The Color of _____

K't weaved through the bulkheads and fiber ducts of the starship's control deck. His beak clacked together in excitement and the six, thick tentacles radiating from his body flit about as he sped along. He whirled around the corner when another X'ntht ran into him in midair. They tumbled to the soft, elastic floor of white-pink tissue. K't found himself pinned by the other's longer tentacles.

The spots on her body fluctuated in color, a prismatic rush of adrenaline. The ever-changing pattern spelled out, "I got you!"

K't slipped out of her grip and hovered high into the humid air. His tentacles waved playfully, and his skin spots flashed bright yellow. "You are too fast, Aka'a," he signed.

"You want to play different game?" she asked. K't could barely understand her because her skin was changing color so quickly.

"Yes, yes, hide and seek!" he replied enthusiastically.

Aka'a bobbed up and down affirmatively. "Seven counts!" she said. "Go hide now!" She started to snap her beak.

"No use smell!" K't insisted as he flew away. "Only use eye!" He didn't get to see Aka'a's reponse as she disappeared from view. He squeezed himself into a darkened corner between the ship's fleshy columns and morphed into the coloration of his surroundings. He clung to the wall and waited for Aka'a to reach seven counts.

Her beak clacked the seventh time, and then there was silence. He waited perfectly still. His large eye at the center of his body blinked frequently as he scanned for signs of movement.

Moments later, Aka'a appeared darting straight towards him. He attempted to get away, but before he knew it, she had her tentacles wrapped around him. "Got you again!" she squeaked.

"How you find me?" he asked.

"You hide in same place every time!" she said. "Do you want me find you?"

Before he could reply, a strip of light in the ceiling began flashing bright blue. "The Ship Commander wants us on the bridge," he said.

"Come on!" Aka'a piped. "I'll race you there!"

"Okay, but you will win this time too."

"We see!" Aka'a said and let go of him. "On count three! One…two…three!"

They both dashed through the hallways as fast as they could. K't swerved to avoid beams that stretched across the passages. He was surprised to see that Aka'a wasn't ahead of him. It wasn't long before they arrived at the bridge. Both of them glistened with perspiration.

"K't, you beat me!" Aka'a exclaimed.

"I…I did?" he asked. He noticed that Aka'a's flotation sacs were still full, and realized she had let him win. He was about to inquire when a sharp clicking came from behind him. He turned to face the Ship Commander.

"Here, here! Look, look!" the X'thnt said, waving towards the viewscreen unit on the wall.

"What is it, K'lith?" Aka'a asked, hovering over the viewscreen.

K'lith wrapped her tentacles around the viewscreen controls and zoomed in on a silver object drifting through space ahead. Its blocky shape was outlined against the brilliance of a red-orange nebula a few hundred million miles ahead.

"A space rock?" K't wondered.

K'lith zoomed in further. K't saw clearly that it wasn't a space rock. It was too organized and patterned to be of natural design.

Aka'a glowed. "A ship!" she said with great difficulty. Her skin cycled through vibrant colors from excitement she couldn't contain.

"That's a strange ship," K't remarked. "It looks like a rock."

"It is very big," K'lith added. "Ten times ours!"

"But…it has no color," Aka'a said.

"No color?" K't asked. "How no color? How does it speak? What ship has no color?"

"No X'ntht ship," K'lith answered.

Aka'a flashed with yellows and oranges. "Other-worlders!" she said.

"Other-worlders!" K't repeated. "Let us speak with them! Send them many colors!"

K'lith touched a number of nodes growing out of the wall. They glowed dimly for a few moments, and then the ship's bulbous surface rippled with rainbow-like waves. The X'ntht watched and waited for the other-worlder ship to respond, but after a number of minutes, nothing happened.

"Why they show no colors?" K't asked. "Can they see us? I do not think their ship has an eye."

"See! Look there!" Aka'a said pointing. The other-worlder ship was slowly turning towards them.

Lights flickered on the walls and ceilings. K'lith flew over to attend them. "There is big energy field around other-worlder ship," she said. "Magnetic field too."

"They want to play!" K't cheered. "Play! Play! Play!"

"Send more colors!" Aka'a suggested. "We want to play too! We want fun! Fun! Fun!"

Suddenly, lights appeared on the side of the other-worlder ship. They were faint at first, no more than hazy, blue glows, but the lights grew until they were as bright as the nearby stars.

"Big energy!" K'lith said. "They make magnetic field connect to us! Sharing! They are fun!"

"Look! Colors! Colors! Flying colors!" K't squealed delightedly. He saw them well – shining, blue streaks of light-energy zooming towards their ship along the path of the magnetic field.

"They want to play catch with us!" Aka'a said. "Catch the flying colors!"

K'lith lit up in agreement and steered the ship towards the cluster of lights. All three of them eagerly stared at the viewscreen as the lights closed in at rapid speed.

Then, the lights hit. K't and Aka'a were thrown across the deck and slammed into the cushioning walls with high-pitched screeches. The lights and viewscreen of the control units faded out of existence. There was a deep, rumbling moan from within the depths of the ship as the color started to leave the walls. Soon, the X'ntht were floating in a gray expanse of almost complete darkness. A tingling feeling stung at K't's skin, a feeling he was very unfamiliar with; he was cold.

"What was that?" Aka'a immediately asked. "Why does our ship have no colors?"

"They play!" K't responded. "Their ship has no colors, so they want us no colors! Now we can be friends! They love us!"

K'lith darted off towards the lower decks of the ship. K't and Aka'a followed.

"Why they love with no colors?" K't asked Aka'a, moving in close to her. "There always colors…right, right?"

Aka'a hugged him comfortingly. Her warmth spread into him. "They are other-worlders. I do not know if they love with colors or no colors."

"But colors mean happy happy love love!" K't continued. "How do they give color to make color go away? Will it come back?"

Aka'a responded by only squeezing him tighter. They floated down through a vertical passage before arriving in a long hall filled with X'ntht flitting all over the place. They moved too quickly for him to see what they were saying.

K'lith looked at them and then at a X'ntht in the center of the room. It lay floating limply in the air. A cloud of fluid surrounded it. K't noticed immediately that its skin was without color. K'lith approached it slowly and prodded it with her tentacles. The X'ntht did not move, react, or show any colors.

"Why has he no colors?" K't asked. "Is he like ship?"

"Yes," Aka'a explained. "He is like ship. He is _____."

K't blinked at Aka'a curiously. He didn't understand the last word. "_____?" he did his best to imitate.

"Yes, _____," Aka'a affirmed.

"What means _____?" K't asked.

"_____ means no colors. _____ means no love. Bad thing."

"Won't he regenerate? He will be reborn, right, right?"

"No, he will not. He is _____."

"I do not understand."
"He will speak no more," Aka'a tried to explain, but she received an empty and confused stare.

"Can…can we ask other-worlders to play with us?" K't continued to ask. "Can we ask them to give colors back?"

He was interrupted by a clanking noise that echoed throughout the ship. A hollow silence followed. Aka'a pulled K't closer to her. No one said anything. No one moved, save for a slight flicking of tentacles.

Shafts of white light appeared in the hallway ahead. They danced and skipped about in the fog. The X'ntht watched with the collective knowledge that someone, or something, was coming.

Then, the X'ntht saw them – colorless beings with metallic skin, four rigid tentacles, and a rounded lobe jutting out of the top. Their upper tentacles gripped long, black devices. They moved unnaturally through the zero-gravity environment, running into the walls often, and floated towards the X'ntht on the opposite end of the room with blinding lights glaring form the bottom of the devices they carried.

K'lith was the first to speak. She changed color slowly. "Hello, other-worlders," she said. "We love you. Can we play with you? Do you like color?"

"Play!" another X'ntht said nearby.

The closest other-worlder held up its device. Without warning, a deafening crack split the air. A beam of intense, green light went straight at K'lith. She gave a screech before going motionless. Her skin faded to gray.

"Color!" a X'ntht exclaimed.

"Play! Play!" the others chanted.

All at once, the X'ntht flung themselves at the other-worlders, tentacles spread far apart in greeting. The room instantly filled with green flashes and rays. Struck X'ntht drifted towards the other-worlders, colorless.

K't was about to rush towards the mystifying lights when Aka'a pulled him back. "Aka'a, they give us color!" he protested. "Let go! Why you no let go? Other-worlders love us!"

Aka'a held a tight grip and carried him to the upper deck, avoiding the lights in the hot air. "I no let go! Other-worlders give no color! They take it!"

"What about K'lith?"

"K'lith has no color. K'lith is _____!"

"_____? And the others?"

"They _____ too." She brought them over to the ship's control nodes.

"What we do now? We…we play?"

Aka'a began to fidget with the controls, but the ship didn't respond. When color failed to return to the ship after several seconds, she backed away from the controls. Her skin turned pale blue. "K't," she said, "this is no game."

K't felt it was well, something he had never felt before. It made his skin feel like ice, and his insides pulsated with uneasiness.

Fear.

"What we do? What we do?" he asked frantically. "Maybe…maybe if we give them more colors –"

"K't! K't, they make us _____! We must…we must do bad thing." She paused. "We must make them _____."

K't grabbed Aka'a forcefully, panicked. "No, no we can't! That bad thing!"

"The only way to stop bad thing," she explained, "is to do bad thing." They glanced at the chute connecting to the lower deck. The lights were getting closer. "Come on!" She pulled him deeper into the ship. "Hide and seek!"

Just as they were about to move behind a bulkhead, the lights appeared on the other side of the deck. Dark silhouettes of the other-worlders floated behind them.

The green beams shot out. The air heated up around them as the beams narrowly missed.

K't and Aka'a pressed themselves against the wall and tried to change to its colorless texture, but could not. The lights were moving quickly towards them.

"What we do!?" K't flashed.

Aka'a hugged him tensely. "Take their color."

"No…no, me do no bad thing. All deserve color."

"If you want color you must take it."

K't stared at Aka'a. "I don't understand. Like games. You always get me. Why you let me win?"

The booming noise of the other-worlders' devices came again. The entire deck lit green. K't felt his skin boil as a ray went straight through Aka'a.

"Aka'a!" he cried. "AKA'A!"

Her body went cold in his tentacles. The color slowly faded from her skin. A last message remained imprinted on her body.

"You got me. You always have."

K't flushed red. A wave of emotions erupted from within him, emotions he couldn't understand or control. He scurried behind the wall for cover to escape the lights. Aka'a was still clutched in his tentacles. He heard the other-worlders moving closer to pursue. Their lights neared the corner.

He wrapped a free tentacle around a nearby, metal support beam. Hesitantly, he tore it free. The metal screeched and howled until it broke loose. K't eyed the end of the shaft. It was extremely sharp.

He stared at it as the other-worlders came closer. Thoughts rushed through him, indecision threatened to drop the shard.

But when an other-worlder rounded the corner, he pulled Aka'a towards him, shut his eye, and then, with all his strength, he threw.