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A Voice the Color of Blood

Hugo and three-time Nebula Award finalist Caroline M. Yoachim is a prolific author of short stories, appearing in Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed, among other places (such as Daily Science Fiction). Her work has been reprinted in multiple year's best anthologies and translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Czech. Yoachim's debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out in 2016. For more, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.
My senses are overwhelmed by the navy blue rumble of a distant explosion. A hush falls over the barracks as we listen for alien missiles outside. I close my eyes and wait in colorless silence.
A coyote howls--a sunny yellow sound--and it breaks the tension in the room. My fellow soldiers return to the vibrant orange of their raucous conversations. I focus on Lorelei's voice--a deep crimson against the orange cacophony. Her words pour into my mind in the color of blood. Lorelei asked me one time what her voice looks like, and I described it as pomegranate red. Despite the rough conditions out here, she's never liked the sight of blood, and saying her voice sounds like pomegranates seemed more romantic.
It's a new experience for me. Not the synesthesia--I've always had that--but hearing a specific person's voice for one of my colors. Lorelei's red used to sound like violins: Autumn from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I can't remember when or how the shift happened. Was there a moment of transition when her voice was accompanied by the music? I guess it's like falling in love--I can't tell you exactly when it happened, but afterwards we knew.
Lorelei tells me in gorgeous crimson words that she wants to have our wedding as soon as we get home from our tour of duty in the outer colonies. We've decided that both of us will wear our dress uniforms in the traditional white. She wants lilies for the bouquets and navy dresses for the bridesmaids. "Will that sound okay?"
I consider the combination--white is a windy color, subtle and quiet, which will blend nicely with the low rumble of navy. The red of her voice will stand out nicely against those colors. "It will be beautiful, but are you sure you don't want roses? We can find some that match your voice."
"I want my voice to be the only red you see that day," she says.
I don't tell her that I hear her voice in bits and pieces everywhere, speaking words that sometimes make no sense. Even in the middle of a war zone there's crimson on cigarette boxes and the glowing eyes of our alien attackers and anytime someone bleeds. Back home, the color will be everywhere--even if we warn people in advance, some wedding guest will inadvertently wear lipstick in that shade, or carry a purse that color. I enjoy having reminders of her everywhere I go, but if it makes her happy to think of the color as hers, who am I to argue? "Any time you speak, my entire world is red."
Another explosion rattles the barracks. This one is closer and so loud that the navy blue is tinged with purple. The crisp lemon-yellow bugle notes of the call to arms appear even before the colors of the explosion have faded. We suit up and file out of the barracks into the darkness of night--piano notes in b minor, punctuated with faint whispers of two windy-white moons. The spotlights on a makeshift tower behind us shine out past the perimeter so we can see anything that's coming our way.
Hundreds of aliens rush across the band of light, and I'm overwhelmed by the clicking of their mint green carapaces. My world is a muddle of color and sound. There are neon yellow flashes of gunfire from all directions and screams in shades that range from hot pink to lime green. Lorelei falls to the ground.
Everything stops, and the chaos of color fades to the b-flat piano blackness of night. The battle is over. We've won.
Lorelei does not move. She does not speak. Her uniform is soaked with blood.
I hear her voice.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

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