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Watch Your Colors

by Bruno Vitiello

That evening, while I was on my way to my friend Matt’s party, I could never have imagined that my life would change. It was a simple party compared with the usual ones that Matt threw at his beautiful villa. It would have been better for me if I had stayed home that evening and parked myself in front of the 3-D screen. But how could I have known then what I’m realizing now? I was calm, sure of myself without the least suspicion of what was about to happen to me… But let’s start at the beginning.

If you live in Rome and, in particular, frequent that select circle of refined elite called high society, then you undoubtedly know who I am. My name’s Patrick Love and, until a short time ago, I was considered the most incorrigible, charming playboy in Italy’s capital. Since three hundred billion Catholics live in the known galaxy and Rome is still the centre of Catholicism, I considered myself the greatest playboy in the galaxy and thought I was as important as the Pope, at least in the field of love affairs.

Matt’s party was one of those where my presence was required to bestow the necessary touch of teasing worldliness. Those invited would be the usual types: members of the nobility and galaxy diplomats with their bored wives, fat tycoons and lots of artists and armchair intellectuals. It was an atmosphere in which I usually found myself perfectly at ease; the ideal hunting ground to satisfy my main passion: women.

I was in high spirits as I parked my anti-g Ferrari in Matt’s large garden. It was a wonderful June evening, and the air was cool and invigorating. Do you know that long line of big villas that sprang up some years ago in Parioli quarter, built with the costliest Jedi IV sparkling marble that everyone envies? The tenth house heading towards Villa Glori is Matt’s “modest” residence, as he calls it. The villas were built for rich businessmen after the decrepit buildings constructed during the twenty-first century were razed. Matt and his neighbours had spent thousands of credits in bribes to have assessors and urban planners turn a blind eye and approve the necessary permits to build in that historical area. They were bent on living where the old elite of the capital had lived, far from the new city that was gobbling up the countryside with its huge steel and plexiglass high rises.

While I was walking along the gravel-covered garden paths, I remember thinking that Matt’s decision to move to Parioli was a great one. There is no pollution in this historic area, while in the rest of Rome millions of motorized vehicles contaminate the air from morning to evening. Here, in contrast, only clean and quiet-running anti-g vehicles – unaffordable to most citizens – can be driven. Everything here is quiet and peaceful. I’m also fortunate enough to live in this oasis. I inherited my place from one of my loving aunts, an elderly countess who died some time ago. But that’s another story. You can look up the details in any scandal sheet that came out during that time if you’re so inclined.

Matt was waiting for me on the huge staircase leading up to his villa, the steps illuminated by a long row of elegant coloured lanterns. He was wearing a bright violet carbocloth tuxedo, in style with today’s rather barbaric fashions. For this occasion, I had donned a very elegant and costly linen suit, tailored in Altairian fabric (I’m not one to accept Earth-made imitations). Matt, on the other hand, doesn’t deny himself anything flashy. He might be filthy rich, but he doesn’t have the slightest taste in clothes.

‘Come on, come on, my good man,’ he said, taking me by the arm. He’d gotten into the habit of speaking with an affected, slightly British upper-class accent. He thought it gave him a touch of class. Although he owed his whole fortune to a chain of pork-packing houses, he liked to play the part of a refined, aristocratic gentleman.

‘I don’t see a lot of action this evening,’ I replied as we both climbed the last stairs. To tell the truth, mine was the only anti-g Ferrari in the garden. ’Where are the other guests?’

‘Oh, they’ll be here shortly. I like that you always come a little early, you know. We’ll greet the guests together. It turns me on to show everybody that the most notorious playboy in Rome is a friend of mine.’

He was always doing that: using me to feel important. As we crossed the immense entrance hall, Matt’s thick perfume began to make me feel nauseous. I glanced at his squat obese figure, his round, ungainly face, and not for the first time thought that he resembled one of the canned pigs from his plants. Why had I become friends with someone like him? To tell the truth, we’ve never really been friends in the strictest sense of the word, although there’s been a strange rapport between us since our childhoods. He’s the son of a big Detroit manufacturer, and I the illegitimate son of a Roman aristocrat. I met him during one of his frequent stays in Rome. From that moment on, I don’t know why, we began some type of symbiotic relationship. I became his guide, the man who went with him on mysterious, thrilling incursions into Rome the Eternal, the Big Whore, the centre of la dolce vita for the entire galaxy. I supplied my experience as a viveur addicted to every vice and my connections with high society. He furnished the cash. Even afterwards, our lives did not change. Matt kept himself busy in Rome with his packing houses, which became his after his father’s death. I went on being his Mephistopheles, his refined, elegant black soul, the man he could never be.

‘I can have any woman I want, even ones better than yours,’ he once told me, ’but I have to pay them. In contrast, they’d be happy to pay you. Therein lies the difference between us.’

Four great rooms were ready to receive the guests. The roboservants were arranging the last trays and adjusting the temperature of the champagne on ice. Vivaldi and Mozart airs filled the wide areas between the walls that were adorned with antique two-dimensional paintings. Matt loved to pass himself off as an art connoisseur. Following my advice, he’d acquired many ancient masterpieces. He displayed perfect reproductions of twenty-first and twenty-second century sculptures and paintings at home, keeping the originals in a bank vault. As a good businessman, he considered them an investment on a par with his pigs.

‘I see you’re in fine condition, Patrick,’ he said with a twinge of envy while we sat in easy chairs, sipping cocktails and waiting for the guests.

‘One does what one can,’ I replied with false modesty. In fact, at forty I have a really enviable physique. I spend two hours a day in the gym with one hour devoted to a treadmill, a sauna, and a massage. In stark contrast, Matt, the same age as I, works up a sweat merely by moving a chair. He’s too lazy for anything that takes him from his main activity: making money.

The guests started showing up after about ten minutes and Matt plunged into his duties as master of the house. He greeted them with a smile and witty remarks, warmly grasped the men’s hands and elegantly kissed the women’s. With non-terrestrial guests, he was absolutely graceful when he welcomed them according to their different customs. He turned around three times for Redan II guests and planted a ritual slap on those from the Arcturian planets. I did my best to help. I speak some extraterrestrial languages well enough, and I had already met a large number of those beings. I say beings because I can’t bring myself to call them persons, or at least not all of them. I can take or leave the Altairians and the Arcturians, but some of the guests were really grotesque and disgusting. Fortunately, there were not many in that category. For the most part, they were the embassy officers and diplomats Matt generally invited to give a finishing touch of class to his dos. I tried to avoid the most repulsive ones by losing myself in the crowd that was gradually growing. I had just begun to check out the get-together for a beautiful woman deserving of my attention (I’m not a racist, but I tend to go for humanoid types) when I felt a tug on my sleeve.

‘Well, hello, Patrick,’ a voice to my right said. ‘On the prowl already?’

When I turned, I encountered Louis Garrand, a French musician staying in Rome for a few months. He’s a neurograms composer, you know, that neural music that is put directly into the brain and makes us experience strange universes. Ever since his arrival in Rome, Garrand had done everything possible to dethrone me. In Paris, he enjoyed fame as a playboy, but I considered him a mere classless dabbler. Well, after my defeat, he might actually take my place. But that evening I continued to treat him with disdain. I didn’t know what destiny had in store for me.

‘How about that,’ I replied, according him a mere glance. ‘You’ll have to try harder if you don’t want to always come in second.’ He smiled conceitedly and drained his Martini on the rocks.

The last of the guests were trickling in. I recognised Baron and Baroness Gaaland from Cignus III, and Carlo Solmi, a prince from the Roman bar who had represented me years before in an involved divorce case to fix the single biggest mistake in my life. I was making small talk with this bunch of friends when my attention was drawn to the unusual figure of a woman who stood motionless next to one of the hall’s big windows.

I had never laid eyes on anything so beautiful in my life. And this is coming from a true connoisseur of extraordinary women. She was tall and slender, about twenty terrestrial years old, with a very white complexion. Her subtly shaded indigo voile tunic, which was tapered at the waist by a gold belt, coquettishly revealed the perfect shape of her body. Her long gold-coloured hair cascaded down to her knees, and framed a perfect face and two resplendent violet eyes. But what grabbed me the most about her was a strange detail: a round flashing light in the middle of her forehead that changed colour every so often. The whole effect was truly spectacular.

‘You like that?’ Matt’s voice inquired. He had been talking to another one of his rich and refined cognoscenti – Professor Caligaris, the German instructor in space pathology and owner of a private clinic.

‘Not bad,’ I said casually. When a woman interests me, I try not to fall all over myself right away, preferring to take the time to check her out first. I had goofed by staring too much. I was annoyed that Matt and the others had quickly picked up on my intentions. She, however, seemed to be oblivious.

‘A beautiful specimen of young womanhood,’ the lawyer Solmi mumbled and blinked approvingly. ’Don’t let her get away.’

‘No problem,’ I said, lighting up a cigarette. ‘She’s an interesting one, but that doesn’t mean she deserves my attention. I’d rather not dare guess what race she is. Any of you people know anything about her? Matt, you invited her, didn’t you? What do you know about her?’

‘Not much. I know she comes from Ethan, one of the planets in the Aldebaran system that recently joined the Confederation. She’s the daughter of the Ethanian ambassador to the Vatican. A weird people, those Ethanians. It might be best if you let this one get away.’

‘Whatever for?’ I raised an eyebrow.

‘It was merely advice. You’d have too much of a problem on your hands with her.’

‘Problems don’t scare me off,’ I shrugged and smiled. ‘You know very well I’ve never had problems with women, except for my ex-wife… So, I was just thinking I’ll introduce myself to the ambassador’s daughter. Excuse me, gentlemen.’

Matt sniggered behind my back and whispered something to the others, but I didn’t pay any attention. I was too focused on my new prey, who stood, motionless and unaware, at the window. She was gazing outside at the park lanterns. The multi-coloured lights seemed to be exerting some strange influence on her. She seemed bored with the party, as if the other guests were beneath her notice, and they, in turn, ignored her completely. I went up to her and nonchalantly leaned up against the windowsill. I feigned interest in the park lanterns. Then, after a few seconds, I looked right into her violet eyes.

‘Hello,’ I said with a smile. She gazed at me with a faraway look. She seemed to be staring right through me out into space, as if she couldn’t actually see me at all. Generally speaking, when they get to Rome, these extraterrestrials make the effort to learn some local phrases. Good morning, good evening, how much is this… Strange that she didn’t understand me. But I was not put off. ‘Parlez-vous français, mademoiselle?’ I tried again, using the galaxy’s official language of diplomacy. But her gaze shifted back to the window as if I didn’t exist at all. The pulsating light on her forehead took on a dark pink hue.

As I didn’t know the Ethanian idiom, I tried all the languages and dialects I spoke fluently and then I tried those I could barely mouth. Nothing doing. That young lady seemed to be in some sort of trance. I had the urge to grab her by the arm, but I managed to control myself. With a lot of savoir faire, I slowly withdrew from the window and hoped that none of the other guests had noticed my bumbling efforts. When I rejoined Matt, Louis and Solmi, it was obvious that they were wildly amused at my failure.

‘Well, Patrick?’ Louis laughed and made a theatrical toast with his champagne glass, ‘how’d it go?’ I ignored him. I looked long and hard at Matt.

‘Something’s not right, my friends,’ I said, shaking my head. ’Do you know what it is, or is it just me?’

‘Listen up, people,’ Matt laughed to Louis and Carlo. ‘You can learn something about certainty from Patrick here. Whenever a woman brushes him off, it has to be because of something strange or mysterious…’

‘Is it me or not?’ I insisted.

With a sly smile, Matt took a Martini off the tray offered by the roboservant. ‘My good Patrick. No, it’s not you. To tell the truth, there is something strange about that beautiful young lady… I did warn you.’

‘Oh, go on!’ I said. I was beginning to lose patience.

‘Did you notice that pulsating point of light on her forehead?’ Matt spoke to me in a low, confidential tone of voice.

‘Of course. What is it?’

‘She uses it to talk.’

‘What?’

‘Yep, to talk. Ethanians lack both speaking and hearing capabilities. They’re tantamount to deaf-mutes. They communicate by that pulsating light on the forehead. They use a colour-coded language. To them words and facial expressions are abstract concepts, indecipherable as if they’re living in a dimension different from ours. Get it?’

‘That’s why she didn’t even respond to my smile,’ I said. ‘It’s all clear now.’

’So, the big playboy has finally struck out,’ Louis happily chimed in.

‘Says you.’ I glared at him.

Carlo shook his head with a feigned air of discomfort. ‘Too bad you didn’t try to board her… I’ve heard that Ethanians are highly experienced in certain… pastimes.’

They were all pulling my leg. It was obvious they had set me up from the start to get a rise out of me. But I was not about to give them the satisfaction.

‘Matt,’ I said while lighting another one of my Centaurian cigarettes, ’I can assure you that within a week I’ll have that woman. How much do you want to put on that?’

‘Two thousand credits, my good man.’

‘I’ll add another thousand to that,’ Carlo added.

‘As for me,’ Louis said, ‘if you make out, I’ll no longer try to dethrone you. I’ll do an act of public submission, if you wish.’

‘Agreed!’ I said. I cast one last challenging glance at the resplendent Ethanian, still glued to the window. She had to be mine at any cost. My honour was now at stake.

The following morning I got my hands on all the texts I could about the Ethanians. I didn’t find many, to tell the truth. Ethan had only recently become a member of the Galactic Federation, and few studies had been done on their customs.

From the little I had been able to gather, however, I discovered that on Ethan colour is the dominant theme of life. The peculiar atmosphere on that world, warmed by many suns, creates unbelievable variegated sunsets and multicoloured aurorae boreales. Even the flora and fauna are characterized by an incredible range of pigmentation. To the Ethanians, the Earth must appear as gray and dismal as a prison. What got me most was the influence exerted by colour on Ethanian social life. Beyond language, their whole existence revolves around colour, from religion to judicial and economic matters. But for me, only their language was important. One way or another, I had to get through to that woman. As for what followed, I would use the techniques that I had tested on the most diverse young women in the galaxy, and successfully, I might add.

Only one of the texts alluded to the linguistic problems with Ethanian, in a cursory, confused manner. The article was written by Professor Roizer (another German?), an instructor in applied linguistics at the Multimedia University of Rome. It had a recent date. Hoping that the professor was still teaching at the university, I decided to pay him a visit.

* * *

The professor was a tall, bony guy with sparse white hair and bright blue, penetrating eyes.

I pretended to be interested in his course to pump him for all the information I could. It was a smart move. He received me cordially from behind an old dark wooden desk in his small study on the third floor in the Institute of Linguistics.

‘Oh, yes… the Ethanians…’ he mumbled, staring out into space. ‘A very interesting people. I wrote an article on them for the Intergalactic Review of Linguistics, once-’

‘As a matter of fact, professor,’ I interrupted him like a zealous student, ‘I’m quite interested in your article. I’d like to learn more about the Ethanians’ colour language.’

‘It’s a very interesting topic. I’d devote more time to if I could. I had a trip planned to that planet, but the institute denied funding. These days no one’s interested in applied linguistics. The heroic era of space exploration is over, when our research was needed and well funded… A colleague of mine told me yesterday that his course was attended by five students at most. Mine is certainly not crowded. So, I wonder, why your interest in the Ethanian language? It’s quite unusual these days…’

‘Let’s just say I have very good reasons, professor,’ I sighed. He was beginning to annoy me. What was the Institute of Linguistics to me? ‘I was hoping that you could give me some information, perhaps direct me toward a text…’

‘Um,’ he said pensively. ‘As a matter of fact I should have something. Just a moment. Let me check…’ For the next five minutes, the professor rummaged around in the shelves behind him where thousands of numbered and marked CD-ROMS were archived.

‘Here we go,’ he finally said, handing me three CD-ROMS enclosed in red covers. ‘This is a study completed years ago by one of my former assistants. It’s an analysis of Ethanian’s communication codes, from a strictly semantic viewpoint.’

Hiding my excitement,

I checked out the three CD-ROMS casually. ’Can I learn to speak their language from these?’

‘Uh, it’s not really all that simple. To master the Ethanian idiom, you need to have a certain mind set… A little like the specialized eye 3-D painters have. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself…’

‘It’s just a language like any other, isn’t it?’

‘On a very simplistic level I’d say so. Basically speaking, it’s a code as in communications systems. Definite symbols correspond to as many precise meanings. In this case, symbols are represented by rainbow colours and combinations thereof. Once you learn how the code works, you’re there.’

‘How does this code work?’ I asked.

‘In point of fact, it’s a very complex language,’ Professor Roizer smiled with a hint of condescension. ’Some colour sequences, even some basic colours, can have up to ten different meanings, according to the context. A little like certain terms in Chinese. Furthermore, for the Ethanians, colours have a psychological nuance. Like for us, but their scale is much vaster and more complex. They use them to convey emotions and feelings that transcend the true and strict communicative medium. A very beautiful thing. I’ll give you an example.’ The Professor searched around in his desk drawers and pulled out a gadget that looked like a big flashlight with little black buttons all over it. ‘Look here,’ he said as he pushed the buttons with fast, nimble fingers like a pianist at the keys of his instrument. The flashlight emitted a long series of different-coloured flashes that merged into a single, awe-inspiring chromatic symphony. ‘Beautiful, huh? What I composed conveyed respect and understanding. But the same sequence, with a few small changes, means derision and contempt.’

I looked at the flashlight with fascination. With that and Roizer’s assistant’s texts, I had a good chance of getting the charming Ethanian…

‘Very beautiful indeed, professor,’ I said, this time sincerely. ‘I wonder if… will you sell me this thing?’

‘No, I can’t. It’s the institute’s property. If you want, you may apply to borrow it along with my assistant’s texts. Take everything and go to the secretary’s office and make it official. By the way, my course begins in three days if you’re interested?’

‘I’ll be there, professor, no doubt about it,’ I lied, snatching up the material. ‘And thanks for everything.’

I had to negotiate a vast amount of red tape with the clerk in the secretary’s office, since I hadn’t registered at the university for many years. I managed to persuade her with my usual charm. She was still a woman, after all…

***

I rushed home and inserted the first CD-ROM into my computer.

‘Ph.D. Steven Corsi’s research notes on the semantic structure of the Ethanian language, Volume One, Rome, Academic Year 3125,’ the expressionless voice began as I plopped down with satisfaction into an easy chair.

Things were looking up.

* * *

I stayed up for two nights learning the basics of that strange language. I had to admit that although it was challenging, it was entertaining enough. Gradually, I started getting into Ethanian psychology, a first step for anyone who wanted to learn the language of any people. I began to attach a different, much more important value to colours, and I found meaning even in the shades of my rugs and furniture, meanings I had never before suspected. I learned to compose the simplest sequences on the flashlight, those that expressed civilities and appropriate phrases, some complimentary comments… Everything I could use for a first approach.

Three days before the bet’s deadline, I felt prepared enough to do a dry run. That evening Matt was throwing another bash, at which the Ethanian ambassador and his family would attend.

I went with my fingers crossed.

* * *

‘This evening I have a surprise for you,’ Matt said when I arrived at his villa, for once a little late. Up until the last minute I’d been memorising Ethanian coloured expressions, and lots of guests, including the Ethanians, were already there. ‘I’ll give you a chance to unleash your charm on the beautiful Ethanian woman,’ Matt added. ‘You don’t have much time left. In three days it’s do or die.’

‘I don’t need to be reminded,’ I smiled, sure of myself. Now that I could talk to the young woman, I would twist her around my finger. She was a woman like any other, right?

‘What’s that contraption?’ Mario viewed my secret weapon with curiosity.

‘It’s my moneymaker,’ I fondled the big flashlight with a grin. ‘You and Carlo had better start signing your cheques.’

‘What are you going to do with that thing, my good man?’

‘Wait and see.’

My prey was sipping a Martini in a bored manner. Now I could understand her, I realised she must have felt like a deaf-mute among people accustomed to verbal communication.

I went up to her, my flashlight at the ready. As soon as our eyes met, I quickly composed a very simple sequence. Blue, pink, green: Good evening, miss. Nice evening, isn’t it? She stared at the flashlight with an absolutely expressionless face. But this time I was not discouraged because I knew where to look. Indeed, the circle of light on her forehead flashed blue twice and yellow once: Good evening. I see you’re having a lot of fun.

I flashed the same sequence, but in an opposite manner: Why, aren’t you?

She replied with three long blue flashes, followed by three pink. She more or less meant that it was hard to have fun without having anyone to talk to except family members. I noticed with delight that the colours of her conversation had all shifted to the tender and delicate. That was a sign of a good disposition toward me. She could say the same things by using more intense, less pleasant, and convincing colours. Maybe she was getting to like me. I composed a pink and yellow flash, very brief: May I get you something to drink?

She nodded with a smile, that is, a single radiant yellow flash.

As we sipped our drinks, she shyly asked why I was the only one to take a stab at learning her language. I told her I had studied it, but otherwise I was vague. No matter from what planet, women are intrigued by mystery.

I apologized for my imperfect Ethanian, but she was very charming and understanding. At home I had gone over those phrases dozens of times until I was sure I had them down pat. Most likely, I had what in verbal language would be tantamount to a speech impediment. But any foreigner would the first time out, right?

‘May I have your attention!’ Matt called out from the middle of the hall while waving his arms around. ‘I promised our esteemed foreign female visitors a wonderful romantic flight over the city accompanied by our fearless young Roman men. Be quick, boys, don’t let ‘em get away!’

There was a bit of confusion while the young men went in search of a lady to invite to their anti-g vehicles. This was the surprise Matt had mentioned. One of those usual flights over a lit-up Rome at night for which, by tacit agreement, any man could choose a woman that turned him on. Maybe Matt was hoping to catch me off guard. On the contrary, he was making things easier for me. By now I was comfortable enough in Ethanian to invite her into my Ferrari. I composed the invitation on the flashlight in the most polite and ceremonial way possible.

In response, I got another radiant, very beautiful yellow flash.

* * *

My anti-g Ferrari slipped quietly and quickly through the crisp evening air. Since I had retracted the canopy, a light breeze was tousling our hair, especially hers, which gleamed with strange but very beautiful highlights. Below us, Rome was a huge expanse of shimmering lights blinking in the darkness like an enormous swarm of fireflies. It seemed I could almost hear in the silence a giant’s breathing, the breathing of thirty million people that reached me from the streets and high rises of the slumbering city.

Expressionless, she watched the panorama. She was as motionless as a splendid marble statue, her light dress ruffled by the wind. Her forehead was emitting a constant, very intense blue light. She was happy. Before taking off, I had asked her name, but I didn’t understand the answer. A series of colours much too complicated for me. Names, however, made no difference. She was with me, we were flying together over Rome at night, Rome the pimp and rascal. I regretted not having the time to learn more engaging phrases. I had almost run out of my conventional compliments. I wanted to tell her something romantic, even recite a poem. But my knowledge of Ethanian did not allow it.

I looked at her beautiful impassive face again. I knew that, when we made love, that face would remain as motionless and distant as now. Only the circle of light on her forehead would silently express her pleasure. The thought gave me a thrill. When we landed in the villa garden, I asked if I could see her again. Matt would invite her again if she liked.

For the third time, bright yellow flashed on her forehead.

* * *

Matt acceded to my request, but he did not put on another party at his villa. Instead, he chose an excursion into the ionosphere in his luxurious cabin cruiser. He invited about a hundred people and, of course, the beautiful Ethanian. This time she would be by herself because her father was tied up back in Rome by pressing duties, and the rest of her family had better things to do. It was obvious that, if the Ethanian woman accepted Matt’s invitation, I was the reason. What more could I ask for? I would have her at my beck and call for a whole day and charm her under the eyes of all my friends. My conquest would be complete.

The day before the excursion I crammed. I tried to plumb the deepest secrets of the Ethanian language to get at the subtlest nuances. It took me all night to commit to memory a long and complex series of multicoloured sequences, that is, my declaration of love. I had composed it by incorporating the deepest elements of Ethanian psychology and combining them with my entire experience as a great seducer. It would work or my name would no longer be Patrick Love. I would be after the beautiful Ethanian for the entire trip by subduing her with my usual charm. Then, at the right moment, I would hit her with the sequence of colours from my precious flashlight.

It would work. I was sure of it.

* * *

Before liftoff at the Fiumicino spaceport, I let my friends know that this trip would be decisive for our bet. I warned them not to let me out of their sight because I would win the bet during the trip. Matt, who has never been a gentleman, had insisted on installing closed-circuit TV cameras in my cabin as well as in the Ethanian’s so that together with Carlo and Louis he could follow our every move on screen. He wanted to make sure that I was not getting away with anything. At stake were 2,000 credits. I consented even though I didn’t approve. So they wanted to see with their own eyes, did they? Fine. My triumph would be complete.

All day long Matt’s luxurious cabin cruiser slowly travelled the ionosphere while guests passed the time with every kind of amusement and entertainment. I stuck to my prey like glue without giving her a moment to breathe. The colours on her forehead, which only I could interpret, revealed she was not entirely immune to my charms. The hues were always soft and delicate. The Ethanian woman was happy. From the panoramic windows one could view the aurorae boreales. They reminded her of those on her planet she was beginning to feel homesick for. Nostalgia for their wonderful colours, her mother tongue, which only I with the help of my flashlight was in a position to speak. She was very grateful to me for that.

For the rest of the afternoon and all evening we were inseparable. I taught her how to dance (she followed my movements since she wasn’t able to hear the music), she let me win a lot of polychromatic chess games, an Ethanian common entertainment. Towards midnight, I invited her into my cabin for one last drink together. Most likely, Matt and the others were huddled in front of the screen waiting for the action to begin.

She was happy and serene. She had drunk a little too much, and terrestrial alcohol affected her Ethanian metabolism twice as much. Everything was going my way. In the cabin’s semidarkness I drew her into my arms and felt her smooth, cool skin under the thin voile of her dress. She did not make the slightest movement, but by now I knew where to look. The light on her forehead was violet. She was conveying anxiety and indecision.

Then I played my trump card. I grabbed the flashlight I had put on the night table and began to push the little black buttons, focusing to the max. There was little light in the cabin, but at this point I knew the key combinations by heart.

The Ethanian woman’s gaze was glued to the flashlight, the same violet light on her forehead… What I was about to impart interested her greatly. Encouraged, I kept pushing buttons, forcing myself to remember the right combinations. Her violet eyes followed the flashes of coloured light intermittently illuminating the cabin. Yellow, yellow, pink, green, pink, blue, azure, azure, pink, yellow, yellow, pink, white, white… I finished. Sweating from the effort, I raised my eyes from the flashlight to look at the young woman. Her face was expressionless as usual. But on her forehead I saw, to my horror, a pulsating fiery red colour.

An unmistakable display of anger, hate, and contempt. All of a sudden she landed a loud slap on my face. I didn’t know that Ethanians also resorted to that, so my surprise was doubled. I was more amazed when she swept out of the cabin, slamming the door in my face. I stayed motionless, my hand still gripping the flashlight.

* * *

Look, there you have it. I paid Matt 2,000 credits, 1,000 to Carlo, and my reputation as a playboy suffered a severe setback. Louis Garrand goes around saying I am all washed up and takes delight in recounting the details of my downfall.

Nevertheless, that’s not what depresses me. As soon as I returned to Rome, I ran over to the Institute of Linguistics, but I was unable to locate Professor Roizer. He had left for a convention. No one knew anything else. I will never know what happened that night in my cabin because I have forgotten that damned colour sequence. I might have forgotten something, maybe there was some mistake in Dr. Corsi’s notes… I just don’t know. I was told she left yesterday for Ethan. I will never know what I said to her that was so offensive that night to make her rush out like that. It’s a mystery gnawing at me and it gives me no peace.

I, too, am thinking about leaving for Ethan to get in touch with her and explain myself. Believe it or not, I was beginning to like her, and seriously, too. Only now do I realize that. I know, it’s just not my style, and feel free not to believe me.

I can’t do anything about it. That’s the plain truth.

 

Translated by Joe F. Randolph

Original title „Il linguaggio dei colori“

First published in Futuro Europa 12/13, Bologna 1993/95

Copyright © 1995 by Bruno Vitiello


Bruno Vitiello was born in Naples in 1966. He graduated in Italian and Latin languages and literatures at the University of Naples in 1990. In 1984 he earned his Ph.D. in Modern History for a study on Michelangelo Buonarotti and the Renaissance. Currently he lives, teaches and writes in Latin, a small town near Rome. He published his first sf story in 1983 and published about a dozen stories since then, some of which have been translated into French, Spanish and English, also the novel Progotto Michelangelo.

 

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