This is an updated and edited version of Romanian sf author Michael Haulică’s story “Lipstick,” originally translated by Adriana Mosoiu (2003). Before we get to the story, though, read this brief piece from Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews on Haulică and the story’s previous publications:
“I am certain that plenty of Romanian writers can make an important contribution to the world of speculative fiction and I do hope that one day more of their works would be translated into English. …here is another example of Romanian speculative fiction, a morsel of a story, “Lipstick”, written by one of the most important names in [Romanian] science fiction, Michael Haulică. “Lipstick” was published several times in Romanian, in 1993 in Jurnalul SF (SF Journal), 1996 in Dependent SF (SF Addicted), 1998 in Dealul Melcilor (Snails’ Hill), 2001 Cronica Română (Romanian Chronicle), in the author’s personal volumes, “Madia Mangalena” (1999) and “Fantastic Stories” (2010), translated into Danish in 2004 and published in “Science Fiction” magazine and in English in “Magaera” (2003), “Magaera Anthology Vol.1” (2005) and Anotherealm (2003), [as] finalist of the “Invasion” contest.”
Tuesday: I infiltrated them according to standard procedure. I don’t think they noticed. Everything’s going well, maybe too well. For now, I’m trying to expose myself as little as possible. The metamorphosis is perfect, but I need time to get used to this new look. Plus I’m still having trouble assimilating their communication code.
Monday: I started selling the lipstick. It’s selling well…like any exotic merchandise. The first pitch happened in the afternoon. It was thrilling! They were good, I was excellent. They were terribly thirsty, I was excellently thirsty. They really wanted to go to the movies, I wanted to go to the excellent movies. They predicted it would rain hard tomorrow, I reassured them that it would rain excellently.
Wednesday: I met with one of them this morning. “How are you?” I asked him. “I’m fine,” he said. I offered him lipstick and he put some on his lips. I asked again, “how are you?” “Excellent,” was the answer. Excellent! That’s how it should be.
Later we went bowling. He threw the first ball. “Good,” I said. “Excellent,” he replied. I threw a ball, too. “Excellent!” he exclaimed. “Excellent,” I confirmed.
Then he called for a new ball. I did, too. “You keep score,” he said. “No, you launch,” I replied. “Let’s play chess, instead,” he said. “Yeah, let’s launch chess,” I agreed.
Friday: We were sitting at a table on the beerhouse terrace. One of them approached and greeted me with colored lips. “Excellent launch!” I motioned for him to sit. “How are you?” I sounded him out. “Excellent! Let me launch you another beer,” he answered. “Let’s both launch another beer,” I urged him. He turned to the waiter and ordered: “Excellent! Launch two for the boy!” And the answer came, as expected: “Lauuuuuuunch!” Meanwhile, we talked about mayonnaise. When we parted, he wished me an “excellent mayonnaise launch.”
Sunday: My stock of lipstick has decreased considerably. I closed down my stand. I’ll just carry a few with me. Apparently, they’ve started making the lipsticks themselves. From what, I have no idea. I saw someone selling them in the market. He shouted as long as he could, as is their custom: “Get red! Buy lipstick! Wonderful speech lipstick! Whoever uses it can communicate launch with anyone! With everyone! On all the worlds!”
Business is flourishing. Really flourishing. This is obvious from their intensely colored lips.
In my room that evening, I remove my makeup carefully, so as not to confuse my thoughts.
Monday: The streets are filled with posters showing a man with colored lips, offering lipstick to a creature that’s likely from another civilization. Looks a bit like a Thesarian…
A scientific symposium. Scientists, a lot of them. They were talking about flying, I was talking about mushrooms. They went on about other civilizations, I about mushrooms. They about…I about…They…I…I left them talking about mushrooms.
Wednesday: When I left the house, the landlady, a middle-aged woman wearing a lot of lipstick, whispered to me confidentially that “fishing for the globe’s enthroning excellent as is.” She’s absolutely right. I gave her a tube of lipstick and we were instant friends.
Thursday: Today we talked about snow.
Saturday: Dust; long discussions about it.
Sunday: I rested. I deserve it.
Friday: The first Institute of Coloristics was inaugurated. They’ve already received applications for master’s degrees in Parallel Chromatics, Integrated Metacoloristics, Color Psychophysiology, Protocoloristics, Dialectical and Historical Mythochromatism. They’re hard at work revising the textbooks.
Monday: Spent a day with the military. Regulations, discipline, order, conformity, civics, heroism, duty, honesty, honor… Each soldier carries lipstick in his backpack.
Tuesday: The youth—eternal partisans of the new—have adopted color as a permanent part of their fashion: they dye their hair, paint their eyelids and lips, and march peacefully, waving their lipstick and shouting: “No to weapons, yes to lipstick!”
Wednesday: Photos of the Parapsychic Games’ new flag have come out: it’s lipstick on a colorless background.
Thursday: They finished painting the buildings, which all look the same now.
Friday: Since daybreak, a huge crowd has been moving toward the planet’s newest monument. On the so-called roof stands a gigantic lipstick statue, surrounded by a trembling halo, turning everything irridescent: trees, dust, air…Several officers carry miniature versions around. Their assistants throw lipstick all around while the crowd sings odes to lipstick.
Some needy people with colorless lips throw themselves to the ground to grab some lipstick. They’re viewed with sympathy and encouraged. The luckiest of them snag some and immediately paint their lips, eyelids, and ears.
Saturday: An electoral campaign. Political platforms, drilling platforms, platforms…Plat, plat, plat…No form, just color. Monochrome. They’ve postponed the election.
Sunday: I found the following letter in my mailbox: “I launch you excellent. The solar mushroom in front of the mirobolant. May the parapsychobitant dust launch snow. Lipstick! Lipstick! Lipstick!”
Their language is much improved; it almost doesn’t exist anymore.
Everything’s gone as planned.
Lipstick! How wonderful that word sounds!
My ship awaits me…
It’s night. Their sun set long ago. In its place, in the starry sky, is the ship, outlined as if with lipstick.
I showed up at the gate and their cheers filled me with joy. The crowd pushed its representatives forward; they said: “Excellent! Launch the mirobolant! Parapsychobit our lives! Lipstick! Lipstick! Excellent!”
We had a great time. Excellent!
Finally! It’s done. Mission accomplished. Now I can resume my normal appearance.
I enter the ship and feel like I’m already home. I connect the MIM circuit and the Excellency appears first in my CUB, as an image, and then materializes.
He has colored lips. Violently colored, but it suits Him. The color suits Him.
I approach Him and touch his mantle as a sign of Humility and Obedience. He touches me, establishing privileged contact. We communicate. I can sense His eagerness. It’s as if these vibrations, through their assonances, are creating a state of anxiety in me, as well.
I deliver a full mission report. He looks puzzled. Then his thought, like a powerful wave, crashes through my brain: “Wshaakingaa…” Now I’m confused. He points to the lipstick. I put another layer of color on my lips and resume communication, ending triumphantly: “The parapsychobitant lipstick mirobolizes!”
“Excellent!” Appreciation and relief. He’s happy.
Another wave, comforting this time, enters me. “Gnrl.”
I humbly thank Him.
Before the Excellency’s features dematerialize, I gratefully receive the appeal: “Launch! Launch! Launch!”
The hologram disappears too and my benefactor materializes on his own ship.
Alone. Alone again.
I remove my makeup, as usual.
A few tubes of lipstick lie in the corner.
A perfect weapon. More than perfect.
Contacts, settings, screen…
Entire constellations, with all of their civilizations, await me.