Sea of Orange
"Ally!" yelled a scientist from the other room, staring at the Maraquan Uni lying on the examining table. "Are you all right? Was the experiment a success?"
She looked down at herself. "I suppose it was," she answered. "Thanks! I've always wanted to look like this, you know!"
"Remember that we didn't just do this out of kindness," added another observing the experimentation. "This was a test of the new paint brushes, made out of cheaper material so that they can be more accessible. Realize that this is only a small part of our larger plan, which you now must agree to."
"I know." Ally had always dreamed of being painted Maraquan, but she'd never quite been able to afford to pay for the paint brush. When she'd heard about an experiment to replicate the effects of various brushes, only with cheaper materials, she'd leapt at the chance.
Yet, at the same time, she didn't quite agree with the true purpose within this trial testing. The purpose for the color changes was to guarantee exact conformity in all Neopian worlds. Once the process was perfected, all Kreludans would have to be orange, all Darigans would have to be Darigan, and so on. Ally had a strange feeling that this would only bring sorrow and disillusionment, but she said nothing. If she did, Professor Miller and Doctor White might take away her paint brush privileges. And she didn't want that to happen.
"Hold on, dear," interrupted Doctor White. He gestured to his cohort and continued, "There appears to be a discolored portion of the mane right here."
"Let me see." Professor Miller looked closely, wrote on a clipboard, and muttered, "Experiment failure. We'll have to examine the Maraquan paint more thoroughly before conducting any more next time."
Ally picked up a mirror and noticed that the scientists were taking the issue far too seriously. The 'discolored' part of her now-white mane was merely a streak of teal hair similar to a highlight.
"You're overreacting," she explained. "It's just a small highlight."
"It is a flaw," enunciated Professor Miller. "We'll try it with a new brush later, okay? Just... don't leave. We need you for the operation."
"You don't need to go to all this work," countered Ally. "To tell you the truth, I kind of... like it. In a world of conformity, I'd feel much better if I had at least some kind of calling card. Even if it's being known as 'the girl with the blueberries-and-cream hair' and nothing else. So, if possible, can I keep it in?"
"Whatever," sighed one of her supervisors. "I don't quite understand your reasoning, but if that's what makes you happy, then we'll use the new paint on someone else." Everyone else walked off to start their Plan B operation, leaving Ally alone to think.
"Ugh," she sighed. "Sometimes, I can't believe these guys. Can't they see that it's impossible to be an individual in a world where everyone is exactly the same?" Ally clutched a small piece of rose quartz from her pocket, the lucky stone she'd found when she when she was young, and whispered, "I wish that someone could show them just how ignorant they are..."
Ally awoke the next day to a cry of 'Eureka!' from one of the scientists. She instantly came back to the experimenting room to investigate what had happened.
"We finally perfected the Maraquan paint brush!" yelled Doctor White. "Quickly, load the materials into the submarine and get to Maraqua as soon as possible!"
"Wait, not yet," corrected Professor Miller. "I appreciate your enthusiasm, but remember that we will beta-test this process on Kreludor before going to any other lands. It could take a few years before the entire process is completed. But it shall be well worth our time."
"Yes," agreed Doctor White. "It shall." Just then, a transmission was about to come in.
"It's from two years in the future!" yelled Ally, seeing the contact data displayed on screen.
"A message from the future, eh?" wondered Professor Miller. "It could prove useful to us." He pressed the red button, allowing a Purple Xweetok with a strange orange mane to enter the screen.
"Don't you play Yooyuball?" asked Ally to the speaker on the transmission.
"My name is Sela," replied the Xweetok. "I play for the Virtupets team. But that's not important. I live in Kreludor, despite playing for said team, so I know what happens with your operation. It's not good at all. You must know what is happening now. It is the only way for the future to change."
The Kreludor landscape appeared on screen. Everything was orange, just as the scientists had planned. But for some dark reason, everything wasn't entirely right...
"It wasn't like this a year ago," Sela started. "As you know, Kreludor is largely made up of purple and orange Neopets. But the purple ones are beginning to disappear altogether. Just today, I learned that I must have the color-change operation soon. But you must see what is going on here. If you all work together, you can save all of us..."
At first, the color-change operation had a miniscule impact on Sela's life. She'd first found out about it after hearing from a Purple Grundo she knew from her childhood in Kreludor. Originally, she thought that it was merely a silly fad, and didn't think that it would affect her in any way, shape, or form.
Then, once all the Grundos had been affected by the color change, the scientists moved on to all other non-orange inhabitants of Kreludor. Sela later heard that Derlyn Fonnet, the forward for the national Yooyuball team, had been forced to become orange, despite her rebellion against the idea. Derlyn then decided to dye her curly hair a bright red (so as to not blend in with her fur) and took off for Moltara. Sela never saw her again after that.
Sooner or later, she would find that everyone either got the color change or moved away. Some moved willingly. Some were driven out. But in the end, the result was always the same.
For those who would not take this issue lying down, supervisors were brought to the area to try to get them to assimilate. These overseers were, for the most part, dispatched to increase morale and try to convince the wary about just how great the color change could be. Before long, Sela was seen as one of these rebels, and (as a result) an orange Zafara named Kimora was assigned to her.
While Kimora was kind and grew to become a friend to Sela, she still worked for the corporation, and seemed to badger her into the color change nearly every day. The more she tried to convince her, though, the less and less she wanted to go through with it. Sela's former companions were either leaving or changing themselves forever one by one. Nearly no one was as they used to be. And going along with the scientists would just mean losing someone else; as the supervisors were only assigned to those few reactionaries who insisted upon keeping Kreludan culture the same as it had always been.
As time passed by, less and less of the original rebellion was present. Society had changed. It had moved by and left Sela behind. She was a Yooyuball star, but people began to forget that. Now, she was just a relic of times lost.
"You still aren't sure about this, are you?" asked Kimora one day.
"I don't think I ever will be," Sela answered. "I know you work for them, but don't you see something wrong with this? What's the point of making everyone alike, anyway? Won't that just make it harder to tell them apart? While I know that you're trying to unite everyone, I just think that you're really separating them from one another. But I doubt you agree."
"The more I see of it," sighed Kimora, "the less I like it. Yet I can't deny that it's just going to keep on going. I know you're trying to make a point here, but can't you see that you just made yourself an outcast as a result? Is it really worth that?"
"Everyone's changed so much that I barely care anymore. They're not just trying to look like everyone else now, they're trying to act like everyone else, feel like everyone else, be like everyone else. Dream like everyone else." The Purple Xweetok scoffed, "There's no way I'll end up like that."
"You know, it's not like there's mind control in the paint brushes," stated Kimora. "You can still be who you always were. You can change on the outside without changing on the inside. In a way, you'll be one of the wiser ones out there."
Sela looked at her violet fur in nostalgia. It had always been that way, and she always thought that it would stay that way forever. But holding on to the status quo could put her in danger. She could end up being driven out of Kreludor, being taken to who knows where.
She would miss the way she had looked. But she would miss her home even more.
"Very well," she whispered. "Sign me up."
A month later, Sela was no longer different. She was painted orange now, like every other member of her kind. Even her trademark orange mohawk, which had helped to distinguish her from other Yooyuball players, had been dyed pink to keep it from blending into her fur after the change. From that moment onwards, she'd been reaccepted into society. But at what cost?
Curious about the results of other lands with the same-color policy, she had journeyed to the Darigan Citadel to study its residents. Upon leaving, she could hear people bidding farewell not to Sela, but to 'that weird girl with the pink mohawk.' Then again, when everyone looked the same, it figured that they would start differentiating by small details: hair color, eye color, clothing styles, and the like. There were still divisions, needless to say. Even a similarity in hues couldn't have changed that.
She stood in the gusts of wind, watching the citizens of the Citadel live out their lives. A male Darigan Hissi was walking along with a Royal Girl Ixi, one of the few civilians out of place. The scientists immediately caught the two, confronting only the Ixi. The Hissi tried to defend her by saying that she was only visiting from out of the area, yet the others just looked on in disbelief, thinking that she was just a rebel. Both were ostracized after that, even though he was no different from the others. By acknowledging an outcast, he was, by default, an outcast as well.
Sela just groaned at the scene. She didn't see what the others saw, after all. To her, it was just two friends, trying to converse among one another. It was an ordinary scene. But, apparently, in a world like this, even everyday events could stir controversy.
Meanwhile, she could see a group of Darigan Gelerts jogging to her left. Each and every one had a frantic look on their faces, to her surprise. She soon found out why, however: an even larger crowd was ganging up behind them.
Shaye fangirls! thought Sela. She chuckled for a while, and then realized: It's almost impossible to tell these Gelerts apart. They probably don't know which one is Tandrak, so they chase after all of them for autographs!
"For the last time," yelled one of the Gelerts, a well-known museum curator. "I'm not the person you're looking for! I've heard of fathers being mistaken for their sons, but this is preposterous!" He ran towards the museum, found a secret entrance, and slammed the door. The fangirls, however, just kept on going.
Just then, Sela realized something: she could change it. All of it. All she needed to do was to alert the people of the past to quit the operation. Perhaps then the future would be bright yet again.
When she returned home, she sent a transmission and began to tell her story...
"I can't believe that any of this is happening," sighed Professor Miller after seeing the message. "All we ever wanted was to make everyone the same! How could a little desire, a simple wish like that go so wrong?"
"It's simple," answered Ally. "Where would society be without individuality? Citizens are called 'individuals' for a reason: even when everyone's the same, they'll still find a way to discriminate one another. It's a fact of life that can't be changed. You just can't please everyone."
"Perhaps," started Doctor White, "we can still use our experiments to make a difference. We could sell them to those Neopians who wish to paint themselves. That way, we could fulfill the wishes of others and create high morale."
"In a way, true happiness could be the way to end discrimination for good," agreed Professor Miller. Both left the room, eagerly looking forward to their new experiment.
"Isn't that what I've been trying to tell them all along?" wondered Ally to herself. "Oh, well. The only way we can prevent this future from happening is to work together, after all. So, even if my partners are somewhat incompetent, I won't let this happen. I'll dedicate my life to changing it. I promise."
Just as she was about to leave for the day, she looked back to the screen to see what the future could become. The future that she was determined to change for the better.
Pride. Patriotism. Independence. History. Tradition.
Ally would be the determining factor. However, only time could tell if the future would be an age of prosperity or a sea of orange.
Thanks to the fans for continuing to support me! I'll try to get as many stories out as possible!