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Arisia'17 Student Writing Contest - 3rd Place Winner


By Kaleigh Perkins

Spectrum Seven is born at twenty-one years old.

He breathes in, tastes salt and blood as his lungs expand for the first time, registers confusion (gray) and apathy (gray) and nothingness (black) as he opens his eyes to a dark room. It’s crowded, cluttered with things that his brain slowly fills in the words for-- control panels coverthestainlesssteelcountertops, machinerylinesthewallsoftheroom,a generator smokes and buzzes from where it lies propped up in the back corner. A hundred and one sketchbook pages lie scattered across the metal countertop in front of him, covered in diagrams and crude notes and calculations.

He reaches up to press his hand against the glass in front of him, feels the tug from the wires and needles attached to his body and listens to the beeping of the monitor to the right of him whine piteously as he moves.

He stares at his forearm, a juxtaposition of brand new skin stretched taut over fully developed muscles, studies the crudely tattooed number at the flat of his wrist-- seven-- and feels nothing, nothing, nothing.

Seven is not born so much as he is created.

The first thing Seven learns is that he has a purpose. It takes three days for him to become a perfect shot with a rifle, with a handgun, with anything he can fit in his palm, takes even less time for him to learn which arteries to cut open to leave a man dead in seconds. He was created to be a killing machine.
He is not a good person-- he’s hardly a person to begin with-- and he knows that. He accepts it. He relishes in it.
He kills and he maims and he sells his talents out to the highest bidder and when he catches someone in the scope of his rifle or in reach of his knife and when he kills them, he doesn’t feel a single ounce of regret. He feels apathy (gray) and he feels indifference (gray) and h e feels nothing at all. There’s nothing particularly original about his brand of violence. He’s a cold-blooded killer. It’s what he was created for, and that’s all there is to it.
Well, mostly.
Until the war ends, and Seven is left drifting.
And in the middle of the biting cold winter he gets assigned as a protection detail for the daughter of a famous diplomat; a girl, naïve and innocent, half his size and twice as reckless. She had been caught on the wrong side of the war-- the losing side, he’s told, and in the chaos and confusion of the aftermath, she had dismissed the death threats and the poisoned letters and the calls for her head; she had used her father’s money and her mother’s attorney and she had given a public apology at a press meeting which Seven watches on Youtube the night before he meets her.
In the darkness of his tiny pay-by-the-hour motel room, he watches her simper and cry over what she had done, hears her admit that she had been afraid, and thinks maybe that part might be true.
He loads a cartridge into his rifle as he watches her say that she hadn’t understood the severity of her actions until it was too late, and knows that part isn’t.

He sees the girl for the first time in the garden through the lens of his rifle.
Her name is Eliana.
She is blonde and blue-eyed and pretty in a dramatic sort of way, positively doting to the people who are useful to her, disregarding and often utterly hostile towards the people who aren’t. She treats Seven as a necessary annoyance, at best, never bothers to mask her hatred of him, of who he is and what he is and what he represents, of how he fits into the life they’re forced to share. She’s sarcastic. Rude. Dismissive. And her gaze is heavy with judgement and thick with distaste and the way she looks at Seven reminds him of how countless doctors had studied him beneath the fine lens of a microscope-- like he’s been found lacking. Like he’s there, but not really. Not entirely.
She’s a mystery.
She simpers at her father’s guests, smiles and laughs when she’s told, is flimsy and fake and entirely see-through when she needs to be, commanding and unavoidable when she isn’t. Everything about her seems to conflict itself. She talks too softly and laughs too loudly and smokes too many cigarettes, eats too many eclairs, spends an immeasurable amount of time alone on her stone verandah despite the red-faced suitors her father shoves at her who practically beg for her attention.
She’s treated well.
She’s still not happy, and Seven doesn’t understand why.
She wears thick, long scarves in an array of extravagant colors-- crimson and primrose-blue, goldenrod yellow and dusky pink-- and she never takes them off, not even indoors, too ashamed scars across her neck, pink and puckered and waxy, an ever-present reminder of the consequences of her actions that had led to her life now. And Seven--
He gets that, at least.

The winter continues, and Seven finds himself around Eliana far more than he’d like to-- far more than is necessary, actually, because he’d made it perfectly clear to her father that all he needed was a vantage point and a sniper rifle to defend his dear, sweet little daughter, but--regardless, it’s something he has to do. He takes to carrying a knife instead, standing off in the corner like some sort of awkwardly superfluous outsider to all of her conversations, always there but never quite included. There are dinners, balls, afternoon tea times and shopping trips and garden strolls and always, always, Seven is there.
It’s tedious (gray) and it’s boring (gray) and it doesn’t matter.
He’s not sure what it is. He wasn’t created for things like this, things that were meant to inspire feeling. It’s not something he’s familiar with.
It makes interacting with Eliana particularly difficult. Because--
Seven knows what she tries to do to him, what she tries to incite from him-- anger, he thinks, probably, or any sort of reaction at all-- but it just doesn’t work. She takes an oddly cruel sort of delight in attempting to annoy him. She interrupts him constantly, asks him deliberately biting questions in the sweetest voice she can manage, delivers biting insults disguised as backhanded compliments that he isn’t in any position to be able to respond to, not if he wants to avoid incurring the wrath of her father.
So he says nothing. He does nothing. He feels nothing, like he’s supposed to, like he was born and bred and created to do. And she resents him for it, and she continues to poke and prod at him, searching for a sore spot, a weakness, something she can exploit and expose and use as easily as she uses everything and everyone around her--
So she pushes, she tests his limits and his patience and she needles and needles until finally--
"I mean, you’re hardly human," she exclaims airily over the dinner table, stabbing a slice of lamb brisket with the silver tines of her fork. It’s rare, too rare, practically still bleeding and aching and raw as she says, "I’d feel sorry for your parents, but-- lucky you, didn’t even have any--"
Seven’s hand tightens around his knife hard enough that his knuckles turn white from the pressure, and something nauseatingly warm blossoms like a bruise against his ribs, something faint and barely-there and imperceptible but still somehow enough to knock him off balance, out of orbit, sending him off into a violently volatile tailspin--
He doesn’t look up, and he doesn’t meet her eyes, and he takes a perfectly acceptable gulp of wine and he feels irritation (red) and frustration (crimson) and anger (scarlet) and he wonders, blankly, what is happening to him.
In the aftermath, their relationship-- if it could even be called that-- it changes.                    
The sniping and the taunting and the jagged, stilted tension that’s marked their interactions since the very beginning remains the same, but there are impossibly brief moments of mutual understanding that, individually, are completely nonsensical, but when lined up side by side, stacked neatly on top of each other, paint a picture that Seven doesn’t necessarily want to consider the ramifications of.
Eliana watches him, sometimes, gaze steely and calculating from across ballrooms and dinner tables, and something about it is unsettling.
He only knows because he watches her too.

Winter weans.
The snow melts off of the neatly manicured hedges, and the barren tangle of spindly branches begins to grow budding leaves, turning the garden into an impeccably organized maze of green foliage.
Eliana’s father throws a spring dinner party. Seven attends because he has to, because it’s his responsibility, and he stands off to the sidelines like he always does, transparent, but not quite fortunate enough to be entirely invisible.
The dinner is bland. It’s unpleasantly warm, unseasonably humid, and Seven is sweating. He’s tired. He hopes it isn’t obvious. Eliana is seated across from him at the long oak table, strategically seated next to a man who is obviously rich, going by his clothes-- custom-tailored and steam pressed, shiny silver cuff links and an even shinier Rolex on his left wrist, conspicuously placed to attract as much attention as possible. He’s also very obviously infatuated with her, but she-- isn’t. Her laugh is fake, and her smile is flimsy, not the slightest bit authentic; he can see the way her lips pucker in distaste the same way they do whenever
Seven’s presence is even so much as mentioned. But it’s a little different, he notices, she seems to be being a bit kinder about it. The thought settles poorly, and annoyance (orange) prickles under his starched suit collar.
The man beside Eliana waits an entirety of five minutes after the food had been cleared to awkwardly ask her if she’d like to be excused. Her expression is perfectly placid and her posture is seamless and she accepts with a grace that Seven had forgotten she was capable of. The man is important, Seven gathers; if not to her, then to her father.
She leaves, and he follows.
They meander throughout the halls and eventually wind up in a tastefully-decorated drawing room, and Eliana, he notices, is drunk. Her shoulders are relaxed, cheeks flushed, movements more than a little wobbly as she collapses on the edge of a velvet-upholstered armchair, fingers tangling absentmindedly in the crocheted lace shift placed lengthwise across the seat.
Seven stands by the door, half obscured in shadow, uncertain as to whether or not he should make his presence known-- it was his job, after all, to protect her, to make sure she was safe, always, even when he didn’t want to, even when he wished, desperately, that he didn’t have to be here for this to inevitably happen--
The voices from behind the heavy oak door fade in and out, fluctuating in volume-- there’s his, cocky and more than a little grating, and then there was hers, always just a little too loud to mask her insecurity. If he wanted to, he could listen more closely, could make out every single word they’re saying-- he was made for that, after all. Perfect hearing, perfect vision, perfect everything-- But he doesn’t want to, not really, he doesn’t want to see or hear or think about anything on the other side of that door and he mostly just doesn’t want to think about the things that make him different and inhuman and--

It’s a new emotion that carves out a crevice in his chest this time, something cold and wet and miserable-- sadness (steel blue) or discontent (burgundy) or something, something bad. He wonders blankly why it’s so important to everyone that he feel this, feel anything, really, when it doesn’t help, it doesn’t make him better or somehow more whole.
Seven sighs, drawn-out and low, and leans against the wall, picking at the cranberry fleur-de-lis symbols pasted over the cream-colored wallpaper.
"-don’t understand why you keep him around, it’s positively tragic."
Seven tenses up.
On the other side of the door, Eliana waits a precisely perfunctory thirty seconds before replying. "And why, exactly, is that tragic?" she replies, voice taking on a sort of artificial sticky-sweetness, like lukewarm caramel.
The man lowers his voice. "It’s just-- He’s not even real, is he? He’s not even properly human. It’s an abomination, really, a sort of-- monster of science."
"I don’t really see how it’s any of your business," she says, tone just barely polite.
"And your father lets that thing near you? God, I’m surprised you aren’t dead--" "Certainly," Eliana suddenly coos, voice overloud, too-sharp, discordant and harsh in the airy acoustics of the drawing room. "But, regardless. Say, is it true-- I heard your father gambled away your inheritance. That would make you awfully poor now, wouldn’t it, darling? But, don’t worry, I’m sure someone will be able to look past that. Chin up."
Seven blinks. Swallows. Blinks again--
She’s defending him.
And he would think nothing of it, really, would pass it off as her being strange, caused by stress or alcohol or any number of things, except--
Her thoughts about him have always been completely identical. There’s no reason why hearing them being spoken aloud by someone else should make her angry, certainly not angry on his behalf. It’s like-- it’s like she thinks that somehow only she’s allowed to say it. And it would be funny, he thinks, maybe it would be funny, maybe it will be funny, but right now it isn’t. It just-- it makes him feel strange, makes his head buzz with something he can’t be bothered to identify--
The door opens and Eliana stumbles out into the semi-darkness of the hallway, and runs into him by accident, entirely by accident, and he reaches out and grabs her elbows to steady her and listens to his heartbeat speed up, echoing the waltzing beat of the string quartet beginning to play outside-- one-two-three one-two-three-- and he thinks he must be sick. He doesn’t move. She doesn’t let him. The rubber insulation of the door squeaks against the wooden floor and the lock snicks into place, the sound quiet and inconspicuous, and Eliana is staring at him like he’s a stranger again. Her purple silk scarf that she had worn that day-- the one that matched her dress-- it’s slipping down her neck and he can see the very edges of the nasty, jagged scar across her vocal chords and she seems honestly, truly vulnerable for the first time since he’d met her. Seven is uncertain (viridian, emerald, green like her eyes, greener than anything he’s even seen) and he’s debating whether or not to move, whether or not to flee, when--
She does it for him.
Of course she does.

He finds her on her veranda.
The air is immobile, still sticky and hot even as the sun sets behind a ragged row of pine trees, inky black against the horizon. She isn’t looking at him. There is a cigarette pinched between her thumb and forefinger. She hasn’t lit it.
In the long, drawn-out, almost tangible silence, Seven nearly forgets why he followed her; why he’s standing there, surrounded by all the ingredients for a truly horrific disaster and just-- waiting. Holding his breath.
"I didn’t like you when we first met," she says-- no, no, she confesses, like it’s a secret, even though it absolutely isn’t. "I didn’t-- you weren’t important. At all."
"I know," he says, haltingly.
She continues as if he hadn’t spoken. "I didn’t think you were-- human. And then I did." "Yes, well," Seven mumbles, voice surprisingly raw, rumbling, too-loud in the stillness of the surrounding air, "I didn’t think so either."
She looks at him--finally, finally, finally-- and her answering grin is crooked, slanted and pointedly skeptical.
"I’ve killed people," he admits. "In the war. Good people."
She adjusts the scarf, twists a loose thread around and around her finger, watching the skin tighten and pucker as she cuts off the blood flow. "So have I." There is a long, tense pause. "I don’t regret it."
Seven steps forward, feels the sensation of vertigo, of standing over the edge of a cliff and looking down at the clouds and the rubble and the uncertainty of what would come next. "I know," he says.
"I’m not a good person." "Neither am I," he admits. And--
The kiss, when it comes, isn’t a surprise.
It’s something that Seven isn’t sure he knew how to want, before. But now--
Now he wants so much that it envelops his abdomen and squeezes the air from his lungs and oh, he wants this, wants her, wants this moment and a thousand million more, even if it means arguing and fighting and proving her wrong no matter the subject and no matter the consequences, wants to chase this like a firefly in a mason jar and wants her, wants her, wants--

He wonders if that’s what it means to be human-- not to feel, not to need, just-- Wanting.
He feels want.
It’s bright, bright yellow.