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Biblioteka srpske fantastike

Radmilo Andjelković


translated into English by Dr. Alexander B. Nedeljković
translation edited by Nick Webb

As far as we know, Petar Rašić fainted three times during his return home. The first time was when he realized that the clouds were entirely yellow.

The exile committee had decided, several weeks previously, to end his isolation on The Prison Planet. Amongst a large group of pardoned opponents of Earth’s entry into the Galactic Federation, he was transferred to the Orbital Station. From there, only he was to be taken on to the Balkans. He had hoped, until the very last moment, that exile had protected him from The Change. That the Limit-imposing Process, which had been the condition for joining the Federation, had been applied only to those people, that had agreed to it, and not to the entire Earth population.

The case of Petar Rašić was not one of those that alter history. His rebellion could hardly have altered anything concerning relations between Earth and the Galactic Federation. All the facts just confirmed the marginality of his existence. Even the leniency of the sentence bestowed upon him (three years of exile is not much of a punishment) indicated that nobody saw in him a galactic-sized threat. If we had not recorded his path, he would have remained a moraine carved by a glacier of Change.

What was ‘The Change’?

The Galactic Federation had appeared and offered Earth membership. This would permit human access to, and participation in, all the civilised and technological achievements of the known Universe. Who could refuse that? The Earth had, in fact, spent several centuries exploring space in search of a just that opportunity. The catch was in the Federation's requirement, of which there was just one condition, but one that no one could understand: To relinquish one of the fundamental colours of the visible light spectrum. Why? Who needed it? Who could profit from it?

Whilst they were approaching Earth, Petar gazed through the window of the transport ship. It seemed to him that the planet was, just as before, blue, yet equally secretive under the arabesque veil of cloud masses. At that time he could not discern that the clouds were, in fact, covered by shade of yellow.

"Blue and yellow… Blue and yellow remain…" he murmured later, awakening from unconsciousness in the vast hall of Surčin Airport’s terminal building. He felt constrained in the metallic wheelchair in which he was being transported to a taxi flyer.

Opening his eyes, he first noticed the blue blanket which, due to October’s crispness, they had covered him. Remembering the past few moments, he pulled his pale-green hand from under the blanket, and gazed wide-eyed at it, then fainted for the second time.

The attendants later claimed that he had not stay unconscious that long, and that he was in fact awake almost the way to the apartment that had been assigned to him. However, one assistant, Ms Milena Gavrilović, gave an different report, documented by video. This resulted in the decision that she should remain with him for the next few days. Doctor Zidar had hoped that the ‘perception shock’ apparent in Petar Rašić may confirm some of his theories.

However, we believe that the attendants were right and that Doctor Zidar deliberately entered details that would have made a good scientific paper for one of the upcoming issues of East-European Ophthalmology Journal.

My body is pale-green, thought Mr Rašić whilst they lifted him, together with the wheelchair, into a larger vehicle. His stomach informed him that they had left the ground, and the pressures of inertia warned him of every curve on the route to wherever it was they were taking him.

He liked this. Familiar sensations liberated him from The Change.

He tasted also the information that was coming to him from his other senses. Slow flows of warmth, slight sounds as he crossed and re-crossed his legs, a cigarette being lit up… In the sharp smell of the first puff of smoke he recognized traces of breakfast, poorly masked by toothpaste. The female was warmer, closer… As if the caring voice from the spaceport conveyed something more, not just professional attention. Or was his impression wrong?

Obstinacy in his eyelids continued even after they brought him into an enclosed space. Carefully, professionally. Together with his wheelchair. They exchanged a few sentences with the woman (so he learned there were two men there), made one rude joke about him, and left. The woman stayed.

He heard her move about, pick up things in the room and place them differently. Some of those objects must have been soft; air currents told him more than the muffled noises. First she set the bed. For him? Then the sounds rose at least twenty decibels higher. That was glasses and other kitchen utensils and equipment tinkling; and the creaking of shelves where she placed them. There was a hushed steady whooshing, which he decided was the gas stove now alight, while the flow of water from the tap confirmed she was about cook something.

I could spend the rest of my life as a blind man, he concluded.

"Black or white?" was the question bursting sharply through the silence.

Aha! Coffee.

He gave no answer.

"I know you've been awake all the time", Ms Gavrilović stated unequivocally. It was clear she would tolerate no resistance from him, from now on. But she tacitly condoned his refusal to watch.

"Medium… with one teaspoonful of sugar…" he murmured dispiritedly, and then he added: "… a flat teaspoonful."

The four approved days went by, but then her supervisory role over him was extended indefinitely. This was because Petar Rašić persisted with his peculiar protest. It took her a full week to persuade him that they might go for a picnic near Razhane, a village situated between the Kosjeric plateau and the Subjela mountaintop. Just before they started, she almost ruined everything by saying:

"You'll see how wonderful that part of the country is, in autumn; you can see all the shades of green…"

Only his sense of spite, and firm belief that he would be able to sense all the missing colors through his fingertips, got him into the flyer.

He knew the pine trees remained green. That same green as before, with liquid-looking splashes of black, as he remembered them continually during his three absent years. He groped the long pine needles, and he was happy that they remained the same. With an effort he tore off a piece of bark, and, in the process, gashed the tip of one finger. His thoughts wandered, imagining the brown and ochre tones that would appear now on the inner side of the bark. And one red drop of blood on it. Whichever shades of green might these be, now?

"Raincoat green…" she said emotionlessly.

"And the blood…?"

"Blood has no color. It does present a slight problem… Hard to notice a small cut."

He swore he would never go with her again.

As their walk continued, he almost managed not to hear that birch trees were yellow with traces of banana colour, that hornbeam plants were olive-green, beeches emerald, and that cerris leaves were each bordered with the colour of his body. Deeper in the forest, while dying green colours of fallen leaves were rustling under his feet, he allowed a trickle of dark-green light to reach his pupils. Tears simply do not know any other way to escape.

He did not remember the particular moment in which he made the decision to stay here. Neither the reason. But he asked for, and was granted, permission. They refurbished an abandoned wooden mill by a stream on this mountain, and arranged for a monthly delivery of supplies to it. Decisively, Dr. Zidar had influenced this, in his view, time would be the healer. As for Milena Gavrilović, she moved to some other assignment.

By the Spring, Petar was able to differentiate, by touch only, between the yellow and the violet crocus, to feel the places on the dandelion plant where flowers would soon appear. He enjoyed the mild soup that he made from young nettles; he was eating it whilst his fingers were still smarting from the nettle stings. He easily found wild garlic, whose faint garlic smell he could unerringly detecte. In May, he smelled lily-of-the-valley, and knew which particular sort of meadow mushrooms would be growing up by then: very tasty. In June, edible boletes matured. Only once did he make a mistake and picked a Satan's bolete. The two-day hallucination encouraged him to try his luck, like a game of russian roulette, with amanitas. On the one hand, fly agarics, death caps and panther's mushrooms were lying in ambush for him, on the other hand prizes awaited him in the form of Caesar's mushrooms and blushers. In discerning which is which, colours meant almost everything.

In his long blind walks he got to know the woods and greenfields, the gurgle of his stream and places where it was dammed up into cold little lakes where he allowed himself a quick bath. He learned to recognize by smell the places overgrown with mint and yarrow, creeping thyme and chicory, mullein and St. John's wort, chamomile and horsetail. He spent hours just lying on the ground in some clearing, under the elms, nibbling on the bitter tips of the common centauri. The bitterness inside him was acquiring a more and more intense violet colour.

In the third year, all the flowers were stinking hellebores, all the amanitas were in various tones of green, and he had all the trees classified into two groups, light-green and dark-green. But with unseen sub-shades of green.

Doctor Zidar's program had been cancelled long ago, without anyone even telling Petar about it. Pard Radojica from the nearest village (the man had asked Petar to call him pard) took upon himself the duty to provide Petar with all necessary foodstuffs and equipment, even though the government grant for that purpose had been abolished. Perhaps he took this friendship seriously.

During the long Winter nights Radojica occasionally spent the night at Petar's place. They would dine on bacon and cheese, pickled chantrelles and thick-crusty bread that Petar had, in the meantime, learned to bake in a quite masterly fashion. Warm plum brandy they kept constantly on the furnace. They would converse about times past, avoiding any mention of colour.

The Spring of the fourth year brought some early thunder, but no rain. Petar imagined the route by which the distant yellow clouds were skirting his green prison; bending his head down a little and turning it to the left and right several times, he would go to bed. Without opening his eyes even in the blackest darkness, while the last reflections of red were melting away from his soul, he would lie awake for a long time, his hands under his head, picking through the spectrum of green, from yellow to blue. Promising to himself that he would talk to pard Radojica about this.

It was the season of the new stinking hellebores, or maybe some other hellebores, thought Petar, whilst touching the various petals before letting them go. Some of these flowers must surely be those.

Radojica had to get to Petar's valley, passing through dirty-yellow banks of old snow. He gave the agreed sign, two shots fired in rapid succession. The sound reverberated and echoed from one bare rock to another, while the stream between them maintained its steady groan.

The encounter with Radojica was different this time. After a brief, hearty embrace, in which Petar felt traces of both hesitation and deceit, his friend put one arm across his shoulders and took him into the mill. He shook a smallish wicker-enmeshed glass jug in front of Petar's nose, so that the brandy sloshed audibly inside, and said:

"Let's first drink each a jigger of plum brandy…"

"And, then…?" asked Petar cautiously.

So they stepped into the mill.

They drank up, each, one, then another, and the third jigger, before Radojica summed up the will to begin:

"You know, pard Petar, the Galactic Federation does not exist any more…"

"I did hear some thunder…" said Petar, stopping in mid-sentence.

"Apparently it had been long in the coming, only we had not been informed. Who tells us Balkan peasants anything?"

"What was long in the coming?"

"There are others… known as, I believe, The Council of the Universe… They did not like the way the Federation was imposing The Order. With all those restrictions… You know…"

"Yes, I know, blue and yellow, right?"

"They decided to give us back…"

"The red…?" Petar's voice remained level.

Radojica seemed to be in some dilemma whether to continue with this.

"Say it!"

"Not only red. In compensation we will be given two more colours, two that we have never before been able to perceive. The names of these two colours are, I think… inpherna, and faerian…"

Petar fainted for the third time.

// Projekat Rastko / Knjizevnost / Srpska fantastika //
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