hell am I doing? was a repetitive echo in his head.
He watched a pack of Reds, their bodies tall, trim and muscular, as they went to the bus that would take them to their sporting events and exercise gyms. They were the athletes, the sports stars of Shade City who made a living by tossing a ball through a hoop, or swimming in a pool of water, or swinging about a set of uneven bars and defying the laws of gravity for an audience of paying Elites.
Presently, the bus pulled out of the terminal and was on its way to the Purple sector. Jonah looked down at his watch, saw that ten minutes had passed and that his palms were still sweating. Looking up again he saw that the husky man was still watching him at regular intervals perhaps deciding whether or not to roll the foolish Blue riding a Purple bus, though Jonah hoped with all his might against something like that.
Outside the traffic was building. The gray city streets were crowded with Blues rushing to get to their respective workplace on time. Jonah noticed that the bus was approaching the building he worked in and looked anxiously at the driver, who was making no move to get into the pickup lane. He considered getting out of his seat and asking the driver if he was going to stop soon, but then it occurred to him: this bus was for Purples. They had no reason to stop in a Blue sector and it was probably against the law anyway.
Jonah watched with increasing dread as the bus passed through the Blue boundary and into the Purple sector. It wasn't much different here except that the majority of the people on the streets were purple, not counting the occasional Oranges who were with Shade's City Public Service. The buildings were still tall, made of the same glossy metal that made up everything else in the city.
One major difference that Jonah noticed immediately was the video screens. Instead of broadcasting the daily business report, they showed movies or interviews with actors and actresses, and updates on upcoming plays and music concerts. Naturally, since Purples were designated entertainers and artists, it made sense that their news reflect their career paths. In the Blue sector, all information was geared towards the low-level executive employees.
"Line 207, Stop 1," announced the bus driver.
I suppose this is as good a place as any, thought Jonah as he stood and followed several Purples, including the husky man who'd been watching him, out the rear exit of the bus. Immediately, he felt self-conscious as other people in the transportation terminal gave him odd glances, though at least he was relieved about getting off the bus.
"Mama, that man's color is wrong!" exclaimed a small child, no more than five years old, walking with his mother and (presumably) brother. Jonah stared for only a moment, recalling that Purples were allowed to have two children, unlike Blues, who were limited to one per couple. Blues weren't quite middle class and weren't quite lower class but somewhere in between. They got some respect, a fair amount of money, but only enough social status to be able to live in basic apartment complexes. That meant strict sexual regulations in the name of population control. Once Ronnie had been born, the doctors, in accordance with Shade law, had removed Joyce's ovaries. The operation was painless, left no damage whatsoever, physically, and allowed a married couple to engage in sexual intercourse as often as they wished without risking unwanted (and illegal) pregnancy.
Realizing that the mother and her two sons were long gone and that he was staring dumbly at the ground, he began searching the screens above for the next bus that would hopefully take him to the Blue sector again. The next bus available would leave him reasonably close to where he wanted to be, though it didn't really matter now since there was no way he could prevent being late to work now but he could still try.
With half an hour's time to kill, he started wandering around the terminal as if he were oblivious to his situation. He noticed a group of three brawny Purples hanging about the restrooms, watching him with scrutinizing eyes.
Great, thought Jonah, turning away and shivering. All I need is to be seen by a chain gang. I can see the headline already: Jonah Moreno found dead at age twenty-five with a knife in his back. Officials report he was last spotted boarding a bus headed for the Purple sector. Poor fool, didn't he realize that's against the rules of civilization?
Deciding that his over-thinking was making him nervous, Jonah found a bench to sit on and opened his briefcase to make sure all his paperwork was in order. No sooner had he taken a seat than he noticed a shadow falling over him. When he looked up, he found he was surrounded by the men he'd seen near the restroom. They were all young, in their early twenties or late teens, and they were all exceedingly muscular. Their expressions were not welcoming.
"Hey, Blue," said one of the men. "What do you think you're doing here?"
"Probably got on the wrong bus looking to bleed someone's taxes."
"Yeah, you Blues. All the same. Pretend you're something special just because you can count to a hundred. Now you think you can just walk wherever you please and no one's gonna see you, eh?"
Jonah closed his briefcase and started to stand. "Look, I don't want any trouble. Being here is a mistake "
One of the men grabbed his briefcase and opened it, carelessly punching away at the keyboard inside. "Ooh, he's got one of those fancy Travel PC's. You must be a mite rich to have something like this. I have an idea: Let's take this Blue to our office and have a little business meeting, shall we?"
"Wait," Jonah urged, feeling a pair of strong arms binding his own. "You don't understand "
"Just like a Blue, to think that us Purples can't form a thought because we were trained to entertain rather than become accountants or whatever it is you people do in those fancy corporate offices of yours."
The men led him to the restrooms and closed the door behind to insure privacy. Then the "meeting" began. Jonah was fit and well-built himself, thanks to mandatory exercise regimes, but he had never been much good with his fists, and compared to the bulky muscle mass his attackers possessed, he was a shrimp trying to escape the jaws of a shark. The tallest of the men slammed him into a wall and pulled his arms behind his back while hands searched his body suit for pockets. They found his credit card and ID, then kicked him in the gut so that he was down on all fours, panting and trying to regain his balance. One of the men grabbed him by his scalp and was about to throw a punch aimed for his face when the door to the restroom suddenly flew open and another Purple stepped in.
"Let him be," ordered the newcomer. Jonah was in too much pain to really examine the man, but he knew he was tall and as much of a hulk as his attackers.
One of the other men snickered. "Or what? You think you can take all three of us by yourself?"
In answer, a flurry of punches and kicks followed. Jonah staggered to his feet and defended himself as best he could, actually managing to get in a few good punches before someone hit him over the head and everything went black.
The color of sleep.
When he came to, he was no longer in a public restroom but lying in an unfamiliar apartment. His boots had been removed and his body suit unzipped down to his waist; a bandage had been applied to his left pectoral. His head also hurt something terrible.
"Hello?" he called out, sitting up slowly on a plush gray sofa. "Is anyone here?"
A moment later a tall Purple, presumably the one who'd rescued him from the restroom, came into the room and Jonah recognized him as the very same man who'd been watching him intently on the bus. He looked to be in his early twenties, with short black hair and a well-trimmed goatee. His neck was thick and his torso well-developed, like that of an athlete's, though he appeared very trim and graceful. Perhaps he was a dancer?
"Ah, I see you're finally awake," said the man in a deep but smooth voice. A singer's perhaps? "How do you feel?"
"Better than I would have felt if you hadn't come into that bathroom after me," replied Jonah, touching a bandage on his head and wincing. "Thank you, sir."
"Please, call me Frank. Is there anything I can get you?"
"Maybe some cold water."
Frank nodded and left again, walking in a very precise manner. Jonah stood and zipped his suit up partially as he looked around at the apartment. There was something strange about the place, something that was right in front of him but which he couldn't quite identify readily since his eyes weren't trained to notice such things. He blinked and suddenly it hit him.
There was color in the room. Above and behind the big-screen TV was a large tapestry hanging on the wall. The lights in the room had been dimmed, but he could still make out the picture: A panoramic view of a valley, with trees and grass and flowers all growing freely, all splashed with color. Green, blue, red, orange, pink, turquoise it was almost painful to gaze upon amidst all the regulation gray of the apartment.
"Stephen Dunsel, 2015 A.D., oil on canvas."
Jonah jumped slightly at the sound of Frank's voice, for he hadn't heard him come back.
"Here's your water."
Thanking him, Jonah took the small glass offered, pausing for a second to look at Frank's hands. They were bigger than his, well-shaped, and purple. He'd seen people of different colors before, but never this close and for this long. It took an effort not to stare, one that Frank seemed to share as well.
"I didn't know color for leisure was allowed in this sector," Jonah said after he'd taken a few sips.
"Actually, it's not, but there are worse things going on in the city. A painter who likes to keep some secret works on hand for himself is hardly at the top of the Social Order Enforcement list. So, what brings you here to the Purple sector?"
"Well, I was late for work and I thought I could get on a Purple bus and make it there on time. As you can see, things didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked."
"I'll say," Frank said, shaking his head. "Those guys you ran into really had it out for you. Around here, Purples don't have much of a taste for Blues, especially since the Interracial Debates began last month. A lot of fingers are being pointed at the government as a whole as being the force behind color oppression and such. They all think you're the ones messing up their government paperwork and such."
Jonah frowned. "You're a Purple."
"I don't like seeing people get hurt, even if they aren't the same color as I am. Everyone's human, so everyone can feel pain."
How true, thought Jonah. We may be of different skin colors, but we all have ten fingers, ten toes...we're all built the same. I wonder if everyone's blood is red too?
"Anyway," continued Frank, putting his hands on his hips. "We shouldn't stand around here all afternoon wasting time. I assume you'd like to return to your sector as soon as possible?"
"Do you have a personal vehicle?"
"No, but there's the bus...and a little creativity on our part. Follow me."
Frank lead him to the bedroom where the shower was and told him to remove his suit.
"Why?" asked Jonah, somewhat nervous about disrobing in front of a stranger, and a Purple at that.
"Because," Frank replied, rummaging in the compartment of an enormous dresser until he found a canister of purple paint. "If you want to make it anywhere in this part of town without getting your butt kicked, you've got to act the part. For the rest of the day you're going to be a bona fide Purple."
Certainly the feds would put him in chains for something like this, but there was nothing else he could do if he wanted to get back home in one piece. He stripped off his suit and stood in the shower as Frank handed him the spray paint canister and he began coloring his body purple. At first he tried to go quickly, for he felt strange having another person watching him so closely. Presumably, Frank had never seen a naked Blue before and was simply curious to know how they were put together, but it was still intimidating especially when he had to ask for help to finish spraying his back in the places he couldn't reach on his own.
"I hope this stuff won't chip or streak if I sweat," he said, trying to relax.
Frank continued working as he spoke. "Not body paint. This stuff is used a lot in movies and on stage when actors must portray members of another color. It only comes off in a sonic shower."
"Are you an actor?"
"Yeah. I'm also a painter, a dancer, and a singer. A little bit of a variety helps keep me sane and it helps to pay my bills."
Jonah brushed a finger over his left arm and found the paint had already dried on his skin. "That was fast."
"Mm-hm. Has to be during live shows when you only have a minute or so to change characters backstage. Lift your right foot so I can get the sole."
Doing as he was told, Jonah couldn't help but feel fascinated. As a Blue, he had naturally been raised in a businesslike atmosphere, learning about everything that had to do with bookkeeping, accounting, and managing a business. In school, his entire teachings had been made up of math and economics, the practical side of keeping a government in order. He knew nothing of art or how it worked; only that that was what Purples were for and it wasn't his place to be curious about it. Yet he couldn't help himself.
"Do all Purples know things like this?" he asked.
Frank nodded and finished the left foot. "That's our designation: the arts. From the day we learn to speak we are taught all the elements of entertaining others. Music, acting,painting, dancing...that's our career path. It's what we were meant to do."
"Just like us Blues, who are trained to run the government, and like Reds, who are trained in athletics, and Greens as police officers. Each color has its own job in society."
"You're finished," Frank announced, stepping back and handing Jonah a purple body suit. He took it and started pulling it on when he noticed his reflection in the mirror over Frank's dresser and paused, one leg in, one out.
"I never thought I would see myself in any other color," he murmured, touching his own cheek. "I can't imagine what my wife will say when she sees me like this."
"There's only one way to find out, now isn't there?"
The transportation terminals were as busy as ever when they arrived, but this time Jonah didn't get any curious or hate-filled stares as he and Frank wormed their way towards the 207 line (it made sense to go back home the same way he'd come).
"There's one leaving in ten minutes," Frank murmured, examining the schedules above.
Jonah took a seat at one of the benches and nodded, only half paying attention as he watched the people walking around him. Now that he wasn't so uptight he could actually study the Purples, who really were not much different from Blues except that they talked about different things. Like the group of teenagers sitting several seats over. They were rehearsing lines for their first public play and giggling through all the mistakes.
In my own sector, those kids would be studying pie-charts and numbered graphs. They probably wouldn't be laughing so much either. Nobody laughs when they have to become walking calculators.
He started thinking then of his own life. As far back as he could remember, he'd been taught business. Everyday, he thought order, discipline, economics, even when he watched a movie with his parents and asked the innocent question, "Why do Purples get to spend their time acting like other colors when we can't?"
Shrugging helplessly, his mother would always reply, "It's the way things are, my son. You may not like it, but you have to obey the rules or be cast out of society."
"Like those people in Britain or Africa?"
"Yes, dear. And we wouldn't want to live like that, now would we? In chaos, no firm structure of government, with disease and famine widespread? At least here in the Americas everyone has enough. Everything is balanced out, with the exact number of people in the right jobs doing the right things. No surplus or excess. It may be hard for you to understand now, but it keeps clothing on your back and food in your belly."
Jonah would then nod, deciding that if he was to grow up to be what he was pre-programmed to be, he might as well try to enjoy it even if he never really did.
"Jonah, are you okay?"
Frank's waving hand brought him back to the present. "Yeah, I'm fine. I was just thinking about things."
"Check out the vids. Something's up at the Debates."
Glancing up to where the video screens were, Jonah saw that a fair share of them were now broadcasting a news bulletin. Through the many other voices ringing out in the terminal, Jonah could hear the news anchor speaking in somber tones:
"The Interracial Debates continue this afternoon without much progress from yesterday's meeting. Leaders from the Seven Sectors met this morning at Shade City Hall and it is reported the discussions since then have been riddled with tension.
One of the major arguments seems to be between the Elites and the Browns. Many farming and garbage disposal unions are insisting on higher pay and better working conditions while in the Purple sector, many people are protesting their right to freedom of color, which was banned nearly a century ago. These protests have been peaceful until eleven hundred hours this morning, when a fight broke out in front of a Blue office building. Five people were injured; there were no fatalities."
"Damn," Frank muttered, looking away from the vids. "This is liable to cause a stir. It's a good thing we disguised you when we did."
Jonah nodded and shook his head, unable to understand what the big deal was. You were born into a sector and that was that. What you did with your life was guided by the color of your skin...a simple and effective manner of controlling the balance of power within a large community. Yet there were people who still believed the whole system was a sham, a method of keeping the rich in high positions and the poor in humble ones. Now that was ridiculous, for if the color system had not been put into place, everyone would try to do what they wanted, ignoring the necessary, mundane jobs that every society required to keep itself running smoothly. If everyone was a movie star, who would dispose of the city's garbage? Who would keep the sewers clear and running? Who would weave clothes for everyone to wear?
Then there were those pro-choice activists who attacked the method of color-coding humans. They insisted that it was wrong to force a child into a certain color when it had only been away from the womb for a matter of hours, that it was against the very laws of nature to permanently dye a child's skin, thereby insuring it would only be able to function in one specific sector.
"We'd better get going," said Frank, gesturing to where the 207 had just pulled up. "I'll see you to the Blue sector terminal and then you're on your own."
Jonah thanked him and boarded the bus. As he took his seat, he found that he was experiencing a tinge of disappointment as if going back home was more of a chore than a privilege. He would have to face his superiors at work and beg for them to keep him on, probably at a cut pay rate. He almost wanted to stay in the Purple sector, maybe even find a new life here somehow, but then he shook his head and realized he was thinking crazy thoughts.
I was born a Blue and I'll die one. That's the way things were meant to be.
Already the mood on the bus had changed since the morning. People conversed with each other nervously, and more than once Jonah picked up the words "Interracial Debates" and "trouble", often used in the same sentence. Then, at the Blue/Purple boundary line, the bus was stopped and ordered to turn around: Inter-sector travel had been temporarily restricted as the result of a bomb threat.
Swallowing a lump that had suddenly formed in his throat, Jonah looked from the green-skinned police officers outside to Frank, who sat beside him and looked thoughtful.
"They're not letting anyone through," Frank said. "Looks like you're stuck here for awhile. But don't worry, you can stay with me for as long as you need to."
Jonah didn't reply. He only chewed his fingernail and hoped Joyce and Ronnie were all right.
He made a point of calling them from Frank's place at eighteen hundred hours. Ronnie answered the phone.
"Ronnie, hi, it's daddy. Is mom there?"
"Yeah, but how come you're not home yet?"
"Oh, I have to do some overtime at work, but I'm going to see you soon, I promise. Now put mommy on."
The line crackled for a moment as Jonah heard his son put down the telephone receiver. He could see the boy in his head, running from his bedroom to find Joyce, shouting, "Mommy! Phone call!" like he always did. A moment later, Joyce's voice came through.
"Jonah? Ronnie tells me you have overtime or something? What's the deal?"
"It's a long story," Jonah said, soothed somewhat by the sound of her voice. "I missed my bus to work this morning and got on a Purple line. Luckily, though, I'm able to stay with a, uh, friend and I'm working on a way to get home real soon."
"But haven't you been watching the news? They've isolated every sector! There's talk of a city-wide riot too."
"I know, I've heard, but I'm sure things will work out somehow. Just look out for yourself and Ronnie. I'll see about getting back as soon as I can. I love you."
"I love you too. Don't be long."
"I won't," Jonah said and clicked off the phone. Placing it back on the small table beside Frank's bed, he went out into the living room and sat on the sofa.
"How'd it go?" asked Frank, sitting and watching the news.
"My family's fine. I'm just worried I'm going to be stuck here for quite awhile, and with this sudden upsurge between the colors...everything's turning crazy."
"Either that or for once people are trying to open their eyes," said Frank, his gaze transfixed on the TV screen. He looked dreamy, like his mind was a million miles away.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Frank shrugged, blinking. "I don't know. I just don't see what all the big deal is over a person's color. If a Brown wants to be a lawyer, he should be able to if he'll do a good job. Back in the old days people of all colors used to work doing anything they liked, and they could live anywhere they wanted. It may have been less efficient, but people got along somehow."
"I guess," Jonah murmured, scratching at his arm. "Say, this body paint is getting itchy. Do you suppose I could have a shower?"
"Sure. You know where it is. The clothing recycler is beside the mirror."
Jonah nodded and went into the bedroom, where he pulled off his boots and body suit, sticking the latter into the recycler to be cleaned. Then he got into the shower and pulled the water-guard closed. It was nice to take a real water shower for a change and not have to worry about being late for something. He closed his eyes and leaned his elbow against the wall, allowing a cool stream of water to flow down his back and take his mind away from all the turmoil of the day. Like tiny fingers, the jets of water massaged his muscles, and quite unexpectedly, the fingers became real and he turned around to see Frank had come into the shower behind him.
"Frank, what are you doing?" he exclaimed, starting to get out of the shower, but Frank put his fingers to his lips and urged him back inside.
"Shh," he said, working his palms against Jonah's skin. "You look like you need a massage."
Jonah squirmed uncomfortably, feeling Frank's aroused body pressed against him. "I'm not that way. Besides, this is illegal. If anyone found out, we'd both be thrown in jail for God knows how long."
Sighing, Frank let go and stepped out of the shower. "Sorry. Didn't know you were a Christian and a good Samaritan. I guess I was stupid to think you might feel an attraction toward me. I'm sorry if I've offended you."
"You haven't offended me," Jonah said as he turned on the sonic shower briefly and went for a towel. Frank sat at the edge of his bed, head in his hands, shoulders quivering as he cried.
"You don't know how hard it is," he said, "being like I am, in a society that prides itself on efficiency and perfection. My kind aren't welcome. We're a defect, not allowed to have feelings and certainly not allowed to have the desires any human feels. I thought maybe with you it could be different. You, a Blue who didn't look down on me, a Purple. But I suppose I'm not that lucky."
Jonah had been quietly fretting near the dresser, wanting to console the man somehow but at the same time feeling perverted about being in a gay man's bedroom. Nevertheless, there was
no one watching and Frank needed someone at his side, so there was only one thing to do.
"Don't cry," he said, sitting beside Frank and putting his arm around his shoulder. He half expected to have a team of police officers come barging into the room, but all he got was a teary eyed glance and a nod of appreciation. Yes, even Purple homosexuals had feelings that needed to be respected.
"God, what am I doing?" Frank muttered, wiping his face and smiling. "Here we are in the midst of social strife and I'm worried about getting a date?" He gestured towards the living room. "Let me set up the sofa bed for you."
Once dry, Jonah took his clothes and went into the living room, where a fresh gray sheet had been spread over the opened sofa. Jonah spread himself on the bed and tried to sleep, but so much had happened today and it was hard to even close his eyes without having some fragment of memory flash in the darkness. He thought of the morning, sitting on the bus and having everyone look at him; of the men in the restroom and the sheer hatred they'd had for him; of Frank and his hands kneading his back and his purple genitals, a different color but built the exact same way as any Blue's.
Then he found himself thinking of Frank's eyes, brown...another trait they shared. No matter what color your skin was changed to as a baby, you always kept your eye color. Ronnie's were blue, like his mother's, and Jonah was suddenly remembering that day, nine years ago, when his son had been born and he'd caught his first and only up-close glimpse of a human in its natural state. Tan skin, almost brown, but not like the Browns of today. More natural, with a deeper hue. It was hard to describe, and Jonah had spent the first few hours with the baby in his arms, hugging him, kissing him and relishing every second of the naturalness.
It had been strange afterward, when Ronnie had been deemed healthy, strong and ready for the skin treatment. As the doctors carted him off to the lab, Jonah had felt something strange in his gut, a kind of tightening, like he was losing something, though he knew he was being ridiculous, because without a legal skin color, his son could never become a real human...
Eventually sleep came, and he dreamed of being a Purple, then spray-painting his body to become a Blue then peeling off that color to reveal the natural brown underneath.
Was that his true color or just another layer of dye?
The next morning things got worse. Jonah sat at the kitchen table watching the TV as he ate breakfast. Apparently a protest group made up of five thousand people had gathered outside city hall and were demanding that they receive the same benefits Blues and Elites did. So far, three people had been killed in fistfights and twenty-three injured.
"I can't watch this," Frank said, getting up from the table. "Besides, I have work, and you might as well come along if you're going to be stuck here in this sector."
On Wednesdays Frank taught dancing classes in his own personal studio. Business was normally good, but today only three people showed up probably because of the increased number of agitated Greens patrolling about on their motorcycles to break up any fights that might have started. No one felt like doing much of anything when their every move was being monitored.
Around noon, all the dancers left for lunch and didn't come back, so Frank simply closed the studio doors and turned on the "CLOSED" sign in the window.
"There's no point in dragging the horse to water if he won't drink," he commented, folding his arms. "But that doesn't mean we still can't have a little fun. Would you like some free dance lessons?"
"Sure," Jonah replied. He was finding it easier and easier to be around Frank the more time he spent with him, and since last night's shower incident he'd come to the conclusion that it was okay to be friends with a Purple who happened to be gay.
They spent the next five hours together practicing. Jonah had very bad balance, having never practiced a single dance step in his entire life, but he was willing to slip and fall, trip and fall, flip and fall time and time again until eventually he got the hang of a few basic moves. By seventeen hundred hours he was hungry, sweaty and bruised in several places, but feeling happier and freer than he ever had in his life. There was something about doing what he wasn't born to do that fueled an eagerness and curiosity he'd only recently noticed bottled up inside himself. Once it bloomed, he couldn't help but become transfixed with the desire to experience all the things he'd never tried before. By the time evening arrived and Frank took him back to his place, he was ready to sleep like a rock.
That night was the last night of peace he ever had.
Jonah stayed with Frank for several days as the turmoil in the streets continued. He made sure he called Joyce daily to make sure they were all right. The Seven Sectors were still isolated as talks between politicians continued to no avail and people were still getting beaten up in the streets for being the wrong color. The hardest hit were the Elites, the only humans allowed to keep their original skin color. Since they were the wealthiest, they were hated most and beaten worst if they dared step out the doors of their homes without bodyguards at their sides. Next high on the most-hated list were the Blues, who were direct employees of the Elites.
Street fights broke out all over the city and many news stations urged people to stay inside their homes unless leaving became absolutely necessary. Jonah holed up in Frank's apartment and watched the riots on TV, losing hope with each broadcast that he would make it home at all.
Early next week, Frank suggested they go grocery shopping, for all that remained in the food cooler wasn't enough to feed them both.
"If we stick together we should be okay," he said, pulling on his clothes. Jonah, still in bed, yawned and turned onto his side. The thought of having to go outside into the burning city streets made him cringe.
"Jonah, we have to go now."
Sighing, Jonah kicked off the sheets and rose from bed. "All right, then. I don't know why you're so anxious all of the sudden, but I suppose we can't put it off any longer."
Frank merely furrowed his brow and looked off elsewhere, waiting for him to get dressed. As he fumbled with the laces of his boots, an odor tickled his nostrils.
"You smell that?" Jonah asked, jumping to his feet.
"Yes," said Frank, nodding sadly as if he'd known this was going to happen. "It's an acid fire. We'd better get out of here before we're burned alive."
Outside a crowd had gathered, made up mostly of the tenants of the apartment building that was now being eaten by flames. Somewhere in the distance sirens blared, but everyone knew it would be too late before the fire fighters arrived. Parents held their children, little old ladies held their cats, Jonah held Frank as he cried.
"Hey, easy now," he whispered into Frank's ear. "We're lucky to still be alive. That's all that really matters."
"They did it because I'm gay."
"Frank, no "
"Yes they did. No matter how hard society has tried to make everyone equal, we're still all as different from each other as possible."
Jonah's arms cradled Frank as tears continued to stream from his eyes. "Maybe being different is a good thing. We're just not used to it yet."
They stood together and watched the building burn down and afterward walked together to find a hotel, only they didn't make it. Two blocks away from the apartment complex a gunshot rang out suddenly and Frank lurched forward.
"Frank?" Jonah cried, stumbling to the ground and trying to hold onto his friend. "Frank? Speak to me!"
"Purple homos!" someone called out. Footsteps neared.
Jonah knelt on the ground, trying to assess the extent of the gunshot wound. "Oh, God, Frank! Don't move! I'll get help!"
Even as the life drained from his body at an alarming rate, Frank managed a smile. "Don't ever...let anyone...tell you that you...can't dance," he rasped just before his body went limp and he died.
Tears streamed from Jonah's eyes as he hugged his friend closely, wishing he'd had the courage to come to this sector years ago and do all the things he'd done in the last few days. Now all he had left was a memory, and it wasn't enough to make him want life.
"Hey, fag! Get up!"
Four Blues surrounded him, each holding a gun pointed at his head. He stood, for a moment actually wanting a piece of lead in his chest, for he no longer had a reason to live until his life flashed before his eyes and he saw his wife, as a pretty girl, then as a beautiful young woman giving birth to his son and his son growing from a baby into a young boy. The same boy who waited for his father's return somewhere in the Blue sector where Jonah had silently hated his life and never noticed how lucky he was until now.
"Wait..." he whispered, trying to find his voice. He raised his hands above his shoulder, noticing that they were stained red with Frank's blood. Red.
"Did you say something, fag?" one of the Blues said, stepping in close and scowling.
"Wait," Jonah said, louder this time a pathetic attempt at saving himself. "I'm...I'm a Blue, like you..."
Laughter shook the gang of men, for obviously they didn't see a Blue man standing in front of them; they saw a Purple trying to lie his way out of being killed.
"No, really...I am!" Jonah cried, scratching at his skin with his fingers, trying to uncover the blue underneath, but of course it wouldn't come off without a sonic shower. And even if it had, he couldn't have stopped the bullet from discharging and piercing the flesh of his chest. The pain was unbearable and Jonah fell at once to the ground where his blood poured from the wound, thick and warm and red.
Red. Just like Frank's. Just like any human's, no matter what color their skin was then black, for when you were dead you were dead, and colors didn't matter anymore.
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