photo credits here, edited.
by larissa chia
The average human sees approximately only 7 million hues of colours. But we see a hundred times more. We are the members of Chromata.
Christine’s bated breath quickened as her legs struggled to propel her forward, her mud-caked shoes slapping against the road. She waited for the right moment, then skidded under the truck. The deafening screech pierced her ears as the truck ran past, throwing some sand onto her. She jerked her head away from the gruesome sight, then, hugging the brown paper pack, slid down the steep cliff, below the main road, into the forest below.
Christine’s hard landing sent withered yellow leaves into the fire pit, which crackled and smoked.
“Hey!” Sam, the youngest, shouted in indignation as the group disappointedly watched the last embers of the flames die out, rubbing and breathing into their hands to keep warm.
“You don’t look good. What happened?” Alex reached out for the bag which Christine clutched tightly to her chest. The sweet scent of caramel wafted into their noses as the precious almond croissants were handed out.
“Listen. They’re close. I was almost caught by a Giant Schnauzer just now.” The croissants that were shoved halfway into their wide-opened mouths paused in midway. The small group of children looked up at their leader expectedly. Alex sighed, and massaged his temples. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it, the look in his eyes saying more than he could ever put in words.
“But we just got here! I’m sick and tired of running. Summer, I want to go home!” Sam wailed and stumbled up from where he sat, tugging onto his sister’s jacket.
“Hush, Sam. You know there is no such place, not anymore!” Summer hissed, her watery eyes betraying her harsh tone.
All at once, the silence that filled the air was thick, painful. None of the kids knew where each of their parents were, not even whether they existed, since that morning.
Everything they once had was gone. They had all received chocolates with icing, that transmitted the lethal, life-changing note from their parents, when in school. The same thing had happened to all of them. All they learnt was that their parents were members of an association called Chromata. Their mission was to find one another, then go to Gamla stan in Stockholm, Sweden, to search for a place known as Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (I.V.I.C.).
It had not been easy for them to find each other, with people stalking and tracking Alex and Christine ever since that day. Sam and Summer Dubois, who lived in Wisconsin, America, had to run away from the orphanage which they were sent to. To get to Lorraine, France, they had to feign their parents’ signature to book the first flight there. Alexandre Garcia and Christine Lefebvre had grown up in farms on Lorraine as childhood friends, and it had been easier for them to hide in the forests which they had once held delicious pique-niques and hide-and-seek games.
“Alex, there’s something you should know too.” Christine was the first to break the silence. All eyes turned to her. “I went home while on my way back. Everything was in a mess, as expected. But there was a portrait of a man painted by Mama on the wall of Monsieur Vilaire’s shed, which must have been painted on that day. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been scrubbed off.”
Alex’s eyes focused on Christine. She knew her mother’s works best, for she was a great artist herself.
“Draw the man you saw on our way to Stockholm. We’ve got to move.”
The Gamla stan station of the Stockholm metro was decorated with mosaics and medieval paintings on the walls and floor. “Built in 1957, designed by Goran Dahl in 1998.” Summer stated matter-of-factly, intrigued by the medieval mosaic tiles she traced with her fingers.
“How did you know that?” Christine gaped, wide-eyed at the younger girl’s nonchalance towards her wealth of knowledge. Summer slid an iPhone out of her hoodie, revealing a sheepish grin at the praise. As her fingers swept over the lines engraved on the cold cement, she let out a yelp.
“Look! This pattern spells an inverted I.V.I.C., and it points to…. there!” Summer ran her hand along the wall, her fingers following till it reached the intricately embossed carving of an eye.
The group crowded round to inspect the tile of an eye with a multi-coloured iris.
Ducking in front of his sister, Sam reached out to touch the tile. “The tile’s loose. Is there something hidden behind it?” With a twist of the brick, the tile fell out, producing a rustling sound. With his small hand, Sam pulled out a brown paper, tinged with yellow blotches from age.
The letter read, “In the 18th century, the Young-Helmholtz trichromatic theory was proposed. It explained why humans could see colours, because of the three different cone cells in our retinas. 1801, Johann Ritter discovered UV light, which required sophisticated technology to view paint of a frequency… At the time, the Napoleonic Wars was occurring too, and a secret department of an army experimented on 30 child specimens between six to fifteen years old. They approached me, Gunnar Svaetichin, to modify their genes. By then, I had found physiological evidence of trichromacy in animals, which I published in 1956. I was made to modify the genes of these kids, who were trained to be spies. It was so they could transmit messages, spot objects, particles, that would appear all the same to other humans. But the genetic engineering meant their children would inherit the same ability – to see billion shades of colours, instead of only 7 million.In the lab, these people are known as Chromatians. Now, the same army is hunting down all Chromatians. I do not know who they are, but their technology has not been advanced enough to see what you can, for your genes have mutated a lot over time. I’m sorry for the harm I have done. This is the only advice I can offer – Run while you can.”